Eastern Catholic Churches

The Eastern Catholic Churches or Oriental Catholic Churches, also called the Eastern-rite Catholic Churches, Eastern Rite Catholicism, or simply the Eastern Churches,[lower-alpha 1] are twenty-three Eastern Christian sui iuris (autonomous) particular churches of the Catholic Church, in full communion with the Pope in Rome. Although they are distinct theologically, liturgically, and historically from the Latin Church, they are all in full communion with it and with each other.

Eastern Catholic Churches
OrientationEastern Christianity
ScriptureBible (Septuagint, Peshitta)
TheologyCatholic theology and
Eastern theology
Supreme PontiffPope Francis
LanguageKoine Greek, Syriac, Hebrew, Aramaic, Geʽez, Coptic, Classical Armenian, Church Slavonic and vernaculars
LiturgyAlexandrian Rite, Armenian Rite, Byzantine Rite, East Syriac Rite, and the West Syriac Rite
Separated fromVarious autocephalous churches of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Church of the East throughout the centuries
Members18 million[1]

The majority of the Eastern Catholic Churches are groups that, at different points in the past, used to belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox churches, and the historic Church of the East, but are now in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The five liturgical traditions of the twenty-three Eastern Catholic Churches, including the Alexandrian Rite, the Armenian Rite, the Byzantine Rite, the East Syriac Rite, and the West Syriac Rite, are shared with other Eastern Christian churches.[2] Consequently, the Catholic Church consists of six liturgical rites, including the aforementioned five liturgical traditions of the Eastern Catholic Churches along with the Latin liturgical rites of the Latin Church.[3]

The Eastern Catholic Churches are governed in accordance with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, although each church also has its own canons and laws on top of this, and the preservation of their own traditions is explicitly encouraged. The total membership of the various churches accounts for about 18 million, according to the Annuario Pontificio (the annual directory of the Catholic Church), thus making up about 1.5 percent of the Catholic Church, with the rest of its more than 1.3 billion members belonging to the Latin Church.

The Maronite Church has historically been treated as never having fully schismed with the Holy See despite a dispute over Christological doctrine that concluded in 1154, while most of the other churches unified from the 16th century onwards.[4] However, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the Syro Malabar Church and the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church also claim perpetual communion. The largest six churches based on membership are the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC; Byzantine Rite), the Syro-Malabar Church (East Syriac Rite), the Maronite Church (West Syriac Rite), the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Byzantine Rite), the Chaldean Catholic Church (East Syriac Rite), and the Armenian Catholic Church (Armenian Rite).[5] These six churches account for about 85% of the membership of the Eastern Catholic Churches.[6]

Full communion constitutes mutual sacramental sharing between the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Latin Church, including Eucharistic intercommunion. Although some theological issues divide the Eastern Catholic Churches from other Eastern Christian ones, they do admit members of the latter to the Eucharist and the other sacraments, as governed by Eastern Catholic canon law.[lower-alpha 2] Notably, many of the Eastern Catholic Churches regularly allow the ordination of married men to the priesthood (although not to the episcopacy), a different approach to clerical celibacy than the Latin Church takes.

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