We’re often called “Christianity’s best kept secret.” Ask your average Western Christian of any denomination what they know about the Eastern Churches and they’re quite likely to say that they didn’t even know the Eastern Churches existed! Many Catholics want to learn more about their brothers and sisters in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches, but don’t even know where to begin. Here are some ideas to point you in the right direction.
1. Use the internets
You’ve got access to the sum of human knowledge right in the palm of your hand, so you might as well use it. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Byzantine Catholic Church in America both have great websites that contain a wealth of information about Eastern Christian life and theology, as well as helpful liturgical calendars that illustrate the differences in the Eastern and Western liturgical cycles. Check them out!
2. Learn about our saints
The saints are precious to both the Eastern and Western Churches, but the Eastern liturgical calendar is famously crammed with feast days of saints who often don’t get as much attention in the Latin Rite. Some of these include St. Maron, St. Anthony the Great, the prophet Elijah, and a host of martyrs from the Early Church. The lives, writings, and sayings of our beloved brothers and sisters who have gone before us form a large part of our sacred Tradition without which we would not exist–to learn about them is to cut right to the heart of what it means to be an Eastern Christian. The GOARCH website above has links to info about each saint listed on their calendar, and this Antiochian Orthodox page lists several saints who are particularly dear to the East. For a huge list of awesome lady saints (many which East and West celebrate in common) click here.
3. Learn our history
What really is the deal with the Great Schism? Where did the Byzantine Catholic Churches come from? How’d the Byzantine Empire get mixed up in all of this? The answers to these questions are as fascinating as they are complex. Both the GOARCH and Byzcath websites give excellent overviews of the histories of the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches respectively, but there’s always more to learn. The Orthodox Church by Kallistos Ware provides an in-depth yet accessible look at the history of the Eastern Churches, as well as the formation of the Byzantine Catholic Rite, and A Short History of Byzantium by Julius Norwich gives a glimpse of the intriguing socio-political landscape in which Eastern Christianity flourished and grew. Both are worthwhile and informative reads.
4. Pray with us
The prayers of the Eastern Churches can tell you as much or even more about our theology and way of life than a book can. Consider incorporating some Eastern prayers into your everyday routine and immerse yourself in our world. This helpful app can get you started.
5. Worship with us
The entire focus of the Eastern spiritual life is a direct encounter with God. All of our prayers, traditions, and liturgical services are centered around this singular goal. Websites, books, and apps can only advance your understanding so far—they can give you information about Eastern Christianity, but to truly grasp the essence of the East, at some point you will have to put them all down. The best way to truly experience Eastern Christianity is to visit an Eastern Church and worship with us. Both GOARCH and Byzcath have parish locators to help you find a church in your area. Follow the Lord’s advice: come and see!