Breathe with both lungs

Notre Dame's theology chair demonstrates Catholic character in a global context

What comes to mind when you think about the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame? Likely, an image of traditional Roman Catholicism. But the Church is a global body with diverse traditions and people who lead them. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the life story of the chair of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology, Father Khaled Anatolios.

In this episode of Notre Dame Stories, we explore one way the University embraces and advances its Catholic character in the global context.

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Jenna Liberto: When you think about the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, what comes to mind? Likely, a certain conventional image. But the Church is a global body with diverse traditions and people who lead them. Nowhere is this more apparent than the life story of the chair of Notre Dame's Department of Theology, Father Khaled Anatolios. In this episode of Notre Dame Stories, we explore one way the University embraces its Catholic character in the global context.

Father Khaled, it's so great to be with you. Thank you for inviting us to your office. I'd love to start our conversation by asking you to share a little bit about your Notre Dame story.

Father Khaled Anatolios: Sure. Well, I'm a theologian, a theologian who specializes particularly in early Christianity and especially in early Christianity in dialogue with modern theology. Anybody who works in theology knows that the Notre Dame theology department is one of the premier departments in the world, and it was recently ranked number one. And that happens frequently. So I was well aware of the excellence of the faculty and the premier reputation of the department. So it is a great honor and thrill to receive an invitation to come and join the faculty here. And it didn't take much deliberation to come to the conclusion that this would be a wonderful place for me to continue my scholarly work.

Jenna Liberto: Let's talk a little bit about your background. You are a Melkite priest. What does that mean for someone who's not familiar? And what was your journey like to get to what you're doing right now?

Father Khaled Anatolios: The Melkite Church follows these Byzantine traditions. Byzantine refers to these traditions that grew up around that area—originated in that area and then spread out. So the Melkite Church follows these traditions but is in communion with the Bishop of Rome. And we pray the Pope, we pray for the Pope during the liturgy. And that means we have inter-communion and, specifically, the Melkite Church is a Byzantine Catholic Church that has its origins in the Middle East.

So originally, Melkite Christians come from the Middle East, from countries like, principally, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt.

Jenna Liberto: So what was the process to become a priest like for you? Because if you're looking at the world through the lens of Roman Catholicism, how you came to the priesthood is very different than what we might typically expect.

Father Khaled Anatolios: So that was quite a shock. And I thought about it. I agitated about it. I found many reasons for not accepting that invitation. You know, I was terrified, frankly. And so in many ways, I was reluctant. And I ... but I prayed about it. And, you know, I brought out all my objections in prayer. And at the end of the day, you know, I had a very wise spiritual director who took me through, guided me through the whole process.

And, you know, at the end, he convinced me, you know, he said, like you had thought of this on your own. Then we could worry, like, is this a good idea or not? But you were called by the bishop and so you were called by the Church in the name in the person of the bishop. And so we know you have an invitation from the Church, and it's always better to say ‘yes’ than ‘no.’

And I was finally reconciled to that. And I've received many blessings as a priest and do not at all regret it.

Jenna Liberto: It's a great responsibility that you have embraced and that your family embraced as well. As we look at these similarities and differences between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Catholic traditions. You were married. You have a family. Now your children are involved in your ministry. Were they quick to embrace this experience?

Father Khaled Anatolios: Yeah. Yeah. I'm glad you mentioned that. You know, because in class, you know, people see me sort of looking like a priest and so on. And then I have to warn them right away, you know, don't be scandalized. You know, I'm a priest, but I'm a married priest. It's legit, it's canonical. Everything's OK. So, yeah, but, you know, for me, you know, my family is completely involved in my ministry, and I couldn't do it without them. You know, I certainly couldn’t do in the same way even in the calling to the priesthood. You know, my wife, Khouria—we refer to the priest wife in Arabic as Khouria—Khouria Meredith.

You know, she was on board a lot quicker than I was, you know, so I had all this endless agitation and so on. And I was afraid to tell her, you know, what the Bishop said And, you know, all the ... you know, I was worried about how she would receive that and so on. But she was very peaceful. She's like, yeah, I expected that all along. And I thought that this was bound to happen. And I also thought that this was going to happen. So she was very calm and collected, you know, and totally received it while I was freaking out, you know. So, that helped me a lot.

You know, we have to come in an hour before liturgy and transform the chapel, which is regularly a Roman Catholic chapel, into a Byzantine chapel. And we have to move the chairs and roll out the icons and put different altar cloths and so on. So, you know, my younger children, Sarah and Rebecca, they come with minimal complaining, you know, sometimes requiring, you know, slight bribery. But they come and they, they do the work, you know, and they're great. And that's also one of the blessings of me being a married priest.

I get plenty of homily feedback. Yeah. So I recently published a book of homilies and dedicated it to Sarah and Rebecca, you know, and gratitude and recognition for their benevolent, gentle critiques of my sermons. Yeah.

Jenna Liberto: How beautiful.

Father Khaled Anatolios: It was definitely a family endeavor, for sure.

Jenna Liberto: Absolutely. From your perspective, why is it so important, maybe especially at a place like Notre Dame, to represent the Eastern Catholic traditions in addition to the Roman Catholic traditions?

Father Khaled Anatolios: Right. So, you know, I was ordained in 2015 back in Boston. And then when I was offered this position here at Notre Dame, I spoke with my bishop and he saw this as a great opportunity. So he recalled to me the words of John Paul II, you know, who said that the Eastern and Western traditions as the two lungs of the Church.

And he said the Catholic Church has to breathe with both lungs. And so Bishop Nicholas said, OK, so let's see how God is working here that you've been invited to one of the greatest Catholic universities in the world, you know, maybe the greatest. And so now you have a chance to go and help the University of Notre Dame breathe with both lungs so that Notre Dame could be not just a Roman Catholic university, though it has its origins specifically in the Roman Catholic tradition, and very richly so, but so Notre Dame can become fully Catholic and can breathe with both lungs.

So that was a great invitation for me. And it's been wonderful seeing that transpire in my time here.

Jenna Liberto: Notre Dame is also a leading research university. And we all we don't always think of that in terms of theology, but there is scholarly rigor that comes with studying theology for our students. What would you say is your role or, more broadly, your department's role in accompanying students as they study and seek to understand their faith?

Father Khaled Anatolios: Yeah, that's a wonderful question. So I regularly teach our introductory class, which all freshmen have to take at Notre Dame—Foundations of Theology—and a frequent reaction I get at the end of the class, whether live or in student evaluations, people will say to me, “Wow, I never thought that you could actually think about your faith.” I was like, “Well, faith, you just accept that.”

You believe it. You memorize some things, some phrases that you don't understand—you don't have to understand—and thinking is for other things than faith. Of course, that's really not accurate at all. It's not true to how we are, how we understand and receive Christian faith. So then the theology department in a Catholic university has an important task not just of teaching about faith and not even just about thinking about faith in a reasonable mode, you know: faith seeking understanding, but just as much relating the thinking about faith to the thinking about everything else, relating theology to history and to sociology and to physics and to biology and so on.

Jenna Liberto: Let's talk about the Mass, the Byzantine liturgy and the Mass that you celebrate. I loved joining you for Mass a few weeks ago. It's fascinating to explore the differences, one of which would be chanting, a lot of movement ... but I would love for you to describe, in your words, what is Mass like, particularly as we contrast it with a Roman Catholic Mass.

What does it look like? What does it smell like? What does it feel like?

Father Khaled Anatolios: It is fundamentally, essentially the same liturgy. There are structural similarities that everyone familiar with the Roman liturgy would recognize. There's the Liturgy of the Word that culminates in the reading of the Gospel. There's a Liturgy of the Eucharist that that culminates in Holy Communion.

Doctrinally, it's ... we believe that the same thing is happening, that the risen Lord is present, fully present as you intimated. You know, one difference is the impact on the senses. It's a, you know, the sensory experience is maybe more intense, you know, so there's the constant chanting, as you said, the icons that appeal to the vision, and the incense symbolizing, you know, a rising of a prayer to God, the bodily motions, you know, the frequent making the sign of the cross and the bowing and sometimes the prostrations. And also another important structural difference that belongs, specifically, to the Byzantine liturgy is the processions. So there's a lot of, you know, sensory impact.


Father Khaled Anatolios: For me, my experience of the Byzantine liturgy, I think in one word, has always been "theophany," you know, which means the appearance of God, like God shows up, you know, and, you know, just like Moses and the burning bush, you know, or Moses on the mountain or the vision of the Prophet Isaiah. You know, we come for liturgy as not so much like "we do this" and "we do that" and "we ask this" and "we wait for that."

But it's just, we come to the liturgy and then God appears, you know, and it's just everything is theophany. Everything is God appearing, speaking, acting out, manifesting Himself.

Jenna Liberto: People are showing up as well. 

Father Khaled Anatolios: Yes.

Jenna Liberto: As I understand, you started offering the Byzantine Mass to make sure our campus community could experience that. And what that has grown into now are Sunday services filled with literally people of all ages. College students, yes. Young families from the community ... What has that been like for you to create this community?

Father Khaled Anatolios: Yeah, it's it's been wonderful for the Holy Spirit to create this community. Yeah. You know, it's been wonderfully gratifying. You know, the Church is the communion of humanity in God and in Christ. And we have a beautiful communion here, you know, with, like you said, undergrad students, graduate students, faculty, faculty from different departments, not just from theology, people from the community.

And everybody has their stories, you know, and every story is beautiful and infinitely valuable in itself. But there are people who are Roman Catholic, they've never experienced the Byzantine liturgy. And so they hear about it and they come and they enjoy it. And some come and go. One of the great blessings, you know, we've been doing this since 2016, starting out once a month, and now every week during the academic year ... Every single liturgy we've ever had has had some new person who's never shown up before. That's been a constant. And it's amazing to me.

So we have people experiencing Byzantine liturgy for the first time. We have people who are Eastern Catholic, whether Melkite or another Eastern Catholic Church. And so, they come here to pray in a way that they're used to. Or sometimes they've had some experience in the past, and having liturgy on campus allows them to reconnect with that.

So right now in our present liturgy, we have people who, you know, trace their ethnicity to the Middle East, to Palestine, to Iraq and Germany, you know, other places, Slavic countries. From people, as you said, from inside the University, from outside the University, and from different constituencies within the University. So it's a very rich community.

Jenna Liberto: As we close, I'd love to invite you to share any anything you've learned in your own personal journey, in your ministry, in your time here at Notre Dame, about God, or how has your own relationship with Jesus grown through this time?

Father Khaled Anatolios: It's a beautiful question. I think the blessing of loving people in a new and different and deeper way in Christ as a priest. You know, there are different experiences of human love, the love of a child for parents, you know, romantic love, the love of a parent for a child, and each of these loves is new.

But I've experienced, really, a new kind of love as a priest or in, you know, the call to love people in Christ. And to hold the congregation in my heart as I offer the liturgy at the altar while they hold me and their heart and their prayer, you know, in our offering of the liturgy. So I vividly felt this call to love people in Christ.

I feel I've grown in that, you know, despite my deficiencies, but also a greater and more vivid love of Scripture, which has been evoked by the call to preach. You know, so the call to preach is a call to proclaim and expound the word of God in Scripture. So ... and I feel that has really helped me grow as a Christian disciple and as a theologian. I remember, also, this very wise spiritual director, may he rest in peace, God bless him, Father John Connolly. And during our discernment, he said, being ... you know, trust in God, and being a theologian will make you a better priest. And being a priest will make me a better theologian. And I can say I've experienced that.

And then finally, I would say, you know, learning to constantly repent, knowing my inadequacies and asking for forgiveness. So to grow in repentance, that's also a gift.

Jenna Liberto: Father Khaled, thank you. We appreciate your time and your willingness to teach us.

Father Khaled Anatolios: Thank you very much. And thank you for your hospitality and for your enthusiasm and encouragement. Thank you. God bless.

Jenna Liberto: Thanks for joining us for Notre Dame Stories, the official podcast of the University of Notre Dame. Find us on and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Notre Dame Stories is created by the Office of Public Affairs and Communications. It's written and produced by Andy Fuller with content coordination from Staci Stickovich. This episode was edited by Michael Wiens and Jessica Sieff with Videography by Tony Fuller and Zach Dudka. Original music is by Alex Mansour, and I'm your host, Jenna Liberto.

Notre Dame Stories is created by the Office of Public Affairs and Communications. Hosted by Jenna Liberto. Written and produced by Andy Fuller with content coordination from Staci Stickovich. Edited by Michael Wiens and Jessica Sieff with videography by Tony Fuller and Zach Dudka. Original music is by Alex Mansour. 

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