Melkite Greek Catholic Church

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Arabic translation (PDF, 3 pages, 128K)

Bishop Nicholas Samra is happy to announce that His Holiness, Pope Francis, has given his assent to the canonical election of Father Francois Beyrouti as the 6th Eparchial Bishop of Newton for Melkite Greek Catholics in the United States.

Father Francois, 51, was elected on June 23, 2022, by the Melkite Synod held at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, Italy. A terna (list of the nominated) of 3 names was sent to the Dicastery of the Eastern Churches and Pope Francis confirmed the election. The announcement was made on August 20, 2022, by His Beatitude, Patriarch Joseph Absi, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East for Melkite Greek Catholics.

Bishop-Elect Francois was born July 3, 1971, to Elias and Maggy Beyrouti in Hadeth-Beirut, Lebanon. He has two brothers, +Joseph, of blessed memory, who passed away in 2004, and Anthony. The family emigrated to Canada in 1976, settling in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

He attended primary and secondary Catholic schools in North Vancouver. He then entered the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission, British Columbia in 1989 where he completed a B.A. in 1993.

He then moved to Ottawa, Ontario, and in 1996 completed a Civil and Ecclesiastical Baccalaureate in Theology in Eastern Christian Studies at the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University. In 1997, he completed a Master of Arts in Theology, Biblical Studies concentration, and in 1998, a Licentiate in Theology, Biblical Studies concentration, both at Saint Paul University (Ottawa, Ontario). He has also completed workshops in Conflict Resolution and Youth Ministry.

On October 4, 1998, Bishop Sleiman Hajjar ordained Father François a priest. He was the first diocesan priest ordained for the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Saint-Sauveur (Montreal, Canada) where he served as Vocations director and member of the College of Consultors.

Upon ordination, Bishop Sleiman appointed him assistant pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Melkite Catholic Church in Ottawa where he ministered until January 31, 2010. There he focused on building up pastoral programs, developing strong children, youth, and young adult ministries, leading marriage preparation programs, media work with newspapers, radio, and TV stations, and engaged political leaders on religious topics. On the occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth to the Throne, Father Francois was awarded the Golden Jubilee Medal in a ceremony at the Parliament of Canada on November 1, 2002.

In 2013, he received a Ph.D. (The University of Ottawa) and D.Th. (Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Ontario) for his thesis on Origen of Alexandria’s Commentary on the Gospel of John, focusing on Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4. During these studies, he attended and presented at Academic conferences and published articles and book reviews in academic journals.

He was incardinated into the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, USA on December 2, 2011, and serves on the Presbyteral Council and College of Eparchial Consultors. Since November 2012, he has been the pastor of Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church in Placentia, California (www.HolyCrossMelkite.org) and since 2015, has served consecutive terms as president of the Eastern Catholic Pastoral Association.

He has taught the following courses: “Christianity in the Middle East” (2000), “Hermeneutics and Exegesis in Eastern Christianity” (2000, 2003, & 2015), “The Synoptic Gospels” (2008), “The Eastern Catholic Churches at Vatican II” (2014), and online courses on the Gospel of Saint Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, the Bible in the Divine Liturgy, the Old Testament Prophecies of Jesus, and Foundational Bible resources. He has also given retreats for parishes and groups of priests. His weekly Sunday homilies appear on YouTube.com/MelkiteTV

Consecration and installation dates will be determined shortly. We pray for Bishop-Elect Francois that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, will give him continued good health and long life, and "give him a spirit of courage and right judgment, a spirit of knowledge and love" (Prayer for a Bishop).

 
As we know, the Great Fast and the Great Week before Pascha are the most diligently observed fasts in the Church. After that, the most thoroughly kept fast is that before the Dormition, which in our Tradition lasts from August 1 through August 14. Like the Great Fast, the Dormition Fast has special services to set this time apart. In our Church an intercession service to the Mother of God, the Paraclisis, is held nightly. This Fast also includes the Great Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ which is kept from August 6 to 13. This feast celebrates Christ as the radiant Light of the Father’s glory while in the Dormition we see Christ, who trampled down Death by His death, take His Mother into the light of His resurrection. This period is so rich in opportunities for prayer and worship that it has traditionally been called our “Summer Pascha.” From the Office of Educational Services: The Fast of the Theotokos in the Home (PDF, 736KB, 18 pages)
 

The Victim Assistance private toll-free phone line for the reporting of sexual abuse in the Eparchy of Newton has been established. This phone rings to, and is answered only by, the Eparchial Victim Assistance Coordinator.

To report sexual abuse by clergy, parish personnel or volunteers of the Eparchy of Newton, please call the Victim Assistance Coordinator at 1-800-479-5910.

 

The 2022 National Melkite Convention will be held in Rancho Mirage, California from July 7-10 at the Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort and Spa. Convention packages are available!

For reservations, please go here or call 1-877-253-0041 and request the "Diocese of Newton Convention" special group rate.

For more information, please contact the conference organizers.

Downloadable forms:

 

English original (PDF, 2 pages, 776KB)

Arabic translation (PDF, 2 pages, 64K)

 

 

 

 

Pascha 2022

Dear Melkites across America,

Christ is risen! He is truly risen!

A number of years ago, a large New York City hospital made a simple but unusual discovery. Crying infants in the nursery disturbed others who also began to cry, leaving them restless. Some proposed playing background soft music but newborn babies never heard music before. Someone suggested recording the heartbeat of a mother and playing it over the sound system. A quick miracle! The heartbeat of a mother was familiar to them even before they were born. The mother's heartbeat was a sound of security and love and became the background music for the nursery babies who grew still and went peacefully to sleep.

What is our background music of life? That we know we must die is the background music for some, so we must listen to the soothing heartbeat not of a mother but of God. The heartbeat of God is the glorious message of his love and forgiveness — we call it the Gospel, the Good News! We need to take time to listen to the risen Savior's voice, sometimes drowned out by the noises of our world.

We find the heartbeat of God in John 3:16, "God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life". We find it also in Jesus' words, "I am the resurrection and the life".

If we are anxious about death, listen to the heartbeat of God, "I go to prepare a place for you that where I am, there you may be also... because I live, you shall live also." In human death we are very much alive for eternity.

For many, the background music of this world is "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die." But the background music of God's heartbeat sings another tune, "Christ is risen!"

  • Tomorrow you do not die but rather live eternally.
  • Tomorrow is the general resurrection.
  • Tomorrow a reunion with our departed loved ones.
  • Tomorrow judgement. Tomorrow heaven.
  • Tomorrow hell.

So prepare for the Lord — Turn from wickedness and live. You are called by God to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

Our background music in life needs to be what we sing on this glorious resurrection feast and entire Pascha season, "Christ is risen! He is truly risen". We who believe in him rise with him to a new life. We sing it joy fully, repeatedly and ecstatically again and again and we need to make it play constantly as the background music of our life: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by his death and to those in the tombs bestowing life." The voice of God is not death but life, not sadness but joy, not defeat but victory.

The Paschal Hymns we sing repeat our joy:

  • Our Pascha Christ the Redeemer is revealed to us today
  • A noble Passover
  • A new & holy Passover
  • A mystic Passover
  • A blameless Passover
  • A glorious Passover
  • A Passover for the faithful
  • A Passover opening the gates of Paradise
  • A Passover that sanctifies all believers
  • A Passover embracing one another with love
  • A Passover forgiving those who hate us!

May the glory and joy of the risen Lord be with all of you and may you always feel his presence in your lives. I pray for all of you and especially remember you in this life-giving season of joy. Christ is risen!

Sincerely yours in the risen Christ,

+ Nicholas

Most Rev. Nicholas Samra

Eparchial Bishop of Newton

 

English original (PDF, 2 pages, 2.4MB)

Arabic translation (PDF, 2 pages, 2.5MB)

 

 

 

 

December 9, 2021

Dear Melkites across America,

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Within God's plan for his creation, humanity would live in an eternal paradise where peace would reign among mankind and even with the animal world. God would be glorified in all aspects of his creation and all of these aspects would be for the glorification of man and woman - the apex of God's creation.

Adam and Eve harmed this relationship with God by choosing the devil's temptation to eat of the one tree God had prohibited. Their act created sin and death. Yet the all-loving God created a new plan of renewal with the promise of a Savior born of a woman by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In time the promise was fulfilled through a young girl of Nazareth, Mary the virgin who said yes to God's plan and gave birth to Jesus Christ in the flesh. God now took human flesh to share his divinity with our humanity- he became one of us.

We celebrate this birth each year but not just a birth of the past, rather a new birth today in each and everyone of us. His birth as a human being was our renewal to live in paradise once again. Through our incorporation into the life of Christ: baptism, chrismation and Eucharist, we become other Christs committed to living his life. He is reborn in us and the celebration of his birth in Bethlehem must become a reminder every day of our life that he is our Savior, GOD WITH US - EMMANUEL.

The gospel writers Matthew and Luke present us with a beautiful account of the Lord's birth with a cast of characters and even nature. We witness the earth providing a humble cave and an animals' feeding box in which the child Jesus is laid. The heavens reveal a star to point out to the Magi or wise stargazers where he would be born. Heavenly angels announce to shepherds in the field the good news singing "glory to God and peace on earth." With their sheep they go to Bethlehem's cave followed later by the Magi bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and there they find heaven on Earth - God in the flesh born of the Virgin Mary. She is protected by the noble Joseph who becomes the protector of Mary's child.

This holy event opens our hearts to accept a humble birth of the everlasting and almighty God in the flesh. It has motivated artists to create many images of the miraculous birth in icons, paintings, writings and other Media forms ; even our calendar is calculated from the time of his birth. He becomes the center of all humanity.

Adam and Eve transgressed God's command; the new Adam, Jesus Christ and the new Eve, the Mother of God, renewed and reconciled our broken humanity with the plan of God. Our broken human nature is divinized. Jesus becomes a man in human flesh to unite our humanity to his divinity: all humanity is called to be divine.

Dear sisters and brothers, clergy and laity, I offer you my love and prayers, asking God to open your hearts to renew yourselves in full commitment to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. And through you may he open the hearts of many others to his gospel message. There is still much brokenness in our world, lack of peace among warring nations, major economic problems all around, imbalance in many aspects of our life, violence and senseless shootings, abortion or killing the unborn, and euthanasia, sometimes called mercy killing but in reality totally against God. We look to our faith and our commitment to living Christ and his teachings to combat the non-godly ways. It all begins with us.

Remain strong in your faith, learn and study it more and live it vibrantly. May the celebration of the Lord's birth open us to renew ourselves once again and not just on December 25, but every day of our life. We celebrate this birth also at the end of the year to embark on a new year with all godly aspects of love and peace.

My love and my prayers for each and everyone of you. May you enjoy this family feast all the days that follow. Allow the Lord to be reborn in you! A blessed feast of the Nativity of Christ, a happy and healthy 2022, and a joyful Feast of the Theophany celebrating God's manifestation through the event of his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Forerunner.

Sincerely yours in the new-born Savior,

+Nicholas

 
The Gospels depict St John the Baptist as the “forerunner” or herald announcing the imminent coming of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of Mark, for example, we read, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7, 8).

The coming of the Messiah was the focus of John’s message about the kingdom of God. “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 3:1). This “kingdom” is none other than Jesus in whom the will of His Father governed His every action. Thus He is the kingdom personified.

The Story of John’s Struggle

We read the story of John’s final fight “for the sake of truth” in Mark’s Gospel. “For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. Because John had said to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (Mark 6:17, 18).

John languished in prison because Herod had a superstitious fear of the prophet. He revered John as a holy man but could not bring himself to follow the Baptist’s teachings.

Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.’ He also swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom’” (Mark 6:21-23).

What followed has been frequently retold in literature, music, painting and sculpture. Prompted by her mother, Salome asks for the head of John: “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter” (v. 25). Because of the oath he had sworn in the presence of his guests, Herod agreed and had John beheaded, making possible the prophet’s ministry in Hades.

John’s work as herald of our salvation was not limited to announcing the beginning of Christ’s ministry in Galilee. Our troparion for today’s commemoration mentions that John baptized the Lord Jesus. Then, it continues, “You have fought for the sake of truth and proclaimed to those in Hades that God who appeared in the flesh has taken away the sins of the world and bestowed His great mercy upon us.” John’s ministry continued after death as he announced to the dead in Hades that Christ’s coming was close at hand.

Did John Witness in Hades?

As the Gospels affirm, Jesus was still alive when John was executed. But the New Testament does not teach that John witnessed to Christ in Hades. How and when did this concept enter our tradition?

Origen of Alexandria, foremost commentator on the Scriptures in the third century, explained that John the Baptist had died before Christ, “so that he might descend to the lower regions and announce His coming. For everywhere the witness and forerunner of Jesus is John, being born before and dying shortly before the Son of God, so that not only to those of his generation but likewise to those who lived before Christ should liberation from the death be preached, and that he might everywhere prepare a people trained to receive the Lord” (Origen, Homily on Luke 4).

Those in Hades would “receive the Lord” upon His death as we read in the New Testament: “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey…” (1 Pt 3:18, 19). A number of the apostolic Fathers such as Saints Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Clement of Alexandria all taught that Christ had descended into Hades. We find the same teaching in the Syriac Fathers Jacob of Sarouj, Aphrahat the Persian and Ephrem the Syrian as well as the Greek Fathers Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus.

Our most common icon of the resurrection depicts Christ emerging from Hades leading out by the hand Adam and Eve (and, by implication, the human race). In many icons John the Forerunner is beside Him, at the head of those who had died before Christ and were now brought to eternal life by Him.

Our Observance of John’s Death

Because John, whom the Lord Himself had called the greatest man born of woman, was killed as a result of Herod’s birthday revels, the Byzantine Churches observe today as a strict fast: no parties, no luxury foods, no drink. We see where these things can lead.

A number of popular local customs have arisen to mark this day among various Eastern Christians. In various places people may:

Avoid eating anything on round plates, since Salome asked for John’s head “on a platter” (Mark 6:25). Use

bowls instead.

Avoid eating any round fruits or vegetables (they resemble a head).

Avoid eating anything that requires use of knives or anything that cuts.

Avoid eating or drinking anything red (they remind us of blood).

A contemporary way to observe this commemoration might be to fast and pray for those who have died senselessly at the hands of others through terrorism, armed conflicts or senseless violence. Think of them as John’s “companions in suffering.

John’s Witness in Our Liturgy

Come, you people, let us praise the prophet and martyr, the baptizer of the Savior; for, as an angel in the flesh, he denounced Herod, condemning him for committing most iniquitous fornication. And thanks to iniquitous dancing, his precious head is cut off, that he might announce in Hades the glad tidings of the resurrection from the dead. He prays earnestly to the Lord, that our souls be saved.

Let us celebrate the memory of the severed head of the forerunner, which poured forth blood upon the platter then, but now pours forth healings upon the ends of the earth.
The Gospels depict St John the Baptist as the “forerunner” or herald announcing the imminent coming of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of Mark, for example, we read, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7, 8).

The coming of the Messiah was the focus of John’s message about the kingdom of God. “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 3:1). This “kingdom” is none other than Jesus in whom the will of His Father governed His every action. Thus He is the kingdom personified.

The Story of John’s Struggle

We read the story of John’s final fight “for the sake of truth” in Mark’s Gospel. “For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. Because John had said to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (Mark 6:17, 18).

John languished in prison because Herod had a superstitious fear of the prophet. He revered John as a holy man but could not bring himself to follow the Baptist’s teachings.

Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.’ He also swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom’” (Mark 6:21-23).

What followed has been frequently retold in literature, music, painting and sculpture. Prompted by her mother, Salome asks for the head of John: “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter” (v. 25). Because of the oath he had sworn in the presence of his guests, Herod agreed and had John beheaded, making possible the prophet’s ministry in Hades.

John’s work as herald of our salvation was not limited to announcing the beginning of Christ’s ministry in Galilee. Our troparion for today’s commemoration mentions that John baptized the Lord Jesus. Then, it continues, “You have fought for the sake of truth and proclaimed to those in Hades that God who appeared in the flesh has taken away the sins of the world and bestowed His great mercy upon us.” John’s ministry continued after death as he announced to the dead in Hades that Christ’s coming was close at hand.

Did John Witness in Hades?

As the Gospels affirm, Jesus was still alive when John was executed. But the New Testament does not teach that John witnessed to Christ in Hades. How and when did this concept enter our tradition?

Origen of Alexandria, foremost commentator on the Scriptures in the third century, explained that John the Baptist had died before Christ, “so that he might descend to the lower regions and announce His coming. For everywhere the witness and forerunner of Jesus is John, being born before and dying shortly before the Son of God, so that not only to those of his generation but likewise to those who lived before Christ should liberation from the death be preached, and that he might everywhere prepare a people trained to receive the Lord” (Origen, Homily on Luke 4).

Those in Hades would “receive the Lord” upon His death as we read in the New Testament: “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey…” (1 Pt 3:18, 19). A number of the apostolic Fathers such as Saints Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Clement of Alexandria all taught that Christ had descended into Hades. We find the same teaching in the Syriac Fathers Jacob of Sarouj, Aphrahat the Persian and Ephrem the Syrian as well as the Greek Fathers Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus.

Our most common icon of the resurrection depicts Christ emerging from Hades leading out by the hand Adam and Eve (and, by implication, the human race). In many icons John the Forerunner is beside Him, at the head of those who had died before Christ and were now brought to eternal life by Him.

Our Observance of John’s Death

Because John, whom the Lord Himself had called the greatest man born of woman, was killed as a result of Herod’s birthday revels, the Byzantine Churches observe today as a strict fast: no parties, no luxury foods, no drink. We see where these things can lead.

A number of popular local customs have arisen to mark this day among various Eastern Christians. In various places people may:
Avoid eating anything on round plates, since Salome asked for John’s head “on a platter” (Mark 6:25). Use bowls instead.
Avoid eating any round fruits or vegetables (they resemble a head).
Avoid eating anything that requires use of knives or anything that cuts.
Avoid eating or drinking anything red (they remind us of blood).

A contemporary way to observe this commemoration might be to fast and pray for those who have died senselessly at the hands of others through terrorism, armed conflicts or senseless violence. Think of them as John’s “companions in suffering.

John’s Witness in Our Liturgy

Come, you people, let us praise the prophet and martyr, the baptizer of the Savior; for, as an angel in the flesh, he denounced Herod, condemning him for committing most iniquitous fornication. And thanks to iniquitous dancing, his precious head is cut off, that he might announce in Hades the glad tidings of the resurrection from the dead. He prays earnestly to the Lord, that our souls be saved.

Let us celebrate the memory of the severed head of the forerunner, which poured forth blood upon the platter then, but now pours forth healings upon the ends of the earth.

Liti Stichera

The beheading of the Forerunner was an act of divine providence: the occasion for him to announce the coming of the Savior to the souls in Hades. Let then Herodias lament and weep, for she has asked for murder, preferring the present life and its pleasures to eternal life and God’s law.
~Liti Stichera

The beheading of the Forerunner was an act of divine providence: the occasion for him to announce the coming of the Savior to the souls in Hades. Let then Herodias lament and weep, for she has asked for murder, preferring the present life and its pleasures to eternal life and God’s law.
~Kondakion

 
8/8/2021
An increasing number of Byzantine churches are observing the Feast of the Dormition by conducting the Burial Service of the Theotokos. This observance comes to us from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the traditional site of her death and burial.

On the morning of August 14 a procession sets out from the Patriarchate, bearing the icon of the Dormition. They leave the Old City and cross the Kedron Valley, arriving at Gethsemane and the tomb of the Theotokos. There the people, passing beneath the icon, enter the church where the burial shroud of the Theotokos has been displayed for veneration. On the closing of the feast, August 23, another procession returns the icon and the shroud to the Patriarchate.

The Tomb of the Holy Virgin

We do not know when the site of the Virgin’s tomb in Gethsemane, at the foot of Mount Olivet, became a place of Christian devotion. Some say that the first church there had been built by St Helena in the fourth century. There was clearly a church there in the fifth century. It is well documented that the first Patriarch of Jerusalem, St Juvenal, had taken the veil of the Theotokos from this shrine and sent it to the Empress Pulcheria who had asked him for the Virgin’s “relics” after the Council of Chalcedon (451). The patriarch replied, “Three days after her repose, the body of the Holy Virgin was raised up to heaven and the Tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane bears only her Veil.” The patriarch then sent this relic to Constantinople where it was enshrined in the church of the Theotokos at Blachernae, a district of Constantinople.

A church was built at the site of the virgin’s tomb in 582 by the Byzantine Emperor Maurice. Thus church was destroyed during the Persian invasion of 614 but rebuilt soon afterward. During the Crusades it was destroyed again, leaving only the crypt – the actual place of the tomb – and the steps descending to it. Today the crypt-church is served jointly by the Greek Patriarchate and the Armenian Patriarchate. The church also contains chapels used by the Coptic and Syriac Orthodox.

The Burial Service

The first record of a burial service performed outside Jerusalem dates from the fifteenth century. In Russia rectors of churches dedicated to the Mother of God were encouraged to erect a tomb or bier on the solea in which the icon of the feast could be enshrined. Matins could then be served before this tomb.

It was also in the fifteenth century that the lamentations on the burial of Christ were composed in Jerusalem. They are sung today in the Orthros of Holy Saturday, one of the more popular moments in the rites of the Holy Week in the Greek and Middle Eastern Churches. Due to the interaction of Greeks and Italians in this period we often see a burial of Christ service, including the Greek melodies of the Lamentations, used by Italian and Spanish Roman Catholics as well.

Around one hundred years later, in 1541, the Greek Metropolitan Dionysios of Old Patras in western Greece composed the service for the burial of the Theotokos, in imitation of the service for the burial of Christ. It is this service which has spread throughout the Byzantine world today.

At first the principal image used in this service was the icon of the Dormition, as in Jerusalem. As the burial of the Theotokos came to be celebrated as imitation of the Burial of Christ, use of the shroud of the Theotokos became popular.

Passing through Death to Life

Some people feel that this imitation of the burial of Christ detracts from people’s understanding of Pascha as the climactic event of world history, the death and resurrection of the Savior. The Holy Virgin, after all, did not rise from the dead as Christ did; she lived and died in a purely human, if immaculate way.

Since there is no mention of the Virgin’s death in the New Testament, some Christians have come to believe that Mary did not die at all but was translated to glory without being subject to death. There is no evidence nor is there a tradition that this was believed in the Christian East. The Theotokos died by the necessity of her human nature, which is indivisibly bound up with the corruption of this world. Like us she was mortal. Unlike us, her natural mortality did not lead her to sin (spiritual death).

The Church believes that Mary died as all humans die, but that it was granted that she enter now in her body the glorification awaiting all the saints in the life of the age to come. The Theotokos thus becomes a sign confirming that Christ’s death and resurrection truly accomplished for all mankind, not just for Himself, the destruction of Hades and the defeat of Death. Her Repose demonstrates the reality of the transformation of death from a fearful enemy into a joyous passage to life.

Besides pointing back to the death and resurrection of Christ, the Repose of the Theotokos points ahead to what is to come: that all who are in Christ will share in the life of the angels in the resurrected body. As Father Alexander Schmemann put it, “Mary is not the great exception;” rather she is the great example given to us as a witness of what is meant for us all. As we say in the Creed, we “look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” The Feast of the Dormition gives us a glimpse of what that might be.

Lamentations at the Tomb of the Theotokos (Third Stasis)

Ev’ry generation
to your tomb comes bringing
its dirge of praises, O Virgin.

All of creation
to the tomb comes bringing
a farewell hymn to our Lady.

Christ’s holy Disciples
tend to the body
of Mary, Mother of my God.

Orders of Angels
and Archangels
invisibly hymn her presence.

Pious Women
with the Apostles
now cry out their lamentations.

She who was at Cana
at the marriage
has been called with the Apostles.

The Master descends now
to Gethsemane
with countless hosts of heaven.

Let us go out quickly
To meet the Lord Jesus
Who comes once more among us.

Let us be attentive
God is now speaking
with His most pure Mother:

"Behold now your Son
comes to bring you
into His home in the heavens.

Come indeed, My Mother,
come into divine joy
and enter into the kingdom."

"What will I bring You,
O my Son, the God-Man"
the Maiden cried to the Master.

"What will I bring You,
O my God in heaven
except my soul and body.

The Father I glorify
to the Son I sing a hymn
the Holy Spirit I worship."
 
8/1/2021

Towards the end of Jesus’ public ministry He began preparing His disciples for His approaching death and resurrection of Lyons, and Clement of Alexandria all taught that Christ had descended into Hades. We find the . In Matthew 16 this scene concludes with the following prophecy: “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (v. 28). This is immediately followed by a fulfillment of this prophecy: the holy transfiguration of Christ. As St Gregory Palamas says in his homily on this feast, “It is the light of His own forthcoming transfiguration which He terms the Glory of His Father and of His Kingdom.”

At Christ’s transfiguration “some standing here” – Peter, James and John – witnessed the Lord in the glory of His kingdom, if only for a moment. He was not changed – they were. They were able to see what is always there but which they could not imagine before: that God dwelt in man.

St Gregory Palamas describes it this way: “Christ was transfigured, not by the addition of something He was not, nor by a transformation into something He was not, but by the manifestation to His disciples of what He really was. He opened their eyes so that instead of being blind they could see. While He Himself remained the same, they could now see Him as other than He had appeared to them formerly. For He is ‘the true light’ (John 1:9), the beauty of divine glory, and He shone forth like the sun.”

As St Ephrem the Syrian expressed it, “They saw two suns; one in the sky, as usual, and one unusually; one visible in the firmament and lighting the world, and one, His face, visible to them alone” (Sermon on the Transfiguration, 8). In one sense we can say that Christ was not transfigured; it was the apostles’ ability to see Him which was transfigured.

“What He Really Was”

For a moment Christ was revealed to the disciples as what He really was: God incarnate in our human flesh. “We believe that at the transfiguration He manifested not some other sort of light, but only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior. This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine” (St Gregory Palamas, Homily on the Transfiguration).

This Light was manifested to the disciples in the radiance of His face and garments: “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). As Mark describes it, “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (Mark 9:3). The immaterial divine nature of the Son of God in manifested in the physical sign of a shining face and garments because this was all that the disciples could absorb. As we sing in the troparion of this feast, Christ was “showing Your disciples as much of Your glory as they could behold.”

Over succeeding centuries the Church deepened its understanding of the incarnation, but not without disagreement. It took several hundred years and several Ecumenical Councils for the Church to articulate its faith in Christ as the incarnate Word of God. By the fourth century the Church was calling Christ “Light from Light, true God from true God… of one essence with the Father” but it took several more centuries and councils to grasp the implications of that statement.

As iconography developed it settled on one particular form to represent the divine nature of the light perceived by the disciples. The mandorla is a design made up of overlapping geometrical shapes which surrounds the image of Christ in icons of the transfiguration. The basic mandorla – an Italian word meaning almond – contains three round or oval concentric circles, in shades of blue or gold, representing the Trinity. The innermost circle is of the deepest shade representing the unseen Father. Other geometrical shapes represent the energy of the divine light shining upon the disciples. The mandorla is generally used in icons representing the glorified Christ at His transfiguration and resurrection and when receiving His Mother at her dormition.

What We Are Meant to Become

In the mystery of Christ’s transfiguration the Church has caught a glimpse of what those who are in Christ are meant to be: persons who in their humanity can have God dwelling in them, reflecting that presence as light. The Lord Himself tells us that at His second coming “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 1:43). The custom of depicting saints and angels with haloes derives from this prophetic statement of Christ.

Becoming “righteous” is our task in this life, in preparation for the glory to come. In both the Old and New Testaments we are frequently instructed how we may become righteous. In the New Testament, however, these instructions are phrased in terms of God dwelling in us. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) is the One whose presence within us guarantees our righteousness before God. This is the “mystery hidden from eternity” (Colossians 1:26), which the Greek Fathers called theosis, the process of our transformation by the presence of God within us.

This process of theosis begins with our baptism. As we sing so often in our services, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). God dwells within us but requires that we “put on Christ” by the way we live. “We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Our cooperation with God dwelling in us to transform us is called synergy by the Fathers: the life-long task of consciously becoming God-like in our thoughts, words and actions in order to radiate the presence of God within us by baptism.

Despite all our best efforts, none of us – not even the saints – can so unwaveringly combat our passions that we realize our potential on our own. And so Christ has given us an outward sign of His love in the mystery of the Eucharist to which we can return again and again. By sharing in this holy mystery we can reinforce our awareness of His saving presence in us and derive the strength we need for our daily ascent to God.

Through the holy mysteries and our striving to live like Christ we can attain a likeness to God and union with Him so far as possible. We who are not holy by nature can become holy, and become partakers of glory.

Looking to the Last Day

In the Second Epistle of St Peter we read his eye-witness account of the transfiguration (2 Pt 1:16-18). This is what follows: “And so we have this sure prophetic word, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (v.19). The transfiguration is thus a prophetic anticipation of Christ’s glorious second coming when the “morning star” (Christ) will fill us with His light.

The transfiguration, then, symbolizes the life to come and thus the goal of every Christian pursuit. As St Gregory the Theologian expressed it in his Third Oration On the Son, the holy transfiguration of Christ initiates us “into the mystery of the future”.

O Giver of life, You bent down to the pit without falling into it and raised me up who had fallen. You bore my foul-smelling corruption untouched, and made me sweet-smelling with the myrrh of Your divine nature.
Canon of the Octoechos, Tone 5
 

English original (PDF, 2 pages, 2.4MB)

 

 

 

 

June 16, 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Eucharist is our life-line, without it we cannot live. The Sunday Divine Liturgy is the community celebration of Christ in our midst, the event that unites us all together as the Body of Christ. Celebrating the Eucharist is not just a commandment of the Church, but an inner necessity. Christ sustains us, and, without Him, our lives are empty. It is time to return to full parish life, with precautions, and to come back to church weekly to participate in the Lord’s banquet and receive Him in Holy Communion, by which we become the Body of Christ.

Participating in the Divine Liturgy is the best way to remember the sabbath and to keep it holy – the third commandment from the Old Testament. The Lord Himself rested after six days of creation and “blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8,11).

In the gospel account, we see Jesus observing the sabbath by going to the synagogue and teaching there. We mirror the life of Christ by conforming to what Jesus Himself did. At the Last Supper, Jesus commanded us to take and eat and drink, and to do it in His memory (Mt 26;26-30, Mk 14:22-26, Lk 22:14-20, 1Cor 11:23-26). The Eucharist is our food on life’s journey, filling us with joy, and transforming us to be witnesses of Christ to our world.

It has been a long, difficult year since March 2020. Many have experienced great pain and suffering during the pandemic. Many have died and many are still recovering from the long-term effects of Covid-19. We honor the heroes - nurses, doctors, and all medical professionals - who brought comfort, along with priests who brought the Sacrament of the Sick to Covid patients.

Now, as we trust in the Lord, and with great confidence in the vaccines, our lives are opening up to more activity. It is time to return to the obligation of Sunday Divine Liturgy. Because our communities are scattered over many states, we still must follow the guidelines given us in the areas where we live. Most states have opened up once again. Churches are included in the re-opening.

Our obligation to participate in worship at the Divine Liturgy is an obligation of love as well as a command of the Lord. Worshiping by watching a live-stream Liturgy is permissible only for those who are ill, have recently been exposed to Covid-19 or any other communicable illness; those who are home-bound or in hospitals or other health-care facilities, those not yet vaccinated, and those of advanced age. Holy Communion to be provided by a visit of the priest or deacon. I recommend we continue live-streaming our services for them. All other parishioners who are well and ambulatory need to be in church to receive the Eucharist.

The obligation to return to Sunday Divine Liturgy attendance becomes effective June 27, 2021. We look forward to welcoming all our faithful back to the celebration of Divine Liturgy after this long and difficult year.

Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra

Eparchial Bishop of Newton

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