Melkite Greek Catholic Church


What is the procedure one must follow to become a member of the Melkite Catholic Church? I really feel blessed to be able to attend such a wonderful church in Atlanta. Thank you so much for your help.

Bishop John's Answer:

Please realize that there really is no need to obtain a "change of rite" in order to be a full-time parishioner. The beauty of all the Traditions of the Eastern and Latin Catholic Churches are a common patrimony and heritage belonging equally to all Catholics. Should there be some need in the future to obtain a canonical transfer, the procedure is facilitated by the parish priest who could help you with the details. Basically it involves a formal petition on your part. This is forwarded to the Melkite Bishop. The Chancery then seeks the opinion/consent of the Latin Bishop. If both Bishops are in agreement, the "transfer" is granted, signed by the petitioner in the presence of witnesses and entered into the registry of the Melkite parish.


Are children who are chrismated in a Byzantine church officially byzantine? My kids were baptized in the Roman church. We have been attending the Byzantine church for some time now and they have now been chrismated in the Byzantine church. My question is this, are they now officially Byzantine Catholics?

Bishop John's Answer:

Even though you do not say this, I am assuming from your question that you are a Latin Rite Catholic. Then your children are also Roman Rite Catholics.

According to Canon Law, a person remains a member of his church sui jurid, unless he/she obtains a transfer of membership. Although you may practice your Catholic faith in any Catholic church, receiving the sacraments (Baptism & Christmation) in the Byzantine Church does not automatically make you Byzantine.

Should you desire such, you must petition the Bishop of your Byzantine Church as well as the Latin Rite Bishop, explaining your request. This would be done through your local Byzantine Pastor. If a transfer by the parents is obtained, children under 14 receive the same transfer. After the age of 14, they have to apply for the transfer on their own.

May God bless you and your family.



"Is there a distinction between Melkites and Other Eastern Catholics? Perhaps the question is best phrased: What makes our Melkite Church distinctive?"

Bishop John's Answer:

As a Catholic Church, we belong to the One Body of Christ, or His Mystical Body which is the Church. Our Holy Father, as the vicar of Christ, is our head and our symbol of unity just as Peter was the head of the apostles.

Our Melkite Church is distinctive in several ways. We are a Church with a separate and distinct means of internal governance known as a Church sui iuris, or a Church with a law unto itself. Our Church is made up of a Patriarch and a Synod of Bishops who govern our church in administrative ways. The bishops with the Patriarch are responsible for safe-guarding our sacred traditions such as our Liturgy and liturgical practices. They decide certain issues of discipline for our Melkite people such as the rules of fasting and abstinence. Our Patriarch and bishops are in full communion with the See of Rome and with all other Catholic Churches such as the Maronite Church, the Armenian Catholic Church and twenty-two other Churches in full communion with Rome and one another.

Our Church finds its spiritual roots in the ancient city of Antioch mentioned in the Bible (Acts 11) where the faithful were first called Christians. Our traditions, many of which are shared with the Eastern Orthodox, are ancient indeed and give great emphasis to the teachings of the early Church Fathers, especially the Greek Fathers of the Church.

We take great pride in our distinctive traditions and know that our distinctiveness adds much to the fullness of the Catholic Church where there is unity of faith and diversity in worship. There are many sources that you can read and enjoy. I suggest that you check with your local pastor for a reading list that will give you much information.



What is the proper form of confession in the Melkite Church?

Bishop John's Answer

Here is the entire text of "the Sacrament of Holy Penance" as translated from the Arabic Euchologion (Sacramental Prayer Book) approved by the Holy Synod of the Melkite Church on May 3, 1968:

The Sacrament of Holy Penance

Penitent: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned

Priest: Blessed is our God, at all times, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.

The penitent having briefly exposed his sins, now listens attentively to whatever the confessor has to say, taking particular note of the penance imposed on him. Then the priest raises his right hand over the head of the penitent and pronounces the absolution.

Priest: Our Lord and God Jesus Christ, who gave this command to His divine and holy disciples and apostles; to loose and to bind the sins of people, forgives you from on high, all your sins and offenses. I, his unworthy servant, who have received from these Apostles the power to do the same, absolve you from all censures, in as much as I can and am able, according to your need of it. Moreover, I absolve you from all your sins which you have confessed before God and my unworthiness. In the name + of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And the priest may add the following:

God through Nathan the prophet forgave David his sins; and Peter shedding bitter tears over his denial; and the Adulteress weeping at his feet; and the Publican and the Prodigal Son. May this same God, through me, a sinner, forgive + your everything in this life and in the life to come. And may he make you stand uncondemned before his awesome judgment-seat, for his blessed forever and ever. Amen. (Byzantine Melkite Euchologion - St. Paul Printing Press, Jounieh, Lebanon, 1977, pp.47-48.



Are we Orthodox united with Rome? Several different people have written in asking some variation on this most fundament of questions. Since each question was directed in a slightly different way, Bishop John has chosen a rather more complete answer.

Bishop John's Answer

Sometimes I think that the Melkite Catholic Church, as well as other Byzantine Catholic Churches, enjoys the best of two worlds: Orthodoxy and Catholicism. We rejoice in the affirmation of the good Pope John XXIII that "what unites us is much greater than what divides us."

When the Patriarchate of Antioch was divided into two branches in 1724, one branch kept the name Orthodox and the other branch which sealed its union with the Holy See of Rome, kept the name Melkite given to it since the Sixth Century and called itself Catholic. It became known as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. In the Middle East, although both branches claim orthodoxy as well as catholicity, however being Catholic means not Orthodox and being Orthodox means not Catholic. To be a Catholic Christian means that one accepts the primacy of the Pope of Rome, because he is the successor of St. Peter. To be an Orthodox Christian means that one does not recognize the primacy of the Pope of Rome, but considers him as "first among equals."

According to the Catholic teaching, Christ did not create a church with five heads of equal importance. He established One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church whose invisible head is the Lord, but whose visible head is the Pope of Rome.

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches states it in these terms: "The bishop of the Church of Rome, in whom resides the office (munus) given in a special way by the Lord to Peter, first of the Apostles and to be transmitted to his successors, is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the entire Church on earth; therefore in virtue of his office (munus) he enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church which he can always freely exercise." (Canon 43 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches)

If an Orthodox subscribes to the Canon quoted above, he/she can be called Catholic and be considered "united to Rome" or in full communion with the Catholic Church.

An illustration may help: Is the Province of Quebec a province of France united to the British Crown through Canada, or a Canadian province with special relations to France? Is the Melkite Church a hundred per cent Catholic with special relations with the Orthodox Churches or a hundred per cent Orthodox with special relations to Rome. Certainly, the first case is true:

The Melkite Church is a hundred per cent Catholic, but not a hundred per cent Orthodox.

Independence and sovereignty or dependence on another Church? Such a decision is difficult to make. However, the Melkite Church has chosen dependency as a price for unity, in order to comply with the will of our Lord who prayed repeatedly "that all may be one." (John 17)



"Does the church practice excommunication and if it does, then on what grounds is it practiced?"

Bishop John's Answer:

Excommunication is the most severe penalty that the Church imposes under very special, even sad, circumstances. All penalties are meant to be medicinal and remedial. It is the hope of the Church that a person will cooperate with the Holy Spirit and have a change of heart so as to avoid such a severe penalty. Serious sin can break our intimacy with the Lord, but, in His mercy, he provides us with the sacrament of reconciliation whereby we are restored to His love in full measure. The events that can bring about excommunication have to do with a denial of the faith or a deliberate rejection of legitimate church authority.


"As Melkite Catholics, are we allowed to participate in the prayer services (such as Vespers) of our Antiochian Orthodox counterpart? I would like to know: What are the rules?"

Bishop John's Answer:

Thank you very much for your question regarding attending services with the Antiochian Orthodox. Vatican II urged all Catholics to become more familiar with Eastern Orthodox Christians, since there is so little that separates them. The present Holy Father is most eager to work toward a reunion of the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. For us as Melkites, the issue is even more pressing, since we have common family roots - many of our families are inter-related, and we have so much in common. You probably notice that the music and services are so very similar. By all means attend the Offices with the Antiochian Orthodox and pray with them, as well as inviting them to services in our Melkite churches. However, we do not have full Communion re-established with them yet. At present, we refrain from receiving Communion in each other's churches, ... not because we are better than they, nor they better than us ... we refrain as a recognition that both sides have to work harder toward reunion so that one day we may all intercommunicate and enjoy that unity that Christ God prayed for so fervently at His Last Supper with the Apostles, when He gave us the Divine Liturgy as a celebration of full communion with the Father and each other through Him in the Holy Spirit.


Your Grace, The Holy Father Pope John Paul II has said that this Jubilee Year of 2000 is an opportunity for Catholics to gain indulgences such as by going on pilgrimage to a church designated as a pilgrimage site or by making an act of charity towards one's neighbor. The belief in indulgences is a doctrine long held by the Roman Catholic Church.

Are Melkite Catholics and all other Eastern Catholics obligated to believe in the doctrine of indulgences? I know of Eastern Catholics who say "no", stating that it has no basis according to the Eastern understanding of sin, and that it is a "Latin" doctrine. I always understood the doctrine of indulgences to be a "Catholic" doctrine- not a "Latin" one - and therefore all Eastern and Western Catholics are to believe in it.

Are Eastern Catholics to believe in indulgences?

Bishop John's Answer

You ask whether or not Eastern Catholics are to believe in indulgences. Yes, I too have heard some folks remark that the doctrine is incompatible with Eastern theology, however, they are sadly mistaken.

The notion of an indulgence that removes the temporal punishment due to sin is deeply rooted in the theological consciousness of both East and West. While it is an explicit doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and thus a doctrine that we Eastern Catholics accept as we walk with the successor of Peter, you will find ample evidence of our Eastern affirmation of the cleansing of the soul after death as we progress towards the moment when, through God's generosity, we are admitted to eternal intimacy with Him.

When we look, for example, at the prayers that comprise the Sacrament of Holy Anointing that we celebrate as part of our observance of Holy Week, we find there, in several of the prayers, the notion that God's healing comes to us as we submit ourselves to His cleansing grace. Repeatedly, the priest prays for a purification from the effects of sin, the complete remission of the effects of sin, and for a healing that penetrates both body and soul. Many of the sacred traditions of our Eastern Church that deal with our prayers of suffrage for the dead speak of our plea that the Lord will wipe away the effects of sin, cleanse us and the faithful departed from its effects so that they might enter fully into the kingdom.

The Church, as the living, mystical Body of Christ, dispenses the mercy of God in many ways. We find that the doctrine of indulgences is a beautiful expression of the Church's role in bringing salvation and healing to both the living and the dead. Feel secure in the teachings of the Church. I suggest that you read No. 1471 of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church that Pope John Paul II addressed to all Venerable Cardinals, Patriarchs, Bishops, Priests and to all faithful [of the East and West.] This is a jubilee year of abundant graces and many indulgences. We do well to take advantage of its many blessings.

Bishop John's continues to explain indulgences and praying for the dead.

Several folks have asked questions concerning the doctrine of indulgences given the heightened interest in indulgences granted during this jubilee year. I am often astonished at remarks that the legal nature of indulgences seem to prove that they are applicable only to the Latin Church and are thus foreign to our Eastern theology. Many people do not realize that the legal aspects of church life, including canon law, began in the East. The Emperor Justinian and the Byzantine court developed canons that are still the basis for many principles of law used in the church today.

Indulgences deal with the wider notion of praying for the dead. We ask the question: Are our prayers for the dead efficacious? Can we benefit our deceased loved ones by prayer, good works and suffrage prayers such as liturgies? Our Eastern liturgy is replete with prayers for the dead. Our calendar, unlike the calendar of the Latin Church, has several feast days that are set-aside for prayers for the dead. The Saturday before Pentecost and the Saturdays of Great Lent are good examples. Further, we observe the third, ninth, and fortieth day after the death of a loved one as important anniversaries that we observe with a Liturgy offered for the repose of the soul of a loved one. Clearly, both in the East and the West, we believe that our prayers benefit the dead. The writings of St. John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent describes some of the imagery that we find in our Eastern view of the soul's ascent to God. Perhaps you have seen the ancient icon that portrays the soul on its ascent to God. We pray that the journey will be free of pain and diabolical attack.

Indulgences, while subject to abuses in the Middle Ages, and an object of polemics against the Catholic Church in many circles, are, nonetheless, connected to the valued doctrine of God's mercy and generosity in dealing with us when we present ourselves to Him before the "awesome judgment seat of Christ". The idea of temporal punishment due to sin is not entirely foreign to our Eastern theology. In some Eastern cultures, the surviving family members of dead offer candy to passersby at a Memorial Service, especially on the Saturday of the Dead, praying that the person would offer forgiveness to the deceased for any wrongs, imagined or real. In the prayers of absolution said over the deceased, the Church prays for the dissolution of any bonds that would keep the deceased tied, in a temporal way, to the corpse or to an intermediate state of purification. We see dying and death as a process of growing towards union with God in eternity. We assist our loved ones with our prayers, our sacrifices, and even by applying indulgences to them.

Our Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Apostolic See of Rome have experienced theological developments and growth. We, as we walk with the successor of Peter, are not bound to the forms of the ancient East in a slavish manner, but rather interpret our liturgy and forms of prayer through the eyes and insights of a church that is both alive and evolving. It is a grave error to keep ourselves blindly confined to the theological ideas of the first 10 centuries. My family has been Melkite Catholic for many generations. Are we to discard our Catholic beliefs because they find their origins in Catholic thought of the 20th century? We appreciate and value our heritage, but we are open to the development of new theological insights as they develop under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are a living Church.



"Is there any way to preserve liturgical and cultural heritage of the three branches in the one patriarchate of Antioch?"

Bishop John's Answer:

While you are correct to notice that there are several churches that claim Antioch as their See of origin, the various churches have separate and very rich histories. The obvious duplication is that of our Melkite See that is parallel with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. This duplication came as a natural result of the historical circumstances that surrounded the undivided See during the 18th century. Our Catholic bishops aligned themselves with the See of Rome in response to their thirst for direction and spiritual depth. The See of Antioch is described by historians of this period as "the sleeping giant of Antioch".

You suggest, however, a unification of very disparate churches. The Major liturgical traditions converge in Antioch. The Byzantine-Constantinopolitan tradition is one of many ancient liturgical families that make up the rich patrimony of this area. Certainly, many liturgical traditions can co-exist in one See to portray the rich diversity of the Church. Each patriarch serves as the head and father of a specific liturgical family or church sui-iuris.

As Catholics, we find a unity in faith as we walk with the successor of Peter. Indeed, the Petrine Office is seen as a service to the unity of the Body of Christ. The unfortunate divisions within the same liturgical family will one-day yield, through prayer, to the unity that Christ promised. I urge you to join me in such prayers.



I have notice that during Great Lent our churches pray the Liturgy of St. Basil yet it seems to me that the Liturgy is the same as that of St. John Chrysostom. What is/are the difference(s) between the two?

Bishop John's Answer:

The difference between the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and that of St. Basil is mainly in the so-called "Secret Prayers". These prayers are not really "secret", They are just recited by the priest in a low voice - "secretly" or "mysteriously, if you wish. Now, in recent years, the priest has been saying these prayers aloud. This practice has been recommended by the Patriarchal Liturgical Commission since 1992.

The second major difference is in the Hirmos to Our Lady, the Theotokos, which comes toward the end of the Anaphora after the formal Epiclesis or the Prayer to the Holy Spirit. This beautiful Hymn, in the Liturgy of St. Basil, starts (in English) with the words, "In you, O Full of Grace, all creation rejoices…". The equivalent Hymn for the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom starts with "It is fitting and right to call you blessed, O Theotokos…" There is also a slight difference in the Thanksgiving Prayers after Communion.

St. Basil Liturgy is used only ten times a year, namely: The vigils of Christmas and Theophany, the feast of St. Basil on January 1, the first five Sundays of Lent, Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. The prayers in the Liturgy of St. Basil, much longer than those of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, carry a wealth of Theology and spirituality very beneficial for our meditation during the period of the Holy and Sacred time of Fast.


Bishop John's Answer:

In response to your question, let me say that as Melkite Catholics, we freely embrace the moral teachings of the One Catholic Church of the East as of the West. We find that our own traditions support the teachings of the Church in ways that add to our celebration of faith.

Since Pope Paul VI promulgated the encyclical Humanae vitae in 1968, volumes have been written by way of response. In the last few years, the wisdom of his words has become more and more apparent. In our Melkite celebration of marriage, we begin by praying with the Psalmist that the couple might one day "see their children's children like olive branches around their table." This poetic language captures the fundamental values of both the unitive and procreative aspects of the sacramental marital union. Just prior to crowning the couple, the priest prays that the Father will stretch forth his hand and make the two one in flesh granting them fair children for education in the faith and fear of God. The symbol of the marriage crown speaks to the glory and honor of their chaste love that is seen as a sublime gift from the Father. Our liturgy proclaims the truths of marital love that is rich in meaning and challenge.

You might agree that we live in a culture that presents great challenge to Christian couples as they live out their commitments to one another in marriage. Human sexuality is poorly appreciated in our modern culture. In Humanae vitae, the Pope writes: "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil." This moral teaching poses a true challenge to many in our modern culture. We hope to deal with the issues with compassion and truth. Anything less detracts from God-given values.

In his recent writings, Pope John Paul II has emphasized the fundamental value of the Christian family as a microcosm of the church itself. The theological insights of the Holy Father deserve the serious consideration of every serious Christian as we search for the fullest meaning of married life. I recommend that you read what is contained in The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Nos. 2368-2371. God bless you.

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