One Catholic Faith, Many Ways to Life in the Trinity
Eastern Catholic Churches Today
The Holy Catholic Church
The Holy Catholic Church is made up of several
Autonomous Churches. These range in size from the largest,
the Roman, with over One (1) Billion members, to
such small ones as the Coptic, with about 70,000.
The non-Roman Churches are usually called "Eastern
Churches" or "Eastern Rites". All of the
Catholic Churches are Equal within the One
(1) Church, and all are Entrusted to the Pastoral
Care of the Pope of Rome as Successor of Saint Peter and the Vicar of Christ.
Early Christian Churches
All of the Churches trace their Origin to Jerusalem, and from here to
One (1) of these original Mother Churches
descended from Jerusalem: Alexandrian,
Antiochene, Armenian, Byzantine,
Roman. Within these Five (5) original
Traditions, we find the modern Autonomous
Each Autonomous Church is
Heir to a particular Spirituality, Style
of Worship, Religious Art, Canon Law,
and Unique History. All of these combine, so that each Church has a Special Way of leading
People to a closer Union with God.
Diversity of Traditions
The Roman or Latin Rite Church became the
dominant form of Catholic Worship in Western Europe,
with only a few local exceptions. These did not survive the Reformation save in Italy (
Ambrosian Rite in Milan) and Spain (Mozarabic
Rite in Toledo) [sic., I believe in Lyons, France they have maintained their particular rite: KRG), both
of which were merely different Liturgical Worship styles rather than
Autonomous Churches, and the small Byzantine
Catholic Church (Italo-Greek) in southern Italy.
Struggle for Union
Some of these Churches accepted different teachings about
Christ over the Centuries, but all now
Teach the same as the Roman Catholic Church. The
Split most familiar to Americans was that between Rome and the
Byzantine Churches. These
East and West; Catholic and
Orthodox. Over the Centuries since the
Split in 1054 AD, parts of
Orthodoxy have decided to Unite with Rome again. As early as the
1200's, this pattern was followed by parts of other Eastern Christian Churches.
These Communities form the Eastern Catholic Churches.
Catholic Churches in the U.S.
Saint Thomas Syro Malabar Catholic Church
'It was the Mission of Saint Thomas to Espouse India to the One-Begotten'
In the United States there are Seven (7)
Autonomous Churches with Dioceses
(Eparchies) while every other Church has Parishes
or Missions. Since all are Catholic, each of these
Churches (Armenian, Ethiopic,
Syrian) holds to the Catholic Faith in all its fullness.
Each celebrates the same Seven (7)
Sacraments (Mysteries), and each is centered around
These Churches offer Catholics a wide
variety of Worship. The celebration of the Eucharist
(Mass or Divine Liturgy) is done with
Great Reverence. Parishes tend to be small and friendly communities where customs unite
Parishioners while celebrating the Presence of God in their lives.
Tradition Is Alive and Well
In these Parishes, Tradition is very much alive with the
Holy Spirit encouraging the Faithful to spread the
Good News while keeping Faithful to Ancient Practices.
Prayer Life is Rich and the
Churches are gradually reaching out to the Larger Community, eager to share their
Byzantine Catholic Churches
The most widespread of all the Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States
are the Byzantine Churches. There are Four (4)
Jurisdictions in this country: Melkite, Romanian,
Ukrainian, and Ruthenian. Originally these were
based on Ethnic Membership, but today these Churches serve all People in the name of
Jesus Christ and His Church.
The Byzantine Church is usually identifiable from the outside by the
Three-bar Cross atop the Steeple or Dome. The Three (3)
(1) the Sign hung over Jesus' Head,
(2) the Crossbar for His Arms,
(3) and the Footrest.
The slant of the footrest stands for both the Cross of Saint Andrew, and to show that even in
Death, Jesus is the link between
God and Humanity.
Eastern Catholics and Orthodox place great emphasis on the
Sign of the Cross as a Profession of Faith in the
Three (3) basic Doctrines of Christianity: The
Holy Trinity, the Double (2) Nature in
Christ and the Mystery of Redemption.
This Act of Faith in the Teachings of
Christianity is also an Act of Consecration
to God of all Human Activities; Thoughts, Affections and Actions.
The interior of the Byzantine Church is dominated by the Iconostas or
Icon Screen. This is the Wall of Icons, literally, with a set-of-doors to be used
during the Service. It designates the "Holy of Holies", the place where
Heaven and Earth meet. The Icons are painted according to Ancient Tradition and depict
Our Lord, His Mother, events
in their lives and their friends and Saints. The Icons provide Channels of
God's Grace to the World and give us "Windows into Heaven" when
Praying to God before them.
Behind the Iconostas is the Altar, with
the Tabernacle containing the Consecrated Bread,
the Body of Christ. A Sanctuary Light is always burning
acknowledging Christ's Eucharist Presence. There are Two
(2) ornamental "Fans" or Ripidia
which represent the presence of the Heavenly Angels, and are often carried in Procession.
There are Two (2) Side Altars.
One is the Altar of Preparation
(Proskomedia) where the Bread and Wine are made ready, and the
other is the Vestment Altar, often containing Vestments, Blessed Oil, etc.