SOPHIA: Eastern & Oriental Catholic Rites & Churches - A Reference Thread

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Eastern & Oriental Catholic Churches sui iuris

There are 23 Churches sui iuris that, together, constitute the Catholic Church - 1 Western and 22 Eastern and Oriental Churches. The term sui iuris means, literally, “of their own law”, or self-governing. All 23 are in communion with Rome. Obviously, the most well-known and largest is the Latin Church.

Eastern and Oriental Catholic Churches generally represent bodies of persons whose ancestors entered into communion with Rome from the Eastern or Oriental Orthodox Churches. As a consequence, there is a counterpart Eastern or Oriental Orthodox Church to every Eastern or Oriental Catholic Church except two - the Maronite Catholic Church and the Italo-Grieco-Albanian Byzantine Catholic Church. The usual reason advanced as to why these two Churches have no counterpart among the Orthodox Churches is that neither was ever separated from Rome.

Churches that utilize the Byzantine Rite should technically be termed Eastern Catholic Churches, with the remainder being referred to as Oriental Catholic Churches. This distinction mirrors the one that is made among our counterpart or Sister (Orthodox) Churches (i.e., the Churches known as Eastern Orthodox also serve their Divine Liturgy according to the Byzantine Rite; the Oriental Orthodox do not). In point of fact, however, both “Eastern Catholic” and “Oriental Catholic” are often employed as umbrella terms to encompass all Catholic Churches sui iuris other than the Latin or Western Church.

Oriental Catholic is popularly used as an umbrella term by the Vatican; to confuse the issue, many others are inclined to use Eastern Catholic in that same context]


Eastern & Oriental Catholic Rites

The 22 Eastern and Oriental Catholic Churches use six different Rites among them. The largest number of Churches (14) use the Byzantine Rite.

Originally, there were three Rites - Latin, Alexandrean, and Antiochene; the Byzantine (or Constantinoplian) Rite was added thereafter. These arose from the customs and style of worship in what were then the four most important Christian centers, other than Jerusalem.

Differences among the Rites in liturgical language, rubrics, ritual, devotionals, prayers, liturgical and clerical vesture, etc., sprang initially from the fact that uniformity of praxis was difficult to maintain over time, as the number of clergy increased, local cultures and customs began to be woven into the rituals used, and both travel and communication were hampered by geography and the limited means available to make and maintain contact between churches and clerics.

Over time, the four original Rites were modified or further developed as they were introduced into new regions. Some of these variations were so distinctive that they themselves came to be deemed as separate Rites. The Maronite and Armenian Rites, both developed in relative isolation because of geography. The result is that most authorities term the Maronite as a Rite unto itself; while a minority place it within the West Syrian Tradition of the Antiochene Rite, where it originated. As to the Armenian, it is always deemed a separate Rite, although it originated as a Byzantine Rite.

Of late, Chaldean has been added to the list of Rites, being formally cited as such in the CCEO or Eastern Code of Canon Law. Historically, Chaldean praxis had, until recently, always been classed as being of the East Syrian Tradition of the Antiochene Rite. There are two possible reasons to account for the recent recognition accorded to it as a Rite unto itself:

[list]*]the change may relate to a unique aspect observed in the Liturgy of its counterpart Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, i.e., that there are no explicit Words of Institution in the Anaphora which they most commonly use (as was also true of the Anaphora used by the Chaldeans, prior to their entry into communion with Rome); or,
*]it may reflect a desire on Rome’s part to have a Rite associated with each Patriarchate.[/list]

The Latin, Armenian, Chaldean, and Maronite Rites are each used by only a single Church sui iuris and, in each of these instances, the Church’s name and that of the Rite are identical.

The Eastern and Oriental Rites, as commonly cited, are:



Rite versus Church

For a long time, each group of Eastern Catholics was referred to by their name (usually reflective of their historical national identity or ethnic origin), followed by the word “Rite”. Thus, you would hear references to someone being of the “Ukrainian Rite” or to “Melkite Rite Catholics”. At the urging of the Eastern Catholic hierarchs participating in Vatican II, particularly His Beatitude Maximos IV Saigh, Patriarch of Antioch & All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem of the Greek-Melkites, of blessed memory, the Church recognized the status of the Eastern Catholic Churches as sui iuris ecclesial entities, each of which uses a particular Rite. Thus, it is a disparagement (as well as inaccurate) to substitute “Rite” for “Church”.

The Eastern Code (CCEO), in its Canons 27 and 28, makes the distinction between Church and Rite:

Churches Sui Iuris and Rites

Canon 27

A group of Christian faithful united by a hierarchy according to the norm of law which the supreme authority of the Church expressly or tacitly recognizes as sui iuris is called in this Code a Church sui iuris.


Canon 28

  1. A rite is the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living the faith is manifested in each Church sui iuris.

Beyond the codified definition of “Rite”, it should be understood to be the collected liturgical patrimony or heritage by which a group of persons conduct their religious life. It is more than just differences in language, culture, and vesture, although those are often among the most immediately obvious distinctions. It’s often thought of as strictly applicable to liturgical worship service; it actually includes the totality of a people’s religious expression, including their sacraments, sacramentals, prayers, music and even aspects of their religious artistic expression and ecclesial architecture.

Interestingly, in the West, persons belong to a Rite and Rites to a Church (which uses more than a single Rite). In the East, persons belong to a Church and the Church (in some instances, more than a single Church) to a Rite.

To illustrate:

[list]*]most Western Catholics belong to the Latin Rite with smaller numbers adhering to the Ambrosian, Bragan, and Mozarabic Rites, all of which belong to the Latin Church;
*]some Eastern Catholics belong to the Melkite Church, which (with 13 other Churches) uses the Byzantine Rite.[/list]


Traditions, Rescensions, Usages

Traditions are breakdowns within a Rite that principally reflect variations of culture or ecclesial language. Within some Traditions, there are also what are styled Rescensions.

Rescensions occur where there has been further defining of the form of worship by characteristics unique to one or more of the Churches in a Tradition.

Usage is a term of recent origin that ordinarily denotes limited, localized differences within a Church itself (as opposed to Rescensions, which occur within a Rite or Tradition).

The breakout then is:

[list]*]Dependent Jurisdiction

Note that Jurisdictions and Dependent Jurisdictions have only been included where there is some meaningful distinction that made it important to do so.

Within the Italo-Greco-Albanian, Russian, and Ruthenian Catholic Churches, there are also separate canonical jurisdictions that, technically, each constitute a separate Church sui iuris since there is no formal canonical relationship between or among the jurisdictions and none of the hierarchs are singularly designated as the Church’s principal hierarch.

This, then, is the break-out most frequently referenced:

[list]]Alexandrean Rite
]Coptic Tradition
[list][list]]Coptic Catholic Church
]Ge’ez Tradition
[list][list]]Ethiopian (& Eritrean) Catholic Church
]Antiochene Rite
[list]]West Syrian Tradition
]Syriac Catholic Church
]Syro-Malankarese Catholic Church
]Knanya Usage
[list]]Armenian Rite
]Armenian Catholic Church
[list]]Byzantine Rite
]Byzantine-Greek Tradition
[list]]Greek Rescension
]Albanian Greek-Catholic Church
]Byzantine Greek Catholic Church
]Grieco-Arabic Rescension
[list]]Melkite Greek-Catholic Church
]Grieco-Georgian Rescension
[list]]Georgian Greek-Catholic Church
]Grieco-Italian Rescension
[list]]Byzantine Italo-Grieco-Albanian Catholic Church
]Italo-Albanian Catholic Church - Eparchy of Lungro degli Italo-Albanesi in Calabria
]Italo-Albanian Catholic Church - Eparchy of Piana in Sicily degli Albenisi
]Italo-Greek Catholic Church - Exarchic Abbey & Territorial Monastery of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata degli Italo-Grieco[/list][/list][/list][/list][/list][list]]Byzantine-Slav Tradition
]Great Russian Rescension
[list]]Belarusan Greek-Catholic Church
]Bulgarian Greek-Catholic Church
]Russian Greek-Catholic Church
]Russian Catholic Church - Apostolic Exarchate of Moscow
]Russian Catholic Church - Apostolic Exarchate of Harbin
]Old Ritualist Usage
]Romanian Rescension
]Romanian Greek-Catholic Church
[list][list]except Eparchy of Maramoras of the Romanians[/list][/list][/list]
]Ruthenian (or Little Russian) Rescension
]Croatian Greek-Catholic Church
]Eparchy of Krizveci of the Croat Greek-Catholics
]Apostolic Exarchate of the Macedonian Greek-Catholics
]Apostolic Exarchate of the Serbian & Montenegron Greek-Catholics[/list][/list][/list]
]Hungarian Greek-Catholic Church
]Romanian Greek-Catholic Church
]only Eparchy of Maramoras of the Romanians
]Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church
]Ruthenian Metropolitan Catholic Church - Metropolitinate of Pittsburgh
]Ruthenian Eparchial Catholic Church - Eparchy of Mukachevo
]Apostolic Exarchate of the Czech Greek-Catholics
]Slovakian Greek-Catholic Church
]Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church
]Chaldean Rite
]East Syrian Tradition
[list]]Assyrian Rescension
]Chaldean Catholic Church
[list]]Arabic Usage
]Malabarese Rescension
[list]Syro-Malabarese Catholic Church
[list]Knanaya Usage
[list]*]Maronite Rite
*]Maronite Catholic Church

note: The inclusion of “Byzantine” in styling the Greek and Italo-Grieco-Albanian Catholic Churches reflects the fact that “Greek” is already an integral part of the cultural and ethnic heritage reflected in their names; the Ruthenian Catholic Church has adopted the term as an integral aspect of its name, not without some negative reaction from those of other Churches which are also Byzantine in their origins.


Patriarchal Churches sui iuris

There are 6 Eastern & Oriental Catholic Patriarchal Churches. The incumbents of the patriarchal offices are:

Armenian Catholic Church:
His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, Catholicos & Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenias for All the Catholic Armenians & Arch-Eparch of Cilicia of the Armenians

(Byzantine) Melkite Greek-Catholic Church:
His Beatitude Gregory III (Loutfi) Laham, BSO, Patriarch of Antioch and All The East, of Alexandria, and of Jerusalem, of the Greek-Melkites & Arch-Eparch of Antioch of the Melkites

Chaldean Catholic Church:
His Holiness Mar Emmanuel III Delli, Catholicos and Patriarch of Babylon and Ur of the Chaldees for the Catholic Chaldeans & Arch-Eparch of Baghdad of the Chaldeans

Coptic Catholic Church:
His Holiness Stephanos II (Andraos) Cardinal Ghattas, CM, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts & Arch-Eparch of Alexandria of the Copts

Maronite Catholic Church:
His Beatitude Mar Nasrallah Boutros Cardinal Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch and All The East of the Maronites & Arch-Eparch of Antioch of the Maronites

Syriac Catholic Church:
His Beatitude Mar Ignace Pierre VIII (Gregoire) Abdel-Ahad, Patriarch of Antioch and All The East of the Syrian Catholics & Arch-Eparch of Antioch of the Syrians

Major Archepiscopal Churches sui iuris

There are 4 Eastern & Oriental Catholic Major Arch-Episcopal Churches. These and the incumbents of the Major Archepiscopal offices are:

Romanian Greek-Catholic Church:
His Eminence Lucian Muresan, Archepiscopus Majore of the Romanian Greek-Catholics United With Rome and Metropolitan Arch-Eparch of Alba Iulia and Fagares of the Byzantine Romanians

Syro-Malabarese Catholic Church:
His Eminence Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, CSsR, Archepiscopus Majore of the Syro-Malabarese Catholics & Metropolitan Arch-Eparch of Ernakulam-Angamali of the Syro-Malabarese

Syro-Malankarese Catholic Church:
His Eminence The Most Reverend Cyril Mar Baselios Malancharuvil, OIC, MADD, JCL, Archepiscopus Majore and Catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Catholics and Metropolitan Arch-Eparch of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankara

Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church:
His Eminence Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, Archepiscopus Majore of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics & Metropolitan Arch-Eparch of Lviv of the Byzantine Ukrainians


Metropolitan Catholic Churches sui iuris

There are 2 Eastern and Oriental Catholic Metropolitan Churches sui iuris. They and the incumbents of their primatial offices are:

Ethiopian (& Eritrean) Catholic Church:
His Excellency Metropolitan Berhane-Yesus Demerew Souraphiel, CM, Arch-Eparch of Addis Ababa of the Ethiopian Catholics

Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church:
His Eminence Metropolitan Basil Myron Schott, O.F.M., Arch-Eparch of Pittsburgh for the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholics in the United States

Episcopal Churches sui iuris:

These are those Eastern Churches "entrusted to hierarchs who preside over [the Church] as per the norms of common and particular laws”.

All such Churches are of the Byzantine-Greek or Byzantine-Slav Traditions. Their presiding hierarchs are all of the Order of Bishop, but are variously styled: Abbott vere nullius dioecesis; Apostolic Administrator; Apostolic Exarch; Apostolic Visitator ad nutum Sanctae Sedis; Bishop; Eparch; or Vicar Apostolic.

Each derives precedence from his office sui iuris] not from the rank or title that he holds

These Churches and presiding hierarchs are:

Byzantine Albanian Catholic Church:
His Excellency, Bishop Hil Kabashi, OFM, Apostolic Administrator of Albania Meridionale [Southern Albania] for the Albanian Byzantine Catholics

Bulgarian Greek-Catholic Church:
His Excellency, Bishop Christo Proykov, Byzantine-Slav Apostolic Exarch of Sophia for the Byzantine Bulgarian Catholics & Titular Bishop of Briula

Byzantine Croatian Catholic Church:
His Excellency, Monsignor Slavomir Miklovs, Vladyka [Bishop] of the Eparchy of Krizevci for the Byzantine Croatian Catholics and for All Byzantine Catholics [in the former Republics of Yugoslavia]

Byzantine Greek Catholic Church:
His Excellency, Bishop Anárghyros Printesis, Apostolic Exarch of Athens for the Faithful of the Eastern Rites & the Byzantine Greek Catholics

Byzantine Hungarian Catholic Church:
His Excellency Szilárd Keresztes, Bishop of the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog of the Byzantine Hungarian Catholics

Byzantine Slovak Catholic Church:
His Excellency Ján Babjak, SJ, Bishop of the Eparchy of Presov of the Byzantine Slovakian Catholics

Two Episcopal Churches sui iuris require explanation as to certain unique aspects.

Byzantine Italo-Grieco-Albanian Catholic Church:

This Church has 3 separate and independent jurisdictions, which have no formal canonical relationship between or among them. None of the three presiding hierarchs is singularly designated as the presiding hierarch of the Church. Thus, although they are counted as a single Church sui iuris, they are, technically, three distinct Churches. The hierarchs and jurisdictions are:

His Excellency Ercole Lupinacci, Bishop of the Eparchy of Lungro degli Italo-Albanesi [for the Italo-Albanians] in Calabria

His Excellency Sotìr Ferrara, Bishop of the Eparchy of Piana degli Albenisi [for the Italo-Albanians] in Sicily

Right Reverend Archimandrite Emiliano Fabbricatore, OSBI, Abbott vere nullius dioecesis of the Exarchic Abbey and Territorial Monastery sui iuris of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata for the Byzantine Italo-Greek Catholics

Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church:

This Church, and its suffragn jurisdiction, situated in the East Europe homeland of its faithful, has no formal canonical relationship with the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Metropolitan Church sui iuris in the United States. As a result, it is technically a Church sui iuris unto itself, although the two are considered a single entity in counting Churches sui iuris.

It is presided by His Excellency Milan Sasek, CM, Apostolic Administrator of the Eparchy of Mukaèevo of the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholics.


Churches sui iuris Deprived of Hierarchy

Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris “entrusted to hierarchs (not of the Rite) who preside over (the Church) as per the norms of common and particular laws” (hierarchs locum tenens) are those which were never formally organized with a hierarchy or have only vacant Sees.

Byzantine Belarusan Catholic Church:

The hierarchical jurisdiction, the Apostolic Exarchate for the Byzantine Belarusan Catholics, is sede vacante and has been since after WWII, when the Church was suppressed and the repose in exile of Bishops Cheslav Sipovich, MIC, and Vladimir Tarasevitch, OSB, both of blessed memory, the last Byzantine Belarusan hierarchs. The Church’s rights were restored in 1989, but the See has not been reconstituted.

Right Reverend Father Archimandrite Sergius Gajek, MIC, is presently Apostolic Visitator ad nutum Sanctae Sedis for Greek-Catholics in Belarus and Right Reverend Father Archimandrite Alexander Nadson, MIC, is Apostolic Visitator for Belarusan Greek-Catholics Outside Belarus.

Byzantine Georgian Catholic Church.

The Apostolic Exarchate of Istanbul for the Byzantine Georgian Catholics has been sede vacante since the martyrdom in odium fidei of the Servant of God Father Archimandrite and Exarch Shio Batmanishviii, of thrice-blessed memory, by the Communists in 1937.

His Excellency Bishop Louis Pelâtre, AA, [Latin] Vicar Apostolic of Istanbul is locum tenens. The viability of the Church is in question. There is a single parish and less than 500 faithful, but at last report there are no clergy of the Church and the pastoral care of the faithful is in the hands of other Byzantine clergy in the city.

Byzantine Russian Catholic Church:

This Church has two canonical jurisdictions with no formal canonical relationship between the two, and neither’s hierarch was ever singularly designated as presiding. Thus, they technically constitute separate Churches sui iuris, although they represent a single entity for purposes of counting such Churches.

The jurisdictions are:

The Apostolic Exarchate of Moscow for Byzantine Russian Catholics in Russia and the Apostolic Exarchate of Harbin for Russian Byzantines and All Oriental Rite Catholics in China. Both are sede vacante since the martyrdom in odium fidei of their incumbents, Blessed Father Archimandrite & Exarch Kliment Sheptitsky and the Servant of God Father Archimandrite & Exarch Fabian Abrantovic, MIC, both of thrice-blessed memory, under the Communists. The Church’s last hierarch, Bishop Andrei Katkov, of blessed memory, an episcopus ordinans without jurisdiction, reposed in 1996.

(Technically, the Albanian Greek-Catholic Church is also of this category, as an Apostolic Administrator, is not a presiding hierarch in the strictest definition of that phrase.)

Communities with Jurisdictions but without sui iuris Status

There are a small number of other ethnic communities of Eastern Catholics that have never been formally accorded their own sui iuris status but have distinct jurisdictions within various sui iuris Churches. These principally are the Czechs, Macedonians, Serbians, and Montenegrons.


Ordinariates for Faithful of the Oriental & Eastern Rites

There are also several jurisdictions termed Ordinariates. Historically, these have been jurisdictions within a predominately Latin Rite nation for Faithful of the Eastern & Oriental Rites within that nation who are not under the pastoral care of a hierarch of their own Church.

Ordinariates are generally erected in places where there are a substantial number of Eastern or Oriental Catholics but no canonical jurisdiction of their own Church has yet been erected. The Ordinary is usually the principal Latin hierarch in that country.

Presently, the following Ordinariates exist:

Ordinariate of Argentina for Faithful of the Oriental Rites:
His Eminence Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, SJ, Ordinary

note: The authority of the Argentinian Ordinariate does not extend to Armenian Catholics, Maronite Catholics, or Ukrainian Greek-Catholics, as those Churches each have an Eparchy in Argentina, nor does it encompass Melkite Greek-Catholics, as that Church has an Apostolic Exarchate in Argentina.

Ordinariate of Austria for Faithful of the Eastern (Byzantine) Rites:
His Eminence Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, OP, Ordinary

note: The authority of the Austrian Ordinariate is limited to Byzantine or Eastern Catholics, as the only substantial Oriental Catholic presence is Armenian and that Church has its own Ordinariate for areas of Europe not within any of its other canonical jurisdictions.

Ordinariate of Brazil for Faithful of the Oriental Rites:
His Eminence Eusébio Oscar Cardinal Scheid, SCI, Ordinary

note: The authority of the Brazilian Ordinariate does not extend to Maronite Catholics or Melkite Greek-Catholics, as those Churches each have an Eparchy in Brazil.

Ordinariate of France for Faithful of the Eastern (Byzantine) Rites:
His Excellency André Armand Vingt-Trois, Bishop Ordinary

note: The authority of the French Ordinariate is limited to Byzantine or Eastern Catholics, as the only substantial Oriental Catholic presence is Armenian and that Church has an Eparchy in France; it also does not include Byzantine Ukrainian Catholics, as that Church has an Apostolic Exarchate in France.

Ordinariate of Poland for Faithful of the Eastern Rites:
Józef Cardinal Glemp, Ordinary

note: The authority of the Polish Ordinariate does not extend to Ukrainian Greek-Catholics, as that Church has both an Arch-Eparchy and an Eparchy in Poland. (The Polish Ordinariate has reported no numbers for several years now, likely as a consequence of the fact that virtually all Byzantine Catholics in Poland are of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.)

Ordinariate of Russia for Faithful of the Eastern Rites:
His Excellency Joseph Werth, SJ, Bishop Ordinary

note: The formal canonical erection of a Russian Ordinariate has not been announced, although Bishop Werth has been designated as Ordinary for Faithful of the Eastern Rite in Russia.


An excellent summary of both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches of the East and Orient is at CNEWA - The Eastern Christian Churches. Scroll down and click the Table of Contents link. It includes a brief history of each Church and relatively detailed statistics are available for each of the Catholic Churches.

Many years,


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