Why You Should Visit an Eastern Church

I’ve been trying to invite some of my Roman Catholic friends to attend a Byzantine Divine Liturgy during the Easter season. I think that it’s really important for Roman Catholics to experience the traditions of their Eastern brothers and sisters. I grew up hearing my dad say (quoting one of his seminary professors) that Roman Catholics should attend a Byzantine Divine Liturgy so that they would understand what was going on when they got to heaven. I wouldn’t go around saying that to my friends, but I do have a few reasons why it is important for Roman Catholics to experience a Byzantine Liturgy.

Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Illinois

The word “catholic” means universal. The Catholic Church is not meant to be a set of cookie-cutter people who always look and act the same. Rather, it is intended to be a sign of what St. John Paul II called “diversity in unity” to the world. We as Eastern Catholics are called to a very present part of that. All Catholics (really, all Christians) are called to be lights of a unity through faith and love. To do this, we must come to understand the different branches of the Catholic Church. It is not enough for a Roman Catholic to only attend the Roman Catholic Mass or for a Byzantine Catholic to only attend the Byzantine Liturgy. We must partake in each other’s services. We must interact lovingly and respectfully with Catholics who are not from our Church.

Our Churches are not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its riches.

-Archbishop Joseph Tawil in “The Courage to be Ourselves”

It has been over 950 years since the Great Schism. We need to work towards a loving unity between East and West. Now, the average layperson can’t influence great change, but we can work towards better understanding among ourselves. It is important to know and understand one another’s traditions. The best way to understand the Eastern traditions is to encounter them. To that end, I would recommend that any Roman Catholic who is able visit an Eastern Catholic parish for a Divine Liturgy. (See the bottom of this article for a list of links to some of the American Eastern Catholic Eparchies’ websites.) You can’t really start to understand or appreciate something until you encounter it.

No witness perhaps better brings to light the Catholicity of the Church of God in a more admirable manner than the unique homage which is rendered to it by the differing ceremonies and the noble ancient languages all made more venerable by their use by the Apostles and Fathers.

-Pope Leo XIII “Orientalium Dignitas”

If you encounter the traditions of the other Catholic Churches, you’re doing what Jesus wanted you to do and what people like St. John Paul II thought you should do. On the eve of his Passion, Jesus prayed the unity of his followers. He prayed not only for the twelve good Jewish boys who were about to turn the world on its ear, but he also prayed for all who would come after them. If we only focus on our own traditions, we are not fully embracing that unity. Jesus prayed that we would be one as the Trinity is one. (John 17:20-23) Jesus didn’t pray that we would ignore one another or exclude one another. He did not pray that we would criticize one another or force others to assimilate to our traditions. Rather, he prayed that we would be one as the Trinity is one so that the world will know that the Father had sent the Son into the world. We need to embrace one another.

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His Beatitude Sviatoslav, the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Pope Francis

If those two can hang out, so can we. Those two became friends when they were both in Buenos Aires. Now, they’re the heads of their respective Churches. They still get on with one another. Friendships between Christians of different traditions can be a sign of unity. We need to view each other as brothers and not as competition. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we do need to love one another. Just because you pray the Rosary and I don’t, that doesn’t make us enemies. You may say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son; I do not say that. There are divisions between us, but we also have a great deal of common ground. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. We both believe that Jesus Christ is physically present in the Eucharist. We are able to receive the Eucharist in one another’s churches even if it doesn’t look or taste the same. We all believe that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Messiah who came into the world for the salvation of the world. We need to embrace that while celebrating our differences.

The Sacred Congregation has for its office and duty to uphold and foster as much as possible the venerable Oriental liturgies and to preserve them in their integrity and purity.

-Pope Benedict XV

So go to an Eastern Catholic Church. Heck, go to an Orthodox Church. Experience the liturgy. Ask questions. It will be different from what you’re used to, but that is okay. Going to a Roman Mass is different from what I’m used to, but I still go to Roman Masses when that is my best option or when it is an opportunity to support a friend in doing something beautiful.

St. Elias the Prophet in Brampton, Ontario

Here’s the bottom line. Jesus wants his Church to be one. He wants his Church to reflect the diverse unity of the Trinity. There is great beauty in our unity, and it pains the Father when we are divided from one another. I can honestly say that the disunity in our Churches causes me pain. John Paul II spoke of the need for the Church to breathe with her two lungs-East and West. Embrace these two lungs. Learn about your brothers and sisters. Come to an Eastern Liturgy. I can promise you that you will not regret it. You might even love it. St. Vladimir’s emissaries who visited the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople said that during the Divine Liturgy they knew not whether they were on heaven or on earth. Please come taste heaven on earth.


Notes:

I found the text of Archbishop Tawil’s “The Courage to Be Ourselves” on the Eparchy of Newton’s website.

This is the website for Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen. It is a beautiful church and a wonderful parish.

I included an image of St. Elias the Prophet’s building and a video filmed in that building. However, this building burned down about two years ago, and the parish is in the process of building a new Temple. However, that parish has one of my favorite YouTube channels, which happens excellent for learning more about Eastern Catholicism.

Links:

Eparchy of Parma (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Parma (Ukrainian)

Archeparchy of Pittsbugh (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Passaic (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Phoenix (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Newton (Melkite)

Eparchy of Philadelphia (Ukrainian)

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11 thoughts on “Why You Should Visit an Eastern Church

  1. It should be noted that Roman Catholics attending an Eastern Catholic liturgy may receive communion, but normally the Orthodox will not admit Catholics to communion; ask first.

    Also, attending the Divine Liturgy – whether at an Eastern Catholic church or an Orthodox church – fulfills your Sunday Mass attendance requirement. (Because of the previous paragraph, doing this at an Orthodox church more than very occasionally probably isn’t a good idea.)

      • Yes, attending an Orthodox Liturgy fulfills your obligation, which by the way is a very Western idea, however, a Catholic should not receive the Eucharist as the Orthodox have not given Catholics permission to receive in their churches.

  2. I’m not sure an Orthodox Divine Liturgy fulfills a Catholic’s Sunday obligation, MAYBE if there are not RC or eastern catholic Churches available, but that is rare. Better to go to an Eastern Catholic Church. I am not sure we are technically allowed to go to an Orthodox Church,

    • In the original post, I was not not offering it as option to fulfill a Sunday obligation as while JP2 said the Sacrament is valid, the Orthodox do not want us to receive the Eucharist in their service. Rather I think it is a worthwhile experience for Catholics.

  3. Not sure my earlier post went through. One should probably not attend an Orthodox Church. I doubt very much that it would fulfill one’s Sunday Mass obligation, unless there were no Catholic Churches of any rite available. I don’t know if we are allowed to attend an Orthodox Church without reason, but I doubt it.

    • We are, as I’ve said previously. The objection lies not with the Catholic Church but with our Orthodox brethren. JP2 gave permission for Catholics to receive in an Orthodox liturgy; however, our Orthodox brethren have asked that we not do so .

  4. I attended the Orthodox Good Friday Service of Lamentations, and Pascha for the first time this year. It is truly a beautiful experience. Though there were many differences, I was more struck by the similarities.

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