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Catholic AND Orthodox?

by: Mothers Barb Martzall and Myrella LeClair

What does it mean to blend the Western Church and the Eastern Church into one Church? In other words, what does it mean to be both Catholic and Orthodox. Basically it means to review the liturgies, canons, and the spiritual and religious practices of both Churches and then decide which are essential (Sacraments, etc.) and desired. Then you take the essentials and the desired practices and incorporate them into one Church. That Church is neither fully Western nor fully Eastern. It means that the blended Church is very sensitive to the people to whom it ministers, so as to meet the spiritual and religious needs of the "Body of Christ" who constitute that Church.

Following are some examples. The priest is ministering to people who have come from the Roman Catholic Church. That priest realizes that the people love the Mass even though they may not be able to attend a Roman Catholic Church. A Mass/Liturgy is prepared that has the flavor of the Roman Mass but may incorporates a few prayers from an Orthodox Liturgy. It is important that the priest teaches the people about what changes where made and why. It could mean that a church jurisdiction might have several different Masses/Liturgies depending on the communities that are being ministered to.

Let's look at another example for a moment. Bishop Charles is trained in the Western Church both as clergy and monastic. He ministers to many people who are basically from the Roman Catholic Church. His Mass/Liturgy would be predominantly Western. With us being incardinated into the Church, there are now two monastics, who vest as eastern monastics when not celebrating Mass/Liturgy but vest in Western vestments when celebrating Mass. Why you would ask? Both of us come from a Roman Catholic Church background; so, a western Mass/Liturgy is very comfortable for us. We have chosen to be monastic in the eastern tradition since it offers more spiritual freedom. We are not tied to a particular Rule (Franciscan, Benedictine, etc.), which requires that certain prayers and spiritual readings (such as the Divine Office) be done at a certain time in a certain way. Instead, we usually pray at least three times a day and spend time reading various spiritual materials.

In talking with Bishop Charles when we came to the church, his dream is to have a blending of the eastern and western. Taking from both that which works and discarding what does not. To be a truly unique as a Church! That was wonderful to hear since that is basically what we are doing already!!! What we want you to know is that with our coming into the church is not to cause any concern that things are going to radically change. What you have as a church will remain so long as it is what you as the congregation want. What possibly could be changing is that there may be some people who are like us (Western in practice but Eastern in tradition) who may be drawn to your church just as we were. We want you to feel free to ask questions and learn just as we will be doing with you. Yes, change is fearful, but being open and seeking answers always helps build unity.

So, as we walk the spiritual pathway together, always feel free to ask questions. It is the way we will get to know one another. We will do our best to answer all of your questions. We thank you for your prayers on our behalf. Please know that we hold all of the members of Our Lady of Peace in our daily prayers. You are family to us! We look forward to the time when we will be able to visit with you and worship with you.

From Mother Barb:

I remember a weekend I spent in Maine attending a consecration of an independent Orthodox-Catholic cathedral there. The congregation was western to the point that they used the Roman Catholic Mass. I was very comfortable at Mass and could even pray most of the Mass from memory. Since I was not celebrating, I was in my Eastern monastic vestments. I most likely looked very strange to that congregation. I could just see the wheels turning in their minds. After Mass, I took off my monastic vestments and wore a pair of black cargo pants and a black tee shirt. I call the black pants and tee shirt my leisure monastic vestments, which I often wear when attending an informal reception and want to "blend in" more with the attendees! I have to admit my monastic vestments elicited many questions, but I have always made it a practice to be open to questions and take the time to teach. The people completely accepted me even though they teased me about not really knowing on which side of the Liturgical line I was standing on given I am western for Liturgy and eastern for monasticism. And you know what, they are right and I admit it openly….I love both churches and thus they make up who I am liturgically! To put is simply, I straddle the Liturgical line!

As you are aware, when Bishop Charles announced that Mother Myrella and I had joined the Ohio Orthodox Catholic Church, you were given a title for me that you were not familiar with. I use my monastic title when talking with other monastics, when attending a function in my monastic vestments, and sometimes when I am writing, but usually I just go by Mother. But let me explain my title to you so you have an understanding. Hieroschemamonk is a very long word but let's break it down into its three core pieces. Hiero schema monk……Hiero means ordained; Schema refers to my monastic rank - which is the highest monastic rank possible in Eastern Orthodox Church; Monk -- you know what a monk is, but did you know that in Greek it is a neuter free term! Only the monastic rank is used within the monastic title when the person is a Schema monk. Mother Myrella's monastic title is hieromonk. And now you can figure out what that means. You will not usually catch her using her monastic title. Both of us actually are just as happy if you call us by our first names.

Yes, you will start seeing some "strange" dress/vestments that you have not seen before. Don't be worried as that does not mean a change for you. It just means that the community that the particular priest ministers to desires this style of vestments. A Church can become very successful just by trying to minister to the people in the manner they are comfortable.

From Mother Myrella:

My journey to joining an Orthodox Catholic Church began after my mentor, a bishop in one of the first Independent Catholic Churches, was murdered. At the time, I was studying for the priesthood, and our new bishop decided that he would no longer allow women to study for the priesthood -- or to even be altar servers! When I was accepted into my new Church, I was very fearful that I would have to give up all of the saints, feast days, and prayers that I knew and loved. I was relieved to discover that I did not have to. I learned about new saints and different religious practices. At some point, I realized just how much the wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers had affected me, and that is why I am a monastic in the Eastern tradition. Yet, I prefer a Western liturgy. Like Mother Barb, I can blend East and West. I do not believe that either one holds more Truth than the other one. East and West are simply two different paths to the same God.