March 18, 2022

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Let us pray for churches tied to ongoing Ukraine struggle

Fr. Rick GintherSadly, Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

When this column is published, a cease-fire may or may not have taken place.

And while this is a political and military struggle, it is intertwined religiously.

There are two Orthodox Churches in Ukraine—the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (affiliated with the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople), and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (affiliated with the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow).

Each quickly made statements of support for Ukraine when the invasion began. Yet they are divided deeply and historically, holding each other in schism.

There are also Ukrainian Greek Catholics and Ukrainian Latin Catholics. They are in communion with Rome. Their existence adds a unique tension of its own.

We join all these Churches as they pray for their country and fellow citizens. And we pray for a sense of unity toward peace.

The Autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches are quite varied.

The term “autocephalous” means that these Churches each appoints its own head. No external patriarch or archbishop is involved.

Each Church has its own patriarch. All patriarchs are equal, with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople “the first among equals.”

Counted among the Eastern Orthodox Churches are Greek Orthodox Churches named for ancient Christian communities: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

National or language-based Eastern Orthodox Churches include: Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Georgian, Polish, Albanian, Czech and Slovak.

In addition, there are the Orthodox Church in America, the Church of Cyprus and the Church of Greece.

Their origins are very complex, emerging during the past 2,000 years. Membership in these Churches totals 220 million worldwide.

The contemporary languages used to celebrate the liturgical rites include Polish, Greek, Albanian and Ukrainian.

Many of the Churches use Old Church Slavonic or Liturgical Greek in their liturgical worship. These are languages specific to liturgy, and not commonly spoken.

I noted earlier the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. It is one of many Eastern Catholic Churches.

They, too, have varied origins from ancient to more modern. They have unique liturgical languages and national footprints. Many of them share in the Byzantine Rite, though some are older in their rite’s origin.

They are grouped as follows:

  • Churches with no Orthodox Counterpart: Maronite Catholic and Italo-Albanian Catholic.
  • Those from the Assyrian Church of the East: Chaldean Catholic and Syro-Malabar Catholic (India).
  • Those from the Oriental Orthodox Churches: Armenian Catholic, Coptic Catholic, Ethiopian Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Syro-Malankara Catholic, and Eritrean Catholic.
  • Those from the Eastern Orthodox Church are the Greek Catholics of the Melkite Church, Ukrainian Greek Church, Ruthenian Church, Romanian Church, Hellenic Greek Church, Slovak Church and Hungarian Church.

All these Catholic churches are in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Their full communion denotes that mutual sacramental sharing exists between each of them and Latin Rite Catholics.

They are distinct theologically, liturgically and historically from the Latin Church. Many of them were at one point separated from Rome, but over the years returned.

The Holy Father confirms their bishops upon their election. Their patriarchs are not subject to such papal approval.

There are five unique liturgical traditions shared among these Churches: Alexandrian Rite, Armenian Rite, Byzantine Rite, East Syriac Rite and West Syriac Rite.

In the territory of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, there are parishes affiliated with both Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Of note among these is St. Athanasius the Great Byzantine Catholic Church in Indianapolis.

Let us pray for all of these Churches. Let us pray for peace among them, and for peace in Ukraine.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs. He is also the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Indianapolis.)

Local site Links: