Eastern Catholics

[Ancient Faith Radio; July 31, 2008]

FMG: Today I am at the Sheptytsky Institute Study Days at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Ontaria, Canada. This is the Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky Institute for Eastern Christian Studies, and I’m talking to the director of the Institute here, Fr. Stephen—can you pronounce your last name, please?

Fr. Stephen Wojcichowsky: It’s Wah-juh-kow-skee.

FMG: Tell me a little bit about the Institute and about the Study Days. What are we doing here?

Fr. SW: This is our first ever attempt at pulling together people from both academic and non-academic backgrounds so we can have what we call an Eastern Christian feast for the heart and mind. And we have with us very special guests, in the persons of Fr. Thomas Hopko, Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green, and our own fathers Peter Galadza and Andrei Chirovsky, along with quite a number of Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox workshop leaders as well. And our hope is, first of all, to bring the two communities together so that we can study and pray together. We have matins, liturgy and vespers where we do pray together, and to be able to look at our faith from a perspective of living in this world, embracing the need to engage with the world, and to be able to be witnesses of Christ’s light to the world.

FMG: It’s a very wonderful vision, and of course, one that Orthodox Christians very much share. I was surprised to learn yesterday that this is the only eastern Catholic institution in North America, is that right? I mean, learning institution.

Fr. SW: It would be correct to say that its Eastern Catholic roots have gone into the organization of it. We are part of a very interesting university structure, in that Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, those four groups, figure very strongly in the makeup of our faculty of theology. And I would think that that’s a very unique setup in North America. Our own institute has roots in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and so we do put a particular emphasis on the Kievan Tradition, but at the same time, because we do call ourselves an institute of Eastern Christian studies, we are open to all Eastern Christians, and those who would like to learn about Eastern Christianity and have it inform their faith as well.

FMG: And I think there is not an Eastern Catholic seminary, is there? This would be the closest place a person could come to be formed in the Eastern, rather than Latin, tradition.

Fr. SW: Well, we do have a seminary, but that seminary doesn’t teach courses. It is here in Ottawa, and that seminary is for all of Canada. And the seminarians come to our institute to get their academic training. And when I say academic training, you’re of course looking at it from an Eastern Christian perspective, that means with pastoral and spiritual sensitivity.

FMG: As far as I’ve been able to see, the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics who are here at the conference these last few days- they’re so much alike. It seems to be the same spirituality. It looks as if Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox clergy in Ottawa are very friendly and very supportive of each other. Do you find that to be the case?

Fr. SW: Absolutely. In fact, I don’t know if I can say this right here… If it weren’t for our connection with the Antiochian Orthodox parish here in town, you, Khouria Frederica, would not be with us today.

FMG: They’re very generous, Fr. Gattas paid my way here.

Fr. SW: So, we work together. We educate Orthodox students, as well. In fact, the very first person to have gained a doctorate here is now a priest in the Orthodox Church serving in the province of Saskatchewan.

FMG: Do you find there are things that your Orthodox brothers understand that maybe your Latin or Roman Catholic brothers do not?

Fr. SW: Absolutely. In fact, because we share the same sources of the faith, our understanding is virtually identical, and as I mentioned to Fr. Thomas Hopko who was here with us: “Father, what I heard in your talk was a message to our Roman Catholic brothers from a neighboring position. We say the same things from within that same communion to our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.”

FMG: That’s very beautiful and very important. I guess that one of the differences that I as an Orthodox person sees between Eastern and Western views, has to do with the idea of salvation as having to do with Christ’s merit, paying the atonement price to God. And I think that- this may be ignorant but it’s just something that occurs to me- it seems like in our Eastern Tradition there really isn’t an idea that God the Father has to be paid at all. It seems to me a very profound difference between Eastern and Western Christianity. As we see it, our Father just forgives us, as in the story of the Prodigal Son. Do you think I’m accurate? You’re the theologian, and I’m not, so tell me what you think.

Fr. SW: Well, it’s interesting that you say that because I’m not a theologian. However, it’s important to say that Eastern Catholics hold the same theology as Eastern Orthodox about all dogmatic questions. I’d like to come to the, I don’t want to call it a defense of our Roman Catholic brothers, but more an attempt to explain our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. They did go through a particular development in their theology that was meant to meet the exigencies of their time. And since the second Vatican council, they too are going back to the roots of the faith as it developed in the first thousand years of the church. And I think you’d be hard pressed to take that interpretation of salvation and be able to say, “And that represents the entire Roman Catholic World.”

FMG: Because there’s been a real recovery—back to the fount, to the springs, to rediscover what the early church believed. And that’s very encouraging and very beautiful.

Fr. SW: In fact, many of the authors that both Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics study are Roman Catholic Patristics scholars. Both just prior to the second Vatican Council, and after the second Vatican Council. People like Danielou and von Baltasar have brought the fathers to life for everyone in the Church.

FMG: That’s wonderful. This morning I came to the liturgy, and I realized once I got there, as I’d prepared and I’d fasted, and I’d said the prayers, that I wasn’t sure if this was a Catholic or an Orthodox liturgy. And I kept watching and it was hard to tell. It was wonderful to see how very much it is like ours, the hymns, the devotion, just the beautiful feeling in the room, it was indistinguishable from an Orthodox service. So I thought, maybe they’ll cross themselves backwards. But no, that was the same. So I just kept listening and looking for hints, but finally I had to ask somebody. So, it felt to me like the same faith and that’s a wonderful thing, to feel that fellowship.

Fr. SW: First of all, thank you for saying that. One of our goals is to be able to recover the spirit of Eastern Christian worship as it developed throughout the centuries in the Eastern Christian world. There’s no question that many of us, myself included, had many Latin influences, growing up, in terms of our liturgical life.

FMG: You grew up Ukrainian Catholic?

Fr. SW: I did. I grew up Ukrainian Catholic and it’s a matter of fact that much of our worship had been laden with Latin elements. But over the course of time, and thanks to our great leadership in our church, we have learned where we have come from. I like the way one of our patriarchs put it, he said “We are Orthodox in Faith and Catholic in love.” In the sense that we are in full communion with the Church in Rome, but at the same time, our faith, our liturgy, the whole ethos of our church is Orthodox. And one priest in Ukraine I asked, “What do you call our church over here?” I was thinking of something else, but he came back and said, “Oh, that’s a very straightforward thing. We’re the Catholic Orthodox. They’re the Orthodox, and we’re the Catholic Orthodox.” And I thought, that really does explain who we are.

FMG: So you really stand facing both directions. You have a witness to the Orthodox and a witness to the Latin Catholics.

Fr. SW: That’s a very good way of putting it. Thank you.

FMG: Thank you, thanks for making we welcome here. It’s really been a delightful conference. Hope we get to do it again sometime.

Fr. SW: So do I. Thank you.

About Frederica Matthewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.