Byzantines hope to establish new mission at Transfiguration

BLYTHEWOOD—For many years, people in the Midlands have traveled long distances to attend the Byzantine Mass, also known as the Divine Liturgy.

That changed on Oct. 1, when a liturgy was celebrated at what many hope will become a permanent Byz­antine mission at Transfiguration Church.

About 100 people attended the Mass celebrated by Father Joseph Mat­lak, a priest for the Eparchy of St. Josephat in Parma, Ohio. He made the short trip from Charlotte, N.C., where he is administrator of St. Ba­sil the Great Mission and chaplain at a Catholic middle school.

Father Matlak said the Midlands is the newest focus of mission efforts by the eparchy, as more people settle in the southeast.

“Like other Catholic populations, Byzantine Catholics are moving south, and they’re not finding many Byzantine churches,” he said. “We have a scarcity of priests, but we are seeing growing communities … interested in the Byzantine rite.”

The Blythewood parish was sug­gested as a possible location because of its proximity to I-77 and because no Masses were scheduled there on Sunday evenings. Permission was granted by Msgr. James L. LeBlanc, pastor.

“Everyone in Blythewood has been very welcoming and charitable to us,” Father Matlak said. “We’re grateful to them and to have a place to worship, because the Divine Litur­gy is so life-giving to us.”

The Byzantine Church is in full communion with Rome, and the national church is based in Pitts­burgh. Most Byzantine Catholics in this country have Eastern European roots, and traditionally have been concentrated in the Northeast, espe­cially New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsyl­vania.

The only other site for Byzantine worship in South Carolina is Blessed Basil Hopko Mission outside Con­way in Horry County. It was formed in 2009 and is led by the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, N.J.

The liturgy attracted many people who were raised in the Byzantine rite but have attended the Roman rite since they moved to South Carolina. Father Matlak also spoke with mem­bers of other Eastern rites. Among those attending were several Melkite Catholics and one person who remem­bered the Divine Liturgy from when she was a child in Romania.

“She had not been to a Byzantine rite Mass since she was a child, and she was in tears of joy afterward,” Father Matlak said. “It was a nice experience to see how the liturgy af­fected her and others.”

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Top photo provided: More than 100 people turned out on Oct. 1 for a Byzantine Divine Liturgy that was held at Transfiguration Church in Blythewood. It was the first liturgy for what many hope will become a Byzantine Catholic mission in the Midlands.