Bishop Kurt R. Burnette of the Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic, N.J.

Breathing with Both Lungs

Eastern Churches bring beautiful diversity to our Catholic faith

Comments Off on Breathing with Both Lungs

I think it’s fair to say that many, if not most, Latin-rite deacons are woefully ignorant of their Eastern brothers. Much of this unfamiliarity is understandable, as we rarely cross paths. This, coupled with the fact that they consist of 23 self-governing Churches in communion with Rome, confuses many Latin-rite deacons leading some, rather erroneously, to identify Eastern Catholics with their Orthodox equivalent.

In his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Pope St. John Paul II describes the unity of the Church, saying, “The Church must breathe with her two lungs!” Here, he speaks of the mutual interdependence and healthy tension that should exist between the East and West so that the Church, as a whole, fully can benefit and her mission become more effective.

Last fall, I had the privilege of participating in the first Eastern Catholic Deacon Conference held in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Sponsored by the Eastern Catholic Association, the gathering was comprised of permanent deacons, their wives, candidates, minor clergy, deacon directors and protodeacons across the United States. The event was hosted by the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, represented by Bishop Kurt Burnette.

The schedule for the four-day event was packed with speakers from various Eastern Churches, along with a couple of Latin-rite contributors. The various styles of clerical dress among the participants reflected the rich cultural and traditional diversity that is the Catholic Church. Such a diversity would suggest that many of the talks would be somewhat new to a Latin deacon. While there was some truth to this in terms of expression, the substance was quite familiar, as it was all profoundly Catholic. I found myself a Western fish in an Eastern pond that was, at its core, the same as my pond or, better, a different part of the same pond.

The unified diversity found within the Catholic Church is unparalleled in the history of the world. Not only is this diversity expressed in the various liturgical rites and revealed within the many ecclesial traditions, they proclaim and celebrate the same truth, the same faith and, in the end, the very same God.

Nowhere is this diversity more beautifully expressed than in our worship. Whether it’s one of the Latin or the many Eastern rites, these liturgical expressions all reveal the same reality, allow for participation in the same Paschal Mystery and enable us to share in the same Real Presence. This diversity enables the Church to focus on different aspects of our faith, creating a healthy tension so that Catholicism cannot be reduced to one of its many Churches. Only together, like the voices of a well-trained choir, do they come together to create a beautiful harmony that alone they cannot.

Because this complementarity exists within the Church for the good of the Church, it likewise should be reflected in her many parts, including the diaconate. Recognizing this, it was important in rebooting Deacon Digest that the publication always have an Eastern influence. To ensure this impact in every edition, we have established a regular column called “Light from the East,” taken from Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 apostolic letter by the same name. With regular contributors like Father Deacon Daniel Dozier, Father Deacon Basil Balke and others, it is hoped that the restored diaconate, too, can breathe with both lungs. This will enable the Church to benefit from her own richness and allow her mission to become more effective.

DEACON DOMINIC CERRATO, Ph.D., is editor of Deacon Digest and the director of Diaconal Formation for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois. He is founder of Diaconal Ministries, where he gives national presentations and retreats to deacons and diaconal candidates. Follow him on Facebook to continue the conversation.

Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe now.
Send feedback to us at