Category Archives: Eastern Church

Father Taft: we need a new ecclesiology –a startling revolution– Catholics are the no longer the only kids on the block

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It is said that “The Eastern Churches have a special vocation in the contemporary world, which is both distinct from, and complementary to, that of the Western Church. Pope John Paul saw it thus, but he was not the only one. The language of the ‘two lungs’ of the Church suggests that the Church’s activity in the world is much diminished when one of the lungs is operating at a reduced capacity – which it certainly is if it is not fully being what it is meant to be.”

A vocation to serve the Churches, East and West, has been radically lived by a New England Province Jesuit priest, Robert F. Taft, for nearly a half-century. Christopher B. Warner published a terrific interview in the Catholic World Report, “Building Bridges Between Orthodox and Catholic Christians” is required reading to get a sense of the Church’s teaching and life.

Father Taft was a professor of mine, and he remains an inspiration and mentor.

Popes of Rome and Alexandria meet: Francis and Tawadros

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A rare meeting between two Popes, that is, between the Patriarch of the West and the Patriarch of Alexandria happened earlier today in Rome when Pope Francis received Pope Tawadros of Alexandria, who heads the largest Christian Church in the Middle East. The first meeting between the two churches happened 40 years ago to the day with the Servant of God Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III; at that meeting a Christological agreement was signed and a hope expressed to find a path to unity. Tawadros is on his first pilgrimage outside of Egypt since becoming the head of the Coptic Church in November. He is in Italy for 5 days. 

Pope Tawadros proposed that 10 May each year should be marked as a day of celebration between the two churches. He also invited Francis to visit his Church, founded by Saint Mark the Evangelist around the middle of the First century.

Here is Pope Francis’ address:

For me it is a great joy and a truly graced moment to be able to receive all of you here, at the tomb of Saint Peter, as we recall that historic meeting forty years ago between our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and the late Pope Shenouda III, in an embrace of peace and fraternity, after centuries of mutual distrust. So it is with deep affection that I welcome Your Holiness and the distinguished members of your delegation, and I thank you for your words. Through you, I extend my cordial greetings in the Lord to the bishops, the clergy, the monks and the whole Coptic Orthodox Church.

Today’s visit strengthens the bonds of friendship and brotherhood that already exist between the See of Peter and the See of Mark, heir to an inestimable heritage of martyrs, theologians, holy monks and faithful disciples of Christ, who have borne witness to the Gospel from generation to generation, often in situations of great adversity.

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Holy Saturday from an Orthodox perspective

Holy Saturday is one of the mis-understood days the sacred Triduum. As a church body, we just don’t have a firm  grasp of what Mother Church has to say and experience. Several theologians, for example, Popes John Paul and Benedict, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Richard John Neuhaus have all tried to focus our attention on what God has done for us on Holy Saturday. Father Alexander Schmemann, an orthodox liturgical theologian and priest, is one of my favorite liturgical authors. Sadly, he died of cancer many years ago, but his work continues to bear much fruit, as I hope you will appreciate by reading the following entry. Since today is Holy Saturday for the Orthodox Church, I am offering for our meditation (a review?) the events of our salvation.

Great and Holy Saturday is the day on which Christ reposed in the tomb. The Church calls this day the Blessed Sabbath.

“The great Moses mystically foreshadowed this day when he said:

God blessed the seventh day.

This is the blessed Sabbath

This is the day of rest,

on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works….” (Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday)

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By using this title the Church links Holy Saturday with the creative act of God. In the initial account of creation as found in the Book of Genesis, God made man in His own image and likeness. To be truly himself, man was to live in constant communion with the source and dynamic power of that image: God. Man fell from God. Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.


Holy Saturday is a neglected day in parish life. Few people attend the Services. Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day–Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another–Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.

In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death that Christ continues to effect triumph.

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New Haven Orthodox Christians celebrate Pascha

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The beauty and triumph of the Lord Jesus over death by His own death on the cross and subsequent resurrection from the dead is sadly celebrated by Christians on different dates. The divisions are scandalous. Western Christians had Easter on March 31, and Orthodox Christians will have their Easter, or Pascha, tonight. I hope, one day soon, all Christians can witness to the Lord’s resurrection on the same day. As Jesus said, ‘that they be one.”

In the meantime, New Haven’s Greek Orthodox community is small yet lively at Saint Basil’s Church. Connecticut has a rich history of Eastern Christianity, one that still needs to be told and appreciated. Ed Stannard of The New Haven Register wrote a story on the festivity and hope of Saint Basil’s.
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Why Christians need Antioch

These weeks we are hearing the narrative of the very early followers of The Way, that is, those who adhere to the Good News taught by Jesus, the crucified and risen one.


With the killing of the deacon while kidnapping the two bishops in Syria has me concerned about Christians losing the sensitivity to the importance of Syria as a key Christian center. Most Western Christians forget that our Christians origins in the West  was first formed in the East. Recall from Acts that “it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.” It was in Antioch, not in Rome, not in Moscow, not in Constantinople, that the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth were first generated by the Holy Spirit, they were called by name. It’s not West OR East, but West AND East when comes to Christian faith. Does Antioch have any resonance with you Christians? Do you have any concern for our Christian heritage in Syria? What’s our concern for those being killed for being Christian today? Do we even care? Remember: God has created each of us to do Him some definite service; let us live and work in charity for our neighbor.

A famous Antiochian saint, the bishop Ignatius said this in his letter to the Magnesians, “It is right, therefore, that we not just be called Christians, but that we actually be Christians” (4.1).

Too often do I hear that it was much easier to be a Christian of the early years following the Ascension of the Lord and the Pentecost than today. That’s a crazy idea! First of all, no one who knows history can hold that idea as valid. Those who really and truly followed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Messiah and Word made flesh, were harassed and/or killed. The Acts of the Apostles testifies to the fact that Jesus’ followers were killed. There is little difference with state of Christianity in AD 13 than in 2013. So what happened to the Christians in the 1st century is no different than what the dictatorship in Syria is doing now.

So, we can’t allow Syria to further unravel and act contrary to faith and reason. We need to remember that Antioch is crucial to our Christian identity today because our faith in the Lord is no less real, no less beautiful, no less controversial today than in previous eras. It is in Antioch (Syria) that we our Christian identity (belief, liturgy, church tradition, music, science and culture) was formed. Antioch (that is, Syria in general) and the people who live there  is the place where and the community where we’ve learned the horizons of our Hope in what Jesus promised.

A preacher whom I like very much is the Very Reverend Denis Robinson, OSB, the president-rector of Saint Meinrad School of Theology. Dom Denis is a  Benedictine monk and priest who teaches systematic theology. In 2007, he earned a doctorate in theology specially in the work of Blessed John Henry Newman from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. Recently, he said,

As long as we keep stored up in ourselves the well-rehearsed scripts of indifference, ineptitude, pain, doubt, self-loathing. As long as we think we know the answers, after all that’s what mamma said, until we see that the world is more complicated than the truth we learned at our mother’s knee Brothers and sisters, there is one thing and one thing only that we need. We need Antioch. We need that identity. We need Antioch because we must learn to call ourselves something other than forsaken. We need Antioch. We need to learn to love rather than judge, to give rather than take, to provide for one another rather than constantly seeking the self, the damn self that will be truly damned if we cannot give ourselves over to Christ, all to Christ, fully to Christ, forever to Christ. Where will it be? Where will it be then? If not in Antioch, where will it be? Brothers and sisters we continue to revel in this Easter season knowing I hope full well that the complex completeness of Easter did not come on that solemn night of proclamation. Antioch beckons us in the name of towns and places as yet unseen, unknown, unexplored. And we respond full of hope that the fullness of Easter is still rushing in.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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