by Fr. G. Scott Boghossian - Priest of the Byzantine-Ruthenian Church
In his famous 1890 inspirational lecture, Acres of Diamonds, the renowned philanthropist Russel H. Conwell tells the story of a wealthy farmer who sells his farm in the quest for diamonds. He wanders all over the world, not finding anything, and eventually discouraged and broke, dies a tragic death. Ironically, the man who purchased the diamond-seeking farmer's property finds diamonds, right in his own back yard. If the farmer had only stayed home, on the farm, he would have found the diamonds he sought. Isn't it true that often we are in possession great treasures and we do not realize it? For Eastern Catholics, such a wealth of faith and inspiration can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict, in his Apostolic Letter on the Year of Faith entitled Porta Fidei, writes:
In order to arrive at a systematic knowledge of the content of the faith, all can find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church a precious and indispensable tool. It is one of the most important fruits of the Second Vatican Council. In the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, signed, not by accident, on the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed John Paul II wrote: “this catechism will make a very important contribution to that work of renewing the whole life of the Church ... I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.”
Some make the mistake of thinking that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is intended for the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. Should the Catechism of the Catholic Church be studied in the Eastern Catholic Churches, including our own Byzantine Catholic Church? If we look closely at the content of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the answer to this question must be a resounding YES!
In his Encyclical Orientale Lumen, Blessed John Paul II states that the “theology of divinization remains one of the achievements particularly dear to Eastern Christian thought.” This Eastern theology of divinization or theosis is prominent in the very first sentence of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” Later, on the section dealing with the topic of grace, we learn that grace is a participation in the life of God, and the free gift that God makes to us of his own life (see paragraphs 1996-1999).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to our own Byzantine Liturgical texts some nineteen times. The spiritual writers and Holy Fathers of the Christian East are cited frequently as well. Saint Athanasius, Saint Basil the Great, Clement of Alexandria, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius of Salamis, Evagrius Ponticus, Saint Gregory Dialogos (Saint Gregory the Great), Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Isaac of Ninevah, John Cassian, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint John Damascene, Saint Maximos the Confessor, Origen, Symeon of Thessalonica, Theophilus of Antioch, and others are quoted, often multiple times. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also cites our own Eastern Code of Canon Law nineteen times, further assuring us that it is an important tool intended for the Eastern Churches as well as the Latin Church.
The administration of the Sacraments or Holy Mysteries in the Byzantine Catholic Church often differs from the Western practice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out these differences, describing how the Eastern practice legitimately differs. This can be seen where the Catechism covers the Sacraments of Initiation, (Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist), Confession (absolution), Anointing of the sick, Holy Orders (including the ordination of married men to the priesthood) and Marriage.
On the section on prayer, the Catechism of the Catholic Church specifically mentions the “Jesus Prayer” and says that the invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus is “the simplest way of praying always.” The prayer, “Heavenly King, Comforter” prayed by Byzantine Catholics to invoke the help of the Holy Spirit is printed in its entirety.
Is the Catechism of the Catholic Church intended for Eastern Catholics? Yes it is. Read it during this year of Faith. Use the index and refer to those topics of particular interest to you. Like Russel H. Conwell pointed out in Acres of Diamonds, the greatest treasures are often found right in our own back yard!