A Family Reunion at Holy Apostles Eastern Orthodox Church in Saddle Brook, New Jersey

On October 8th, the pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa visited Holy Apostles Eastern Orthodox Church in Saddle Brook, NJ.  Sub-Deacon Peter Eagler heard about the peregrination through His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon who endorsed it and arranged for the icon to come to Holy Apostles.  Father Matthew Brown, the parish priest, was a very gracious host.  Fr. Matthew conducted a healing service in the afternoon and a Vespers service in the evening, followed by a candlelight procession and the singing of Orthodox and Catholic hymns to the Mother of God.

Eight different Churches were represented by either clergy or lay people at these services including the Orthodox Church of America, the Patriarchal Jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox, Carpatho-Russian Orthodox, and Ukrainian-Orthodox, Serbian-Orthodox, Syrian-Orthodox, Greek-Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church which includes both Latin and Eastern Rite Churches. Among the Eastern Rite Churches in communion with Rome, there were representatives of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and Greek Catholic Church of the Ruthenian Rite.   Among those attending there were people of Russian, Irish, Scottish, African, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Armenian, Puerto Rican and German descent, among others. Some Protestants also prayed with us, as did the novices of the Sisters of Life from Suffern, New York.  Again, it was wonderful to see the Sisters give such enthusiastic support to this pilgrimage!  The Sisters were there at many of the events in the New York Metropolitan area. 

The Górale, Polish children dressed in traditional Polish highlander clothing, brought flowers to Our Lady.  After the services, we shared meals together prepared by the parishioners of Holy Apostles.  A spirit of good feeling and fraternity prevailed which is still being spoken about to this day!  It felt like a family reunion! Everyone came together to honor Our Lady and to pray for the defense of life and the family.

In the first millennium, the Church was united, but in 1054 A.D., a painful split occurred known as the East-West Schism. The Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope pronounced excommunications against one another.  Blessed Pope John Paul II acknowledged that people on both sides were responsible for the division. 

In 1964, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople met in Jerusalem.  Their historic meeting led to a joint statement in which excommunications which were imposed by both Churches in 1054 were lifted on December 7, 1965.  Since that time relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have continued to improve.

When Blessed Pope John Paul II visited Romania in 1999, it was the first time a Pope visited a predominantly Eastern Orthodox country since 1054.   When the Pope arrived, the Patriarch of Romania, Emil Constantinescu greeted the Pope with these words:  "The second millennium of Christian history began with a painful wounding of the unity of the Church; the end of this millennium has seen a real commitment to restoring Christian unity."

In 2001, Blessed Pope John Paul II became the first Pope to visit Greece in 1291 years.  He expressed profound regret for the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens, head of the Greek Orthodox Church, applauded and the two prayed the Lord’s Prayer together. This was a groundbreaking step for the Orthodox.

In his encyclical letter of 1987, Redemptoris Mater, Blessed Pope John Paul II expressed his hope that the day would come soon “when the Church can begin once more to breathe fully with her ‘two lungs,’ the East and the West.” He continued:

Even though we are still experiencing the painful effects of the separation which took place. . . , we can say that in the presence of the Mother of Christ we feel that we are true brothers and sisters within that messianic People, which is called to be the one family of God on earth.  

That family atmosphere was certainly present at Holy Apostles Eastern Orthodox Church that day!  Father Matthew said “We are happy that so many people from so many different backgrounds joined together at Holy Apostles to honor the Virgin Mary, to seek healing of their various ailments, and to support the sanctity of life.”

Fr. Peter West
Vice President for Missions
Human Life International

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