After years of responding to questions via email we've finally been able to add a FAQ section. Please check back often as we add content.
Please note that the answers provided to common quesitons about Byzantine Catholicism offered here are intended to be general answers. They are not intended to be exhaustive in content nor are they intended to be 'heavy theology'. If you need an official response to a question, please contact your local parish or eparchy (diocese).
Thank you for sending us your questions.
Consider this question: Why is there something rather than nothing?
The Big Bang, you say? Well, OK, that's a "how" type of answer and not a "why" type of answer, but let's discuss it. There was nothing. Then there was a Big Bang. Then there was something? How did nothing turn into something? Why? How did this "Big Bang" happen? Why? How do you get life from non-life? Why is there something rather than nothing?
How do you answer these questions?
Reason and logic will get you to two possible conclusions. Science might someday explain some of the 'how' but not the 'why'. Either the existence of the universe and all that is in it (including man) is an accident (and it all means nothing) or there was a Designer and He has a plan.
So in the end you have to make a decision of faith. You can put your faith in nothing as the cause of life or you can put your faith in a Designer-God as the cause of life.
“Eastern Catholic” refers to the autonomous, self-governing Catholic Churches that have their roots in the Christian East. They are equal to Roman Catholics and are in full communion with the Holy Father, the Pope. Saint John Paul II taught in Orientale Lumen that the “ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ's Church”. Eastern Catholics include all those Eastern Christians (both Byzantine and non-Byzantine). Examples of non-Byzantine Eastern Catholic include Maronite Catholics and Chaldean Catholics.
“Greek Catholic” and “Byzantine Catholic” are used interchangeably. “Greek Catholic” was originally applied to those Orthodox Christians in both central and eastern Europe and the Middle East who retained their Orthodox liturgy and theology but who restored full communion with Rome, which was lost in the centuries after A.D. 1054. The term “Greek” referred to the liturgy and theology of these Churches and the term “Catholic” signified their full communion with Rome. In the middle twentieth century (especially in the United States) it was thought that the term was confusing as it suggested Greek ethnicity. So the term “Byzantine Catholic” came into use, with the term “Byzantine” intended to be a non-ethnic counterpart of “Roman”.
“Melkite Catholics” are those Greek or Byzantine Catholic Churches that have their origins in the Middle East. “Melkite” is from the Syriac word “malka” (“King”). It was originally a pejorative term for all Middle-Eastern Christians who accepted the teachings of the Council of Calcedon (A.D. 451) and the Byzantine Emperor. Over time it was retained only by Eastern Catholics. Eastern Orthodox do not use the term. Melkites trace their history to the first century AD, to the early Christians of Antioch (in present day Turkey).
Greek/Byzantine Catholics are further divided into subgroups: Melkite, Ukrainian, Ruthenian, Romanian, Greek, Bulgarian, Serbians, Slovak, Hungarian, Belarusians, and Russians. All use the Byzantine Liturgy, or an abbreviated form of it.
"Uni" means "union" and "ate" generally means roughly "one that is characterized". As you can guess, in the Church context "Uniate" means an Orthodox Christian who is in communion with Rome. The term dates to about 1596 and the Union of Brest-Litovsk, when a number of Orthodox priests and bishops accepted papal authority. The term was used to refer to both individuals and Churches. This term is occasionaly still used, but has largely fallen into disuse.
Is the term deragatory? That depends upon the context in which it is used. Typically, most who use it do not use it in a deragatory manner.
Generally speaking it is always best to describe people using the terms they choose to describe themselves with. In twenty-first century America the terms "Byzantine Catholic" and "Greek Catholic" are perferred. In Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere the term "Greek Catholic" is more common than "Byzantine Catholic".
The Church places before us both the ideal and minimum requirements for our Lenten journey:
The Ideal Fast
The Holy Canons specify the following from sundown on Forgiveness Sunday (Cheesefare Sunday) to Pascha (Easter Sunday):
During the Great Fast Christians regulate both the amount of food they eat and the number of times they eat each day. In other words, no food should be eaten between meals and at mealtime only a small portion of food should be eaten.
On Saturdays and Sundays during the Great Fast the quantity and number of times food is eaten is not restricted and both olive oil and wine may be taken.
The Minimum Fast
While the minimum Fast differs slightly between Churches of the Greek and Slav traditions, the minimum Fast is generally the following, from sundown on Forgiveness Sunday (Cheesefare Sunday) to Pascha (Easter Sunday):
Individuals who, for various health reasons, are directed by their medical advisors not to fast are fully exempt from the Fast.
Reommendation: If you are new to fasting, start with the minimum fast. Then each year give up something additional, until you find a fast that is challenging but not impossible. And don't forget: fasting is to be done together with prayer and almsgiving (good works).
As always, check with your pastor. He is the individual who knows you and can best direct you.
The Roman Catholic devotion of praying the Rosary is not generally a part of the Byzantine prayer life, although some individual Byzatines pray it. This is not because Byzantines in any way reject the Rosary. It's a wonderful method of prayer. We don't generally use it because we have our own repetitive prayer traditions. Asking a Byzantine why he does not pray the Rosary is sort of like asking a Greek why he doesn't speak Latin at the dinner table. The Greek has his own devotions. He can appreciate the devotions of the Latins, but he simply chooses to keep the ones he grew up with that have been handed down over the centuries.
So, what is an example of a Byzantine Equivalent? The "Jesus Prayer" ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!"). The "Jesus Prayer" is part of the hesychastic prayer tradition that originated in Byzantine monasticism but which is also very popular among laymen. Typically this prayer is prayed with the use of a prayer rope, consisting of 100 or 150 knots.
Here is the text of the Byzantine "Hail Mary": "Rejoice, O Virgin Mother of God! Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you! Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have borne Christ the Savior, the deliverer of our souls".
It should be noted that the Roman Catholic version of this prayer was adapted from the older Byzantine version. Both have their roots in Luke 1:28 and 1:48.
In the Christian East the "Sacraments" are more generally called "Mysteries". This is because they vessels of mystical particpation in Divine Grace. Saint John Chrysostom taught that we call them mysteries because what we believe is not fully shown in what we see. The Latin "sacramentum" means "to consecrate" and comes from the Greek "mysterion".
The Holy Mysteries are as follows:
The first three Mysteries are administered together, typically to infants but also to adults when joining Christ's Church. The Mystery of Anointing is administered not just to the dying, but to anyone in need of healing (cf James 5:14-15). It is also offered in parishes on Holy Wednesday to everyone who seeks it, as a perparation for the rememberance of the Cross and Resurrection.
Marriage and Ordination are not seen as exclusive, although a man who is called to serve as deacon or priest must be married prior to ordination.
At the end of a funeral the priest intones: “In blessed repose, grant, O Lord, eternal rest to Your servant, (Name), and may his (her) memory be eternal.” The people then respond with the hymn: “Eternal Memory!” (Church Slavonic: Вечная память, Vičnaja Pamjat', Greek: Αἰωνία ἡ μνήμη, Eonia i Mnimi)
“Eternal Memory” is a prayer, a petition offered to the Lord that He remember the person who has died. Our memory is not eternal. But the Lord’s memory is eternal. If He remembers the person who has died, then that person exists eternally in heaven. This is our prayer for those who have finished this earthly race.
Infant Communion was the custom in the universal Church – both East and West – from the time of the Apostles. The foundation for this custom can be found in Scripture, especially in John 6:52 (“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”) and Matthew 19:14 (“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’”). The Church Fathers were universally supportive of this custom. Saint Augustine taught: “They are infants, but they receive His sacraments. They are infants, but they share in His table, in order to have life in themselves.” (Works, V5, S 174.7).
The Western Church (Roman Catholic) also kept this custom until the beginning of the 13th century.
After the various Byzantine Catholics (Greek Catholics) re-established communion with Rome in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries the practice of communing infants was mostly dropped and replaced with the Roman custom of delaying first Communion until the age of reason. But at Vatican II the teaching given in “Orientalium Ecclesiarum” urged Eastern Catholic towards a general return to their more ancient disciplines, of which Infant Communion was one. Today, almost all Eastern Catholic Churches have restored Infant Communion.
How is Holy Communion given to infants?
In the Byzantine Churches, the Eucharist is given as soon as possible after Baptism and Chrismation (Confirmation). Typically the infant is Baptized and Chrismated just prior to the start of the Divine Liturgy and then receives Eucharist during the Divine Liturgy. The priest administers the Eucharist with a spoon, giving the infant a small amount of the comingled consecrated Body and Blood. The child then continues to receive on a regular basis, with amount increasing as the child grows and is able to partake it.
Infants and young children are exempt from the requirements to fast and go to confession until they reach the age of reason (typically between 8-10 years of age).
The Church – both East and West - has ordained married men from the beginning. Remember that the Apostle Peter was married.
In the Christian East, this custom continued without interruption and is normative today. The exception is in the Americans and Australia, where Eastern Catholics were prohibited form ordaining married men from 1929 until the late 1990s (the full history is too lengthy to detail here). The Roman Catholic bishops of this era were unfamiliar with a married clergy and were scandalized by it. They requested - and won - a prohibition of the ordination of married in the Eastern Catholic Churches. Since Vatican II, however, there has been a general return to the more ancient practice.
The Christian West (Roman Catholic) also had married priests, even as it held that priests living in ‘perpetual continence’ was the better way. It was not until the Middle Ages, at a Synod held in Rome in 1074 when Pope Gregory VII mandated clerical celibacy. This was later legislated into canon law at the Second Lateran Council in 1139.
Isn't celibacy for priests the better way?
In 1 Corinthians 7:8 the Apostle Paul urges the unmarried and widows to "remain single". But this advice is not just for those who are ordained to the priesthood - it is given to everyone. A bit later in that same chapter (v 17), however, the Apostle further teaches that "each person (should) lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him." The Church recognizes that a man can be called to serve his wife in the role of husband and the Church in the role of priest.
So, can a priest who is single get married?
No. A married man can be ordained to the priesthood, but once ordained to the deaconate or higher a single man may not then take a wife.
A brother asked Abba Isidore the priest, "Why are the demons so frightened of you?" The old man said to him, "Because, ever since the day I began practicing ascesis, I have striven to prevent anger from reaching my lips."
The Desert Fathers