East Meets West: At Belgian Chevetogne Monastery, Catholic and Orthodox Monks Worship Separately, But Study and Dialogue Together

by Rev. Dr. Miltiades B. Efthimiou

While in Belgium for the Conference on Religious Freedom and Human Rights, the Rev. Dr. Miltiades B. Efthimiou and a group of Archons managed a side trip to the Monastery of Chevetogne, about two hours south of Brussels.

Situated in the mountains, in one of the most serene areas of Belgium, the Monastery of Chevetogne is the only site in the world where, de facto, East meets West on a daily basis.

Benedictine Catholic monks and their Eastern Orthodox counterparts worships separately in their respective liturgical service (however, the Creed is recited in the original text composed by the Fathers of the 1st and 2nd Ecumenical Councils, without the erroneous Latin Filioque clause.)

Chevetogne Monastery with Byzantine Church on right.
Photo by Daniel Galadza (Wikipedia.com)
The uniqueness of the Chevetogne is that every evening, after their separate services, everyone comes together for dinner; they call it "agape" dinner and camaraderie in love, in spite of theological and Christological differences. They study together and have evening dialogues. They invite scholars and clerics from both persuasions, as Christians did in the early Apostolic and post-Apostolic times, when the Church was One, Catholic, and Apostolic. And before retiring, they pray together utilizing the prayers of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil as well as of St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and others revered in both the east and west.

Every Sunday, a Mass is held in the Catholic basilica and a Divine Liturgy at the Byzantine Orthodox Katholikon. Roman Catholics attend and receive the Eucharist in their church, Orthodox attend and receive the Eucharist in their church. Then the parishioners and visitors, who come not only from the surrounding areas of Belgium but from neighboring countries, go to the common refectory to break bread in the Name of their common Lord and Savior--a most uplifting experience of diverse people coming together in love.

The monastery of Chevetogne was founded in 1925 by Dom Lambert Beauduin (1873-1960). This monk of the Benedictine Abbey of Mont Cesar (Louvain) previously was deeply involved with the liturgical movement in Belgium. When he came to know the Orthodox Christian East, he realized where true Catholicism lay (much to the chagrin of the Vatican), and to what extent the churches were divided. He studied the Fathers of the East, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory the Theologian, and others, and started to work toward establishing a foundation of a monastery devoted to Christian unity between Rome and the Orthodox Christian world.

He was deeply moved by the role that Patriarch Athenagoras played in the establishment of the World Council of Churches. He was also aware of the ecumenical work of the twice-elected president of the WCC, the late Archbishop Iakovos, and his efforts to bring Latin West and Greek East closer together.

There is an impressive Byzantine edifice in the monastery, built as a permanent visible sign of the constant prayer for unity of the Christian community. Evidence of this unity is the enormous library filled with early works of the Fathers as well as numerous copies of manuscripts and codices of both East and West, as well as the great collection of Orthodox icons in the church and on the premises.

The Orthodox services are performed in Flemish, Greek, and Russian, officiated by visiting Orthodox clerics, some of whom spend months at the monastery studying in its library. The church is dedicated to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the feast day celebrated in the Orthodox calendar on  September 14 annually.

Dr. Efthimiou is a retired protopresyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. He served as ecumenical officer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. He is the author of several books and numerous articles.

(Posting date 04 March 2011. Submitted by the author under the title, "East Meets West: At Chevetogne Monastery Catholic and Orthodox Worship Separately But Fellowship with One Another.")

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