Eastern Catholics: A Confusion to Western Catholics the World Over

Eastern Catholics: A Confusion to Western Catholics the World Over March 19, 2009

It’s a situation many Eastern Catholics face in their life: how do they explain who they are to people who are unfamiliar to the Catholic East. For many, the only kind of Catholicism they know is what is done within the Latin Rite, and anything else is looked upon as suspect. Catholics who chrismate (confirm) children at baptism, and then give them communion? Say it isn’t so! Catholics whose tradition is to have married priests? Are you sure?

Historically, Eastern Catholics have had to face all kinds of criticism and suspicion from Romans in the United States, with one of the most famous cases being that of Fr. Alexis Toth. Upon learning that this newly-arrived Ruthenian priest was married, Archbishop Ireland would have nothing to do with him: he wouldn’t even recognize Fr. Toth’s priestly orders. Is it any surprise, that after continuous mistreatment, Fr. Toth would eventually change jurisdictions, and become a member of the then-growing Orthodox Church of America, taking a good percentage of Ruthenian Catholics with him? (He is now recognized as a saint by the Orthodox!). 

While things have improved, they are not perfect. Even within the United States, I’ve known of Easterners being told they had to be reconfirmed when they changed rites (because of marriage), and any Easterner who complains is told to have a “chip on their shoulder.” We also have to face a large number of “traditionalist” Latin Catholics who are upset about what is happening in their own liturgical tradition come in to our churches, and try to transform us from within, to make us what it is they want out of the Latin rite (what, you don’t say the filioque? heretics!).

Now, where I thought things were going better, an article in Catholica relates how  Easterners in Australia are now facing the same kind of challenges we have had to deal with in America. It’s especially apparent in the schools. Chrismated Catholics who are receiving communion in their local parish are forbidden it, due to age, when at a Catholic school. Eastern Catholic children are forced, against their tradition, to go to mass on Ash Wednesday, and recieve ashes (our liturgical tradition has us, during the weekdays of Lent, not celebrate Divine Liturgy). Indeed, Catholic schools in Australia seem to think their purpose is to help educate Latins, and go about seeking to change Eastern children so their practices would match that of the Latins (which runs against many of the rules of the Church). The article suggests that Australians need to be made more aware of the Catholic East, its traditions, and to follow through with an education program that would help end the second-class treatment (my words, not the article) Easterners tend to recieve. The advice is good, not only for Australia, but for any place where Eastern Catholics have a presence. For then, the Church can begin to breath with both lungs, which Pope John Paul II rightfully is said a necessity for the Church’s healthy future.

H/T to Inside Catholic for this.

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  • radicalcatholicmom

    Excellent post, Henry. When in college I attended the Byzantine Catholic Church down the road from UD and it was absolutely wonderful to have had that experience. Most were born into the Rite. When I returned to AK, a good chunk of the people in the Byzantine community were ex-Latin Riters and you can tell.

    With time I decided not to change my Rite because at heart I am a Westerner. But I am so grateful for the Eastern Perspective. And it inspired me to have the Eastern cross tattooed on my back 🙂

    • When I read the article, I had to do a write up. It’s always good for Easterners to know the West, and Westerners to know the East. It’s one of the things I hope my own theological writings help achieve (one of many things, to be sure). I’m Eastern in spirit, but I’ve learned much from Western sources, and much of my theology reflects it.

      With Alaska, however, because you also have a large Orthodox population, I think that helps attract people to the East, and I would hope that helps with Latins who become Eastern Catholics there touch the Eastern Spirit, and to keep it authentic. I have been to parishes with both those who are primarily Byzantine by birth, and those which are filled with Byzantines who changed rites to become Byzantine, and I certainly can tell the difference. But I would be curious how it is in Alaska, due to its Russian history.

      Now, while the article was about Roman Catholic misunderstanding of us, I should say something else, it’s not just Roman Catholics who are confused; the Orthodox tend to be as well.

  • radicalcatholicmom

    Excellent post, Henry. When in college I attended the Byzantine Catholic Church down the road from UD and it was absolutely wonderful to have had that experience. Most were born into the Rite. When I returned to AK, a good chunk of the people in the Byzantine community were ex-Latin Riters and you can tell.

    With time I decided not to change my Rite because at heart I am a Westerner. But I am so grateful for the Eastern Perspective. And it inspired me to have the Eastern cross tattooed on my back 🙂

    • When I read the article, I had to do a write up. It’s always good for Easterners to know the West, and Westerners to know the East. It’s one of the things I hope my own theological writings help achieve (one of many things, to be sure). I’m Eastern in spirit, but I’ve learned much from Western sources, and much of my theology reflects it.

      With Alaska, however, because you also have a large Orthodox population, I think that helps attract people to the East, and I would hope that helps with Latins who become Eastern Catholics there touch the Eastern Spirit, and to keep it authentic. I have been to parishes with both those who are primarily Byzantine by birth, and those which are filled with Byzantines who changed rites to become Byzantine, and I certainly can tell the difference. But I would be curious how it is in Alaska, due to its Russian history.

      Now, while the article was about Roman Catholic misunderstanding of us, I should say something else, it’s not just Roman Catholics who are confused; the Orthodox tend to be as well.

  • ari

    I, myself, continue subscribe to the firm truth that, regardless of our differences in this, the only True Church consists of both the Orthodox & the Catholic (which, previously — as even the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church that visited Rome last October noted — occupied the First Throne).

    Unlike the Protestants, Orthodox & Catholics share more in common than we would like to admit.

    That is why the Patriarch of Constantinople address at the Synod in Rome of October of last year in the very presence of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, holds significant meaning for the Catholic Church in toto.

    Moreover, Archimandite Ignatios interview is particularly meaningful in that regard.

    • Ari

      I would say, like Vladimir Solovyov (one of my inspirations), that while we have a political schism, with some theological confusion thrown in (at points, serious, to be sure), as a whole, Catholics and Orthodox are in an imperfect communion with one another, showing they still are the Church (which the Vatican has also stated, of course, with its unqualified use of the term Church for the Orthodox). I would of course include in this Non-Chalcedonians like the Coptics and the Assyrian Church of the East (I would assume you do too, but well, since one never knows, do you?).

      The Protestant situation is, obviously, much more complex; but we must try to affirm, even with them, what we can, and find unity, though not by giving up our Apostolic tradition.

  • ari

    I, myself, continue subscribe to the firm truth that, regardless of our differences in this, the only True Church consists of both the Orthodox & the Catholic (which, previously — as even the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church that visited Rome last October noted — occupied the First Throne).

    Unlike the Protestants, Orthodox & Catholics share more in common than we would like to admit.

    That is why the Patriarch of Constantinople address at the Synod in Rome of October of last year in the very presence of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, holds significant meaning for the Catholic Church in toto.

    Moreover, Archimandite Ignatios interview is particularly meaningful in that regard.

    • Ari

      I would say, like Vladimir Solovyov (one of my inspirations), that while we have a political schism, with some theological confusion thrown in (at points, serious, to be sure), as a whole, Catholics and Orthodox are in an imperfect communion with one another, showing they still are the Church (which the Vatican has also stated, of course, with its unqualified use of the term Church for the Orthodox). I would of course include in this Non-Chalcedonians like the Coptics and the Assyrian Church of the East (I would assume you do too, but well, since one never knows, do you?).

      The Protestant situation is, obviously, much more complex; but we must try to affirm, even with them, what we can, and find unity, though not by giving up our Apostolic tradition.

  • ari

    I have no quarrel with those mentioned churches of the East under the heading “catholic”; although I do take issue with, least among things, the seemingly euphemistic formulation that forming covenants with the potentates of heresy concerning the latter is but a surrendering of “our Apostolic ‘t’radition”, and nothing more, as if Exsurge Domine was merely for play.

    • Ari

      I’m not sure what you are getting at here, there is no surrendering of the Apostolic Tradition. None.

  • ari

    I have no quarrel with those mentioned churches of the East under the heading “catholic”; although I do take issue with, least among things, the seemingly euphemistic formulation that forming covenants with the potentates of heresy concerning the latter is but a surrendering of “our Apostolic ‘t’radition”, and nothing more, as if Exsurge Domine was merely for play.

    • Ari

      I’m not sure what you are getting at here, there is no surrendering of the Apostolic Tradition. None.

  • “For many, the only kind of Catholicism they know is what is done within the Latin Rite, and anything else is looked as suspect”

    How do you know so much about what everyone else thinks? I’ve never thought anything about Eastern Catholics to be “suspect”

    • Zach

      I said many, I did not say all. However, you did not really deal with the issue at hand. When someone who has had no experience with the East sees or hears something which is “odd” they do act as I described. I’ve had more than one person say St Maximus or St Gregory Palamas sound “new agey” when I’ve quoted them. I’ve had all kinds of people say Eastern Catholics are heretics for having St Gregory Palamas on their calendar. Or for our not using the filioque. Or hesychasm. The thing is, maybe you have not dealt with these issues because you have not encountered them. But it is quite routine for those of us in the East to get this. “Read the article I linked to. See what is going on in Australia. It’s not just the United States. Now, since you have raised it back to yourself, I will ask you, how much have you really had to deal with Easterners? Probably not much at all, right? But at least you know of us. More do not than do. Even my grandmother, when she visited a Byzantine parish, was like “that is Catholic?” It’s quite common. And she should have known better (she was Polish, and we have roots in Poland). Would you know, even at the end of the 20th century, some were being told they would not fulfill their Sunday obligation if they went to an Eastern Catholic liturgy? So how do I know? Because of what I, and my fellow Easterners experience, time and time again.

  • “For many, the only kind of Catholicism they know is what is done within the Latin Rite, and anything else is looked as suspect”

    How do you know so much about what everyone else thinks? I’ve never thought anything about Eastern Catholics to be “suspect”

    • Zach

      I said many, I did not say all. However, you did not really deal with the issue at hand. When someone who has had no experience with the East sees or hears something which is “odd” they do act as I described. I’ve had more than one person say St Maximus or St Gregory Palamas sound “new agey” when I’ve quoted them. I’ve had all kinds of people say Eastern Catholics are heretics for having St Gregory Palamas on their calendar. Or for our not using the filioque. Or hesychasm. The thing is, maybe you have not dealt with these issues because you have not encountered them. But it is quite routine for those of us in the East to get this. “Read the article I linked to. See what is going on in Australia. It’s not just the United States. Now, since you have raised it back to yourself, I will ask you, how much have you really had to deal with Easterners? Probably not much at all, right? But at least you know of us. More do not than do. Even my grandmother, when she visited a Byzantine parish, was like “that is Catholic?” It’s quite common. And she should have known better (she was Polish, and we have roots in Poland). Would you know, even at the end of the 20th century, some were being told they would not fulfill their Sunday obligation if they went to an Eastern Catholic liturgy? So how do I know? Because of what I, and my fellow Easterners experience, time and time again.

  • I suppose I’m not sure what the point of all this is; am I supposed to feel bad for you?

    To me it seems like a good way to paint yourself as a victim, perhaps to seek pity.

    • Zach

      Nice love you have there for your Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters.

  • I suppose I’m not sure what the point of all this is; am I supposed to feel bad for you?

    To me it seems like a good way to paint yourself as a victim, perhaps to seek pity.

    • Zach

      Nice love you have there for your Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters.

  • Very good post Henry.

    I was in 6th grade when the Council was beginning. Sr. Lillian was teaching us about ecumenism and assigned us a paper on the subject. There happened to be a Russian Orthodox church in my neighborhood, so I made an appointment with the pastor, who was married, and he consented to an interview. Fr. gave me an icon card, a calendar, and a bulletin, and explained many things about Orthodoxy to me. I wrote my paper on how similar they were to Latin Catholics – same sacraments, similar devotions, and so on. I also explained why their priests were allowed to marry. I pointed out that Peter had been married as well.

    Anyway – Sr. Lillian was not happy that I went to such trouble, she did not allow me to read my report, neither did she permit me to exhibit the artifacts the priest had given me. She made a point of instructing me that the Orthodox were schismatics, while warning me that I should never go to see that priest again.

    So much for understanding the Orthodox, huh?

    • Terry,

      Yes, it is quite bad when Catholic schools have forbidden students to do that which the Catholic Church promotes, and it has been long in its desire to promote East/West understanding. The sad thing is that it happens even today, when children talk about Eastern Catholics, let alone the Orthodox.

      Thankfully things are better — but not perfect. One of the reasons I’ve been posting the feasts using my Byzantine calendar is to help people encounter some of the Eastern spiritual tradition; I hope it has helped.

  • Very good post Henry.

    I was in 6th grade when the Council was beginning. Sr. Lillian was teaching us about ecumenism and assigned us a paper on the subject. There happened to be a Russian Orthodox church in my neighborhood, so I made an appointment with the pastor, who was married, and he consented to an interview. Fr. gave me an icon card, a calendar, and a bulletin, and explained many things about Orthodoxy to me. I wrote my paper on how similar they were to Latin Catholics – same sacraments, similar devotions, and so on. I also explained why their priests were allowed to marry. I pointed out that Peter had been married as well.

    Anyway – Sr. Lillian was not happy that I went to such trouble, she did not allow me to read my report, neither did she permit me to exhibit the artifacts the priest had given me. She made a point of instructing me that the Orthodox were schismatics, while warning me that I should never go to see that priest again.

    So much for understanding the Orthodox, huh?

    • Terry,

      Yes, it is quite bad when Catholic schools have forbidden students to do that which the Catholic Church promotes, and it has been long in its desire to promote East/West understanding. The sad thing is that it happens even today, when children talk about Eastern Catholics, let alone the Orthodox.

      Thankfully things are better — but not perfect. One of the reasons I’ve been posting the feasts using my Byzantine calendar is to help people encounter some of the Eastern spiritual tradition; I hope it has helped.

  • JohnH

    Interesting. Our parish priest is biritual, and he often brings up Eastern practices in his homilies as a way of contrasting (and deepening) the meaning of various sacraments. Since I was brought up in the Roman Rite, I don’t feel at home in the Eastern Rite, but I can see the attraction. A few convert friends of mine opted to go Byzantine rather than Roman when entering the Church, initially because of the liturgy, but have since also found a lot to love in Eastern mysticism.

  • JohnH

    Interesting. Our parish priest is biritual, and he often brings up Eastern practices in his homilies as a way of contrasting (and deepening) the meaning of various sacraments. Since I was brought up in the Roman Rite, I don’t feel at home in the Eastern Rite, but I can see the attraction. A few convert friends of mine opted to go Byzantine rather than Roman when entering the Church, initially because of the liturgy, but have since also found a lot to love in Eastern mysticism.

    • John H

      Right, the East is not for everyone, nor the West is for everyone. It’s good that we have both lungs which can share with one another; the sad thing, though, is that the East has not had as much opportunity to do so as it should. But I do think Easterners should also learn about the West, if they have not had the chance.

  • Greg

    You’ve gotta love both Eastern Rite Catholics and the Orthodox. Those Roman Catholics who take their spirituality seriously would be well advised to buy the four-volume set of the Philokalia. After Sacred Scriptures, it is the most important book to Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox. In it is all that is necessary to attain perfection.

    I would also suggest buying and listening to Russian Chant which is simply phenomenal.

    Latin rite Catholics cannot forget that it is primarily from the East that Marian devotion began and flourished.

    Thank God the Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics have not tinkered with their liturgy. I still think the Orthodox are scandalized at how the Novus Ordo came about which is one reason they were so happy with Summorum Pontificum.

  • Greg

    You’ve gotta love both Eastern Rite Catholics and the Orthodox. Those Roman Catholics who take their spirituality seriously would be well advised to buy the four-volume set of the Philokalia. After Sacred Scriptures, it is the most important book to Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox. In it is all that is necessary to attain perfection.

    I would also suggest buying and listening to Russian Chant which is simply phenomenal.

    Latin rite Catholics cannot forget that it is primarily from the East that Marian devotion began and flourished.

    Thank God the Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics have not tinkered with their liturgy. I still think the Orthodox are scandalized at how the Novus Ordo came about which is one reason they were so happy with Summorum Pontificum.

    • Greg

      You would be surprised at all the venom which has gone around because my Ruthenian church re-translated the liturgy into English, and corrected some problems which came in from the previous translation. No one is immune from liturgical wars. Ask the Old Believers.

      The Philokalia is great, though one must understand some texts are geared towards monastics, and one should adapt accordingly. As you have probably noticed, I quote from it quite a bit in my writings.

  • Kurt

    Adding to the outrage, Fr. Toth was widowed by time he came to the New World.

    Roman Catholics would be well advised to make a contribution to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and thereby be put on the mailing list for their wonderful and informative publication ‘One.’

    The Eastern Catholic Fathers at Vatican II served in a significant role in helping for formulate much of the liturgical and theological renewal of the Council,particularly the immense contributions of H.B. Maximos IV of Antioch. It was he, before almost anyone else, who first proposed that the Council should avoid definitions and condemnations, as well as reforms such as use of the vernacular, eucharistic concelebration and communion under both species in the Latin liturgy, the permanent diaconate, the establishment of what would become the Synod of Bishops, the Secretariat (now Pontifical Council) for Christian Unity and new attitudes and a less offensive ecumenical vocabulary for dealing with other Christians (dropping ‘heretics’ and ‘schismatics’).

  • ari

    Henry,

    As my initial post makes clear (alluding to the Synod in Rome of October of last year with our Eastern brethren, with links to the meaningful remarks made by both the Patriarch of Constantinople as well as to those of the Archimandite), it is right that the Catholic Church proper start breathing fully and completely with both lungs intact, as His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, affectionately referred to both the Latin and Eastern rites during his reign.

    From that very synod last year, it is also very clear that the Latin Church does not think any less of our Eastern brothers, as the manifest reconciliation efforts of even our own reigning Pope Benedit XVI makes evident.

    However, as regards your latter statement concerning the Protestant sects, I concur with Sir More’s own sentiments whilst he was living that we can never make convenants with the heretics.

    Now, that does not mean we shouldn’t ever engage in ecumenical dialogue with them; only that, in my view, we should not ever compromise our Catholic and Apostolic Faith merely to accomodate their heresy.