Sunday, January 18, 2009

second class Christians...

... do you get that feeling sometimes that in certain circles Eastern Catholics are second class Christians. Romans (for the most part) don't know or care we exist and the Orthodox, at least those I've encountered, treat Eastern Catholics like pseudo-wanna-be Orthodox who play dress up with the Divine Liturgy.

One example comes to mind... upon visiting a local Orthodox church for the first time the priest introduces himself to me. The conversation was pleasant enough and cordial; however, the minute I said I attend an Ukrainian Catholic parish he turned his back on me and walked away. This is not an exaggeration. The only explanation I could gather was that since this particular church was an OCA parish and made up mostly of protestant converts there was a bit of anti-Catholic baggage involved that protestants usually carry around toward us.

I'm curious... what do you Orthodox readers of this blog really think of Eastern Catholics? Why are the more ethnic Orthodox churches so suspicious of outsiders? Why is there such disdain for converts to Orthodoxy and the OCA considered among some not real Orthodoxy? Are Americans in general, us Westerners, just not supposed to encroach upon those things that are Eastern in origin?

I mean no disrespect in this post but just ask out of genuine curiosity. Hopefully, this post can be productive.

13 comments:

Ellen from Buffalo,NY said...

Praised be Jesus Christ!
Now and forever!

Hello to you!

First, I must say thank you for your blog.
You post the best pictures..
Thank you again.
I am an Eastern Catholic, a Maronite Catholic, and there are actually Latin Catholics who do not think that I am Catholic.
I end up explaining to them. I have never experienced the sad rejection that you spoke of in your blog.
I will pray for that Priest.

We will meet in the Most Blessed Sacrament..
Ellen, The Maronite

B. Hold said...

That priest should be ashamed of himself, at least for as long as it is healthy for one to be ashamed because of any particular sin that God will certainly forgive him of...

anyway, I converted to Orthodoxy almost 8 years ago from a non-denominational/Baptist background (long story). I grew up hearing all kinds of anti-Catholic sentiment, and I am grateful that I did not inherit it from my Sunday school teachers, as my parents taught me to love everybody (still working on it, though). One of my best friends of the last 12 years is of a Ukrainian Catholic background. I would venture to say, quite confidently, that most people in my parish, if not all, share the same attitude that I have toward Byzantine Catholics: that we are to love them, not dwelling on our differences, yet we are not to share the Body and Blood of our Lord with those who are outside what we firmly believe to be the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church -- the Eastern Orthodox Church.

I am puzzled as to why this priest did not at the very least attempt to sway you towards Orthodoxy. Many Orthodox, especially those who are from countries where Rome holds power, or once did, feel that we should strive first toward restoring communion with Byzantine Catholics whose ancestors were once sucked into Rome for political reasons. Whether or not it is possible to convince anyone in this manner, an Orthodox priest should at the very least point out the common ground between Orthodox and Eastern Catholics.

Ethnic Orthodox parishes are something that I have yet to fully understand. I sympathize with a group of immigrants and the 2 or 3 generations following, as they wish to keep some remnants of their heritage alive in such a changing new world. They use Orthodoxy as a cultural crutch in this sense. To a certain extent, I think that all Christians should learn to appreciate the variety of cultural expressions of the liturgy, iconography, etc. But when it becomes a separatist thing, the Gospel is lost.

Certain ethnic churches hold on to strict rules that have come and gone over the centuries as the Church is attacked from time to time by legalism, forgetting the economy of grace. Consequently, Orthodox in certain jurisdictions frown upon the OCA because it generally takes into account that we live in America, and that we need all the grace we can get here. Certain OCA members, on the other hand, resent or mock the others because they are too strict or old-fashioned. Personally, as a convert who has more objectively looked at the history and the current differences between the jurisdictions, I would like to see a balance between the monastic-level Orthodox asceticism and the almost lax attitudes of parishes who concentrate more on fish fry type events than they do on studying Scripture or the Fathers.

My parish is an OCA parish comprised primarily of 2nd and 3rd generation Russian-American families (as well as some Ukrainian Orthodox and a little bit of this and that, including one Eritrean couple... that's a whole separate blog topic there). I wish we had more educational and spiritually edifying activities, and more people in their mid-20s like me, but that's not the case. People are more concerned with decorating, holding special events that might as well not be in a church, eating ethnic foods, etc. Those are all nice things, but I would like to see more interest in the spiritual life. At the same time, I am grateful that the priest before whom I confess is not judgmental. While I would love more spiritual counsel from him, he is a constant reminder of God's love. He doesn't pontificate in long homilies every Sunday. It's always just a quick reminder of a great point. I grew up with more academic sermons, but now I am being humbled and brought back to the basics in this setting.

I hope this relatively quick response is helpful to you. Just know that some of us Orthodox (even converts) still love you, appreciate the things we have in common, and would love to see communion with your church restored... of course, without having to sacrifice the things that we believe have been Orthodox tenets from the beginning. ;)

A Simple Sinner said...

"Many Orthodox, especially those who are from countries where Rome holds power, or once did, feel that we should strive first toward restoring communion with Byzantine Catholics whose ancestors were once sucked into Rome for political reasons."

First things first, I am going to take issue with the notion that today's Greek Catholic represents the descendents of those "sucked into Rome for political reasons"... Those who were playing politics, were rather - as often as not - "restored to the fold" when Orthodox governments "made them an offer they couldn't refuse" weather it be "convert or die" or "fine, we will grant you autocephalousy already!".

There are compelling and convincing reasons that many of us have for being in communion with the See of Peter.

That being said...

The priest you dealt with was being a Jerk with a capital "J". That was unwarranted, rude, and - from my perspective - perhaps a left-handed blessing. Inasmuch as he treats our people that way, we have little to worry about him attracting too many of "ours". I guess he should keep it up.

Understand, 80% of the US-born clergy in the US are converts. That could account for something.

Are we second class? No.

But we are small, and do represent an "other" in the minds of most... But know and understand this... "Regular Catholic" in the minds of most Catholics - of any stripe - is what goes on in THEIR parish. Roman Catholics who attend the Extraordinary form would be met by equal curiosity from your Average Joe-Pewsitter who attends the Pauline rite... "Well I go to regular Catholic Church!"

So be it.

I would be so bold as to wager that even among Greek Catholics, their is little knowledge of non-Greek Eastern Catholic Churches. Most of the parishoners at my Greek Catholic parish have NEVER been to, for example, a Maronite liturgy, and likely know little about it.

In a real way - and this is imperfect in how it is analagous - Eastern Catholics are not too dissimilar from Catholics involved in third orders or movements. (again, imperfectly analagous). How many Catholics know about the Dominican rite, or third order membership, or E5 fasting?

Jane said...

My husband converted from Lutheranism to Roman Catholicism, but at one point he considered Orthodoxy, and has maintained his interest in Eastern Christianity. We are lucky to have friends who are Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Western-Rite Antiochian Orthodox (who know a thing or two about being second-class citizens) Ruthenian Catholic, and Maronite. In a way, we are liturgical tourists--we've taken the opportunity, living in a big city, to go to Divine Liturgy at several different kinds of Eastern Catholic parishes (Ruthenian, Maronite, Melkite, Ukrainian, and Russian), and have been to Vespers at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. We also are interested in other Western rites and variations on the Roman Rite, although we haven't had the chance to see any in person (YouTube is awesome, though).

We see ourselves as having two missions in the Roman circles in which we travel: the first is promoting adherence to the rubrics in our own liturgy, especially regarding music (we are musicians), and the second is teaching our Roman brothers and sisters about the Eastern Churches and encouraging them to go to Divine Liturgy at least once, to see what the "other lung" of the Church is like.

So far, we have had very little success--invariably, we encounter ignorance of the existence of the Eastern Churches, misunderstanding about their status, and reluctance to learn about the great variety of the Church as a whole. We have also encountered misunderstanding from Orthodox priests and deacons when we've visited their parishes--one Orthodox deacon told my husband that the filioque so corrupted our understanding of the Holy Spirit that Catholics believe in a different God than the Orthodox. Lovely.

If you ever meet the Syrian Orthodox priest in Spokane, WA, he will not treat you like a second-class citizen. I promise. But then, Syrians and other Oriental Orthodox are often treated as second-class citizens by Greeks and Slavs.

B. Hold said...

Simple Sinner,

I didn't mean to validate the argument that the Byzantine-rite Catholic churches succumbed to Roman pressure and therefore were part of an invalid congregation; my point merely was that the priest could have at the very least engaged in that sort of dialogue instead of walking away, and some (Orthodox and Catholic) do try this as a supposedly convincing argument. I hope that we would both readily admit that certain members of all Christian sects throughout history have played politics to the detriment of Christ's reputation, but that this neither disproves our faith nor the integrity of the Church as a whole. I would certainly not use the Crusades or the Inquisition as arguments against Papal Infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, or the Filioque. Yet I admit that some would, perhaps because they have not read the Fathers enough to realize there are perfectly good theological arguments against them.

However, and forgive me if I'm reading too far into your comment, but do you consider it wrong to grant the churches of smaller nations autocephaly when their indigenous clergy is prepared for it? The far-reaching power of the Patriarchates of Rome, Moscow, etc. throughout the centuries suggests to me that a national identity (while it should be always secondary to Christ in the eyes of His people) is compromised when ecclesiastical allegiances are with one who holds great political sway in a foreign nation. The suspicion that autocephaly was offered as a bribe is a valid one, but do you consider this the necessary case?

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I will be brief. I think attitudes among Orthodox towards those those Byzantine Christians in communion with Rome varies a great deal depending on location and circumstances. My own attitude is one of respect and sympathy for Christians who have suffered, sometimes cruelly, for their faith at the hands of non-believers, other Christians (yes, at times Orthodox) and all too frequently their co-religionists of the Latin Rite. I respect their efforts to preserve what they believe to be their spiritual heritage in the face of great adversity.

All of that said there is no difference in faith and doctrine between them and the Roman Catholic Church. And that is after all what it boils down to. The mechanics of the liturgy are not what it's all about. It's the faith behind the liturgy. As an Orthodox Christian I see them as Roman Catholics who choose to celebrate their spiritual life in the Byzantine manner. There is nothing wrong with that. But externals aside, there is no difference between them and the Roman Church in the matters of importance which divide us.

Of course none of that can excuse rudeness or a lack of charity. At the risk of being judgmental, I can find no excuse for the behavior of the priest you mentioned. As an Orthodox Christian I am embarrassed and I apologize.

Under the mercy,
John

rightwingprof said...

Interesting. Byzantines and Orthodox here in Central PA don't interact much more than Byzantines and Latins, but Byzantines have retreats at Antiochian Village (Antiochian Orthodox, in SW PA), and the priests have been welcomed to clerical retreats and conferences at St. Vladimir's Seminary.

Alex said...

Carolina,

I really thoroughly enjoy your wonderful blog! Keep up the good work!

First of all, I don't think that this particular priest's reaction was fair. The least that he could have done was explain to you his position. That way you wouldn't feel that you had the door slammed on your face. Secondly, I think that priests like him are probably exceptions rather than the rule. Some are more accepting and others are not.

Since I converted to Catholicism from Orthodoxy, I can tell you that the Eastern Catholics are looked down upon in certain circles. In a way, they look at them like some Catholics look at Anglo-Catholics. They have everything right except they pray for the Pope, believe in the Immaculate Conception, etc. I know it probably sounds weird, but that's how I've heard.

Also, some will never refer to them as Eastern Catholics. Rather, the word that is constantly is Uniates (especially for Ukrainians) because they are "united with Rome" and also due to the Union of Brest. I had an Orthodox friend who used that term and I let it slide since he was my friend. If it had been someone else, I would have corrected him.

Also, I don't believe that Westerners should not approach things Eastern. Eastern Orthodoxy is a veritable treasure trove for people that are earnestly seeking to know and understand the Truth. The Eastern Rites of the Church are there for us as is iconography and everything else.

I hope this helps some.

Maureen said...

I never heard of Eastern Catholics until I was in high school, or indeed of any other Catholic rite. Of course, we didn't have any parishes of any other rite in my town until I was in high school, so that's not surprising. (Although I'd have thought I'd have learned about this stuff in church history in fifth grade or in the Catholic magazine we always took; and there were parishes of other rites in the next city over, where our archbishop lives.)

Anyway, once I found out about other rites I had a very positive attitude toward them, though I didn't get to do anything than go to church festivals for them. But I went to college in a town with a lot of Eastern European folks in it, and was delighted to find myself participating in a club that met in a Byzantine Catholic church hall because the parish priest was a member. So of course I was excited to learn all about it, and to have a priest so handy, and of course I asked him when Mass was, so I could come, etc.

He actively discouraged me from going to church there. He didn't want to tell me anything, because this club was his relaxation time. He didn't want his parish to be bothered by any of his club friends. He did everything but say I couldn't go, and he didn't even want us going into the sanctuary to pray or look.

Now, there were a lot of issues behind this, much of which was connected to club drama and club members who hated Christianity. Also I'm sure he didn't want to be seen as stealing members of the Latin rite away.

But. There is definitely an element of both Orthodox churches and Eastern Catholicism that is... reserved? standoffish? suspicious of strangers? protective of what they have? shying off easily?

I think these people mean well, of course. But.

Carolina Cannonball said...

Maureen, I have experienced that within our own Church too. There have been more than one occasion when I visited a eastern catholic (of ETHNIC origin) they were stand offish.

That brings another element to my questions... it would seem rather that Westerners are viewed having to be off limits to things Eastern... whether they be Orthodox or our own Eastern Catholics.

Maybe the thought of a parish over run with converts is scary. Converts due tend to bring with them a certain western/prot theology & way of worship they want to keep distinctly separate from the Eastern style of worship. To which I agree.

More later. Separate post.

rightwingprof said...

I avoid Greek parishes as a matter of principle, because the Greeks are surely the worst at having no use for you if you aren't Greek. The Slavs have been here over a hundred years, and are as American as anyone else; I have not experienced any ethic club standoffishness here. The OCA parish is, as OCA (and Antiochian) parishes tend to be, pan-ethnic, and they are a very welcoming congregation.

Inter-ethnic antagonism is another thing, but very real even here. It's a bad idea for Russians to go to Ukrainian parishes, or vice versa. Ahem.

A Simple Sinner said...

However, and forgive me if I'm reading too far into your comment, but do you consider it wrong to grant the churches of smaller nations autocephaly when their indigenous clergy is prepared for it?

Since, as a Catholic, I do not ascribe to the ecclesiology of autocephalous polyarchy... Well it isn't for me to say when and where it is appropriate.

The far-reaching power of the Patriarchates of Rome, Moscow, etc. throughout the centuries suggests to me that a national identity (while it should be always secondary to Christ in the eyes of His people) is compromised when ecclesiastical allegiances are with one who holds great political sway in a foreign nation.

The nation that I belong to, as a Catholic, transcends nation-state boundaries and I am ill-prepared to discuss when and where it is appropriate to create or defend nation-state churches.

The suspicion that autocephaly was offered as a bribe is a valid one, but do you consider this the necessary case?

I am not sure the question here.

John offers:

"All of that said there is no difference in faith and doctrine between them and the Roman Catholic Church. And that is after all what it boils down to. The mechanics of the liturgy are not what it's all about. It's the faith behind the liturgy. As an Orthodox Christian I see them as Roman Catholics who choose to celebrate their spiritual life in the Byzantine manner. There is nothing wrong with that. But externals aside, there is no difference between them and the Roman Church in the matters of importance which divide us. "

While this may be the ad hoc undestanding of Catholicity and Orthodoxy with which John works, there is, in fact, no formal framework for defining either among the nation-state churches that are a part of the .

It may be the case that you feel most comfortable with these terms, understandings, and ecclesiologies... but there is no formal framework in place to make these understandings definative.

You are free to espouse these views... but as a Serbian Orthodox monk I knew (of whom I was rather fond) back during the period when I was "taking instructions" to join the OCA would say "Who can say?..."

Adam said...

As Fr. Peter Galadza of the UGCC likes to say, "Eastern Catholics have no natural allies"--mistrusted by RCs (if known by them at all), and as often disdained by the Orthodox. But not all Orthodox are as rude as the one you encountered. I know several Orthodox priests rather well and regularly celebrate services with them--even to the point of an Orthodox priest and deacon presiding at Vespers, and allowing me, a UGCC subdeacon, to serve alongside them fully vested and in the altar with them.