Thursday, November 29, 2007

Western Christians can learn much from Eastern Christians, says pope

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christianity is not and never has been a uniquely European phenomenon, and Christians of the West can learn much from the cultural expressions of Eastern Christians, especially those of the early church, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Today it is a common opinion that Christianity is a European religion that exported European culture to other countries, but the reality is much more complicated and complex," he said Nov. 28 at his weekly general audience.

"It is not only that the roots of the Christian religion are found in Jerusalem, in the Old Testament, in the Semitic world and Christianity is constantly nourished by these Old Testament roots," he said, "but the expansion of Christianity in the first centuries" went simultaneously West and East.

In Europe, but also throughout the Middle East and over to India, "Christianity with a different culture was formed," he said. Christians in the East lived the faith "with their own expressions and cultural identities," demonstrating "the cultural plurality of the one faith from the beginning."

With fewer than 8,000 people present, the weekly gathering was held inside the Vatican audience hall, offering greater protection from the cold and wind for the pope, whose voice was hoarse.

The pope's main audience talk focused on the life, teaching and poetry of St. Ephraem the Syrian, a fourth-century deacon.

"He remained a deacon throughout his life and embraced virginity and poverty," the pope said.

Pope Benedict, whose new encyclical on the virtue of hope was to be released at the Vatican Nov. 30, said St. Ephraem was a model of the Christian virtues: "faith, hope -- this hope that allows us to live poor and as virgins in this world, placing all one's hope in the Lord -- and, finally, charity to the point of self-giving in the care of victims of the plague," which he contracted and which caused his death.

In his hymns and poetry, St. Ephraem offered theological reflections using images "taken from nature, daily life and the Bible."

His use of song, especially liturgical song, the pope said, was an effective means of religious education because "precisely by singing, celebrating, praising God, we see not only the beauty, but the truth of the faith and we encounter the truth in person, Christ."

St. Ephraem's reflections on God the creator, he said, are very important.

The saint taught that "nothing in creation is isolated. The world, alongside the Scriptures, is God's Bible. By using his freedom in an erroneous way, man upsets the order of the cosmos," the pope said.

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Editor's Note: The Vatican text of the pope's remarks in English is available online at:

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