For the history of the Eastern Catholic Churches, see The Papacy’s Solid Foundation in Undivided Early Church History Since Apostolic Times: The Papacy’s Long and Wide Acceptance in the East Before the 2nd Millennium Schism of the Largest Portions of the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches from the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Catholic Sister Churches Collectively known as the Catholic Church
[The first part of this message is adapted from parts of the Forward and Introduction to So That The World May Believe]
Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another … By this all men will know that you are [Christians], if you love one another” (John 13:34-5). Jesus prayed to His Father “that all [Christians] may be one … so that the world may believe that You have sent me … May [Christians] be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.” (John 17:21,23)
In His prayer in John 17:21-23, Our Lord Jesus linked the world’s belief in Him to the unity of Christians, and indeed, the most phenomenal Christian missionary successes ever occurred in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church, wherein the brutal ancient pagan world was “turned upside down” and whole societies were transformed by the Love of Jesus Christ, the portions of the ancient cultures which embraced Jesus becoming the different but mutually enriching ‘Sister Churches’ which together made up the one Universal Church of Jesus Christ which thus collectively called itself the Catholic Church, Catholic being Greek for Universal. This early Catholic/Universal Church initially was made up of members of the Jewish, Syrian, Egyptian, Roman and Greek cultures as renewed in Jesus, their mutually enriching distinct cultural responses to and celebrations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ all recognized as valid forms of orthodox (non-heretical) Christianity at the Early Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils of the Christian Church, which in addition to declaring the basic fundamental tenets of Christianity against the heretics also declared the local Christian Overseers (bishops or eparchs) of the 5 major cities which were the centres of these first 5 cultures renewed in Jesus (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome and Byzantium/Constantinople) as Patriarchs who each held their distinct cultural Patriarchate (Church Province) accountable to that true, saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This “Pentarchy” of the first 5 Patriarchates of the Church in the Undivided First Christian Millennium sent missionaries to new cultures in Lebanon, Armenia, India, England and all of Europe, Ukraine & Russia and many other places which, once they accepted the Gospel of Jesus, developed their own distinct Rites (distinct cultural responses to and celebrations of the Gospel), usually borrowing much from the “Mother Rite” which brought the Gospel of Jesus to them. Eventually the new mission territories grew enough to often become their own “Sister Churches” with their own hierarchy for accountability in preserving the Gospel, and some of them also eventually became recognized as Patriarchates in their own right, for their long distinct contribution to the Church Universal (though the Western European barbarian tribes were civilized as well as Christianized, and acquired a common “Roman cultural baseline” as well as Christian faith from their Roman “Mother Rite” missionaries. The tribes’ distinct cultural contributions to Christianity – such as the Celtic and Gallican – were often eventually “mainstreamed” into their multi-cultural Roman “Mother Rite” as a whole).
Satan’s most victorious counter-attack against this one Undivided Bride and Body of Jesus Christ, the Church of the First Millennium, was to get most Christians from all of the currently divided sides to forget that for a thousand years the Undivided Early Church was one Universal (Catholic) Communion of different orthodox Christian ‘Sister Churches’ of East and West, united in the fundamental tenets of traditional, orthodox, personally-saving and world-transforming Christian faith which the different Sister Churches had precisely clarified and defined together (against many heretical challenges to it), at those Early Ecumenical Councils of all the different Sister Churches which each theologized about and celebrated their common Christian faith in different ways.
Yet most of today’s divided Christian Churches still hold in common about 90% of the Early Church’s common faith, they still agree on about 90% of what they believe has been revealed by God, detailed in the Common Creed of Christianity. Thus today’s divided Christian Churches already have a kind of “unity in diversity” as did the Undivided Early Church – a unity of faith expressed and celebrated in a diversity of ways that ideally should be mutually enriching. Who can reasonably argue that divided Christians cannot and should not learn from each other? In fact all of the major branches of today’s divided Christianity best preserve different aspects of the character and life of the Undivided Early Church, which is why we in fact must learn from each other in order for all of us to become all we were meant to be as Christ’s Body still on Earth reaching out with His Love, the Church. No one major branch of today’s divided Christianity can say we do not need what the others have best preserved from the Undivided Early Church in order to be the most whole. Clearly the “doctrinally conservative” Protestant churches (including most Evangelicals and Pentecostals, among whom I have many wonderful old Christian friends and family) have best preserved the Undivided Early Church’s passionate love for Scripture, and Bible reading, as well as its spontaneity in prayer and its evangelical zeal for transforming the greater culture for Jesus. Clearly the (united Eastern and Western) Catholic Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches equally well preserve the Undivided Early Church’s passionate love for true though mysterious Holy Communion with Jesus, recognizing the mysterious Real Presence of Jesus in the Thanksgiving (Eucharistic) Bread and Wine Jesus instituted. Clearly the (Eastern and Western) Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches today best preserve other Undivided Early Church doctrines and practices misunderstood or abused in the 16th Century (Western) Roman Rite which, instead of being corrected according to Saint Augustine’s principle that “the abuse does not take a away the [proper] use,” were rejected entirely by the (Western) Protestant Reformation, doctrines and practices (including Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium) which (it turns out) in the long-term best preserve the traditional essential fundamentals of Christianity from doubt and denial, which is why the Catholic and Orthodox Churches do not have the problem Protestantism does of large numbers of Christians (even whole congregations and denominations, including the one I was raised in) going “doctrinally liberal,” questioning, doubting, or even denying fundamental aspects of traditional, orthodox Christianity such as the Divinity of God Incarnate in Jesus, “fully God and fully man.”
It must be said that the recent movement within both the Protestant and Catholic Christian traditions to re-establish the original “Jewish Rite” of Christianity, although the movement is new and still “finding itself,” best preserves the early reality of the New Testament Church as one Church composed of both “Jew and Gentile” each practicing their common Christianity in culturally distinct ways (see Messianic Jews and Hebrew Catholics). The (united Eastern and Western) Catholic Churches (collectively known as the Catholic Church) and the Eastern Orthodox Churches better preserve the Undivided Early Church’s practice of the New Testament offices of ordained overseers (Greek episkopoi, bishops or eparchs) and presbyters (Greek presbyteroi, from whence comes the English word priests), forming a “ministerial priesthood” not meant to “lord it over” the Christian faithful (as sadly sometimes happened) but to serve the servants of God as fellow members of the Body of Christ with different functions in the Body, functions which were instrumental in the 1st Millennium establishment of and 2nd Millennium maintenance of the traditional New Testament Canon and the clearly articulated essential fundamentals of traditional Christian orthodoxy. Yet “doctrinally conservative” and Evangelical Protestant churches (those Protestants who have not lost their grip on traditional Christian orthodoxy) have better preserved the also Biblical sense of the “common priesthood” of all believers as members of the Body of Christ who is the Eternal High Priest – like Christ the Head offering their very “bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), whereas for a long time within Roman Catholicism the sense of the ministerial priesthood was preserved largely at the expense of the sense of the common priesthood. The Undivided Early Church displayed both Holy Spirit-led spontaneity in prayer and worship and accountability to different culturally-based liturgical forms of worship fixed (and modified with the times) by the ordained overseers (especially the Patriarchs who oversaw whole cultural expressions of Christianity) which ensured accountability to the orthodox Christian faith through all controversies with heretics through all eras. It is clear that Protestantism today better preserves that Early Church spontaneity while Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy better preserve that Early Church accountability. This accountability is why Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have far, far less of a problem with “doctrinal liberalism” and doubt even to the point of unorthodoxy/heresy than Protestantism does, yet the still-orthodox portions of Protestant Christianity, with their vibrant spontaneity that ensures immediately accessible relevancy in today’s fast-changing cultures, has a much less pronounced problem with “nominalism” (having many “nominal” or “in name only” members) than Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy do. So all of us are lacking something of God’s ideal for us and all of us have tremendous reason to listen to and learn from each other and be enriched by each other as members of Jesus Christ’s Body the Church seeking to recapture it’s early success at “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) with the life-changing, soul-saving Truth God has revealed in Jesus Christ whose Body on Earth we are.
Now, this is a message primarily for my fellow Eastern Catholic Christians (reversing the effects of my Ukrainian grandfather marrying a Protestant girl, I became an Eastern, Ukrainian Catholic Christian after being born and raised a “mainline” Protestant Christian, becoming an Evangelical Protestant Christian for around 10 years, and a Roman Catholic Christian for 10 years). What have our Eastern Catholic Churches best preserved from the Undivided Early Church which we must share with our fellow Christians so the Church today can be all it can be? My own Ukrainian Catholic Church, known as either the Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church or the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (because it is the Ukrainian “daughter” Church of the ancient Greek Church centred in Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople, centre of the ancient Greek culture), is the largest of the non-Roman Rites or Sister Churches within the Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches. It is the second largest of the 26 Rites or Sister Churches which make up the Catholic Church, after the Roman Rite, the Roman Catholic Church, which has the current majority membership, although only 25% of all Catholic Christians were Roman Catholic Christians in the Undivided Early Church (the Antiochene Syro-Malabar Church is today’s third largest Church in the Catholic Communion). What have we Eastern Rite Catholic Christians best preserved? Our very existence is testament to the “unity in diversity” structure of the Undivided Early Catholic Church of the First Millennium. We have remembered and preserved our ancient and constant place in the Undivided Early Church’s Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches of East and West (see the details of Eastern Catholic History through every Christian century in The Papacy’s Solid Foundation in Undivided Early Church History Since Apostolic Times: The Papacy’s Long and Wide Acceptance in the East Before the 2nd Millennium Schism of the Largest Portions of the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches from the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Catholic Sister Churches Collectively known as the Catholic Church). In the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) we have taught the entire Catholic Communion that ancient understanding which our majority Roman Rite brothers had lost sight of, that we are “Sister Churches” of “fully equal dignity” with the majority Roman Rite, called to evangelize the whole world just as much as Roman Catholic Christians are despite the Christian East’s past conquest by militant Islam (which is why the Roman Rite got ahead of us in evangelism…). Despite the Roman Rite’s current vast majority in numbers, it is because of us minority non-Roman Catholic Christians that the Roman Catholic Church is truly Catholic (Universal) at all, and not merely Roman. It is because of us that the Catholic Church today can display its true Catholicity, its true Universality, its ancient nature and structure as Mystery of the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-32) organized in the World as a Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Christian Rites or Particular (Sister) Churches Pastorally Guided by the (Universal) Pope and the (Particular) Patriarchs, still displaying the Undivided Early Church’s loving unity in diversity in a way that helps pave the way for the Christian unity prayed for “so that the world may believe,” since this structure of the Early Church which we among all Christians have best preserved the ancient understanding of is the original and only possible platform for a Christian reunification that heals the many wounds Satan has inflicted upon Jesus’ Body the Church in the 2nd Millennium.
Go To The Catholic Church’s Official Understanding of the Nature and Structure of the Church as the Mystery of the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-32) organized in the World as a Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Christian Rites or Particular (Sister) Churches Pastorally Guided by the (Universal) Pope and the (Particular) Patriarchs, in the Words of Vatican II (the 21st Ecumenical Council)
Go To The Papacy’s Solid Foundation in Undivided Early Church History Since Apostolic Times: The Papacy’s Long and Wide Acceptance in the East Before the 2nd Millennium Schism of the Largest Portions of the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches from the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Catholic Sister Churches Collectively known as the Catholic Church
To learn things to help you more fully enter in to the wonderful, worshipful mystery of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy as a Member of God’s Adopted Family, Go To:
A Message for my Fellow Ukrainian Catholic Christians in Canada
I believe that the Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church (or Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church), as the largest non-Roman Catholic Church in Canada (and the world), whose very existence is based in the ancient Universal (Catholic) union of different “Sister Churches” sharing a unity of faith in an enriching diversity of faith expressions, has an important role to play in teaching Christians (in Canada and in the world) what Early Church Christian Unity looks like.
We have a unique situation in Canada – our multi-cultural “Canadian Mosaic” (versus American “Melting Pot”) means that our secular society itself is already much more open than any other place in the world to not only tolerating but celebrating cultural diversity and appreciating how different cultural insights and perspectives (and foods, etc!) enrich our one Canadian Society. Despite the long over-Romanization of the Catholic Church which made it harder to see the full reality of the Catholic Church due to the decimation of the Catholic East by militant Islam, and the Roman Catholic majority in the past thus largely losing contact with us and forgetting us, so that some Roman Catholics in the past ignorantly and inappropriately pressured us to “Romanize” to prove we were “really Catholic” since their Catholic experience had been so overwhelmingly Roman, and they had forgotten the sense of the mutually enriching unity in diversity of the First Millennium Catholic Church, yet the Catholic Church has always been and remains today nothing other than the Universal (Catholic) Communion of different Sister Churches each rooted in a different culture, sharing a family unity in love and enriching each other’s faith with our different insights and approaches and customs in expression of our common Catholic Faith. In Vatican Council II the Catholic Church’s highest authority has at last officially defined and declared this constant reality, but Vatican II remains to be fully implemented deeply into the minds and hearts of the “average Roman Catholic.” I think Ukrainian Catholics in particular, as the largest non-Roman Rite in Canada (and the world), and Canadian Ukrainian Catholics especially, belonging to the national culture which already most respects cultural diversity with our “Canadian Mosaic,” need to take the lead in educating the rest of the (mostly Roman Rite) Catholic Church and the world about the structure of the Catholic Church, as the way to eventually reestablish Christian unity in diversity as in the Undivided Early Church. As Canadian Catholics together, Roman and Byzantine (and other Eastern Rites) we more than anyone else in the world should be able to overcome lingering Roman Rite ignorance and prejudice (where some Roman Catholics are even still ignorant of there being any non-Roman Catholics in full communion with them and thus do not always treat us as they should, as Catholics of “fully equal dignity” with them) and non-Roman Rite inferiority complexes (where Eastern Catholics, in response to past Roman Rite prejudice, have internalized it and so themselves inappropriately think themselves inferior to Roman Catholics), so as to present ourselves very visibly and abundantly as a loving Catholic Communion of different but “fully equal” Sister Churches in Canada – so that we look like “the world, redeemed,” as Saint Augustine defined the Church, with the Rites or Sister Churches of the Catholic Church as “the nations of the world, redeemed.” As Canadian Catholics, we better than anyone else can and should become a shining example of what the Catholic Church is supposed to be – a loving Universal (Catholic) Communion of Sister Churches sharing a mutually enriching unity in diversity.
© Peter William John Baptiste SFO