Catholic University Looks East

Ukrainian Father Mark Morozowich is the first Eastern Catholic to lead CUA’s School of Theology.

Father Mark Morozowich
Father Mark Morozowich (photo: Courtesy of Catholic University of America)

There was a time in the history of the Church in America that Eastern-rite Catholics were regarded with some suspicion by the dominant Latin-rite Catholic Church. They were forbidden to continue their tradition of allowing married men to be ordained to the priesthood, and Eastern-rite churches were expected to follow certain liturgical norms, including the installation of kneelers. (Traditionally, Eastern-rite Catholics stand during a good part of the liturgy, even during the consecration).

The demands led many Eastern Catholics in the United States to leave for the Orthodox Church.

But one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, called upon Eastern Catholics to rediscover their authentic traditions, and Eastern Catholic Churches, though still relatively small, are thriving in the United States and elsewhere.

Now, an Eastern Catholic priest, Father Mark Morozowich, has been appointed head of one of the United States’ premiere Catholic schools of theology.

Father Morozowich, associate professor in the School of Theology and Religious Studies of The Catholic University of America, was appointed its dean July 1.

“It gives me great pleasure to appoint Father Mark Morozowich as dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies,” said John Garvey, CUA president, in a statement. “Father Morozowich has the skills and the experience to lead our university’s oldest school and to address the challenge of leadership in the Church’s intellectual life. Father Morozowich is the first Eastern Catholic to head the school. Symbolically, this demonstrates The Catholic University of America’s commitment to Blessed John Paul II’s vision of the Church ‘breathing with two lungs’ — both Eastern and Western rites.”

Father Morozowich joined the theology and religious studies faculty in 2003 as an assistant professor of liturgical studies and sacramental theology. He studied with Jesuit Father Robert Taft, a leading expert in Eastern Christian studies, at the Oriental Institute in Rome and earned a doctorate in Eastern Christian studies there, with a specialization in liturgy. He served as associate dean for seminary and ministerial programs from July 2006 to June 2011 and as acting dean of the school since July 2011.

Father Morozowich researches the historical development of the liturgical year in Byzantine tradition with a concentration on Holy Week, as well as themes of sacramental theology in the patristic period and its relationship with liturgical history. He has written on pastoral implications of liturgical studies and their effect on Eastern Churches today.

A Western Pennsylvania native, Father Morozowich pursued a vocation to the priesthood in the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma, Ohio. He studied at St. Basil’s Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Stamford, Conn., and CUA, and served in parishes in Pittsburgh and in Butler, Pa.

He spoke recently with Register news editor John Burger.


Catholic University is touting the fact that you are the first Eastern Catholic to lead the School of Theology and Religious Studies. Tell me about that. What is the significance?

When we begin to think about the Catholic Church, it’s really an amalgamation of Churches. … So, we have various different Eastern Churches with their own liturgical, canonical, theological, spiritual traditions. It’s hard, so many times, because the Latin Church is just so large, especially in this country, that when we look at the Eastern Churches, we don’t always understand that they are just as Catholic as the Latin ritual tradition is.

So, when we think, then, about the theological world, we are taken back to the time of Constantine, when there was one Church, both East and West. And this lasted, as we all know, through the centuries, with various schisms, certainly, but until 1054, when there was the great divide between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Rome.

However, the theological inheritance, the idea that Nicaea happened in the East, the Councils of Constantinople were considered as ecumenical councils. So the theological basis for many of these discussions, some might say, is just purely Eastern; but certainly the Catholic Church holds to the ecumenical councils as being representative of the true teaching of the Church. So when we try to expand the understanding of the word “Catholic,” we see that it’s universal, so this is sort of a further development, a sort of realization of that, to say that it’s not just a medieval, theological tradition, but that when we look at the whole tradition of the Church, we understand that as being the whole 2,000-year lived tradition of the Church. And as it also said in the press release, following Pope John Paul II, the Church breathing with two lungs, both Eastern and Western.


So you would certainly bring that perspective to the theological field and the School of Theology.

Yes, so when we look at the theological tradition, the tradition of the Church is the whole 2,000-year tradition; and that when we try to understand, we certainly need to base ourselves in what we have said throughout the centuries. We can even look at liturgical developments: The Sanctus in the liturgy was a Syriac hymn that was interpolated later into the liturgy. Even in the Latin Church today, we still have the Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, which is clearly Greek terminology that came into the Latin liturgy as well.

So I think this is really helping to accentuate that sense of an interdependency of the Church and all of its various manifestations and traditions.


Did this play a role in CUA’s decision to appoint you to this position?

I don’t know. Certainly it’s something that enriches the school and that my colleagues have said that they’re very excited about this, and many of them have been involved in this type of work already. And looking at Eastern liturgical and historical and theological traditions already. So it just further helps to amplify it and, if you will, put a face on all of it.


As far as you know, would you also be the first Eastern Catholic priest to lead a theological school in this country?

I would think so. As a historian, I’m always loath to make those sort of claims without real empirical data. But to the best of my knowledge, I know of no other Eastern Catholic priest for certain that has been the leader of a Catholic theological school in this country.


Aside from Ukrainian seminaries?

We don’t have a separate theologate in this country. Our theology is done at Catholic University; that’s where I studied as a seminarian. There’s certainly a Byzantine seminary in Pittsburgh that had its own theologate, but that’s not a university. Another way to look at it is: Has there been a university-based theology program that’s had an Eastern Catholic in charge of it? Well, no, as far as I know.


How far back do your Ukrainian roots go?

My grandparents immigrated to this country in the 19-teens or the  early ’20s. My parents were both born here.


How much of that Ukrainian heritage has been in your consciousness, and what was that like growing up? There must have been a lot of stories passed down from Ukrainian villages and Catholic village life and that sort of thing.

Sure, the importance of the liturgical life, the importance of prayer, the importance as well of the family life, the family traditions — say, Christmas traditional dinner, Easter with the traditional celebrations in church and the traditional foods at home, with the kielbasa, the Easter eggs and the whole experience. Having been born and raised in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the whole sense of an awareness of a Church that was persecuted, that had no legal standing when I was growing up. It was only 1989, when I was already in the theology department at Catholic University, where the Church in Ukraine was finally allowed to become free.

So, growing  up and knowing that we had relatives who were certainly persecuted and the Church that was totally operating in the underground, that had a huge impact upon me. And being able to understand that things aren’t quite what they seem — and we can’t take for granted all of these issues.


Did you know your grandparents? Were they still alive when you were growing up?

My grandmothers were both still alive when I was born.

They had left Ukraine as young people, in search of a new tomorrow. Initially, they had planned to make money here and return home, as most people would. But with the world war and what not, that became an impossibility for them. So they made their lives here and were surrounded by their family and their children and grandchildren, and that became the center of their reality, then.


What was it that led you to the priesthood?

Well, I remember having a guy from my parish who was ordained, and his liturgy of thanksgiving was during the Eastertide, and the whole Church was singing out this Easter hymn that we always sing: “Christ is risen from the dead, conquering death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life.” And they were singing it, and I just had a impression of God and an impression of: Well, maybe this whole thing — there is something to it after all. And I just felt uplifted, and that was sort of my first real inclination — this is when I was a freshman in high school — that there’s something more here, and maybe I should think again about this. And, as I like to say, I keep deciding to be a priest every day. It’s a continual commitment and a continual falling deeper and deeper in love with God.


And what was it about theology that led you to specialize in that science?

Going back to liturgical experience, I always loved Holy Week, and I was just very much in love with our services, in love with the prayers, and just meditating upon what that relationship with Jesus and his own life and his own sacrifice and his resurrection. And that sort of imbued me with a deeper respect and a profound love of liturgical traditions. And as I was in Stamford and then in Washington, learning more about the liturgy, I began to fall more and more in love with it and wanted to learn more about this liturgy. I had always expressed my interest to the bishop about going on for theological studies, for knowing more, for understanding more, for developing that side of my faith life, the intellectual side. And he presented the opportunity to all the clergy to study liturgy, and I sent in the letter, and off I went.


What was it like studying with Father Robert Taft?

It was a wonderful experience. Father Taft is one of the most intelligent, most resourceful theologians, liturgists that I’ll ever know. His stories, his ability to deal with specific facts and at the same time to begin to paint a broad picture, to understand this activity of Jesus Christ in this liturgy operative today, that saving reality; really, it was just wonderful.

And I began to have the opportunity as well to befriend him, and we have traveled together and have been in Ukraine together and have had some wonderful experiences. He’s just a great, great man; he’s funny and at times irreverent, but he just has a heart of gold.


Is he still very active?

He’s still working away. He’s finishing his third volume of his magisterial work on the Byzantine liturgy. He’s up in Boston now; he’s retired and out of Rome.


What are some of the things that inform your thinking on things theological?

Well, when we look at the whole theological task … the importance of history and understanding tradition are really key in the whole experience, and if we want to have a good understanding and a developed approach then we need to have a broad perspective, and that includes an across-the-board comparative approach. So my theological and liturgical studies involve comparative liturgy. So this is not just a historical study of liturgy, where we look at diverse ritual traditions to understand how the history developed, but we also look to them to understand how theology developed; because when we look at the Church, when we look at liturgy, if you will, it’s not just a historical entity — it’s a metaphysical, it’s a spiritual reality that these people were engaged in.

We have these “monuments” that exist in writing; these manuscripts that show us some aspects of the past, but they’re just bits and pieces, little jewels of the past. So, to be able to put them together and understand how people were celebrating, were worshipping, were living, were relating to God dynamically, we need to not just look at one specific account, but to try to look at the whole of the Christian experience and try to immerse ourselves into that reality, to see where they were going, why they were interested in what they were interested in.

There were certain things, for instance, that shaped theologians in Cappadocia, with the controversies surrounding the Holy Spirit. It’s very clear that this is why we have such a clear, developed epicletical within the Eastern liturgies: because people were questioning the role of the Holy Spirit. And so that they were able to enhance, that they were able to include these aspects within their liturgical prayers, is just another sign and another witness to that great reality that we celebrate, that we have of the living liturgy.

We can even go forward and look at different prayers and how they were composed and how well we can learn something from others and develop and shape our experience, so that, in our liturgies, we have these celebrations of God’s activity in our life that are alive, that are living, that are in the present, and that we …

Also, it’s a melding of the historical and theological data that would enable us to have a synthetic look at the present; so that when we look at tradition — tradition is our ability to see today with the inheritance of yesterday.


You used the word “epicletical,” which would refer to the epiclesis, the calling down of the Holy Spirit during the consecration.

Within the Anaphora, the Eucharistic Prayer.


And that is more emphasized in the Eastern liturgies, I believe.

Yes, that has been more explicit in the Eastern liturgies, and that’s something that after the reform of the Second Vatican Council became more explicit in the Latin liturgies as well.


Are you interested in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue? Do you see any hope of movement toward unity?

In fact, together with Father Taft, we founded the Society for Oriental Liturgy. We had our first meeting in 2006, in Eichstätt, Germany, and the emphasis was to bring together oriental liturgists from all different confessions, so we could come together and really do it on an academic level and not on a confessional level: to advance the historical, scientific, liturgical, theological, architectural and musicological studies of Eastern liturgy.

The second meeting was in 2008 in Rome; the third was in 2010, in Volos, Greece, an Orthodox land; so we had many of the Orthodox participating in that meeting. And I’m just getting back from the 2012 meeting, which took place in Beirut, Lebanon, where we had Maronites and Melkites and people from throughout the world who had gathered, even from India. So this is one way, sort of a concrete, ecumenical movement.

I firmly believe that as we work together, as we build these common bonds of friendship through intellectual discourse, that this will eventually help us on the ground in developing relationships and that the more that we can build these bridges, ecumenically throughout the world; and that’s why I’m so passionate about the Society for Oriental Liturgy — because I’ve seen that happen already.

I have friends from Orthodox countries all over the world that we keep in contact with, even by email and Skype, and it helps to build those bridges.


So, you do see some kind of movement happening, maybe some walls breaking down.

Yes, these are difficult situations. If you look at Moscow today, with the Orthodox Church, they’re in the midst of a springtime of intellectual renewal and formational renewal. And we’re only a little more than 20 years out from the whole communist era. And although they had some schools that were open, there was no freedom as such; and so, as these schools grow and as people have the ability to exchange ideas with other theological scholars from throughout the world — something I’m very keen in promoting and which I would hope in my role as dean and my unique position as an Eastern Catholic — I think this sends interesting messages to the whole “Eastern world” that the Catholic Church sees an Eastern Catholic, an Easterner, as able to take the leadership position of a school of Catholic theology.


Speaking of a different kind of “orthodox,” many Catholics are concerned about the orthodoxy of Catholic colleges and universities.

Our faculty is fully committed to the mission of the Church and fully committed to the theological endeavor, as seen in union with the Church of Rome. It may not always be somebody’s particular sense of what Rome is asking us to do, but keeping in mind what the Holy See has in mind always, it’s difficult for people to understand that the apostolate of the theologian is one which includes seeking out truth and knowledge at all levels.

For some people, it might be a little difficult to understand: Why are they discussing this or that issue? Of course Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Well, there are ways of understanding that.

I just recently traveled to Fatima, and it was interesting to speak with them — as well about people’s understanding of the miracles at Fatima. I would hazard to guess that most people have never read Pope Benedict XVI’s (then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s) letter about private and public revelation and the distinguishing notes that are made in our Catholic theology.

But this is the teaching of the Church, and that’s certainly what we try to amplify. And we try to make it accessible to people to try to enrich their life of faith.

John Burger is the Register’s news editor.