Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spokane Valley is home to Byzantine Catholic parish

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the May 1, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Father William O’Brien is pastor of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Church in the Spokane Valley. (IR photo)

Some say it’s the “best kept secret in the Spokane Valley.” The cliché is an old one, but Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church at 4315 N. Evergreen, one block off Trent in the Spokane Valley, may very well be a secret, at least to some Catholics. The reason could be that Sts. Cyril and Methodius is an Eastern rite church, and as such, unfamiliar to many people.

This Eastern rite church, more specifically Byzantine, worships with a liturgical rite that developed out of Byzantium (now Istanbul in Iran) in the East alongside the Latin rite of the West, which developed with Rome as its center. The Byzantine rite further evolved with Slavonic influences from Central Europe.

In the Byzantine rite, there are seven sub-groups, one of which is the Ruthenians. The proper description for Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church is a Ruthenian Catholic Church that uses the Byzantine rite. This rite is in union with Rome and recognizes the pope’s authority as visible head of the Catholic Church. Because of this, Roman Catholics can attend Mass and receive Eucharist at Sts. Cyril and Methodius.

The cedar-shake-covered church building was once Trentwood Chapel, a nondenominational Protestant church. the structure blends nicely in its neighborhood. But the attractive exterior gives no indication of the sumptuous setting within.

A feast for the eyes awaits as soon as one walks in the door. In the entryway is a picture of Pope John Paul II, a crucifix and an icon of Mary and Jesus. Go up the few steps into the nave to see colorful icons of Christ, Mary, and numerous saints which line the walls.

An iconostasis, which is a wooden divider with icons hanging on it, separates the sanctuary from the nave. On top of the iconostasis are icons of the important events in the life of Christ. The centerpiece is a large icon, “The Mystical Supper,” also known as “The Last Supper.”

The iconostasis has three doors which allow entry of the priest and servers for the Divine Liturgy (Mass to Roman Catholics) and other services.

The sanctuary is brilliantly colored in red and gold. The tabernacle is free-standing in the middle of the main altar. Standing on the floor behind it is a large gold seven-branched candelabra, along with a processional cross and two large round gold “fans.”

On the south wall in the sanctuary is a table covered with a red cloth that has an icon of the face of Christ on Veronica’s veil, an image “not made by human hands.” On the back wall of the sanctuary, which is curved outward, is an icon of Mary and Jesus.

In front of the iconostasis is a table called a “tetrapod.” On this table are candles, a crucifix and an icon which is changed for each liturgical season. For Easter the icon is “Christ the Bridegroom.”

On the back wall of the church is a beautiful icon of Mary and Jesus, smuggled out of Russia during its communist rule. The icon was a gift from a Roman Catholic priest, the late Father Charles DePiere. He and the late Father George McCabe were bi-ritual, which means they could offer liturgies in either rite. They often filled in to allow the Eastern-rite priests some time off.

The church’s namesakes, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, have an icon as well. It hangs on the right side of the nave.

Byzantine worship services strive to involve all the senses: eyes, ears, nose, touch, taste. The eyes take in the beauty of the icons and flowers. Music is chanted throughout the Divine Liturgy and other services. Incense, the smoke of which is considered prayer rising to heaven, is freely used. At the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist takes the form of small cubes of bread dipped in wine, administered to recipients via a small spoon.

Father Joseph Stanichar, now of Seattle, was the priest who started Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in 1979. He purchased the property and tore down two old homes on the site. The buildings were once part of a World War II military installation at that location.

Not only did Father Stanichar start the parish, he remodeled the building, with parishioners working right alongside him.

During the remodeling, the priest was working underneath the church and was bitten by a brown recluse spider. He spent a week in the hospital recuperating.

Father Stanichar also started Byzantine rite churches in Seattle, Olympia and Portland.

Father Bill O’Brien is currently pastor. He returned to the parish at the beginning of this year for a second round of service. His first time in the parish started in 1988, right after he was ordained. Both of the priest’s grandfathers hailed from Ireland.

Father O’Brien was baptized in the Roman Catholic church and was very involved in the Knights of Columbus. He discovered a Byzantine church in California when he lived there and as soon as he walked in, he said, “I had this overwhelming feeling I was home. It was amazing.” He went through a transfer rite to officially join the Byzantine rite in 1984.

The Spokane church is in the eparchy of Van Nuys, Calif., and its prelate is Bishop William Skurla, who is coming to Spokane this summer. There are four eparchies of about 200 or so Ruthenian-Byzantine churches in the United States. Just as in Roman Catholic dioceses, the pope appoints the bishops of the eparchies.

Eileen Kowalski of Coeur d’Alene is one of the founding members. Her husband, John, helped with the escrow money to buy the church property. The couple worked alongside Father Stanichar in the remodeling. She recalled tearing down the old homes and doing many other kinds of work. It was definitely a labor of love. She loves her church and its liturgy, she said, finding great joy and peace there.

Kimberly Bauer of Rathdrum has been part of the parish for six years, making her one of the newer members. She said she too felt as if she had come home when she attended a service there. Bauer did not have Catholicism in her background but she said she “always wanted to be Catholic.”

Bauer is vice-president of the Ladies’ Guild. The women sewed new banners and other items for Holy Week services with the assistance of Father O’Brien, who also sews. (He also writes icons.) The women care for the church and also hold fund-raisers to purchase other church necessities.

The church is once again remodeling, on the west side of the building this time. What was once a separate building that was an apartment was joined to the church. It is being remodeled into a parish hall and office. A house next door which the church owns and had used as a rental is now Father O’Brien’s residence.

There is a large hall in the church basement, used for dinners and other events. The new hall will be used for the coffee socials on Sundays and those times when the larger space is not needed.

Another long-time member is Peggy Bauer of the Spokane Valley, who serves the parish as a cantor. She too recalled the original remodeling that brought Sts. Cyril and Methodius into being.

She also remembered education efforts to help people learn about their church. She said there was newspaper publicity that helped educate and that all the fund-raisers and bake sales they held would include brochures about Sts. Cyril and Methodius.

The church held religious instruction for its young people on the Sundays of Lent. The number of families with children fluctuates, which makes it difficult to keep a regular program going. Bauer said they were “trying to get back on track with this.” Father O’Brien teaches a weekly education class for the adults.

The congregation numbers about 35 families, some of whom live in northern Idaho. Like most other small parishes, parishioners know each other well. They always hold a coffee social after the Divine Liturgies on Sundays. Since the services are somewhat longer than a Roman Catholic Mass and some parishioners come longer distances, the food is almost as important afterward as the fellowship.

The parish’s greatest strength? Baird, Bauer, and Kowalski agreed: it’s the liturgy. Said Baird: “It’s the sense of community and spirituality that comes from our liturgy.”

Bauer said the liturgy and other services “bring me to tears every time. It’s a very rich tradition and it seems a little more real.”

Kowalski said, “it’s the solemnity; it’s so spiritual.”

But there’s another factor. Bauer explained it as “praying for each other whenever someone needs it, no matter what time.”

Baird said that they love the church because “it’s small. We have a real sense of belonging.”

Divine Liturgies at Sts. Cyril and Methodius start at 10 a.m. each Sunday and all interested persons are welcome to attend.

The church has its own website.

*****

And who were Sts. Cyril and Methodius?

Sts. Cyril (who was actually named Constantine) and Methodius were brothers who lived in Thessalonica, the sons of Christian parents.

They became missionaries in Moravia and against their will and wishes, became involved in political battles in their new land.

Both men believed in people using their native language for religious expression and Constantine translated the liturgy into Slavonic. In the East it was the custom to use the vernacular.

The task embroiled Constantine in constant political battles with local priests who saw the work as a move toward independence and a loss of their own authority. The dissent even involved the pope.

Constantine left Moravia to go to Rome. He became a monk in 869 and took the name Cyril. He died shortly afterward.

Methodius continued his brother’s translation work, but the criticism and dissent continued. That did not stop Methodius. It is said he translated the Bible and the work of the Fathers of the Church into Slavonic before he died in 884. The two brothers are considered the fathers of Slavonic literature.

Their feast day in the Universal Church is Feb. 14. In the Eastern rite, St. Cyril’s feast is observed Feb. 14, St. Methodius, April 6, and the two brothers together on May 11.

(Information about the saints comes from the Catholic Online website.)


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