Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Christ is among us! He is and always will be! My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, How great and awesome is the power of God’s grace! What wonders and miracles He can work in our lives. Yet, how often we can fail to trust in God’s miraculous providence for us, and how often we may think that God asks too much of us. Perhaps that is how St. Peter felt in today’s Gospel. He and his company had just returned from fishing all night long, having caught nothing, they were cleaning up and getting ready to go home. Just at this moment, Jesus calls to him: “put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.” We can only imagine St. Peter feeling frustrated, or put upon, or impatient as he recounts to the Lord his long night of futile fishing. Yet, Peter did not give in to these passions; rather he allowed his simple, but obedient, faith to have the upper hand, saying to the Lord simply: “But at Your word, I will lower the net.” And when Peter’s faith met Christ’s will, the power of Divine grace had astonishing effects. They caught so many fish that, not one, but two boats were filled to overflowing, almost to the point of sinking! For the Divine will is all powerful, but it needed the acceptance of St. Peter for it to become effective. Christ willed Peter to catch a superabundance of fish, but unless Peter put out into the deep and lowered his nets, no fish at all would have been caught. This powerful combination—what the Fathers call, synergy—the cooperation of man’s will with Christ’s grace, is the key to understanding the way God’s grace operates in our lives. And by means of this incident, our Lord instructs His Apostles about how His Church will also operate. You see, the Church is a Divine institution—it is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit: the Kingdom of God on earth. Yet, the Church is made up of sinful human beings, who can enter into this Kingdom and receive the gracious gifts of the Holy Spirit only by means of personal faith and repentance. And how in need of Christ’s salvation is our world today! I can scarcely think of a time when our world and our society were more in need of the saving message of the Gospel that at this moment in history. Ours is a secular culture that forgets God, and lives as if God does not exist. And everywhere we turn, we see the tragic consequences of this abandonment of God: violence, perversity, greed, dishonesty, corruption, persecution, and chaos on our streets. My brothers and sisters, has there ever been a time when the beautiful and saving treasure of our Melkite Church was more needed than today? Though the world has abandoned Christ, Christ has not abandoned the world: He continues to desire that “all men be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” Christ continues to offer salvation to every generation in and through His Church. Even if it may seem, at times, like we have fished all night and caught nothing, He continues to call us to “go out into the deep” and cast our nets to gather all into the saving ark of His Holy Church. In our world today, you and I are the guardians of this very special treasure—the most ancient worship on earth of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, which comes from the very place where His followers were first called “Christians”—Antioch. Do we not feel the awesome and transforming power of Christ every time we celebrate this Divine Liturgy? Truly, this is “heaven on earth,” and, to this heaven, Christ calls all people on earth to enter. This is a blessed time for our Melkite Church in America: this is our 50th Jubilee. While there have been Melkite priests here since 1889, we have only had our own bishop in the United States since 1966. During these years, Christ has blessed us, indeed: 50 years ago, we had 23 Melkite parishes. Today, we have 58 priests and 60 deacons serving 43 parishes, missions, and religious institutes...we have doubled in size. And in the time since becoming your Eparchial Bishop, I have ordained 11 priests and 8 deacons: 8 of those priests are married men, continuing our ancestral tradition of married clergy. Now, our Church in America is poised for tremendous growth. We, now, have two cathedrals, one on the East Coast and one on the West. Three men are currently studying for the Priesthood for our Eparchy, and I recently met with four more who show great interest. Next year, we will re-open our Deacon Formation Program, having restructured it to make it more accessible to our faithful around the country, and to incorporate theological studies for the Laity. And I come to you today to ask for your help, because it is only with your generous help that our Eparchy can grow to its full potential. Christ wills our Church to grow exponentially in America, but, as in today’s Gospel, He requires your willing and generous cooperation with His powerful grace. The fish don’t jump into the boat by themselves! And so I come to you. This year, in honor of our 50th Jubilee, my goal for the Bishops Appeal is $500,000. It is a bigger goal than ever before, because our needs are greater than before, and I know I can count on you to be generous. These are some of our most urgent needs: establishing a monastery for women in the US; renewing and expanding of our Deacon Formation Program; continuing to expand of our Office of Evangelization and Catechesis to prepare our youth and adults to be witnesses of our sacred tradition; increasing our mission growth fund; creating an endowment for the needs of families of married priests; expanding of our website; preparing and publishing liturgical and catechetical books; and the continued publication and distribution of SOPHIA magazine. In addition, there are approximately 100,000 Melkites in the US today, but only 30,000 have access to a Melkite church within 50 miles of their home. This is why it is imperative that we grow, and why I am working so hard to start new missions and parishes. Last year, your generous response to the Bishop’s Appeal made it possible for me to establish one new parish and two new outreaches. In the coming year, God willing, I hope to officially establish at least one or two more mission or outreaches so that more Melkites may worship in their own tradition. Finally, with your help, we continue to provide relief to our suffering Melkites in Syria and the Middle East. Since last year, we have provided over $57,000 for relief and aid to our Melkite Eparchies in Syria. In honor of our Jubilee, I have determined that 100% of all gifts over your parish goal will be returned to the parish for the needs of your parish. My beloved Melkite flock, your financial support is absolutely essential! Is it not especially now—at this time in history—that Christ our God speaks these bold words to us: “Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.” Truly, this is the call our Lord is addressing to our Church, to you and to me! The Lord is calling us today to unite our own personal sacrifice with His powerful grace and He promises a miraculous catch. So, I ask you, please be as generous as you possibly can when you receive my letter of appeal in the mail. Your sacrifice made with a loving heart is indeed a pleasing and fragrant offering in the sight of God. May our heavenly Father reward your generosity. And may the most holy Theotokos, our "watchful Protectress and our unfailing Hope," be close to you, to all your loved ones, and to all those who suffer for their faith in Christ, especially in the ancestral homelands of our Melkite Church. With my prayers and blessing, I remain
Your Father and Shepherd,
Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton
 
arabic translation

Dearly Beloved Clergy and Faithful, Christ is risen! He is truly risen! “We celebrate the very death of death, and the overthrow of Hades, and the beginning of another life which is eternal. Let us sing in joy to the Author of these marvels: the only blessed and most glorious God of our Fathers!” (Pascha Ode 7) Christ is risen from the dead - this is the proclamation of the good news of our Christian faith! The preaching, worship, and spiritual life of the Church flow abundantly from this event. St. Paul tells us “if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty too, your faith” (1 Cor 15:14). The resurrection of Christ is the core and center of our preaching; it is the reason for our preaching, and it is the basic reality of our faith and life. As we profess that Jesus has risen in a new and glorious form, we also profess that our humanity, too, has been raised with Him to a new and glorious form--the heavenly life: from dust of the earth, to people of divinity; from children of Adam, to images of the living God shining forth in Christ Jesus. Some people question what practical effect the Resurrection has on us today. What does it mean for me today? The resurrection of Christ created for us a new mode of living. Today many lives are filled with emptiness, despair and meaninglessness. People are in great need for a new mode of life--not some technological advancement or new gimmick; but rather, the risen life in Christ. The Lord’s resurrection was a victory in the decisive battle against evil and death. While the battle continues today for much of humanity, for those who live in Christ the victory has already been accomplished. In Christ, God entered into death and won. St. John Chrysostom expressed this beautifully in his Paschal Homily:
“Today salvation has come to the world, today forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free. Christ is risen, and the evil ones are cast down. Christ is risen and the angels rejoice."
So the new mode of life produced by Christ's resurrection is one of victory and triumph – a new era for the human race. It is a victory over sin, a victory over death, a victory over despair. We are filled with hope: our faith tells us that God is in control, and that when we entrust our life to Him, our end will never be crucifixion and death, but resurrection and eternal life. Our resurrection is not only a future promise: it begins now and continues into eternity. When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, He gives us a new quality of life now – a power over sin, a new perspective, a new joy, a new peace, a new love. The Lord opens our tombs of sin and lifts us up to live His life. He opens our tombs of death and raises us to a new quality of living here and now, a quality of life that will endure forever! “Shout joyfully to God, all you on earth. Sing praise to the glory of His name; proclaim His glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you’” (Psalm 95). I pray for all of you most especially on this Feast of Feasts and ask the risen Lord to extend His powerful hand to each and every one to raise you to His victory over sin and death and to grant you hope over despair, and the opportunity to love and forgive each other. I ask for your prayers for me. Sincerely in the risen Lord,
✠ Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra Eparchial Bishop of Newton
 
Dear Clergy and Faithful, The Jubilee of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis coincides with our Melkite Jubilee – our 50th anniversary of the presence of our own Melkite bishop in the United States. In a symbolic manner, Pope Francis inaugurated the Holy Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Door and entering prayerfully into St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. He emphasized that the symbolic opening to the divine life is the same gift of life that made Mary “worthy of becoming the Mother of Christ.” He performed this act on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in the womb of St. Ann attesting to the fact that this event changed the course of human history, making a way for the coming of Christ – the greatest Mercy of God. During the Jubilee of Mercy, as well as the Melkite Jubilee, we are called to experience the joy of encountering the transforming power of the Godly life and to rediscover God’s infinite mercy to all of us. Pope Francis tells us “to put mercy before judgment.” Like Mary, he calls us “to become bearers of Christ and let ourselves be embraced by the mercy of God who waits for us and forgives everything.” The fundamental theme is return – return to the loving and merciful God. We extend this same theme of renewal and return to our Melkite Jubilee – to call back to their spiritual home all Melkites who have strayed. I have decided that the door to every parish church or mission is to be considered a holy door. What is very necessary for all to receive God’s blessings: each person must actively accept God’s mercy through participation in the Holy Mystery of Repentance or Confession. This is to be followed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy – caring for and serving one another. We recognize our brokenness, and like the Prodigal Son, we return to our loving Father. Like the Good Samaritan, we are called to show mercy: we need to look for those who have strayed, those who are lost, those who are hurt, those who suffer – and lift them on our shoulders to return them to the merciful Father in our church communities. We open wide the doors of all of our churches, for everyone to enter with a renewed spirit – every church door is a door of mercy, and each time we enter, we receive God’s grace to live our Christian life in a more active and focused way. Each time we enter we are reminded to shed our past and move from sin to grace – the Godly life. Last week, we sent to all parishes monthly themes and activities for the Year of Mercy and our Melkite Jubilee. I ask that you follow them as much as possible. Each and every one of us needs to renew our personal life through the Holy Mystery of Confession. Then we can begin to develop more activities in our parish in order to welcome home those who have strayed and are in need of God’s mercy. Each day we should add a special prayer to our family meals or prayers before our home icon corner. Two are included here and can be alternated each day. Psalm 135 (136) is chanted at Orthros or Morning Prayer on feasts. It is ideal for this Year of Mercy, known as the Polyeleos, meaning “abundant mercy.” A second prayer is given to us by Pope Francis. See the attached prayer sheets. Please use these prayers daily. Open your hearts. Open your church doors. Welcome those who seek the mercy of God. Be merciful like the Father! With my prayers, good wishes, and blessings for a double jubilee celebration – Jubilee of Mercy and Jubilee of a Melkite Bishop in the USA, I remain,
Sincerely yours in the merciful Savior,
Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Eparchial Bishop of Newton
 
Dear Clergy and Faithful of the Eparchy of Newton, Christ is born! Glorify him! “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be Emmanuel, which means God is with us’” (Matthew 1:22-23). We often think of Jesus in the past tense – born in Bethlehem so long ago. We need to see him in the present tense – God with us. He is not far away in the heavens, but rather among us now sharing our sorrows, healing our pain, showing us that life has eternal value. He is Emmanuel – God with us! The beautiful Hymn of Light from Christmas Matins refreshes us and renews our belief that God is merciful and loves us, and that his greatest gift was his Son born in the flesh to save us: “From on high our Savior came, the rising Sun who shone from the East, to visit us in his mercy – we who sat in darkness and gloom. But now we see the Light of Truth for the Lord Jesus is born of the pure Virgin Mother.” Do not leave Jesus in the past. See and recognize him today in each and every person you encounter. Reach out to the lonely, call someone in need, forgive a broken relationship, share the joy of God’s presence with others. Pope Francis reminds us for the Jubilee of Mercy: “Be merciful like the Father.” Experience the joyful presence of God in your heart as you celebrate his birth this Christmas: then share him and let others know how Jesus has touched you. Make God’s presence – God with us – a joyful “now.” God’s great gift to us at Christmas is more than a code of ethics or philosophy; it is more than a series of commandments. It is a Presence – Jesus in our flesh, God with us. He is with us in trouble and in pain, and He is with us in sorrow. He wipes away our tears, in weakness and makes us strong. He gives us joy, and we share him with each other. But most importantly, not just on Christmas day do we experience God’s great gift of Jesus. Continue Christmas even after the trees and decorations come down. We sing with the angels, we adore with the shepherds and magi. We rejoice with Mary and we must find Bethlehem each day of our life. The decorations can return to the attic or basement but Christ is meant for the living room of your heart and mine all year round. If we allow him to dwell in our life, there is no let-down feeling after the feast. His presence will make all the “days after” warm with His power, His forgiveness, His grace, His love. My sincere thanks to all of you for your love and support. My prayers and blessings for a blessed season and a healthy New Year 2016.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Nicholas J. Samra
Eparchial Bishop of Newton
 
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Often we ask: what must we do to follow Christ? Last Sunday, Christ told us: “If anyone wishes to follow me he must deny himself and take up his cross.” Today our Lord tells us: “Put out into the deep and lower your nets.” These two commands show us the path to true discipleship. Peter, James, and John encounter our Lord Jesus and everything in their lives changed…everything. After their encounter with the Lord, they are new men, experiencing Our Lord’s miraculous power. Peter fell down upon his knees and begged Him: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Our Lord tells Peter not to fear and that henceforth he shall catch—not fish, but—men. Then, the most astonishing thing happens: in stunning simplicity “they left all and followed Him!” In an instant, Jesus came into their lives with His power, and their lives were changed. They became different men; their concerns and priorities were transformed; they encountered Christ and could not resist Him. They left all and followed Him. In this Gospel passage, we see the true encounter with Our Lord Jesus, repeated again and again through the centuries in various settings and circumstances—even today. An encounter with Christ our God always produces the certain realization of one’s own sinful unworthiness—“Depart from me for I am a sinful man.” At the same time, Christ’s presence radiates a powerful magnetism that pulls us to Him in faith. My dear friends, our Lord Jesus desires to encounter each one of us in the depths of our hearts. His Holy Spirit dwells within us through baptism as His power in our lives. Just as He called the Apostles, He calls each us to leave ALL to follow Him, so that He may fill us with all Godliness. We encounter Christ within the Church. In the Sacred Mysteries, He comes to us personally with His power and glory to fill our hearts. Yet, Christ's power and glory can only be effective in our lives if we, like Simon Peter, fall to our knees in humility and experience our own unworthiness. For the miraculous catch of today’s Gospel occurs only when Peter is willing to give up his own ego, and does Christ’s bidding. For, on his own, with all his sweat and toil, Peter caught nothing…nothing! How often do we experience this in our lives? Many times our own self-centered efforts often hit dead-ends, and leave us unsatisfied. But when we give our will over to do Christ’s bidding, miracles can happen in our lives. And then Our Lord speaks this command to each of us: “Put out into the deep and lower your nets!” He bids us not to fear, our mission is the same as St. Peter’s, to gather souls for the Lord in the nets of the Church. This is the mission of every disciple of Christ. This is the mission of our Melkite Church. This is the mission of you and of me. My brothers and sisters, in January our Melkite Church will begin our Jubilee Year—celebrating the 50th anniversary of the official establishment of our Melkite jurisdiction in America in 1966, with the appointment of our first Melkite bishop and the naming of our eparchial cathedral of the Annunciation. This historic moment marks a significant milestone in the life of our Melkite Church, and it reminds us that our Church in America has always been a refuge for the suffering and persecuted who came to our shores in search of the freedom to practice their faith and to make a better life for their families. Our ancestors came to America from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt to escape situations similar to those which endure today in the homelands of our Church. Thank God for our Church! Now, once again, the Lord is calling us to put out into the deep of our secular culture and lower our nets for the catch. Fifty years ago when our Melkite jurisdiction was established we had 23 parishes, today we have some 45 parishes and missions—almost double. But now, as we prepare to begin our second fifty years in America, Christ is calling our Church to begin a new dynamic impetus of growth and increase. We are no longer an immigrant Church, or an ethnic club, dependent upon the “old country” for our sustenance and survival. No, we are an evangelizing Church! We are called to proclaim our beautiful, ancient Faith here in the USA—to reach out in hospitality to welcome all who desire to follow the Lord Jesus “in spirit and in truth” and to live our life-giving tradition. We must continue to grow! Now, the harassed churches of our homelands are coming to depend upon us! It was very moving for me to receive the humble gratitude of His Beatitude, our Holy Patriarch Gregorios, and so many of our Melkite Bishops at our Melkite Synod last June when I gave them the relief funds to support their suffering faithful which came from you and your generous donations to last year's Bishop's Appeal. These funds continue to be needed now as the evils of war and persecution continue unabated. But this is only one of the compelling reasons why the annual Bishop's Appeal is so very important for our Church. Just last month, we had the honor of inaugurating the Church of St. Anne in North Hollywood, California, as our West Coast Cathedral. May God grant that in ten years' time this Co-Cathedral may become the cathedral of a new and thriving Eparchy of the West--a second Melkite eparchy in the USA! I will be looking toward the possibility of creating future missions in the West that can one day become parishes of a new eparchy. At the same time, we must continue to increase and grow in the southern regions of the USA, as well as in the Northeast and the Mid-West, adding new missions and parishes. Especially in this day and time, when our society is so ego-centric and materialistic, our Church and your parish must cast its nets into these depths and fill our churches with people seeking Christ. We must help them to come to know the power and glory of Our Lord through the sacred and ancient beauty of our Divine Liturgy properly celebrated. By receiving the Precious and Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord we become one body with our all-powerful Lord! Truly, this is what the human heart yearns for; this is what Christ wants us to bring to our world. And so, dear friends in Christ, as we begin the annual Bishop’s Appeal this year, I ask you to reflect upon the great mission Christ gave to our Melkite Church in America in 1966, namely to implant our ancient faith in American soil. Now that our Eparchy has taken root here for fifty years, let us heed the urgent mission Christ is giving us today, namely, go out into the depths of this culture that does not know God and that lives as if God does not exist and cast our nets far and wide--to bring in all those who need the riches of Christ's love and mercy. Let our parishes show the vitality of truly Christian family life, especially now in this time when the family is under attack in our society. This is the mission the Lord gives us today, and this mission requires ever increasing financial support. I thank you for the generosity you have shown in the past. By the grace of God and the generosity of so many of you, the Bishop's Appeal has become somewhat of a “miraculous catch” in its own right. Last year alone, we raised over $351,000 to meet the vital needs of our Church in America and to assist our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East. Thank God! This money is used very carefully and prudently: it supports the publication and distribution of SOPHIA magazine; it funds the training for religious education for our children and adults; it makes possible that our candidates for the Diaconate and Priesthood pursue their studies so that we will have clergy to serve our people. And when there are needs in our struggling missions, your gifts provide for them, and also help to support our elderly priest in their golden years. Plus, last year, over $66,000 was returned to 18 parishes who surpassed their Appeal goals. Finally, please know that, again this year, we will tithe, or give ten percent, of all monies collected in the Bishop's Appeal to our associated Melkite Charities, with 40% of these funds going to our churches and people in the Middle East and outside the USA who endure dire hardship. Yet, while we are tremendously grateful and rejoice with all our benefactors, we also realize that only about fourteen percent (14%) of our Melkite families in the USA participate in the support of our Church. This is very sad. What wonders we could accomplish if one hundred percent of Melkites in America would join in the duty of supporting our Church financially! My brothers and sisters, I come to you, today, as your Father and Shepherd to ask for your generous support of our Church. We need every member of our Church family to take financial responsibility for the works of our Church. If you have not given in the past, I ask you: please, please give this year. We need you. When you receive my appeal letter at home, please be as generous as you possibly can. I ask that every Melkite household in America contribute at least $100-$200 to the Bishop's Appeal for the needs of our Church. I understand that for some on fixed incomes this may require a sacrifice; however, I know that many of you are able to contribute much more. All I ask is that you give back to the Lord as the Lord has given to you. Let us do the bidding of Christ, put out into the deep, and lower our nets. Then, trusting in the Lord Jesus, He will bring our unworthy efforts to miraculous fruition, and we will be amazed at what Christ our God can do in our lives! With my gratitude, prayers, and blessing for you and for our entire Melkite family in America, I remain,
Your Father and Shepherd,
Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton
 
Bishop Nicholas J. Samara – Bishop of Newton

Major Catechetical Teaching Points

  1. Cultural development sometimes veers away from Christian thinking: Funerals are not about memories and reminiscences of the departed, but rather focus on the reality of their present life in Christ and prayers for their "good defense before the awesome Judgment Seat of Christ."
  2. Encourage the faithful to notify clergy of someone's illness so that prayers for the sick may be offered. The mystery of Holy Unction is not just for one who is dying, but a healing remedy for the living.
  3. Funeral Services: Trisagion at the Funeral Home, Funeral in church, Graveside Prayers.
  4. Respect at the Funeral Home for the departed and the family. Offering condolences should not turn into a "free- for-all" visit with friend and acquaintances. Instead encourage the reading of the Psalms or Gospels throughout the viewing.
  5. If viewing is at Church: no pictures or slide shows of the departed are permitted. An atmosphere of prayer is to be maintained in the church. The church is not a place for social gatherings but a house of prayer. Psalms and/or Gospels must be read during the entire duration of the viewing. No piped in music, please!
  6. The Possibility of evening Funerals and morning Trisagion at the church or directly at the grave without the procession of cars.
  7. No eulogies by laity or clergy are permitted. The homily should focus on the "end" of earthly life and the beginning of the new life to which we are all called, being restored through the resurrections of Christ.
  8. If family members wish to speak, the ideal time is at the mercy meal, not at the funeral service or Trisagion.
  9. No music other than funeral chants is permitted; nor are any services by fraternal organizations permitted in church.
  10. Simple mercy meals, not extravagant dinners.
  11. Memorials with Kolyva (sweetened boiled wheat) or sweetened bread.
  12. Development of Bereavement Ministry among the parish laity to assist with service and even mercy meals.
  13. Simpler caskets--no need for outrageous costs, which can be a sign of vanity. These are of no avail for the deceased.
  14. Cremation: the Church upholds the ideal of burial as the traditional, preferred practice. If cremation is chosen and is not motivated by reasons opposed to Christian faith, we still recommend that it is done after the funeral. Cremated ashes may never be scattered or taken home; they must be buried or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium.
  15. Donations to the church or charities can be recommended. If flowers are given, they can be used in front of the icons after the funeral.
  16. The Funeral Service with open coffin is our traditional rite, so that the body may be anointed with oil and sprinkled with ashes; and the custom of the last kiss may be observed at the conclusion of the service.
 
My Beloved Clergy and Faithful, Christ is risen! He is truly risen! Pascha is our celebration of Faith and Hope, our belief and trust in God's promise that "we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:3-4). Indeed, our yearning for abundant life is fulfilled by the Resurrection that gives promise for our future. Without hope life can be very sad and painful, and we can become disillusioned in relationships, in shattered dreams, in family problems, in illness, and of course, in death. Yet Pascha proclaims an undying hope--the risen Christ comes today to bring hope and victory. He comes to bring resurrection and new life. On Holy Friday, we heard the reading of Ezekiel's vision of an entire valley filled with dead men's bones. The Lord who is ever faithful breathes over the bones and brings His people back from death and captivity. This vision is fulfilled by the risen Christ who even today calls us back to life and clothes our dry, dead bones with purpose, hope, and eternal life! On the night of His Resurrection, Jesus walks to Emmaus with two of his disciples who do not recognize Him immediately (Luke 24:13-35). In their sadness they tell Him: "We hoped that He was the one who would redeem Israel." They mention the women, and some other disciples, finding the empty tomb, "but Him they did not see." Jesus then interprets for them the Scriptures concerning Himself, and He opens their eyes in the "breaking of the bread." Immediately, He brings them from the darkness of despair to the joyful light of hope in Him. Our life, too, is often filled with shattered dreams and broken hopes. Truly, our world is still filled with problems: wars, killings, injustice, hatred, and the like. So many people lose themselves in despair. But if Christ is risen, then hope is risen! If Christ is risen, death is conquered, and we live in the everlasting arms of our beloved Savior who died so we may live. In Him "we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13). The risen Christ liberates us from all negativity and pessimism. Our lighted candles on Pascha remind us that we sing with full and joyful hope as we proclaim with St. John Chrysostom: "Christ is risen, and the demons are cast down. Christ is risen, and the tombs have been emptied of their dead. Christ is risen, and life is set freed" (Paschal Homily)! Sartre speaks of the silence of God. Heidegger speaks of the absence of God. Jaspers speaks of the concealment of God. Bultmann of the hiddenness of God. Buber of the eclipse of God. Tillich of the nonbeing of God. Altizer of the death of God. However, the New Testament writers--eyewitnesses--speak of the hope of the Risen and Living Lord! To Him be glory, honor, and worship, praise and thanksgiving for all ages. Amen. My sincere and prayerful wishes that you will find your Hope in the risen Lord, and that your Paschal celebration and its forty-day festal season be filled with great joy. I offer all of you my prayers, blessing, and love. Sincerely yours in the risen Christ,
✠ Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra Bishop of Newton
 

Eastern Catholicism in the Middle East Fifty Year after Orientalium Ecclesiarum Observation – Analysis - Evaluation Turmoil, Divisions and Hopes For Unity in the Church of Antioch

Bishop Nicholas Samra, Eparchial Bishop of Newton University of St. Michael’s College In the University of Toronto October 18, 2014

Introduction

My presentation on Eastern Catholicism in the Middle East fifty years after Vatican II’s document Oreintalium Ecclesiarum needs an introduction that begins long before Vatican II. It actually begins in the early Church centuries when the faith was being formulated in human languages, especially through the seven ecumenical councils as well as many other local councils. These early centuries witnessed great discussions as well as what have become known as many heresies.1 I speak mainly of the Church of Antioch, the major city of the Roman Empire in the East – in the area which was known as Greater Syria: present day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, modern day Israel, and parts of Southern Turkey. It was the Patriarch of Antioch who had jurisdiction over this vast area. The designation of Jerusalem as a Patriarchate became more honorary to a very limited area. Even though Greek was the major spoken language in the entire Roman Empire, local languages still existed, particularly in villages outside of populated cities. Aramaic and Syriac were predominant in the Christian villages and had a variety of dialects. Arabic was unknown in this area until the coming of Islam hundreds of years later and did not become the more commonly spoken language until the 17th century especially among Christians. Without getting into dates and council declarations, very early on the Church of Antioch became very diverse. From its common core, numerous Churches developed. The main liturgical setting of the Church of Antioch was the Liturgy of St. James, however others developed. The East Syrian Church used the more ancient Anaphora of Addai and Mari, noted because it does not contain an announced institution narrative. A large part of the Church of Antioch followed the Nestorian issues, although today we do not use that term as a designation. This Church of the East spread from what is modern day Iraq into the Persian Empire (Iran) and all the way east and south to China and India. At one point in history it was larger in numbers than the spread of the Roman Church in the West. A very evangelical Church, it almost went into extinction in many areas, but developed in others, particularly India. The West Syrian Church developed into the Syriac Church, which through theological debates divided more. Parts of it followed the Nestorian heresy. After the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) the Syriac Church divided into Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Churches. Those opposed to the Council dubbed those who accepted it “ the Melkites,” a word from Syriac (Malko) meaning the King or Emperor – or royalists since the emperor accepted the Chalcedonian doctrine that Jesus Christ was true God and true man. At that time “Melkite” was considered a derogatory term. The non-Chalcedonians had a different understanding in the unity of Christ – God and man. And I note that it was not until almost 1900 years later that it was recognized as a mainly semantic issue and not a theological misunderstanding. Another part of the Chalcedonian Church, the Melkite, now divided again into what is known as Maronite and Melkite. The Maronites at first were not pure Chalcedonians. According to some historians (of course mainly non-Maronite) they were for a time Monothelites – another bad word today. But for the sake of starting a public controversy, I will not pursue the theological debate but just emphasize two more Churches, each distinct, were born. The Church of Antioch spread into Asia Minor and gave its initial liturgical life to Constantinople – the seat of the empire, where it was more hellenized and stylized. John Chrysostom was Patriarch of Antioch before his election to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Byzantine Church developed, although much of the liturgical life of Palestine passed directly to Constantinople unaltered. After the Muslim conquest in the 7th century and the Crusades which were initially meant to check its presence, more divisions developed. The Crusaders ousted the legitimate church leaders – Patriarch and bishops – in favor of Latin appointees. The Patriarch of Chalcedonian Antioch fled and took refuge in Constantinople where his Church was more hellenized. After several hundred years it lost its Syriac liturgical traditions to the more Hellenized traditions of Constantinople, sometimes called the Byzantine Church. Jump ahead several hundred years and we see the Church of Rome, the Latins, sending missionaries to the Middle East beginning in the 1600’s. If it was considered to convert Muslims, it was not successful because Islam prohibited conversions to Christianity and protected itself with fear of death to any Muslim who even considered conversion. In actuality a tremendous proselytizing took place among the Orthodox faithful and new Churches were born of unions or communions with Rome – derogatorily called “uniates”, now Eastern Catholics. The Romans or Latins now opened their own churches and because of the financial support of the west, won converts to the Latin churches, a poor means of evangelizing. To recap then in this long introduction, from the one Church of Antioch the following developed:
  • West Syrian:
    • Syriac Orthodox/Catholic
    • Maronite – all Catholic
    • Melkite Greek Catholic and Orthodox, known as Greek Orthodox in the East and Antiochian Orthodox in the West.
  • East Syrian:
    • Chaldean Catholic and Church of the East (the non-Catholic branch) which does not use the term Orthodox but rather Apostolic Catholic Church of the East.
    • Syro-Malabar Catholic and Orthodox in India – following the Chaldean tradition.
    • Syro-Malankara Church in India – Catholic and Orthodox following the west Syriac tradition.
Let me add to this unique Church of Antioch, now divided into different Churches, the Church of Armenia – a national Church, even older than the Church of the Empire. The Armenian tradition is a mixture of Syriac and Byzantine elements as it developed across Asia Minor. There are two Churches: Catholic and Orthodox, also called Apostolic Armenian. So what developed were six Orthodox Churches and seven Catholic Churches all from the one Church of Antioch – not counting the proselytizing Latin churches. I take another leap to the Ottoman Empire. In order to conquer and rule, the Ottomans who ruled in the Middle East, the Balkans and Greece 400 years, made each Church a “nation” or in Arabic a “Taifat,” in Turkish a “millet”. The patriarchs and bishops of each “nation” or community were civil heads over their individual churches. Ottomans interfered to collect head tax and when a Christian killed someone. All other issues were resolved by the Church heads. Christians were heavily taxed and even had to pay to have bishops and patriarchs recognized by the civil authorities. Thus many patriarchs and bishops were elected more for their civil know-how and not necessarily for their spirituality. To save their own lives, many Christians learned the bad aspects of their rulers – cheating and lying in order to deal with the Ottomans. Many bishops, priests, patriarchs and laity died for their faith during Ottoman times. World War I – the Great War ended the Ottoman rule which had begun to crumble long before with the West’s involvement in the Middle East, yet Christians learned Turkish conniving and scheming.

Historical Evaluation of Divisions

This brings me to today and several issues or problems that I see were predominant. The Church of Antioch was greatly divided and very much competition took place. Jealousies abounded. Each particular Church developed strong individuality and each Church saw itself as the more legitimate heir of the See of Antioch. Three Catholic Patriarchs and two Orthodox Patriarchs claim the title of Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. Competition and rivalries developed among the Churches, each group thinking itself more authentic than the others. With the existence of the Latin religious communities (Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, etc) each Church had to struggle to keep their own faithful because the Latins began to build churches and homes for the people – in a sense buying them to accept the Latin Church. In Jerusalem the Latin Church is still nicknamed the Church of the Bread Latins! because they became Latin for food and financial support. Instead of all Christians working together for education and schools, each Church attempted to open their own schools in the cities as well as in small villages where several churches existed. Enter the Protestant Churches who were financially supported by the West, particularly the United States. Again, money, homes, food, and support distracted Eastern Christians away from their proper roots and traditions. Orthodox faithful were greatly disarmed and Eastern Catholics were born of divisions from their mother Churches and were greatly Latinized.

Insights to Vatican II Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum

In the Vatican II decree of which we are speaking, recognition of each particular Church was noted. It speaks of the “Rites of the Catholic Church” and not as the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, as if the Catholic Church was Latin. There is equal dignity among the Churches – none superior to the others – Latin included.2 But recognition of this fact would take years to develop, coming out of hundreds of years of oppression and a great loss of their faithful. The “unity of action and common endeavor to sustain common tasks; so as to safeguard more effectively the ordered way of life,” took many more years to expand and it is still not flourishing.3 Vatican II calls for the Eastern Catholic Churches to rule themselves. This is still delayed and impeded because of Roman interference. Here I mention one of the difficulties of Roman interference. When there is a head above the head – in other words the pope above the patriarch and synod, in the event a problem is not solved to the likings of the complainers, the “super head” is appealed to. We have a problem in Jordan where several priests did not agree with their proper Melkite bishop and were not satisfied with the Synod’s assessment. So they made an appeal, and Rome named a Latin Rite Auxiliary Bishop to the Melkite Archdiocese in Jordan with full power over the seated Archbishop. The Vatican document calls the Churches “to preserve their legitimate liturgical rite and their established way of life.” This is still lacking due to excessive Latinization, theologically as well as liturgically. There is more to dressing up Eastern Catholics in Orthodox clothes and calling them legitimate to their proper traditions. I cannot speak for all the Churches but I can speak for mine – the Greek Melkite. After Vatican II, our Synod returned in 1968 to the practice of communicating newly baptized and chrismated children, but you will still see First Communion ceremonies at age 7 throughout the Patriarchate. They may now call them “Solemn Communion” but let us not be fooled. Ask the laity what is celebrated! The identity has not totally been integrated. The U.S.A. Eparchy instituted this in 1970 with the coming of Archbishop Joseph Tawil and we took pains to reeducate our faithful in this matter. After Tawil the custom redeveloped in a few parishes with a few priests, and three years ago after I became Eparchial Bishop, I had to reissue this proper tradition via a Pastoral Letter,4 stronger than the first time around. The feast of Corpus Christi, a distinct Latin feast was adopted by the Melkite Church soon after its communion with Rome in 1724. It was discussed at the Synod after Vatican II. The bishops concurred it was a Latinization but chose to keep it on the calendar – even as a 1st class feast with a pre-feast and after-feast. Their reasoning was still Latinized since the text was composed in a Byzantine fashion, but it boiled down to its social aspect in some eparchies, a religious procession enhanced with street fairs of food and dance and even carnival atmosphere.5 We still have issues with Rome’s involvement in the election of bishops within and outside of the traditional patriarchate which Rome seems to see as the lines of the Ottoman Empire. In 1995 the Congregation for the Eastern Churches issued a document titled Instruction for the Application of the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.6 I will not get into all of the prescriptions but it is clear that pains should be taken to return to the legitimate customs of the Eastern Churches. This is one of the best documents from Rome on this subject. However, to date, the only one giving Communion to infants after baptism and chrismation is the Melkite Church. It appears as if the other Church synods haven’t even read the document, or if they have, just ignored it, refusing children to participate in the Lord’s Eucharistic table. And that’s just one of many prescriptions and traditions to reintroduce. I have repeatedly asked our Synod to discuss this document and to date nothing has happened. I comment no further. The question of the date of Pascha still remains an issue. As you know Christians are laughed at and mocked by Islam because we generally have two Paschas. Islam considers this a scandal and sees our divisions, yet sometimes not seeing their own. Yet it remains a scandal that after so long we cannot agree on a date. The Vatican II decree states that the “patriarchs or supreme authorities of a place come to an agreement” but it adds “by unanimous consent and combined counsel of those affected to celebrate the feast of Easter on the same Sunday.”7 This has worked in Egypt and Jordan where all Churches celebrate Pascha with the Orthodox, but it was mainly the civil governments who got this to work. In the Holy Land, Melkites celebrate both dates according to the majority faithful although this may change in 2015 when hopefully all Catholic Christians will celebrate on the Orthodox Pascha date. When Pope, now Saint John Paul II visited Syria after the year 2000, the common date of Pascha surfaced. There was an attempt for all Churches to be unified and celebrate with the Orthodox. Initially there was agreement, however the Armenian Catholics in Syria pulled back because their sister Orthodox Church had accepted to celebrate the western date internationally. Then the Syriac and Maronite Churches reneged because across the borders in Lebanon they would not be in line with their local churches there. The Melkite Patriarch remained committed but Rome recommended (or maybe imposed) that there should be unanimity among the Churches in one country. So we remain the laughing stock of Islam, crucifying and raising Christ twice. Orientalium Ecclesiarum speaks about relations with the Orthodox Churches, and urges Eastern Catholics “to promote the unity of all Christians, especially Eastern Christians.”8 The means it offers are “Prayer… example of their lives, by religious fidelity to the ancient Eastern traditions, by a greater knowledge of each other, by collaboration and a brotherly regard for objects and feelings.”9 The document admits Orthodox to the Mysteries of Penance, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick “if they ask of their own accord,” and if needed because of no Catholic priest, a Catholic may receive the same from an Orthodox priest – if the priest is so disposed to do so.10 At a recent ordination of a priest several weeks ago in Placentia, California, a visiting Syriac Orthodox priest approached the Eucharistic table along with my Melkite priests and deacons. The same happened at a Patriarchal Liturgy some years ago in Los Angeles when the Syriac Orthodox Bishop of the west coast approached the Eucharistic table to communicate from the Melkite Patriarch.

Ecumenical Observations

Two popes visited Syria and Lebanon in the past decades: Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Both called for a greater working relationship among the Churches – first among Catholics and also with Orthodox to give witness to the one Christian faith in prayer and practice. Both went beyond the Catholic communities to our Orthodox brothers and sisters in the faith – a communion that is tarnished but yet can be polished and relived in a united Church. All Eastern Catholics and Orthodox were urged to work together, use common facilities, have common mission and break down barriers of separation. Here I note a great development in the past 10 years. In Aleppo, Syria and Damascus, Syria, the Melkite Catholics and Greek (Antiochian) Orthodox built common churches by a working relationship with Church officials. Both churches were consecrated jointly by Orthodox and Catholic patriarchs and times for Divine services were set. However, it is well known that Orthodox and Catholic faithful crisscross liturgies and receive communion. This brings me to my last point in this presentation – ecumenism, called for by Vatican II in Orientalium Ecclesiarum and other documents as well. In the past several decades the issues that I mention of diversity, competition and proselytizing have been greatly discussed and met head on through the formation and gatherings of the Patriarchs and Bishops. Conferences were formed and even Orthodox/Catholic meetings now take place among the hierarchs of all the Churches in the Middle East.11 Vatican II assisted the Eastern Catholic communities to a stronger working relationship for common issues such as religious education, social gatherings, conferences and service related programs particularly of charity. In education Catholic students study at the Orthodox Balamand University and Orthodox students at the Maronite University of Holy Spirit (Kaslik), Lebanon. A greater focus was placed on working together. This continues to escalate in the past few years especially with the internal strife within Islam, now overflowing severely to affect the Christian presence in the lands of its birth and growth. A new genocide is taking place. Initially after the partial communions of some Orthodox Churches with Rome, there was great strife within each liturgical family. However the Catholic Churches slowly began to see that partial unions were not the most praiseworthy and a greater working relationship developed between the Orthodox and Catholics. A great change took place within the Roman Church and it slowly filtered down into the Eastern Catholics. Papal concern began to grow particularly since St. John XXIII, Venerable Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis. Meetings went beyond just polite “hellos” and “nice words.” There has been a breakdown to understand how East and West were one and united for 1000 years. New studies developed. Divisions were recognized as more politically oriented than theologically motivated and new dialogues resumed. I will speak specifically about my Church, the Greek Melkite Catholic and our goals for unity with the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, which is known in the West as the Antiochian Orthodox. The Melkite Church took an important role in Vatican II as spelled out by Fr. John Erickson and Fr. Brian Daly SJ, earlier at this Conference. It acted as a synod of bishops in their preparations concerning all documents and as a united hierarchy at the Council under the leadership of Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh.12 The preparation work, discourses and memoranda of the Patriarch and his hierarchs have now been published in English by Sophia Press of my Eparchy The Greek Melkite Church at the Council.13 I worked hours upon days to edit this great translation from French. Publication was this year in commemoration of Vatican II – 50 years later. Obtain from our website Melkite.org – books in Sophia Press, $30.00.

The “Zoghby Initiative”

In 1975 a prophetic voice arose in the Melkite Synod. Archbishop Elias Zoghby of Baalbek, Lebanon, was already known at Vatican II for his forward thinking about the Eastern Church’s concept of divorce and remarriage. He now proposed to his synod a project of double communion with Rome and Orthodoxy for his Melkite Church. It would allow the Greek Melkite Catholic Church to reunite with the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch while remaining in communion with Rome. Initially the majority of synod fathers were not enthusiastic about the project. Rome too had objections. The Catholic and Orthodox synods formed a joint commission to study the project but the long disastrous Lebanese war hindered much progress. In 1981, Zoghby published a small book: Tous Schimatiques published later in English as We Are All Schismatics.14 It was welcomed by ecumenists but frowned upon by Rome because it questioned the recognition of the infallibility of Vatican I. Zoghby quoted Pope Paul VI who qualified the Council of Lyons as the 6th of the General Synods of the West. Since Paul VI did so, Zoghby extended this thinking to Vatican I. Twenty years passed and ecumenical ideas matured with Vatican II and the Popes St John XXIII, Venerable Paul VI and St. John Paul II. Zoghby renewed his project of double communion, now known as the “Zoghby Initiative” internationally. He wrote a short thirty one page booklet, Orthodox Uni? Qui! Uniate? Non! (United Orthodox? Yes! Uniate? No!)15 It contained a short profession of faith:
  1. I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.
  2. I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome in the limits recognized to the first among the bishops by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation.
An Orthodox theologian Metropolitan Archbishop George Khodr of Byblos and Batroun (Lebanon) was satisfied with this Profession of Faith. It was also accepted and ascribed to by another member of the Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue in Antioch, Archbishop Cyril Bustros of the Melkite Catholics. Twenty five of twenty seven bishops at the Melkite Synod of 1995 signed the document which was done during coffee breaks after each bishop read it and not at a public session of the Synod. Patriarch Maximos V sent it to the Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV and was surprised with his enthusiastic response to proceed with study by his Synod. Then the Melkite Synod spent several days of its 1996 Synod to study more and it unanimously adopted the project and issued a document calling for an end to divisions of the two Churches.16 The Orthodox Synod reacted with a serious study and emphasized that Antiochian unity could not be separated from the restoration of communion with Rome and all of Orthodoxy. I add a note here that one cannot deny that there was a double communion in Antioch in the 1600’s and 1700’s before the full communion with part of the Church of Antioch in 1724. Latin missionaries confessed and communicated Orthodox laity with the permission of their Orthodox hierarchs and even preached in the Orthodox Churches. Orthodox bishops entered into communion with Rome without being rejected by their confreres. Ecumenists and many others saw the “Zoghby Initiative” as a door opener. Numerous articles appeared internationally. In 1997 a letter to the Melkite Patriarch and Synod was presented by Joseph Cardinal Ratsinger, Achille Cardinal Silvestrini and Edward Cardinal Cassidy, representing the Pontifical Dicasteries of Doctrine of the Faith, Eastern Churches, and Council for Christian Unity respectively. Although many interpreted this letter as a rejection of the project, it gave in reality reflections to continue this dialogue “with caution.”17 Proof of this came on September 29, 1998 when Pope John Paul II met with the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs and strongly encouraged them to help restore full unity with Orthodox Churches. St. John Paul II asked them to seek with him the most suitable forms of Petrine ministry, engaging them and also Orthodox Patriarchs and theologians “in a patient and fraternal dialogue on the ways to exercise this ministry of united”. Basically he said and recognized that the Pope was the issue of disunity in sense – so let’s talk about how my ministry can be adapted and properly understood.18 Such an important dialogue has ups and downs – we see this also in the International Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue as well as its forerunner, the North American dialogue. A damper arose once again over Antiochian Dialogue toward unity. But a new sign appeared just this year. The horrific war in Syria, the near extermination of Christianity in Iraq, the instability of all the countries of the Middle East, particularly in Egypt and Palestine, the severe rivalries among Sunni and Shiite Muslims, once again spilling over to Lebanon which had a majority of Christians until its disastrous war: all this now threatens the existence of Christianity and its faithful. These issues bring a new impetus for the need of walking together, working together and healing our age old problems and divisions. The new Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, John X, met with Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III and asked to visit our Melkite Synod this past June. He also brought up: “we need to look at the Zoghby Initiative once again.” It was a great day on June 19, 2014 when Patriarch John X arrived to Ain Traz, Lebanon with three of his Metropolitans and secretary to meet and speak brotherly love with our Melkite Synod, and he spoke strongly for unity.19 Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III along with other Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch participated at a special conference on the Church of Antioch in July 2014 at Balamand University and Monastery. They were also welcomed to visit at the Greek Orthodox Synod days later.20 Another great ecumenist is the newly elected Moran Mor Ignatius Afram II, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. Now forty-eight years old, he served as Archbishop of the Eastern Diocese of his Church in the USA for eighteen years. He and I are members of CCT – Christian Churches Together, the largest ecumenical body in the USA.

Conclusion

Good days, bad days, ups and downs, rigidly and flexibility, enthusiasm and calmness – yet we are on a new road to unity within the ancient Church of Antioch which is now spread worldwide. Orientalium Ecclesiarum of Vatican II is somewhat a weak document but it inaugurated a stronger belief for working Church relationships as well as the need of unity. Could we ask for more? Thank you for your kind attention.
  1. On this Introduction cf. Ignatios Dick, Melkites: Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholics of the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem (Nicholas Samra, trans. and ed.), West Roxbury MA: Sophia Press 2004, Part 1, pp.13-54.  
  2. Orientalium Ecclesiarum (OE), www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican _council/documents/vat-ii_decree1..., No. 3.  
  3. OE, No. 4.  
  4. Bishop Nicholas Samra, Pastoral Letter on Infant Communion and “First Communion” Ceremonies also called “Solemn Communion” or “Eucharistic Awareness, Sophia – Journal of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Vol. 42, No. 2, (Spring 2012), pp. 6-7.  
  5. Ignatios Dick, Melkites Op.Cit., p. 151.  
  6. Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 1995.  
  7. OE, Op.Cit., No. 20.  
  8. OE, Ibid., No. 24.  
  9. OE, Ibid., # 24.  
  10. OE., Ibid., No. 27.  
  11. Elias Zoghby, (Nicholas Samra, trans.), “Triumph of Uniatism: The Congress of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of the Middle East,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Winter 2000), pp. 93-95.  
  12. On Maximos IV Sayegh, cf. Gerasimos T. Murphy, Maximos IV at Vatican II, A Quest for Autonomy, West Newton MA: Sophia Press 2011; cf. also Thomas E. Bird, Patriarch Maximos IV Saygh, (Men Who Make the Council Series, M. Novak ed.) Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame Press 1964; cf. also George D. Gallaro, The Greek Melkite Church at the Council – The Melkites’ Day at the Second Vatican Council, unplublished English manuscript, Arabic translation publish in al-Masarat, Harissa Lebanon: Paulist Press.  
  13. Sophia Press, West Roxbury MA 2014.  
  14. Philip Khairallah (trans.), We Are All Schismatics, Educational Services Office of Eparchy of Newton, 1996.  
  15. Elias Zoghby, Jounieh Lebanon: Paulist Press 1995; English translation in Eastern Churches Journal, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Autumn 1995), Fairfax VA, pp. 11-14.  
  16. Bishop Nicholas Samra (trans.), Press Release and Synodal Text in Eastern Churches Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Summer 1996), Fairfax VA, pp. 5-12.  
  17. French Original with Bishop Nicholas Samra.  
  18. Cf. “We extend our arms in brotherhood – Holy Father encourages Catholic Patriarchs to help restore full unity with Orthodox Churches,” L’Osservatore Romano, No. 40, 7 October 1998, Weekly Edition 7.  
  19. “Orthodox Patriarch John X Visits Melkite Synod,” Sophia – Journal of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Fall 2014), p. 11.  
  20. “Patriarch Gregorios Addresses Antiochian Unity Conference in Lebanon,” Sophia, Ibid., p. 12.  
 
Christ is among us! He is and always will be! My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,   “Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch:” these words which Our Lord spoke to His apostles in today’s Gospel symbolize the mission He is to give them, namely to make them “fishers of men,” sending them out into the midst of the world to bring all people into the saving net of the Church. These words of our Lord are as relevant and necessary today, as they were in the time of Jesus. For our world is in great need of the saving message of the Gospel at this moment in history.   Our secular culture casts God aside with renewed vigor and seeks desperately after every kind of fleeting pleasure and self-indulgence; all the while forgetting the “one thing needful,” which is the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. In our own country, the very freedom of the Church to preach this Gospel of love, guaranteed by our Constitution, is under assault. In the Middle East, the violent persecution and systematic elimination of Christians from their ancient homelands shocks the conscience of the world. We receive, almost daily, reports of atrocities committed against innocent Christians in the very homelands of our Church, in a return to the barbarism of the 7th century where Christians are beheaded, crucified, and enslaved by a self-declared Islamic caliphate for no other reason than they believe the True Faith. Especially now, Christ our God speaks these bold words to His Church: “Put out into the deep and lower your nets.”   In such a troubled world and culture, in the face of such odds, we might well respond to the Lord's command with the frustration and weariness of St. Peter in today's Gospel: “Lord, we have been at this for so long and have caught nothing.” How long must Your Church labor in such a world? How can we preach the Gospel when it seems that everywhere we turn, the enemies of God are ready to attack? But we, too, are called to the same faith and trust in the Lord, which St. Peter showed when he responded: “But Lord, if You say so, I will lower the net.” And when they had lowered their nets, as the Lord commanded, so great was the catch that their nets were filled to the breaking point. And, the Gospel tells us, “They were amazed!” Indeed, they were amazed at what could be accomplished when they put their trust in Christ and not in themselves. Our Lord is teaching us an important lesson today. He did not simply make fish miraculously jump into their boat. Rather, Jesus required their effort; He required them to go out again and lower their nets, in order to show forth His Divine power. St. Peter’s personal sacrifice and willingness—reluctant perhaps—was the condition Jesus required to perform His miracle. Truly, the Lord is calling His Church, you and me, to do the same today. To trust, not in our own power, but to rely upon the victory over evil and sin He has already accomplished for us upon the Cross. The Lord is calling us to unite our own personal sacrifice with His Divine power to “put out into the deep” of our stormy world. “Be not afraid” He tells Peter, and Peter left everything to follow Him. Such is the power of Christ's call!   And so, my brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to bring the saving Gospel of Christ to the world in which you live. When all seems dark, when the Church’s efforts appear to be futile, it is precisely at this time that the saving truth and love of Christ is most needed. Especially at this time, we must let our light—the light of Christ—shine in the darkness.   And so, I come to you in these troubled times to seek your generous financial assistance to bring the light of Christ to the people we serve. When we view the needs of our Church in America in light of those of our suffering brethren in the Middle East, we cannot but give thanks that the Lord has spared us the suffering they endure, and we cannot but be moved to support them in whatever way we are able. And so, again this year, we will tithe, or give ten percent of all the monies collected in the Bishop’s Appeal for the relief of our persecuted and suffering fellow Christians in the Middle East, as well as for charitable works in our own country. I am pleased to report that, from last year’s Bishop’s Appeal, our Melkite Eparchy in America has sent over $36,000 to His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III, bringing the total sent to the Middle East by our Eparchy for charitable and refugee assistance to $250,000! His Beatitude made special mention of his deep appreciation for this at the Synod of Bishops in Lebanon last June. In addition, we are forming a Consolidated Melkite Charity Fund with a committee of several clergy and laity to oversee it: 60% of the charity funds will be distributed here in America to worthy causes, and 40% will be sent abroad to our Mother Church in need. This will also include Shepherd's Care--your fasting savings during Great Lent. And so, my beloved Melkite flock, your financial support is absolutely essential! Your gifts to the Bishop’s Appeal help us continue the work we have begun of revitalizing the adult religious education program of our Eparchy. I know many of you have already taken part in the new instructional programs offered around the Eparchy and on-line by our office of Educational Services. In addition, your gifts to the Bishop’s Appeal support the continued publication and distribution of SOPHIA magazine, which is an important means of unity in our Church, bringing to the homes of all our faithful enlightening articles and teachings about our Melkite faith and news from our parishes around the country. Your contributions to the Appeal also fund our deacon formation program and support our seminarians in their studies for the holy Priesthood. When there are needs in our struggling missions, your generous gifts provides for them, and they also support our elderly priests who have served our Church so faithfully for so many years. When you receive my appeal letter at home, please do not delay. I ask you to be as generous as you possibly can in responding to the needs of our Church and our suffering brothers and sisters. Your sacrifice made with a loving heart is indeed a pleasing offering in the sight of God. May our heavenly Father reward your generosity with His abundance. And may the Most Holy Theotokos, our "watchful Protectress and our unfailing Hope," be close to all those who suffer for their faith in Christ, especially in the ancestral homelands of our Melkite Church. With my prayers and blessing, I remain Your Father and Shepherd,
Your Father and Shepherd,
Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton
  1. On this Introduction cf. Ignatios Dick, Melkites: Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholics of the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem (Nicholas Samra, trans. and ed.), West Roxbury MA: Sophia Press 2004, Part 1, pp.13-54.  
  2. Orientalium Ecclesiarum (OE), www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican _council/documents/vat-ii_decree1..., No. 3.  
  3. OE, No. 4.  
  4. Bishop Nicholas Samra, Pastoral Letter on Infant Communion and “First Communion” Ceremonies also called “Solemn Communion” or “Eucharistic Awareness, Sophia – Journal of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Vol. 42, No. 2, (Spring 2012), pp. 6-7.  
  5. Ignatios Dick, Melkites Op.Cit., p. 151.  
  6. Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 1995.  
  7. OE, Op.Cit., No. 20.  
  8. OE, Ibid., No. 24.  
  9. OE, Ibid., # 24.  
  10. OE., Ibid., No. 27.  
  11. Elias Zoghby, (Nicholas Samra, trans.), “Triumph of Uniatism: The Congress of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of the Middle East,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Winter 2000), pp. 93-95.  
  12. On Maximos IV Sayegh, cf. Gerasimos T. Murphy, Maximos IV at Vatican II, A Quest for Autonomy, West Newton MA: Sophia Press 2011; cf. also Thomas E. Bird, Patriarch Maximos IV Saygh, (Men Who Make the Council Series, M. Novak ed.) Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame Press 1964; cf. also George D. Gallaro, The Greek Melkite Church at the Council – The Melkites’ Day at the Second Vatican Council, unplublished English manuscript, Arabic translation publish in al-Masarat, Harissa Lebanon: Paulist Press.  
  13. Sophia Press, West Roxbury MA 2014.  
  14. Philip Khairallah (trans.), We Are All Schismatics, Educational Services Office of Eparchy of Newton, 1996.  
  15. Elias Zoghby, Jounieh Lebanon: Paulist Press 1995; English translation in Eastern Churches Journal, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Autumn 1995), Fairfax VA, pp. 11-14.  
  16. Bishop Nicholas Samra (trans.), Press Release and Synodal Text in Eastern Churches Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Summer 1996), Fairfax VA, pp. 5-12.  
  17. French Original with Bishop Nicholas Samra.  
  18. Cf. “We extend our arms in brotherhood – Holy Father encourages Catholic Patriarchs to help restore full unity with Orthodox Churches,” L’Osservatore Romano, No. 40, 7 October 1998, Weekly Edition 7.  
  19. “Orthodox Patriarch John X Visits Melkite Synod,” Sophia – Journal of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Fall 2014), p. 11.  
  20. “Patriarch Gregorios Addresses Antiochian Unity Conference in Lebanon,” Sophia, Ibid., p. 12.  
 
Beloved clergy, religious, and faithful of the Eparchy of Newton, Christ is risen! He is truly risen! These joyful words announce the main proclamation of our Christian faith. These words form the heart of the Church's preaching, worship, and spiritual life: "If Christ had not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:14). We celebrate the Passover of the Lord—the Christian Passover when Christ passes over from death to life, an event of victory and triumph. The early Church was so vividly aware of the eternal significance of Christ's resurrection in God's plan of salvation that this Feast became the greatest event of the Christian year—indeed, the Feast of Feasts! ...And by His death He has trampled upon death—here trampling means Christ destroyed the power of death and to those in the tombs He granted life. Great Lent was intense for some of us; Holy Week was even more so, but the three small words announcing the Resurrection—Christ is risen!—repeated again and again, produce ecstasy and overflowing mystical joy, for the ancient fear of death is banished. We need to make the next forty days more important by joyfully living and witnessing Christ in all our words and deeds. Great Lent was our time to reflect on renewing our Christian life received in holy Baptism; Pascha moves us from reflection to action: we must become the living Christ to all. The resurrection of Jesus is not just the personal survival after death of Jesus. It is not a simple announcement of life after death; it is much more. It is a new era for all of us. As God has entered our history to defeat and overcome evil, the greatest witness to the Gospel is us—people whose lives have received new power and who recognize our gifts in His triumph. We are filled with new power, new wisdom, new enthusiasm. We experience the living Christ in ourselves, and we recognize Him in each other. The Resurrection must make a great change in us—each and every one! We are the "good news" that Jesus is alive. Christ is risen—and me too! St. Gregory the Theologian speaks loud and clear in his Paschal Oration:
Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become divine for His sake, since for us He became man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better. He became poor that by His poverty we might become rich. He came down that we might be lifted up. He was tempted that we might conquer. He was dishonored that He might glorify us. He died that He might save us. He ascended to lift us who had fallen. Yesterday I died with Him; today, I am made alive!
My brothers and sisters, live your Paschal joy as children of God! May the joy of this Feast of Feasts fill you with overflowing life and joy, and may we be the icons of Christ to all. With my prayers and blessings, I remain
Sincerely yours in the risen Christ,
Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton
  1. On this Introduction cf. Ignatios Dick, Melkites: Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholics of the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem (Nicholas Samra, trans. and ed.), West Roxbury MA: Sophia Press 2004, Part 1, pp.13-54.  
  2. Orientalium Ecclesiarum (OE), www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican _council/documents/vat-ii_decree1..., No. 3.  
  3. OE, No. 4.  
  4. Bishop Nicholas Samra, Pastoral Letter on Infant Communion and “First Communion” Ceremonies also called “Solemn Communion” or “Eucharistic Awareness, Sophia – Journal of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Vol. 42, No. 2, (Spring 2012), pp. 6-7.  
  5. Ignatios Dick, Melkites Op.Cit., p. 151.  
  6. Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 1995.  
  7. OE, Op.Cit., No. 20.  
  8. OE, Ibid., No. 24.  
  9. OE, Ibid., # 24.  
  10. OE., Ibid., No. 27.  
  11. Elias Zoghby, (Nicholas Samra, trans.), “Triumph of Uniatism: The Congress of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of the Middle East,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Winter 2000), pp. 93-95.  
  12. On Maximos IV Sayegh, cf. Gerasimos T. Murphy, Maximos IV at Vatican II, A Quest for Autonomy, West Newton MA: Sophia Press 2011; cf. also Thomas E. Bird, Patriarch Maximos IV Saygh, (Men Who Make the Council Series, M. Novak ed.) Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame Press 1964; cf. also George D. Gallaro, The Greek Melkite Church at the Council – The Melkites’ Day at the Second Vatican Council, unplublished English manuscript, Arabic translation publish in al-Masarat, Harissa Lebanon: Paulist Press.  
  13. Sophia Press, West Roxbury MA 2014.  
  14. Philip Khairallah (trans.), We Are All Schismatics, Educational Services Office of Eparchy of Newton, 1996.  
  15. Elias Zoghby, Jounieh Lebanon: Paulist Press 1995; English translation in Eastern Churches Journal, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Autumn 1995), Fairfax VA, pp. 11-14.  
  16. Bishop Nicholas Samra (trans.), Press Release and Synodal Text in Eastern Churches Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Summer 1996), Fairfax VA, pp. 5-12.  
  17. French Original with Bishop Nicholas Samra.  
  18. Cf. “We extend our arms in brotherhood – Holy Father encourages Catholic Patriarchs to help restore full unity with Orthodox Churches,” L’Osservatore Romano, No. 40, 7 October 1998, Weekly Edition 7.  
  19. “Orthodox Patriarch John X Visits Melkite Synod,” Sophia – Journal of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Fall 2014), p. 11.  
  20. “Patriarch Gregorios Addresses Antiochian Unity Conference in Lebanon,” Sophia, Ibid., p. 12.  

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