Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Bishop John Elya

Thoughts for the Week

Bishop John A. Elya

My Place in the Body of Christ - shared with our Cleveland Parish

In the Middle Ages, a pilgrim took off on a long journey in quest of knowledge and wisdom. He passed one day near a big building project. It was a huge space with hundreds of workers, some digging ditches, some mixing cement, some carrying stones, some laying bricks, one chiseling a piece of marble into a statue, and many other people busy doing each one one's own thing. He was curious and wanted to know what was being built. He asked one worker:

"What are you doing here?, my friend"

The worker answered: "I am mixing cement. Can't you see?"

He asked another: "What are you doing here?"

This one answered, without taking his eyes off the statue he was carving: "I am carving a statue of St. Joseph."

A third one answered: "I am laying bricks, can't you see? It is a boring job; but I need the money.

Finally, he asked the water boy, a youngster who was carrying a jog and pouring water to thirsty workers:

"What are you doing here, my friend?"

The little boy lifted up his head and proudly answered:

"We are building a cathedral."

That little, intelligent boy made history. He had a vision, he had a comprehensive idea of what was going on. As the saying goes, he looked at the forest instead of the tree. He admired and was proud of the beautiful forest, instead of focussing on the tree of his own, as all the others were doing. Very often, we get lost in our small corner, doing our own thing, and we lose track of the wider reality all around us.

My friends, with God, all makes sense; and we are brought to a higher level of awareness. If we are not aware, life passes us by. We get down the hill before we reach the top. Reality takes shape for us in the measure of our awareness. Through our awareness, we are higher than the animals as the animals awareness puts them higher than the vegetable kingdom. Moreover, through our spiritual awareness, we live in the spirit and we maximize our dignity as children of God.

I hope that this Parish Retreat will help us to become more aware of God's presence in our lives and of our dignity as children of God, created in His image and likeness, endowed with feelings, with intelligence and with will power. We have been "made a little less than the angels and crowned with glory and honor. We have been given rule over the works of God's hands, putting all things under our feet." (Psalm 8:6-7) I hope this open conversation will make us more aware of our special place in the church which is the mystical body of Christ. Whatever you do for the church, be it important or menial, you are not doing only that - singing, cooking, preparing the coffee and donuts, managing the hall, teaching Sunday School, participating in Bible study, organizing a hafly, selling tickets, preparing posters, printing bulletins, etc., etc., you are not only mixing cement or laying bricks, you are building God's cathedral.

St Paul writes to the first Christians:

"To each one of us, grace was given according to Christ's imparting." (Ephesians 4:7) "We have gifts that differ according to the favor bestowed on each of us. As just each of us has one body with many members, and not all the members have the same function, so too we, though many, are one body in Christ, individually members one of another." (Romans 12:4-5)

We have different gifts; but these gifts are given for the whole body and not for the benefit of the individual members. Our individual gifts are given to unite us and not to set us apart. In a balanced personality, no member does things to hurt other members. If the mouth overeats, it hurts the stomach. If we oversmoke, we hurt our throat and our heart. If the feet run too fast, the heart beats faster and the blood pressure rises high. All the members form one single body and are affected by each other.

St. Paul goes on to mention some of the various gifts in the same body:

"It is He (God) who gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ." (Eph. 4:11-13).

Each one should know his or her gifts and share them faithfully with the community.

  • The one who has a nice voice should sing.
  • The one who has teaching talents should teach.
  • One would serve and one would administer, according to the special talents given him or her.

We should always keep in mind that the eyes are for seeing (not hearing), the ears for hearing (not smelling), the nose for smelling and the feet for walking or running. Did you ever think that "If your nose runs and your feet smell, you are built up-side-down?" God forbid that we should insist on those who are spiritually minded, who never miss a spiritual activity, to help necessarily in our social programs; or to insist on those who are financially gifted to dictate our religious programs or our spiritual activities. God forbid that you should leave it to the clergy to run the social, the financial, the legal and the spiritual affairs of the parish all by themselves. The church needs the different talents of each one of the parishioners. Did you ever see a big head rolling along in the street with no legs, no hands, no belly? What a monster! Usually the more material things are left to the priest to do and the less spiritual things go on in the parish. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the Twelve Apostles were spreading themselves too thin. They were forced sometimes to neglect the word of God to take care of material concerns and to act as referees in quarrels among old ladies, those of Judea against those of the Diaspora - somehow like American born against new immigrants. So, the Christian Community chose seven deacons to take care of the material administration, so that the Apostles can dedicate all their time to prayer and preaching.

Do you know what happens often when we are torn between material and spiritual concerns? The same thing which happened, in the old story which you have heard before, between the pot of steel and the pot of porcelain. One day, a pot of steel and a pot of fine China struck a friendship - in the language of the day, we say, they entered into a relationship. One sunny afternoon, they took a leisurely walk together. The pot of China leaned lovingly on the pot of steel. Then the pot of steel leaned a little too heavily on the pot of China and it broke it. St. Paul reminds us: "We carry our treasure in earthly vessels, so that the credit of strength goes to God and not to us." (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Here are some important questions that we should ask ourselves honestly as active members of a living parish community such as St. Elias Church.

  • What is or what are my gifts of service to my parish Community? Choir, altar service, Parish Council, societies, Youth Activities, Religious Education programs, works of mercy, fund raising activities, ... etc.
  • How much of an active, participating member am I in the body of Christ? In the railroad of God, am I a locomotive or a caboose. On the stage of life, am I an actor or a spectator? In the market of life, am I a giver or a taker, an active participant or a free loader? I heard a complaint in the Parish Advisory Council meeting of a parish I visited sometime ago. "Why do 10 per cent of the parishioners do always the 90 per cent of the church work?" - I replied: "For the same reason why 10 per cent of the guests eat 90 per cent of the hors-d'oeuvres. Are you one of the 10% givers, or one of the 90% takers?
  • Am I helping the church financially, socially and spiritually in proportion to what God has given to me? If not, why not? If everyone is a taker, where the giving will come from?
  • How much and how often I use my gifts for my own advantage, to serve my personal needs more than the needs of the community? As living, productive members, we offer our service to the whole community and not to our own advantage.
My Brothers and Sisters,

The thirst for power is the worst plague in some religious communities as well as in some households. Our Lord Jesus taught us:- "Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:26-28)

How much my gifts are used for unity? St. Paul tells the first Christians: "Emulate each other in showing love. Outdo each other in showing honor." (Romans 12:10) Anytime we get out of our own shell and serve others, we get closer to God. Anytime we ascend, we converge, and anytime we converge we ascend. When we serve others in love, when we feel like one in Christ, then we have reached the highest point of our destiny, being one with God, with Jesus our head and brother, with all our brothers and sisters in religion and in humanity, and with all creation.

This "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph.:4:3) recommended by St. Paul does not happen overnight. We work at it bit by bit. Let us try today

  • to help those in need,
  • to make a telephone call to a bed-ridden person or to an elderly person whom very few visit,
  • to be kind to everyone around us,
  • to share good news and to keep the bad news for ourselves. "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing". By the way, you know the difference between gossip and Gospel. The latter is good news, the first is empty news, good, bad or indifferent. Our Lord warns us: On the day of judgment, people (you and I) are going to render account for every useless word we have uttered.
  • to enroll in the choir, in the adult education programs, in the various activities, each one according to one's own talents.

Before we conclude this short retreat, I would like to explain to you very briefly my understanding of what a parish is, so that we may appreciate our respective place within it. Please allow me for a moment to depart from the conventional definitions which are in the dictionary or even in the Code of Canon Law. Please bear with me in this new vision and then you could see how beautiful it looks and how dynamic would be the role that we chose in it for ourselves.

What is a parish?

According to my new vision, acquired in a "Project to reform the Local Church" developed in the early 1970's:

  1. A parish is a layout of love over a piece of geography. God loved Cleveland and its suburbs and Brooklyn, OH in particular. This is why he created the parish of St. Elias first in Downtown Cleveland on Webster Avenue, then on Scranton Rd. and now in Brooklyn on Memphis Avenue, with its devoted and resourceful Pastor, Archimandrite Ibrahim Ibrahim and its Subdeacon Khalil Abdalla and the church workers, as an marvelous sign of His love. This choice puts on you, clergy and parishioners of St. Elias Church a great responsibility to be "a layout of love" over this piece of geography called the Greater Cleveland.
  2. The congregation is the group of people who identify with the church, who support the parish financially, who attend the prayers and the social functions and who, in one way or another associate themselves with the church community called the St. Elias Parish. We call it "the enabling Congregation," because it enables the "Cadre," the mind and soul of the Parish to bring about its outreach of love.
  3. At the center of the parish community, as the beating heart and the thinking brain of what the church is, stands The cadre, the real core of the community of the people of God. They are the ones who help the Pastor in fulfilling the mission of the parish.

In this frame of reference, as you see, the parish is the recipient of the love given by God through the Congregation. As mentioned above, and it bears repetition, the congregation is called "the enabling congregation," because it enables, i.e. it makes it possible to the cadre to reach the parish at large.

Now, it is up to each one of you to decide your place and your gifts in the Body of Christ which is the Parish at large, the enabling Congregation or, preferably the dynamic Cadre. The fact that you are here indicates that you are not simply a member of the parish at large, taking advantage of the Church without contributing back to it a sharing of your gifts. You certainly are members of the congregation; but you are also to a great extent a part of the cadre which radiates the love of God, through the congregation, to the whole parish. May this awareness of your dignity as helper of God in His Church give you joy and happiness. And may your joy overflow all around you. And may your Parish of St. Elias be an exemplar of God's love to the Greater Cleveland and to all the Diocese of Newton. Amen.

PASCHA RETREAT for our Cleveland Parish - Given Saturday. May 3, 2003

Pascha, the Season of Seasons - This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad therein."

Christ is risen! Al Masiix qaam! Christos Anesti!

For 40 days, and then every Sunday, we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Preaching the Risen Christ and the Empty Tomb was the reason of the expansion of Christianity in the first century. Of course the great conviction of the Apostles and of the early Christians as empowered by the Holy Spirit, together with the love which the first Christians carried for one another caused the pagans to believe in the truth of Christ Resurrection.

Story of the homebound lady in Lawrence: I greeted her: "Christ is risen!" Instead of the conventional answer, she asked: "What?" I repeated with a louder voice: "Christ is risen!" She asked again: "What?" I repeated more clearly: "Christ is risen! Al Masiix qaam!" She answered: "Min zamaan! A long time ago!" Until now, I am not sure if she meant that the feast is two weed past, or that the event is two thousand year old. Christ Resurrection, my friends, is not history told, but mystery lived! We are the people of the Resurrection! Bear a Resurrection smile! Remember the smart remark of Nietzsche: "If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, why don't you look more redeemed.

And, by the way, I am so very happy to be with you, dear people of St. Elias. I always enjoyed your Pastor's hospitality and wisdom and enthusiasm. 3ala qadril 3azmi ta'til 3azaa'imu ... "You know a tree by its fruits," says our Lord. And the famous Arabic verses of Al Mutanabbi: "Great deeds are measured by great people... To small people, small things look great. To great people, great things look small." So, the more you expect of life, the more life will give you.

"I bargained with life for a penny/ Until I found, dismayed, / That any wage I would have asked of life / Life would have paid."

I remember from seminary life the sad story of a poor soul who was born poor spiritually, who lived in mediocrity and who died poor as she had lived. She was described by two lines in French:

"Elle est morte et n'a point vecu. Elle faisait semblant de vivre,/ De sa main est tombe le livre Dans lequel elle n'a rien lu."

She died, but she never lived; She only appeared living. / From her hands has fallen the book In which she read nothing."

So, let us use this day to the best! Let us wake up and live; or let us intensify our living. What we do without enthusiasm, we quit without regret. As the Arabic saying: "Maa lam tat3ab 3alayhil aydi laa taxzan 3alayhil quluub!" If your hands do not toil your heart does not ache. And, in the words of our Lord: "Where is your treasure, there your heart will be also."

I could not imagine a better time for this parish retreat than the season of the glorious Pascha, Easter and the middle of the spring season. The time of spring is a time of revival. Nature wakes up from its winter sleep. We call this hibernation. Many animals hibernate, that is sleep during winter. Blood circulation slows down almost to a halt. Most vegetation lose their leafs during fall and winter. In the spring, nature wakes up. Life returns to the fields, to the plants and to the trees. We would like to think that with Christ risen from the dead life comes back everywhere. We are invited with nature to wake up, to open our eyes and to see the beauty all around us. Remember that with the Birth of Christ, Christmas, the daylight becomes longer and longer every day. Christ is the light of the world. Now, with Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, nature wakes up and life returns in the splendor of spring. Our Lord said: "If the grain of wheat does not die it stays alone, but if it dies it brings much fruit. The Lebanese popular song:

"May the grain of wheat planted in out hearts/ Die and grow and flourish with love.

May the people whom we see on our roads/ Meet your face in us, O my Lord."

Pascha, Pecked, Al Fisx, Passover, all have the same Semitic root as the Arabic word "Fashkhah" a step, a jump over, a passage from slavery to freedom, from death to life. I hope and pray that the time of Easter, Pascha, has marked for us a step in the right direction to God, a vice corrected, a hatred turned into forgiveness, a resentment healed, a conflict resolved. If not yet, today is the day to open our eyes, to wake up and live.

"Today is the day of the Resurrection Let us rejoice and glory in the Feast." Let us embrace one another and let us say: We forgive to our friends and enemies alike everything through the Resurrection. And let us sing together: "Christ is risen from the dead, and by his death He has trampled upon death; and has given life to those who were in the tombs."

At the "Blessing of the Light" on the Holy and Great Saturday, called in Arabic "Sabt An Nour," the Saturday of Light, the priest proclaims, when lifting the lighted candle: "The light of Christ enlightens all men." Then, "Blessed be the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies our souls and bodies at all times, now and always and forever and ever."

With Easter, Pascha, we start a new liturgical cycle.

What do we mean by that, a new liturgical cycle? Don't tell me: We run around in circles! but we stay on the same level. I hope not! However, let us face it: If we consider our spiritual life, our moral life, our conduct with people, our good and bad habits, how better are we today than last year around this time? Are we not running in circles and staying at the same place? I do believe in the "More so" principle, namely: what you do today, you will do it more so in the future. We are invited, in our life in Christ, not to run in circles, but to mount in a spiral, to rise up all the time; so every cycle leaves us one level higher. This is described in the Psalm :

" ... They shall go from strength to strength until the God of Gods shall be seen in Sion." (Psalms 83/84:8)

When we come to church, we usually expect something consistent. An Arabic proverb says: "Qil ci 3aadi xattal 3ibaadi" Everything is habit, even God's worship." In our worship, something is always the same, yet something is also different all the time. Life consists in movement, in change, in contrast. A plant which does not change and grow is petrified, that is as good as a dead stone; water which does not move stinks; no two leaves are exactly the same on a tree; no two trees are exactly the same in a forest. The weather, even in sunny California is different every day. Thousands of weathermen make a living, just predicting the weather. Mother nature provides the four seasons following each other without fail. What we call a warm wave during winter may be considered as freezing cold during the summer. Our body tends to adjust to seasonable temperatures regardless of our preferences. Knowing the season, we know the reason for a given temperature, so we enjoy it better or we learn to cope with it. We may safely say that "seasonable is reasonable." So everything is different all the time; but there are predictable patterns which make us understand, if not accept the variety.

About thirty years ago, a book was on the best sellers list for quite a few months. It became a classic since. The title: PASSAGES. Passages described the different stages in people's lives and how we could predict different behaviors for different stages. A child acts differently from an adolescent and a teenager's behavior is different from an adult. A behavior normal in one stage may be considered abnormal in another.

As we have different seasons during the year, we also have different seasons in our church calendar. As you can imagine, each season has its own flavor.

Christmas: joy

New Year: hope & expectation

Epiphany, as well as transfiguration: splendor and glory

Encounter, yearning for a Messianic era of peace and prosperity

The Triodi, a season of reflection, of humility, of repentance and of self discipline.

As a triple decker, the Triodi Season consists of three weeks of preparation to Lent, then six weeks of Lent which we, call the Great and Holy Fast, and finally the Great and Holy Week leading to the Great Feast of Easter or Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, "the feast of feasts, the season of seasons."

The greatest season of all is Pascha. The feast of feasts, the best of seasons.

Life will be dull if all seasons were treated equally. So let us take all the benefit of our present season - until we pass to the season of Pentecost, the season of the Holy Spirit.

EARTHEN VESSELS

"God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike." (I Corinthians 4:9)

I vividly remember from the movie "Dead Man Walking" the scene in which the man condemned to death took his last walk between his cell and the electric chair, slowly, sadly, in a breath taking rhythm, step after step, preparing to the final jump from time to eternity. And the guard shouted solemnly: "Dead man walking! Dead man walking!" Paul compares the apostles to that man condemned to death, "God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike." St. Paul likened himself and the apostles to that man condemned to death, heavily burdened by the load of responsibility, yet not appreciated by the world around him. This brings to mind a poster I saw thirty years ago, but still lingering in my mind: "When I do right nobody remembers. When I do wrong no one forgets."

St. Paul contrasts between the challenge of the Apostles, be they clergy or devoted laity like many of our readers, and the self satisfied Christians of his time. The Christians at Corinth complacently felt that they had reached what God intended for them. So, Paul addressed them ironically, but in a challenging manner to wake them up from their complacency or to temper their criticism: "We are fools on Christ's account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated; we wander around homeless and we toil working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world's rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment." (I Cor. 4:10-13)

As in the time of St. Paul, so it is today: Most of the Christians are self-content of their own conduct. Many of them won't pass by any occasion to criticize or find faults in their spiritual servants. Is not this a good illustration of what is going on in America at this time? Too many people go fishing with critical eyes and tongues and pens for scandals and abuses committed by a tiny minority of Catholic clergy. Some of the alleged crimes took place ten, twenty or thirty years ago. In some instances, the accused have already died. With no intention to minimize the hideous crimes of the few or the great sufferings of the many, it is not fare to throw a blanket damnation over the thousands of dedicated priests who have been serving the people of God with full devotion and irreproachable dedication.

Why are people so critical of the Church and of its servants? Because people in high places are more accountable and they must give a good example of integrity. The closer you come to the light, the more your defects become noticeable. You do not see the dirt in dark corners; but you see it blatantly near a bright-lighted bulb. The Italians have a good proverb: "Gli onori sono oneri; honors are onerous." The French say: "Nobless oblige," - Nobility has obligations; you must live up to your high status. Ordinary people may commit atrocious misdeeds and do not attract attention; but less offensive deeds are unacceptable in people engaged in God's service.

On the other hand, there is no way to avoid scandal, or to avoid people's criticism, even if you think you are innocent. "Woe to the world because of (the scandals,) things that cause sin!" said our Lord, "Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!" (Matthew 18:7-8) There is no excuse for breaking God's laws and for hurting people, especially the children and the helpless. Reparations and amends must be made, and all possible means must be used not to allow the same crimes again..

People love sensational news. If a dog bites a man, this is no news; but if a man bites a dog, all the town shouts it from the rooftops. Besides, scandals make newspaper sell. We are human and we are fragile. St. Paul reminds us: "We hold (our) treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us." (2 Corinthians 4:7) Great people are like the décor of a theater. They have to be seen from a certain distance, so their small defects will not be detected. So, this is the chance we take when we decide to serve the public, especially if we want to serve the way our Lord served. He reproached the Pharisees and the Scribes: "John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said; 'He is possessed by a demon. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you said: 'Look, He is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is vindicated by all her children." (Luke 7:33-35).

Let me read to you, if you haven't heard it before, the contradictions a priest faces. The title is: "The Priest IS Never Right!"

If he is happy.........he is a nuisance. If he is austere......... he is bad tempered. If he is handsome......... why didn't he marry. If he is ugly ......... nobody loved him. If he is fat ......... he eats too much. If he is thin......... he is stingy. If he is tall......... he looks down on people. If he is short......... he looks like an altar boy. If he owns a car......... he likes material things. If he walks......... he is old-fashioned. If he visits the faithful......... he meddles in other people's business. If he stays in the rectory......... he is an introvert. If he talks about Heaven......... he is a modernist. If he talks about Hell......... he is a Jansenist. If he preaches long sermons......... he is boring. If he preaches short sermons......... he doesn't want to get tired. If he speaks normally......... you cant understand what he says. If he raises his voice......... he screams. If he asks for donations......... he is greedy. If he doesn't ask for donations......... his bank account should be checked. If he fixes up the chapel......... he doesn't care about people's money. If he doesn't fix up the chapel......... he doesn't care about the chapel. If he is young......... he lacks experience. If he is old......... he should retire. If he is in between......... he is in a critical age. Do as he may......... or even if he does nothing, *he will never be right* ! But if he leaves......... who will take his place ? Pray for him and help him. (Author unknown)

In conclusion, lets us pray for vocations ...

Let us pray for good priests ... I hereby extend a public invitation to all our young people and all those young at heart to consider serving the Lord in priesthood, diaconate or religious life. We read in the Psalms: "Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 'Harden not your hearts.' " (Psalm 95:7-8, quoted by Hebrews 4:7) If YOU do not do it, it will remain undone ...
"The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Luke 10:2)

FORCED VACATION – BENEFICIAL RETREAT (From late in 2001, but shared in 2002)

Can God write straight with crooked lines? He does it all the time. There is no situation so desperate as to defy God and prevent Him from using it for the good. St. Paul assures us: "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose," (Romans 8:28)

After a productive and successful Annual Synod of the Melkite Hierarchy (June 18-23) and after the death and funeral services of our Emeritus Melkite Patriarch Maximos V of blessed memory (+ June 29), and after enjoying a two week vacation with family and friends in my hometown Maghdoucheh, South Lebanon, I found myself spending a forced "vacation" after a freak accident. It happened on July 12, the last day before my scheduled return to the USA.

Early in the morning, during my daily hiking on the rocky hills of Maghdoucheh, I took a wrong step, which left me flat on my face with a fractured right shoulder. The result: Five fragments fracture, a major surgical operation, a full anesthesia for the first time in my life, eleven stitches, a two day hospitalization, a cobra plate with eight screws, a long recovery period, an intensive physiotherapy started in Lebanon and continuing in the USA. To complete my recovery, I was forced into several week "vacation" in my hometown at my brother's house. My return to America was postponed to September 11. As a bitter conclusion to my three month absence from my office, I was stranded in London four days from September 11 to September 15. My several weeks of recovery served as a "forced vacation," but also as a beneficial spiritual retreat.

To paraphrase St. Paul: Blessed is God who judged me worthy of sharing in the suffering of His Beloved Son and in filling up in my body what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. (Colossians 1:24)

Two things people do not appreciate enough until they lose them: health and wealth. How true is the Arabic proverb: "Health is a crown over the head of healthy people seen only by people who are ailing."

My sickness, thought as a bad accident, has been for me a blessing and a spiritual experience of a lifetime. "No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial He will provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it." (I Corinthians 10:13) During the past two months, I gained insight into the weakness and vulnerability of a human being unable to move one's hand and shoulder. I gained understanding and compassion toward handicapped people, those in a much worse situation. I realized the saying of St. Paul about Christ: "For that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted." (Hebrews 2:18) Now that it is almost over, I cannot thank God enough for my slow but sure recovery. I thank Him constantly for stating all along able to use my fingers to type on my computer. I am grateful for being able to move my hand to my face, to make the sign of the cross with my right hand (the one affected), to tie my shoes or to button my shirt. When the Doctor who performed the operation asked me a week later: Try to raise your hand to your mouth, I said smiling: I can raise my hand to my face. Reaching up to your front to make the sign of the Cross is as important as bringing food to your mouth. Priorities! Praying is more important than eating! What a pleasure to be able to clap my hands. After giving the blessing in church with the left hand for few days, I was able to do it with the right hand sustained and directed nevertheless by the left one. Now I thank God every time I give a blessing naturally with the right hand without the support of the left. Oh! What a pleasure to be able to scratch one's head (and beard), to shake hands with people – Beware, however, of "friendly" people who shake your hand or twist it forcefully, or who draw your hand up to the level of their mouth to kiss it reverently! I learned to keep the supporting sling on, even after it was not needed, as a warning sign. What a pleasure to be able to wave friendlily to people on the other side of the street or to riders in passing cars. In my hometown, everybody, I mean almost everybody, greets everybody, even strangers. The Bishop in particular is supposed to be friendly to everybody. The mouth should never be tired of smiling!

My days of recovery, imposed and joyfully accepted as a "forced vacation," served me also pragmatically as a spiritual retreat. I was faithful to the daily Liturgy at the village church in the morning or at the miraculous shrine of Our Lady of Mantara (the "Waiting Mother") in the evening. Unable to put on my full vestments, I would stand near the altar with my priestly Epitrakhilion (stole) and my Episcopal Omophorion. It took me a week or so to be able to give the blessing with the right hand assisted by the left. For a period, I tried to recite the "hours" of the daily Office in their proper time. I must confess that I recited the "Midnight" Office only twice early before dawn, when I could not go to sleep. It is a joyful, peaceful experience to live in God's company even when in physical pain, be it for few hours or for few days.

"By your patience, possess your souls," says Jesus. (Luke 21:19)

The past two months have convinced me of Kahlil Gebran's saying: "Of one thing I am certain, that God's mercy will precede the dawn." And again: "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God." (Romans 8:28)

+ John A. Elya

September 20, 2001
 
Bishop John Elya

Gold Bits, Nuggets & Other Sayings

Bishop John A. Elya

Schedule & Itinerary - Thoughts for the Week

There's a miracle called friendship, That dwells in the heart.

You don't know how it happens, Or when it gets its start.

But you know the special lift, It always brings.

And you realize that Friendship, Is God 's most precious gift!

It's National Friendship Week! Friends are very rare jewels, indeed. They make you smile and encourage you to succeed. They lend an ear, they share a word of praise, and they always want to open their hearts to us.


Self-reliance is doubled when coupled with reliance on God. When facing a crisis, we can insist on facing life by ourselves, by our own strength; or we can call on the power of Jesus. Did you ever try to pull yourself up by your shoe strings? Try it! It is impossible. Prayer of faith is our best elevator to reach the top to which God has destined us before the world began.


An atheist asked a priest: "Reverend, if we are in a high sea and our boat is sinking, you pray and I swim; who will be saved?" The answer of course is: My friend, you swim and swim and swim; but I swim and pray and swim and pray, and I hang on to my life saver. I have a much better chance than you. You look down and I look up. You sink down and I float up.


Take your job seriously, but not yourself. Don't let the job kill you; you are needed. The job will be there long after you have gone. So, with no extra sweat, do the best you can; this is the best you can do!


ARE WE NOW CLOSER TO HIM THAN WE WERE A YEAR AGO?

ARE WE ONLY ONE YEAR OLDER, OR ALSO AS MUCH WISER?


One of the best thoughts I heard recently from Bishop Lawrence McNamara of Greta Island, NE, at the New England Bishops' Retreat: "What if, after my life on earth, I found out that the Hindus were right and there is reincarnation; then, if I had a choice about my new life, I would choose to be reborn as a priest."


This is the best fulfilling life I can think of." Next to it, of course, is the dedication given by our generous deacons who are the right hands of the priests.


"You know that you are loved when anything you say or do is not not going to be taken against you." The opposite is also true: When you hate people, anything they say or do is going to be taken against them. Oh! What a relief to know that you are among people who love you; then you can let your hair down and be yourself. And, let us face it, you can't clean your head if you don't let your hair down!


We may prove a point beyond doubt to our mind. How could we pass it on to our heart and then to our daily life? It has been said: "The greatest distance in the world is 22 inches, between our head and our heart.


We start the church year in our Byzantine tradition on September 1.

As we start our Liturgical year, I wish you a renewal of life, energy and enthusiasm.

With the coming of the Fall season, nature starts a new cycle of life. With the end of the Summer lull, the beginning of the school year and the shifting to a full gear activity, it is good to remember that God the Creator, Provider, Savior, is the Lord of the Seasons, the Principle of Progress and the Author of Healthy Change. However, He alone is "always existing, always the same", the Immovable Center of the everchanging universe.

 

Question:

Snakes on Icons: Often we observe snakes or sea monsters under the feet of Christ in the icon of the Theophany, in the Jordan river . Why are they there, what do they mean?

Bishop John's Answer:

What is the meaning of the snakes that we see under His feet in the icon of Christ's baptism in the River Jordan?

You ask an interesting question about the traditional icon of the Lord's baptism in the River Jordan often called a Theophany. All icons are meant to teach us a cherished lesson of the faith. Icons are didactic. At the Lord's baptism, His divinity was made clear. The Lord is fully God and fully human. The Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form a dove and the Father's voice was heard to say: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Hear Him."

The snakes (dragons) that you notice under the feet of the Lord as He stands in the waters of the Jordan River are symbols of demons and Satan. The Lord crushes them under His feet. We remember that we are saved from the domination and dominion of Satan when we are baptized in imitation of the Lord. In the baptismal ceremony, the priest prays an exorcism over the person about to be baptized and prays that the Lord will "rebuke the unclean spirits and crush them beneath the feet of the newly baptized". When blessing the waters of baptism, the priest prays again, "Lord, we confess (acknowledge) Your power. You did walk with men and did bless the waters of the River Jordan (at Your baptism) by sending down your Holy Spirit who crushed the heads of the dragons (demons) who lurked there (and elsewhere in the world)."

We are reminded of the great transformation that occurs in us when we are baptized. We are claimed by Christ and are no longer under the power and dominion of Satan. We are sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and made living temples of the Most High God. We are changed and empowered by grace, and, if we cooperate with God's grace, we are assured victory over Satan and his demons. You noticed an important lesson depicted in this icon. It is good to notice the rich lessons that are written by the hand of the icon painter for our nourishment and reflection.

 

Question:

Gospel of the Egyptians "In the last year I was given a handoutby a homilist that quoted from the "The Gospel of the Egyptians" included in the "The Nag Hammadi Library". (The Nag Hammadi Library is a collection of Gnostic texts).

The quote was as follows: "Three powers came forth from the great invisible Spirit, they are the Father, the Mother and the Son." The priest/homilist said thatthe "Father, the Mother and the Son meant the Trinity according to nature, not according to Church Doctrine, and that we should think of God as Father, Mother and Son. I heard this message again to-day, that the Trinity is Father, Mother, and Son, and that motherhood had to do withthe personhood of the Trinity.

As Christians can we accept this teaching derived from the Gospel of the Egyptians, when the Creed of Nicea I and Constantinople I teaches that God's name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the whole of our Melkite Liturgy confirms the latter?

Bishop John's Answer:

The Egyptian Trinity teaching is a strange teaching to which we do not subscribe as Melkite Catholics in full communion and in full agreement theologically with the Catholic Church at large. There have been too many heretical teachings in history. Some are beautiful poetically, but theologically incorrect. I think that, in this case, the Gospel of the Egyptians is theologically incorrect.
 

Pentecost Message

To the Clergy and Faithful of the Melkite Eparchy in USA

May 26, 2004

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On Pentecost Sunday the Church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the early Church. It is considered as the birthday of the Church. Pentecost is a feast of unity. The Kondakion sung in the Divine Liturgy of the Feast Day emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit and unity.

Without the Holy Spirit we would not be able to know God. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the world assures our knowing both God the Father and Jesus, the Word made flesh. The Incarnation took place by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:35) Jesus was commissioned to begin His public ministry after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him at His Baptism. (Luke 3:21-22) He read from the prophet Isaiah in the temple, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." (Luke 4:18) The Holy Spirit has an important role in both the crucifixion (Hebrews 9:13-14) and the resurrection (Romans 8:11) of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We know God through His sacred Word. The Word of God is inspired (breathed into) by the Holy Spirit. We know God through Baptism. Baptism makes us children of God and temples of the Holy Spirit. The Baptismal waters are blessed and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We experience God and receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Epiclesis, which invokes the descent of the Holy Spirit.

We experience God through His Church. As I stated above, the birth of the Church is considered to be Pentecost Sunday. God is present to us through one another in the Church as well as in the teaching authority of the Church. God is present in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God's powerful forgiving presence is another way we ‘know' God and experience His love. Forgiveness comes through the Holy Spirit. (John 20:21-23) We are touched by God through His unconditional love. "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." (Romans 5:5)

The deepest desire of God's heart is our salvation. This is seen both in His sacred Word as well as in the teaching of the Fathers of the Church. God's will for us is that we be holy. We read in Saint Paul's Letter to the Thessalonians, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (4:3) We are challenged by the Lord many times both in the Old Testament and the New to be holy. Saint Peter exhorts the early Christians to be holy. "Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy.' " (I Pet 1:13-16) In Leviticus, we are commanded by the Lord, "Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes, and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you." (20:7-8) In Deuteronomy we learn what God requires of us - "to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD." (10:12-13)

Notice, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, that although God requires us to be holy, He also tells us that it is He Who makes us holy. "I am the LORD who sanctifies you." The Holy Spirit living within us is the source of our power to be holy. The Holy Spirit is our strength to overcome sin and evil in our lives. Saint Basil taught, "Nothing is made holy except by the presence of the Spirit. (On the Holy Spirit)

In the Prophet Isaiah we hear about the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us so that we can overcome sin and be holy. "And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD." (Isaiah 11:2) By tapping into the wisdom and understanding of the Holy Spirit we can do great things in our spiritual lives. Too often we conform our thinking to this world and hold on to our grudges, fears, and passions, rather than being transformed by the renewal of our minds. (cf. Romans 12:2)

The Holy Spirit is about transformation – transformation of our lives though transformation of our minds and hearts. The call to this transformation is the Spirit's. The power is His as well. We can not achieve this transformation by our own will power. Rather we must surrender our will to God and rely on His power to transform us. In the Book of Zechariah we hear the LORD speak. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (4:6) God's might, God's power, and God's strength that the Holy Spirit gives us is often called fortitude. With fortitude we come to a deep love of God, a deep surrender to His will, and the fear of the Lord that the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert speak of so often and so eloquently.

Saint Paul challenges the Christian Community in Galatia to put their commitment to God and life in the Holy Spirit into action. "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law." (Galatians 5:16,18) Then Saint Paul reminds them of the sign of living in the Holy Spirit – a life of virtue with beautiful and lasting fruits. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control … Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another." (Galatians 5:22-25)

Saint Cyril of Alexandria, in commenting on the Gospel of Saint John, sums up well this life in the Holy Spirit. "If we have given up our worldly way of life and submitted once for all to the laws of the Spirit, it must surely be obvious to everyone that … our nature is transformed so that we are no longer merely men, but also sons of God, spiritual men, by reason of the share we have received in the divine nature."

Our Lord Jesus Christ told Nicodemus: "I solemnly assure you, no one can enter into God's kingdom without being begotten of water and the Spirit. Flesh begets flesh. Spirit begets spirit." (John 3:5-6-) May the Holy Spirit, the gift of Jesus to us at Pentecost, and through Whom we are born again into God's kingdom, instruct us through "wisdom and understanding, through counsel and might and through knowledge and fear of God." May He guarantee and strengthen our unity with God, with His Church and with each other. Being the Spirit of Truth, promised to us by Our Lord Jesus, He will guide us to all truth. (Cf. John 16:13) To Him in the Unity with the Father and the Son is all power and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Most Rev. John A. Elya

Eparch of Newton

 

A message from Bishop John Elya

Annunciation Cathedral

Christ is risen! He is truly risen!

"Christ is risen from the dead, and by His death He has trampled upon death and has given life to those who are in the tombs."

We celebrate, during these forty days of Holy and Glorious Pascha, the victory that our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ won over sin and death. This triumph is a triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil, of truth over lies and falsehood. Saint Paul tells us, "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin … then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men … so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12a, 18, 21) Commenting on these words of St. Paul, Origen, the third century theologian, explains, "Christ chose to empty Himself and take the form of a slave. He submitted to a despot's rule, and became obedient even to death. By that death He destroyed the lord of death, that is the devil, and set free all those whom death had held captive." (Origen from a Commentary to the Letter on the Romans)

The glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus is the greatest event in human history. This mystery is beyond words, beyond our ability to comprehend. Saint John Chrysostom preached to the faithful in Antioch: "Just as Christ was born from His mother's inviolate womb, so too He rose from the closed tomb. As He, the only begotten Son of God, was made the firstborn of His mother, so, by His resurrection, He became the firstborn from the dead. His birth did not break the seal of His mother's virginal integrity; nor did His rising from the dead break the seals on the sepulcher. And so, just as I cannot fully express His birth in words, neither can I wholly encompass His going forth from the tomb."

Our response to the glorious victory that Jesus won for us by His life-giving and triumphant Resurrection is one of joy and jubilation and action. If we carry this joy each day, especially for these forty days of the Resurrection, many lives will be touched. Nietzsche, the nineteenth century philosopher of atheism once sneered: "If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, then look more redeemed." As the saying goes, you may be the only Gospel a person will ever read. In our dark culture of despair, a loving smile, a kind word, a generous gesture, a cheerful disposition will allow others to see the glorious light of the risen Lord burning in our hearts. Be for the people you meet the "Good News" of our Lord's Gospel with radiant joy of Christ's Resurrection shining through you. I encourage you to strive to do the next good thing. Strive to do the next right action. Love. Be generous. Forgive. "Love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor… Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep … Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:10, 15, 16, 21))

The Resurrection of Christ is a spring of mercy and forgiveness for each of us and for our world. For the forty days of Holy Pascha, we stand in church as a reminder that we stand in the unconditional love and boundless mercy of the risen Lord. Then, let us "stand well" by deciding to forgive those who have hurt us and by choosing to let go of all grudges and resentments that we hold. Let us truly make the Resurrection of Christ a new beginning this year. "If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." (II Corinthians 5:17)

Our holy Christian Faith is more than a doctrinal creed, more than a moral code, more than a means of worship. Above all, our Christian Faith is a Person, the Person of Jesus Christ and our profound and intimate love for Him in the depths of our hearts! Of themselves, creeds, moral teachings, church programs and buildings cannot save or sanctify. It is Christ Jesus alone who restores our fallen nature and lifts us up to become "partakers of the Divine Nature." His glorious Resurrection is our victory over sin and death, darkness and fear, guilt and shame. Indeed, it is the "down payment" on our own resurrection if we but follow the path that our Lord has trod. It is by the power of His saving death and holy Resurrection that the Sacraments, the teaching, and the good works of our Church become themselves a life-giving spring.

This year we rejoice with even greater joy and enthusiasm as we sing our hymns of the Resurrection, because we celebrate this Holy Pascha with our Orthodox brothers and sisters throughout the world. We pray in a special way, as is our Melkite heritage, that all who sing with one voice of the holy Resurrection of Christ may become united in His one Body by the power of the Holy Spirit unto the glory of God our Heavenly Father.

"May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High Priest Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God, help you to grow in faith and truth, in unfailing gentleness and the avoidance of all anger, in patience and forbearance, and in calmness and purity. To you, and to ourselves as well, and to all those under heaven who shall one day come to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Father who raised Him from the dead, may He grant part and portion among His saints." (from the second century Letter of Saint Polycarp)

Finally, may Christ our God, who conquered death by His death, grant peace and prosperity to America and to the whole world, especially to our brothers and sister of the Near East who live in the land Christ loved and made holy by His Precious Blood. May His glorious Resurrection flood our lives with radiant joy and holy zeal during these forty days of Pascha and every day of the year.

Christ is risen! He is truly Risen!

+ John A. Elya

Eparch of Newton

 

A message from Bishop John Elya

Annunciation Cathedral

DIOCESE OF NEWTON
Eparch's Lenten Message, 2004

(To be read from the pulpit and/or to be distributed with the weekly bulletin)

My beloved clergy, laity and friends of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton:

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 1:3) Great Lent is an opportunity to reflect on the place the Cross holds in our lives. It is a time to work to integrate the reality and truth of the Cross into every aspect of our lives. Our faith as Christians is not something we put on and take off like a jacket. Rather it is like our skin which is so much a part of us that to loose it would be to loose a part of our very selves. So too with the Cross. If we are to be authentic disciples of Jesus we must embrace the self-denial of the Cross and all it entails in our daily lives.

During Great Lent the Church calls us to intensify our efforts to grow in Christian discipleship. Our goal to be faithful disciples leads us with our Blessed Lady to the foot of the Cross. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ put forth the challenge of discipleship to His earliest followers. "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)

Self-denial is at the heart of Christian discipleship and at the core of our Lenten practice. Self-denial allows us to "put off" our old false self and to "put on" our true self in Christ. Self-denial helps us to die with Christ that we may rise with Him. (cf. Romans 6:8-18) The self-denial of fasting is an ancient discipline which has blessed the lives of many of the great saints throughout Church history. Indeed, our Lord Himself fasted for 40 days in the desert. The discipline of fasting is a remedy for overcoming the passions and an abundant source of grace.

We discover our true self only in Christ. This discovery is born in the struggle with our false self and its attachment to sin. Fasting is a potent medicine which helps to cure the fatal disease of sin in our souls and to heal the wounds sin leaves behind. It is precisely for this reason that fasting holds such a special place in the life of the Church. Saint John Climacus, in his classic work, Ladder of Divine Ascent, extols the benefits of fasting. "Fasting ends lust, roots out bad thoughts, frees one from evil dreams. Fasting makes for purity of prayer, an enlightened soul, a watchful mind, a deliverance from blindness. Fasting is the door of compunction, humble sighing, joyful contrition, an end to chatter, an occasion for silence, a custodian of obedience, a lightening of the gate, indeed, the delight of paradise." "Fasting quenches the fires of the flesh… Fasting puts down the involuntary fires of the body." (Step 14 On Gluttony)

I strongly encourage the Traditional Fast for our people with whatever modifications are needed to make it an attainable goal. Fasting consists in abstaining from food from midnight until 12:00 noon all the weekdays, Monday through Friday, during all the period of Lent. The traditional abstinence entails the giving up of meat and dairy products for the entire period of Great Lent including Saturdays and Sundays.

Relying on God's mercy and taking in consideration the weakness of our human nature, the following minimum requirements are given in our Melkite Pastoral Handbook:

In our Melkite Eparchy, the faithful are encouraged to observe the ancient and venerable rules of fast and abstinence, as much as possible. They are especially urged as a strict minimum to observe the mandatory fast and abstinence on the first day of Lent, (this year: Monday, February 23), and on the last three days of the Holy and Great Week, (this year: April 8, 9 &10) and to abstain from meat on all the Fridays of Lent. These requirements are the minimum. The faithful are encouraged to do more.

Understood and lived correctly, fasting and other forms of self-denial unite us to Christ and bring us new life. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

Moreover, fasting is not only an action. It must be accompanied by a humble attitude. The motivation for our fasting must be our love of God. It must flow from our deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord, God, and Savior. Otherwise, our fasting can produce judgment and rigidity. It can incite pride and vain glory. Fasting must be balanced. That is why the great spiritual master, Saint John Cassian reminds us of the need for other virtues to accompany our fasting like "humility, practiced through obedience" which he tells us "is a great help". [On the Eight Vices] We are reminded on the first day of Lent: "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." (Apostikha of Vespers on the first Monday of Lent)

Prayer and Good Works also must accompany our fasting to ensure its medicinal effects. Prayer is our life-line to God. Prayer has a transforming power. Prayer brings us into the presence of God. We change when we are in His presence. Through prayer we grow closer to God and become more aware of His divine presence. Therefore the faithful are urged to attend the Lenten devotions as prescribed in our parish churches. Fasting, prayers and good deeds are the tripod over which stand our good Lenten practice.

Father Beshara Abou Mourad, a Basilian Salvatorian priest from Holy Savior Monastery in Lebanon comes to my mind. He is being considered for sainthood in the Church. He was known for his holiness, great love, deep prayer, and spirit of sacrifice. He fasted regularly and shared his rations with the poor. He walked long distances to offer Divine Liturgy and to hear Confessions. Because of his proverbial zeal and devotion, those villages in the neighborhood of Deir-el-Kamar in the Shoof Region have been called "The Wadi (Valley) of the Saint." Father Beshara visited prisoners seeing them as Christ. He was known by the faithful for his healing prayer and many other miracles. Father Beshara was loved by all. He died in 1830. More information about him can be obtained from your parish priests or by contacting Saint Basil Seminary in Methuen, Massachusetts.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, now Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, was a woman of fasting, prayer, and good works. She is a great model for us this Great Lent. Her love for silence in prayer is an affirmation of our hesychastic tradition in the East. "I always begin my prayer in silence, for it is in the silence of the heart that God speaks. God is the friend of silence."

May we die to ourselves this Great Lent and grow in self-denial and fasting. May we love God and others more and pray better by praying more. May we live to make these words of Saint Paul our own. "Far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14-17) By our faithful observance of Great Lent, may Christ the Divine Physician bring the springtime of new life to our souls and abundant blessings upon all our families and friends.

+ John A. Elya

Eparch of Newton

 

Question:

"My question is regarding the position of an Eastern Catholic (a Greek-Catholic, such as a Melchite) as to the pope's encyclicals. In particular, this came up in a discussion on Humanae Vitae and a person made the statement that the encyclical only pertained to the Roman Catholics and didn't concern us at all, especially since the "Orthodox Church" has a different position on birth control. It is my understanding that we are not "Orthodox in communion with Rome" but we are Greek Catholics in union with Rome therefore we are obliged to accept Roman doctrines such as Purgatory, Papal Infallibility and their positions on birth control. Is this true?

Bishop John's Answer:

When we declared our union with Rome - in consistency with Apostolic tradition interrupted somehow by historical circumstances - we accepted the Catholic faith in its entirety. We do recognize the authority of the Pope of Rome, including universal jurisdiction and infallibility for whatever concerns faith and morals. It is true that the Western Theologians themselves have their own debates concerning these points; so we should not be "more papist that the Pope;" but Catholic is Catholic and truth is truth. We cannot pose as "Orthodox united to Rome" only for what suits us. I do mean it when we pray every day, at the Divine Liturgy, for "unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit."

There is no 'Eastern truth' vs 'Western truth'. Truth is one. It may be articulated according to various cultural expressions, but truth is super-cultural. Truth should not be restricted by "party line" positions. We should accept or reject ideas for their worth and not for an artificial attachment to a given "identity." The Church teaches truth. If something is true, it would be absurd to say "Oh, we don't believe that in the East." This seems to be where we get short-circuited in ecumenical "dialogue." All too frequently, such "dialogue" seems to presuppose a relativism where you speak "your truth" and I'll speak "my truth" and we'll just leave it at that. A sort of ecumenical schizophrenia.

As to the Catholic position on birth control, we have no choice to accept it or leave it. If we leave the Catholic position, can we still pretend to be Catholic? "Humanae Vitae" is a given. However time is too short here to elaborate on its interpretations and implications by various theologians and National Episcopal Conferences. I must add, however, that Humanae Vitae is now much more appreciated in many academic circles as we come to realize its merit, especially regarding the dignity of marriage and the great abuses in recent years such as surrogate motherhood, sperm banks and cloning of humans, to name but few.

Here are two relevant canons from OUR Eastern Catholic Church Law:

c. 597 CCEO: "The Roman Pontiff, in virtue of his office (munus), possesses infallible teaching authority if, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful who is to confirm his fellow believers in the faith, he proclaims with a definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held."

c. 599: :A religious obsequium of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching of faith and morals which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim with a definitive act.; therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching."

 

Question:

I find no solace in my prayers, in church, in Catholic literature. I feel nothing and this scares me. Do I still love God? Yes. But my brain mocks me. I begin to question everything and I just don't feel sure any more. My mind tells me I'm a hypocrite to go around calling myself a Christian when I don't feel much like one. What should I do? Why won't God respond to my prayers?

Bishop John's Answer:

Dear friend and beloved child of God:

Thank you for your candid question. Your feelings are not uncommon. Many of the greatest saints share those feelings with you. A recent article on Mother Teresa of Calcutta shows her struggle with darkness of the soul for many years.

Faith is not a feeling; it is a fact. The fact is that God loves you very much. He gave His Son Jesus Christ for your salvation and for mine. We don't deserve it. The mercy and unconditional love of Jesus is God's free gift to us.

God is so close to you. It is a deception of the evil one to let us think that God is far from us when we feel that way. Faith is not known in the feelings. In many ways it is a heart thing. Saint Paul talks about "believing in our hearts". (Romans 10:9) Be assured that God is as close to you as your breath. He is as close to you as your heart. "Nothing can separate us from the love of God.(Romans 8:35-39)

Maybe you will find solace and comfort in the Jesus Prayer. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner." Many who pray this prayer often are greatly blessed by it.

Be assured of my prayers for you . . . May Jesus hold you close to Himself. May His Mother Mary, comfort you.

+ Bishop John

 

Question:

I have heard a number of Bishops say that one cannot support abortion and be Catholic. Is it not a scandal for pro-abortion politicians to claim they are Catholics in good standing and to receive Holy Communion? What is the Church's teaching on this?

Bishop John's Answer:

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Himself, said: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the LIFE." So, if we say we are followers of Christ, we, too, must be pro-life, for all life is a gift from our Loving Father. Our Eastern and Western Tradition is unanimous in its teaching that any form of abortion is contrary to God's law and a serious offense against the Life-Giver. Christ is Philanthropos, the Lover of Man. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has eloquently proclaimed this tradition in his encyclical The Gospel of Life. See also the pamphlet of our Office of Educational Services entitled The Fathers Speak for Life that demonstrates the early Church's opposition to abortion.

Each time we prepare to receive the Holy Mysteries of Christ's spotless Body and precious blood we pray, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, that they may "be not for our judgment or condemnation." It is impossible to receive Christ, our Life, in Holy Communion and remain obstinately pro abortion. Indeed, politicians who, by their actions (i.e. voting, speeches, etc.), promote abortion cooperate with evil. If they receive Holy Communion without sincere repentance they do so at the peril of their own souls. Such is cause for great scandal.

Shopping Cart

Your shopping cart is empty
Visit the shop

Questions? © 1995-2016 Melkite Eparchy of Newton  ·  All Rights Reserved RSS Feed