Clarifying the Zoghby Initiative-a Proposal

What is the Zoghby Initiative? Why clarify it? As a brief background-Bishop Elias Zoghby was a Melkite bishop who fell asleep in the Lord in 2008. While on earth, he answered the call of Eastern Catholics to help be a conduit of unity between all Catholics and Orthodox. His initiative is below, which has been considered not nuanced enough by many, including possibly the See of Rome.

Bishop Zoghby wrote:

  1. I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.
  2. I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the first among the bishops, according to the limits recognized by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation.

Some friends and I have discussed this and the shortcomings of it, in that it relegates all things that the Catholic Church (Latin or otherwise) has stated/done/declared after the first millennium to a strange….limbo. What do we make of declarations about the role of the Papacy at Vatican I (and Vatican II, for that matter)? What do we make of dogmatic declarations about the conception of the Mother of God, or the teachings on contraception in Humanae Vitae, as well? If we only understand the role of the Pope from the first millennium, do we miss out on some the doctrinal and dogmatic developments from the second millennium (not to mention the findings from this 3rd millennium after the birth of Christ)?

It has led me to discuss this with some close friends, and in response to this I have tried to refine the Zoghby Initiative after much discussion, prayer and reflection on the original text. Mirroring the first declaration, please read the following proposal:

1. I believe in everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches, particularly in the light of the Undivided Church of the first millennium.

2. I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the first among bishops, according to the limits and privileges of his conciliar leadership. This includes the right to speak on behalf of or to veto his brother bishops, which was exercised during the first millennium, before the separation.

How might this clarified statement help drive dialogue to be more fully aware of how the Catholic Church has lived in history? How might dialogue and reconciliation be more a matter of understanding one another more honestly, vs. through concessions that deny the realities of the Church’s living and breathing in time?

How does the Eastern Orthodox faith collide with the Catholic Church’s teachings in the centuries after the schism? In contrast, how is this collision merely one of appearances and perceived contradictions?

Time and more dialogue will tell.

Through the prayers of our holy fathers O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us!

Eastern Catholics Speaking on the New Evangelization

Glory to Jesus Christ!

It has been awhile since I’ve last posted on this blog. Many things in life have spoken to me, and there have been many negative stories that tempted me to write, but I think I’d like to resume writing by sharing something that is quite positive.

Abbot Nicholas of Holy Resurrection Monastery recently spoke on the New Evangelization, and shows how Eastern Catholics have a fresh vision to incorporating both the Ancient mark of the Apostolic Faith, and the Newness of the New Evangelization.

Among other points he states:

“If we really are Catholics formed deeply…with the rich heritage of the Church….then we will be in a much better position to keep our faith and to give it to our children effectively…

If we only know Western Christianity, if we only know the Roman Catholic Church, we are not Catholic. We need to rediscover the fullness of our faith, what Pope John Paul II called ‘breathing with both lungs’…”

And later:

“So we have a fresh way and in many ways a more appealing way to the modern mind of preaching the fundamentals of the Faith…we can present in a different way the Apostolic Tradition of the Church which is as Apostolic, the same as in the Roman Catholic Church, but in different language, in different theology, in different structure that people haven’t heard before.  It is not new, it is equally Apostolic, and is not novel and yet it’s new to people because they haven’t heard it before.”

See here for the video of his talk:



Praying Towards the East



This view of my home parish’s temple spoke to me this morning, it was one of those times where I’m thankful for modern camera/cell phone technology. While not perfectly facing the East, the temple has the general orientation of facing the East, which has been traditionally the model for Church architecture. The quote below from the writings of St. John of Damascus explains why this is the case.

Chapter XII.—Concerning Worship towards the East.

It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the East. But seeing that we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature, that is to say, of a nature partly of spirit and partly of sense, we render also a twofold worship to the Creator; just as we sing both with our spirit and our bodily lips, and are baptized with both water and Spirit, and are united with the Lord in a twofold manner, being sharers in the mysteries and in the grace of the Spirit.

Since, therefore, God is spiritual light, and Christ is called in the Scriptures Sun of Righteousness and Dayspring, the East is the direction that must be assigned to His worship. For everything good must be assigned to Him from Whom every good thing arises. Indeed the divine David also says, Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth: O sing praises unto the Lord: to Him that rideth upon the Heavens of heavens towards the East. Moreover the Scripture also says, And God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed: and when he had transgressed His command He expelled him and made him to dwell over against the delights of Paradise, which clearly is the West. So, then, we worship God seeking and striving after our old fatherland. Moreover the tent of Moses had its veil and mercy seat towards the East. Also the tribe of Judah as the most precious pitched their camp on the East. Also in the celebrated temple of Solomon the Gate of the Lord was placed eastward. Moreover Christ, when He hung on the Cross, had His face turned towards the West, and so we worship, striving after Him. And when He was received again into Heaven He was borne towards the East, and thus His apostles worship Him, and thus He will come again in the way in which they beheld Him going towards Heaven; as the Lord Himself said,As the lightning cometh out of the East and shineth even unto the West, so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be.

So, then, in expectation of His coming we worship towards the East. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten.

Holy Father John of Damascus, pray to God for us!

Eastern Catholics and Saints Cyril and Methodius

Here is a recent article from the Catholic News Service, Zenit:

Eastern Rite Bishops to Discuss Evangelizing Culture
Annual Meeting Scheduled for This Week in Slovakia

ROME, October 15, 2013 ( – The annual meeting of Eastern Rite Catholic Bishops is to take place Oct. 17-20 in Košice (Slovakia), European Capital of Culture 2013, on the occasion of the 1150th anniversary of the arrival of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Slavic territory (Great Moravia – Slovakia, the Czech Republic, South-east Poland, and North-west Hungary).

In Košice, the bishops representing 14 Eastern Rite Catholic Churches in Europe will tackle the theme of evangelisation of culture, with re-reading, too, of the evangelising mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius from an historiographic point of view and the challenges which the Church faces today. Speakers include Cardinal Jozef Tomko, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples; Mgr Cyril Vasil’, Archbishop Secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; the Apostolic Exarch for Byzantine Rite Catholics in Greece, Mgr Dimitrios Salachas; and Fr Juraj Dufka SJ from Košice’s East-West Centre for Spirituality, who will speak about Art as a tool for evangelisation.

“The aim of the meeting is for Eastern Rite Catholic Bishops to discuss the challenges which our Churches must face at the local level”, said Mgr Milan Chautur C.SS.R., Eparch (Eparchial Bishop) of Košice, adding: “The 1150th anniversary of the evangelising mission of the brother Saints Cyril and Methodius to the Slav peoples and to Great Moravia, enables us, in the course of Year of Faith, to question ourselves about the theme of evangelisation of modern cultures and the inculturation of the Gospel, starting from our ecclesial, liturgical and cultural reality, so that the message of love and the truth about humanity which Christ brings, while remaining always the same, may be welcomed by the men and women of today”.

Participants at the meeting, supported by the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), will include Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and CCEE President, and His Beatitude Svjatislav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Greek-Catholic Church in the Ukraine.

get_thumbs_on_fly.phpThis photo was taken at the meeting described above.

I think that this recent story emphasizes that it is just as simplistic to make the West ‘Evangelical’ and the East ‘Insular’, as it is to say that the West is ‘Rational’ and the East is ‘Mystical’ (for more reflections along those lines, see here.)

Instead, our vision of evangelization is something is both relevant and at the center of our Eastern Christian Faith. We are not a museum piece for observation-instead, we can breathe with vitality as we embrace our call to evangelize the world. May the Holy Spirit profit our labors to be more like Saints Cyril and Methodius! Then we will see that our Byzantine Christian faith is something that the whole world needs to receive.


Update: A Greek Catholic brother from Slovakia sent this link to the meeting, which is to be held October 17-20:

There are English and Italian versions of the site, in addition to the original Slovak. May God prosper His people who meet to commemorate Saints Cyril and Methodius, and may it reinvigorate our work!

On 1% and Memes

Memes can be powerful tools to convey messages. Their succinct nature combined with striking images can have a profound impact. However, with all brief communications they can also be misunderstood. To that end, I wanted to clarify on some of my own paltry contributions to the internet meme world.


This picture was put together back when there were protests against the richest 1%. Using the verbal meme of the 99% vs. the 1%, there is a basic sociological fact that the richest 1% continue to get richer while the rest of us are either getting poorer/less wealthy. But I feel that there is something about this meme that could be missing if we focus too much on numbers as numbers, versus numbers as memes.

When I wanted to compare Eastern Catholics to this meme of the 1%, the goal was in some senses to encourage the smallness of our numbers so that we might one day become the 2%, etc. It may have been perceived as a “we’re small but this is where we are”. But really my deepest intent would be to ask us to realize our own wealth as Apostolic Christians, as opposed to a meditation on our numerical smallness.

His Grace, Bishop John of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma was interviewed last year (along with many other great servants of the Church) on our Churches and vocations, and I find his comments here to convey this message in a deeper manner than any meme could. Please watch his comments, in addition to the priests who also answered this question on the hopes for Byzantine Catholics (and all Eastern Catholics/Christians, by extension):

So going back to the meme of Eastern Catholics as the 1%, the deep questions I would like to ask are:

1) Where do we see our deepest spiritual wealth?

2) How do we share this spiritual wealth?

3) Are we sharing our spiritual blessings, or holding them in?

4) What more can we do to share this treasure?

I think that as long as we are asking these questions versus raising our hands in despair or blame, we are on the right path.

Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us!


Eastern Catholics and the New Evangelization

It appears that some of my recent prayers have been answered with either a “Not yet” or a “No”. I recently learned that the second series in Fr. Robert Barron’s series entitled ‘Catholicism’, which focuses on the New Evangelization (see here for one review) will be coming from an exclusively Roman Catholic background. This was the case in the first general overview DVD series on Catholicism, which led me to write this post.

In brief, I argued that it is incomplete to speak of Catholicism if one does not speak to its diversity amidst unity. This was true before the schisms of the Apostolic Churches, and can be highlighted again today as Eastern Christians in communion with Rome (and Roman Catholics!) live together in harmony despite having their own particular genius expressing their faith and devotion to God. This motivated holy fathers such as Blessed Pope John Paul II to write of the importance of the Eastern Churches, such that he stated this in Orientale Lumen:

“Since, in fact, we believe that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church, the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it and to encourage the process of unity in the best way possible for each.

Our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters are very conscious of being the living bearers of this tradition, together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition must also be fully acquainted with this treasure and thus feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church’s catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world, expressed not by a single tradition, and still less by one community in opposition to the other; and that we too may be granted a full taste of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church(2) which is preserved and grows in the life of the Churches of the East as in those of the West.”

Two points stand out: one cannot be fully acquainted with something if one does not know that it exists, and it’s unfortunate that this series has not helped Roman Catholics (and the world) know about these treasures from the East.

Second, I am so thankful that the Holy Father mentions the sensitivity of Eastern Catholics towards this issue. It sometimes seems like it is of little importance to most Catholics, but it clearly was not the case for this Polish Pope who had a Ukrainian Greek Catholic grandmother. Coincidence? You can judge. :)

In summary, I’ve tried to emphasize that the Church is not very Catholic if she does not include these authentic Traditions of both East and West. A series like the ‘Catholicism’ DVD series is more aptly title ‘Roman Catholicism’-the problem with such an appellation is it doesn’t sound very Catholic. But that returns to my point mentioned above, and leads me to ask God for mercy on all of us.

With all of these criticisms borne in mind, I wasn’t intending to write this to complain. Nor was I only hoping to call others (and myself!) to prayer that East and West appreciate each other more. That’s all well and good, and worthy of a lifetime of prayers.

What comes to mind as I reflect further on the absence of Eastern Catholics in a ‘Catholicism’ series today is to ask why this is the case. There are doubtless multiple answers to this that are possible, and likely some of them are true in actuality. The Prayer of Saint Ephrem states, “let me see my own sins and not judge my brothers…”, and to that end these meditations and questions come to mind, as to the why of our absence.

Have we reached out to the world to evangelize with the Light of the East, or are we content to live in a small world of like-minded Eastern Christians?

How often do we reach out to those who are already our Brethren? Do we invite Roman Catholics to our liturgies so that they can understand us better?

Do we accept invitations (or just show up!) to Western Catholic services to visibly exemplify the fact that we are in communion with each other, despite belonging to distinct particular Churches?

Can we identify ways where the faith is growing due to our prayers and evangelization as Eastern Catholics, that might inspire others to look more into what it means to be an Eastern Christian?

Are we living the depth and fullness of our Tradition, or does our Eastern Christianity appear to simply be “a different Mass”?

These and other questions come to mind, but at the end of the day I think it’s safe to say that we can consider ourselves to blame. It didn’t seem like a big omission to not talk about Eastern Catholics in this series  (at least at this point in the series) because our presence does not seem like a critical part to telling a complete story.        

We are either too insignificant or our differences which highlight the beauty of the Church are not clearly seen. Perhaps that’s our fault because we live in such a way. May God grant more fervor and zeal to the Eastern Catholic Churches and their Faithful, that such a perception goes away through our living out the New Evangelization! It reminds me of this old ‘meme’ that I made awhile back. We may be small in numbers, but if we love our faith we can have a lasting impact on the world, as did the Apostles.

Through the prayers of our holy fathers O Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us!


The Theology of the Body Broken in Practice: The Great Schism (part 2 of 2)

In a previous post, I noted that a spiritual look at the body can allow one to make connections between mystical truths and physiological truths.

Inspired by Blessed Pope John Paul II’s writings on the Theology of the Body, one can consider diseases and death itself from a mystical lens. In that sense, one is offering a Theology of the Body of a different flavor than what is usually thought of when someone speaks of the Theology of the Body. As stated beforehand, this is outside of the focus of Blessed Pope John Paul’s writings normally referred to as the Theology of the Body. Those general audiences can be found collated in multiple publications in print, as well as online (here is one example of such a collection).

In what is typically considered his last reflection on the Theology of the Body, note well how Blessed John Paul writes about his works:

The catechesis of the first and second parts repeatedly used the term “theology of the body.” In a certain sense, this is a “working” term. The introduction of the term and the concept of the theology of the body was necessary to establish the theme, “The redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage,” on a wider base. We must immediately note that the term “theology of the body” goes far beyond the content of the reflections that were made. These reflections do not include multiple problems which, with regard to their object, belong to the theology of the body (as, for example, the problem of suffering and death, so important in the biblical message). We must state this clearly. (emphasis added)

There was no collection of reflections that Blessed Pope John Paul gave us with such an emphasis upon the problem of suffering and death, but the Great Schism (as it is often called) was described by him using terms relating to the Body. He wrote that this lack of full communion between East and West was like a body breathing with one lung.

In this reflection, I would like to challenge us to consider the schism between Catholics and Orthodox from an even deeper perspective. Without calling the lung analogy inaccurate, this reflection will offer an alternative perspective that may prove more useful as one meditates upon the human body and the mystery of the Church.Of course, we should bear in mind always that analogies are always inaccurate when taken to extremes. Still, I strongly believe that the more one understands biology and the body, the more one can understand what St. Paul meant when he called the Church the mystical Body of Christ.

In part 1 of this post, I noted that this physical infirmity of having one lung is more of a quantitative reduction. Let’s continue along this angle.

You are at the doctor’s office, and he says, “Sorry to break the news, but we’re going to have to remove your right lung.”

Contrast this scenario with your doctor saying, “Sorry to break the news, but we’re going to have to remove your left lung.”

See the difference?

Neither did I.

If the schism between the ~1 billion Catholic Christians and the ~300 million Orthodox Christians is only considered as a quantitative loss, the lung analogy holds up. And of course, this is quite true. Consider the sufferings of so many Christians in places such as Egypt, and one can sense how urgent reunion is. If we were all in communion with one another, our common cause would be strengthened. May God spare His people of further suffering and use the current events for reunion! Nevertheless, I think that one must admit that there is more to the schism than just a quantitative loss.

Instead, there is a further angle of the schism where one can sense that the lack of communion between Catholics and Orthodox is qualitative. The genius that each particular Church has due to its culture, liturgical tradition, favorite saints, hymnography, can never be shared so well as one could if one were in full communion with one another. And thus we have the problem that so many would say about the churches today.

So, if we admit that there is a need for a qualitative description of the loss of full communion between East and West, what physical deficiencies might ‘color’ this analogy better?

I would like to suggest that a better view would be to look at the eye. In the eye, there are qualitative defects which occur when one lacks particular cell types in different cases of human diseases. Here is an image of the eye’s cellular makeup from the famous textbook known as Gray’s Anatomy.

Among this cellular complexity, one dichotomy arises. There are cells known as rods, and other cells right next to them known as cones. Why is this important to our Theology of the Body Broken?

When one learns more about the physiology of seeing, one learns that rods are photoreceptor-containing cells which are robust in differentiating objects, particularly in low light conditions. In contrast, cones are the cells responsible for differentiating colors. In individuals (usually males) who are color blind, the most common culprit is with the cones.

Thus, in the physiology of the cells that make up the retina, we have neighbor cells that do the same basic thing (help the body to see), but they serve qualitatively unique roles.

How does this mirror the schism among Catholics and Orthodox more clearly than the lung? This is because the genius and converse weaknesses of the East and West are so often different. Many have commented that the West is strong in maintaining unity, but tragically at the expense of maintaining the beauty of the ancient faith. ‘The West’ is strong in differentiating matters of faith and morals, in that She has continued to hold councils that allow Her faithful to have clear answers to modern problems such as the technology which facilitates in vitro fertilization. But at the same time, many would say that She has suffered from a unity and clarity of message that does not have the ‘color’ of a beautiful liturgy, at least not commonly so in the United States. In that sense, the West is like a person who has defective cones but functioning rods. She can see clearly, but without color. It is as though the strength of scholastic, rational thinking is maintained, while a mystical and intuitive appreciation of the beauty of the world is lacking.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, one could posit that the East in our day and age has lost nothing of Her liturgical beauty and traditional richness. Her prayer services and traditional ascetic practices are still fervently upheld, even if not well followed. However, She often comes to different conclusions about matters of faith and morals. Do non-Orthodox have a valid Eucharist? What are we to think of contraception? The fuzzy areas where clarity is needed are not so uniformly upheld. In that sense, the East without the West is like a person who is able to differentiate colors because the cones are fully functional, but the rods appear wounded, as making sense of what is happening in the ‘dark’ of this world is somewhat defective.

Granted, these are overall generalizations about both East and West, but the point is that the particular genius seen in both the East and West is such that when one lacks the other, there is an illness or deficiency that will inevitably plague them. Instead of merely viewing the schism as a quantitative loss when one speaks of East and West as two lungs, if one refers to the schism as a lack of either rods or cones, one can see that something qualitative is lost when communion is lost between these two unique parts of the one Body. Each has Her strength, and each has Her corresponding weakness.

May God grant us a more fervent desire for reunion through such reflections, and may our understanding of disease (and death itself) lead to a more clear understanding of the invisible and spiritual world.

O Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us!