The Theology of the Body Broken in Practice: The Great Schism (part 1 of 2)

In addition to ending his Papal addresses on the Theology of the Body with what I would consider a request for an expansion of the “Theology of the Body” into what I call the “Theology of the Body Broken” (for more info, see this older post here), another key point from Blessed Pope John Paul II that opens up the Theology of the Body Broken would be related to his reflections on the Schism between the Churches of the East and the West.

 

Many know that Pope John Paul was an advocate of comparing the Great Schism with physiology. As one example, in Ut Unum Sint he wrote, “the Church must breathe with her two lungs!”

Let us consider the implications of the Theology of the Body Broken as they relate to this analogy. In a future post, I will offer a solution to the problems posed-but for now, enter into this mystery to understand how the Theology of the Body Broken might be an answer to this call to consider the problem of suffering and death, as was stated by Blessed Pope John Paul.

 

If we consider the health of a body, it is true that one’s vigor and strength are contingent upon the possession of both lungs. If one loses a lung due to disease, one’s chances for being the best athlete possible are seriously in jeopardy. In that sense, the consideration of the schism between East and West is most apt. One cannot live in strength and fullness if only one of two lungs are present. In that sense, there is nothing defective about calling the Churches East and West two lungs in one body.

 

However, if one probes deeper with the mystical lens of the Theology of the Body Broken, there might be something missing with this comparison. Would one say that the particular genius of the East and the West is simply a matter of losing 50% of one’s breath? In other words, is the tragedy of the Great Schism a mere quantitative reduction in vitality? Or might there be another perspective that considers the Body from a more qualitative defect? As we will see, it is less a matter of the physiology of the lungs, and more a matter of the physiology of the eyes, where the Great Schism can come into greater focus.

 

 

 

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Responding to the Fruit of Pentecost

“When the Most High descended and confused tongues, he scattered nations. When he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all to unity. We also, with one voice, glorify the Most Holy Spirit.” Kontakion of Pentecost

 

Throughout its history, generations of immigrants have come to the United States in successive waves. Each group of people came at a unique point in time from a wide diversity of ethnicities and cultures, and this country’s melting pot character has found a fulfillment through an even wider breadth of these ethnicities and cultures living together. This offers the possibility of a New Pentecost where many ethnicities praise God in their own unique genius and through their own particular rites, but it could also be a New Babel whereby the differences between ethnicities and “tribes” has led to jealousy and strife. This essay explores the ways in which history shows that assimilation and the loss of ethnic identity have served to both benefit and harm Eastern Catholics in the United States. By considering the history of Americanization in Eastern Catholic Churches and contrasting them with resistance to such calls for Americanization, a complex picture emerges whereby assimilation per se is neither good nor bad. Instead, I argue that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the faithful is the common ground of goodness which both transcends and fulfills ethnic identity.

Early Eastern Catholic immigrants to the United States were called to conform to “Americanism” in multiple ways. In some ways, this pressure provided a source of strength for these Eastern Catholics. The first that we shall consider is the fact that our prayer services were translated from Church Slavonic into English, and our own liturgical life was brought into this country’s vernacular. Rather than allow the words of our faith to become incomprehensible to the successive generations which would stem from the original immigrants to this land, Americanization of our faith strengthened it for the future. Additionally, as ghettos tended to end and the rest of American society was able to be exposed to our faith and traditions, Eastern Catholics were enabled to share their faith with the rest of the world. For example, this brought a spiritual home to Roman Catholics who were not at peace with the changes in their Church which came about through the Second Vatican Council, and even allowed those who did not have a link to the Apostolic Faith (from Protestants to the unchurched) to find a home in Eastern Catholic parishes. Our doors have become more open to other people who do not share an ethnic connection to our Church, and this has happened because our services are in English, and because our identity is not intrinsically Slavic (or Arab, etc.). A third way in which Americanization has helped us is that Eastern Catholics from different ethnicities have come together in some ways. Melkites, Romanians, Ukrainians, and Ruthenians all coexist in the same land, which highlights the greatness of a melting pot notion. Our exposure to each other’s chant style, the ability to interact and collaborate, are all things which could not happen outside of the American model.

Despite these positive traits in Americanization, there are also negative signs that conformity and loss of ethnicity led to a weakening of Eastern Catholic Churches. First, in being near Roman Catholics, many Eastern Catholics left their own Church. If our Church is in communion with those Churches following the Latin Rite, one could ask: Why not abandon one’s heritage and become Roman Catholic? This was an especially alluring concept when geographical proximity and infrastructural integrity made membership at a Roman Catholic parish more desirable. At other points, finding a husband or a wife that was Roman Catholic and unacquainted with the Byzantine Catholic way of life meant sacrificing an Eastern Catholic life to appease one’s future spouse. All of these cases are instances whereby if one had remained in a homogenous village in the Old Country, there would be no driving force to leave one’s heritage. The drive of being American in this instance has led to countless family members who are ethnically linked to our Church, but no longer so in their hearts.

Additionally, Americanization has changed our Church, even for those who have remained. First, our concept of vocations and priesthood has been radically altered. Americanism meant conformity to the larger Latin Rite, and their mandatory priestly celibacy was such that our married priests were forbidden from serving in this country, in many cases. Had a stronger isolation prevailed, perhaps these priestly vocations would not have been suppressed because our isolation would keep Roman Catholics from the “scandal” of our married clergy. Even among those priests who have remained because their vocation to the priesthood was accompanied with the call to celibacy, many Eastern Catholics hierarchs have driven Americanization for those who have stayed. The architecture, vestments, religious traditions, fasting practices, and more were altered in Eastern Catholic churches, such that our way of life was made to mimic Roman Catholics. This general principle, known as latinization, was strengthened by a thinking that to be truly American Catholics, one must resemble the majority Roman Catholics in the United States in the way that we pray. Thankfully, strong statements from Rome have spoken of our equal dignity and the need to preserve our ancestral traditions both here and in other countries, and this has been echoed by our own bishops and priests. But putting this into practice after decades of viewing our distinctive practices as ethnic oddities that are better lost for the sake of the melting pot is an ongoing struggle.

As the negative aspects of Americanization could be sensed even from the beginning, some Eastern Catholics have responded to defend their sense of identity in positive ways. As mentioned above, documents such as Orientalium Ecclesiarum and Orientale Lumen have spoken against such “second class” status that may have been desired by some American Roman (and Eastern) Catholic bishops. But even from this beginning, many of our faithful have defended our traditions. Through offering financial support and a sense of community, organizations such as the Greek Catholic Union were established. Events such the Uniontown pilgrimage to Mount St. Macrina brought faithful from multiple cities together, and our light of the East was allowed to shine. Even Roman Catholic bishops who were amiable to our tradition, such as Bishop Fulton Sheen, would be in attendance. Our voice from the Spirit was allowed to speak, and it would speak loudly. As mentioned above, different ethnicities of Eastern Catholics have been brought together in this country, and as such, resistance to a watering down or Latinization of our faith has been made through publications such as God With Us. Instead of allowing our voice to die, these are unified calls to live faithfully, where American Eastern Catholics have fought against the drive to lose our distinct identities by positively constructing new works such as the Light for Life series, which defend and explain our Eastern Catholic heritage. All of this resistance to Americanization has strengthened our Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States.

Resistance per se can also be something which weakens those involved in the struggle. In the history of Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States, there are several cases in which this is true. First, in the matter of priestly celibacy, the large defection of many priests and faithful into the Orthodox Church has weakened our Eastern Catholic Churches because we have lost so many of our own. While the “right side” of the priestly celibacy debate may be those who saw the holiness and reality of a religious vocation in their married priests and seminarians, the net result for our Church was one of loss and weakness. Second, there may be a sense that our Eastern Catholic is intrinsically Slavic, and as such there have been instances of resistance to newcomers. This feeling that those who are visiting are not welcome but are threats to “water down” the faith can weaken our Church’s ability to speak from her voice. Instead, the accommodation of our faith to the point where our baskets are blessed with meats from other ethnicities, but we still have our parish ethnic foods for sale (and for consumption!) is one where we keep our music and our practices, but those of us who are not Slavic ethnically can be just as much of a member of the Church as the cradle Byzantine Catholic. Lastly, resisting Americanization can lead to a poor relationship with the rest of the world. Bitterness and distrust over past scandals between our Church and American Roman Catholic Churches can lead to a poor relationship between Eastern Catholics and Roman Catholics. Instead of shining with our own light, many Eastern Catholics may either be embarrassed to live their faith, or bitter towards those who do not share their way of life. In our modern day and age, the Internet has exploded the amount of bitter comments that Catholics have made to other Catholics, not to mention intra-Church fighting over liturgical practices and the like. In all of this, a sense of identity leads to a sense of self-defense. This insularity and judgment of one another is a far cry from our Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephrem. In addition to problems between Roman Catholics and Eastern Catholics, resistance can lead to a bitterness to our Orthodox brethren, particularly those whose ethnic roots are as Eastern Catholics who left over the celibacy disputes.

Eastern Catholics have walked a fine line of assimilation versus standing out in distinction in American history, largely because each of these approaches are both good for our spiritual life, yet harmful  for our spiritual life. Thus, one cannot advocate a hard line path of either assimilation or sticking to an ethnic enclave. Instead, one must constantly conduct an examination of conscience for ourselves and for our Churches, and ask whether we are being true both to be ourselves and to love our neighbor. Without either, our spirituality will be lost (in the case of assimilation) or dead formalism (in the case of strict resistance). Early Christians traveled throughout the Roman Empire, and it is clear that men such as Pope Gregory the Dialogist spent great amounts of time in New Rome as well as in Old Rome. If Blessed Pope John Paul II was able to construct a metaphor of East and West as two lungs, and yet neither side can love and accept each other in this country, it does not bode well for a larger Catholic/Orthodox reunion throughout the world. Through the Holy Spirit enlivening His people and strengthening them to live out their religious genius which is intrinsically linked to ethnicity, our expression of faith will be vibrant and strong. Without the Holy Spirit, there is no hope for our Churches, even if all of the past obstacles were to fall today. With Him, our own identity will include and yet transcend ethnicity, and it will bring life and light to the whole world in a New Pentecost.

Commemorating St. Photius

On February 6th, our Byzantine Catholic calendar commemorates our Holy Father Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople. St. Photius is one who may raise eyebrows for even being on a Catholic calendar, let alone being called a Saint, for he opposed the filioque directly to his Roman Catholic contemporaries, was involved in some deep disputes between East and West, and more. There is so much that could be said about his being commemorated in the typikon of Eastern Catholics, as it relates to our past/birth of being Orthodox who entered into communion with Rome at a point in history that is after St. Photius, and as it relates to our current way of life, not to mention implications for a hoped for future reunion between all Orthodox and Catholics.

Nevertheless, here are some questions that I’d like to pose for reflection and prayer for deeper Christian unity.

How will a reunited East and West deal with saints who disparaged those “on the other side”?

Can we see that those who did disparage one another did so out of a love for Truth, and not out of a hatred of any person or formulation on the “other side”?

Can Eastern Catholics truly be a model for a future reunion?

Will this modeling be embraced by the “Latin Lung” of the Catholic Church, or will such devotion to men and women such as St. Photius be a perennial thorn in the side?

When will we see that God’s love is bigger than our own shortcomings?

I’m sure that more questions can be asked, and that better answers can be given by more skilled souls, but these thoughts come to my mind as the day winds down.

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

The Catholic Catechism: Breathing with Both Lungs

There are many wounds to our unity as Christians, and this is even true among those who are in full and visible communion with each other. I’ve mentioned instances of this in the past, but do not consider dwelling on our weaknesses to be any sort of strength. In this post, I’d like to consider one small way in which we as Western and Eastern Christians are succeeding in loving each other through understanding one another, in a way that many may have overlooked.

I was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church to help prepare myself to teach a Sunday School class, when a wonderful observation came my way.

For, you see, I had read the entire Catechism as a Presbyterian inquirer into the Catholic Faith. I had understood its claims propositionally, but its soul and its grit escaped my sight in those days, when wrestling with truth so often took precedence over a heart of prayer and embracing the Truth as my Lord and God. But in reading the Catechism as one who has now embraced the Apostolic Faith, I was overjoyed to read this section:

732 On that day, the Holy Trinity is fully revealed. Since that day, the Kingdom announced by Christ has been open to those who believe in him: in the humility of the flesh and in faith, they already share in the communion of the Holy Trinity. By his coming, which never ceases, the Holy Spirit causes the world to enter into the “last days,” the time of the Church, the Kingdom already inherited though not yet consummated.

We have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith: we adore the indivisible Trinity, who has saved us.

Those of us who are Eastern Christians will immediately recognize the italicized text quite well-we sing it after most Divine Liturgies, just after receiving the Eternal God through the Divine Eucharist. But to see a pan-Catholic Catechism quoting from our life of prayer almost nonchalantly, this was marvelous to consider. It is as if the authors of the Catechism were saying, “We want you to understand the importance of what we’re quoting, so please learn the Byzantine Liturgy, and feel its truth as we quote it to you.” It is a call to breathe with both lungs!

To such a proposition I can only say, “Thank You.” And I also would hope that we who know these words as part of our own soul would reach out to share its beauty and truth with all who have ears to hear.

On Eastern Christians Loving Western Saints (and vice versa)


The photograph of this icon was taken at a Russian Catholic Parish that meets in Denver, Colorado. It is a beautiful and fitting testimony to our heritage as Eastern Christians in Communion with Western Christians, and it is a timely reminder of how Byzantine Catholics can embrace and show strong devotion to Western Saints such as Saint Francis of Assisi, who is commemorated on October 4th. The iconographer juxtaposes two great saints of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, where Saint Francis of Assisi is joined by his Russian brother in the faith, Saint Seraphim of Sarov. Their shared union with God as reflected by union with all of creation is beautifully depicted by their standing with a wolf and a bear, as each Father was able to find a miraculous harmony with these creatures. Ecclesiological conundrums aside, the spirit of what it means to be an Eastern Christian in Communion with Rome shines naturally through this icon.

Despite having differences that are tangible and visible at times, Eastern Catholics hold out that the core of our faith is immutably one, shared and lived out uniquely between different particular Churches. The tragedies of schism are conquered, and the flaws of history are surmounted through the love of God who unites all in Christ. And so, as Blessed Pope John Paul II noted in Crossing the Threshold of Hope (CTH, pg 18), Byzantine Catholics not only embrace their Western Catholic brethren with whom they are in communion, but like Blessed John Paul, we have the ability to call St. Seraphim a saint, despite his canonical status of being in communion with Moscow, not Rome.

In a previous post, I tried to call attention to the fact that if the Rosary has replaced the Akathist in Byzantine Catholic parishes, then the Akathist may have no true home. Nevertheless, if Eastern Catholics are in communion with Rome but have no appreciation of the holiness and majesty of their Western Brethren who are on earth and in Heaven, our intercommunion will be little more than a canonical detail, as significant (or insignificant) as the minimum age for one to be a godparent.

By celebrating and having true devotion to saints such as St. Francis, Eastern Christians can live out the mystery of union in the midst of unique spiritual gifts and perspectives. Just as men and women have unique perspectives and strengths (and weaknesses!), and yet they can be joined together in a mystical union, so too the diversity of Churches manifests the reality that the love of God conquers all in Christ. This is the truest mystery of all, as St. Paul notes in his Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph 5:32).

Holy Fathers Francis and Seraphim, pray to God for us!