Part 20 – Where East meets West


Madonna House has roots in both Western (Roman) and Eastern (Orthodox) Church traditions, and received from our Russian foundress the call to be, in our hearts and outlook, a bridge between the two, as part of our vocation. Catherine once summarized it thus:

“What my heart desires is unity between the Western and Eastern Churches. From the earliest years of my childhood, in my own home I grew up with both Orthodox and Roman influences. A Russian in his spirituality, my father nevertheless exemplified in himself a synthesis of the two ways of Christianity. This family school made of me a sort of bridge, before I even knew the depth of the split between Byzantium and Rome, in 1054.


As Madonna House developed into the Apostolate we are today, I began in earnest to present this spirituality, and eventually the priests and lay staff became aware of the difference between my Christian thinking and living, and theirs. We helped each other, as it were. The genius of Rome consisted in the speculative, intellectual approach to God, whereas the Eastern approach was one of the heart, intuition and preserving the Liturgy as the center of its life.

One day a priest of the Melkite (Catholic) Rite arrived in Madonna House, Fr. Joseph Raya from Birmingham, Alabama. We were astonished when, after staying here two days, he wanted the Pax Caritas cross of Madonna House (worn only by members). Fr. Raya’s explanation went something like this: ‘I have found what I was seeking for, a place where East and West live in love and harmony’. (In receiving our cross that day, he initiated the Associate clergy of Madonna House.)

He brought us icons and enthusiastically taught us by celebrating the Byzantine liturgy, giving courses in Eastern spirituality and mentality. He eventually was named Archbishop of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee in the Holy Land, and at his request, we sent a team of our lay members to join him in Haifa. Some years later, both they and Archbishop Raya returned to Combermere, where his influence deepened.

These two great traditions, East and West, blend and unite in the very center and heart of Madonna House and have become simply Christianity.”