Listers, let us consider the simple but much needed work of Deacon Ed Faulk: 101 Questions and Answers on Eastern Catholic Churches. Deacon Faulk has dual faculties: Roman Catholic and Melkite-Greek Catholic, and has produced a wondrous primer to understanding our Eastern brothers and sisters.

The following is a very basic introduction to the topic.

1. What is the difference between the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Church?

Many are aware that in AD 1054 the Church suffered a “Great Schism,” and the churches in the East became known as the “Orthodox Churches” and the Church in the West retained the name “Catholic.” Over the years, certain orthodox churches – for various reasons – began to “petition Rome for union.” The Deacon explains “the first of these was the Chaldean Church and, later, the Union of Brest (1595), which led to a long period of “Uniatism.” In time, every single tradition within the orthodox church came to have a counterpart that had returned to Rome. These returned Orthodox churches are known as “Eastern Catholics Churches.”

Two “Eastern Catholic Churches” do not have an orthodox equivalent: the Maronites and the Italo-Albanians.

2. So we are not all Roman Catholics?

The deacon explains: “Yes, that’s true, the term Roman Catholic was first coined by the Church of England (Anglican Church) as a way of distinguishing between themselves (Anglican Catholics) and the Catholics who followed the pope in Rome (Roman Catholics).”

All Catholics are in communion with Rome and the Pope. However, Roman Catholics are those who pull from a Western tradition – Latin Rite – while Eastern Catholics have various eastern traditions.

3. How many Eastern Catholic Churches are there?

There are 20 different Eastern Catholic Churches, and they total about 16 million members.

4. What is the relationship between the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches?

As stated, two of the Catholic Churches do not have Orthodox counterparts. The reason is that neither the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church nor the Maronite Catholic Church ever broke communion with Rome.

All the other Eastern Catholic Churches follow a similar pattern: they broke communion with Rome at the Great Schism, then at some point broke away from their Orthodox Churches, and returned to full communion with Rome.

In general, Catholics generally see the Eastern Catholics as a bridge between Rome and the Orthodox East; however, the Orthodox have a very negative view of these “break away” churches – “they are no longer ‘graced,’ meaning they have separated themselves from the source of grace, the Orthodox Church.”

The Melkite Catholics actually proposed at one point to have communion with both Rome and Moscow, but that was rejected by both Rome and Moscow. They do however see themselves as a bridge between the two, and they are often the “voice of the Orthodox in Rome.”1

5. Can Eastern Catholic priests be married?

Yes. The answer is a bit more complicated, as different traditions have different standards, but overall the answer is yes. “Once a man has been ordained to the diaconate,” says the Deacon, “he may not marry. However, a married man may be ordained to the priesthood.”

The Eastern Churches pull this tradition from Scripture, where it is clearly stated that St. Peter had a mother-in-law. Moreover, St. Paul specifies that “a man who is being considered for ecclesial office (bishop, priest, deacon) should not have been married more than once. Eventually, the office of bishop was reserved to monastics, which, by definition, meant men who were not married.”

The Latin Church – Roman – “enacted several different laws that, from the latter fourth century, created a celibate priesthood.”

“The basic teaching of the church is that marriage is not an impediment (block) to orders, but rather, that orders is an impediment to marriage.”

The topic of Eastern Catholic Church is a very complicated one with a history of triumph and tragedy. I can assure the Listers that we will be returning to this excellent primer to explore many of the more complex issues.

In the mean time, pray for Christian Unity and learn more about our Eastern brothers and sisters.

  1. Rome & the Eastern Catholic Churches: Though a different question, I do not want to present the Orthodox as the only side that has had problems with the Eastern Catholics. The Eastern Catholics have suffered a “Latinization” over the centuries, which at times was forced. Though their traditions were valid, they were forced into abandoning them for Roman/Latin practices. Moreover, America was one of the worst agents in this tragedy, and the Eastern Catholic Churches in America have a tragic history due to several unfortunate choices by Roman bishops.

    I am happy however to note that Vatican II exhorted the Eastern Catholic Churches to reclaim their own traditions. The call of the council has led to a renewal in many Eastern Catholic Churches – including those in the United States. []