I do not want to mislead anyone by this headline. I did not have a problem with drugs and alcohol. My marriage was not in shambles. I had a stable job and rewarding career. I had a regular prayer habit, including adoration of the Blessed Sacrament most days of the week. I attended Mass at least three times a week. I was not hitting bottom in any obvious way.

But despite the rich blessings in my life and the fervor and commitment with which I acted out my spiritual and religious life, I was experiencing a spiritual poverty. I felt disconnected from the Mass. I was full of apathy and doubt about my walk with the Church Universal.

I was a casualty of the plight of modern man. Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox theologian, astutely articulates it like this: “The modern man has come of age as a deadly serious adult, conscious of his sufferings and alienations but not of joy, of sex but not of love, of science but not of ‘mystery.’”

I had a hunger and a thirst — for something, for Someone, for God — but all my religious efforts, like the fig tree in the Gospels, bore no fruit.

Around this same time I felt drawn to the Eastern Church. I attended several Divine Liturgies at a Greek Orthodox Church and was reading books by Orthodox authors, as well as writings by the early church fathers. The eastern lung of the church resonated with me deeply — from the sacred Divine Liturgy to the Jesus Prayer, from the writings of Orthodox theologians to the continued emphasis on engaging in ascetical struggles — the expression of the apostolic faith as handed down by the Eastern Church immediately connected with me, and I sensed that I had found my home after a long interval of wandering. The obvious next step appeared to be conversion to the Orthodox Church, so I began meeting with an Orthodox priest about this process.

Thanks be to God for the Byzantine Catholic Church.

My spiritual director, a Trappist monk, told me about the Eastern Catholic Churches and suggested that I attend one consistently for at least six months to help discern where the Holy Spirit was calling me. This led me to St. Irene Byzantine Catholic Church in North Portland. Here, in a Catholic Church, my senses were overwhelmed with the sacred and sublime beauty of the Byzantine Liturgy: the icons, the incense, the chant, and the gestures. Father Schmemann encapsulates the profundity of the Divine Liturgy: “The liturgy is, before everything else, the joyous gathering of those who are to meet the risen Lord and to enter with him into the bridal chamber. And it is this joy of expectation and this expectation of joy that are expressed in singing and ritual, in vestments and in censing, in that whole beauty of the liturgy.”

The Eastern Church continues to place the ascetic tradition of the church at the forefront of her spirituality. Fasting and abstinence occur on most Wednesdays and Fridays, and every day throughout Lent. Daily prayers also incorporate metanies (profound bows where one bends at the waist and touches the floor with the right hand) and full prostrations. This participation of the body in one’s spirituality helps teach one discipline, how to keep one’s addictions in check, how to humbly call on our Lord in supplication when we have fallen, and to remember that the sanctification and salvation we are participating in with God includes the whole person: mind, soul, spirit, and body.

After consistently attending Divine Liturgies at St. Irene and keeping my daily prayer rule, the world was again alive with the fecundity of God, or rather, I was again conscious of God’s gratuitous outpouring of life and love in myself and all around me. The hymnody of the Byzantine Catholic Church is glorious and theologically rich. Away from church, I would catch myself singing parts from the divine services and come to realize that the words were from one of the church fathers or from an ecumenical council. The harmony and poetry of the liturgy follows one outside the walls of the church, revealing God in every nook and cranny of our sacred world. Father Schmemann describes the radiant joy one experiences when living a life grounded in the liturgy: “In the radiance of His light the world is not commonplace. The very floor we stand on is a miracle of atoms whizzing about in space.”

Another blessing of Byzantine Catholic parishes is that they tend to be smaller, so it is easier to get involved in various ministries, to feel connected with other parishioners and to get to know the priest. When a prayer request is emailed out, you typically know the person in need of prayer. I had never intended to sing, or chant as it is known in the Byzantine tradition. But there was a need at St. Irene’s, so I plunged into the role and it has proved to be the most effective form of catechesis I have ever encountered. In memorizing the hymns, I have learned the doctrines that have been handed down to us in our sacred tradition, which was the very intent of the Byzantine hymnographers.

I do not mean to detract from the Western Church. She shares in the sacred deposit of faith, and her faithful experience joy, sanctification and profound relationships with Christ through her unique genius and expression of the apostolic faith. I continue to attend daily Mass two days per week, so am certainly breathing with both lungs of the church. On my journey, though, an Eastern Catholic Church lifted me out of the torrent of a secularized mindset — a mindset lacking deep trust in God, joy, and openness to mystery — and placed me in the safety of the Ark of the Byzantine Catholic Church.

The Church Universal is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and the Byzantine expression of the faith can play a pivotal role in connecting with people of our current epoch and catechizing them in the beauty, joy and depth of the one faith, as it did me. Melkite Catholic Archbishop Joseph Raya articulates the importance of the Byzantine Church for evangelizing modernity: “I deeply believe that the Byzantine way is still the most suitable way for modern man to come to the realization of the sheer poetry and grace that are in the Gospels. I believe that Western man, and especially Americans, can easily live it, and that it can add to his enrichment without any intellectual capitulation.”