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The Other Catholics: A Short Guide to the Eastern Catholic Churches


As millions watched the funeral for Pope John Paul II, many were confused by the concluding Panakhyda celebrated not in Latin, but in Greek and Arabic by hierarchs in black hoods, turbans, crowns, and unusual vestments. Was this not the responsibility of the cardinals? And were those clerics even Catholic?


The answer may surprise you, as Catholics are generally unaware that they have millions of coreligionists who are not themselves part of the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, even the term "Roman Catholic" isn't quite right it was actually a derogatory label assigned to us by Anglican Protestants, trying to legitimize their own use of the term "Catholic" over and against that foreign Church loyal to the pope of Rome.

In point of fact, the Catholic Church directly under the jurisdiction of Rome is properly and canonically termed the Latin Church. All official Church documents simply use the term, "Catholic Church." And contrary to popular belief, most of the day-to-day work preformed by the Holy Father is not in his role as pope and pastor of the Universal Church but in his position in the Latin Church as the bishop of Rome and the patriarch of the West.

So who are these "other" Catholics? They have their own hierarchies and liturgies, as well as their own distinct apostolic lineages. They may look and act like Eastern Orthodox churches, but they recognize the pope of Rome as the head of the visible Church on earth and have suffered for the cause of that unity.

Meet the Catholic Churches. There are more of them than you think.

One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic

Some Important Eastern Church Terms

Antiminsion: A rectangular cloth with an icon of the tomb of Christ, consecrated by the bishop and without which no sacrament can be preformed.

Antidoron: Blessed but unconsecrated bread given to all at the end of the liturgy.

Chrismation: Roughly, the Eastern equivalent of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Council of Chalcedon: Convened in 451, the council fathers affirmed "Christ in two natures of one person without mixture, without change, without separation and without division." This definition was contrary to the traditional Alexandrian theology of "One incarnate nature of Christ." The council also established Constantinople as ranking second only to Rome and ahead of Alexandria and Antioch.

Council of Lyons II: An ecumenical council held in 1274 with the aim of ending disputes with the Greek Church. It added the words "and the Son" to the Nicene Creed, which resulted in its rejection by a Greek Council in Constantinople in 1277.

Council of Nicea: Inviting bishops from across the world in 325, the emperor Constantine hoped to settle the main disputes separating the faithful. The heresies of Arius were condemned and the Divinity of Christ was affirmed as being of the same substance as that of the Father (Arius claimed that Jesus was a creation of the Father, and was not Himself God); the date for the Feast of the Resurrection (Easter) was set according to the solar calendar; and the council formally established the primacy of the patriarchs of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch.

Divine Liturgy: The Eastern eucharistic service equivalent to the Mass.

Dormition of Mary: Roughly, the Eastern equivalent of the Assumption.

Ecclesia sui iuris: Latin term for autonomous Churches of their own rightful existence.

Eparch or Hierarch: The Eastern equivalent of a bishop.

Eparchy: The Eastern equivalent of a diocese.

Exarch: A bishop one rank below a patriarch.

Filioque: The Latin term "and from the Son" inserted into the Nicean Creed by the Latin Church in the year 1274. Considered by the Orthodox a major cause of theological division.

Great Fast: Eastern term for Lent, which for Eastern Churches begins on the Monday before Ash Wednesday (the 40 days are counted differently).

Great Vespers: Non-eucharistic Saturday evening service (does not count toward the Sunday obligation).

Greek Catholic: An outdated term for Byzantine Catholic.

Icon: A two-dimensional image written according to strict guidelines and venerated as would be the relic of a saint.

Iconostasis: An icon-adorned screen separating the altar from the church proper.

Metropolitan: Roughly, the Eastern equivalent of an archbishop.

Myrovannya: Slavic term for a festal anointing with blessed oil.

Mysteries: Roughly, the Eastern term for sacraments.

Patriarch: The highest-ranking bishop. The pope, for example, is the patriarch of the West.

Panakhyda: An Eastern requiem or memorial service.

Paraklesis: A service for the intercession of the Lord, the Mother of God, and the saints.

Pascha: Eastern term for the Feast of the Resurrection (Easter), derived from the term Passover.

Prosphora: Eastern term for the bread used for the host.

Raso or Ryassa: Eastern equivalent of a cassock.

Rite: A liturgical, theological, spiritual, and disciplinary patrimony of a distinct people manifested in a Church sui iuris.

Uniat or Uniate: A derogatory term for an Eastern Church in communion with Rome.

Zeon: Boiling water added to the chalice representing the Holy Spirit and the water from the side of Christ.

According to the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Catholic Church is understood to be "a corporate body of Churches," united with the bishop of Rome, who serves as the guardian of unity. The other Catholic Churches are not merely Catholics with papal permission to use different liturgies. They were also founded by the apostles and are particular, autonomous Churches of their own rightful existence (sui iuris). Any individual Catholic may freely attend and receive the sacraments in any of them. After all, Catholic is Catholic.

Because we believe in "one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church," some might object, "There is only one Church, so how can we speak of many ‘Churches?'" It's helpful to consider an analogy used by the Church Fathers: While there are three distinct Persons who share the One Divine Essence, there are likewise many autonomous individual Churches that make up the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. As it is with the Triune Godhead, we must be careful not to blur true and important distinctions of the individuals in order to emphasize their unity.

When Christ founded His Church, He commissioned the apostles to go out into the world to preach and baptize. Most Catholics are familiar with the founding of the see of Rome by Peter. The primacy of that Church was sealed with the blood of Peter and Paul, and the succession of bishops continues to the present day. What many do not know is that the other apostles themselves founded churches, and that their own successions of bishops continue as well.

As presently defined, there are 24 Catholic Churches that can be grouped into eight different rites. A rite is a liturgical, theological, spiritual, and disciplinary patrimony of a distinct people manifested in a Church. While each Catholic Church may have its own rite or customs, in general, there are only eight major rites. History, language, misunderstandings, nationalism, and basic human weakness have resulted in the current communion of 24 Churches.

With a few exceptions, the Eastern Catholic Churches result from incomplete reunions with the Orthodox Churches. In those instances, large numbers of bishops and faithful of the Orthodox mother Churches either held back or later rejected union with Rome. Today, many Orthodox are fearful of losing their distinct traditions in a world dominated by the Latin Church. Making matters worse, some of the Eastern Catholic Churches have adopted Latin customs and haven't been very good examples of how union with Rome should work. This is tragic, since the traditions of these Churches are themselves apostolic and help preserve the catholicity of the Church with their own unique development of the gospel message. For example, unlike a good Latin parish, in a traditional Eastern Catholic parish you won't find musical instruments, statues, rosaries, or stations of the cross. Indeed, the priest may well have a wife and children, and the church might be without pews or kneelers. In some circumstances, even the Bible might have a larger canon and include Third and Fourth Maccabees. Unity does not mean uniformity.

The following is a brief survey of each of the 24 sui iuris Catholic Churches all of which are in full communion with Rome. Parishes can be found throughout the United States and Canada. They are grouped by rite and include brief descriptions, along with an estimate of their current membership numbers. Some of these Churches are headed by metropolitans or major archbishops who are independently elected and then confirmed by the pope. The Patriarchal Eastern Catholic Churches elect and consecrate their own patriarch completely independent of the pontiff; letters of official communion are exchanged after the installation. Other Churches simply submit a list of eligible candidates to Rome for consideration.

A final note: Any discussion of Eastern Catholicism necessarily involves ecclesiastical language alien to Latin Catholics. See the sidebar for definitions of important Eastern Church terms.

1. The Patriarchal Latin Catholic Church
Rite: Latin
Membership: 1,070,315,000

There may have once been other Western Catholic Churches, but over time, they were absorbed into the direct jurisdiction of the Latin Church. In response to Protestantism, the Latin Church consolidated the various Western practices into what became known as the Tridentine Rite.

Some variation still exists in the Latin Church: The Mozarabic Rite continues in Toledo, Spain, and the Ambrosian Rite survives around Milan even into Switzerland. The Bragan, Dominican, Carmelite, and Carthusian Rites were abandoned after Vatican II in favor of the revised Latin Rite.

2. The Patriarchal Armenian Catholic Church
Rite: Armenian
Membership: 368,923

The Armenian Church is a daughter of the New Testament Church of Caesarea, and Thaddaeus and Bartholomew were its founding apostles. Catholics there suffered persecution until the conversion of King Tridates IV made Armenia the first Christian state in history. The missionary work of St. Gregory the Illuminator resulted in an alphabet and translations of Greek and Syrian texts. The Armenian Rite is used exclusively by this Church and is related to both Greek and Syrian Christianity with some Latinization since the Crusades.

While Armenians attended the first three ecumenical councils, they weren't represented at the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, which condemned their faith in St. Cyril's definition of "One nature of the Word of God incarnate." Armenians formally accused the Byzantine and Latin Churches of the Nestorian heresy in the year 555.

Until the Muslim conquests, Byzantine emperors attempted to impose reunion on the Armenians with some success. Nevertheless, the Armenian Church continued to develop independently with its identity as a people centered on its own language and ecclesial body.

When the Byzantines pushed back the Muslims in 862, they again attempted reunion, only to be rebuffed. Serious discussion with the Byzantine Church began in 1165, but the Armenians established union with the Latin Crusader states in 1198. This union wasn't recognized by those outside of Cilicia. And while Armenians were present at the Council of Florence in 1439, it had no lasting results. Finally, in 1742, Pope Benedict XIV confirmed a former Armenian apostolic bishop as Catholic Patriarch of Cilicia.

The vicious persecution and genocide in Turkey at the end of World War I decimated the Armenians, and the Church was later brutally suppressed under communism. Only with independence in 1991 have communities of Armenian Catholics begun to resurface.

3. The Patriarchal Coptic Catholic Church
Rite: Alexandrian
Membership: 242,513

The Egyptian Church was founded by the apostle Mark a gospel writer and disciple of Peter martyred around 63 A.D. His see was the first Church to develop a strong centralized hierarchy, and the succession from Mark continues to this day. The term Coptic is Arabic, derived from the Greek word for Egyptian. Interestingly enough, the Alexandrian patriarch is the only other patriarch to have the title of pope, and until the Council of Chalcedon, the see of Mark was second in primacy after Rome.

Like the Armenians, the Coptic Church rejected the Council of Chalcedon out of fidelity to St. Cyril of Alexandria's doctrine of "One incarnate nature of Christ" though there were also political issues regarding their opposition to growing Byzantine domination. Persecutions intended to force acceptance of the Council of Chalcedon only reinforced their resistance. Eventually a succession of Byzantine popes had a small following in the city of Alexandria, and the majority native Coptic popes resided in the desert monastery of St. Marcarius.

After the Arab invasion in 641, the Coptic Church went into decline. Islamic rule brought persecution as well as some periods of relative freedom. The Church has continued to grow, despite recent attacks by Islamic militants and the exodus of those faithful looking for a better life in the West.

While the Coptic Church attended the Council of Florence and agreed to union, it had no concrete results. Other attempts at reunification occurred in 1582 and 1814 but were also unsuccessful. During these failed attempts, many Coptic bishops and faithful did enter union with Rome. For this reason, the Coptic Catholic Church was organized in 1741 when the Coptic bishop of Jerusalem became Catholic. In 1895, Pope Leo XIII of Rome reestablished the patriarchate of Alexandria for the Coptic Catholic Church.

Monasticism began in the Egyptian desert. While there are no Coptic Catholic monasteries to rival those of the Coptic Orthodox, there are religious orders modeled on Western communities involved in educational, medical, and charitable activities.

4. The Ethiopian Catholic Church
Rite: Ge'ez
Membership: 196,853

The Ge'ez Ethiopian Rite is a variation of the Alexandrian Coptic Rite with Syriac and Jewish influence. Judaism was practiced by some Ethiopians before the arrival of Christianity, and pocket communities of Jewish Ethiopians still exist. The Church there is unique in retaining circumcision, dietary laws, and both Saturday and Sunday Sabbath.

When Emperor Ezana converted to Christianity in the fourth century, St. Athanasius of Alexandria ordained the bishops for the Ethiopians. Later, in 480, those who opposed the Council of Chalcedon fled to Ethiopia from Rome, Constantinople, and Syria and evangelized the pagans they found there.

From the time of Athanasius, Ethiopian bishops were routinely appointed by the Coptic patriarch. In 1948, Emperor Haile Selassie reached an agreement with the Coptic Church to establish an autonomous Ethiopian patriarch. And so, Ethiopian Orthodoxy became the state religion until the 1974 communist revolution.

In 1439, Pope Eugenius IV sent a letter to the Ethiopian emperor inviting him to unity with the Catholic Church, but it was rejected. A century later, under attack from the Muslims, the emperor requested military aid from the Portuguese. This led to Pope Gregory XV's appointment of a Portuguese Jesuit as patriarch of the Ethiopian Church in 1626. Sadly, union lasted only ten years after the forced Latinization of the liturgy, customs, and discipline resulted in open bloodshed.

Catholic missionary activity resumed during the Italian occupation of Eritrea and Ethiopia, but the current structure of the Ethiopian Catholic Church wasn't established until 1961.

5. The Patriarchal Antiochian Syrian Maronite Catholic Church
Rite: West Syrian Maronite
Membership: 3,106,792

Unique among the Eastern Churches, the Maronite Church is entirely Catholic with no corresponding Orthodox Church; it has never broken union with Rome. The Maronite Rite is of West Syrian origin but has been influenced by the East Syrian and Latin traditions. The Eucharist is a variation of the Syriac liturgy of St. James. Notably, this Church maintains the Eucharistic narrative in Aramaic the actual language of Christ.

The Maronites trace their origin to a group of disciples of the hermit St. Maron and their founding of a great monastery midway between Aleppo and Antioch. They were fervent supporters of the Chalcedonian definition of "two natures of Christ," and in 532, a synod in Constantinople made the monastery of Bet Maroun the head of the entire monastic community in northern Syria.

The Maronites suffered brutal persecution at the hands of the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox, while the Muslim Arab rulers of Syria punished all contacts with the Byzantines. When the Byzantine see of Antioch fell vacant, the Maronites proclaimed their own bishop as "Patriarch of Antioch and all the East." Unfortunately, hostile relations with the Arabs and rival Christians drove the Maronites to the isolated and remote mountains of Lebanon.

In 1099, the Crusaders received a warm welcome from the Maronites, and their patriarch attended the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, receiving formal Latin acceptance as the head of the Maronite Church.

With the founding of the Maronite College in Rome in 1584, the Church became quite Latinized. With the encouragement of Vatican II, the Maronite Church revised its missal to return to many of the traditions and customs that had been lost. Since then, the patriarch has ordered all the clergy to wear the original Syriac vestments and has instituted several other Syriac reforms.

6. The Patriarchal Chaldean Catholic Church
Rite: East Syrian
Membership: 382,637

The Assyrian or Chaldean Church was established in Edessa in the first century. After the area was conquered by the Persians, the Church organized itself around a Catholic patriarch in the Persian royal capital at Seleucia-Ctesiphon. While Christians were persecuted by the pagan Roman Empire, they were welcomed into the Persian Empire.

This Church was represented at the Council of Nicea but not at later ecumenical councils once the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, the Persian Christians needed to avoid suspicion as Roman collaborators. The Chaldeans always favored the Antiochian school of Christology and welcomed the influx of Nestorian Christians, who were both condemned by the third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus and expelled by Emperor Zeno. Unofficially, they accepted the Council of Chalcedon as a vindication of Antiochian theology.

The Church was a very active missionary force and expanded into India, Tibet, China, Mongolia, and perhaps even Korea and the Philippines. This activity continued even after its Mesopotamian homeland was conquered by the Muslim Arabs. Indeed, it was nearly annihilated by the Mongol invasions of Tamerlane.

In the 13th century, due to Dominican and Franciscan activity in the region, there were several individual conversions of bishops and a few brief flirtations with reunification. Unfortunately, nothing lasting came about. However, in 1551, after one prominent family dominated the Chaldean Church and elected a twelve-year-old as patriarch, a group of concerned bishops elected their own patriarch and sent him to Rome to arrange a union with the Catholic Church. Their overtures were accepted by Pope Julius III in 1553, creating the Chaldean Catholic Church now centered in Baghdad.

Relations with the Assyrian Orthodox Church have also improved. In 1994, the Orthodox Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV and Pope John Paul II signed a common Christological Declaration. Two years later, Mar Dinkha IV and Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid signed a joint patriarchal statement that committed the two Churches to full reintegration, drafting a common catechism and setting up a joint seminary. At this stage, the Assyrians wish to retain their freedom and self-governance while the Chaldean Catholics affirm the necessity of maintaining full communion with Rome.

7. The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Rite: East Syrian
Membership: 3,752,434

The first Christians in India were evangelized by the apostle Thomas in what is now the state of Kerala. For most of their history, they were in communion with the Chaldean-Assyrian Church.

Indian Christians first encountered the Portuguese in 1498, when they warmly received the representatives of the Church of Rome, whose special status they continued to acknowledge despite long isolation.

Sadly, the Portuguese didn't initially accept the legitimacy of the Malabar Church, and in 1599, Latinizations were imposed appointments of Portuguese bishops, changes in the liturgy, Roman vestments, clerical celibacy, and the Inquisition. In 1653, after years of bitterness and tension, most Indian Christians severed their union with Rome. Alarmed, Pope Alexander VII sent Carmelites to India to repair the situation, and most of the Christians eventually returned to full communion with the Catholic Church.

In 1934, Pope Pius XI initiated a process of liturgical reform to restore the historic Syriac nature of the Latinized Syro-Malabar Church. Unfortunately, tension with the Latin Church remains over the establishment of Syro-Malabar jurisdictions in other parts of India where Latin dioceses already exist.

8. The Patriarchal Syrian Catholic Church
Rite: West Syrian
Membership: 123,376

Antioch was one of the ancient centers of Christianity, ranking third in primacy after Rome and Alexandria. When the Council of Chalcedon's teachings were rejected by large numbers in the rural areas of his jurisdiction, Jacob Baradai, the bishop of Edessa, ordained several bishops to carry on the Faith of those who had parted from the council. This Church, labeled "Jacobite," continued to use the Antiochian West Syrian Rite when urban Antioch adopted the Byzantine Rite.

With the conquest by the Persians, the Syrian Church was free to develop along lines parallel to that of the Assyrian Church with 103 dioceses extending into India, Afghanistan, Turkistan, and Xinjiang, China. Like their rival Assyrian Church, most churches and monasteries were destroyed by the Mongol invasions.

Syrian Orthodox bishops warmly received the Crusaders and discussed union with Rome. But while they attended the Council of Florence and agreed to union, nothing materialized. Jesuit and Capuchin missionaries were very successful, however, and many Syrians were received into communion with Rome. When the patriarchate fell vacant in 1662, the Catholic party was able to elect one of its own as patriarch. Despite this small victory, the Ottoman Empire favored the Syrian Orthodox and forced the Syrian Catholics underground.

Provoking yet another schism, the Syrian Orthodox Holy Synod elected Metropolitan Michael Jarweh of Aleppo as patriarch in 1782. Shortly after he was enthroned, though, he shocked the faithful by declaring himself a Catholic.

9. The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
Rite: West Syrian
Membership: 404,052

This Church was founded by the East Syrian–Rite Syro-Malabar Christians that rejected the Portuguese Latinizations. As a group, they were not welcomed back into their former Chaldean-Assyrian Church. In 1665 the non-Chalcedonian Syrian Orthodox agreed to send them a bishop on the condition that they agree to accept non-Chalcedonian Christology and follow the West Syrian Rite instead of the East Syrian Rite. In the 18th century, there were four formal attempts to reconcile the Catholic and Malankara Orthodox Syrian Churches, all of which failed. In 1926, five bishops who were opposed to the jurisdiction of the Syrian Orthodox patriarch in India opened negotiations with Rome. They had asked only that their liturgy be preserved and that the bishops be allowed to retain their dioceses. In response, Rome only required that the bishops make a profession of faith. This instigated a movement of faithful into the new Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

Churches of the Byzantine Rite

The Byzantine liturgical tradition is a highly stylized form of the Antiochian Rite developed for the Imperial Church based in Constantinople (Byzantium). After the Latin Rite, it is the most widely used rite in the world. At the Council of Chalcedon, the dioceses of Thrace, Pontus, and Asia were absorbed in order to legitimize Constantinople as the see of St. Andrew, the brother of Peter. Currently, there are 16 Eastern Orthodox Churches and 15 Catholic Churches that use the Byzantine Rite.

10. The Patriarchal Melkite Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 1,340,913

Founded as the Antiochian see of Peter, it was here that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. The term "Melkite" comes from the Syriac word for king and was originally used to refer to those within the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem who accepted the Council of Chalcedon.

With Jesuit, Capuchin, and Carmelite missionary activity in the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Antioch in the mid-17th century, the Antiochian Church became polarized, with the pro-Catholic party centered in Damascus and the anti-Catholic party in Aleppo.

The pro-Catholic party elected a patriarch in 1724 who was recognized by Pope Benedict XIII. In response, Constantinople excommunicated the Catholic patriarch and appointed a Greek as the Orthodox patriarch of Antioch.

While the Ottoman Empire was very hostile to the Catholic Melkites, the Church continued to grow because the Orthodox patriarch of Antioch was entirely subordinate to the Turks. On a positive note, in 1995, the Antiochian Orthodox and Melkite Catholic Churches agreed to work toward healing the 1724 schism.

11. The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 60,448

>From the earliest periods of Christianity, southern Italy and Sicily had strong connections with Greece and followed the Byzantine tradition. Despite this fact, as part of the Latin patriarchate, the Italo-Albanian Church has always been in union with Rome. Large numbers of Orthodox Albanians fled to this region when their country was conquered by Muslims and interestingly enough in 1553, the Italo-Albanian metropolitan archbishop was confirmed by the patriarch of Constantinople, with papal authorization. Thus, the Italo-Albanians have never formally broken communion with the Orthodox Church.

12. The Ukrainian Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 4,321,508

The Ukrainians first received the Christian faith by way of Constantinople. Metropolitan Isidore of Kiev attended the Council of Florence and agreed to union between the Catholics and Orthodox, but the union was ultimately rejected.

In 1569, Jesuits began working for a local union between Catholics and Orthodox as a way of reducing Protestant influence. The Orthodox, for their part, favored such a union to preserve their Byzantine traditions at a time when the Polish Latin Rite Church was expanding.

A synod of Orthodox bishops at Brest in 1595 proclaimed a reunion between Rome and the metropolitan of Kiev. After similar moves in Przemysl in 1692 and Lviv in 1700, two-thirds of Ukraine had become Catholic. But as Orthodox Russia expanded its control into Ukraine, Catholicism was gradually suppressed. In 1839, Tsar Nicholas I abolished the union in all regions under Russian rule, but the Ukrainian Catholic Church thrived in areas under Austrian control. Later, the Soviet Union forced the Ukrainian Catholic Church into the Russian Orthodox Church.

With the fall of the USSR, Ukrainian Catholics emerged from the catacombs, but they've not yet recovered all of their stolen property. Lubomyr Cardinal Husar is popularly given the title of Ukrainian Catholic patriarch, but this title hasn't been approved by Rome due to sensitive relations with the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox.

13. The Ruthenian Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 497,704

Nearly all Trans-Carpathian Ruthenian or Rusyn Orthodox formally united with Rome in 1646. Rusyn ethnic identity remains closely tied to the Byzantine Catholic Church. As a result, they were viciously persecuted and forced into the Russian Orthodox Church by Imperial Russia. Later, the Soviets attempted to wipe out all Rusyn national identity by declaring them to be either Orthodox, Russian, or Ukrainian.

14. The Byzantine Catholic Church USA (Rusyn Ruthenian Slovak)
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 100,000

Many Ruthenian or Rusyn Catholics immigrated to North America. In 1891 and again in 1929, almost all returned to the Orthodox after experiencing strained relations with the Latin hierarchy and their imposition of clerical celibacy. Those who remained with the Catholic Church make up the Byzantine Catholic Church USA Metropolitate.

In 1999 William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore apologized on behalf of the American Latin hierarchy for the inexcusable actions of Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, Minnesota, and others responsible for driving so many into what is now the Orthodox Church of America.

15. The Romanian Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 746,000

The apostle Andrew was chosen to carry the gospel to Scythia in what is now Romania. This Byzantine Church is notable in that it exists within a predominantly Latin culture (Romanian is a romance language directly descended from the language of Roman soldiers and settlers).

Romanian delegates attended the Council of Constance in 1414 and signed the decree of union at the Council of Florence. Unfortunately, in 1744 there was a popular movement back to Orthodoxy following violations of religious and civil rights that had been guaranteed by the union with Rome.

Under communism, the Church was suppressed and merged into the Romanian Orthodox Church. In 1989 three secretly ordained Catholic bishops emerged. Since then, there has been considerable tension with the Orthodox over the return of Romanian Catholic Church property.

16. The Greek Catholic Church in Greece
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 2,345

The Greek Orthodox Church is virulently opposed to the existence of this small Church. Indeed, the situation is such that it's illegal for Byzantine Catholic priests to dress like Orthodox clergy in Greece. The few Greek Catholics here are served by celibate priests who have transferred from the Latin Church.

17. The Greek Catholic Church in former Yugoslavia
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 76,670

In 1611 a Byzantine vicar, subordinate to the Latin bishops, was appointed for Serbian Orthodox who fled from the Muslim Turks. In 1777, Rome created an independent eparchy for all Byzantines in Croatia under Austrian rule. Approximately 50 percent of this Church is ethnically Rusyn.

18. The Bulgarian Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 10,000

Bulgaria was often in dispute between Rome and Constantinople, but it fell under the jurisdiction of Constantinople in 870 at the Eighth Ecumenical Council. Wanting independence from Constantinople, the Bulgarians negotiated a union with Rome in 1861, but most eventually returned to the Orthodox. This was the only Byzantine Catholic Church not officially suppressed under communism perhaps because Pope John XXIII was once a papal emissary to Bulgaria.

19. The Slovak Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 225,136

In 1646 the Union of Uzhorod was accepted in what is now eastern Slovakia. After communism fell, most of the confiscated ecclesial property was returned to the Catholic Church. In America, Slovaks are not distinguished from Ruthenians or Rusyns.

20. The Hungarian Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 268,935

A Greek monk named Hierothus from Constantinople was consecrated the first bishop of Hungary around 950. As the cracks of schism grew between Latins and Greeks, the Byzantine Rite Hungarians remained in communion with a Serbian Orthodox metropolitan. But after a number of union agreements, most of the Orthodox became Byzantine Catholic.

In the 18th century, a group of Hungarian Protestants decided to become Catholic but chose to enter the Byzantine Catholic Church instead of the Latin Church. While Greek had been the liturgical language, in 1900 Pope Leo XIII approved the use of Hungarian.

21. The Russian Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 20 parishes worldwide

In its conversion from paganism, Russia accepted Byzantine Christianity while still in full communion with Rome in 988. The institutional Russian Catholic Church began in the 19th century as the result of a movement involving Vladimir Soloviev and Rev. Nicholas Tolstoy. They believed the schism between Greeks and Latins never created any official break between Russia and Rome.

In 1908 Pope Pius X appointed an apostolic exarchate. The decree from the Vatican Secretariat of State read: "Therefore His Holiness commands the aforementioned to observe the laws of the Byzantine Rite faithfully and in all their integrity, without any admixture from the Latin Rite or any other Rite; he must also see that his subjects, clergy and all other Catholics, do the same."

Under communism the greater part of the Russian Catholic clergy and faithful together with Georgian Catholics, Armenian Catholics, and Latin Catholics were put to death along with thousands of Orthodox, Protestants, and Jews in the mass executions of the gulags.

22. The Belarusian Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 100,000

The Belarusian Catholic Church began in the Union of Brest in 1596 and became the state religion, but it was later suppressed by Imperial Russia and again by the Soviet Union. Strongly associated with Belarusian nationalism, it has no organized hierarchy.

23. The Albanian Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 3,000

The apostle Paul preached in Illyricum and Titus preached in Dalmatia, both of which are found in modern-day Albania. The first bishop was Kaisarios, one of the 70 apostles. Sadly, most Albanians became Muslim during the Turkish conquest.

Both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were suppressed in 1967 when Albania was declared an atheist state; religious buildings were closed, and no services of any kind were permitted.

24. The Georgian Catholic Church
Rite: Byzantine
Membership: 7,000

The Georgian Church began in 337 and used the Syriac Rite of St. James. When the neighboring Armenians rejected the Council of Chalcedon, the Georgians accepted the conciliar decrees and adopted the Byzantine Rite.

Theatine and Capuchin missionaries worked for reunion in Georgia, but under Imperial Russia in 1845, Catholics were not allowed to use the Byzantine Rite. Many Catholics adopted the Armenian Rite until the institution of religious liberty in 1905, which allowed them to return to the Byzantine Rite. In 1937 the Georgian Catholic exarch was executed by the Soviets.

At present, the Georgian Catholic Church has no organized hierarchy.

Outreach from Rome to the Eastern Orthodox has increased in the past 30 years. Pope John Paul II worked tirelessly to reach out to Eastern Christians his own mother, in fact, was an Eastern Catholic. And it appears that Benedict XVI will continue this effort. The day after his inauguration, he received representatives of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches and has since stated that one of his primary goals is to address the difficulties that continue between Catholics and Orthodox.

It remains a deep and abiding tragedy that Orthodoxy and Catholicism sister Churches in the Apostolic Faith remain at odds. Any semblance of official reunion will take time; many Orthodox Churches still struggle to discover their own identity after generations of control by tsars, kings, sultans, nationalism, communism, and the new emergence of evangelicalism and renewed Islamic militancy. In the hope of that reconciliation, the Eastern Catholic Churches can act as a bridge a mediator between East and West. In them, the Eastern traditions are both preserved and united with the West. In spite of a difficult past, they're a sign of great hope and a pattern for how Eastern practice might coexist without corruption or confusion with the Latin Church and the universal office of the papacy. As we have seen, maintaining this balance requires great care.

Genuine apostolic tradition is preserved in the Eastern Catholic Churches. Insofar as some have drifted toward Latin practices, they've abandoned the unique traditions passed on to them by their founding apostles. This is a tragedy for all Catholics. Unity, again, is not uniformity. The Catholic Church is universal, and in its God-ordained diversity, there is great strength.


This is J. Fraser Field, Founder of CERC. I hope you appreciated this piece. We curate these articles especially for believers like you.

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Kevin R. Yurkus. "The Other Catholics: A Short Guide to the Eastern Catholic Churches." Crisis (July/August 2005).


This article is reprinted with permission from the Morley Institute a non-profit education organization. To subscribe to Crisis magazine call 1-800-852-9962.

The Author

Kevin R. Yurkus is a member of the Carpatho-Rusyn Catholic Church, for which he is a catechist and altar server. He writes from Indiana.

Copyright © 2005 Crisis

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