Skip to comments.What is an Eastern Catholic?
Posted on 06/09/2004 10:54:33 AM PDT by NYer
The Christian Church was born in the Holy Land, what we call the Middle East today. As it spread, the Church took on the ways of the nations which accepted it. In this country, most Christian churches are 'western' because their roots are in western Europe, and their ways reflect the culture of the German, Irish or Italian immigrants who founded them.
Some American churches, were started by people from Eastern Europe or the Middle East. They still keep the ways of the Holy Land (Jerusalem, where Christ founded His Church; Antioch, where the name Christian was first used; Damascus, where Saint Paul was converted) and their daughter Churches in Eastern Europe. Because our ways reflect this Eastern culture, we are called 'Eastern' Churches.
At the time of the early Church, there were several rich cultures in the Middle East and each of them has given rise to a different church tradition. The traditions of this church reflect the Greek or Byzantine culture, and so we are called Greek Catholics or Byzantine Catholics (from Byzantium, the ancient name for Constantinople).
Greek Catholics in the Middle East were also nicknamed 'Melkite' because they followed the faith of the Byzantine emperor, or melek. In addition, many Greek Catholic Churches are identified by their national origin, such as Hungarian, Romanian or Ukrainian.
WHAT IS DISTINCTIVE ABOUT OUR TRADITION?
As Eastern Christians we have a particular style of Christian living all our own. We especially stress:
*A belief in our call to be divinized;
* Union with God through the Holy Mysteries
*A 'Public' life of worship, fellowship, service;
* A 'secret' life of prayer, fasting and sharing;
* The need for 'spiritual warfare'.
Our most important belief is that we are called 'to become partakers of the divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4), not just to be 'saved' from sin. We see ourselves as invited to live the very life of God, to become intimately related to God, to be physically united to Christ and to have the Holy Spirit dwell within us! The Church Fathers saw this as the reason for Christ's coming: 'God became man so that man might become God' (St. Athanasius).
This relationship begins when we receive in faith the Holy Mysteries (what western Churches call sacraments). In Baptism we are made one with Christ as we reenact His burial and resurrection. This reliving takes place when we are buried (immersed) into the water and are raised from it. We immediately receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, "the first of God's gifts" (Romans 8:23) in Chrismation (Confirmation). In receiving the Eucharist, we recognize that our mortal bodies are united to the Body and Blood of Christ as a token of the life to come, when they shall be united to Him in glory forever. Thus we see these Mysteries, not merely as pious devotions, but as encounters with God, actually producing the effects they symbolize.
As members of God's family, we belong to one another, and so we live an active community life as Church. Most importantly, we join one another to worship in Christ. Our style of worship in the Eastern Churches reflects the presence of the risen Christ among us in glory and joy. All the senses take part in our worship to express this glory. We see icons, vestments, candles; we smell incense and perfumes; we hear continuous singing; we taste blessed foods and use physical gestures such as bowing, prostrating and crossing ourselves to express our wonder at the glory of God.
Another important aspect of our community life is our Joy in Each Other's Company, expressed in the frequent meals and social times we share. Finally, we open ourselves to Support One Another in the trials of daily life. In this way the unity we celebrate at the Eucharist is lived out day by day.
Besides this public Christian life, the Eastern Churches also stress a Personal Spiritual Life 'in secret, so that your Father, who sees all will reward you' (Matthew 6:6). Chief of these is Personal Prayer in the silence of our own hearts, where we can speak honestly with God. Thus one of the most popular prayers in the Christian East is the so called Jesus Prayer, which sums up our need for God's love: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner'.
In addition, Eastern Christians are called to Fast and to Share Their Goods in secret as Jesus commanded (Matthew 6:1-8). By refusing to gratify, ourselves endlessly whenever we want, we reflect our need to continue our conversion day by day.
Though we are called to be divinized, we realize that this process is long: 'The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life' (Matthew 7:14). The most difficult obstacle to our growth is the weakness and brokenness of our personalities. This is why the Eastern Churches call on their members to engage in a Spiritual Warfare in the arena of their hearts, learning to subject their weaknesses to the divinizing power of the Holy Spirit working within them.
Eastern Christians are urged to conduct this warfare with the help of a Spiritual Guide. Counseling, then, is not something for those with problems, but for all of us who seek to grow in our relationship with God.
All these beliefs and practices date from the earliest days of Christianity in the Holy Land. By continuing to observe them, we maintain a living connection with the early Church. We cherish our Tradition as a continuous stream flowing from the first Christians to us under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: truly the 'old time religion' in a new land.
Melkite Archbishop Joseph Tawil
ORIENTALE LUMEN Apostolic Letter of His Holiness John Paul II
Thank you NYer. I visited that site a number of times in my last semester of college in late 2002 as I began my search for a more reverent liturgy in the Catholic Church. After being raised in a parish whose music was dominated by organ and cantor, I got sick of the folksy Mass they had at my college chapel. I first turned to the Byzantine Rite after seeing the Divine Liturgy being offered one day on EWTN, and attended a Divine Liturgy at a Rutheninan parish in New Mexico. I love their spirituality. But after moving to Washington, DC, I found the Traditional Latin Mass. But I still appreciate Eastern spirituality, and incorporated bits of it into my own prayer life (making Sign of the Cross with three fingers and most of my religious art are Eastern-style icons).
Eastern Catholics share many things in common with their Latin Catholic brothers and sisters. They also have their own particularities which make them to be distinctively Eastern. A few "whys" may serve you better than a long list of "whats." Knowing the facts that we use leavened bread, that we surround the celebration of the Word and the Eucharist with a different ritual or follow our own liturgical calendar is not the key for understanding our particularity. These and many other practical differences are in themselves not very important. It is rather that taken together they concretize a theology and a spirituality which is Eastern and not Western.
The way we approach liturgy and the values and expectations we bring to it may serve as an example. Your liturgy represents a way of responding to the greatness and the holiness of God's presence: a certain kind of sober reserve and directness and an unwillingness to "waste time." In other words, you bring many cultural values and rules of polite behavior for receiving any dignitary and apply them to worship. We do the same thing: it's simply that the rules and values we bring with us are different.
Good Roman liturgy is orderly; clergy and congregation come in, go to their places and stay there until needed. Nothing is more destructive of good Roman liturgy than someone moving around out of place "trying to be helpful." Good Roman liturgy is concise; your liturgical texts say what they have to say and they end. Take the collects or opening prayers of your liturgy as an example. They are brief and virtually all follow a model which I might typify as "God, because this is so, we ask you to do thus and such. Amen." Your Mass may be quite simply recited, or it may be quite elaborate with choirs and musical instrumental. Variety and creativity are values for you, and if you live in a typical parish you have a liturgy committee which spends a lot of time selecting hymns, planning the important liturgies of the year, etc.
We bring a different set of values to our Liturgy and we follow eastern rules of politneness and hospitality. We greet the greatness and holiness of God's presence with ceremony, every flattery. Liturgical texts are long and God can not be mentioned without including a few adjectives referring to God's goodness, mercy, power and providence. You may find our texts as prolix as we find yours terse.
For us, the Liturgy is our first experience of the life of heaven where we will sing the praises of God for all eternity. This is why a Byzantine church is constructed with an icon screen and its central gates standing before the sanctuary within which stands the altar or Holy Table, and there are icons of the saints all about the church. We are in God's presence in the company of the saints. If the walls of the church are frescoed in the traditional Byzantine fashion, the icons of the saints never come all the way to the floor, only to about the shoulder level to remind us that we have our particular space in which we must live out our Christian lives.
Byzantine practice knows only the sung Liturgy, and it is the liturgical text itself which we sing. In our tradition we sing the Liturgy; we do not sing at the Liturgy. There are almost no places in any of our liturgical services where we need to decide what to sing. On any given Sunday, we may use a different melody for a particular text, but the liturgical text itself is quite fixed. There will be no big discussion about what to do for Pascha ("Easter") this year, we will do and sing the same things we've been doing and singing for centuries. Variety is not a liturgical value for us; the value for us is familiarity. That value makes is possible for an average parish to have a beautiful celebration of a rather complex liturgy without a great deal of worry about the details of production, and allows the worshipper to have a deeper level of attention. A service where we had to search through hymn books or a "creative" liturgy would be terribly distracting for us.
For us the Liturgy and the various offices such as Matins and Vespers are the bearers of Christian Tradition. The liturgical texts have a significant theological content and the entire liturgical action and text, not just the reading of the Word and the homily are didactic. We possess our theological and spiritual traditions primarily as liturgy and prayer. Take, for example, this text which we sing whenever we celebrate the Eucharist:
“O only begotten Son and Word of God, although you are immortal, you condescended for our salvation to take flesh of the holy God-bearer and without undergoing change you became incarnate. You were crucified for us, Christ God, and by your death you trampled upon death, you who are one of the Holy Trinity and are glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit; save us."
Every time we celebrate the Liturgy we sing and pray our catechism!
In the course of the Liturgy there will be incensations all around the church, processions with the Gospel book and with the bread and wine for the Eucharist. People will reach out to touch the gospel book as it is carried by. Bodily posture is important also, whether it be making prostrations during Lent or standing on Sundays and during the Easter season to celebration the resurrection. Light, color, motion, smell, posture, all these inclusions of our human bodiliness in our prayer, are part of Eastern liturgical and spiritual tradition. As another example, our people tend to take the fasting seasons seriously, but our tradition also has festal periods during which all fasting is forbidden!
We could detail many other differences, but the important message is that these particular differences form a coherent whole which has its basis in certain values and ways of understanding God and ourselves. We don't claim their superiority; we do claim their authenticity as traditional Christian values, and it is this Christian authenticity which we are determined to preserve within the Catholic communion.Take a guided visual tour of Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Fatima.
How interesting! I have never seen any Eastern Rite liturgy on EWTN. Was it part of a series?
There are no Byzantine churches near me, so it has been fun to 'take tours' and learn more about their liturgy. Found this to be interesting.
The presbyter divides the round prosphora loaf (in the East we use leavened bread) into several pieces, including a large central square piece called the "Lamb." The presbyter places the Lamb and smaller pieces calling to mind the Virgin, the saints, and the local intentions of the community into a specific arrangement on the diskos.
I posted the complete tour on post #3, I believe.
Nope, it was part of their Daily Mass. The priest who hosts their "Light of the East" series offered the Byzantine Rite Liturgy in the EWTN chapel sometime in the fall of 2002. I want to somehow obtain a videotape of it.
Thanks! I am very tired, but will read later.
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