THE EASTERN CHURCHES
The Second Vatican Council teaches that: “The Catholic Church holds in high esteem the institutions, liturgical rites, ecclesiastical traditions and the established standards of the Christian life of the Eastern churches, for in them, distinguished as they are for their venerable antiquity, there remains conspicuous the tradition that has been handed down from the Apostles through the Fathers and that forms part of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church [Vatican II, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, Decree on Eastern Churches, signed by Pope Paul VI on Nov 21, 1964].
The Christian East includes Churches of several different traditions. There are two important groups of Eastern Churches: those in full communion with the Catholic Church, and those who have, as yet, imperfect communion with the Catholic Church.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church as Eastern Catholic Church is in full communion with the Catholic Church. The Ukrainian Catholic Church recognizes the primacy of the Holy Father, the Pope or Bishop of Rome, who is the First Bishop of the entire Catholic Church and the Vicar of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. In turn, the Holy Father exercises pastoral care for all Catholics, whether they belong to the Latin Church or to the Eastern Catholic Churches.
Why Ukrainian Catholic Church is “Eastern” Church?
Jesus Christ was born, preached and taught, died on the Cross and rose again from the dead in Palestine. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit sent the Apostles from Jerusalem with Christ’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”. The Apostles founded Churches in each place they visited.
Saint Peter and Saint Paul went to Rome, and the Church of Rome became the center, the touchstone of unity for the whole Catholic Church.
Saint Andrew is thought to have traveled all around the Black Sea, preaching the Gospel in Byzantium and in Scythia (which is now part of Ukraine). He was martyred in Greece.
Church tradition has it that St. Andrew the Apostle first preached the Christian message in the Ukrainian heartland in the early years after Jesus’ death, but in practice the establishment of the faith can be traced to its adoption by Princess Olga of Kyiv, and later by her grandson, Volodymyr of Kyiv, who made it the state religion following his own conversion. The year 988, is commonly cited as the year when Christianity was established in the lands that are now Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church, the largest of the twenty-three Eastern Christian sui iuris (autonomous) particular churches, is rooted in a complex cultural patrimony: in the Byzantine liturgical, theological and spiritual tradition born in the first six centuries AD in Constantinople, when it was capital of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire; in Ukrainian culture, both from pre-Christian legacies and as reshaped over a millennium of Christian belief; and in its relation to the West and the Roman Church at the same time.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries migration from Galicia to the Americas in search of land and work, brought Ukrainian Catholic eparchies (dioceses), churches and institutions to the United States, Canada, Argentina and Brazil.
In the twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Christians left the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and India and have made new lives in the United States, Canada, and Australia. There are substantial communities of all the Eastern Churches in most of the English-speaking countries.
The Ukrainian [Greek] Catholic Church, like the other Eastern Catholic Churches, has its own catechism and canon law. There are parishes, bishops, monasteries and seminaries of the Eastern Churches in the English-speaking countries. Their presence gives us the opportunity to increase our knowledge of the Faith and appreciation for the truly Catholic nature of the Church.
Some Features of the Eastern Churches
Liturgical worship: all the Eastern Churches are noted for their love and appreciation for the liturgy, both the Eucharist or Mass (which they usually call the d Divine Liturgy) and the daily services.’
Very few Latin Catholic parishes regularly celebrate Vespers (Evening Prayer) or Lauds (Morning Prayer); most Eastern Churches have these services for the congregation at least on Sundays and feast days.
Monasticism: traditional monastic life is always important in the Eastern Churches. People often seek out monks to hear their confessions; pastors invite monks to preach in parishes. Monasteries are expected to offer the complete round of liturgical worship, and people go on pilgrimage to take part in these services, especially on feast days.
Married clergy: the Eastern Churches ordain married men to the rank of deacon and priest; these married deacons .and priests continue to live as usual with their families. However, once a man has been ordained deacon (or priest) he may not get married. This means that a married man may become a priest, but a priest may not marry! If the wife of a deacon or priest should die, her husband may not marry again. A married man may not become a bishop; usually a monk or a celibate priest is chosen for the episcopate.
Devotion to Our Lady: all Catholics venerate the Holy Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary! Eastern Christians use many special titles to honor Our Lady, but most of all the title Theotókos:
this word means “She who has given birth to God”.
Veneration for the Altar: no custom or tradition of celebrating Mass “facing the people” ever arose in the Eastern Churches; the priest at Mass guides and leads the Church on pilgrimage towards the Kingdom.
Iconography: sacred art portraying the Lord Jesus Christ, Our Lady, the Saints, and the events of salvation history arose in the Christian East from the earliest times of the Church. The Seventh Ecumenical Council teaches that all Catholics must venerate the holy icons. The icons remind the worshipers that the saints are with them. The generous use of gold is symbolic of the joy of the resurrection and redemption. As you enter our church, you are immediately attracted to the magnificent mosaic icons and iconostas at the front. The iconostas is like a screen which separates the sanctuary area from the nave of the church where the faithful worship. Its purpose is to bring the faithful into the presence of the great saving deeds of God. The story of salvation unfolds through the icons. The icons of Christ, the Mother of God, apostles, evangelists, and other saints visually present God’s story of salvation for us and invite us to come and contemplate the Good News. On the iconostas are icons of Jesus and Mary to the right and left of the royal doors, and icons of other saints including the church patron, St. Athanasius, to the far right.
Synodal government: traditionally, an Eastern Church is governed by a synod of bishops headed by the chief bishop or Patriarch. There are six Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, and two major archbishops,” who have the same rank and authority as a patriarch.