Christianity is an encounter with a person: the person of the risen Lord, Jesus from Nazareth (Benedict XVI.). Those who knew him in person spread the good news and helped others to come to a personal experience with Jesus. This is the shortest description of the nucleus of Christian faith. As the communities grew and penetrated different regions, different expressions of the same faith were born – different traditions or ways of life. In consequence, the history of Christianity knows the following traditions born in the main centers of IV. century world: Jerusalem, Antioch (Syria), Constantinople, Rome, and Alexandria. Each of them carries on the same faith, however, "wrapped" in different clothing if you wish.
Antiochian tradition founded by the Apostle Peter before he made his way to Rome, whose tradition is founded by the same Apostle. St. Mark the gospel writer is the father of the Alexandrian tradition. The Constantinopolitan or Byzantine tradition is believed to be founded by the Apostle Andrew. Jerusalem is tied to the St. James the Apostle.
The city of Jerusalem with its liturgies, theological expressions, and customs had the major impact on other traditions. The specific Hagiopolite liturgy (from the Greek Holy City) was incorporated and partially modified by her daughter – the liturgical movements of the capital city – Constantinople by the end of the XI. century. The liturgy of Constantinople still carries the specifically hagiopolite features such as "entrance with the Gospel book", "trisagion – Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal" hymn, the use of Menorah – seven branched candelabra on the altar, etc. Thus, in the Byzantine liturgy you can experience the ancient liturgy of Jerusalem and that of St. John Chrysostom.
Byzantine Christianity was brought to Central and Eastern Europe through the missionary activity of the Greek brothers St. Cyril and Methodius in 863 AD. Upon the request of the king of the Great Moravia, Rastislav, the Byzantine emperor Michael III sent them to spread the Gospel in the language of the local population – Slavs. Great Moravia covered the territory of today's Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, west Hungary, and reaching even to southern Poland and southern parts of east Germany. Its golden age was between 833 – 906 AD. There are the roots of our church, theology, liturgy, and traditions. By the end of the first millennium the Hungarians arrived. Their king St. Stephen was baptized as Byzantine. Until today you may see his crown in the Basilica built in his honor in Budapest. The crown is Byzantine, gift from the Byzantine Empire, handed on to the king by pope Silvester II. On the inner rim of the crown, we read the troparion to the Holy Cross written in the old Slavonic:Save your people, o Lord, and bless your inheritance! Give victory to your Holy Church over her enemies! Protect your people by your holy Cross!St. Stephen fostered the Byzantine Christianity asking for a bishop from Constantinople to continue what was interrupted in the turbulent years. Patriarch Theophylact of Constantinople consecrated the monk Hierotheos as bishop and sent him to the Hungarian empire to restructure the Byzantine church. At that time Latins and Byzantines lived together in St. Stephen's kingdom. Pope Silvester II mentions in his letters to St. Stephen that there are more Byzantine monasteries in his kingdom than Latins. Then the Tartars destroyed the developing kingdom in the XIII. century.
About a hundred and twenty years after the mission of St. Cyril and Methodius, in 988, another Slavic region was baptized: Kievan Rus or better known as Ukraine. Christianity was brought there by Byzantine missionaries, supported by the emperor Vladimir. This region developed its specific version of Byzantine Christianity tied to the ethnic culture. The Ukrainian Catholic Church carries on its great heritage. The Tartars brought an end to the golden age of the Kievan Rus (1132).
After the Tartar invasion, Moscow grew in importance. From the XV. century it became a center of the third Slavic version of Byzantine Christianity, the Russian. The three Slavic versions – that of Cyril and Methodius (today know as Ruthenian), Ukrainian, and Russian – have similarities and differences. The liturgical texts are the same, but the music is essentially different. There is a great difference in liturgical vestments, church decoration, structure of the iconostasis. One of the many examples: Ruthenians and Ukrainian bow down first and then make a sign of the cross. In this they follow the older Greek tradition. The Russian make a sign of the cross first, and then bow down.
St. Cyril and Methodius brought not only Christianity (translating the Bible, the liturgical books) but also gave the Slavs the first written language and grammar: the Glagolitic, later transformed into Old Slavonic. Following the example of the Byzantine culture, they laid the foundation for the law, education, and literacy in the Great Moravia. Among the oldest examples are Kievan letters from Great Moravia found in Kyev; Prazske zlomky – Prague fractions (Byzantine liturgical prayer fragments); Spisske zlomky – Spis liturgical fragments of the Latin liturgy from 1480 that include many Byzantine prayers and elements. There was a monastery in this region in the XI. century, probably Byzantine. The monastery of Sazava (today part of Prague, Czech Republic) was a Byzantine monastery. In Hungary, above the lake Balaton, another Byzantine monastery existed – Tihany. Today you can see the remains of this monastery visiting the Benedictine one, built above it. These are but few examples of the Byzantine presence in Central Europe.
All this point to the continuous presence of the Byzantine Christianity in Europe. There are many more details to be explored. One of them is the question of uninterrupted communion with Rome. The Ochrid metropolia (today's Macedonia) and the Italo-albanese (Arbesh) (south Italy and Sicily) suggest that the schism of 1054 was not as fast a process as imagined but took centuries to clarify who is who and who stands on whose side. The two above mentioned jurisdiction never broke the communion with Rome and Constantinople. There were other churches that never split from the communion with the Successor of Peter. The unions of Florence, Brest-Litovsk, Uzhorod, and others should be viewed from this perspective, namely, there were attempts to restore the broken unity but there were communities still in communion with Peter's See. However, much research must be done yet to shed light on a complex phenomenon as the schism and restoration of unity in Central and Eastern Europe.
In the correspondence between the Austro Hungarian emperors and the Holy See a specific term is used to designate the Byzantine Christians: Ruthenorum. This is commonly transliterated as Ruthenians and mistakenly put into English as Rusyn or Carpatho Rusyn, suggesting an ethnic connotation. However, Ruthenorum designates membership of the Eastern Byzantine Church and not ethnic identity (Bishop Joannik Bazilovic, 1742-1821). Byzantines of the Empire living on the southern part of the Carpathian mountains – including the plains of Eastern Slovakia, Subcarpathia, North East Hungary, Croatia and North Serbia – Vojvodina – are called Ruthenians. In the popular language usage of that day "Ruska vira" which refers to the Eastern Christianity and not ethnicity. Ethnically, they were a mix of populations – Rusyns, Slovaks, Hungarians, Croatian, Lemko, some Polish and German. In other words, Rusyns are but part of this community. In consequence, Ruthenorum – Ruthenians is not the same thing as Rusyn (Carpato Rusyn)! In other words, the Ruthenian church represents Byzantine Catholics from the Austro Hungarian Empire, who started to move to the New Land in the XIX. century. Ethnically these Byzantine Catholics are members of different nations.
The Holy See established in the beginning of the XX. century two different ecclesial jurisdictions in the USA for the immigrants from the Austro Hungarian Empire: the Ruthenian and Ukrainian. Ukrainian jurisdiction, today the Metropolia of Philadelphia, is primarily ethnic – Ukrainian. The Metropolia of Pittsburgh consists of different nationalities that live and have lived (back in Europe) within the specific Byzantine tradition, that of Cyril and Methodius. Therefore, we have Hungarian Byzantine Catholic Parishes, Croatian Byzantine Catholic Parishes, Slovak Byzantine Catholic Parishes and Rusyn Byzantine Catholic Parishes. And all of them are part of the Ruthenian church.
On December 6, 1961, thirteen men were ordained priests for the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At that time, it covered the entire United States of America. One of them, Fr. Edward Zavell was appointed to be the first resident pastor of St. John Chrysostom Parish in Columbus, Ohio. On the Sunday before Christmas, 1961, the first Divine Liturgy was offered at St. Charles Seminary chapel on East Broad Street. Bishop Clarence Issenmann of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus placed the facilities of St. Cyprian Chapel on Hawthorne Avenue to the new parish. At the end of 1962, the parish numbered 24 families. In the spring of 1964, 10 acres of land and a small house were purchased for a mortgage of $26,000 at 5824 Cleveland Avenue in the north end of the city. By that time the parish numbered 41 families.
In September of 1962, Fr. Zavell was transferred to the Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh. Fr. Robert Barter, another member of the class of 1961, was appointed pastor. The facilities on Hawthorne Avenue continued to be used until 1965 when the old section of St. Anthony Hospital (which owned St. Cyprian's) was torn down. It was then necessary for the nurses to use St. Cyprian's for a residence and classrooms. St. John Chrysostom parish found itself without any facilities and a debt of $26,000.00. It was necessary that construction on the ten acres of land begin as soon as possible. Mr. William Mnich, owner of WMNI radio and a prominent business community member, sought loans from various banks and lending institutions in town, none would lend money. The Greek Catholic Union was contracted and refused to lend any money. Bishop Nicholas Elko notified Fr. Barter that due to these circumstances, it would seem prudent to close St. John's. It was difficult to justify keeping a priest in Columbus for 40 families in a parish with a $26,000.00 debt and no facilities to say Liturgy. It seemed that all sources for construction funds had been exhausted when while on retreat in Pittsburgh, Fr. Barter was given the suggestion by Fr. John Bobak to contact Keen and Clarey in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a bonding company that made loans to churches.
Fr. Barter contacted Keen and Clarey and the company sent a vice-president, Stubbs, to access the Columbus situation. Keen and Clarey stated their willingness to give a $100,000.00 construction to the parish. Fr. Barter notified Bishop Elko and the Bishop gave permission to secure the loan. Already Fr. Zavell had encouraged the parish to tithe (give 10% of income). About ten of the 41 registered families responded to this suggestion but this produced an income of only $400.00 a month. Fr. Barter realized that it would be impossible to pay off $126,000.00 without some outside source of income. It was therefore decided to build a multi-purpose building suitable for Liturgy and fund raising activities such as Bingo.
Mr. Robert Pahl, the architect of neighboring St. Anthony parish, was secured as architect. While plans for the multi-purpose building were being drawn up, it was discovered in October of 1965 that Fr. Barter had cancer. He went to New York for surgery and cobalt treatments and while in the hospital consulted with Mr. Pahl on the details of construction. The building was completed in Spring of 1966 in time for Holy Week Services beginning with Holy Thursday. Dedication by Bishop Nicholas Elko and Bishop John Carberry of Columbus (later Cardinal-Archbishop of St. Louis) took place on Sunday, May 15, 1966. Bingo began in the building in August of 1966 with four parish members and six non-parish members as workers. The building was used for Liturgy, Bingo, dances and Sunday religious instruction. The religious instruction at various tables proved very difficult and the old farm house of four rooms was too small to serve as rectory. With the approval of Bishop Emil Mihalik of Parma, plans were drawn up for a Rectory with basement classrooms for religious instruction. The rectory was constructed for $60,000.00.
The loan on the land was paid off in 1971 and the mortgage burned on the 10th anniversary of the parish, at a Liturgy of Thanksgiving celebrated by Bishop Emil Mihalik with the late Bishop Clarence Elwell of Columbus in attendance. The loan on the Hall was paid off in 1976 and the rectory debt of $60,000 in 1978.
Fr. Barter had always desired that the only Byzantine Catholic parish in Central Ohio would have a beautiful church. However, he was not satisfied with some of the new construction in various areas of the Diocese, since in attempting to build "modern churches," the buildings were no different from local Protestant churches. However, in 1978 while on a visit to New Jersey, Fr. Barter saw St. Ann's Melkite Byzantine Rite parish, which was a beautiful example of a modern church, capturing all the beauty and spirit of Byzantine Architecture. In the same year, Fr. Barter came across an advertisement for Byzantine Fiber-glass domes and copulas. The firm was contacted and a Mr. Sergey Padukov, the president of Quality Prefabrication stopped in Columbus while on business in Cleveland and showed pictures and drawings of his various projects to Fr. Barter and Mr. David Pittinger, a parish member. What impressed them both was the fact that Mr. Padukov had rebuilt the first Russian Orthodox Church in America from scratch after it had burned down in Sitka, Alaska. The new church was an exact duplicate of the original in the smallest detail. A proposal was made to Bishop Mihalik about building a $500,000 church for the parish. $100,000 was in savings and the Bingo income seemed sufficient to pay off the debt even before its due date. Numerous meetings were held with the parish building committee and a very beautiful modern Byzantine style church was designed.
The unique feature of the building was a fiberglass dome covered with 23 carat gold leaf (purchased in 1969 for $70.00 an ounce). The church was completed in 1980 and dedicated by Bishop Emil Mihalik on May 18, 1980. The building was outstanding for a number of reasons, its unique architecture combining the spirit of Byzantine architecture with the warmth of wood construction common to Eastern Europe and the reasonable cost of $500,000 for a building seating 300 people. The church is not a carbon copy of some existing ancient Byzantine church but rather an original design using laminated arches instead of pendantives to support the Dome. The building has become a Columbus landmark, featured on a puzzle of the city and the pictographic map "we're making it great" of Columbus landmarks.
In 1986, on the first Sunday of October, the parish celebrated the 25th anniversary of the parish and pastor at a Liturgy of Thanksgiving offered by Bishop Andrew Pataki, Bishop of Parma and Bishop James Griffin of Columbus in attendance. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day with over 75 clergy and 250 laity in attendance for the Liturgy and Banquet. For the 25th Anniversary numerous improvements were made. The parking lot was repaved and sealed for $10,000.00. Minimum landscaping for $6,000.00. Large stained glass windows of the Resurrection theme were installed for $40,000.00. Columns of marble were added to the old marble of the main Altar and new side altars were installed using the base of the old altar for $5,000.00. For over 25 years old plywood that had been laying around the construction site of the church hall had been used for side altars. These scraps of wood were finally replaced with marble altars for the 25th anniversary. The debt was due in 1989. Payments of $70,000.00 a year interest and principal have been made for the past eight years. In 1989 the parish burned the mortgage and became debt free.
Fr. Eugene Linowski was assigned to St. John Chrysostom in 1987 and he retired in 2003. From 2003 until 2005 Fr. James Batcha served as parish priest, followed by Fr. Terrence Cyril Farmer. He was succeeded by Fr. Robert Stash in 2012 until 2019. In 2019 Fr. Robert Jager was appointed as parish administrator of St. John Chrysostom in Columbus.