The Eastern Churches Down Under

Despite cultural and religious challenges Eastern Christianity thrives in Australia.

by Peg Maron

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Although there were Eastern Catholics in Australia as early as the mid-19th century, it is only within the past 50 years that large numbers have fled the turmoil of Eastern Europe and the Middle East to settle in that land down under.

Today Eastern Catholic churches, particularly the Maronite Church, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, are flourishing in Australia. In the major cities of Melbourne and Sydney, Armenian, Chaldean and Coptic Catholics also worship in their own churches served by their own priests, as do Russian Byzantine Catholics in Melbourne and Syrian Catholics in Sydney. Other Eastern Catholic churches are represented in Australia but do not have their own bishops or priests.

In keeping with the directives of Vatican II and subsequent directives of the Holy See, Eastern Catholics are encouraged to keep their own traditions.

The Eparch of St. Maron of Sydney, Bishop Joseph Hitti, cares for Australia’s estimated 160,000 Maronites in nine parishes. The eparchy maintains three schools, three child-care centers, two hostels and two nursing homes.

Bishop Issam Darwish heads the Eparchy of St Michael’s of Sydney and serves a flock of 45,000 Melkite Greek Catholics, mostly from the Middle East, in nine parishes.

As these two eparchies lie outside the geographical territory of their patriarchates, their patriarchs do not have jurisdiction over them; therefore, they are subject to the Apostolic See.

There is only one eparchy in Australia of a major archiepiscopal church, the Eparchy of Sts. Peter and Paul of Melbourne for Ukrainian Greek Catholics. The eight parishes of the eparchy are under the pastoral care of Bishop Peter Stasiuk, who serves an estimated 35,400 people.

As each of these three Eastern churches has established an eparchy in Australia, the pastoral care of their faithful falls to their own eparchs.

Catholics from those Eastern churches that do not have bishops or dioceses in Australia are subject to the jurisdiction of the local Latin bishop in the area in which they live. Members of the Eastern churches with their own priests are encouraged to worship within their own tradition, but even those Eastern Catholics without a priest are helped insofar as possible to observe their own traditions and customs.

Orthodox churches were generally absent from pre-1945 Australia. Some tiny, isolated pockets of Orthodoxy, mainly in Melbourne and Sydney, had been in Australia since the mid-19th century.

A band of “Old Believers,” who broke from mainstream Russian Orthodoxy in the 17th century, arrived in Queensland after the 1905 Revolution in Russia and settled near Gladstone, where their descendants remain to this day.

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