Puluka Family

home | Scripture | Patristics | Chant | Liturgy


Comments or Questions on this page?


spacer
The First Centuries

The Churches Develop

Historical Separations

Attempts at Reunion

Eastern Churches in the West

Eastern Churches Today

 

Eastern Church History

To The Ends of The Earth Book

Lecture Notes
By Steve Puluka

Text book available from:

Theological Book Service

The First Centuries

The Twelve go forth from Jerusalem

The Preaching of the Apostles

The Apostles reached out to the Jewish community first. When they went to new cities, they appeared in the synagogue and preached how Jesus was the Messiah. Since they were a minority sect, they kept together as a community against the rest of the world.

The core teaching of our faith is found in the sermons preserved in Acts of the Apostles and the early letter from Paul. These communities took what was taught by the Apostles and remained faithful to it. There is NO INNOVATION in theology. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Opening to the Gentiles

Jewish society was religiously based. You could not be a part of the Jewish culture without joining the faith of Abraham. Further, you could not join the faith of Abraham without full membership unless you accepted all the faith practices, the most difficult for those interested being circumcision.

There were many sects of Jews who all came to the Temple to sacrifice together. They each held classes of a sort in the courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem and at the local synagogues around the world. There was a tremendous diversity in Jewish thought at this time, much the way we see a large number of Christian denominations today.

If you were interested in the faith of the Jews, you could come to the temple to listen to the rabbis teach. Many people in that secular age were attracted to the deep spirituality of the Jews. They came to the temple to learn more. Those who accepted much of the faith, but who didn't bring their household into the faith by circumcision, were known as the ˝God-fearersţ.

As the Christian Jews participated in the daily dialogue at the local synagogue, these Gentiles also heard the message of Jesus. When the Christians were proclaimed a heretical sect by the mainstream Jews and were forced to leave the temple, the Gentiles came with them. The Christian church then decided that one did NOT have to be a Jew to become a Christian. This was the subject of the first council of Jerusalem, whose story is told in Act chapter 15. This is also the reason for Paul's rebuke of Peter in Galatians chapter 2.

Characteristics of the New Testament Church

The community of Christians was characterized by love. This was expressed by a community that cared for its own, held all possessions in common, and whose chief meeting was a communal meal. These churches were held in the homes of one of the wealthier members who supported the local community this way. Each local community was a witness to Christ.

Connection with the Apostles

What held all the local churches together was the common tie of the Apostles. Each community could tie its very existence to one of the Apostles. From the earliest times this was the test of truth.

Today only the Catholic and Orthodox churches continue to hold this principle as one of the central tenets of the faith.

Fullness of the Local Church

In the Jewish faith of the time, the Temple in Jerusalem was the fullness of Israel═s connection with God. Only in Jerusalem could sacrifice to God occur. The Christian relationship to God changed this mode of thinking. Each local ˝house churchţ contained the fullness of the church. The community meeting together for the ˝breaking of the breadţ is the full expression of the church.

The community is not a part of the church but IS the WHOLE church present for the faithful.

A Communion of Local Churches

At the same time, the communion of the local community extends to include other local churches. On a practical level the larger communities in the bigger towns established and served the small villages. There was a clear dependence of the smaller villages on the larger towns.

The larger towns were established first and even small towns had a local leader (bishop). As the community grew the bishops ordained presbyters (priests) to run the churches in a local area. These priests would travel to the small groups in the outlying villages and serve them. When the community in that village became large enough and strong enough in the faith, one of their own would be ordained to serve them.

Provinces and Patriarchates

While even very small trading towns would have a bishop that cared for the surrounding area, the major metropolitan areas became responsible for the smaller towns around them. They would send help in need and assist in local disputes.

After Christianity was legalized they officially adopted this organizational structure at the first council of Nicea. Metropolitans were established over other local bishops.

This structure was borrowed entirely from civil government of the empire. The next level of organization was the major regions of the Empire which became the Patriarchates of the Church. These were Constantinople, Rome, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem. Jerusalem was NOT a major administrative center of the empire but was a Patriachate because our salvation occurred there.

Communion Expressed in Councils

The area where the Church diverged from civil practice was in the decisions of the Councils. There is no civil parallel, past or present, for this activity in the church. While the Christian Church of the Empire was large enough to need a good organizational structure, the Church was still NOT a government, special interest group, club, or association, but a COMMUNITY OF FAITH.

This community of faith is in union with Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit. From the very beginning, with the replacement of Judas among the twelve Apostles, the church has trusted in the leadership of God, not people.

This leadership with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit took the form of Councils of the leaders of the faith. Acts details the first one held in Jerusalem, which defined the relationship of the Christian faith to the Jews. The Gentiles did not need to become Jews before they became Christians.

But the decision of a group of leaders is not unique to the Church. First, this decision is debated in faith and in prayer for guidance. This decision is announced to the faithful everywhere for their contemplation. When the spirit moves the whole community to accept these decisions they have effect, and not before.

Councils were held throughout the regions and history of the Church but many of them were rejected. The act of leaders getting together to debate and decide something is NOT sufficient. The decisions need to be affirmed by the community of the faithful. The Councils that are affirmed by ALL the communities became known as Ecumenical councils.

More councils were rejected than accepted. More councils were of local issues and interest than were Ecumenical councils.

Return to History Class Home

Cross Border

The Churches Develop

Becoming a Mainstream Religion

Cultures in the Mediterranean World

Religion is as much an expression of culture as of faith. We describe God in our prayers as ineffable and beyond human understanding. This means that any attempt to understand God must be by way of analogy from our human experience. Culture is that human experience.

God choose the Semitic culture of the Jews as the point of contact with the human race. Jesus choose the Greek-influenced Roman Empire as the time to appear and teach. The Apostles choose to pull additional insights from the cultures of the regions they visited to bring people to Jesus.

Semitic culture is largely agricultural and nomadic shepherds in nature. Their world dominance by the time of Christ was a thing of the past. Religiously, the Jews insisted there was only one God and refused to make images of God. This stood in stark contrast to the rest of the world, which loved ornate religious imagery.

When Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world he brought Greek culture with him. Logic, philosophy, art, literature and games from Greece appeared throughout the region. Many leaders of the Jews lamented and fought this foreign intrusion to their cultural life. Despite this dislike of foreigners, Greek language and culture came to dominate the region.

The Roman empire expansion into Israel was actually at the invitation of the Jewish leaders to help combat the Greeks. Once in, they presented problems of their own. Rome conquered areas and used local people to rule the conquered nations. The Jews became just one more province of the empire.

Egypt shared a common liturgical tradition but two languages, Greek in some of the major cities and Coptic in the rural areas. Great care was taken to assure that the faithful understood what occurred in the Church. When the Bishop spoke in Greek a translator stood by to render this for the Coptic faithful present.

Another cultural area was east of the holy land in Mesopotamia. The Christian community here was largely established by the Jewish Christian flight from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. These people of Jewish descent wanted to leave the area of Roman persecution to the outer fringes of the empire. They are recognized as the ancestors of the Maronite Churches today.

In summary, when the Christians moved throughout the empire they preached in the language the people could understand, usually Greek, and adapted customs from the local people for explaining Christian beliefs.

Development of the Byzantine Church

When Constantine the Great legalized the Christian faith in 313 AD, the makeup of the Christian Church began to change. Much of what the Church taught and how it was organized was firmly established by this time, but the cosmopolitan nature of the Byzantine capitol and the new needs of an official religion caused some profound developments.

With the persecution of the church over, greater communication between the various communities was possible. Further, the need to bring into the faith large new groups of people demanded more definition from the leaders on what Christianity meant. The Byzantine empire═s capitol was famous as a melting pot of its time, very much like the United States is today.

These factors led to the great Byzantine Synthesis of Tradition, Liturgy and Theology. For more than a thousand years, through many heresies and cultural advances, the capital of Constantinople became the leader of Eastern Christianity. Here the mystical theology of the Eastern Churches was articulated fully in this period, while the West pursued the scholastic emphasis leading to Roman Catholic Systematic Theology.

One important difference between the approach of east and west was the use of liturgy for theology. The period of Byzantine synthesis was characterized by hymnography and liturgical songs expressing these theological truths. While the West pursued the deeper understanding of the human mind in scholarship for a few, the East placed our deepest truths into song for all the faithful to sing and understand, each according to their own ability.

The Syriac Tradition

Antioch remained an important area for the development of the Eastern Church, even after Constantinople took the clear leadership role. Antioch═s approach was more biblically-based than Constantinople's, and Antioch became one of the centers of monasticism.

Since monasticism was a lay movement and by its very nature a rural one, the monasteries tended to be Syriac-speaking around Antioch, or Coptic in Egypt. The further removed the monasteries from Greek cities, the less concerned they were with Greek philosophical theology. The monks produced hymns and metered homilies in the Syriac tongue.

Missionary Expansion of the Church

After this early period the fundamental concepts and approaches to God became fixed, while the experience of the church for the people remained changeable during missionary expansion. Geography was the deciding factor in this expansion.

Antioch

became the first missionary center by sponsoring Paul and his companions throughout the Mediterranean. They also expanded east to Persia, north to Soviet Georgia, and south to Caucasus.

Alexandria

sponsored missions to Yemen, Nubia and Ethiopia. The Yemeni church was destroyed by Islamic conquest. The Ethiopian Church constitutes the first synthesis of African spirituality with Christian beliefs. This church, centered in the capital of Axum, also claims to hold the great Jewish relic of the Ark of the Covenant. A single monk stands vigil over the relic for his entire life in a monastery out of public view. All Ethiopian sanctuaries use a replica of this relic as the center of the sanctuary. On major feasts the ark is brought in procession through the town.

Constantinople

sent missionaries east and north throughout the Baltic states. Cyril and Methodius are the most famous missionaries to these lands. Each area created its own national church using the Greek liturgy as a basis, but translating all the services and scriptures to their own tongue. Cyril is credited with adapting the Greek alphabet to the Slavic sounds that we know today as Cyrillic. Many of the westernmost areas of eastern Europe became places of conflict for Rome and Constantinople. As both had missionaries working in the area, the Pope had to intervene to keep the peace on several occasions. This includes a famous trip to Rome by Cyril to have their work in translating scripture and liturgy to the vernacular approved and blessed by the pope.

Rome

established missions throughout western Europe and beyond through the host countries colonial efforts in later years. The biggest difference between the Roman missions and those of the east was the complete lack of adaptation to the language or ritual for missionary countries.

Return to History Class Home

Icon Mary

Historical Separations

They Were Torn Asunder

Most human organizations are fraught with division and disagreement. Any organization of substantial size experiences this tendency in human nature and must deal with the outcome. Acts of the Apostles details several people being expelled from the community to preserve the original faith intact. As the years progressed, clergy and bishops would lead entire populations of the faithful into heresy.

Nicea and the Arians

Arius was a poplar priest from Alexandria who objected to the teaching that Jesus was co-eternal and equal to the father. The first Ecumenical council of Nicea condemned Arius and his teachings and the heresy died out two generations after his death.

Ephesus and the Nestorians

Nestorius was the Patriarch of Constantinople. He held that Jesus' two natures, divine and human, were completely separate, and did not allow Mary the title of God-Bearer. The council of Ephesus affirmed this title for Mary and renounced the theology of Nestorius.

Nestorius and the theology schools that supported this view were exiled to the east. Here they lost contact with the Ecumenical Patriarchates. They became an eastward-looking community with missions throughout the far east.

Today they have small communities in Kurdestan, Iran, Iraq, India, North America, Europe and Australia.

Chalcedon and the Monophysites

Since the controversy of the nature of Christ continued even after Ephesus, the Council of Chalcedon attempted to clarify the issue. Here the Fathers decided that Christ was one person with two distinct and unconfused natures united.

This decision split the church on ethnic lines. Greek accepted, while Coptic and Syriac rejected the decision. As a result there were two rivals claiming to be the rightful heir to the Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria. Daughter churches established from these cities likewise chose sides.

Those rejecting the council of Chalcedon were called Monophysites while those who accepted became known as Melkites.

While recent discussions have resolved the theological differences of these groups many other obstacles remain before full communion can be restored.

The Maronites

The monasteries of the Syriac-speaking church strongly opposed the council of Chalcedon, with the notable exception of Beit Maron. This became the center for all monks supporting the council and the origin of the Maronite Church.

Rome and Constantinople

The schism between Rome and Constantinople is traditionally fixed to 1054 and resulted from the Roman insertion of "and the Son" (Filioque) into the Nicene creed. This is the year that the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Papal legate exchanged excommunication over the issue.

Long before this there were serious tensions between the two capitals. The issue of which Patriachate held primacy for the whole church and the nature of that primacy was probably more critical to the split than the insertion into the creed.

Rome maintained that its authority was one of position established by the Apostles, while Constantinople insisted it was one of secular origin due to the Roman empire═s capitol. If that was the case, the fall of Rome as capitol and important city meant that Rome should have fallen from primacy of honor also. Constantinople referred to the city as the "New Rome".

This general view would come back to haunt Constantinople after the Ottoman Turks sacked the city and they lost their political and civil power. The relatively new Patriarch of Moscow claimed title as the third Rome and the primacy of honor.

Other tensions between the capitol existed over control of mission areas in eastern Europe. Bulgaria was claimed by both Rome and Constantinople.

The mutual excommunication was removed in 1965 by resolving the issue of the creed, but the issue of primacy and jurisdiction still prevent union today.

Roman Catholic Fragmentation: The Protestants

The late middle ages exposed the Western church to a new variety of schism. All of the above mentioned breaks occurred over specific theological differences among parties who claimed to be the true holders of the faith of the apostles. Each group had much more in common than it had differences.

Abuse of political power and corruption of the Roman Church at the highest levels prompted an unprecedented departure from the church structure established in the first centuries. Protestant reformers believed that the papacy was wrong. This led them to reject not only the authority of that Pope (Patriarch of Rome), as had been done at Chalcedon, but also to deny that ANYONE should have such authority.

This attack on the authority of the church ultimately led to many denominations with varying adherence to traditional services, mysteries, and traditions of the church. The Protestants were united in their rejection of the Pope and acceptance of scripture, but held little else in common among the various denominations.

These divisions were often driven by early kings═ political goals in obtaining land controlled by the Pope or other conveniences of state.

Divisions within Orthodoxy: The Traditionalists

Shortly after the Reformation, liturgical reforms in Russia prompted the "Old Believersţ schism. This substantial group opposed the reforms, which had brought the Russians up to contemporary Orthodox practice. This was as much a protest against the Westernization policies of Peter the Great as the liturgical reforms in the Church.

In recent times, Orthodox attempts to use the Gregorian calendar have prompted groups to protest and break off communion with bishops. Ecumenical dialogue by Orthodox leaders, including the Patriarch of Constantinople, has prompted condemnations, excommunication and anathema from various Orthodox communities, especially monastic ones.

Change is the biggest challenge for an Eastern Church. We are called to preserve our faith unchanged while at the same time interpreting the faith to the culture of the faithful. Where to draw the line on what should not be discussed or changed and what needs to be interpreted is very difficult. But this is the vocation of the bishop and priest.

Return to History Class Home

Sun & Moon

Attempts at Reunion

May They All be One

Forced Union

The great schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople allowed the Fourth Crusade to justify the occupation of Constantinople. The leaders of this crusade sacked the city for all valuables and presented the seat of the Patriarch as a trophy to the Pope. Rome established a Latin Bishop as Patriarch and declared the schism mended in 1204.

Rome viewed the union as a simple extension of the Latin church. Eastern ritual and theology was abolished and replaced with the practices of Rome. This union only lasted until the crusaders were driven from the city in 1261.

Lyons Council

In 1274 the Council of Lyons was convened to discuss reunion. Constantinople was under the threat of attack from another crusade and wanted to avoid an occupation by the meeting. While given the name ˝councilţ, it was really a meeting with a demand that the Byzantine emperor's representative sign the documents of reunion without discussion.

The religious representatives objected to a council without discussion and to the content of the articles of faith. While the Patriarch was promised a statement acknowledging the primacy of Rome and commemorating this in the liturgy, the document actually demanded Orthodox acceptance of the Filioque, the doctrine of purgatory, and Rome as the source of ALL power.

The emperor's representatives signed the document to avoid war but the church rejected the agreement.

Florence Council

The Ottoman Turks finally conquered Constantinople in the 15th century. When the emperor saw this coming in 1438, he attempted union with Rome in order to obtain military assistance. Rome was experiencing its own problems with a rival Pope and agreed to a real council discussion of the issues separating the two powers.

The final documents affirmed that both leavened or unleavened bread could be used for the Eucharist traditions, the Filioque was a lawful expression, the Pope held primacy, and acknowledged the existence of purgatory.

While this document was signed by most of the delegates present, the Orthodox churches ultimately rejected this union.

Eastern Catholic Unions

While neither the councils of Lyons nor Florence led to a lasting merger, Rome saw this as a method to achieve union. Even if the whole of Orthodoxy did not accept these councils, perhaps individual churches would.

Rome sent missions with theology books and other scholars to anyone who would accept the entourage. These groups observed the climate and attempted to reach common ground where possible. They were not above using rivalries between bishops, princes, or others to approach churches for the purpose of union. Once an understanding could be reached, they would form a Uniate Church.

Franciscans successfully brought one of two rival bishops in Kurdestan into union with Rome. This Chaldean Catholic church has a rocky history of union with both rivals coming into and out of union with Rome at various points. The current union was established in 1826.

Alexandria and Rome competed in Ethiopia creating the G'eez (Coptic) Uniate church. This union was driven by the princes of Ethiopia trying to escape Greek influence, and was accomplished by the Jesuits.

The Ukrainian and Ruthenian Unions

Several factors led to the Ukrainian and Ruthenian unions with Rome. For more than a century after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, the poor rural regions of eastern Europe were largely neglected by Constantinople. After visiting the region in 1588, Patriarch Jeremiah II recognized the need for reform. The area was poor and the clergy largely uneducated. He appointed an exarch to oversee the local metropolitans and lay organizations. These moves were resented by much of the clergy.

The region also resented the taxes it paid to Constantinople to support the church. Being poor, and also taxed by the local governments, caused the people to resent this extra burden their neighbors did not have.

As the Protestant Reformation moved East, Orthodoxy was forced to meet the theological arguments of the Protestants just as the Catholics did before them. Many took refuge in the western scholastic apologetics from Rome. As the violence of the reformation wound down to the principle that people should follow the religion of their rulers, Orthodox in these border lands found themselves to be outcasts, belonging to neither the Catholic nor Protestant groups.

These factors led the Ukrainians under Polish rule to petition for union with Rome in 1596. The Union of Brest was based on just two principles, equal status and the ability to retain theology, ritual & discipline. Political upheaval in Poland caused many of those in the union to return to the Patriarch of Moscow when the territory was conquered by Russia, and return to union when they were ejected.

In 1646, the Ruthenian jurisdictions sought to imitate the Union of Brest for the same reasons. They obtained three promises in the agreement, namely, retention of the rite, election of their own bishops, and equal status.

Both of these unions exposed the Uniates to persecution as traitors by the Orthodox, while at the same time they were not accepted as equals by the Romans. Living in this middle ground of being both united to Rome but also Orthodox in faith has proven very difficult over the years.

The Romanians

When the Ottoman Turks were driven from Europe, the Hungarian Empire took control of Romania. While religious freedom was permitted for the Orthodox, union promised full equality with the privileges enjoyed by the Roman Church, and was accepted at the synod of Alba Julia in 1698.

In addition to the political rewards, Calvinism was spreading rapidly in the area and the union offered the chance to unite against this common enemy of the faith.

The Romanian Catholic Church suffered terribly in recent times after World War II. When the Iron Curtain was erected, everything with western ties was suppressed in many of the Balkan countries. Romania was perhaps the most brutal in the suppression of Uniate churches. After taking power, the Ceaucescu family arrested all the Byzantine Catholic bishops in the country, had them shot, and buried them in a place that remains secret today.

The Melkites

The Chalcedonian-following community of the Melkites (chapter two) began the road to union in 1634. The middle east was under Turkish control but they did allow some independence for the Roman rite in their territories. This freedom was appealing to some of the Melkite bishops.

Individual Patriarchs, bishops and communities professed faith in union with Rome beginning in 1634. The union that exists today dates from 1724. Shortly afterwards the Catholics were ejected by the Turks at the request of the Orthodox, but returned in 1833. To this day, the Melkites also lay claim to the Patriarchate of Antioch.

The Syrian, Armenians, and Indians (Non-Chalcedonians)

The Syrians, the Non-Chalcedonian church of this region, also split into a Catholic and an Orthodox branch. First in 1662,but definitively in 1782, a Catholic Patriachate was established.

Similarly, the Armenian church split in 1712 but the Catholics existed only as a church in exile in Italy. In 1740, they established a Patriarchate in Lebanon for the Catholic branch of this church.

The Church in India was re-discovered by the Portuguese during their colonial period and brought into union with Rome. This Church, which traces its conversion to the work of the Apostle Thomas, began to be subjugated by the Portuguese. They appointed their own people as bishops and changed the traditional practices. This caused the church to split into rival Catholic and Orthodox jurisdictions.

The Effects of Union

Uniate churches became the conduit for western education and culture in their respective regions. As a result, Uniate clergy were, on the whole, better educated than their Orthodox counterparts; however, their education tended to be western influenced or, in some cases, lacking in Eastern theology altogether.

The world began to rebel against central authority in general throughout the west. The power of monarchs, including the Pope, decreased as the people insisted on a more equitable government. The Papacy responded to these threats, as did all of the monarchs of Europe, by insisting on their legitimate authority and strengthening their position wherever possible. The ultimate expression of this position came during Vatican I in the 1870═s, in which the infallibility and ultimate authority of the Pope was established over all other national churches.

Of the Uniate churches only the Melkites resisted this trend, and ultimately not very forcefully. The Uniate churches continued to suffer persecution from their former Orthodox brethren while the authority of Rome removed most of their local control.

Rather than bringing the East and the West closer together, Uniatism tended to increase the divide and sharpen the differences. This is why the major barriers to union with the Orthodox today are not theological in nature.

Repudiation of Uniatism

In the late 19th and early 20th century the Roman Church began an introspective reflection on the faith. With the example of their Protestant neighbors, many Roman Catholic clergy and lay people began to see the flaws in the practices of their church. Scholarship had replaced scripture, adoration of the Eucharist had replaced reception, and rote memorization had replaced growing in faith. Many began to question these traditional practices.

The Uniate Churches had adopted from the West many of these rituals and practices. But we did not follow up in the the questioning or the reforms.

These reforms in the Roman Church culminated in Vatican II. Rome began to affirm the role of the Spirit and liturgical life for spiritual growth. The balance of head and heart was restored. At the same time, Rome realized that the Uniate churches needed to be true to their own traditions. While still balancing the head and the heart, with an emphasis on the head, they began to see that the opposite balance was not only possible but necessary for the equilibrium of the whole Church. Vatican II called on the Uniate Churches to reform and return to the traditional approaches of our forebears.

The fall of communism in the last decade brought renewed vigor to the discussions of Union between Rome and the Orthodox. The legalization of Uniate churches in the Orthodox territories brought to the surface old rivalries and resentments. The renewed freedom of expression for the Orthodox brought the possibility of travel and dialogue with the West. In 1993, a meeting of the Joint International Theological Commission agreed that Uniatism was NOT the method to be used in the future for union.

Return to History Class Home

Church

Eastern Churches in the West

East meets West in the New World

The nineteenth century brought Orthodox and Eastern Catholic immigrants to the new world. Today, there are 29 Orthodox jurisdictions and several Catholic and non-Chalcedonian ones as well. This brought many Roman Catholics into contact with non-Roman Catholics for the first time.

The first Eastern Catholics in America came from the areas known to Rome as "Ruthenian". These immigrants petitioned their homeland for a priest and were answered by Metropolitan Sylvester in 1884, when Father Ivan Wolansky came to the coal fields of Shenandoah, PA to serve the faithful. By the end of the decade, more than 30 priests were in America.

Conflicts with American Catholics

Ignorance about the Eastern Catholic churches and their union with Rome was widespread among the Roman bishops and clergy. From the very beginning, Eastern Catholic priests had difficulty obtaining the approval of local Roman bishops to practice their faith. The first priest, Father Wolansky, was not only denied the right to use Roman Catholic facilities, but also to enter the churches. The Archbishop of Philadelphia refused to acknowledge the existence of our church or the legitimacy of Father Wolansky, who was married.

In response to complaints from Roman bishops, the Vatican issued a decree in 1890 requiring all Eastern Rite Catholic priests to get permission to practice from local Roman bishops. This was based on the ancient principle of having only one bishop per physical space. The decree also required that the priests be celibate and the married ones already here be recalled. The situation became worse as time went on. In the same year Father Alexis Toth, a widower, led the Minneapolis parish to the Orthodox over Archbishop Ireland's refusal to recognize him.

The situation improved slightly after Rome appointed bishops to oversee the Eastern Catholics in America. But the stark differences in practices bothered many Roman bishops. In the Roman jurisdictions ethnic groups had their own parishes but they still used the same rituals, customs and liturgy as the rest of the Roman Church. Many Roman bishops could not understand why Eastern churches weren't like that.

In 1929, the Vatican issued another decree at the request of Roman bishops in America. Once again, they forbade the ordination of married men or the immigration of married priests. They also issued a multitude of other reforms for our churches. This time the reforms remained, because of the obedience of the Eastern Catholic bishops.

The decree also galvanized the forces against the leadership of Rome. Eight married men who were only months away from ordination were not ordained. Lay organizations like the Greek Catholic Union fiercely protested the decree. Many parishes left for the Orthodox and a brand new branch of the Orthodox church was founded in Johnstown, PA under the protection of the Greek Orthodox Patriachate of Constantinople.

The Problem of Assimilation

With the battle lines in many parishes sharply drawn between the pro-Orthodox and pro-Catholic elements, assimilation of Roman practices in Eastern churches increased. Churches in union with Rome felt the need to be "different" from the Orthodox and "similar" to the Catholics.

This wholesale abandonment of eastern traditions (such as removal of icon screens and elimination of matins and vespers) while adopting Roman traditions (Roman vestments altar rails, First Communion, rosary, stations of the cross, Baltimore catechism) led to an identity that was neither Roman nor Byzantine. Even worse, the very spirit and essence of the church, and all that made it a viable alternate path to God, was eroded.

The Challenges of the New World

Immigrants to the new world found comfort in keeping alive the ties to the old country. The language at home, the rituals and customs in church, and the ethnic celebrations all gave expression to their identity in the community.

At the same time, being part of a new country and culture was exciting. Much of this new life was far better than the old one. The desire to be "American", meaning Anglo-Saxon, would also lead to adopting Roman customs in the church.

The children of these people faced different concerns but had many of the same results in church life. The United States was the only home they knew. The "mother tongue" is a second language, if it is spoken at all. The "new" Latin practices of the church are all they ever knew. They often pushed for even more "American" practices.

With the third generation and beyond we are seeing a serious revival of traditional views in our church. The arrival of this generation, along with Vatican II reforms, certainly helps. More than ever we are beginning to see the true value of our faith and practices, and are restoring them.

The Second Immigration

After World War II, the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church experienced a second major wave of immigration. The end of the war brought a renewed vigor to the attacks on anything with a western connection in the Soviet sphere of influence. Unfortunately, the Byzantine Catholic Churches in Union with Rome were seen as a threat to Moscow. This movement to make our churches illegal, confiscate the property, and jail the clergy that would not return to Orthodoxy, prompted large scale immigration from Ukraine.

Likewise, the Middle-Eastern churches experienced a fresh wave of immigration around the establishment of Israel. Economic distress and political unrest throughout this region also brought increases in immigration.

These newcomers provided fresh challenges for the established parishes of these groups. Recent arrivals like to pray in their native tongue, while the second and third generation Americans prefer the status quo. In the Ukrainian church calendar reform was controversial with the recent immigrants, which lead to new parishes being built very near to existing ones.

Over time, the culture of the church does adapt to the new countries in which it spreads. The fact that we consider the Greek, Romanian, Ukrainian and Russian churches to be different, despite being established by the same missionary efforts, is witness to this. As time goes on, we would expect the American churches to evolve some of their own identities. The challenge is to be sure that this is an authentic evolution and not a destruction of the original .

Return to History Class Home

Icon Monk

Eastern Catholics Today

Be True to Yourself

The call from Rome has been issued for the church to breathe with both Eastern and Western "lungs" again. As an Eastern Church in union with Rome, we are called to witness to the modern world our experience of Christ in the Eastern Church.

The Call to be Who We Are

It is incumbent on us to accomplish this witness by learning and LIVING our spiritual heritage. Each union with Rome brought periods of copying western models to "improve" the eastern church. Now, more than ever we are asked by Rome to return to our "roots". Liturgical and spiritual traditions are not just a matter of gestures and words but the outward voice of a spiritual reality.

Vatican II sums up this imperative: "If they have improperly fallen away from them because of the circumstances of time or personage, let them take pains to return to their ancestral ways."

A recent follow-up to these instructions was issued in 1996 by Rome. The rather succinct and dry Instructions for Liturgical Reforms details a large number of Roman customs to be eliminated, and Eastern ones to be restored. Central to this document is a call to cooperate with our Orthodox brethren wherever possible.

Further Aspects of the Tradition

The process of rediscovering our heritage must not become a hunt for the perfect ritual. The liturgical life of the church must reflect the inner spiritual life of the faithful. We must take care to avoid the trap of the Pharisee and fall in love with ritual for its own sake.

In looking back to our "roots", we find other aspects of the church lacking. Many communities and bishops of the East exemplified the call to service of the poor. Chrysostym preached loud and long against the excesses of his day and demanded a Christian care for the less fortunate. We seem to have lost some of our vigor in this regard.

Another aspect lost in recent times is the call to personal spiritual growth and prayer life. We often have Americans of all faiths say they get nothing out of church services. This is not hard to believe if it constitutes the only prayer experienced all week. The eastern tradition of experiencing life as a constant prayer is largely lost today.

In the east, monasticism was a lay movement to find a spiritual and prayer life in solitude or community removed from the bustle of modern life. Our church has lost these important centers of ascetic monasticism. Most of our communities are organized on the western model of scholarship and service.

Finally, most of the historical churches, Catholic and Orthodox, have lost the zeal for evangelism. Jesus commanded us to go forth and baptize all the nations, and today we have grown complacent in that task.

The Challenge of Materialism

The most serious challenge in evangelism in America is the cult of materialism. American culture is centered on ownership and economic achievement. Christ offers an alternative to the demands of the god of materialism. The Eastern Churches have already won this battle before. Greek culture in New Testament times had many of the same leanings. Our church has slain this dragon in times past and we offer real rest and satisfaction to today's adherents as well, if we choose to share the faith with them.

The Call to Ecumenism

Dialogue between Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, and non-Chalcedonians has never been better. Many of the centuries old theological disputes have already been settled. However, much work remains to be done.

In America, since Vatican II Roman clergy have been far better informed and open to our churches and their legitimate place in the Catholic fold. We can help the ongoing dialogue by getting closer to the Orthodox churches with which we were once a part.

Even talks with Protestant groups have proven productive. While these are far more difficult, as we differ in many more areas, there is much common ground.

Cooperation with Jews and Muslims

We are also called to get closer to our sister faiths of Judaism and Islam. We in the East can learn much about ourselves by studying the ways of the Jews. Much of our spiritual life and ritual is directly lifted from the Jewish tradition that Jesus lived and prayed.

In many ways, Islam can be considered a daughter church of Eastern Christianity. Mohammed built on the Christian tradition. The strict, and at times spartan, faith in One God is a good reminder not to get too caught up in the iconography nor elevate the saints too high. Islam serves to remind us that God is one not to be equaled by humans and all earthly depiction of the heavenly realities will continue to fall short.

Icon of All Saints
Comments or Questions on this page?

home | Scripture | Patristics | Chant | Liturgy

Firefox 3