Pope St. John Paul II knew what he was about when he said that the Church must “breathe with both lungs”, those “lungs” being the Eastern Rites and Roman Rites (y’all have more than one too, y’know). The Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church are in full communion with Rome, but our liturgical and theological identity differs from the widely familiar Latin expression. Our Churches originated and matured in Eastern Europe, Greece, Lebanon, Syria, India, Egypt, and the Holy Land. How we worship and even how we express what we believe is deeply influenced by those origins. Without us Eastern Catholics and our unique traditions that have been handed down to us from the earliest Fathers, the Catholic Church as we know it would simply be incomplete. We need each other.
However, bearing the mantle of “the best kept secret of Christianity” isn’t always easy. It’s frustrating. We know we’re awesome but so many people–Catholics included!–don’t even know we exist, which can lead to some awkward interactions. Here are things Eastern Rite Catholics are tired of hearing.
1. “So, are you actually Catholic?”
Uhhhh yeah. Just because it’s not in Latin or doesn’t involve a rousing guitar version of “Gather Us In” doesn’t mean it’s not Catholic.
2. “Why don’t you do things like regular Catholics?”
Can you explain to me what a “regular Catholic” is? Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
3. “Can I receive the Eucharist here?”
Good question I suppose. Yes, we’re in full communion with Rome, so have at it. We’d love for you to worship with us.
4. “Are you sure?”
5. “Holy crap, did the priest really just introduce me to his wife?! Is she really his wife, or, um…”
Yep. Priests have been getting married in the Eastern Churches since the beginning of Christianity. Celibacy was mostly a Roman discipline, and was only considered the norm after the late medieval period. Priest’s wives are very well respected in the Eastern Rites and have their own titles: presbytera in Greek, matushka or pani in Russian, khouria in Arabic, and tasoni in Coptic. Be cool about it.
6. “You’re the other Catholics”
We’ve been over this. You are not “regular” because you are Roman. We are not “other” because we are not Roman. There is no normal, default, or preferred way to be Catholic. We are all Catholic. Period.
7. “I don’t see why you can’t just be Roman Catholic. It would be a lot easier.”
You can have our time-honored traditions and expressions when you can pry them out of our cold, dead hands. And trust me, greater men than you (including Popes and invading armies) have tried.
8. “I don’t see why you can’t just be Eastern Orthodox. It would be a lot easier.”
The historical and theological reasons why this would be easier for literally no one could and do fill volumes. Maybe go read one or four.
9. “Your rosaries look weird.”
Also, not a Rosary. It’s a prayer rope. We’re just fine with the rosary and think it’s beautiful, but we have our own version, thanks. We’ll even share it if you ask nicely.