The Organization of the Orthodox Catholic Church
The Orthodox Catholic Church, though connected by origin, faith, history and tradition with the Roman Catholic, Reformation and Eastern Orthodox Churches, is independent of these faith communities and has its own governing structure.
The Synod is the gathering of Orthodox Catholic bishops, clergy and lay representatives. It is the task of the Synod to elect the Presiding Bishop and the Vicar General. Ordinarily, the Presiding Bishop shall convene the synod every four years. For very serious reasons any Bishop may call for a Synod to assemble. Two thirds of all bishops constitute a quorum for deliberation regarding the whole Church. Before the Bishops convene, an agenda and other documents to be discussed shall be sent to each of them at least in the preliminary draft. The final text will be the one that has received necessary time for discussion and is approved by a simple majority of the Synod participants.
The Presiding Bishop Is Our Principal Shepherd. S/He shall be elected by the participants during a Synod from the cadre of eligible Orthodox Catholic Bishops and shall remain in office until the next Synod. The Presiding Bishop is the spokesperson for all the bishops. S/He is also responsible for overseeing the daily business needs of the Church as well as its spiritual needs. The Presiding Bishop in the Orthodox Catholic Church truly reflects the meaning of the phrase Primus inter pares (first among equals).
The Vicar General is elected from among eligible Orthodox Catholic Priests or Bishops and is to aid the Presiding Bishop in all his/her needs of governance. S/He will perform all the duties of the Presiding Bishop in his/her absence, leave or incapacitation. In the case of death, resignation or permanent disability of the Presiding Bishop, the Vicar General shall convene the Synod within a year or at the lapse of the four years interval for the Synod to take place, whichever is sooner. The Vicar General, even if not a bishop, is eligible to be elected as the Presiding Bishop and will first be consecrated a bishop before assuming the role as Presiding Bishop. A new Vicar General shall be voted on by the Synod.
Bishops, who may be male or female, single or married, oversee the priests and parishes of their area or diocese. They collaborate on all issues dealing with the whole Church. Local parish communities are established through the appropriate bishop, who is also responsible for the training of men and women for service as clergy of their area or diocese. Bishops are the servants to the servants (priests) of the people of God in their area or diocese.
Priests are the front-line servants to the people of God. They may be male or female, married or single. Priests may be involved in a variety of ministries, as parishes, retreats, chaplaincies or whatever other ministries they feel called to by the Spirit. Most of our priests are non-stipendiary. Typically, each member of the clergy finds his/her own employment, which provides for his or her physical needs. Clerics usually pay for their own training and for their ordination expenses.
Deacons in their liturgical role, assist the Bishop and priests in worship services. They can baptize, distribute communion, witness and bless marriages, preside at healing and funeral services. They may also read the gospel and preach whenever asked by the pastor. The deaconate, in the spirit of service, may be a permanent office or a step towards the priesthood.
Religious Orders exist in the Orthodox Catholic Church. The members (men and women) are bound to follow their Holy Rule and the guidance of the super ordinate of the Order. All Heads of the Orders (bishops or not) are responsible to the Presiding Bishop. Members of religious orders should celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) according to the customs and spirituality of the Order.
All the Faithful in the Orthodox Catholic Church community sharing in the priesthood of Christ are called to participate in the promotion of the gospel. Just as they are called to share the gospel ministry of the church they should be sensitive to the material needs of the Church and, according to their means, to provide for its financial support.
In the Orthodox Catholic Church, the Eucharistic liturgy is celebrated in various ancient and modern rituals. In addition to the preceding, contemplative prayer, meditation, spiritual healing, teaching and counseling form an integral part of the life of our congregations and members. Thus, pastors serve the people of God according to their own needs.
The Venerable Old Catholic Church
Long ago in the history of the Church in the West, the See of Utrecht was granted a rather special status. It was such a long distance from Rome, that the Pope granted to that bishop the right to choose (elect) and consecrate his own successors. In the centuries that followed, Utrecht became a center of Western culture and of the Latin Rite of Christianity. At the First Vatican Council in 1870, the Roman Church promulgated several new mandates, which were inconsistent with the understanding of the bishop of Utrecht. Utrecht withdrew from union with Rome. A number of other northern European bishops also withdrew, most having difficulty with the concept of "papal infallibility.” The Union of Utrecht provided the basis for what became the "Old Catholic Church. It is a jurisdiction with valid Apostolic succession, which maintained the teachings of the Catholic and Christian Church.
The Orthodox Catholic Church, like other Catholic and Orthodox Churches, recognizes Seven Sacraments that are a part of our salvation history. Tradition tells us that Christ instituted these and the Church has used them through the centuries to mark the mileposts of our Christian lives. These become outward signs of the grace of God working in our lives. Some of the Sacraments may be received only once, while others may be received repeatedly assisting us in transforming our lives into a deeper communion with the Divine. They are a mark of the hand of God.
Baptism is a ritual of cleansing and of welcoming into the Christian community. It was done before Jesus as a Jewish tradition and was re-named by the early Christians. The Orthodox Catholic Church recognizes the baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit@ of other Christian Churches. To join the Orthodox Catholic Church a person does not have to be re-baptized. Baptism is an important sacrament in that it is the first sacrament a Christian receives from the Church. It marks one as accepting the Christ, and cleansed of sin, becomes a member of the family of God. Godparents assist the parents of the newly baptized and help them guide the child/person in their life of faith.
Confirmation is an anointing with the oil of chrism to seal the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the individual. Confirmation is the completion of the Christian Initiation and therefore received only once. It can be received immediately after baptism, or later in life. In the Orthodox Catholic Church to express the fullness of commitment to the Christ and to His Church, the Bishop normally administers the Sacrament of confirmation; however, a priest may be delegated to give the sacrament of confirmation.
The Holy Eucharist or the Divine Liturgy, or The Lord's Supper, is the Sacrament wherein Jesus is present to us through the forms of bread and wine. The words of institution remind us that Jesus himself commanded us to "do this in remembrance of me.” The sacrament of Holy Eucharist is open to people of all faiths, who wish to share in this sacred meal with us, in their need to be close to God.
Reconciliation, also referred to as Penance or Confession, is the sacrament of forgiveness and reconciliation. "If we say there is no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth (1John 1, 8).” This sacrament reconciles the sinner not only with God, but also with the community. The Orthodox Catholic Church administers the sacrament of penance in both traditional forms: individual confession to a priest or bishop, or general absolution. The early Western Church survived a terrible persecution at the time of emperor Diocletian. Following this reign of terror, those who had left the Church found themselves in need of reconciliation with those who had been brave enough to "confess" publicly to being Christian. The lapsi (those who had lapsed in their faith) were asked to seek out a "confessor" and to work with that brave Christian to reconcile themselves with the Christian Community. Shortly thereafter, as the "confessors" died out, their role passed to the priests of the Church where it resides to this day.
Matrimony is the sacrament in which the clergy act solely as witnesses for the Church, as the ministers of this sacrament are actually the bride and groom. Matrimony is a sacred sealing of the love of two people in the sight of God and before the Church community. As a Christian family we express our joy that two people have found love and we encourage them to grow together in God’s love. In the Orthodox Catholic Church, the happy couple may be married using the ritual most common to their community. Orthodox Catholic Church recognizes that matrimony is permanent, however we also realize that human beings are not perfect. Divorce and re-marriage are not impediments to being a member in full communion with the church. Realizing that God creates human beings in many forms, the Orthodox Catholic Church does celebrate same-gender unions with the same dignity and permanence as mixed-gender unions.
Healing (Anointing of the Sick) is that sacrament we use to invoke God's healing blessing upon the sick, and for strength of faith and forgiveness upon the dying. In all of our human frailty, we realize that God is both infinite and infinitely loving. The sick can draw great comfort from the love of God present in this sacrament. All present are invited to pray with the sick and the minister anoints the sick with holy oil. The anointing of the sick should be considered any time that a person is ill. Many people do not avail themselves of this sacrament because they believe it is only for the dying; not so, it is for anyone who is ill who can benefit from the power of God' love.
Holy Orders (Ordination) is the sacrament by which we mark those chosen to serve God as ministers among his people. We recognize three distinct orders of ministry: Deacons, Priests and Bishops. Called by the community, a deacon, priest or bishop is a servant of the community. The Orthodox Catholic Church recognizes the dignity of all human beings and allows both male and female members to serve in the clergy. Since celibacy is a gift from God and a gift of the individual, OCC clergy maybe married or celibate. Consent of the spouse or life-mate should be sought before ordination.
The Liturgical Year
Our liturgical year is divided up into seasons and each season reflects a period of the history of salvation. We begin the year with Advent (four Sundays before Christmas) by preparing for the Second Coming of Christ. At Christmas, we commemorate the birth of the Lord and pray earnestly for His return. Christmas ends with Epiphany (the Twelfth Day of Christmas), during which we celebrate that Christ came to be made known throughout the nations. Then we have a period of Ordinary Time (Green Sundays), which is interrupted by the season of Lent that begins with Ash Wednesday. Lent is a time of self-assessment and reflection. Lent concludes with the Holy Tridium, or the three great days, which are truly the culmination of our liturgical life: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter (which begins on Saturday night). After the Forty days of Easter that conclude at Pentecost, we resume the Ordinary time until the end of the church year: the Feast of Christ the King. For this yearlong cycle, we have a three-year cycle of readings. Year A features the Gospel of Matthew, Year B features Mark and Year C features Luke. The Gospel of John is not forgotten, but is reserved for the special holy days of the Church (like Christmas and Easter). The celebrant or the community may choose any appropriate passage of the Holy Scriptures for proper instruction or the needs of the moment.
The colors of the liturgical vestments give a visual emphasis to the character of the season:
Ordinary (Common) Time - Green
Lent (Penitential) - Violet or Purple
Easter (Joy) - White or Gold
Advent (Penitential but hope-filled) - Violet or Blue and Rose
Christmas/Epiphany (Joy) - White or Gold
NB - Red may be used for feasts of Martyrs and to represent the Holy Spirit. Black can be used in some traditions to commemorate the dead and for funerals; however, normally white is used to rejoice in our resurrection of Christ. In the absence of assorted colors, white may be used at any time as it commemorates the resurrection of the Lord.
The church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. We use the color of violet or blue during this season to remind us that this is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord in our hearts. This is not the coming of Jesus as a baby (the historical event) but rather, we prepare for the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior in the Parousia. The liturgy is quiet and contemplative and we read the announcements of the coming of the Messiah. We see the prophetic figures that preceded His coming such as in John the Baptist. As we reach the Third Sunday of Advent, almost unable to contain our joy, we use rose-colored vestments (if available) to show our hope.
A home practice we encourage keep is the “Advent wreath” to help us in our prayers and to remind us that contrary to popular culture, Christmas is a religious feast with four weeks of preparation, not a time for business and buying that begins in October. The advent wreath is made with evergreens and four candles, one for each Sunday: violet, violet rose, violet.
Christmas - Epiphany
Christmas Day is celebrated for twelve days ending on January 6. In the midst of the darkness of winter, we celebrate with lights and sounds the acceptance of God’s love and redemption in the person of Jesus, the joy of family love, the gift of children and of simplicity, the hope for peace in this world.
At the nativity, the shepherds, local people, and angels came and worshiped the newborn Savior. On Epiphany (the 12th day) we celebrate the fact that Christ was made known to the world; Epiphany@ means manifestation. The Magi had seen the star and followed it until they arrived in Bethlehem of Judea. They represent the entire world that, guided by the light of faith, is to come to know the Lord. They brought him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, rich and symbolic gifts, worthy of a king, a priest and a prophet.
Lent - Holy Week
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. A season where we prepare for Easter and take a long look at our lives to see what we need to do to be ready for the new life of the Kingdom of God.
Throughout the season of Lent, the Church encourages us to be aware of our relationship with God in all aspects and moments of our life. Several customary practices are recommended, principal among these are: fasting, almsgiving and prayer; but each faithful should make a personal commitment to an action/choice that is most needed to grow spiritually.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are generally kept as fast and abstinence days (no full meals and abstaining from meat). Fridays in Lent are also days of special significance; it is suggested to choose a meaningful act of self-control, such as abstaining from eating meat. However, throughout Lent each one is encouraged to self-impose some form of penance according to one=s age and physical possibility. For almsgiving, one may give money or volunteer work to the church or any worthy cause. Prayer is always important. Throughout this season, the Church encourages us to spend more time in prayer especially meditation, perfecting our conversation with God, not only talking, but also listening.
Lent climaxes with the Celebration of Palm Sunday, which commemorates our Lord’s entrance with joy into the Holy City and the turn of events that lead to His passion, death and resurrection? The week that follows is Holy Week, commemorating the events that mark the fulfillment of the mission of our Savior Jesus.
On Holy Thursday, we remember the Lord's institution of the Eucharist and the new commandment that he gave to love one another, as he had loved us. As a sign of the humble service, that Jesus did and that he expects us to imitate, the celebrant, like Jesus, is encouraged to wash the feet of those who have come to the Liturgy.
Good Friday is a somber remembrance of the death of Jesus for love of us. The cross is venerated as the instrument of our salvation and the symbol of our Christian faith; Mass is not celebrated; a service consists of the reading of the Passion of Jesus, the veneration of the Cross and Communion.
After sundown on Saturday night, the community gathers to prepare for the reception into the Church of the new believers through baptism and confirmation and to celebrate our new life in the Spirit of Jesus. The service culminates with the announcement that the Christ has risen.
Easter is the most important Feast in the Church. It celebrates the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Saint Paul was asking: what good would it be for us, that Christ had to lay down his life without rising to new life? Easter is our sure hope in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting that makes Christians so optimistic. We can believe good things about the future because we believe in a loving God who raised His Son from the dead and will raise us also.
Some of the traditions that can be celebrated (but not limited to) regarding this feast include the baking of special breads and the decorating of eggs. Food can be brought from the home, blessed at church and shared with others. It is a time of joy!
Liturgically, Easter begins with the lighting of the new fire. In a darkened church (no candles, no lights) in a darkened city (all the fires blown out) a new fire is kindled. Its blaze represents the light of Christ and is used to light the great paschal candle. This pillar of fire is carried into the darkened church with the acclamation “Christ our Light! - Thanks Be to God!” The flame is shared to light the candles of the people of God and, by the time the paschal candle is set into its stand for the proclamation of the Exultat, the church is resplendent with flames of all present: a flame divided yet undimmed. Next, we listen to the entire history of salvation, from Gods creation of the world, through the passion death and resurrection of Christ. We renew our baptismal vows as we bring new members into the church. We leave rejoicing. Truly, this is the day the Lord has made, when Jesus rose from the dead. It is not a mere remembrance of the past, but a joining of the past and the present. The season of Easter should be treated not as a single day, but as fifty days of feasting and happiness. At the end of those fifty days, at Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the community.
Pentecost (fifty days after Easter) is really the birthday of the Church. It was at Pentecost, after Jesus ascended into heaven, that the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and they were filled with new gifts. It is important to remember that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, that the Apostles were moved to action. They went and preached the good news in the whole world and established various Churches, which continue their mission to this day, through the intervention and power of the same Holy Spirit. Much like Easter, Pentecost is a time for thanksgiving and praise.
Ordinary (Common) Time
The rest of the seasons in the Church can be referred to as Ordinary Time. Not that any time spent with God is ordinary, but that there is no special seasonal emphasis. We use this time to read from the scriptures about the wonderful things God has promised, taught and done. There are numerous movable feasts that float in and out of this large season, whether to celebrate an event or a saint. Ordinary time fills in the gaps between the other three seasons that have a fixed calendar time. The Sundays of Ordinary Time are occasionally supplanted by the other important celebrations and feasts. During this long term, we read the Gospels and the other Holy Scriptures of the New and Old Testament. Be faithful to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy daily and you will find a wealth of inspiration and wisdom. To pursue all the writing of the Bible the church has divided the readings into a 2- year cycle for weekdays and a 3- year cycle for Sundays.