Concerning the world of CNEWA
by Chorbishop John D. Faris
Sheep and shepherds are not part of the common experience of most of us, but images of both pepper the teachings of Jesus. When he took note of the weary crowds following him, he compared them to sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36-37). Predicting his own death, Jesus dreaded that his disciples would be scattered like sheep without a shepherd (Mk 14:37). And lastly, Jesus held up the example of the ideal shepherd as one who would go in search of the one lost sheep (Mt 18:12-14).
This image of scattered sheep lacking a shepherd accurately describes the situation
of hundreds of thousands of faithful belonging to the Eastern churches — Catholic and non-
Catholic — who have emigrated from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Northeast Africa and southwest India since the middle of the 19th century and settled in any country that will receive them; most now live in the Americas and Australia.
Specifically for Eastern Catholics, what have their shepherds done to help these faithful preserve their faith in and worship of God according to their own spiritual traditions? Before we can answer this, a little information will be helpful.
Eastern churches. What is meant by the term, Eastern church? It no longer has any geographic connotations, but refers to the origins of a family of churches in the Eastern Roman Empire.
Christianity arose in one of the largest political entities in history, the Roman Empire — a territory that today covers approximately 40 nations.
In a process that stabilized at the end of the fourth century, the Roman emperors divided the empire. Rome, the ancient and formerly pagan capital, became the center of the Western Empire. The newly established Christian city of Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Empire. The Western Roman Empire, besieged by barbarian tribes, collapsed in 476. The Eastern Roman Empire (posthumously referred to as Byzantine by a 16th-century historian) lasted for almost another thousand years.
The true beauty of the Good News is that it can be transplanted from its original home in Jerusalem and take root and flourish in a variety of cultures. Rome, the site of the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul, evangelized Western Europe and the lands colonized by them. In the East, three major cities of the Eastern Roman Empire were centers of Christian evangelization: Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople. Not confining itself to the Roman imperial boundaries, Christianity had established itself in Armenia, Ethiopia, India, Mongolia and Persia by the sixth century.
The prestige and influence of the bishops of these three cities overshadowed bishops in the surrounding territories. The title patriarch began to be applied informally to the bishops of these cities. Without using the term patriarch, the authority of these bishops was given official recognition at the first ecumenical council, held in Nicaea (known as Iznik in modern Turkey) in 325. Eventually, the governance of the church by the five patriarchs of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, though not recognized officially by Rome, was generally accepted as the standard arrangement in the East.
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