Are you Catholic?

The Catholic Church is a communion of about 22 particular churches. Each has its distinctive way of worship, it’s expression of theology, and its individual spirituality. What unites us all is our common faith in the doctrines of the Catholic Church and our acknowledgment of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, as the head of the whole Church. Most Catholics in the world belong to the Roman Church. About 20 million Catholics belong to the Eastern Catholic Churches. The largest group of these are the Churches which belong to the Byzantine, or Greek tradition.

What has the Church had to say about the Eastern (Byzantine) Catholic Church?

“The Catholic Church holds in high esteem…the Eastern Churches, their liturgical rite, ecclesiastical traditions, and Christian way of life.” (Vatican II, Decree on the Eastern Churches, no. 100.)

“Our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters are very conscious of being the living bearers of this tradition….The members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition must also be fully acquainted with this treasure….In the East are found the riches of spiritual traditions which are given expression in monastic life especially….” (Saint Pope John Paul II, Orientale Lumen, nos, 1, 6.)

“The Eastern Churches have a duty (in America) to maintain their own…doctrinal, liturgical and monastic witness.” (Saint Pope John Paul II, Exhortation to the Catholic Churches in the Americas, 1998.)

“That the Eastern Catholic Churches and their venerable traditions may be known and esteemed as a spiritual treasure for the whole Church.” (Pope Benedict XVI, special prayer intention for November, 2011.)

What do you mean by Byzantine?

The first Christian Emperor of Rome, Constantine the Great (273-337 AD) divided the Roman Empire into two halves. He established the capital of the Eastern half in a new city built on the site of the small town of Byzantium. This city he named Constantinople. It is today known as Istanbul, in present day Turkey. The adjective “Byzantine” thus refers to the Christian tradition of worship and spirituality that developed in the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The common language of this part of the world was Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written. Almost all the major teachings of the Catholic Church were set down in writing by the Churches centered in Constantinople. These include the basic Creed of Christianity first proclaimed by the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in the Fourth Century. Throughout the first thousand years of Christian history, the Byzantine Churches and the Popes in Rome were almost always in agreement about the faith and were in full communion with each other. This situation changed for the worse in the period between 1204 and the Protestant Reformation. During these centuries, the Eastern and Western Churches gradually grew increasingly estranged, resulting in the formation of two separate communions: the Catholic Church in the West and the Orthodox Church in the East.

To which of the Byzantine Churches do you belong?

I belong to the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church.

The Romanian Greek-Catholic Church emerged in 1700 when a large section of the Orthodox population of Transylvania entered in communion with the Holy See. At the time Transylvania was under the political control of the Kingdom of Hungary, and of its Roman Catholic Hapsburg rulers. Beginning in 1948, Romanian Catholics found themselves among the most severely persecuted Christians in the Soviet world. The communist regime declared the Greek-Catholic Church illegal and confiscated all its property. All the bishops were arrested and tortured. Most were martyred, as were innumerable priests, monks, nuns and lay faithful. In 1989 the communist regime fell, and the Church began to rebuild itself. In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI recognized the self-governing status of the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church and raised its traditional head to the rank of Major Archbishop. Large scale Romanian immigration to the United States began in the late nineteenth century. Migrant communities formed their own parishes and invited clergy from back home to serve them. In 1982 Pope St. John Paul II appointed the Church its first Exarch. In 1987 the exarchate was raised to the status of a full diocese (eparchy) with its Cathedral in Canton, Ohio. The territory of the Eparchy consists of the United States and Canada.

What are some features of the Byzantine Church?

Byzantine worship relies heavily on icons. These are sacred images, paintings of Jesus Christ, his Blessed Mother, and the saints. We do not worship these images as idols, but rather we see them as “windows into heaven.” They are points of contact between us and the holy people and events they depict. They are proof that God in Christ Jesus became a man, that Heaven is one with earth, and that here in our lives we can touch all that is holy and good. The Byzantine tradition insists on the essential unity of human being: body, soul (mind) and spirit. All aspects of the person are involved in worship. The body is taken up in sights (icons), scents (incense and candles), touch and taste (blessed foods and flowers). The mind and emotions delight in the sacred mysteries of the faith sung in sublime religious poetry across the “eight tones” of ancient chant. The spirit is called to unite with God in sacramental prayer, through participation in long services in Church and through striving after unceasing prayer of the heart.

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