Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Caring for Eastern Christians
Here's an unusual item on my to-do list, which I've been working on, on and off, for several weeks.
Several weeks ago, I had a family approach me about becoming Catholic. They are Greek Orthodox.
Inside my head, a little bell goes off. "This requires special care."
Here's what I mean--because this delves into some less well known aspects of the Church.
If a member of an Orthodox Church seeks "to be Catholic," this is very different from a Protestant, or a non-Christian, doing so. Why? Because the Orthodox already have the right faith, but there are some differences that have to be dealt with.
The Roman feeling is that these differences are relatively narrow; sometimes, among the Orthodox, the feeling is they are major. Being Roman, I approach this situation from the Roman perspective.
So first, I have to think about what topics have to involve some instruction. Not nearly as many as others approaching me to enter the Church.
Another little-known fact. If an Orthodox believer wishes to enter into full communion with the pope, he or she does not become Roman Catholic; he or she becomes a member of the Byzantine Catholic Church, which is a distinct "rite" or branch of the Church, in communion with Rome.
Why is this? Because the various Eastern branches of the Church are not eager to be absorbed into the Roman Church--but to maintain their distinct spirituality and traditions. Same Faith; different form and expression. So strict is this rule, that only the Holy Father can make an exception.
So...these folks approaching me would not become Roman Catholics, but Byzantine Catholics--only they didn't know that. I had to explain what that meant. That means I had to do some homework.
Before I explore that, you might wonder, well, why did they come to you?
Because there is no Greek Orthodox Church nearby; nor is there a Greek Catholic parish nearby. So they came to the Catholic church.
So my concern--which I expressed to them--was that in attending Mass at a Roman church, and sending their children to a Roman school, their Eastern traditions would be lost. Also, even if they attend Mass here, which they can, they will nonetheless be members of the Byzantine Catholic Church. If their son seeks ordination, it needs to be in that church; when their children seek marriage, they can only be married in the Latin rite if they marry a Latin Catholic.
So what else does this mean for this family?
1) Eastern spirituality is different; it's important for them to retain that and connect with it.
2) The way Eastern Churches understand some doctrines is slightly different--not in substance but in formulation. For example, the Holy Spirit's "procession" from the Father, "and/through" the Son.
3) The disciplines of the East are different. Eastern Christians fast more, but it is not under "pain of sin."
Anyway, you might think it would be easy to find things for them to read and study. Not so much. Most of what I could find is written for theologians, not regular folks.
Also, along the way I sought advice from the pastor of the nearest Byzantine Catholic parish, insofar as they will become his parishioners if I receive them into the Church, even though they'll routinely attend Mass here.
Well, I finally put together a plan, and I called the mother today, and we will be getting together soon. I won't claim I did the best job on this so far; I have done what I can, amidst other responsibilities.