Sunday, December 23, 2007

Comparative Religion – Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity

I have the unique honor of being immersed in two apostolic Christian traditions: Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. During most of my life I have attended daily mass. Because I live and work in close proximity to a few parishes, I attend daily mass according to the available mass and liturgy schedule. The liturgical rites that I attend are Latin, Byzantine and Maronite, all distinct but equally beautiful liturgies. I have served as an acolyte since I was about twelve years old. I taught catechism to children preparing to receive the sacrament of First Communion and Confirmation as well as Baptism classes to parents and Godparents. Being of Hispanic culture, Catholic tradition has been an intimate part of my daily life. The part that is often difficult to explain to others is the fact that I am also an Orthodox Christian. I am an altar server and cantor during the Sunday liturgy at an Orthodox Church that is of the Ukrainian tradition. And on Saturdays I attend liturgy at a Coptic Orthodox Monastery in the desert. Because of this unique and diverse liturgical experience, I have the right and privilege to expound authoritatively on the subject of comparing and contrasting Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. Because of this experience, I have learned and would like to share here the following topics: First Impressions, Church Architecture, Liturgy, Contrasts in Essential Beliefs, and Analysis and Conclusion. As documentation, I have included three types of pictures, one serving as an acolyte in the Catholic liturgy, another serving as altar server and cantor in the Ukrainian-Russian Orthodox liturgy and still another at the altar in the Coptic Orthodox Monastery.

First Impressions

Catholicism is the largest branch of Christianity and many more people have had the opportunity of visiting a Catholic Church than they might have had visiting an Orthodox Christian Church. Growing up as a young boy, and after the death of my father, I can remember not going to church. My father was Catholic and my mother an Evangelical Christian. My mother would often coax me into attending church with her, but more often than not, I would stay home. I could remember walking down the street with my father and we would see nuns walking through the neighborhood. I noticed my father’s demeanor change as he would greet the nuns with a reverence such that I had never seen before. I heard him greet one of them and called her “mother”. Even though, I had never seen my father set foot in a church, this event had a profound effect on me. Even as a young boy, I then knew that there was something much more profound and infinite than mere people. Something that would inspire people to walk around in long flowing robes with their heads covered and bowed; and with hands positioned in a way that humility could not be such a silent virtue. This image stayed with me even many years after the death of my father, until one day, I was walking through the neighborhood – this time alone, unaccompanied by my father. Here we were, on a collision coarse – these people with long flowing robes, covered and bowed heads, and hands that were hidden someplace beneath their robes, I could only imagine, positioned in prayer. As we encountered each other, one of the nuns spoke to me. I felt my heart burst with reverence, but I could not understand altogether why. Even though she asked me where I was off to and spoke nothing to me of God, church or spiritual things, this encounter embarked me upon a journey that would last a lifetime. This experience affected me and suddenly I felt myself drawn to something much, much greater than I could ever express. A fire was lit within my heart that I could not exactly explain.

As a result of this, I felt a need to go to church. I would accompany my mother. There were a lot of uplifted hands, tears and smiles. And many of the older women, and sometimes men would start swaying back and forth to the music and suddenly jump up and down, screaming and shouting the name of Jesus. Even though I knew that this was a form of prayer and praise, it frightened me as a young boy. But yet I remembered the nuns who greeted me so serenely and had a profound aura of holiness. I finally made a decision to walk into a Catholic Church. There were many nuns, a community of sisters, all with long flowing robes, bowed and covered heads and hands that one could rarely see. There were many people, but everyone off in their separate pews. People rarely sat in close proximity to one another if it could be helped. Everyone was scattered. During the sign of peace, there were reverent bows of acknowledgements and greetings. But no one touched another. There was the smell of sweet incense that had the power of making that place a holy place. And everyone who walked in or out of the nave of the church would genuflect and kneel before what I knew to be the very presence of God. God is here, that was my realization…God is here in this holy place.

The effect those holy women had upon me, was tremendous. They were my first contact and discovery with my own spirituality. And so began my journey of hunger and thirst for the Lord God of Hosts, a thirst I knew could never be satisfied. That first experience of entering a Catholic Church changed my life and I realized that I was destined to experience a plethora of spiritual encounters, starting with my own baptism at twelve years old. Looking at this on a larger scale, I would theorize that the religious garments of the nuns and their demeanor have the power of evangelizing the world even without words. One is drawn towards seeking holiness upon seeing a nun dressed in her religious habit; and I would venture to say that if it had such a profound effect upon my life, then it is bound to have an affect on many others. If the call of the religious is to pray for and evangelize the world, then this simple act of humility of wearing a habit should be considered and its influence on others should not be underestimated. I recall St. Francis walking through the village with his brothers telling them that they were going to evangelize and spread the good news of Christ. When they returned home without ever speaking a word, his brothers asked him, “Were we not going to evangelize and spread the good news of Christ?” And St. Francis replied, “We just did.” I can see how this action correlates to the words of Jesus and the Apostles when they proclaim that “They will know you are Christians by your love.” I incorporated this into my own life after asking the Lord of Hosts, “What would you have me do?” The answer was, “Just Be. Love and Be.” I knew that the Lord would do the rest. Here I recall the rest of St. Francis’ exhortation, “Go out and preach the gospel…and use words if necessary”.

It is interesting that an Orthodox Christian Church has always been near my home, (as if by Divine intervention) and in very close proximity to the Catholic Church where I would attend mass. My first encounter with the Orthodox Christian Church was as a teenager when after having an argument with my mother, I went down the street to St. Helen & Constantine Greek Orthodox Church; I went to speak to a priest and recount to him my troubles. The first thing I noticed was that they dressed very differently than the Roman Catholic priests. He had a headdress that flowed all the way down his back, almost like a nun, and was dressed in a long, black, flowing robe. He listened to my troubles and then took me to a monastery and invited me to stay there if I wished. I stayed for a little while and then went back home. This was something different for me. Recalling going to confession often in the Catholic Church, my problems and sins were listened to attentively and then I was told to offer prayer to God in repentance. My confessions were always sincere. But the Greek Orthodox priest not only listened to my problem, rather actively intervened to assist me with arriving at a solution. This affected me in an enormous way, being a fatherless youngster seeking guidance.

I did not actually step foot inside an Orthodox Christian Church nave and experience the liturgy until many years later. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and I decided to drive around my old neighborhood where I spent a lot of my youth. There was a church on top of a hill nearby, but I could never figure out how to get there. Today was going to be the day. When I finally discovered the path to the Church, I noticed on the outside of the door the inscription that said, St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church, written in English and in Cyrillic. I walked in. It was like taking a journey from earth to heaven. Upon entering the church, I smelled the familiar smell of incense. But this was sweeter, a heavenly aroma. The priest and the cantors were in a mystifying dialogue of wonderful and beautiful chants. The people were standing at attention, making reverent and profound bows while making the sign of the cross…on many occasions, many of them, much, much more than I had ever seen a Catholic make. And they were making them differently than from what I was used to seeing. They held there fingers in a very pronounced position, the first three fingers grouped together and the smaller fingers resting in the palm of their hand. Being Catholic, the sign of the cross I observed the Orthodox make seemed backwards to me. They touched their right should before the left. The very movement of making the sign of the cross seemed so articulated that I knew that they were silently proclaiming something very important, loudly and clearly. The chanting and singing never stopped during the whole liturgy, a wonderful litany of beautiful harmonic tones. Every voice seemed to carry its own melody, yet every voice was harmony. And I was transported to some heavenly place where only angels would dare to tread. I was overwhelmed by this experience. I knew that I was on holy ground; and the tears began to flow during a wonderful chant of the Beatitudes.

As people would enter the nave of the church, they would make two prostrations before the altar and then kiss the cross and the icon of Jesus that was set on the table before the altar. They would then make a third prostration before the altar and then proceeded to light candles. There were candles and oil lamps all over the place, some hanging before icons, others on the altar, and still dozens that were lit by the faithful on either side of the sanctuary in the front. The whole interaction of the warm glow from the flame of the oil lamps, the sight of the colorful icons, the wonderful sweet smell of the incense, the bells and the beautiful chanted prayers all made me realize that all of a sudden, I was immersed in the presence of God, not just my soul, but my whole being including all of my senses. I was overwhelmed as prayer permeated throughout my soul. My responses were singing and tears. This is a holy place. And here I wanted to stay.

Communion was given from a chalice that contained both wine and fragments of bread. It was administered with a golden spoon to everyone that went to receive communion. The liturgy lasted for three hours. Afterwards, everyone went up to the altar to kiss the cross that was in the priest’s hand and to receive a piece of blessed bread before leaving the church. Many people greeted me, everyone with three kisses, one on one cheek, another on the other, and still a third again on the first cheek…men, women and children, they all gave me kisses. And the tears began to flow. No one had ever kissed me, not even my mother as a child. But here I received more kisses within a few minutes than I had ever received in a lifetime. I felt the warmth and love of Christ. I knew that Jesus was here. These people follow that command of the scriptures to greet one another with a holy kiss. Could this be what the ancient church was like? I already knew the answer. I decided to stay. I needed to know Jesus. I needed to know the Apostles and the Mother of our Lord more deeply. And they were here, in this place…all over the place.

After the liturgy, I went to the priest and asked him if he could hear my confession. He barely spoke English. He spoke Ukrainian, Russian and Church Slavonic but with a wonderful effort to communicate with me, he asked me if I was Catholic, (suspecting that I was not Ukrainian, let alone Orthodox). I told him yes, I am Catholic. He then made it a point to ask me if I was Roman Catholic. I proceeded to declare that I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. He was impressed by my answer and told me to come the next day for Confession and to receive communion. I tried to decipher the reason why it was more important for him to know if I was Roman Catholic as opposed to being just Catholic. I would later discover the reason. But for now, I was in a holy place. Jesus was there. And here I wanted to stay. Since then, I have never left. It is important to me to say that this was not a conversion. It was an inclusion. I have never left. And I am Catholic; I am Orthodox.

A couple of years later, on a Friday afternoon, I ran into a friend of mine who works at a bank. I asked him what he was going to do in the evening. He told me that he was going to go to church. I knew he was Orthodox so I felt comfortable in asking him if I could accompany him to the prayer. We agreed to meet at the Church. I arrived that evening at St Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church. I knew that the Coptic Orthodox Church was a completely different branch of Orthodoxy. It is not part of the Eastern Orthodox Churches; rather, it is part of the Oriental Orthodox Church. It is the church founded by the Apostle Mark in Alexandria. This sparked a desire within me to come to know the ancient history of the church. How did everything start? And how are we all connected? I looked around for my friend; I have never found him even to this day. Nevertheless, I knew that I was on a continuing journey of discovery, a discovery of the mystical Body of Christ. At this church, I received a welcome only fit for a son who has returned home from a long journey. Many people, young and old, came up to me and greeted me with hugs and kisses…(more kisses). I told them that I was looking for my friend. After helping me look around for him and never finding him, they begged me to stay with them. This would be my first time inside a Coptic Orthodox Church. I knew that the Coptic Orthodox Church was the ancient church of Alexandria and celebrated a distinct liturgy from the Greeks. And somehow, this liturgy seemed to be more ancient than all of the other liturgies that I had experienced. This would prove to be enlightening and enriching for me, for I had the opportunity now to see for myself how the church must have developed throughout time and history, through different cultures and languages. Everyone spoke Arabic, but the liturgy was in Coptic. And everyone removed their shoes to pray, especially to receive communion. This reminded me of God’s command to Moses upon Mount Sinai to remove his sandals because he was on holy ground. And even today, these people of Egypt, of the Church of Alexandria, still heed the Lord’s command to remove thy sandals. I was impressed to see how fervent in prayer everyone was, especially the younger people, the ones who were in college. They could have been somewhere else on a Friday evening, but here they were…praying. I was so impressed to witness how much love everyone showed each other. And everyone called each other Habibi, which means beloved. Here, I felt loved. I knew Christ was here. And here I wanted to stay.

I was gradually coming to terms with the fact that the Lord of Hosts was guiding me to something wonderful, a unique task, a mission (so to speak). I have now become immersed in most of the ancient apostolic church traditions which includes the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Constantinople, the Church of Alexandria, the Church of Antioch, and the Church of Jerusalem. I have become aware and feel blessed because of my experiences and knowledge the Lord of Hosts has allowed me. Now I am compelled to share a bit of my story, to be a troubadour singing many verses of one song, the same song, proclaiming One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Church Architecture

Upon entering each of the churches, I immediately noticed a uniqueness and a distinctiveness about each. The exterior of a Roman Catholic Church almost inevitably has a large cross somewhere near the top. And many, if not most, have a bell tower. And most have an image of the Patron Saint of the church, somewhere outside of the church. This image is usually a sculpture according to Roman tradition. Immediately upon entering the church, just inside of the doors, are receptacles of Holy Water. As I enter and dip my fingers into the Holy Water and bless myself with the sign of the cross, I know that in some mystical, mysterious way, my sins are being purged…cleansed, to make me pure to stand in the presence of the Lord of Hosts. And how could this not be so, for this is the very water used in the baptismal font. Upon entering the church, I noticed that the most prominent part of the church was the altar. My attention was immediately drawn to the huge crucifix over the altar, of a suffering Jesus. This moved me with sorrow as I would meditate upon the image of seeing Jesus hanging from a cross. What a horrible death! The whole scene forced me to think that all of this was because of me, a miserable sinner…and because of all sinners, of whom I am the first. Immediately below the crucifix was the tabernacle where the Bread of Life is stored, the very Body and Presence of the Lord of Hosts! I realized that this must be why the church is called Holy; because, God is here. And here, I wanted to stay. I knew that my prayers are heard here. And even though I may not have had any words to pronounce, I knew that just being there was important. I looked upon the Lord of Hosts, and He looked back upon me. It became impossible for me to stay there, conscious of any sin, without falling low and shedding tears…many tears, tears of sorrow and tears repentance. I became a lover of the Blessed Sacrament.

The tabernacle sits prominently above and behind the altar table and has a candle nearby that is always lit. What a fitting throne for the Lord of Hosts! God is here, and here I wanted to stay. This is to whom all our attention is directed upon entering the church. And this is to whom we bend our bodies and souls as we genuflect and kneel before the very presence of the Lord of Hosts. In many churches, the tabernacle has been moved to a side altar or to one that is not even inside the sanctuary. What a mistake! Oh unhappy error to have moved the very presence of the Lord to some place where one’s attention and gaze is less likely to set. What then, makes this place holy if it is not the very presence and watchful eye of the Lord of Hosts?! The Catholic Church should reconsider this.

Within the altar area is the altar table which is long and covered with a white cloth and a candle on either side of the altar that are always lit during mass. As I have entered a great many Catholic churches, I have noticed that in most of the older churches, the pews are positioned so that there is an aisle down the middle of the church and another that goes horizontally near the middle. I noticed that this forms the shape of a cross. This reminds me that the cross is central to our worship and prayer. Along both sides of the walls of the church are the Stations of the Cross. And in the front on the sides of the altar is usually an image of Joseph and Mary on either side.

The appearance of an Orthodox Church is a little different. When I saw the outside of a Russian Orthodox Church for the first time, I was intrigued. There were five steeples, all with crosses on the top of what looked to me like onions (which I later learned that these steeples are actually in the form of flames coming from a lit candle, as prayer rises to heaven). The crosses are different also; they are a normal cross with an extra small bar above the vertical cross bar and another diagonal cross bar slanted downwards at the feet. These represent the sign near the top of the cross that Pontius Pilot put with the inscription “Jesus, the King of the Jews” and the bar below represents where the feet of Jesus rests. It is slanted because the thief that was crucified on the right side of Christ was promised paradise and the one on the left was not. Almost all Orthodox churches are facing towards the east, the direction towards which prayer is offered. Upon seeing this, I knew that this architecture could never have originated anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. It looked too foreign. But it did look to me like a place where people must be called to prayer at least five times a day, I thought. I felt a sense of mystery.

Upon entering the nave of the church, my fingers instinctively sought out the receptacles that held the Holy Water to bless myself with the sign of the cross. Low and behold, to my surprise, no Holy Water at the entrance. At that moment, I felt that I was unworthy to continue my journey inward. How could I enter into the presence of the Lord of Hosts without cleansing my heart at the very entrance?! My gaze immediately searched for the altar and the tabernacle to seek God’s forgiveness. The altar and the Holy of Holies were hidden behind a screen called the Iconostasis that rose about three quarters of the way to the ceiling. And on this screen were many icons on many levels. Jesus, Mary, Angels, Apostles, Patriarchs, and Saints, they all were they. All of them, proclaiming silently that this is a holy place. And at the center of the Iconostasis were the Royal Doors with a closed curtain that hid the presence of the Holy of Holies, the Lord of Hosts. I knew that even though I could not see the altar, that I was in a holy place, too holy for me to see the glory of the Lord of Hosts. I instinctively knelt. For even if I had wanted to remain standing upon entering such a holy place, my knees would not permit me to remain standing. And rightly so, I observed as people entered, they would make two prostrations before the altar that was hidden behind the Iconostasis. They proceeded to kiss the cross that was in the middle of the nave before an icon of Jesus, and after kissing the icon, they made a third prostration. I felt a sense of awe and within my heart of hearts; I knew that this was true worship. My mind drifted to a Catholic Church and wondered how so many people just wandered into the church with no greeting to our Lord of Hosts. They just came in and sat. This was a lesson for me. The holiness of the Lord must be proclaimed to Catholics too.

The nave and the sanctuary of the church were darkened; there was no artificial light, only lit oil lamps, all glowing with a gentle warmth. And there were many, many oil lamps lit, all over the place; many of them hanging from the ceiling, and others hanging before the icons. I felt a warmth in my heart as I experienced this. This holy space was conducive to prayer, especially inward prayer. There was something intensely mystical and wonderfully mysterious about being present here. I thought to myself, they know how to truly worship the Lord of Hosts and stand before His presence in awe and wonder. There was a deep sense of holiness in this place. Jesus is here. I wanted to stay.

There were also thin beeswax candles that were being carried and lit by the people and placed before icons as they made their reverent prostrations before the altar and the icons. I witnessed their devotion and finally found an expression of my own personal devotion to the Lord of Hosts, one of profound reverence and awe. As I continued my inspection of the church, I had almost failed to notice, but it became quite obvious to me moments later, that there were no pews! Everyone was standing at attention, making those profound bows and prostrations upon making the sign of the cross throughout the prayers. I realize now where I had experienced this feeling of awe and wonder beforehand. It was a similar feeling I felt when I encountered the nuns. Those holy women with heads covered and bowed, with hands that were hidden in prayer, were the very ones that had inspired my journey in the search for holiness. Now I see this same demeanor in the people here. I felt honored to the Lord of Hosts for allowing me to witness and be present in this holy space. He was teaching me how to be holy.

There were ornate handmade carpets all over the floor overlapping each other, the kind that look like that they would fly away if the Lord of Hosts were to beckon them. At intervals the priest would open the curtain of the sanctuary during his litanies and prayers. And there I saw, the Holy of Holies, the tabernacle that housed the very presence of the Lord, the Lamb of God. Within this tabernacle, sitting directly on the altar in its rightful prominent place, is not only the consecrated bread, rather the consecrated bread soaked in the consecrated wine…the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God slain for our sins.

There were no Stations of the Cross as in a Catholic Church and no statues to be found. But people would pray before the holy icons almost as Catholics pray before the Blessed Sacrament. In a way, I felt hurt because at moments it seemed that people spent more time before the holy icons than before the tabernacle of the Lord. As time past, I realized that for Orthodox Christians, praying before a holy icon was like praying before the very window of heaven itself. Besides, they have an aversion that Catholics pray before statues, graven images forbidden by the commandments. I think it is the same thing.

The appearance of the Coptic Orthodox Church is similar to that of the other Orthodox churches on the inside. The outside is quite different. The tops of many Coptic Orthodox Churches show some rounding features, especially where the cross is perched. There is a certain Middle Eastern flavor to its architecture. The cross is somewhat different. It is a cross with little bars crossing near the tips of each of the extremities that form the cross, making crosslets at the ends. Had it not been for the presence of the cross, I might have struggled to think that this was a place of Christian worship, because the architecture was so foreign to me. I had the same feeling upon seeing the architecture of the Russian Orthodox Church; had it not been for the crosses, those onion shaped steeples seemed so very foreign.

One day I ventured to discover the Desert Fathers. The Coptic Orthodox Church (The Church of Alexandria) is the father of monasticism. St. Antony Coptic Orthodox Monastery in the Mojave Desert, here in California, is the only Coptic Orthodox Monastery in all of North America. I had been to Catholic monasteries in the desert, near the foothills that didn’t seem like a desert at all, because of the communities built up near the monastery. But St. Antony Coptic Orthodox Monastery was really in the middle of the desert. I actually had to drive through the sand and got stuck in a sand dune before I could reach the monastery. Here I was, literally in the middle of nowhere, and no one near to hear my cry for help except the Lord of Hosts. I realized that this must be the reason why the Desert Fathers sought the desert, to encounter the Lord of Hosts face to face, one on one. Suddenly the Psalm of David came to life within me, “My help is in the Lord”, particularly because there was absolutely no one else around. I had an inspiration to take out the unneeded umbrella that I had placed in the car (for rain that rarely falls in the desert). I began to dig around the wheels of the car as I prayed fervently. It was hot and windy, and not a soul around as far as my eye could see, and one can forget about trying to use a cell phone out there, reception is nonexistent. Through a series of rocking the car back and forth using the accelerator, I finally was freed. But I could only move in reverse. And so I went, in reverse and around that sand dune. I discovered that the Lord of Hosts assisted me through a mutual effort of divine guidance and of work and prayer. Now I know why the monks seek the desert.

Upon reaching the monastery, I ventured inside. I had not removed my shoes upon entering. I was quickly reminded by the monks to remove my shoes. This is where I realized that a monastery is an especially holy place. In Coptic Orthodox Churches, one removes their shoes during prayer and receiving communion, but here, at the monastery, the shoes must be removed at all times within the nave and sanctuary. Instantly, I smelled the undying aroma of incense. But the smell was not sweet; it was more poignant, yet holy. Today if I were to enter a sanctuary with my eyes closed, I could tell you if we were in a Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, or Coptic Orthodox Church just from the smell of the incense.

Inside were the familiar scenes of icons and candles as in the Greek Orthodox Churches and other Eastern Orthodox Churches. But the faces of the saints were distinctively wider and rounder and the eyes wider and larger. On what the Coptic Orthodox call the wall of Symbols are the icons of traditional saints, such as, St. Basil, St Cyril, St. Michael the Archangel and St. George, along with Mary and Jesus. The walls are full of icons aligned in the fashion Catholics would normally have the Stations of the Cross. I noticed a pattern that emerges among the ancient, traditional and apostolic churches; the prominence of the altar elevated almost always one to three steps above the level of the rest of the church. I noticed the honor and love that is given to the saints and especially to the Mother of God, who the Orthodox call Theotokos, Greek for Birth-giver of God. The Coptic Orthodox church has something completely different, and not seen in any other apostolic church that I have seen. Hanging before the altar, in front of the curtain that shrouds the altar table with the Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle of the Lord of Hosts, is an ostrich egg. This is a symbol of God’s ever-watchfulness over his children. An ostrich will not take its gaze off of an egg until it is hatched for fear that the egg will die if the ostrich is distracted. At first glance, an ostrich egg seemed out of place to me, especially one hanging before the altar. But after understanding the symbolism, I thought that there could be no other worthy expression of the Lord’s ever-watchfulness over His children.


Being Catholic, I attend Mass on a daily basis; and this is part of my prayer life. I have participated in many Catholic liturgical rites, the most prevalent being the Latin Rite taken from the Roman Canon. Many people are probably unaware that the Catholic Church consists of twenty-three different rites, all underneath the authority of the Pope. The Holy Father is Pope of all of the Catholic Church; he is Patriarch of the Latin (Roman) Rite; and he is Bishop of Rome. I am going to focus on the Roman Catholic Rite and present a rendering alongside the Orthodox Church. Being of Hispanic culture, I can say that the Roman Catholic liturgy can be molded and influenced by language, culture and local traditions. Serving as an acolyte at many parishes, in many locations as a young man, I have witnessed a variety of liturgical celebrations. I recall with the most fondness an epoch of my life when I would serve as an acolyte (altar boy) at every single mass, all of which were in Spanish. Preparing for the Mass entailed being in the sacristy about thirty minutes before mass started. I can remember when I was twelve years old; the parish priest gave me a book about the life of St. Tarcisius. He is the patron saint of acolytes. He was also twelve years old and died as a martyr defending the Holy Eucharist as he carried it to Christian prisoners aware to be mauled by lions in the Roman Coliseum. He was attacked by a mob of pagans on the way and refused to give up the Holy Eucharist to the mob; and he was beaten to death. His fidelity and courage inspired me. He became a model for me of loyalty and love for the Blessed Sacrament in the altar. Thus, as I served at the altar, I possessed a profound reverence and devotion for the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.

As part of the preparation for the mass, I would get dressed in my acolyte cassock and surplus. Various prayers were posted on the wall of the sacristy to remind the acolytes to pray before each duty to be performed. One of my favorite tasks was to sound the bell in the bells tower. It was one of those huge bells with a long rope. As I pulled on the rope, I had to pull with my whole weight, and as the bell moved the rope would pull me up. I felt that I was putting my small grain of salt of evangelization by calling everyone to mass; for why should I need to speak at this moment when the great sounding of the bells possessed a louder voice. The bells could be heard throughout the whole neighborhood for miles. I am saddened that here in the United States, the church bells are rarely rung. If they were rung more often, people would be inspired to enter the church to pray. Churches should consider this point and ring the bells more often.

As mass preparation continued, I would prepare the chalice, the wine and the bread to be consecrated. These were placed on a table near the entrance of the church to be later presented by the people during the offertory. It is important for the people to participate in the mass by bringing forward the gifts. For these gifts had to come from the people, a generous offering given to the Lord. Every time I passed the Blessed Sacrament in the altar, I made sure that I genuflected with the utmost reverence that I could, because I knew that I was treading on holy ground. I would continue to light the two candles on each side of the altar. What an honor to serve at the altar of the Lord!

As mass was about to begin, there were usually four acolytes present, we then would position ourselves at the entrance of the church carrying the crucifix, candles and gospel book. The priest followed in tow. I usually was the cross bearer. I remember feeling such an honor carrying the cross of the Lord. I moved slowly and with determination as I processed down the aisle setting the pace for the rest and to the tune of the entrance song. I knew that I had to be pure of heart and mind as I served at the altar. For not only was I going to be a visible example, but I knew that being in such close proximity to the Lord of Hosts I would be consumed by fire if I had any conscious sin that I had not confessed. As we approached the altar, everyone in the procession genuflected in unison and proceeded to their places at the altar.

Every mass begins with the doxology of, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.” The main components of the mass are: the Liturgy of the Word; the Liturgy of the Eucharist; and the Communion Rite. The Liturgy of the Word consists of readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Epistles and then the Gospel. Everyone stands during the Gospel proclamation. The Roman Catholic Church includes readings from the Old Testament whereas the Eastern Orthodox generally does not, as we will see later on. I feel that I am more spiritually nourished hearing scriptures from the whole bible as opposed to just the New Testament. The Catholic Church puts meaning and perspective to the New Testament readings preceding them with history and prophecy of the Old Testament.

The highlight of the mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharistic which includes the Eucharistic Prayer. During this prayer everyone kneels as we contemplate the mystery that is about to transpire as our Lord Jesus shared the last supper with His disciples. For me this is the most important part of the mass. This is the part in which a miracle occurs. The invocation of the Holy Spirit precedes the Eucharistic Prayer, asking the Lord to bless the offerings so that they may become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ordinary bread and wine become the very presence of Jesus Christ our Lord. After the consecration of the bread becoming Body, the priest genuflects as we all pause to worship the Body of Christ in the form of bread. Likewise, the priest takes the chalice in the same manner that Jesus took the cup; he blesses and consecrates the wine that is in the chalice so that it becomes the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The priest then genuflects again. At this moment of the consecration, I offer to the Lord all of my supplications and prayers. I especially remember those who have asked my prayers. For some mysterious reason, I feel that this is the point at which the Lord of Hosts receives my prayers as a sacrifice united with His suffering on the cross. I ask my guardian angel to swiftly present my prayers to the Lord at his holy altar in heaven. The Father receives the loving sacrifice of His Son, Jesus; and just maybe, my prayers will be carried to heaven with the sacrifice Jesus offers to His Father.

The next part of the mass is the Communion Rite. During this part of the mass, everyone who is disposed to receive Holy Communion comes forth to partake of this holy meal. As I witness the faithful file forth to receive communion, my heart leaps with almost uncontrollable joy. I often ponder, as I watch many receive Holy Communion, how is it possible that so many are so somber? We are going to receive the Lord! This is the moment in which the Lord of Hosts and I become one, the moment of receiving his precious body and blood. “This is the Bread of Life who takes away the sins of the world, happy are those who are called to His supper”, proclaims the priest. Why is our response so unfeeling? But my own joy supplants those who feel none. As each one receives Christ under the form of bread and wine, I am bursting with joy at every union. In the United States, it has become customary to receive the consecrated Communion Bread in the hand, but this is something unheard of in Latin American countries. The Catholic Church should also reconsider this point because none of the other ancient and apostolic churches do this. This could be a source of friction between the western and the eastern churches whose liturgy has basically been celebrated for centuries unchanged.

As the mass ends, the priest gives a blessing by making the sign of the cross over the faithful invoking the Holy Trinity; and the people are dismissed. I have observed that most people leave the church quickly, almost even before the priest has barely existed from the altar. And some stay, but very few, to continue private prayer. It is uncommon to see an agape meal afterwards as in most Orthodox Churches. The whole mass generally lasts about an hour in contrast to the Orthodox Church liturgy that lasts about three hours.

As the Roman Catholic Church mass comes from the Roman Missal, the Eastern Orthodox Church uses the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom; but uses the Liturgy of St. Basil during the Great Fast. Again, as an altar server and cantor in the Orthodox Church, I fulfill my duties of preparing for the liturgy. This is somewhat of a more labor intensive task than in the Roman Catholic Church. Many tasks are accomplished before the liturgy begins. As I approach the sanctuary of the altar, I come to the table that is in the nave before the Iconostasis and has a cross and the icon of Christ on it. I make the customary prostrations and kiss the cross and the icon. Being Catholic and having an intense devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, I also genuflect before the Royal Doors of the Iconostasis, behind which is hidden the Holy of Holies, the tabernacle of the Lord. This I do in private devotion for as not to scandalize my fellow parishioners who would see the gesture of genuflecting as a Roman gesture, foreign to Eastern cultures. As I approach the Iconostasis, there are two lesser doors at either end of the Iconostasis. These doors are for the altar servers to enter and exit. For no one is allowed to enter through the Royal Doors except a priest. And women are not allowed behind the Iconostasis…ever. I enter through the Deacon’s Door which is to the south of the Royal Doors. It is customary to enter through the south door and exit the altar by way of the north door. Remember that the altars of Orthodox Church are customarily facing east. Usually there is an icon of St. Stephen and St. Phillip on these doors, the first deacons of the Christian Church, St. Stephen being the first martyr. Sometimes there are icons of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel on these doors. Every time I pass through these doors, I have a sense that these holy angels are guardians to the presence of the Lord of Host. I gently place a kiss upon the icon as I enter; it is customary to kiss the icon on the door before entering the sanctuary of the altar. As I enter the altar area, I make three profound prostrations before the holy altar on which is the Holy of Holies (the Tabernacle), a cross and the Holy Book of the Gospel. These three are given equal devotion. The Lamb (the consecrated bread soaked in consecrated wine) is housed within the tabernacle. This is the Lord Himself, the Bread of Life. For the Lord Jesus proclaimed, “I am the Bread of Life”. And He also said, “This is my Body, This is my Blood”. Likewise, the Holy Gospel is honored with equal devotion, for it is said of Christ in the Gospel of St. John that Jesus is the Word of God, and the Word is God. And the life-giving cross of the Lord is placed beside the Gospel Book and is also honored with equal reverence. Within the sanctuary of the altar between the Royal Doors and the holy altar, no one can stand except for a priest. Therefore, my prayer is made from beside the altar table or from behind, but never in front. After this, it is time to get to work.

My first task is to dress myself in a black cassock. I light the altar candles and oil lamps. The altar table has a seven branch candelabra which are all lit. This reminds me of the Jewish menorah that is used is the Temple worship. I often wonder if it has any connection. I inevitably come to the conclusion that it does. The curtain, hiding the Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant in the Jewish Temple, it all seems to have a correlation. There are also two candles or oil lamps at the ends of the altar that are also lit. During the lighting of the candles, if no one else is around, I chant a Hymn of Light to Christ. This I learned from the Maronite Catholics who have Aramaic origins. Lighting the candles and oil lamps are important because for the Orthodox, during prayer, there should always be a candle or oil lamp lit. After the altar candles are lit, I light the side altar lamps. This is where the priest will say the prayer of blessing over the bread and wine before they are consecrated at the main altar during the Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer). This prayer of preparation, before the Divine Liturgy starts, is elaborate and lengthy; it usually begins one hour before the Divine Liturgy starts, in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church that blesses and offers the bread and wine during the mass before the Eucharistic Prayer. Upon observing the liturgy of almost all of the major ancient apostolic churches, the Roman Church is the only one that puts its offering and blessing of the bread and wine right before the Eucharistic Prayer as opposed to right before the Liturgy.

I then proceed to light the candles and oil lamps inside the nave of the church where the faithful stand during the liturgy. As I said before, there are a good many lamps to light before all of the icons and crosses. Afterwards, I begin chanting the Morning Prayers, during this part, there are very few, if no people present. Many times I feel my heart very heavy to think that such a beautiful tradition and prayer is not participated by more people. As a matter of fact, most people wander in after the Divine Liturgy has begun. The Roman Catholic Church has the Liturgy of the Hours; but it is sad to see that this prayer is rarely celebrated in church as a community of believers. As a matter of fact, I have only seen the Liturgy of the Hours prayed in monasteries. The Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer and soul of the church and should be given a more central place as part of the daily worship of the community. After the Morning Prayers, I return to the sanctuary of the altar and prepare the censor and the incense that is to be used during the Divine Liturgy. I feel such an honor to be able to serve at the table of the Lord, and even to be behind the iconostasis where very few eyes have set upon and witness the prayers and supplications of the priest when the curtains are closed behind the Royal Doors.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the liturgy begins with no procession. The bells are rung, the curtain hiding the altar is drawn, and the Royal Doors are opened. After censing the altar, the priest goes out into the nave with the censor and its sweet smelling incense and censes the icons and the people. He returns to the altar. And the Divine Liturgy always begins with the wonderful and beautiful proclamation and doxology sung by the priest, “Blessed be the kingdom, of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, always now and ever and to the ages of ages, Amen.” Also in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, the priest prays facing the altar, towards the East. He only turns towards the parishioners to give the blessings with the sign of the cross.

The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is usually used, which is comprised of many chanted litanies. There are litanies for the living, litanies for the dead, litanies for the catechumens, litanies in preparation for the anaphora, litanies of thanksgiving…there seems to be an endless litany of litanies. But the important fact is that the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist takes place during the entire liturgy and culminates in the invocation of the Holy Spirit after the anaphora; after which, profound prostrations of adoration are made. This is unlike the Roman Catholic Church in which adoration and genuflections are made after each pronouncement of bread becoming the Body of Christ and wine becoming the Blood of Christ, separately.

Communion is usually given only to those who have gone to confession that day or the night before during the Vigil. The consecrated bread is mingled in the chalice with the consecrated wine and given to the communicant with a golden spoon. After which they receive a piece of blessed bread and some blessed wine to break their fast. I can recall that we I was younger, the Roman Catholic Church also required that one take a drink of water before eating anything after communion. The Orthodox fast from twelve o’clock midnight before receiving communion; and the Catholics must fast for at least one hour before receiving communion. For me, the act of fasting before communion has aided me in appreciating the sacredness of receiving communion; and has assisted me in focusing in my prayer. As a matter of fact, one of the great treasures the Orthodox Church has given to me is the art of fasting. Orthodox Christians fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, during the ordinary part of the year. And they fast everyday during the Advent and Lent, abstaining from meat, meat products, dairy, olive oil and wine. Fasting has become part of my spiritual armor. Fasting, couple with prayer and almsgiving, has helped me to live a true Christian life. The Catholic Church has relaxed its rules on fasting. I think fasting should be given more attention by Catholics.

The Coptic Orthodox Liturgy begins with an elaborate inspection of the bread and wine to be offered for consecration. The priest chooses the most perfect loaf from a basket of baked breads. The Coptic Orthodox liturgy has many more readings than both the Catholic and the Greek Orthodox Church, from both the Old and New Testaments. The chants are neither monotone nor harmonic, rather unison with many long tone variations with Middle-Eastern style. The ark of Holy of Holies sets on the altar table but does not contain the Blessed Sacrament; it, instead, has the holy gospel, a cross and the chalice that is used to distribute the consecrated wine used in communion. The liturgy lasts even longer than that of the Greek Orthodox liturgy and is based on the liturgies of St. Basil, St. Gregory or St. Cyril. Upon receiving communion, the communicants receive a piece of consecrated bread in their mouths placed by the priest. After everyone has been given the consecrated bread, the communicant then returns to receive a spoon full of consecrated wine from the chalice, also given by the priest. All of the consecrated bread and wine is consumed and none is left over to be reserved in the tabernacle as Catholic do. This is the most ancient Christian rite that I witnessed; and it is mesmerizing. The beauty and reverence overwhelms me. As I compare the liturgies of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox, I analyze and discover the history and development of, not only the liturgy, but of theology and tradition. My observation did answer in my heart a basic question though. I always wondered which method of making the sign of the cross was more ancient, the Roman Catholic or the Greek Orthodox. After witnessing the Coptic Orthodox make the sign of the cross as Roman Catholics do, my question was answered.

Contrasts in Essential Beliefs

The more ancient schism within the Holy Catholic Church occurred during the council of Chalcedon, when there was a misunderstanding between the Oriental Orthodox Church and the rest of Christendom which was the united church of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The Oriental Orthodox Churches include the Coptic Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Syrian Orthodox, along with others who are in communion with these churches. My belief is that schism was caused by a conspiracy of the Roman Emperor to curtail the hierarchical authority of the Egyptian Patriarch of Alexandria, where, at that time, was the center of catechetical theology. The emperor thus exiled the Patriarch and as a consequence the Patriarch was not present at the Council of Chalcedon. The important point that I want to make is the Christological theology that the Coptic Orthodox Church was expressing in opposition to the development at the Council of Chalcedon. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches claim that the Coptic Orthodox Church is monophysite, believing that Christ has only one nature, which is divine. This is a misconception and misinterpretation on the part of both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, which are dyophysite, believing that Christ has two natures, divine and human. The Coptic Orthodox Church, as a matter of fact consider monophysism a heresy; they believe that Jesus has one nature that is both fully divine and fully human. The Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians express this same concept as having two natures, full divinity and full humanity. I think the argument is silly. It is not an argument over belief, rather an argument over words, meaning the same thing. The Roman Catholics express belief in the confines of catechetical documents. The eastern churches express belief and dogma also within the liturgy and prayers. The Coptic Orthodox Church has a unique method of theological teaching that is not only found within the liturgy and prayers, but also through the hymns; they call this hymnology. The prayers and hymns are rich in imagery and have a unique poetic flare. The following is a prayer within their liturgy and hymns: "We magnify you O Mother of the True Light and we glorify you O saint and Mother of God (Theotokos) for you have borne unto us the Savior of the world.” This prayer also precedes the Nicene Creed as an introduction and was written by St. Cyril of Alexandria. If the Coptic Orthodox were truly monophysites in the understanding of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, then the Coptic Orthodox would not be able to express Mary a being Theotokos, the Mother of God. This is so obvious to a simple heart. This is why I wonder if the schism was caused more so by politics, culture and linguistics rather than a divergence of beliefs. The Maronites, who are fully Catholic, (and in union with the Pope of Rome), share the same system of belief, pertaining to the nature of Christ, as the Coptic Orthodox. They express this is one of their hymns used during the liturgy saying, “You have united O Lord, Your divinity with our humanity, and our humanity with your divinity.”

The schism that would follow centuries later is a more difficult and maybe even more devastating schism, called the Great Schism. This is an alienation of the Eastern and Western Churches and was a culmination of difficulties in politics, culture, geography and language. I assert that the culminating factor was the idea of the primacy of the Pope asserted by the Roman Catholic Church. This is a sensitive discussion even until this day where in many Orthodox Churches, to be Orthodox means to be anti-pope and anti-Rome. Discussions of divergences in belief did not even surface until well after the Great Schism in 1054. I would like to mention here that having extensive knowledge on this subject, the excommunication and papal bull that was laid on the altar of the Church of the Holy Wisdom excommunicating the Patriarch of Constantinople was not even valid because the Pope had died several months before, so the authority of the legates was not even valid. I would surmise that the document was devised out of personal pride and anger. The Patriarch of Constantinople responded by anathematizing the delegates. One should notice that at no point was the whole Church on either side excommunicated; this why I insist that the Church is One and Holy, and that the division is artificial.

Focusing now on divergences in belief, one main thorn in the side of Orthodox Christians is the fact that the Roman Catholic Church added the filioque clause to the Nicene Creed. This is the clause that states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Orthodox Church maintains the creed in its original text stating that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. In discussions with friends and parishioners who are Orthodox, I have come to know that the whole argument of the Orthodox Church is that the Roman Catholic Church had no right to add the clause without convening a Church Council; for it was in the setting of a Church Council that the Creed was formed, even though the statement may be true. Only later did the Orthodox find potential theological differences in the statement. From having experienced both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I have noticed that the filioque clause was actually inserted by the Spanish king, and not by the Pope. This was in an attempt to defend the Church against the heresy of Arianism (the heresy stating that Christ was only human and not divine). The Orthodox responded to Arianism in a similar way by including in the text of the liturgy, the prayer response: “To Christ our God, and save us.” Both East and West responded to defend the Church against heresy, but came up with distinct approaches.

Other doctrinal developments by the Roman Catholic Church that are foreign to Orthodox Christians are the doctrines of Purgatory and the Immaculate Conception. Even though the Orthodox Church does not have these doctrines, I have witnessed, again through the prayers and liturgy of the Orthodox Church that they have similar beliefs expressed differently. For example, even though the doctrine of Purgatory is foreign to them, the Orthodox Church has elaborate prayers for the dead. They pray to God that the dead may be in a place of comfort and rest. Even though there are many sophisticated discussions on Purgatory, the Roman Catholic Church only asserts that it exists, and that we can pray for the dead. Keeping it to the very basics, the two churches are stating the same thing. Also, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is not part of the Orthodox Church, and is extensively debated between the two churches. But through my own experience, I have again witnessed through the Orthodox liturgy that the Orthodox express a very similar, if not the same, truth. There is a prayer within the Orthodox liturgy that says, “It is right, in truth, to glorify you, the Birth-Giver of God, the Ever-Blessed, wholly immaculate, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim. You who without defilement did bare God the Word, true Birth-Giver of God, we magnify You.” Again, I assert that the real issue at hand here is the authority of the Pope that is denied by the Orthodox Christians.

Analysis and Conclusion

I must admit that at times my heart has felt torn. But not because of any confusion of my own; rather I have witnessed the utter confusion and misunderstanding of those from both Churches. The friction that exists between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is actually more political, cultural, linguistic and geographical than theological. Our basic beliefs are essentially the same. Our expressions and traditions which are mainly cultural are expressed differently and define a beautiful uniqueness in both churches. Even though the Orthodox Church denies the primacy of the Pope, its own hierarchical structure contains many fractures and divisions. A unifying factor is essential. Even the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople lacks the authority and unifying potential of bringing the sister Orthodox Churches closer together. My fervent prayer of seeing the unification of the two Churches is constant. I would like to share some insights that I have gained. I feel that for unification to take place, the authority of the Pope must be addressed. The Eastern Churches are very zealous in maintaining their identity and orthodox tradition. One of the principal causes that lead up to the Great Schism was the fact that the Catholic West used unleavened bread for communion and the Orthodox East used unleavened bread. When the West attempted to impose upon the East its own customs and traditions, the East spoke up. They accused the West of being Judaistic. My heart tells me that the issue of Papal authority must be handled with love and patience. I would suggest that Papal authority not be imposed, merely because it is Roman. Unity has to be sought because we all believe that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist. And we all should recall the words of Jesus as He prayed to His Father, “Father, may they be one as You and I are One.” Unity should be sought because we are apostolic and were handed down the one true faith as it was given to the Apostles by Jesus. Unity should be sought because the Holy Spirit states in scripture, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” 1 Corinthians 10, 16-17. I would propose that in order to attain unity, the Pope should be chosen from all of the Apostolic Churches, not just from the Church of Rome. The Pope should be a light and guiding inspiration for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, not just the Church of Rome. For this to take place, Rome should relinquish its primacy and give it to Peter. Peter was in Jerusalem and Antioch before he traveled to Rome. Peter was also the first Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch. They maintain an unbroken lineage since Peter just as the Church of Rome does.

It is also interesting to see that many Protestant and Evangelical Christians are being drawn to the Orthodox Church. I have seen many conversions. I sit and wonder, what is it that draws them to the Orthodox Church as opposed to the Catholic Church. On pondering, I come to the conclusion that many seek to know their Christian roots and long to be in tune with ancient Church history. They seem to be able to attain this within the Orthodox Church without being part of, what they would call Babylon.

Another analysis that I would like to offer is the distinct spirituality of each Church. I have read many of the writings of the church doctors. I think the Roman Catholic Church is more likely to be influence by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anthony of Padua, St Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross than it is by St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, St. Ephraim, St. Gregory, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom and St. Cyril of Jerusalem as the Orthodox are. The Roman Catholic Church seeks truth through faith and reason by way of formulas, doctrines and definitions. The Eastern Orthodox Church meditates on its mysteries. Truth cannot be explained fully as it can be experienced. The experience of prayer is also quite different. Through my experience, I have witnessed many forms of prayer through my Catholic experience as well as my Orthodox experience. Various forms of prayer within my Catholic perspective have been meditation, petition, intersession, praise, adoration and contemplation. I have experienced that the use of the Rosary has been a very effective tool in my prayer life as a Catholic. It has assisted me in achieving many levels of the aforementioned types of prayer; and has kept me close to our Blessed Mother. As an aside, this is another difference I have experienced in comparing the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Catholics will call Mary: “Our Mother”. And Orthodox will, for the most part, only call Mary, “the Mother of God”. It lacks the personal relationship that Catholics hold with Mary, even though they invoke her name much more than Catholics do during their liturgy. The spirituality of prayer for the Orthodox Christian is a little different. Prayer is usually sung or chanted and with a candle lit. The mystery of communication with the Lord of Hosts is pondered. The Orthodox have a prayer that is called the Prayer of the Heart or commonly known as the Jesus Prayer. They have what, to a Catholic, would look like a rosary. It is a knotted rope with a cross at the end. This is used to pray constantly the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Eastern Orthodoxy is shrouded in mysticism. The Jesus Prayer is not just a prayer, but a method of prayer, of uniting our hearts, minds and souls to Jesus. The prayer is recited seeking to focus the rhythms of the body with that of the spirit. One becomes present to the beating of the heart and the rhythm of breathing and combines this with the Jesus Prayer. The experience I have had praying the Jesus Prayer has been mystical. My whole life has changed, having the Name of Jesus always on my lips and beating to my heart with every breath.

The journey, upon which the Lord of Hosts has embarked me, has been a true blessing for me. I have experienced the truth of the Catholic Church, the beautiful mysticism of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the incredible love, humility and true praise through the Coptic Orthodox Church. I cannot help but to proclaim with John Paul II, that “the church must learn to breathe with both lungs”. I wish everyone could experience what I have experienced. I can now only say that my calling has been to plant seeds, seeds of unity and seeds of love and reconciliation. For we cannot leave this task just to popes and patriarchs; but must take an active part of love, humility and sharing, in seeking unity. In closing, I would like to share with you a beautiful song, sang during communion in the Catholic Church. Within its scriptural words, it expresses the very heart and soul of my desire for Christian unity. May the Lord bless and keep you and may His holy Name always be praised.

Greet one anther with a holy kiss, it may change someone’s life, and maybe even your own. In the love of Christ, and through the prayers of His Most Pure Mother,

Juan David De Jesus

One Bread, One Body

One bread, one body,
one Lord of all,
one cup of blessing which we bless.
And we, though many,
throughout the earth,
we are one body in this one Lord.

Text: Based on 1 Corinthians 10:16–17; 12:4, 12–13, 20; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 4:4–6; The Didache 9. Text and music © 1978, John B. Foley, S.J. and OCP. All rights reserved.