The Eastern Catholic equivalent to Roman Catholic liturgical abuse is the issue of ‘Latinisation’. Those of you who are of the Eastern Tradition will understand what I mean, but for those of you reading this from a Latin (or Roman, or Western) perspective, it is important to understand that this is no insult to the venerable Latin Tradition. It is merely to say that what properly belongs to one Church’s life should not be co-opted by the other in what ends up being a pale imitation of the other’s practice. Examples of this would be Eastern Christians doing Stations of the Cross in Lent, or saying the Rosary in public, or using Western-style hymns. There is obviously no problem with any of these forms of worship in their own right, but when taken on by Christians of an ancient, apostolic Rite who have their own beautiful, noble, and profoundly meaningful, forms, they are not only pointless, but can even be destructive.
There was a time when Eastern Catholic Churches lived on the defensive. In many parts of the world, they were viewed with suspicion – often by the very hierarchs (read: Roman Catholic bishops) that should have been caring for, and encouraging, them. As a result, in certain jurisdictions, Eastern parishes sometimes went out of the way to look as ‘Roman’ as possible, lest they be thought of as less than loyal to the See of Peter. The consequences of this can still be seen today, in some of the Ukrainian parishes in Western Canada for example, where they are hardly distinguishable from post-Vatican II Roman Catholic parishes, save for the embroidered cloths draped over the Western holy pictures, or the ‘strange’ (if incomplete) vestments worn by the priest. Ironically, though, these parishes still don’t look enough like standard Roman Catholic parishes to dispel the suspicion, yet neither do they look anything like the Orthodox churches they are supposed to be. Instead, they end up representing a sort of liturgical limbo.
Now, that this unfortunate situation in some places persists, presents a pastoral challenge to be worked through by means of continuous education of the clergy, better catechesis for the faithful, and more loving and observant celebration of the liturgical life everywhere. But when it rears its head afresh in parishes where the priest and people should know better, what we have is either a flagrant disregard for Church Tradition and authority, or it is wilful ignorance; neither of which is virtuous or desirable.
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.
If a Latin Catholic wanted to use the Jesus Prayer, a chotki, and icons on a personal basis, it could well be for the benefit of his or her spiritual life. Likewise a Greek who found the rosary helpful. But if those same individuals became increasingly immersed in their appropriated practices, it would only make sense for them to begin worshipping within a community that prayed likewise. If, instead, they were to suggest that their personal devotions should become publicly-celebrated features of their native communities, this would be true neither to those communities nor the devotions. It would be tantamount to bringing a hockey puck to a football match. The is nothing wrong with either hockey or football, of course, and if a boy wants to practice the one as a player of the other, then it is his prerogative to do so. Likewise if he wants to change sports altogether. On the other hand, if that same boy wants to import the equipment or the rules of one sport to the other, then he won’t end up playing either.
The Eastern Churches need to be faithful to their inheritance, as the Latin Church needs to be faithful to hers. There is scope on the part of both East and West to take account of the other, but this does not and should not entail any syncretism or confusion. Let the rosary be prayed, but let it be done by those whose vocation it is. Meanwhile, let those of us of the East boldly manifest the beauty and mystery that is genuinely ours, and so be true to our vocation.