Friday, December 9, 2011

The Curious Effects of a Car Accident (On the Death of a Bishop)

God, I hated Andrew Pataki.

For those of you who don't know who he was, Bishop Andrew Pataki was one of the most controversial figures of the Byzantine Catholic rite in America. He wanted the Byzantine Catholic Church to become as Roman Catholic as possible, and went after it with a gusto that I wish I had about my own life. He was strong-willed to the point of stubbornness, and helped put through a translation of the Liturgy that still makes the Orthodox laugh because of its inclusive language. He closed churches on a whim's notice. One of my best priest friends has memories about arguing with Pataki about shaving in the seminary because clean-faced priests are Catholic, and only do those damned Orthodox have beards. Most people whom I associated with in the Byzantine Ruthenian Church were his most avid opponents and critics. Heck, when I was in high school one of my best friends had a falling out with the man over a few things and had to drop out of seminary for a short time (he is now an ordained priest, thank God!) Everything that I wanted the Byzantine Catholic Church in America to be Pataki was against. So I had a few things against the man, on a few levels. Some were quite petty, and some were ideological.

Yeah, I say I had those issues. Past tense.

Bishop Andrew Pataki of the Byzantine Catholic Ruthenian Epharcy of Passaic died in a car accident. And I can't shake the guilt.

I've only had one actual interaction with His Grace. I was 17 years old, and had just begun iconography. I had just completed an icon for my friend Chaa, and brought it to her at the ByzanTEEN rally in Maryland. It was my ninth icon, and I was so excited with it! I had learned a lot in writing and praying this icon, and I couldn't wait for Chaa to see it. Here it is:

Gosh, I was so proud of those robes, and I couldn't wait for Chaa to see how much I'd done. Now, I've always been a rather... precocious... person. I knew that if I was going to give something to one of my friends, I was gonna do this right. So I decided that not just anyone was going to bless this icon. A bishop would bless it. But not just any bishop, my bishop, His Grace John Kudrick of Parma! So I served at the huge multi-bishop Liturgy, and waited for Bishop Kudrick outside the bishop's "office" where they were all un-vesting. And who should poke his head out to see who the annoying half-pint standing outside was?

I think you can guess. 

He asked me what I was doing, and I told him that I really wanted Bishop Kudrick to bless my icon that I'd written for a friend. Now, this wasn't the first time I had gotten an icon blessed by Bishop Kudrick. This was actually the second icon of mine I was going to present to him. So I was totally fine with waiting. Bishops are extremely busy people. They work days that are the equivalents of our weeks, and even at seventeen I knew I was imposing just a bit by standing outside and daring to get in the way. But, see, the problem was that there was a bus I needed to catch so I wouldn't be stranded at the cathedral. So, as respectfully as I could to the man whom I couldn't stand, I asked if Bishop Kudrick could see me now, if he pleased. He grinned in an unabashed, boyish, way and he vanished back into the office. Not even a minute later he brought out Bishop Kudrick, saying that a young man wished to see him and wasn't that a beautiful icon? Bishop Kudrick smiled a bit weakly (he had just gotten out of the hospital, if memory serves me right), and he blessed the icon. I thanked them both, and ran back to the bus. I was the last person on, and narrowly avoided being left behind. When I got on the bus Chaa was waiting by the door. After a brief scolding for playing it too close she took a look at the icon and grinned. She kissed the icon (a customary sign of respect), and an entire school bus's worth of Byzantine teenagers perked up. They all demanded to see the icon, and each and every person on the bus kissed it and called it beautiful. 

It's one of my most treasured memories as an iconographer, heck, as a person. 

And I ignored the man responsible for it. 

I spent  the rest of my time while Pataki was alive trying to not hate the man, and I mostly failed. When I found out he had retired I rejoiced, and said that the Church could finally recover. I didn't consider the fact that he was in poor health, and was (reportedly) disappointed by not being able to finish the job. And while I won't deny that what Pataki did was wrong, that doesn't excuse me for hating him, or for ignoring his act of kindness towards me. Bishop Andrew Pataki is dead, and I feel pain for losing a man who did so much for me. I also feel guilt that it took until he died to remember his one act of kindness to me. But at least I have one good thing to remember him by. Funny how humanity works like that.