Archdiocese of Glasgow, Scotland

ORIENTALIUM ECCLESIARUM – Vatican II Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches

October 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Adult Education

(Text from talk given 16th October 2012 in St Peter’s hall)

If you think this is going to be difficult to understand, try this:

In the 1958 papal election which chose John XXIII the runner up was Cardinal Agagianian, Patriarch of Armenia.  He was born in Georgia and was  Archbishop of Cilicia in Turkey.  He was called to Rome to take charge of Propaganda Fidei and was Papal Legate to Ireland in 1961 for the 1500th anniversary of the death of St Patrick.

Constantinople, previously Byzantium, at the crossroads between West and East, was chosen by the Emperor as “New Rome” and the capital of those who still spoke Greek, as distinct from the West which had adopted Latin.  The “Great Schism” among the churches which profess the Creed of the Council of Chalcedon (451) is usually dated to the mutual excommunication between Constantinople and Rome in 1054.  (It was rescinded in 1964.)  Hence “Orthodox” / Greek as distinct from “Catholic” / Latin traditions.

Unlike the Latin Patriarchate in Rome the Greek churches are autocephalous under a Patriarch.  They also use the vernacular and are usually described by their language e.g. Russian Orthodox.  The rise of Islam in the east from the 7th century fractured communication among them.  The crossing of the Bosphorus by the Sultan in the 12th century and Bolshevism in the 20th took an enormous toll.  They tend to be ethnic churches whereas Rome tries to prevent this e.g. the reluctance of the Archdiocese to have a “Polish” church.

Over the centuries and for various reasons groups within different Orthodox churches have sought union with the Pope.  Up to Vatican 2 they were called “Uniates” but no longer because not all were always separated from Rome.  E.g. at Grottaferrata near the old Scots College summer house there is a 10th century Greek monastery which kept communion with Rome.  Vatican 2 counted 23 Eastern Catholic Churches (rather than “rites”).  Orientalium Ecclesiarum spoke out against any “Latinisation” of them.  It also called for a common date for Easter.  (The Orthodox still follow the pre-Gregorian calendar.)  The Kremlin tried to eliminate groups in communion with Rome and their revival now is a source of contention.

The biggest of these, each with about 4m members, are the Ukrainians, the Syro-Malabars in South India and the Maronites in Lebanon.  Of these the Maronites were never out of communion with Rome and there are no Orthodox Maronites.  Maximos IV Sayegh who refused to speak Latin at Vatican 2 was the Greek speaking Melkite Patriarch of Beirut although most Melkites live in Syria.  Some churches are very small e.g. Catholic Copts in Egypt and Catholic Chaldeans in Iraq.

Since Vatican 2 probably the biggest influence of the Eastern churches on the West is the popularity of Eucharistic Prayer 2 which is substantially a West Syrian formula.   Most obvious differences are infants are Confirmed and given the Eucharist at Baptism.  Unleavened bread is not used and the Eucharist under both kinds is administered by a spoon.  Parish clergy may marry in some but not all of these churches (monks and bishops are celibate).  Icons are prominent.

Orthodox Christians may receive the sacraments in a Catholic Church where there is no Orthodox Church.  And vice versa although usually where there is an Orthodox church, nowadays there is likely to be a Catholic one, either Eastern or Latin.


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