Melkite Greek Catholic Church
For the first time, the Encounter conference is open to all the faithful of the Eastern Churches in the United States in Canada.
“This year's theme is Together in Christ: Spirituality of Discipleship — an invitation to seriously look at our baptismal commitment and explore how God is calling us to holiness by living the Gospel in our everyday life.”
This year's conference has three venues:
September 20-23Holiday Inn IndependenceIndepedence, Ohio
October 11-24St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church & CenterHillsborough, New Jersey
November 2-4Hacienda HotelEl Segundo, California
Bishop Nicholas will be speaking at each venue. Other speakers from the Melkite church include Father Damon (New Jersey), Father Justin (California), and Deacon Sabatino Roberto Carnazzo (Ohio and California) Please plan on attending to share fellowship with our brethren of the Armenian, Chaldean, Syro-Malankara, Syro-Malabar, Maronite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Syriac and Ukrainian Catholic churches! For more information, please visit the Encounter 2012 website.
48th Melkite Convention Keynote Address Bishop Nicholas Samra Dearborn, MI – July 6, 2012
In the last discourse of Christ, most likely much of which was spoken at the Last Supper with his apostles before his passion, death and resurrection, the apostle and evangelist John summarizes the entire ministry of Christ’s short public life as recorded by the synoptic writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke. In this great discourse Jesus stresses that He will depart and at the same time provides the comfort to his disciples with a promise of a return – certainly a reference to the parousia and second coming. Jesus explains that He is the way to the Father because He is the incarnate truth about the Father and gives life from above to humanity. He is the source of knowledge about the Father. We know the Father through Jesus. Jesus speaks about the greatest commandment of love, and the Spirit which is continuous life – the Spirit who will preserve the Church – Christ’s Body – throughout eternity. Jesus uses some very beautiful imagery to get his message across: peace, the vine and the branches, the world’s hatred, God’s abiding love, the sacrifice of death, and the continuous bond of love. Jesus speaks to his apostles and speaks to all of us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do the things I command you. No longer do I call you servants, because the servant does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, because all things that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you. You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and have appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit shall remain; that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give you. These things I command you that you may love one another.” (Jn 15:12-17). Three times Jesus uses the word “friend” in this passage. If we go to a dictionary and look up the word “friend” we find: “friend, a person with whom one is on terms of mutual affection and respect.” A servant on the other hand, owes his life and body to his master, one who must do and act as one is told without question. There is a difference between a servant and a friend. Let us explore this a bit more. In the Old Testament Abraham was the ideal servant. God asked him to pick up and move. God asked him for the difficult sacrifice – to offer his son Isaac on the altar of sacrifice. Abraham listened, Abraham put in all his faith without question to the command of God. Jesus takes this a step further. He speaks of the supreme commandment of love. He speaks of laying down his life for his people. This supreme example of love goes beyond the servitude of the Old Testament to a new particularly Christian ideal: the New Testament ideal is to be a friend of Jesus. In the past Jesus called his disciples servants – now He raises them to the rank of friends. Now there is mutual affection and respect not just blind obedience. Because of Jesus our knowledge now outshines the Old Testament figures. Jesus has chosen his disciples and us as his disciples to be recipients of this revelation of friendship. Now we are all called to love one another because of God’s mutual love for us. A friend is one who is a helper or a sympathizer, one who cares for the other person beyond servitude, one who has mutual affection and one who has respect. “No longer do I call your servants…. I have called you friends.” The great theologian writer Paul Evdokimov writes: “Beyond the slave and mercenary ethic, the Gospel proposes the ethic of the friends of God,” God, and man: friends working together!! This we call “synergy” in our Eastern understanding of theology. Hand in hand we work with God because we are friends. God no longer commands us what to do, He offers us the freedom of making choices, of mutual love and respect – we are friends working together. The various workshops at this convention today and tomorrow will touch on aspects of this friendship. Participate in them and learn more about your partnership with God and his creation, which spills out in friendship. Let me touch upon more about this synergy and working friendship with God. A short story was originally a joke but in reality is a parable: A great flood, similar to the problem of New Orleans some years back, found a man trapped on the roof of his house by rapidly rising flood waters. Earlier in the day an evacuation truck had come by. The driver, a friend, pleaded with him to leave, “no” said the man, “all my trust is in God that He will save me.” While he sat on the roof, a boat came by. The rescuer, another friend, was greeted with the same response, “no thanks, God will save me.” Later a helicopter, piloted by a friend hovered overhead while the man refused to leave, “no thank you,” God will save me.” Soon after he was swept away and drowned. As he stood before God in heaven; dazzled by the beauty of the divine face, he asked, “Lord, why didn’t you save me? I placed all my trust in You.” God replied, “But I tried to save you three times, I sent you 3 friends – once by truck, once by boat, and once by helicopter, and three times you refused me.” This parable introduces an important word that expresses a basic belief of our Eastern theology: the word synergy. In 1 Cor. 15:10 St Paul tells us that both he and the grace of God were operative in his life and ministry. “By divine grace, however, I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not ineffective. In fact, I have worked harder than any of them, that is, not really I but the grace of God that is with me.” No longer are we servants or slaves, blindly obedient to God. We are not robots, and God is not a manipulator who pulls strings and pushes buttons to get us to do things. He gives us free will, declares us friends, and in friendship we share with God mutual affection and respect. We are co-creators and cooperators with God and his grace – given to us because we are friends. Synergy is from Greek “ERGOI” – work and “syn” – with. God cooperates: He works with us. We work with him. God wants free-will partners. We are created to be sons and daughters, not slaves to his will. Once we know him, we do become his servants, but we do it willingly, out of love because He calls us friends. First God reaches out to us – we may call this initiative of God “grace.” Then there must be a response to God’s reaching out – we call this “faith.” Faith is our hand reaching out to take God’s hand. This is Synergy. In the Chrysostom Liturgy, St John tells all that God does for us: “You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, you raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until you led us to heaven and granted us your kingdom to come.” It is clear that all God did and still does for us is because of mutual love and respect – “I call you friends.” Be what you are! By grace God made you a saint. Now be one! By grace Jesus implanted his life in you – Express it! By grace Jesus calls us his friends – show your friendship in what you do and say! We must call each other friends as Jesus calls us friends. Let every word and act express that friendship! Many examples of God’s friendship and our synergy exist in the Bible. Probably the greatest example used by the Church Fathers is the Theotokos. “The incarnation was not only the work of the Father,” says Nicholas Cabasilas, “but it was also the work of the will and faith of the Virgin… Just as God became incarnate voluntarily, so He wished that His mother should bear him freely and with her full consent.” Mary stands as the greatest example of man’s free response to God’s offer of salvation. God does not force his will on Mary – friends do not force but respect each other, God waits for her free response: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your will.” (Lk 1:38) As friends of Jesus Christ, we need each other. Friends feel each other’s pain, friends rejoice at each other’s joy. God has created the human body for all the parts to work together. He has created his spiritual body – his Church – in the same way – all the members caring for each other as “friends.” There are no insignificant members in the Body of Christ. The eye sees, the ear hears, the hands labor, the teeth chew, the stomach digests. They all work together for the whole body – nothing in isolation. We must keep the sacrament of the Altar and the sacrament of the brother united as one. We need to live the liturgy after the liturgy by ministering to the needs of the same Christ who calls us friends, – the same Christ who we met and whom we received at the altar. He is the same Christ who appears before us as the hungry, the poor, the aged, the infirm, the starving, the stranger, the hurting and the forgotten street person. This is the same Body of Christ we encounter at the altar. There is a twofold work of ministry – we your bishops, priests and deacons need to gather the people of God for worship, instruction and empowering and to be friends of Christ. Then we must scatter you into the world as the same friends of Christ. We not only go to Church, we are the Church wherever we go. Go into the world, my beloved faithful as friends of Jesus and friends of each other. He calls us friends. And as the friends of Christ enter the world to show forth the love of God and the justice of God, you are ordained by Baptism and Chrismation to the royal priesthood to be the friends of Christ to the world. Have a happy and friendly journey!
The Eparchy of Newton: August 23, 2011 – July 7, 2012 State of the Eparchy Address Presented by Bishop Nicholas Samra 48th Melkite Convention, Dearborn, MI, July 7, 2012
I was enthroned as the Eparchial Bishop of Newton on August 23, 2011, having been notified of my appointment on June 3, 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI upon the election of the Melkite Synod of 2010. I answered the call of the synod and His Holiness with my “yes” to serve you and this eparchy to the best of my ability. I am blessed with the work of my dedicated predecessors since the inception of this eparchy as an exarchate in 1966. I pay special tribute to these predecessors, those who are still with us: Bishop John Elya and Archbishop Cyril Bustros, and those who are with the Lord: Bishop Justin Najmy, Archbishop Joseph Tawil, and Bishop Ignatius Ghattas. Their labor and hard work has put us on the good path of church life and growth. To these five bishops we owe a debt of gratitude. I present a summary of these ten months as your Eparchial Shepherd. By the way, the original family name of my branch of the Samra family was “Rai” which means shepherd. My great grandfather was given a nickname because his first child, a daughter, had brown eyes, brown hair or a tanned colored skin. The nickname (Abu) Samra, “father of the brunette” stuck and is carried by us today; however, I pray that God allows me to be the good “rai” or good shepherd to lead and guide my flock. I began with a clergy conference immediately after the enthronement with over 100 priests and deacons present. I shared my vision for the future of our church and listened to theirs – together we will unfold our plans. I met with the college of consultors to go over major issues within the eparchy. I have been blessed with the cooperation and support of all.

Various appointments

I am grateful to Exarch Joseph Haggar who had been the administrator of the eparchy several times as well as Protosyncellos under the previous administration. I appointed Archimandrite Philip Raczka as the new Protosyncellos or Vicar General. At the same times he serves as Rector of our Annunciation Cathedral in Boston while completing his dissertation for a Doctorate in Liturgy from Notre Dame University. With the appointment of our former rector, Archimandrite Robert Rabbat, as Bishop of our Church in Australia – we are grateful for his service to our eparchy and especially as editor of Sophia magazine, I appointed Archimandrite James Babcock as the new editor of Sophia; he is doing a tremendous job. Archimandrite Mark Melone is pastor of St. Joseph Church, Lawrence, MA. In his place in Sacramento CA I was blessed to receive permission from the Dominican order to name Fr. Brendan McAnerny, O.P. as pastor of St. George Church where he assisted for almost ten years. Archimandrite Damon Geiger became the pastor of St. Jude Church in Miami, FL, while Archimandrite Eugene Mitchell, BSO assumed pastorate of St. Joseph Church, Akron Ohio. Fr. Imad Barakeh, BSO is now associate pastor at the Church of St. Basil the Great in Lincoln, RI. With a severe priest shortage and the lack of priestly vocations, I appointed Archimandrite John Azar as new Vocation Director. Fr. John is taking this position, like all others he has, very seriously and I ask for your full support of his endeavors – this is a plea to clergy and laity. A new strategy must be looked at to attract vocations to the priesthood. Father Michel Cheble is the new spiritual director of NAMW. We thank Archimandrite Edward Kakaty for filling this position for twenty-five years, especially during the formation and growth of this dynamic ladies association. At the same time I assigned a new feast day for NAMW. Women served Christ during his public ministry in many ways, they followed him along with the disciples and remained with him even at the foot of the cross. We refer to these women as the Myrrh or Ointment-bearing women and we celebrate their memory on the third Sunday of Pascha, the second Sunday after the resurrection feast. The ladies of NAMW serve the church, the body of Christ, in many ways, particularly by their prayers and support for seminarians, thus they have this Sunday as the feast day for NAMW. Fr. Michel Cheble also serves on the national board of Telelumiere-Noursat USA, the Christian broadcasting station on Lebanese television, now viewed throughout the world. By the way they are filming aspects of this convention and especially the entire closing Divine Liturgy on Sunday. They also film my enthronement last August and we are awaiting a DVD from them – I hope they hear what I am saying. Marshall Rose from St. George Church in Sacramento CA, who is now a candidate in the deacon formation program, is our new webmaster and is doing a great job. He works closely with me and Deacon Paul Leonarczyk, our eparchial chancellor and director of communications. Check out our site with the new look and information: It continues to get better with each day. We are grateful to Paul Stamm who worked on this for many years. Presently all issues of Sophia are on the site and I will be using it more in the near future for short messages to the eparchy via YouTube.

Vocation Crisis and “Priestless” Parishes

While I’m on this subject it pains me tremendously not to have enough priests to fill our present communities. We have one priestly ordination scheduled for October – I will ordain to the priesthood Deacon Musil Shihadeh who received his Masters of Divinity cum laude from Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. He is serving as deacon at St. Ann Church, Woodland Park NJ and will remain there as a priest for in internship period. I do not yet know what September will hold for possible candidates for the seminary. I will ordain Brother Marwan Kardouh, BSO, a deacon in September and a priest, God willing, in April 2013 upon completion of his theological studies. Our deacon formation program remains successful under the directorship of Archimandrite Paul Frechette; we now have 60 deacons in the eparchy and counting. They serve their parishes with great fervor and assist in so many functions even in the “priestless” communities. St. Joseph Church in Lawrence, MA witnessed my first diaconal ordination as eparchial bishop in September 2011. Deacon Ziad Layous now joins in the service of ministry there. In January I ordained Sami Jajeh a reader and subdeacon at St. John Chrysostom Church, Atlanta GA. His deacon ordination is up and coming soon. Other candidates will also be ready for minor orders soon. The deacon formation program is being revisited this year and we will be adding a three year pre-program to it in the parishes from which they come. More about this later. In February I witnessed and presided and preached at the profession of simple vows for Brother Neven Ivan, BSO, at the Salvatorian Fathers chapel of St. Basil in Methuen, MA, my seminary alma mater. In September it will be 50 years that I entered into theological formation there. Several priests have retired from active ministry and a few more are slated to do so soon. I am appreciative of their ministry. However, it leaves us with a number of “priestless” communities. We mourn the loss of three of our dedicated retired priests who entered into eternal life this past year: Archimandrite Julien Eliane, Father James King and Father Philip Azoon. We also mourn the loss of Protodeacon James Soloman of this convention host parish who had a long struggle with leukemia. We applaud their many years of service and ask God to make their memory eternal as they repose with the saints. The parish of St. Joseph, Lansing MI is without a priest pastor for over one year. Protodeacon Joseph Daratony of metro Detroit area serves as Administrator in the interim period, serving the Typica Office with the distribution of the pre-sanctified Eucharist when no bi-ritual or Melkite priest is available. I am working diligently to be able to assign a priest to this excellent parish, but at the same time thankful for the service of Protodeacon Joe. Another St. Joseph Church, Scranton PA has no pastor. Protodeacon Michael Jolly is administrator for the second time in the later history of one of our earliest communities in the USA. We have been blessed with other Byzantine and bi-ritual priest for most Sundays during this painful era. Virgin Mary Community in Temecula and San Marcos CA has Protodeacon Habib Khasho as administrator after the retirement of Archimandrite Nasir Matta. Several Melkite priests, particularly Fr. Saba Shofany has assured the Sunday Divine Liturgy in the interim period. St. Ignatios of Antioch Church in Augusta GA is without a priest pastor. Deacon Dr. Michael Willoughby serves as Adminstrator and has been assisted by a Ukrainian Catholic priest for Divine Liturgy for several months; in his absence a Typica Service is offered. Both St. Michael Church, Hammond IN and St. John of Damascus Church, South Bend IN are without priest pastors. Holy Week was assured us in Hammond by Fr. Joseph Thomas, BSO from St. Basil Seminary, Methuen MA; Archimandrite Fouad Sayegh, pastor of the Church of St. John the Baptist, Northlake (Chicago) IL drives every Sunday over 60 miles one way to assure the community a Divine Liturgy. A bi-ritual Jesuit, Fr. Brian Dunkle SJ, a doctoral student at Notre Dame celebrates the Divine Liturgy in South Bend while the community is administered by Reader Nicholas Russo. St. Demetrius Church, Cliffside Park NJ, without a pastor for a number of years, is showing growth and progress again. We are blessed with a bi-ritual priest of the New York Archdiocese, Fr. Joseph Nahas, who assures the community the Sunday Divine Liturgy and other services. Fr. Joe travels back and forth from NY (presently in Yonkers) from the Latin parish of which he is an associate or parochial vicar. Amid this painful situation of a lack of priests, I do announce the joyful news of the incardination into our Eparchy of Fr. Francois Beyrouti, who is completing his double doctorate in Holy Scripture in Canada. He should be with us soon as a priest of our eparchy – welcome Fr. Francois! Even though we lack priests we still cannot forget new mission communities. We have begun an outreach to Melkites in Houston TX, assisted tremendously by Fr. Elias Rafaj, a priest of the Ruthenian Byzantine Church, pastor of the Ruthenian parish of St. John Chrysostom in Houston. Melkite families came to him for spiritual guidance and with my blessing we began a Melkite Outreach there. Presently 60-70 people participate in the twice a month Melkite Liturgy. I will visit them in the fall and encourage them – seemingly a much larger community – to participate regularly at the Byzantine Church until such time that we can establish our own. The same is developing in Las Vegas, NV. More on this in the next report.

Eparchial Councils and Organizations

By Church law I have one year to re-establish the Presbyteral Council and College of Consultors. In September of this year I am convoking a Clergy Conference in St. Louis, MO at the Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch. All priests active in the eparchy are expected to attend; the attendance of deacons is encouraged but optional. I appointed Fr. Christopher Manuele as Chair of the Clergy Conference. Our theme this year will be to relook at the Deacon Formation program and make some necessary changes. Our speaker is Fr. Deacon John Chryssavgis of the Greek Orthodox Church, a noted writer and speaker. Clergy are preparing for this conference by reading his recent book on the Diaconate. At this Conference the priests will choose from among their brother priests the Presbyteral Council. From this council I will then appoint the members of the College of Consultors. The council serves as my right arm in the administration of the eparchy; the consultors act for major financial matters and function as an interim board when the bishop dies or retires. The consultors elect an administrator at that time to administer the eparchy. The Finance Council of the eparchy under the chairmanship of Dr. John Nazarian meets a minimum of four times a year to advise the bishop on financial matters. There were a few resignations and new members are being screened for appointment soon. The Chief Finance Officer of the eparchy is Deacon Robert Shalhoub of NJ, and thank God the finances are in decent shape. Of course there are outstanding debts in some parishes, but we do everything possible to assist. I look forward to publishing the full financial report in a future issue or addendum of Sophia magazine. When the present Eparchial Office was built over ten years ago after the sale of the original Bishop’s Home and St. Gregory Seminary (may I make a personal note - a sad day in our history), the plan was to buy a home for the residence of the bishop, and the office building built adjacent to the Cathedral would have future offices on the second floor. With the advice of the Finance Council and the approval of the College of Consultors, a large condominium of 2600 sq feet with 8 rooms was purchased two months ago. Upon my return to Boston I will move in to this new residence, donating to it all my furniture from my personal residence in Warren, MI. The new residence is a mere 2 miles from the chancery office. Other eparchial associations continue to grow and develop: NAMY, MAYA, Ambassadors and NAMW. We will hear from them today about their work and mission. I have asked that each have a one page written synopsis report to be distributed at this general assembly. The Order of St. Nicholas, begun by Bishop Ignatius Ghattas, has been in a resting mode for several years and needs to be revived. It has provided great funding in the past for special projects. I look forward to a new group of organizers for this order so that it can fund some very special projects particularly the presbyteral council and consultors’ travels for meetings, as well as developing a fund for the insurance coverage for the families of married clergy. There will be other projects that need funding also. I am grateful to all of you for your support of last year’s Bishop’s Appeal which exceeded our goals. It was very visible that more parishes took this appeal seriously; its helps tremendously in the funding of so many projects necessary in the eparchy such as, Sophia magazine, deacon and priest formation programs, seminarians’ assistance, religious education, spiritual renewal, etc. If each present donor would get one more donor we would double and triple the offerings, allowing us to do more in the eparchy. A full report of givers by parishes and where the funding went to will be in the fall edition of Sophia Magazine. The Office of Religious Education called Educational Services continues to work diligently under the leadership of Dr. Frances Colie. Catechetical workshops continue in parishes by request. We continue to work with the other Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA through the ECED, particularly the Byzantines, for the updating of present religious educational texts and the writing of new ones with facilitator’s guides. We have produced a tremendous amount of educational materials for all ages. The workshops at the convention are also planned through this eparchial educational arm. This year we proudly present to each registered conventioneer an updated second edition of Guide to the Domestic Church, a most popular book for bringing our faith into our homes. The first edition of this great book appeared and was partially funded by the Our Lady of Redemption parish convention in 1986, and now once again this excellent update appears at this convention and is a gift to each registered guest courtesy of the host parish. Make sure that you read this book and encourage every parish family to purchase one for their home. Educational Services books are distributed by God With Us Publications; they are also listed on our eparchial website with all information for ordering. I hope to expand this Educational Services Office – a most important aspect of our eparchy – with more lay involvement this year: more to come.


Sophia Press has completed publication of most of the particular liturgical books of our Byzantine tradition along with some prayer books and other books of special interest. Please check the eparchial web site. In the next year or two the eparchy will take over the printing and publication of all liturgical texts for parish use – this includes Divine Liturgy, Vespers, Orthros, the Mysteries of Baptism and Marriage, Funeral Services, special Holy Week services, Akathist Hymn, Paraclesis, Lenten Services and any other books required for liturgical prayer. This will assist us in uniformity in the eparchy for all church prayers and services. In the planning stage at the present time and hopefully completed by Christmas is a small Book of Hours for the laity to introduce them to daily liturgical prayer. Of course this book will be greatly abbreviated from the monastic offices but will be a great addition for all who pray daily. It includes brief prayer services for various times of the day based on our traditional church office. We edited a special Typica Office for use in parishes without priests. Attached to it the leader, a deacon if possible or a layman when no deacon is present, are the readings of the day and the distribution of pre-sanctified communion. We pray that the final text of the Divine Liturgy, hopefully a common translation for the English speaking countries, which was begun several years ago, will be finished by the fall of 2013. Because of some questions in the eparchy about the issue of infant communion and the Latin custom of first communion at the age of seven, I wrote a Pastoral Letter reemphasizing the proper Eastern traditions of infant communion begun in this eparchy in 1970 by Archbishop Joseph Tawil of blessed memory. I ask all clergy and laity to cooperate with me on this important issue; we need to be proud of who we are. In the future I will be issuing more pastorals on a variety of topics necessary for the life and growth of our churches and eparchy. We need to be “of one mind and one spirit.” We need to walk together as one body. Up and coming will be pastorals on funerals, marriages, and of course the proper celebration of the Divine Liturgy. We cannot have each parish doing what it wants separate from their bishop. We will collaborate and discuss, and we may disagree on some issues but in the end we can agree to disagree and follow what the Church wants and teaches.

Diocesan or Eparchial Council versus Regional Councils

Let me focus a bit on the former DPC or Diocesan Pastoral Council. First I take a moment to thank God for the life of the DPC over the many years, especially under the last chairman, John Caven of blessed memory. John served as chair for many years and gave much of his life to this structure. Once again we extend to his wife Carol and family our deepest sympathy of their loss and our loss; he served our Church with great energy and pride. I had several conversations with John and discussed not reestablishing the DPC on a national level. We spoke about how to have more involvement of the laity in the life of the Church and how important it is that I consult with the laity. Over the many years the membership of the DPC changed many times by your election of members but because of the size of the country, and eparchy covering the entire USA, membership was very limited to those who could afford to participate. And so many times those elected could not be present at the meetings. I have come to the conclusion after much consultation that it is very difficult to reestablish the DPC; however, I repeat that I still need the input of the laity. Therefore a new plan is in the making. We have five regions or protopresbyterates in the eparchy: New England, Mid-Atlantic, South, Great Lakes and West Coast. I would like these five regions to be developed more and each should have a regional council of laity under the chair of a protopresbyter – a priest from the region. Presently we have protopresbyters and limited were their functions. Under the new plan we will give them duties to perform, such as visiting each parish in the region yearly, monitoring record keeping and parish finances. Possibly two meetings can be held yearly in each protopresbyterate to bring the parishes within the region closer together. If little problems develop, the protopresbyter will be asked to try to rectify the issues; of course the last recourse will be to the eparchial bishop. I would meet with the five protopresbyters several times each year to develop a course of action for the life and growth of the parishes and new missions in each area.

Eparchial Assembly

Since we have no convention scheduled in 2013 I anticipate convoking an Eparchial Assembly for next July. The Church’s canon law provides for such a gathering. A set number of people, say 5 to 10 members from each parish in each region, will study with the clergy in advance a document focusing on what the topic of the eparchial assembly will be. Then they will come to the assembly and continue the discussion and make plans with the other regions. The outcome and goal for this first eparchial assembly will be the creation of the regional councils with the laity (possibly 2 from each parish), to help and guide the growth of our eparchy in the regions. I believe this will work much better than a national DPC and will focus on smaller areas, more accessible to working together. Regional councils can plan and execute lay retreats for all ages, inter-parish cooperation, outreaches to scattered Melkite families, religious education formation by working together, and a myriad of more topics that you can think of. We may even want to go the route of alternating a Convention one year and an Eparchial Assembly the year after. More to come on this topic very soon.

Other Major Events

Let me briefly note my visits to Venezuela, Rome and Lebanon. The Melkite Bishops outside of the Middle East, sometimes called the Church of the Expansion, meet every two years in a different country. We visit some of the parishes to get a view of our Church as it expands, and we also have meetings to discuss specific topics related to the life and growth of our Church and how we can all be of service to each other. In October 2011 our Conference coincided with the first visit of our Patriarch Gregory III to the Melkite communities in Venezuela. I was accompanied by Bishop John Elya, our Emeritus Eparchial Bishop, and we were met by our bishops from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada and Mexico and hosted by Bishop George Kahhale (Zouhairaty), Apostolic Exarch in Venezuela and his generous council members who had refined every detail of our visit to perfection. In Caracas we met with the Conference of Catholic Bishops, visited with several Ambassadors from the Middle East to Venezuela, and celebrated the Divine Liturgy in our Cathedral of St. George followed by an elaborate reception. We flew to Maturin for a beautiful reception and celebrated our Divine Liturgy for the very large Melkite community and local Venezuelans at the Latin Catholic Cathedral. We drove a beautiful mountain and coast road to Cumana where another large Melkite community – over 400 families - is without a church; the governor of the state promised the patriarch a parcel of land for the building of a Melkite Church there. Another Latin Cathedral was full to capacity for our Divine Liturgy. We continued on the next day to Puerto La Cruz where a new Melkite Church was built; it seats 1000 people and it was filled wall to wall for the Divine Liturgy and reception at the local community club. We met with Orthodox, Maronite and Armenian clergy and the apostolic nuncio. Our bishops’ meeting focused on “the New Evangelization,” the topic for this year’s Synod in Rome with the representative bishops from around the world. Interestingly the majority of Melkites in Venezuela are of Aleppian origin and the social clubs were organized long before the Melkite Church. There is a great future there with the evangelization of the Melkite faithful to return them to the spirituality of our unique Church and Eastern traditions. Every year our Melkite Church has a Synod of the bishops for the governing of our churches. We were 28 bishops present with the patriarch just last week in Ain-Traz Lebanon; a report of the deliberations will be in the next issue of Sophia. From this Synod I bring to you the prayers of all our Melkite bishops worldwide and the blessings of our Patriarch, His Beatitude Gregory III. In the fall of 2013, next year, our eparchy will host the Conference of the Melkite bishops of the Church Expansion outside of the Middle East: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. I anticipate the 10 day gathering will take place in California where we have a number of parishes for the bishops to visit during our meeting times, and of course we will treat them to Universal Studios, Disneyland and Sea World. I will be looking and asking for some generous and dedicated donors to assist the eparchy in the cost of this gathering. Each bishop pays for his travel to the USA but we, as hosts, take care of the rest of the costs of lodging, travel and food. Every five years all Catholic bishops make a pilgrimage to Rome – it is called Ad Limina, a Latin phrase meaning “to the threshold” of the apostles Peter and Paul. We had the blessing of meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and sharing with him some of the concerns of our eparchy. This year was the first time all the Eastern Catholic bishops in the USA went for the Ad Limina visit together since we now form Region 15 of the USCCB, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Visits to Rome are made by regions. A full report will also be in the next issue of Sophia. We had the opportunity on this pilgrimage to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul and the other two major basilicas of Rome: St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. We were housed at the North American College and from there were taken to many of the Church offices, called dicasteries, to meet with the cardinals and archbishops. They would share with us their tasks of how they can help us and we in turn shared with them the needs of our eparchies. We were 16 bishops representing the various traditions: Armenian, Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite, Romanian, Ruthenian, Syriac and Ukrainian Churches. The two Indian bishops of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches were not present with us because they had been recently there with the bishops of their Mother Churches from India. I especially prayed for all of you at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul there, and asked His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for his blessings on our eparchy and faithful which he graciously bestowed.

A Special Grace for our Church

This year our Melkite Church witnessed the recognition by Rome of the sanctity of one of our Melkite priests who died in 1935 – Fr. Beshara AbouMurad, a priest of the Basilian Salvatorian Order. He was declared Venerable and now we need to pray to God to receive one miracle through his intercession for his beatification and one more for his canonization. While at the Synod, the eparchy purchased a DVD on his life; it is called Siraj al-Wadi - The Lamp (or Light) of the Valley. This professionally made DVD is excellent and is in dialectic Arabic with English sub-titles. Each parish will receive one soon for viewing by parishioners. Several “nights at the movies” can be scheduled in the parishes for this excellent DVD. We ask also for your prayers that this holy priest may be declared a saint.

Major Upheaval in the Middle East

We continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East – such an upheaval in many countries particularly Egypt, Syria and Iraq have been dubbed the “Arab Spring.” I prefer not to use this term “spring” but rather a “cold winter” of violence. And the violence continues to spread. The whole Middle East, the countries where many of our ancestors came from are in turmoil. Thank you for your help with the requested assistance for the people of Syria in great need. Each day people, Christian and Muslim alike, come to our Patriarchate and Episcopal residences looking for a small gift to buy some food, particularly those whose homes have been destroyed. If this violence continues we must anticipate more help for them and also for welcoming those who are able to leave their homes and resettle in the USA. We need to be prepared. But pray, my dear flock, for these innocent people, and ask God to enlighten the agitators to look toward making peace and not war.

Encounters of the Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA - 2012

The Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA have a special bond because of our rich spiritual traditions. In 200 and 2006 we met in Encounters or Conferences – mainly bishops, a few clergy and a few religious and laity – all by invitation to study our commonalities and workings together. The 200 Encounter in Boston was convoked by the Congregation for the Eastern Churches in Rome; the 2006 by the Eastern Bishops of the USA – both were chaired by me. This year we Eastern Catholic bishops have developed the Encounter further. It is now open to all laity to participate as well as clergy, and instead of one Encounter on a national level, there will be three, making it easier for participation across the country. Once again I am the main chair and have an executive committee with me and three regional committees. From September 20-23 a gathering in Cleveland for the mid-west will take place at the Holiday Inn, Independence, OH; October 11-14 the east coast gathering will be in Hillsborough, NJ at St Mary Byzantine Catholic Church and Center; The west coast Encounter takes place for the west coast at the Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo CA, adjacent to the Los Angeles airport November 1-4. There is one theme for all three Encounters: Together in Christ: All of you baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. There is one purpose: clergy and laity together in the vineyard of Christ. There is one voice: Encountering God Together in Prayer. The Encounter will have representatives o the Armenian, Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Syriac, Syro-Malankara , Syro-Malabar, and Ukrainian Churches. There is a minimal registration fee of $75.00 ($50.00 from parish groups of five). Each Encounter will have morning And evening prayer from different Eastern traditions and a series of plenary presentations by great speakers with a major focus on the ministry of the laity. The presentations include: Who is the Church, Activity of the Royal Priesthood, Put on Christ-the How and What of Lay Leadership, Blueprint for Church Growth, Servant Leadership: Be All You Can Be. Check the website for more information and spread the word in your communities to bring a good participation from each parish. As chair of these Encounters I do want our parish members to be present – please make our Melkites very visibly present!


I need to bring this “state of the Eparchy and Church” to a close. We do have other problematic issues in the eparchy that need resolving but we do have great joys to celebrate with all of you here present. I need all of you, I need your prayers, I need your cooperation, I need your good works in each community, I need your moral and financial support – in short I need all of YOU. Let us walk together, pray together, work together for the building of the Body of Christ, our Melkite Church in the USA. I especially thank Fr. Michel Cheble, Pastor of Our Lady of Redemption Church, Warren, MI and his co-Chairs of this 48th Convention, John Elek and Anthony Aubrey and all their committees for this wonderful gathering of our parishes. They have done a tremendous job. I end with a special thanks to all my clergy – and all your clergy. They all struggle under difficult circumstances as they serve you and minister to your needs. Many of them are overworked and they need your support. Honor them, respect them, build them up and appreciate the work they do. Don’t criticize them for not doing what you might think they should do. They serve you to do God’s will in each parish. If you don’t agree with them on certain issues, speak to them privately, but first and foremost support and love them. Love is the bond we need most in this eparchy. Gossip kills. I applaud my clergy and thank them tremendously for their work in sharing in my shepherding. I love you one and all, priests, deacons and laity – we need to be the one Body of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your kind attention.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Christ is among us! He is and always will be! The Catholic Bishops of the United States have called for a Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week period of prayer, fasting, and public action in support of religious freedom in our country. Beginning on 21 June and ending on the 4th of July—American Independence Day—we are calling upon American Catholics and all people of goodwill to defend and protect religious liberty—the first and most cherished freedom of our Bill of Rights. What we ask, and what all Americans should ask, is nothing more than that our God-given right to religious liberty be respected. We ask nothing less than that our Constitution and the laws of the United States, which recognize that right, be respected. As Melkite Catholics, sadly we are not strangers to the persecution of our Church in the lands from which we have come, or to the experience of being reduced to the status of second-class citizens because of our Christian faith. How many of our people have come to America precisely for the freedom to practice their faith! This experience should stir us to a robust and unrelenting defense of our right as Americans to religious freedom and conscience protection. In America, religious liberty has been something we have taken for granted. However, today, in this country, our precious right to freedom of religion is under attack by members of the very government sworn to defend it. This is a decisive moment in America. That is why the Catholic Bishops of the United States are committed to focusing “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” on the defense of religious liberty. My brothers and sisters, during this Fortnight for Freedom, we ask that you pray the Prayer for Religious Liberty printed in your parish bulletin each day, and that, as we are in the time of the Apostles Fast, you offer your sacrifices for the restoration of religious liberty in our country. In addition, we call on you, as American Catholics, to make your voices heard in civic and political life in defense of the Christian principles upon which our country was founded. Finally, let us entrust all our prayers and efforts to God, that His mighty hand may preserve the United States of America as “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” With my prayers and blessing for you and for our country, I remain
Yours truly in Christ our God,
Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra Bishop of Newton
Fortnight For Freedom (PDF, 2 pages, 84KB)

Pope Benedict XVI poses with U.S. leaders of Eastern Catholic churches May 18 during their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican. From are: Father Edward G. Cimbala, administrator of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic; Ukrainian Auxiliary Bishop John Bura of Philadelphia; Byzantime Catholic Bishop Gerald N. Dino of Phoenix; Chaldean Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim of St. Thomas the Apostle, based in Southfield, Mich.; Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Armenian Bishop Mikael Mouradian of New York; Melkite Catholic Bishop Nicholas J. Samra of Newton, Mass.; Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia; Pope Benedict; Byzantine Catholic Archbishop William C. Skurla of Pittsburgh; Syriac Bishoip Yousif Habash of Newark, N.J.; Romanian Bishop John M. Botean of Canton, Ohio; Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of Stamford, Conn.; Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Richard S. Seminack of Chicago; Byzantine Bishop John M. Kudrick of Parma, Ohio; and Chaldean Bishop Sarhad Y. Jammo of the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle, based in El Cajon, Calif. (photo copyright: Servizio Fotografico de "L'O.R.", 00120 Citta Del Vaticano.)

The Eastern Catholic bishops in the United States share their brother bishops’ concerns about religious freedom and evangelization, and see their distinct liturgies as powerful tools for expanding their flocks. Bishops from the Chaldean, Ruthenian, Maronite, Ukrainian, Armenian, Melkite, Syriac and Romanian Catholic churches were at the Vatican May 15-19 for their “ad limina” visits. They were the last group of U.S. bishops to make the visits to report on the status of their dioceses to Pope Benedict XVI and to hold discussions with Vatican officials. Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of St. Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y., said Eastern Christians, whose churches have experienced much persecution over the centuries, have a message for their fellow Christians in the West: “Don’t be silenced by anybody.” “Christianity doesn’t seek to ‘impose’ on anybody,” he said. “That’s the false myth in American society,” because the Catholic witness to non-Christians takes place primarily through service in hospitals, nursing homes and schools, said the bishop, whose diocese covers 40 parishes in 16 states. For the Maronite Church in the United States, he said, one challenge is to meet the needs both of Maronites whose families have been in the country for generations and of newcomers from Lebanon and the Middle East, who may speak only Arabic. “The other (challenge) is to welcome people who have no church background, no faith background and have a found a home with us,” he said. “It’s fascinating among my clergy (there are) last names like Beaton, Franklin, Jensen, Morrison – not the traditional Arabic names. You have men who have found a great love for this church,” its liturgy and spirituality, the bishop said. Ukrainian Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia told Catholic News Service that the recent immigration of Catholics from Ukraine “has been a source of renewal” for his church, which has been losing many of the children of earlier generations of Ukrainian immigrants. Building up the faith of members and persuading those who have left to return is a challenge the Eastern Catholic bishops share with their Latin-rite counterparts, he said. One thing the Eastern Catholics have discovered, though, is the evangelizing power of their spirituality and their liturgies, which seem to give people a greater sense of mystery, even when celebrated in English, which is the standard for most Eastern Catholics in the United States, Archbishop Soroka said. “When we do our liturgies properly with the fervent, life-giving manner in which they are meant to be celebrated, they do attract people because of their spirituality,” he said. One issue that the Eastern Catholic bishops do not share with their Latin-rite brothers is having both married and celibate priests. Archbishop Soroka, who said about a third of his priests are married, said allowing married men to become priests isn’t the magical solution to a vocations crisis. “I don’t have a lineup. I have a lineup of people who think that because they are married and have children they should be excused from some of the preparation and formation. And I tell them, ‘Would you go to a doctor that only took half his courses?’ And this is a doctor of souls.” “We’re still ordaining more single men, celibate men,” he said, and “there is a revival of interest in celibacy” and religious life.
Like Archbishop Soroka, Melkite Bishop Nicholas J. Samra of Newton, Mass., said some of his older parishes in the United States have a dwindling population, but in cities where there has been new immigration, the church is growing. In addition, Bishop Samra said, “we do have a very large group of people that find Eastern spirituality very conducive to their lifestyle compared to Western spirituality.” In Miami, he said, there are so many South American Catholics who are attracted to the Melkite’s Byzantine liturgy and spirituality that they celebrate a Melkite liturgy in Spanish. “We welcome anyone who wants to be a Melkite. We’re not out there stealing people from other churches, but if they walk into the doors of our church and they like it, ‘God bless you, welcome, the church is open to you.’” Bishop Samra said. “There have been some people who have come to us, I’m sure, thinking we’re quote-unquote a little more traditional than their church was, but they soon learn” that the Melkites have a tradition of using the vernacular for prayer and of making constant slow, organic changes to their liturgy. Romanian Bishop John M. Botean of St. George in Canton, Ohio, told CNS, “The power of the Byzantine liturgical life in particular can be very, very moving to people, and it speaks to them at levels and in ways that they may find new.” The bishop said one of his monks has an explanation that has been particularly helpful in explaining what distinguishes them from Roman Catholics; it boils down to “the difference in church life that comes out when you live out of the authority of a tradition rather than a tradition of authority.” Also, Bishop Botean said, “We tend to be a lot less thematic in our approach to liturgical celebrations, for instances, and a lot more just focused on the same mysteries over and over and over again.” “Incense, color, movement, choreography – all the sense are engaged in the celebration of the liturgy,” which flows from a style of worship “that’s very peculiar to the Middle East at the time of Christ,” the bishop said. “We’ve had an experience of 2,000 years of, as they say, organic development that has added layer upon layer of things,” he said. On any given Sunday, “in a sense you decided what you’re going to omit, to focus on the rich treasury of liturgical texts that are available for the service. And the texts themselves come through supported by all the other sensuality of the liturgy.”
By the grace of God, NICHOLAS, the Bishop of Newton for the Melkite Church in the United States, peace and apostolic blessings to the priests, deacons, religious, and faithful of this beloved Eparchy! My dear brothers and sisters, Christ is risen! He is truly risen! We shout out life eternal, victory, triumph – all this and more joy when we proclaim the Resurrection. Sorrow, sadness, fears and even death are obliterated for Christ is with us alive for all ages! As Adam sinned we too have sinned, but Christ makes us a new people pulling us from our weak sinful nature to his divine immortal life. The brokenness of Adam and Eve is repaired, and we are truly united to Christ who tramples upon death and gives life to those in the tombs. We cannot live in the tombs of our sins – He has broken the bonds that attempt to hold us. He forgives as St. Paul says, “He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. Through him we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins” (Col 1: 13-14). So we too must forgive! We can never destroy God’s love – Christ is risen and lives in us! No darkness can ever extinguish the light “from the Light that never fades.” We are the living, brilliant icons of the risen Christ! As He cares for us, we care for each other… As He loves us, we love each other… As He touches us with divinity, we touch others with the same… As He forgives us, we forgive each other. We sing today and for forty full days: “Today is the day of the Resurrection: let us glory in this feast and embrace one another. Let us call even those who hate us our brothers and sisters. Let us forgive everything for the sake of the Resurrection, and so let us sing together: ‘Christ is risen from the dead and by his death He has trampled upon death, and to those in the tombs He has given life.’” My love, best wishes, prayers and blessings for all of you, and may you always be the risen Christ to everyone you encounter!
NICHOLAS Eparchial Bishop of Newton
The Chancery is pleased to announce the final parish totals for the 2011 Bishop's Appeal. Our goal was $252,300; thank God, we raised $287,973! This is more than $63,000 over last year's (2010) appeal total of $224,375 and only $7,000 less than our all-time record of $295,073. Twenty-six of our parishes reached or surpassed their parish goals. Congratulations to all the clergy and lay faithful who worked to make the Bishop's Appeal a success by your enthusiastic support and generous donations!
Enter the Fast with Joy!
The Great Fast or Great Lent is the time of preparation for the feast of Christ’s resurrection, the Feast of Pascha. Historically Great Lent was the time of the final stage of catechesis for incorporation into the Church through the Mysteries of Illumination—Baptism, Chrismation and Eucharist. Those intending to be members of the Church were instructed for a period of time, sometimes even up to three years. The last forty days of this catechesis led up to the Sunday of Pascha when they were fully received into and made members of the Body of Christ, through Baptism. Since the resurrection of Christ, the Feast of feasts, was an explosion of joy and life, its preparation time was also considered a time of true joy in anticipation of the new life brought about by our Lenten discipline. Sometimes Christians may think of Lent as a gloomy time to beat ourselves or to suffer for suffering’s sake. Rather, the Great Fast is the Lenten springtime the Church gives us when we are asked to come to terms with our baptismal commitment to live the joyful new life of a follower of Jesus Christ. Of course, turning our life over to Christ may involve suffering and pain, especially if we are used to living for ourselves alone. But Christ’s good news is joyful, and so, even the temporary pain—the “bright sadness”—that our spiritual combat may cause ultimately gives way to a new life of true and profound joy! The opening prayers at Sunday Forgiveness Vespers on the eve of Great Lent tell us clearly “…enter the season of the radiant Fast with joy, giving ourselves to spiritual combat, …as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit, may we persevere with love, so as to be worthy to see the solemn passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy resurrection.” Prayer, fasting and alms-giving are normal actions of a good Christian. But many get lazy; so the Church asks us to focus on these in a more intense way during Great Lent, in order to recreate good habits once again. “Let us observe a Fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. True fasting is to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forbear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury. If we renounce these things, then our fasting is true and pleasing to God” (Vespers on First Monday of the Fast). The Great Fast is a time then for us to change our style of life, bringing it more in conformity to Christ’s life. Conversion (the Greek word is metanoia or even metany) is an act of turning, retracing our steps and coming back to godly ways. We recognize our shortcomings and we repent with every metany or bow that we make; we stand upright and the Lord’s embrace is open wide. Take hold of the many opportunities offered by the Church during Great Lent. First and foremost are prayer, fasting and good works – the tripod of Great Lent. Many services are offered on the weekdays of Lent in your parish, so check your church bulletins and clear some time in your life to participate in them. Special themes are given on each Sunday of the Fast for our edification, calling us to change. We are called to be icons of Christ and imitators of the saints. The Lord’s cross is our call to duty. We reflect upon the virtues needed to make a drastic change in our lives. Don’t be passive, but make your Great Lent an active time of “doing” and recommitting yourselves to Christ. Enter the Lord’s passion during Holy Week, walk with Him to His death and die with Him to your old self. When the first proclamation of “Christ is risen” is shouted out, His joy will be your joy and you can say “and I am risen too,” a new person recommitted to being another Christ in the world. I recommend to you the attached explanation of fasting according to the ancient discipline of the Byzantine Churches and the rule for fasting in the Eparchy of Newton. Through your observance of the Lenten springtime, may Christ our God bless you with new life.
Yours in Christ God, Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra Bishop of Newton
Letter (PDF, 3 pages, 2.2MB)

Fasting According to the Ancient Discipline of the Byzantine Churches

With St. Paul, we urge all to leave the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. We all are sinners in need of metanoia (repentance) in order to be rid of sin, the passions, and everything that enslaves us with regard to food and drink, clothing, pleasure, jealousy, anger, hatred, pride, obstinacy, calumny, amusements, and superficiality. He who commits sin is not free, but is the slave of sin. Great Lent is a time of purity, holiness, prayer, and liberation from sin, evil and corruption: a time very pleasing to God, a time of salvation, and a spiritual springtime preparing us to shine with the light of the glorious Resurrection. We exhort the faithful to take on the discipline of fasting and abstinence that our fathers and ancestors always practiced. My brothers and sisters, “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”

What is the traditional fast and abstinence?

Fasting: is abstaining from any food and drink from midnight until Vespers (prayers at sunset). So, the person fasting eats only a single meal a day after Vespers or after the Liturgy of the Presanctified. Abstinence: is abstaining from meat, dairy products, and eggs, while fish is permitted on the Annunciation and Palm Sunday. Wine and oil are permitted on certain days. Days of fasting during Great Lent: Monday through Friday throughout Lent and Holy Week. Great and Holy Saturday is the only Saturday of the year on which one must keep a fast; otherwise it is forbidden to fast on Saturdays. Sunday, the day of Resurrection, is never a fast day. Days of abstinence: the whole of Great Lent, including Sundays and all of Holy Week, except Annunciation and Palm Sunday when fish may be eaten.

Rule of fasting in the Eparchy of Newton

So as not to burden anyone’s conscience, the Holy Synod of the Melkite Church permits each eparchial bishop to ease the canonical obligations of fasting, while, at the same time, exhorts all the faithful to fast according to the ancient tradition. The minimum rule that Melkites in the Eparchy of Newton must observe: Fasting from all food and drink from midnight until noon must be observed on the first day of Great Lent (Monday, 20 February), and on the last three days of Holy Week (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday). Abstinence, at least from meat, must be observed on every Friday of Great Lent. These requirements are the minimum. The faithful are encouraged to do more, such as also abstaining from meat every Wednesday or throughout the whole of Great Lent.
Christ is among us! He is and always will be!
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I would like to speak to you today about a serious and alarming issue that threatens the right to religious liberty of all Americans and that harasses the Catholic Church in the United States. Three weeks ago, on January 20, 2012, President Obama phoned Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to inform him that he had approved a new federal mandate issued by his Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the new health care law that will require the Catholic Church and Catholic institutions to pay for insurance coverage for their employees for sterilizations, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception—each of which the Church considers to be intrinsically evil acts. With this new mandate—the first such federal regulation in our nation’s history—this Administration has cast aside the First Amendment of our Constitution, and has denied Catholics, and people of all faiths, our first and most fundamental freedom—that of religious liberty. Despite the Church’s appeal, the only exemption to this new law the Administration will permit is limited solely to religious groups who hire and serve people primarily of their own faith. In reality, this narrow exemption is meaningless and does not include the vast majority religious institutions—including virtually all Catholic schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, and charitable agencies—which serve the common good of society and open their doors to all people regardless of their creed. Thus, practically every religious employer in the U.S. will be forced, under penalty of law, to pay for insurance coverage that violates both their religious beliefs and their rights of conscience. In so doing, this Administration sends the alarming message that it regards pregnancy as a disease to be prevented and the killing of the unborn as a “right” that supersedes the religious and conscience rights of its citizens. This is an abomination, and should send a chill through every freedom loving American, especially every Melkite Catholic. How many of our parents and grandparents immigrated to this land of freedom precisely to escape a religious tyranny that reduced Christians to the status of second-class citizens and that sought to prevent them from publicly professing and acting upon their Christian faith! Indeed, in the words of Cardinal-designate Dolan: “This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When a government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.” With prophetic words, our Holy Father Pope Benedict himself, just last month, warned a group of U.S. bishops visiting Rome of threats to religious freedom, that until only recently one would have considered unthinkable in America. He told the bishops: "it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States comes to realize the grave threats to the Church's public moral witness presented by a radical secularism, which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres…. Of particular concern," the Pope said, "are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.” He further warned of “concerted efforts…to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices.” Therefore, I join together with my brother bishops and with the leaders of many other faiths across the country who speak with one voice: this morally offensive mandate cannot stand. We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust and unreasonable law. Our ancestors, who came to these shores, made great sacrifices to secure and defend the God-given freedoms of this great country. Future generations demand no less of us: we must counter this infringement upon our religious liberty. In our great American tradition of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” I ask you to heed the call of Pope Benedict who concluded his remarks to the US bishops last month by saying: “Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with…the courage to counter a radical secularism.” My fellow Melkites, I ask two things of you. First, during this upcoming season of Great Lent, raise your minds and hearts to God with fervent prayer and fasting for an end to the assault on religious liberty in our nation. Second, call upon your members of Congress to support legislation that would reverse or repeal this Administration’s unjust mandate. I encourage you to visit the website of the U.S. Catholic Bishops to learn how you can make your voices heard. Finally, let us make the words of Psalm 68 be our prayer: “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered; and let those who hate Him flee before His presence!” With my prayers and blessing, I remain
Truly yours in Christ God, Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra Bishop of Newton
Letter (PDF, 2 pages, 1.6MB)
Pastoral Letter on Infant Communion and “First Communion” Ceremonies also called “Solemn Communion” or “Eucharistic Awareness.”


It has been brought to my attention by clergy and even laity of our Eparchy that some parishes have re-instituted or never stopped the Latin Church practice of “First Communion” and/or imitation ceremonies called “Solemn Communion” and “Eucharistic Awareness.” I have been asked to give a clarification on such practices so that there is uniformity within the Eparchy. It has been the custom since the 1970’s in our Eparchy to communicate infants after Baptism and Chrismation, and I re-emphasize that this is our proper tradition and must be done. The children continue to receive the Eucharist whenever presented by their parents. Parents are to be instructed in this tradition during the required pre-baptismal catechesis which must be given in every parish. In 1967, our Patriarchal Synod reestablished the administration of the Eucharist to infants in response to the Vatican II Decree on the Eastern Churches. The Synod recognized the legitimacy of returning to this ancient discipline. “It is to be considered an obligatory part of the Christian Initiation of infants in this Eparchy and is not to be omitted” stated Archbishop Joseph Tawil on page 7 in his General Policy for the Administration of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation promulgated on October 12, 1981 and never rescinded by any of his successors. He reinstituted this proper discipline as a general practice in the 1970’s and made it official in 1981. In this same policy, Archbishop Joseph continues: “It goes without saying that ‘First Communion’ or their imitation (‘Solemn Communion,’ ‘Eucharistic Awareness’) are completely out of place in Churches of our tradition and are to be abandoned wherever they are still practiced” (page 7 Policy ). He assumed that the clergy had begun suppressing these ceremonies after he asked that they do so in the 1970’s. Now in 1981 it was official. He added: “It is the responsibility of the pastor to communicate these realities to the entire parish, especially where the Latin form of First Communion has been established, and to give the child the necessary instruction as he/she reaches the age of discernment” (page 7 Policy ). Furthermore the Roman Congregation for the Eastern Churches on January 6, 1996, promulgated Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canon of the Eastern Church. It is clear in this excellent document – in fact one of the best documents coming from Rome on the Eastern traditions – that Eastern Churches must take great pain to “de-Latinize” and return to their proper traditions. It notes on page 45 that where some Eastern Churches have postponed First Communion to school age children [around 7 years of age]: “It will be the task of the competent authorities to adopt measures suitable for returning to the previous practice and to elaborate norms that are more conforming to their own tradition.” The Eparchy of Newton, under the competency of its bishop, returned to its proper tradition long before Rome issued this Instruction. We were ahead of the game, so to say, by more than fifteen years and now in practice for almost 40 years. There is no need, and no good reason, to fall back, continue or reinstitute a Latin custom. I truly believe that Rome was much aware of Archbishop Joseph’s Policy on this matter, even using some of his own language and wording. Some clergy and laity may present some objections to this policy. I will mention some of these objections and provide a simple answer.

Objections and Answers

  1. Some may say that it takes time to return to our proper customs. I agree, but almost 40 years is more than enough time. If each priest took this matter seriously then, we would not face the problems today and there would be no need of this pastoral letter.
  2. Some may say that in our Mother Church in the Middle East the practice of First Communion and the like is still in vogue. That may be so, but we are living in the United States and these changes were made in good faith and with great pain and concern. We do not need to follow the customs that our churches in the Middle East accepted from the Latin Church.
  3. Some may say that the bishop needs to understand the pastoral life of the parishes. Again I agree with this, however, I cannot be challenged on this issue since I have served this Church as a parish priest since 1970 and in several parishes and missions. In each and every one I worked diligently to educate our faithful about our proper Melkite traditions and the policies of my bishop when asked to do so. In each parish and mission I inaugurated catechesis and was able to successfully eliminate First Communion ceremonies and the like and reinstitute infant communion.
  4. Some object saying that the children will miss something important in their lives. A “First Communion Ceremony” is not a child issue but rather it is an adult issue. I have witnessed in my 42 years as a priest and 23 as bishop that children receiving the Eucharist since infancy, if properly taught by their parents, have a good understanding that what they receive is Jesus! Adults think it is cute to dress up the young ones, and have a reason for a party and gifts. Dress them up every Sunday and bring them to Church to the great thanksgiving “party” of the Eucharist.
The Melkite Church, particularly in the USA, was the forerunner for returning to proper Eastern traditions. It was not until just recently that other Eastern Churches, particularly of our same Byzantine family, have reinstituted infant communion and are going through the process of educating their faithful regarding the tradition of not having “First, Solemn or Awareness” ceremonies. We cannot go backwards. My dear brother priests, deacons and catechists, I beg you to take these remarks seriously and cooperate on this matter – it is long overdue. I ask you priests and deacons especially, to walk with me on this issue, even if you have personal objections. You should not be telling your faithful that you disagree with your bishop in a public manner; this only creates dissention. Teach our proper customs, and I expect your full support. In the Roman Instruction of 1996 there is the reiteration of Canon 199, paragraph 1, “the eparchial bishop as [is] the moderator, promoter and guardian of the entire liturgical life of the eparchy.” He is asked to foster “the prescriptions and legitimate customs of his own Church sui iuris.” His clergy are asked to work in concert with him and “the people must be faithful to the indications of the pastor and endeavor to understand them in depth and realize his mandate.” Some possible catechetical ideas to help us in this matter of suppressing “First Communion” and their “imitation ceremonies.”

Suggestions for Possible Parish Celebrations

  1. First and foremost is catechesis of the adults. The pre-Baptismal program of our Eparchy needs to be given to all new parents and godparents. This is required in every parish since it speaks about infant communion as the norm in our Church.
  2. Adult Catechesis. God With Us Publications in which we participate, has an excellent guide for families growing in appreciation of the Divine Liturgy and the Eucharist: Celebrating Life and Love. Priests, deacons or catechists need to bring parents together for several classes and teach them how to use this book for home study and church involvement. It has many great ideas.
  3. A Family Confession Service can be structured with parents and children present, particularly children between the ages of 7-10 who may be going to confession for the first time. Children also need to see their parents and older siblings going to confession. This can be celebrated once or twice a year. An excellent resource is Celebrating Forgiveness from God With Us Publications. Again parents need to be catechized with this book. It involves lots of home discussions and action ideas.
  4. A Big Parish Celebration for all the Children in our Religious Education Programs can be held on the final Sunday of the Church school year and it can focus strongly on the Eucharist. Children can stay after the Divine Liturgy, have lunch, and then have a continuation of the celebration in age groups through some education, crafts, games and even a procession back to the church with banners and posters they have made to conclude with a closing prayer to conclude. Call it a Celebration of Jesus!


Once again my brother clergy and catechists, we need to reaffirm who we are as Melkites and be proud of who we are and our traditions even though they may differ from Latin customs. In this matter of Infant Communion versus “First Communion and Imitation ceremonies”, we have had enough time for change. I ask that you make copies of this pastoral letter, and reprint it and share it with your parishioners, especially catechists. Please insert copies in your Sunday bulletin and speak about it in church as often as necessary. It will also be published in the next issue of Sophia, coming out in March or April. This will help give the proper understanding to our faithful whom I urge you catechize. Thank you for your cooperation in this important matter. Given at our Eparchial Chancery in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, on this 27th day of January in the Year of Our Lord. the two thousand twelfth.
Most Reverend NICHOLAS J. Samra Eparchial Bishop of Newton
Letter (PDF, 4 pages, 2.9MB)

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