When East Meets West…

“…there’s gonna be one hell of a mess.” (Warlock, led by Doro Pesch [1987])

When you hear the word “Catholic,” you most likely think of the Roman (or Western) Catholic Church, headed by Pope Francis in Rome. However, there is also a much smaller segment of the Catholic Church known as the Eastern Rite, whose traditions are flavored with the cultures of the Ukraine, Armenia, Greece, and many other countries, depending on which branch of the Eastern Church you adhere to or visit. The Eastern Church is still led by Pope Francis, but its bishops are different from Roman bishops, and when you walk into an Eastern service, you wonder if you’re even in a Catholic parish at all. The closest thing to compare it to would be an Orthodox service (which I haven’t been to, but that’s what I’ve heard).

My husband has been having a dalliance with the Eastern Church recently, so this past Saturday, we went an afternoon Divine Liturgy (the equivalent of the Mass in the Roman Church). My first (completely honest) impression of the church building itself was that it looked like a ghetto daycare. Some old-looking jungle gyms had been set up out back, and the building looked like it could use a new coat of paint. My second impression was that the interior smelled like cucumbers and incense, and the latter scent only increased as the priest swung his censer all throughout the service. The Eastern Church in general is a tiny community, comprising only about 1.5% of the entire Catholic Church worldwide. Here in North Carolina, the Eastern Church is even tinier. I doubt 50 people would have fit comfortably in the church we visited.

I enjoyed the first homily, which was given by the deacon. He wasn’t afraid to state the absolute truths of the Catholic faith in black and white, something you don’t often encounter in Roman Catholic churches nowadays. I felt like standing up and screaming, “Amen, brother!” at certain points as if I was at a Southern Baptist church, but I was already standing up and trying to keep a handle on my squirming child, who desperately wanted to get down and flail on the floor in his recent attempts to crawl. Instead, he settled for making goo-goo eyes at the baby next to us.

The second homily (apparently not a common occurrence) was given by the priest. He spoke about the Pan-Amazonian Synod that will be held in October. Again, I agreed with his opinion and was glad that he stated it because, again, personal opinion and overt statements of the truth are not frequently heard in the Roman Church, which is a terrible shame. I mean, come on. If you believe that truth is truth, say it. (This is a rant for another time.)

What I didn’t like was that the entire Divine Liturgy, except the homilies, was sung in what I found to be an atonal drone. I nearly fell asleep, and as a result, I didn’t get much out of the service and couldn’t focus (although this may have been partially due to my son’s attempts to wriggle out of my grasp). As I mentioned before, there were so many differences between Eastern and Western Catholic worship that it would take a long time to get used to. Even the saints the East venerates differ from Western saints, and not as much emphasis is placed on the Rosary, which made me sad.

It was a nice visit, but I doubt I return anytime soon. I’m a Roman Catholic through and through. I’m Italian and German. My roots are with Rome. My culture is with Rome. It was nice to try another flavor, but I did not find it to my liking (although I sincerely wish Roman Catholic priests would speak out about Catholicism’s beautiful truths more often).