"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Married Priesthood

William Sametz, My Father the Priest (Toronto: Hypertext, 2008), x+262pp.

It is a commonplace that Eastern Christians have married priests. If people know nothing else about the Christian East--and most do not--they usually have filed this fact away from some source or other.

This book, which came to me via a curious route involving a Canadian cabinet minister, tells the story of one such married priest, Fr. Peter Sametz (1893-1985), who was born in Galicia and immigrated to Western Canada in 1910. He became one of the first priests of the newly founded Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada and spent the rest of his life in her service in various parishes across the country. This is a charming book with many fascinating pictures and plates that tells a common story about immigration, struggles on the prairies, and then the flourishing of those new communities.

It is also, alas, a story about nationalism, and how it strangled, and continues to strangle, Eastern Christianity. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church was born in Canada in part because of nationalist issues in the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, much of whose story is told in a recent book by Paul Laverdure, Redemption and Ritual: The Eastern-Rite Redemptorists of North America, 1906-2006 (which I reviewed in 2008 in the Canadian Catholic Historical Association Bulletin, and which Peter Galadza reviewed in the Catholic Historical Review. Part of his review is available here. We both reached the same verdict: Laverdure's is a splendid book.) These are issues across Eastern Christian traditions today. I've had many conversations with Orthodox priests who report the same problems among Russians, Greeks, Serbians, Bulgarians, Macedonians, and others. Nationalism has helped preserve the faith in some places like Armenia and Galicia, but it has also helped to kill it in North America in many places, and that is a great sadness.

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