Skip to comments.The importance of understanding Eastern Christianity
Posted on 03/29/2005 4:30:35 PM PST by NYer
For the past several years I have witnessed an ongoing crisis of identity within the Roman Catholic Church, which is evident even on the campus of Franciscan University. Often reduced to the battle between "Conservatives" versus "Progressives" or "Traditionalists" versus "Charismatics," the issues involved are multifaceted and complex. I have tried to make my own contribution to this debate, with varying degrees of success. Now I'd like to address it from a new perspective, i.e. as a kind of outsider, for that is indeed what I have become.
I am an Eastern Christian. While gladly submitting to the authority of the Pope, in my spiritual and liturgical life, I strive to live out the tradition of the great Eastern Fathers: Ss. Ireneaus, Nicholas, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Cyril and Methodius, and many others. For those unacquainted with Eastern Christianity, we are the people responsible for all of the beautiful icons, such as Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which Western Christians sometimes venerate. Of course, there is a great deal more to us than just that.
Some Historical Background
Christianity originated in the East. Western Catholics should not lose sight of this fact. Jesus carried out his ministry in the Middle East, and most of the Apostles were martyred in the East. Even Ss. Peter and Paul established numerous churches throughout the East before dying in Rome. As Christianity grew and flourished, the churches planted by the Apostles in the East grew into the great Eastern Christian Tradition. It was in the East that the first seven Ecumenical Councils were held.
Unfortunately, due to political and geographic circumstances, a gradual estrangement developed between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity. The Western Tradition, which was grounded in the theology of Western Fathers such as Ss. Augustine and Jerome, developed its own distinct theological perspective. The Western and Eastern branches of Christianity developed different forms of liturgy, spirituality, ecclesiology and theology. Nevertheless, both sides were fully "Catholic," and remained united as one Church for a thousand years. The Eastern and Western Fathers approached theological and ecclessiological issues in very different, yet complementary ways (see the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism, nos. 14-18.) This was the era of unified Christianity when, as Pope John Paul has said, "the Church breathed with both lungs."
Tragically, due to political, linguistic, and theological difficulties, unity was ruptured between East and West in the middle of the Eleventh Century. As the famous Roman Catholic theologian Yves Congar has frequently emphasized, this breach was the result of a progressive estrangement, as the Eastern and Western clergy and laity knew increasingly less about one another. This situation was exacerbated by the "Roman Catholic" pillage of Constantinople in 1204, which was in reality orchestrated by greedy Italian merchants, although some Western bishops unscrupulously benefited from the conquest (cf. After Nine Hundred Years: the Background of the Schism Between the Eastern and Western Churches, by Yves Congar, O.P.)
Throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, large groups of Eastern Christians re-established communion with Rome, and organized themselves as Eastern Catholic Churches. These Eastern Catholics in no way saw themselves as abandoning their Eastern heritage, but as re-establishing communion with Rome as it existed during the first millenium. Hence, we have the vast array of Eastern Catholic Churches, which are sometimes erroneously referred to as "rites." In reality, they are particular Churches with their own hierarchies, spiritualities, and theological perspectives. The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this nicely:
"From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God's gifts and the diversity of those who receive them... Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions. The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church's unity" (CCC no. 814).
According to the Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Catholic Church is actually a "communion" of Churches, composed of particular Churches such as the Melkite, Byzantine, Ukrainian, Roman, Maronite, and many others, with the Pope of Rome serving as the guardian of unity (LG 13). To refer to these Churches as "rites," although usually done with the best of intentions, is today inaccurate and somewhat misleading.
I am a member of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh. We are the only particular Eastern Catholic Church to be based out of North America, with our leader, Metropolitan Judson, residing in Pittsburgh. Although established initially by Eastern European immigrants, we now have countless members from all ethnic and racial backgrounds. We are no longer an "ethnic" Church, but an American Church that proudly lives out our Eastern Catholic heritage.
The Eastern Alternative
Since the split of the eleventh century, despite the reunion of numerous Eastern Catholic Churches, the Roman Catholic populace has been largely unaware of Eastern Christianity. To many in the Western world, Christianity is composed of Protestants and Roman Catholics; they are not even aware that there is an entirely distinctive and legitimate Eastern tradition.
Nonetheless, by Divine Providence, there has always been an elite circle of Roman Catholic theologians and Popes who were well acquainted with the Eastern Churches. Among them is our own Pope John Paul II, who in his wonderful apostolic letter, The Light of the East, affirms that "the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ's Church" (OL 1, emphasis mine). This saintly Pontiff exhorts all Roman Catholics to become acquainted with the Eastern Tradition (OL 24). He especially calls for "appropriate teaching on these subjects in seminaries and theological faculties, especially to future priests" (OL 24).
Although millions of Eastern Catholics are currently in communion with Rome, there are over 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians who are still separated from the Pope. These Orthodox Christians are identical to Eastern Catholics in almost every way, and also have the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The Catechism teaches that a certain communion does exist between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, and that "with the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist," (CCC 838).
A re-establishment of communion between Catholics and Eastern Orthodox has been a top priority of the last several Popes. Pope John Paul II has recognized the Orthodox and Catholics as "sister Churches," and has taught that the goal of dialogue with the Orthodox is "perfect, total communion which will be neither absorption nor fusion but encounter in truth and love," (Declaration of the joint International Commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, no. 14; cf. Slavorum Gentes, I., 27.)
The re-establishment of unity between Orthodox and Catholics was an important goal of the Second Vatican Council, which laid a good foundation for reunion in its documents (cf. The Decree on Ecumenism, no. 18.) Father John Meyendorff, a well-respected Eastern Orthodox theologian, made the following observation concerning Vatican II in his book Rome, Constantinople, Moscow:
The council documents, without solving all the problems, reaffirmed an ecclesiology based on the local Eucharistic community; a theology of the episcopate, focused on conciliarity; a conception of the laity as the "people of God." All these were common ground for a dialogue with the Orthodox Church... The rapprochement with Orthodoxy-- which undoubtedly was among the basic conciliar motivations--was swamped by a kind of new triumphalism of "modernity," through which the (Roman Catholic) Church tended to lose its identity... As these dramatic processes were developing, the Orthodox Church appeared remote and irrelevant to most Western Christians. Its theological witness was too weak to be heard. Only some specialists were aware of the Orthodox alternative to Western trends. This absence of Orthodoxy was, in fact, as tragic as in the time of the sixteenth-century Reformation, when its presence would have helped to transcend the dichotomy between Rome and Protestantism. (Meyendorff, 1-2).
Many of the major changes in the Roman Catholic Church initiated by Vatican II were actually modeled after the practice of Eastern Christians: communion under both species, liturgy in the vernacular, permanent deacons, standing while receiving communion, a free-standing altar (apart from the wall), and increased participation by the laity in the Liturgy have all been the norm in Eastern Christianity for two thousand years. The Fathers of Vatican II were consciously borrowing from Eastern Christianity when they mandated these changes. (The great liturgical movement, which resulted in Sacrosanctum Concilium, was largely inspired by a renewed interest in the liturgy of the Eastern Churches. (See Klaus Gamber, Reform of the Roman Liturgy. Harrison, NY: Una Voce, 1993. p. 4.)
It is in the matter of liturgical change that the lack of familiarity with the East is most tragic. In the ongoing liturgy wars occurring in the Roman Church, neither side, whether "progressive" or "traditional," is usually well acquainted with Eastern Christianity. Yet it was largely from the Eastern Christians that the Fathers of Vatican II received their vision for a renewed liturgy. Before Vatican II, in the Roman Church, the liturgy was full of beautiful sights and sounds, such as incense, chant, ornate vestments, bells, and visual images galore. But there was an acute problem, which troubled the Fathers: there was virtually no participation by the congregation. The priest performed the liturgy, but the people sat in the pews as mere spectators. Often the laity prayed the Rosary or read meditations during Mass, with little understanding of what was occurring in the sanctuary.
In the Christian East, in contrast, the laity participate actively and vocally in the Divine Liturgy. The entire liturgy is sung from beginning to end, with responses constantly going back and forth between the priest and the congregation. The laity are expected to sing all of the responses, which virtually never cease. There is never a time in the Eastern Divine Liturgy in which the congregation is a mere spectator (apart from the homily); the participation by the laity throughout the liturgy is continuous. Nonetheless, despite all of this participation by the congregation, all of the "traditional" elements of Christian liturgy remain present: the priest faces East together with the people, incense is used in abundance, icons and elaborate vestments please the eyes, and beautiful chant pleases the ears. It is a complete sensory experience. So here, in the Eastern Liturgy, we have the traditional elements that so many "traditionalists" long for, and the active participation that many "progressives" and "Charismatics" crave. It doesn't have to be one or the other.
Pope John Paul II praises the Eastern Divine Liturgy "for involving the human person in his or her totality," (OL 11). He comments on how "the lengthy duration of the celebrations, the repeated invocations, everything expresses gradual identification with the mystery celebrated with one's whole person. Thus the prayer of the Church already becomes participation in the heavenly liturgy, an anticipation of the final beatitude," (OL 11). Of course the Eastern Christian tradition has far more to offer the West than a mere model of liturgy. Western Christians could also benefit greatly from exposure to Eastern Christian theology, ecclesiology, spirituality, and culture.
My Challenge to Franciscan University and Sister Colleges
Since my arrival at the campus of Franciscan University, I have been blessed with many wonderful opportunities. The school is truly a center of Roman Catholic renewal, with an overall excellent faculty, staff and student body. I have been deeply enriched by the positive spiritual climate present on campus. Nonetheless, I desire to see Franciscan University become a center of "Catholic" renewal in the truly universal sense, in which the future leaders of the Roman Catholic Church become acquainted with what the Pope calls "the spiritual treasures of which the Eastern Catholic Churches are the bearers," (OL 21).
Catholicism is far more than merely the Roman Church, and the "tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ's Church," (OL 1). With numerous Eastern Catholic parishes nearby, and a large and dynamic Byzantine Catholic community in Pittsburgh, Franciscan University has every opportunity to acquaint its students with the fullness of the Catholic Church. In summary, I am challenging the entire university community, out of a spirit of love and gratitude, to meditate on this exhortation by our Holy Father:
...conversion is also required of the Latin Church, that she may respect and fully appreciate the dignity of Eastern Christians, and accept gratefully the spiritual treasures of which Eastern Catholic Churches are the bearers, to the benefit of the entire catholic communion; that she may show concretely, far more than in the past, how much she esteems and admires the Christian East and how essential she considers its contribution to the full realization of the Church's universality. (OL 21).
As a Roman Catholic practicing the faith in an Eastern (Maronite) Catholic Church, I am constantly reminded of the words spoken by Pope John XXIII ....
"The Eastern Churches are the Treasures of the Catholic Church".
To that I would add ... The Eastern Churches are the Jewels in the Crown of the Catholic Church.
For those seeking the root of authentic catholicism, I would suggest that you visit an Eastern Catholic Church in your community. You can locate one at this link.
To learn more about the two lungs of the Catholic Church, visit this link:
A ping from your Protestant friend.
Good article - I like articles like this about something that is currently under the American collective culture's radar. Most Americans would never be exposed to any of this if not for FreeRepublic postings.
bump. V's wife.
"In case you weren't pinged" ping
I pray for the day when all Christianity will speak with one voice again....our Lord hears us now, but maybe He will hear us better when we all speak as one again.
One year ago, Gregory John Mansour was named Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn NY. This picture was taken at his ordination in Harissa, Lebanon. That is Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Cardinal Sfeir, laying hands on him.
Tomorrow night, Bishop Mansour will make an informal visit to our parish, celebrating the Divine Liturgy, followed by a dinner at a local Hall.
In just one year of service as bishop, he has earned the great respect of all the Maronites in the Eparchy of St. Maron. Were it not for FreeRepublic, I too would have gone through life totally blind to the other lung of Holy Mother Church.
what do you mean?
All I know is history teaches that the church pre schism - while different for each culture was the same in its teachings. So priests could marry in East and West. Christ's nature same east and west north and south. I still don't get how Latin clergy are not allowed to marry but Eastern Catholics clergy can. How is this policy seperation is tolerated? I know an Orthodox from Egypt or Palestine of Greece can go to a Siberian of Alaskan church and understand the universe - catholic - he is in - cultures different - the easter eggs get treated different - but the religion is the same. That is what was lost in the great schisim...the catholicism.
too many typos - sleep calls.
They actually aren't entirely Latin vestments though the untrained eye would see them as such. I don't have time to explain in full, but look beyond the mitre and the rest of the vesture is not Latin at all but truly Maronite.
These Bishops probably look more familiar to you. They come from the Byzantine, Melkite, Ruthenian, and other Eastern Catholic Churches.
Eastern Rite Bishops
Siobhan is correct. The Maronite vestments are much less elaborate.
"These Bishops probably look more familiar to you. They come from the Byzantine, Melkite, Ruthenian, and other Eastern Catholic Churches."
The cope of course is not Roman nor is the epitrahelion. But those mitres!!!!!!!!!! :)
When Eastern Catholics celebrate the divine liturgy in Greek, the filioque is nowhere to be found.
NYer, where was that picture taken? That looks like Farsi (or maybe Arabic) on the wall behind.
Okay, as a member of the Latin Rite I have to make my small protest.
Who keeps perpetuating this myth? I've heard the same thing from my own pastor.
Pius XII was Pope when I was a child and the liturgy had been revised before my time so that we participated. I knew what the Latin meant because I had been hearing it for as long as I had been hearing English and my Missal had English side by side with the Latin. We actively participated long before Vatican II. The responses and singing by the laity were at least as 'active' as they are now, maybe better.
This year at an evening Mass on All Saints Day I noticed a new generation, a couple of older women 'doing their own thing' during Mass. They were younger than me so I bet they have never known anything but the N.O. Mass. People can dabble all they want with the liturgy but they aren't going to eliminate those people, new ones keep coming along.
"When Eastern Catholics celebrate the divine liturgy in Greek, the filioque is nowhere to be found."
When it is said in Greek, you're right. It is my understanding that when t is said in another language, the filioque is there, though I may be wrong. The churches in question, however, accept the Latin Church's dogmatic pronouncement on the filioque clause, which Orthodoxy does not.
And the living word of Christ should be encased in the dead language of Latin because?
For the same reason it continues to be used in science, medicine and law?
I was seated next to a man from Mexico several months ago at Mass and he did not speak English. Mass in the vernacular of my parish didn't help him participate. If we had been able to say some of our prayers in Latin we both would have known what we were saying.
Because Latin doesn't change it's meaning?
Because it is one less translation that can be fudged for socio-political goals of ICEL?
Not a good example - science that is - those are specialists talking to specialists.
This is not a myth. The Latin Mass was the only one we had when I was a child. At Mass, the altar boys gave the responses in Latin, the choir sang the hymns, the congregation ... 'congregated'. They followed along in the missal silently, and many women pulled out their Rosaries to pray.
Three years ago, I returned to the TLM, attending the officially sanctioned Indult. The priest mumbled his prayers in Latin (no microphone), the altar boys gave the responses in Latin, the choir sang the hymns and the congregation ... 'congregated'. Small children held children's missals and asked their parents to help them find where they were at the Mass and the old women around me pulled out their rosaries to pray. The Latin Mass is still intact.
The only time I recall the laity participating at the Mass pre-Vatican II was at the Midnight Easter Vigil. The incense wafted heavenward as we chanted the "Ora Pro Nobis" response to the Litany of the Saints.
The Eastern Catholic liturgies retain the incense and chant but it is a 'conversation' between the Celebrant and the congregation. The laity MUST respond or steam rises from Father's Roman collar. We are 'all' the choir and the respondents to the prayers being offered up. Rosary beads appear before liturgy but disappear the minute Father processes down the aisle.
It was taken at Harissa in Lebanon, the seat of the Maronite Patriarch. Actually, the writing is Aramaic (you can tell by the flat underlines).
Our new bishop is only the 2nd one, born in this country, to be named by the Holy Father. The picture you are referring to was taken at his ordination last March, in Lebanon. The picture with the Eastern Rite bishops, was taken outside Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral in Brooklyn, NY. That was in April 2004 on the date of the bishop's Enthronement which I was most privileged to attend. In fact, he is celebrating the Divine Liturgy this evening at our parish, followed by a fabulous dinner at the Ukrainian Hall, all of which was prepared by one or two of the parishioners. He will return again in December when we celebrate our centennial as a parish.
Mmmmm. Maybe my memory is faulty but that's not the way I remember it. We were in several parishes in LA, IN and CA in the 50's and 60's. The laity in the pews participated in the prayers and the hymns. (How about one verse of O Sacrament Most Holy for old times' sake?) I remember a lot of Masses with only an organist. There was no choir, the only singers were the folks in the pews.
I'll have to pull out my old Missals and see if the instructions were for the congregation to respond.
We sang 'O Sacred Head Surrounded' as the opening hymn on Great Friday ;-D - an oldie but still goodie. Father is bi-ritual - Maronite & Latin Rite. He chooses the hymns. In Pentecost last year, we sang 'Veni Creator' during the Fraction, Consignation, Intinction, Commixture and Elevation.
Your memory is probably fine. I grew up in NY. That's the way it was here.
I attended a Ukranian Catholic divine liturgy, according to the rite of St. John Chrysostom, at a local immigrant church. Though my Slavonic is even worse than my Russian, I definitely remember the Filioque being in the creed.
Yes. As was pointed out, the filioque is absent when the Creed is prayed in its original Greek, otherwise its in there.
"Our new bishop is only the 2nd one, born in this country, to be named by the Holy Father."
And therein lies at least one rub! :)
Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I'll report that I've assisted at a divine liturgy according to St. John Chrysostom in English, and the filioque was included there as well.
Confession is always good for the soul my brother (at east that's what I'm told everytime I go, which according to my confessor is not nearly enough)! :)
The reason any of this makes a difference is that people should understand that Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome are not Orthodox Churches nor are Orthodox Churches just Roman Churches which have a different liturgy and don't recognize various Roman dogmatic pronouncements on the Pope. On FR there is such a lack of understanding of both the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome (and the nature of that communion now and in the past) and the Orthodox Churches. Articles like this one and another about the good relations between the Churches in a part of Turkey do have the potential to confuse people, especially lurkers.
I wasn't really "confessing" anything; just offering a clarification that the Eastern Churches in union with Rome to not flock to the footnote of filioques to justify willful disunity.
I am not interested in triumphalist finger-wagging on either side. It doesn't feel nice to be called not-Orthodox -- no more, I reckon, than you fancy being called not-Catholic.
The Eastern churches at the time of Chalcedon were quite happy to place themselves under the spiritual leadership of Peter's successor at Rome, nor did multitudes of Eastern patriarchs in later centuries hesitate to appeal to Rome for a definitive adjudication of disputes. Despite overall differences in ecclesiology and spirituality, it's unfair to suggest that Eastern churches in communion with Rome are no better than fancy-dress pretenders. You cannot make accusations of this sort without accusing Chrysostom himself.
Romulus, I was kidding about the confession stuff! I thought you'd get it. Sheesh! As for the rest of it, well I'm not Roman Catholic, though a Catholic and you're not Orthodox, at least as the the term is used here, though quite orthodox. That's where the confusion can lie, even if you and I aren't confused.
"Articles like this one and another about the good relations between the Churches in a part of Turkey do have the potential to confuse people, especially lurkers."
What is a "lurker"? (Sorry, I am new to FR and just got my account yesterday...)
But I'm compulsive, so....
I have My Sunday Missal - Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat January 6, 1938. Lots of good information for preparation; what were doing, why were doing it. The OCP missalettes look pretty stark compared to this.
Page 10 My Sunday Missal is now arranged for the Dialogue or Community Mass; sometimes called Dialogue because the officiating priest does not recite the Mass alone in a monologue but the congregation recites aloud the servers responses and other parts of the Mass, uniting with the priest in a Dialogue
Page 34 Approval of your Bishop is required to initiate this fruitful practice, now approved in 100 dioceses throughout the U.S.A.
The Congregation recites aloud (a) same responses as the server; (b) also, in union with the priest, texts on pages (Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Domine, non sum dignus)
I remember Mass this way in half a dozen parishes across the country. Two thoughts about why our memories are different. Maybe you were in a diocese that did not promote this? Or, ever popular throughout time for Catholics, just because they tell us to do something doesnt mean we are going to do it.
I don't understand why "vocalizations" during mass are being equated to "participation" at mass. A person can assist quite faithfully at mass in silence, much like Our Lady, and St. John did at the foot of the cross, no?
Not sure I understand. The liturgy he celebrated last night was absolutely glorious! I was amazed at the bishop's approach of drawing the congregation to him by blending Arabic into the English dialog, both during the liturgy and in his homily. The Lebanese immigrants were immediately drawn to him - an American!
Before the liturgy even began, he stopped to speak with each and every person present! Faces lit up immediately, as they recognized that this is a man of the people, a true shepherd greeting each member of the flock. And this was no cursory "hello". He spoke with each one. After the liturgy, he received each one the same way, as did the Vicar General who accompanied him.
When everyone was assembled at the Hall and even before dinner began, the bishop made the rounds of all the tables, switching from English to Arabic and back again. The people loved him! He is genuine, sincere and humble. When Abouna introduced him to me, his eyes lit up as he recognized my name. He grabbed my hand and held onto it for 5 minutes as he spoke with me about my letter. Throughout the evening, I took pictures of him with parish families. As he was leaving, he sought me out, took my hand again and said: "We need more catholics like you!"
In his homily, he spoke of the growth within our parish. He also said it is impossible to clap with one hand and that Abouna needed assistance in all aspects of this growth. (He worded it so much better.) He commended him for what he had accomplished and thanked us for all we do to help him.
Ironically, today, I attended the funeral of a diocesan priest. A long line of white and grey haired priests processed into the church, filling 8 pews. The principal celebrant was Bishop Howard Hubbard! And, Abouna was asked to concelebrate the Mass (he is bi-ritual); the connection comes from the fact that the deceased priest has once served the Maronite Church when we were without a priest. Two days - two bishops! What a contrast! The Maronite bishop, Vicar General and most of its priests are young and vibrant.
"And therein lies at least one rub! :)
Not sure I understand."
His appointment by the Pope; Eastern Bishops in the Churches not in communion with Rome are chosen by synods of bishops with clerical and lay input, or synods of bishops, clergy and laity together.
You know, this fellow sounds just great, exactly what I would expect an Eastern Bishop to act like among his people. Him being with you and your priest, that image of you all together, is a living icon of The Church.
Also, what is "ping" and "bump"? Or is there a master list of terms like this?
I love the Religion forum! (Hi All!) I have been one of those silent lurkers since about the time of the pres. election, when I learned of Freerepublic.com.