Orthodox Christians and Byzantine Catholics Pray Together to the Theotokos for Victory Over the Culture of Death

One of the most interesting visits of the Pilgrim Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa was to visit the small rural community of Hawk Run, Pennsylvania on November 1, 2013.  The population of Hawk Run is 400 people.

Our Lady visited two churches that stood just about a hundred yards away from one another both named St. John the Baptist. St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church and St. John the Baptist had worshipped together in one church, but in the 1950’s there had been a bitter split.

The original church members had emigrated from Central Europe in the late 19th Century.  Most of the immigrants came from the Sub-carpathian Region part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The original church was built in 1903 and dedicated on the Feast of St. John the Baptist on July 7, 1904. This was the date of the celebration of his birth in the Julian calendar in use by the Greek Catholic Church at the time.

I had met Fr. Will Rupp, the Pastor of St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church, when the pilgrim icon visited Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in State College, PA and he was enthusiastic about the possibility of bringing the Black Madonna to his parish.

Fr. Peter Benyo is the Pastor of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church which is right next door. St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church is a affiliated with the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A..  Fr. Peter and Fr. Will have a great relationship and have worked hard to lessen old tensions, emphasizing the beliefs and practices that they have in common.  They decided that a visit of the Black Madonna should include both churches, celebrating our common love for the Theotokos – the name both the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics call the Blessed Virgin Mary. Theotokos literally means “God-bearer”.

The evening began with a procession into St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church. An Akathist service was prayed which is a beautiful hymn of praise to the Theotokos. I was invited to speak afterwards about the icon, the nature of the pilgrimage and the wonderful cooperation between Catholics and the Orthodox from the beginning of the pilgrimage.

The icon was then processed at night by candlelight to St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church where the choir sang beautiful Marian hymns and Fr. Peter Benyo prayed a dismissal prayer. Everyone then enjoyed some food and refreshments together at the hall of the Orthodox Church.

The next morning Fr. Peter, Protodeacon Emil Gulick, Fr. William, Deacon Dennis Prestash and I all went out for breakfast before the Black Madonna moved on to her next destination the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Lorain, Ohio.

Fr. Peter West
Vice President for Missions
Human Life International

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