Melkite Greek Catholic Church

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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

 

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

 

English original and Arabic translation (PDF, 6 pages, 160KB)

 

 

 

 

Pascha 2021

Dear Clergy and Laity across America,

CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS TRULY RISEN!

On the day of the Resurrection of Christ two disciples were returning to their village Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were distraught and saddened, even thinking that Jesus’ body was stolen from the tomb. As they walked and discussed, Jesus met them but they did not recognize him. He asked what they were discussing and they began to tell him what happened in Jerusalem and how Jesus was condemned and died on a cross, buried, and now his tomb was empty. Cleopas, one of the disciples said: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Lk 24: 11-35).

We had hoped - Sad words, expressing pain, loss and disillusionment. Among friends we hear these words so often – We had hoped. We had hoped our marriage would work out… our business would be more successful… our children would turn out the way we wanted… we had hoped illness would not be constant sorrow… we had hoped that death would not separate us so soon or so quickly… we had hoped!

These same words we had hoped from Jesus’ disciples, fill our lives and conversations, yet the resurrection of Christ dissolved this thinking. Jesus told his disciples He would die and would rise from the dead but they missed the meaning of his promise.

On the Emmaus journey Jesus then speaks to them, explaining the scriptures and clarified that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his time of glory. In a sense we can say he catechized them and as they sat to eat, their eyes were opened in recognition of Jesus when He blessed the bread, broke it and gave it to them, and He then vanished from their sight. At last they believed. The Risen Savior had come to them in their despair.

Amid our shattered dreams and broken hopes, in the midst of all our “if onlys” and our “we had hoped” experiences, the risen Christ comes today to bring hope and victory. Where there once appeared to be no life, only death, He comes to bring resurrection and new life.

On Holy Friday we heard the story of Ezekiel’s vision (37: 1-4). As Ezekiel looks over an entire valley filled with dead men’s bones, the Lord speaks to him: “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord… I will cause breath to enter you and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live.” Ezekiel’s vision was fulfilled by the risen Christ who even today calls dead men back to life, and clothes their dead bones with meaning, purpose, life and hope!

Pascha, the Lord’s Resurrection, is our celebration of life and joy. As we think of our loved ones in the cemeteries, we do not lose ourselves in despair. We had hoped but they were not crushed by death because Christ is risen and hope is risen. If Christ is risen, they lie not in the darkness of a grave but in the everlasting arms of the Savior, in a place of brightness and joy. If Christ is risen, there is more life, more joy, more love, and an endless eternity of them.

We had hoped? No! St. Paul says, “He rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col:13). 

We had hoped? No! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” writes St. Peter. “By his great mercy He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1: 3-4).

We had hoped? No! The risen Christ has liberated us from such pessimism. That is why as we light our Paschal candles we sing full of hope and joy: “Christ is risen! Christ is risen and the demons are cast down. Christ is risen and the tombs are emptied of the dead. Christ is risen and life is liberated.” (Homily of St. John Chrysostom).

Among the world’s philosophers we hear: 

Sartre, the silence of God.

Heidegger, the absence of God.

Jaspers, the concealment of God.

Bultmann, the hiddeness of God.

Buber, the eclipse of God.

Tillich, the nonbeing of God.

Altizer, the death of God

 

But the New Testament writers – Eye Witnessesspeak of the RISEN and LIVING Lord!

To Him be honor, worship, praise and thanksgiving, now and forever and the ages of ages. Amen.

I greet all of you with the love of the living Christ within each and every one of us, and I pray that He will soon conquer the COVID-19 crisis as he conquered death and return us to our joyous earthly life as we await entering into his eternal kingdom. May this Pacha be blessed and joyful as you experience life, greeting each other with Christ is risen! He is truly risen!

With my prayers, love and blessings, I remain,

Sincerely,

Most Rev. Nicholas Samra

Eparchial Bishop of Newton

 
AT THE FOOT OF MOUNT SINAI, in the Egyptian peninsula of the same name, sits the monastery of St Catherine. It has been inhabited continuously for over 1700 years, making it one of the oldest such places in the world. Its unique climate has preserved icons and manuscripts from the first millennium ad that look as if they were just made. The greatest treasures it has produced, however, are its spiritual riches: over 170 saints honored in the Greek Orthodox and Catholic Churches, chief among them being St John Climacos. A native of the region, St John lived in the sixth century. At 16 he became a monk and spent the rest of his life as an ascetic. For most of his life he lived in a hermitage at the foot of the mountain. When he was 75, he was chosen as abbot of St Catherine’s monastery but ended his life in solitude, as a desert-dwelling ascetic. In the early seventh century another John, abbot of the Raithu monastery on the shores of the Red Sea, asked our John to write a guide to the spiritual life for the monks of Raithu. The result was the klimax or Ladder by which John of Sinai has been known ever since. Using the imagery of Jacob’s ladder (cf., Genesis 28:10-19), he portrays the ascetic life as a climb to heaven with each rung on the ladder being a virtue to be acquired. A twelfth-century icon preserved at the monastery shows monks climbing this ladder. Some acquire all the virtues and complete the ascent to God; others fall off, pulled down by the passions, unable to endure the ascetic life to the end. It has long been the custom in monasteries to read The Ladder each year during the Great Fast. This is turn gave rise to the commemoration of St John on the Fourth Sunday of the Fast.

The Rungs of the Ladder

The first seven rungs portray the most basic virtues necessary for an ascetic life: renunciation of the world, detachment from what was left behind, exile from all we have known, obedience (which is voluntary death of the ego), repentance, the remembrance of death, and cultivating a spirit of mourning. The remaining rungs detail steps needed to make progress on this way of life, such as freedom from anger and irritability, forgetting of wrongs suffered, avoiding gossip and slander, and conquering despondency. Battling gluttony, lust and greed through fasting from food, drink and sleep are depicted as the daily work of the monk. “The farmer’s wealth is gathered on the threshing floor and in the wine-press, but the wealth and knowledge of monks is gathered during the evening and the night hours while standing in prayer and engaging in spiritual activity” (Step 20). On subsequent rings the monk confronts more dangerous enemies – pride and vanity – through humility and the revealing of one’s inmost thoughts. Only through the acquisition of these virtues can the monk attain to prayer, love, and heaven on earth: the state of communion with God.

Some Excerpts from The Ladder

“Blessed is he who, though maligned and disparaged every day for the Lord’s sake, constrains himself to be patient. He will join the chorus of the martyrs and boldly converse with the angels. “Blessed is the monk who regards himself as hourly deserving every dishonor and disparagement. Blessed is he who mortifies his own will to the end, and leaves the care of himself to his director in the Lord; for he will be placed at the right hand of the Crucified. He who will not accept a reproof, just or unjust, renounces his own salvation. But he who accepts it with an effort, or even without an effort, will soon receive the remission of his sins.” From the Fourth Rung “Greater than baptism itself is the fountain of tears after baptism, even though it is somewhat audacious to say so. For baptism is the washing away of evils that were in us before, but sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears. As baptism is received in infancy, we have all defiled it, but we cleanse it anew with tears. And if God, in His love for mankind, had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed.” From the Seventh Rung “Forgetting of wrongs we have suffered is a sign of true repentance. But he who dwells on them and thinks that he is repenting is like a man who thinks he is running while he is really asleep.” From the Ninth Rung “He who has become aware of his sins has controlled his tongue, but a talkative person has not yet come to know himself as he should.” From the Eleventh Rung “He who has tasted the things on high easily despises what is below; but he who has not tasted the things above finds joy in possessions.” From the Seventeenth Rung “It is not darkness or the desolateness of place that gives the demons power against us, but barrenness of soul. Through God’s providence this sometimes happens in order that we may learn by it.” From the Twenty-First Rung “Blasphemous thoughts, this deceiver and corrupter of souls, has often driven many out of their mind. No other thought is so difficult to tell in confession as this. That is why it often remains with many to the very end of their lives. For nothing gives the demons and bad thoughts such power over us as nourishing and hiding them in our heart unconfessed.” From the Twenty-third Rung “The natural property of the lemon tree is such than it lifts its branches upwards when it has no fruit; but the more the branches bend down, the more fruit they bear. Those who have the mind to understand will grasp the meaning of this.” From the Twenty-Fifth Rung “Before all else let us first list sincere thanksgiving on the scroll of our prayer. On the second line we should put confession and heartfelt contrition of soul. Then let us present our petition to the King of all. This is the best way of prayer, as it was shown to one of the brethren by an angel of the Lord.” “If you feel sweetness or compunction at some word of your prayer, dwell on it; for then our guardian angel is praying with us.” “Your prayer will show you what condition you are in. Theologians say that prayer is the mirror of the monk.” From the Twenty-Eighth Rung And if You Are Not a Monk… “Some people living carelessly in the world have asked me ‘We have wives and are beset with social cares, and how can we lead the solitary life?’ “I replied to them, ‘Do all the good you can. Do not speak evil of anyone. Do not steal from anyone. Do not lie to anyone. Do not be arrogant towards anyone. Do not hate anyone. Do not be absent from the divine services. Be compassionate to the needy. Do not offend anyone. Do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way, you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.” From the First Rung
 
Original letter (PDF, 5 pages, 106KB)
Arabic translation (PDF, 6 pages, 284KB)




Great Lent and Holy Week

Renewal of our Baptismal Commitment

Let us enter the season of the radiant Fast with joy,
Giving ourselves to the spiritual combat. Let us purify our spirit
and cleanse our flesh.
As we fast from food,
let us abstain from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit, may we persevere with love
so as to be worthy to see
the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with spiritual gladness
to behold His holy Resurrection.
(Forgiveness Vespers)

In the early Church baptisms took place in connection with the glorious feast of Christ’s Resurrection. The one to be baptized, the catechumen, was plunged into the baptismal pool, symbolic tomb of Christ, only to be raised with Christ from the tomb which now symbolized a womb to new life. Catechumens studied the Christian faith for one to three years, and the last forty days before their baptisms were given more intense instruction on how to live the life of Christ through prayer, fasting and good works, – the basis for a Christian life. So this season was not dismal or sad and gloomy but rather joyful – living Christ was filled with joy.

Over the hundreds of years, the Church extended this 40-day period even to us, the already existing Christians, recognizing that we do not always live our Christ-life as best as we can. We slip: we forget to pray and converse with God as we should. We overindulge much in food and spend more time with gossip and back-biting. We ignore our brothers and sisters in need and forget to care for each other as we should. Our likeness to God gets tarnished and many times we fail to see it – we need a renewal, so the Church proposes to us a more active life in Great Lent to pray more, to fast more, and to perform more good works for 40 days with the hope we are able to renew good habits in our lives in imitation of Jesus Christ, our Lord, model and Savior.

Great Lent opens with Forgiveness Vespers at which we chant: “Let us observe a Fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. True fasting is to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forebear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury. If we renounce these things, then our fasting is true and pleasing to God.”

We welcome Great Lent not as a time for self-inflicted agony or self-improving therapy. We greet this season as a holy time consecrated to the correction, purification and enlightenment of ourselves through the fulfillment of the commandments of the crucified God.

We push out the evil within us and allow the fruits of the Holy Spirit to take deeper root in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22). The forty days are saving days for complete and total dedication to things of God. The forty days are our “tithe” or one tenth of the year to focus more on our godliness. We return to God in the abundance He gives us!

We begin Great Lent with Forgiveness Vespers, properly on Sunday evening or in some parishes on Monday – the first day of Lent. We ask each other for forgiveness as we embark on this intense spiritual journey. God desires our repentance, not our remorse. We express sorrow for our sins but do so in the joy of God’s mercy. We make ready for the Resurrection, both Christ’s and our own. We renew our baptismal promises.

The Church offers us the tools for renewing ourselves and our attempts to be more in conformity with the teachings of Christ. The basic tools are Prayer, Fasting, and Good works – these are essential elements to living a full Christian life. By focusing on them more intensely we begin to renew ourselves to live better lives.

Prayer – Prayer is necessary in Christian life. Jesus Christ himself prayed and taught us how to pray. To be a follower of Christ we must pray – our conversation with God. We lift our minds and hearts to God to have communion with him in order to accomplish his will.

We have personal prayer at home using some formal words or just being informal in dialogue with God. We are urged to pray regularly, secretly, briefly and without many words, trusting that God hears us. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites... so they may be seen by others... rather go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (MT 6:5-6).

A simple prayer for this purpose is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This can be repeated many times. We invoke the name of God to have communion with him.

Another prayer prayed especially at every liturgical Lenten service is the Prayer of St. Ephrem. Each short paragraph is accompanied with a great prostration. This prayer can be said upon waking, with our family meals, and before sleeping – or any other times during the day:

  • O Lord and Master of my life, grant that I may not be afflicted with a spirit of sloth, inquisitiveness, ambition and vain talking.
  • Instead, bestow upon me, Your servant, a spirit of purity, humility, patience and love.
  • Yes, O Lord and King, grant me the grace to see my own sins and not to judge my brethren., for You are blessed forever and ever. Amen.

During Great Lent the Church offers us public services: Presanctified Liturgy, Great Compline and the Akathist Hymn. We do not go to church to say our private prayers, but we bring ourselves, our cares, desires, troubles, questions and joy and unite them with others to the prayer of the Church, to the prayer of Christ, the Mother of God, the saints, and our brothers and sisters in our particular community. Check your parish bulletins for these enriching community events.

Fasting – Fasting is essential to our Christian life. Christ fasted and taught us to fast. The goal of fasting is to purify our lives, a physical and spiritual liberation from sin. We strengthen ourselves to love God and people. What money we save from fasting on specific foods is shared with others who have a need. We have our Eparchial Shepherd’s Care Program: Each person, old and young, banks the savings in a Lenten mite box and presents it on Pascha to the Church so that the Shepherd, the Bishop, distributes it to the poor and needy. Fasting helps our body and the bodies of others.

Our fasting regulations developed in monasteries and are somewhat mitigated today but it is up to each person individually to adjust the fast to their life and circumstances. Check your parish bulletin for the traditional fast and the mitigated guidelines and make it a better part of your life – the rules are ideals to which we strive.

Jesus reminds us in Mathew’s Gospel: “When you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting... But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (MT 6:16-18).

St. John Chrysostom also gives us important words on fasting: “Real fasting is not merely abstinence from meats, but from sins as well. Let the hands fast by being pure from plundering and avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing to run to unlawful spectacles... Let the mouth fast from disgraceful speech, for what does it profit us if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour our brothers and sisters.”

Our Lenten Vespers sums this up perfectly: “Let us observe a Fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. True fasting is to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forebear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury. If we renounce these things, then our fasting is true and pleasing to God.” (1st Monday of Lent).

Good Works – Almsgiving – The third arm of Great Lent is a stronger refocus on doing good works. Almsgiving is a daily event, not just done in Lent. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus not only speaks about prayer and fasting, he adds his words or commands of almsgiving as well. “So when you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do... rather do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (MT 6:2-4).

Jesus’ call for us to do good works even confirms God’s law in the old covenant: “Those who despise their neighbors are sinners, but happy are those who are kind to the poor... Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor Him.” (Proverbs 14:21, 31).

Scripture teaches us that to share our possessions to support the needs of others is the most concrete expression of faith and love. Faith is not alive in one who does not help the needy. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”. (James 2:14-17).

The Fathers of the Church also insist on almsgiving. St. John Chrysostom says: “Feed the needy now or be ready forever to feed the fires of hell!” St. Basil the Great also insists on sharing with others: “The grain in your barn belongs to the hungry. The coat in your closet belongs to the naked. The shoes rotting in your basement belong to the barefoot. The silver (money) hidden in boxes belongs to the needy. You sin against all those whom you are able to help, but fail to do so.”

Our liturgical texts also focus on good works: “In this season of repentance, let us stretch out our hands in works of mercy. Then the ascetic struggles of the Fast will bring us eternal life, for nothing saves the soul so much as generosity to those in need; and almsgiving combined with fasting will deliver us from death. Let us do all this with gladness, for there is no better way, and it will bring salvation to our souls.” (Matins Aposticha, 2nd Thursday of Lent).

Just prior to the Great Fast we recall on Meatfare Sunday the great parable in Matthew’s Gospel of the Last Judgement: Jesus reminds those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, cloth the naked, visited and cared for the sick, and visited those in prison, “just as you did it to one of the least of those of my brethren, you did it to me...and those that ignored the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick and in prison, “just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do to me.” (MT 25:31-46). Jesus identifies himself as every person in need. Our brothers and sisters are our life – we cannot ignore them or pass by their needs.

Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. On weekdays of the Great Lent, we fast from the full Eucharistic Divine Liturgy. However, it is not fasting from receiving Communion, just from the full joyful Divine Liturgy. The Church does not deprive us from receiving Holy Communion by celebrating a modified Vesper-Liturgy in which we receive the body and blood of Christ consecrated on the previous Sunday.

Generally, in our Melkite Church it is celebrated on Wednesday evening but it can be any weekday evening according to parish schedules. It is truly a beautiful service with the pre- sanctified gifts brought to the Holy Altar in deep silence.

Akathist Hymn – This beautiful Kontakion written by St. Romanos, the author of many long hymns is connected with the Great Feast of Annunciation on March 25, which generally occurs during Great Lent, or Holy Week. In our Melkite Church, on Friday evenings we chant the Odes to the Mother of God and a section of the Akathist Hymn. On the 5th Friday we chant it entirely at night prayer (Compline). Although not directly connected to Lenten services, this expressive theological hymn honors the Mother of God who bore Jesus Christ in her womb. She gave birth to our Savior whose saving actions we will celebrate in Holy Week leading to his glorious Resurrection.

Special commemorations take place on the Saturdays and Sundays of this fasting season and a very long Canon on Repentance written by St. Andrew of Crete is sometimes chanted in some parishes. Check with your parish priest, and if not chanted in the church request this Canon which you can chant or read in your homes.

Great Lent ends with the resurrection of Lazarus on the day before Palm Sunday. However, although the 40 days are complete, we embark on a more intense and expressive week – the Holy and Great Week of the Passion of Christ. During Holy Week our fasting should be a bit more intense. Although we are still somewhat in partial lockdown with COVID-19, most services will be live streamed by our parishes. It is a beautiful week walking with Christ in his passion, proclaiming Him our King on Palm Sunday and Bridegroom of the Church. We are anointed with the oil of the sick since we are all spiritually infirm. We witness his humility by washing his apostles’ feet as a reminder that all of us are called to serve each other. We celebrate his institution of the Eucharist which is our life-giving food. We read the Passion Gospels and enact his crucifixion, meditating on his long-suffering and death on the cross, accomplished for our salvation. We remove the dead Christ from the Cross, prepare the burial and sing the joyful glorifications at His decorated tomb. We process with his burial shroud (epitaphios) around the church and even in some places outside of the church, and upon reentering the church we bow underneath his body as a sign of dying with him and asking to be raised with him too!

On Holy Saturday we bless the new light – the sign that Christ lives and we proclaim his resurrection to the world outside before our Paschal Divine Liturgy. And as we proclaim his resurrection, we too stand upright and proclaim our own renewal of our Christian life which we received at the time of our baptisms. At our baptisms we were asked if we renounce all evil, if we accept Christ and if we will live the Christ life. If we were babies at that time our godparents answered for us. But now as adults we recommit ourselves to living Christ and to being another Christ in our world.

I pray this Holy Season be filled with joy for all of you and I pray that when you shout the first Christ is risen, you can add “and me too,” I’m a renewed follower of Jesus Christ.

A Short Pastoral Letter on Great Lent and Holy Week - 2021
Bishop Nicholas Samra
Eparchial Bishop of Newton

 
O LORD and Master of my life, grant that I may not be afflicted with a spirit of sloth, inquisitiveness, ambition and vain talking. Instead, bestow upon me, Your servant, a spirit of purity, humility, patience and love. Yes, O Lord and King, grant me the grace to see my own sins and not to judge my brethren. For you are blessed forever and ever. Amen. From the Office of Educational Services: Great Lent at Home (PDF, 556KB, 28 pages)

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