Two weeks ago, the bishops of six different Eastern Churches from the Middle East gathered for a Synod. Bishops of the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite and Syrian Churches were present and sometimes sparks flew! The bishops expressed the fear that unless certain reforms were instituted in relationship to themselves and the Vatican, which is the head of the Latin Church, there was danger that they themselves would grow ever smaller and possibly cease to exist.
Throughout the century, the popes have expressed strong desire that these ancient churches, which date back to the 1st and 2nd centuries, be maintained with their special history, culture, liturgy and overall identity. Each of these churches is lead by a patriarch appointed by and in communion with the Bishop of Rome, but their administrative jurisdiction is limited to the small areas where they have been geographically located over the centuries. With today’s modern economy, members of each of these faith communities are scattered across the world and while they frequently have local parishes of their own, the authority of their patriarch back home is limited to liturgical issues. In all other respects, members of these ancient traditions are subject to the authority of the Latin Church. These ancient churches want greater independence from the Vatican and stronger ties to their own patriarchs.