Bridging Protestantism and Eastern Catholic Orthodoxy
by Julia Cheung
Recently, long-time evangelical believers Chris and Joyee Chiu were received into an Eastern Catholic Church by chrismation in Richmond, BC. Chris and Joyee continue to attend their original Evangelical Church with their three daughters every Sunday evening, but the whole family ventures into Richmond on Sunday mornings to join a smattering of multicultural friends at an Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy.
Chris first learned about Ignatian Spirituality through a leadership course, over ten years ago. He started praying the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, ended up quitting his full-time job in the food industry and was trained in Spiritual Direction. He then met Eastern Catholic Jesuit Priest, Father Richard Soo, opening the door to a new liturgical journey. I sat down with Chris to chat about how he navigates through Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, even as he and Joyee continue living in community with their Evangelical Church.
A Q & A with Spiritual Director Christopher Chiu
What initially intrigued and attracted you to a church, which follows the Byzantine tradition and shares the same root as Eastern Orthodoxy?
The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches have been separated since the 11th century, but subsequently, there have been branches of the Orthodox Church that came back into communion with Rome. That, to me, is an example of true ecumenism and unity. I’m drawn to unity because that’s what Jesus wants, as He prays in John 17: that all of us may be one. However, due to human fallenness, we split with our brothers and sisters. I’m also attracted to the rich tradition of Orthodoxy, so I decided to check them out.
In 2014, I experienced my very first Great and Holy Week, which is the week leading up to Easter (what the Eastern Churches call Pascha)….I went to several services that week and I was so moved — especially by one service, (which) was a burial service for Jesus in a sacramental sense…We sang lamentations mourning for the death of Jesus. It was like you’d been brought back to first century Palestine and you were with the disciples, with the women who were weeping for Jesus, caring for Jesus’ body, placing His body in a tomb. It was a powerful, powerful experience. I also went to a Pascha service from 10:30 pm until 2:30 am. After that, there was a big feast, and we ended up staying till 5 am on Easter Sunday. It was jubilant. We repeatedly sang this refrain, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tomb bestowing life.”
How did you first bring your young family to visit this very different Byzantine Catholic Church?
I first brought my kids to the services with more actions, such as throwing of flower petals or sprinkling of holy water. Ever since my very first Pascha in 2014, they were intrigued, especially my two older daughters.They said, “Why didn’t you bring us? We want to be able to stay up all night and feast, too!” The next year, I brought them with me to experience Pascha. One daughter was not able to stay up, but she brought her sleeping bag and was in her pyjamas…they were both up partying at the feast though. It was something very special.
What do you think of the Protestant Reformation?
It was tragic that the reformation needed to happen because of how corrupt the Roman Catholic Church was. Yet, for me, being received into an Eastern Catholic Church is way easier than becoming a Roman Catholic, for historically there was no enmity between the Eastern and Protestant Churches; the Eastern Christians also ask very different questions. We (in the Eastern Catholic Church) are not consumed by the hot button issues of the reformation, such as the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Protestants reject this doctrine. We Eastern Catholics believe the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ because that is what the early Christians believed – going back to the late 1st century. But we won’t try to explain the phenomenon with Aristotelian theological constructs like transubstantiation but simply accept it as a mystery… In the Eastern Church, we practice our faith according to what has been handed down to us through the Church: The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom which is celebrated weekly was handed down from the fifth century. Many of our liturgical services originated in the first few centuries of Christianity – that is, even before the Great Schism – so what is there to argue about?
What would you say to your protestant brothers and sisters, who don’t really show an interest in your chrismation into the Eastern Catholic Church?
We are on the same walk with Christ, towards Christ. They are my brothers and sisters and the reason I want to be a bridge builder is that I want them to know there are rich traditions to the Church. I would say if anyone is searching, (with) a genuine desire for following Christ, just open your eyes and experience something from one of these historic Christian traditions. You might find things that can draw you closer to Jesus from the practice, theology and spirituality of the ancient Church.