ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

The Catholic Church Unified Not Uniform

Although embracing different rites and traditions, the Churches of the East and West are linked through faith.

The Catholic Church embraces two rich traditions, in the East and in the West. Each boast different images of “church,” images that stem from strong national feelings and deep roots in ecclesiastical history and religious thought. Though not at first apparent, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ is unified, but far from uniform.

Many in the West, especially in the United States, when they hear “Catholic Church,” think of a highly centralized, worldwide institution headquartered in Rome. Or they think of a neighborhood parish church. Since they share the heritage of European civilization, they also tend to identify the Catholic Church with the Latin Rite.

Those of the Eastern tradition, on the other hand, do not think of Rome, nor of a “parish” when they hear “Catholic Church.” Instead, they think of the liturgy in their native language, their center or headquarters in an ancient capital city, such as Antioch, Alexandria or Jerusalem presided over by a patriarch.

Until the schism of 1054 (after which the Christians in the East began calling themselves “Orthodox”), the Christian church was organized on a kind of federal basis. There were flexible groupings of the faithful in five distinct areas which were overseen by bishops who elected a chief bishop, called a patriarch. Each district developed its own liturgies, traditions and forms of governance. Each patriarchal see was a major center of early Christianity. Rome was often referred to as the Patriarchate of the Western church. The other patriarchates were in the East.

For the most part, the Orthodox have always lived in a state of local autonomy, an autonomy that has religious and theological dimensions as well as cultural. The Orthodox see in the highly centralized Catholic Church the religious history and mentality of Western Europe. Hence the Orthodox are wary of Latin centralization.

They wonder about the West’s rigid structure and system of discipline, its minutely developed canon law, its highly systematized theology and the curia in Rome regulating affairs of the whole church.

As the late Archbishop Philip Nabaa, the Melkite Metropolitan of Beirut, reminded us: “We must remember how close the East is to Western Christianity with which it lived for 10 centuries in peace and charity in the one faith. If this deep unity was sometimes shattered, shaken, or even broken, this was due to a failure to understand one another rather than bad faith. It arose not so much from a denial of the faith as through sincere attachment to truly Christian traditions.”

, the first headquarters for the fledgling church before St. Peter moved to Rome, remained an important center for Christianity for several centuries. In the second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch was martyred here in defense of the sacraments. In the fifth century, St. John Chrystostom brought this See to new heights with his eloquent teaching and preaching. The liturgy that developed in Antioch, which is named after St. John Chrystostom, has had the most lasting influence in all the Eastern churches.

, the capital of the ancient world, witnessed the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul. Rome is the major see for western Christians. Its bishop, the Pope, has played the role of pastoral shepherd throughout the Church’s history. Site of the Basilica of St. Peter, a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, Rome boasts many art treasures and churches that are testimony to Christianity’s ability to transform whole civilizations.

has been the center of Judaism for 3,000 years. Since Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, it has been Christianity’s center, its oldest and most sacred city. “The brother of the Lord,” St. James was the Church of Jerusalem’s first bishop. A magnate to pilgrims like St. Helena, mother of Constantine, St. Jerome, St. Francis, St. Ignatius of Loyola and countless others, Jerusalem still represents the richest blessings God can offer his people, namely eternal life with Him and all the saints.

, once Christianity’s most powerful see and the capital of the Byzantine world, was founded on the remains of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium by Constantine the Great in the fourth century. Birthplace of Justinian’s Code of Law and site of the Great Church of Haghia Sophia, Constantinople fostered Christian thought and art for centuries. Seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Constantinople is still regarded as the center of Orthodoxy.

, which was named after Alexander the Great, was once the See of St. Mark the Evangelist. This ancient Christian community took on the ancient Egyptian sign (Ankh) that stood for the breath of life and transformed it into what is known as the “Coptic Cross.” Each of the arms of the cross culminate in three points that Alexandrian Christians took to represent the Holy Trinity.

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