Eastern Catholicism

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My visit to an Eastern Catholic Church

Monday, April 28th, 2008

A few people have informed me that Eastern Catholic Churches allow for a married priesthood. I had never considered looking at any of these churches, but I am at least open to any path which God may be calling me on. So, I visited an Eastern Catholic Church yesterday.

It was my local Melkite Greek Catholic Church. A brief history of the church can be found on their website:

The Melkites, or Byzantine rite Catholics of Middle Eastern origin, are the descendants of the early Christians of Antioch (Syria). Christianity was established in this area of the Middle East by St. Peter before he traveled on to the imperial city of Rome. In the 5th century, there arose some teachers who said that Christ was not truly God and truly man as well. They would not accept the teaching of the Catholic Church as defined by the Council of Chalcedon (451A.D.) Those in the Middle East who did accept the decision of Chalcedon followed the lead of the Byzantine emperor and were dubbed Melkites or King’s Men from the Aramaic word “melek” meaning King. (link)

It was foreign to me, and yet very beautiful. The church building was covered from floor to ceiling with icons. They were primarily tile mosaics which surrounded hand-drawn paintings. Each set of icons illustrated a piece of scripture or history. The words of scripture themselves were as important as the images in the display.

The priest walked around the sanctuary carrying incense with him as he went. This actually happened several times and the icons were also “incensed.”

Nearly the entire liturgy was chanted, and there was a high degree of participation required of the laity present. The faithful were not merely spectators at this celebration.

I am not sure if they use the same calendar as the Western Churches. The Easter declaration was proclaimed within the service: “he is risen,” which suggests they too are in the season of Easter. The lectionary is certainly different however. They used Jn 9:1-38 which is typically a Lenten scripture in the West. (USCCB)

It was simply nothing like anything I had seen before. It certainly was not Roman Catholic. And yet, they are a church which is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. There is a great deal of diversity which can be found within the realm of the Catholic Church, both in practice and theology (to some extent). These Eastern Catholic Churches are self governing, have their own liturgy, practices, and canon law.

Unity is not the same as uniformity.

Ever since that experience I have wondered if the Eastern Catholic Churches might serve as a model for the unity of the Protestant Christian Churches with Rome. Could the Protestant denominations one day be in communion with Rome and yet be self governed with their own liturgy, practices, and law?

Why is a return to the Roman Rite necessary for Christian unity (in the Protestant/Catholic question)? There are 22 Eastern Catholic Churches which while different remain in communion with Rome. Maybe this type of unity could some day be offered to Protestant churches.

Someday we might see church marquees that read Lutheran Catholic Church, Episcopal Catholic Church, Disciples of Christ Catholic Church, Pentecostal Catholic Church, and so on. I understand the high degree of simplicity I express here, but I am still young enough to be an optimist.