Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

Arabic translation (PDF, 2 pages, 240KB)

Holy and Glorious Pascha 2019

My Dear Clergy and Faithful,

“Today is the day of Resurrection: let us glory in this feast and embrace one another. O brethren, let us say: ‘Because of the Resurrection we forgive all things to those who hate us’. And let us all sing together: ‘Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life.’

Christ is risen! He is truly risen!

This Hymn is sung at the end of Orthros on Pascha and throughout the forty days thereafter. It is a stark reminder that there are still “those who hate us.” Sadly, our world is filled with hatred among nations, among politicians, among radical religious groups, and even among brothers and sisters in families, and between parents and children. Our Christian faith and beliefs are under attack, particularly regarding the life issues, as well as sexual morality.  So many people have not been touched by the resurrection of Jesus Christ who proclaims, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

Jesus came to “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). He came to remake life and add to it a quality it never had before.  The new life of Jesus is “eternal life”, not just life that lasts forever, but rather eternal life—a participation in the life which God lives. He invites us to enter into the very divine life of God Himself.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the proclamation that eternal life exists. Being raised from the dead, Jesus assures us that whoever lives without God EXISTS, but does not truly LIVE.  For we do not know what real life is until we rise with Christ on this great feast and every day of our life.  As St. Paul says: “It is no long I who live, but Christ who LIVES in me” (Galatians 2:20).

The Resurrection of Jesus is not just His personal survival after death; it is that and much more.  His resurrection means the beginning of a new era for the human race. God entered history and acted to defeat and overcome the power of evil.  He healed the sick, released the possessed from bondage, and converted sinners. The Resurrection proclaims new hope for all of us: as Jesus served, we are to serve; as Jesus loved, we are to love; as Jesus forgave, we are to forgive, and, indeed, as the opening hymn says, “we forgive all things even to those who hate us.”

Christ destroys evil and death and is victorious. We too are victorious since He lives in us.  With St. Paul we shout out, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin… but thanks to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)!

Christ offers us victory over self.  For victory to have meaning we must begin with ourselves.  Many church-going Christians are not victorious but defeated – Christians in name only.  They have a form of religion but not its power.  For them life is self-centered, never making a total commitment to Christ.  The resurrection of Christ is our victory, our renewal, our rising from our sins to new life. Our faith in Christ’s resurrection is not an escape from reality, but rather victory. We do not run away from sinfulness, but we conquer it through Christ who said, “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

As your bishop, I exhort you on this Feast of feasts to strengthen your Christian commitment in prayer, in service to each other, and to remain strong witnesses within your parish communities and in the Church in general.  Speak up for human rights from conception to natural death.  Oppose those who uphold evils contrary to our Christian faith.  Be a resurrection person committed to life.

I pray for all of you and most especially during this resurrection season. May you be at peace with each other, and may we all rise from sin and embrace one another in joy as we proclaim: Christ is risen! He is truly risen!

Sincerely yours in the Risen Lord,

✠ Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra

Eparchial Bishop of Newton

 
Christ is among us! He is and always will be! My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, “Even as you wish men to do to you, so also do you in return.” “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” In these two beautiful commandments of Our Lord in today's Gospel, Christ our God reveals to us the way He wants His disciples to live in this world; He sets out for us the Christian way of living. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and “be merciful, as your Father is merciful.” To be a follower of Jesus is to imitate our heavenly Father who is rich in mercy--to act even as God acts! Indeed, “Christianity,” in the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa, “is an imitation of the Divine Nature.” When we received baptism and chrismation, we were renewed and anointed--we were Christened--made into to other “Christs”. We put off the “old man”, and we put on Christ. St. Gregory the Theologian said: “Be as God to the unfortunate, by imitating the mercy of God. For in nothing do we draw so close to God as in doing good to one another.” What a noble and lofty calling we are given in Holy Baptism. What does it mean to be a merciful person? St. Peter of Damascus offers us the following description: “The merciful man is he who gives to others what he has himself received from God—whether it be money, or food, or strength, a helpful word, a prayer, or anything else that he has through which he can express his compassion...” The merciful man is one who, in the words of today’s Gospel, does good without expecting a reward. In our secular culture today it is “every man for himself,” and our technology bombards us from morning till night with alluring messages that tell us we deserve the best of everything, that we should get all we can get before some else gets it, and that we constantly need more and better material things in order to be happy. Yet, in the midst of this materialism and consumerism, our Lord sets before us a clear choice: do we live the lifestyle of sinners according to the sensible standards and secular priorities of this world, or do we live according to the commandments of God? Do we love only those who love us; curse those who curse us; and lend only to those from whom we will receive a substantial return? Or, do we love our enemies; give to everyone who asks us; and bless those who curse us? But perhaps we think this standard is out of our reach or too difficult for us to attain. In today’s Epistle, the Lord reminds us that “My grace is sufficient for you, for strength is made perfect in weakness.” Christ became one of us, so that He could show us how to live a Godly life. He has become the standard by which He calls us to live, and He has sent us His Holy Spirit to become for us strength in our weakness. Jesus is the mercy of our heavenly Father, and He bids us to imitate Him. And so, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I come to you today, as we begin, once again, our annual Bishop’s Appeal, in the spirit of Jesus’ powerful words—“be merciful even as your Father is merciful”—to plead for your mercy. I appeal to you for your generous, financial support of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church in America. I come to you with gratitude for your past generosity. Last year so many of you responded to our appeal without hesitation and with increased generosity: you gave more than you had ever given before! Thank God, we received over $310,000 in donations to meet the needs of our Melkite Church in America, with only 1,456 of our nearly 12,000 parishioners participating. Moreover, my heart overflows with gratitude because, in addition to your donations to the Bishop’s Appeal last year, you also responded with generosity to our urgent appeal for aid to our brothers and sisters who are devastated by the civil war in Syria, and you gave almost $120,000 to our Patriarchate for Syrian relief. This is truly a testament to your fidelity to Jesus’ call to give without expecting any return. Now, as our brothers and sisters, especially in Syria and Egypt, continue to experience the ravages of war, hatred, and persecution, I come again with hand outstretched to ask for your support for the important works of our Church. Because of the grave needs of our people and in response to the call of His Beatitude, our Patriarch Gregorios III, I have decided to send a tithe, or ten percent, of all the funds raised in this year’s Bishop’s Appeal for the relief of the suffering Syrian people. And I ask you to look upon the needs of our Melkite brothers and sisters as your own needs and to respond again with a merciful and generous heart. Please know that your gifts are used very prudently to support the important works of our Eparchy and to assure its future growth. Last year, donations to the Bishop’s Appeal helped to subsidize the cost of the publication and mailing of SOPHIA magazine; to aid our mission churches in need; and to fund religious education, youth ministry, and deacon formation—all essential works for the future of our Church in America. In addition, because of your generous gifts, we were able to assist our elderly priests, and give assistance to struggling parishes and missions. My fellow Melkites, it is not an exaggeration to say that without your support of our annual Bishop’s Appeal our Melkite Eparchy would not be able to meet its financial commitments. That is why I appeal to you today, as the Father of our Melkite family in America: we need every member of our family to take financial responsibility for the works of our Eparchy. I ask you to make the support of our Church a priority in your charitable giving. Each year, we ask every Melkite household in America to consider it their duty to give at least $100 annually to the Bishop’s Appeal for the needs of our Church. To each of you, I say with Saint Paul: “give according to your means” (2 Corinthians 8:3), and “glorify God by the generosity of your contribution” (2 Corinthians 9:13). I am very much aware that these times can be economically challenging and that our economic future may seem uncertain. Yet, I am also very much aware that we, in this great country of ours, enjoy tremendous blessings especially in comparison to so many who suffer in the Middle East and around the world. And so, I humbly ask you not to act like sinners who give only when they are guaranteed a good return on their investment, but to live like Christ, who gives freely, abundantly, without counting the cost. After all, “what have we that we have not received?” What we possess is not ours—it is on loan from God. We are but stewards of God’s gifts. And so, dear friends in Christ, as you consider your response to my letter of appeal you will receive at home, I ask you to take a few moments in prayer to reflect upon the tremendous mercy our Father has shown to you and your family and to be merciful as He is merciful. Make your financial gift a heartfelt offering of love and mercy to God and to your Melkite brothers and sisters. And our Lord assures you that “your reward shall be great, and you shall be called children of the Most High.” May Christ our true God bless you and your loved ones, and may He bring peace to our beloved Syria and Egypt and all the peoples of the Middle East. With my heartfelt prayers and gratitude, I remain
Your devoted father and shepherd ✠ Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra Bishop of Newton
 
The delatinization process was already taking place in some parishes due to individual initiative. Archbishop Joseph had just been installed as exarch previously that year. Prior to this he had been the patriarch's vicar in Damascus, Syria.
The Courage to be Ourselves:
Archbishop Joseph Tawil's 1970 Christmas Pastoral Letter النسخة العربية
To our beloved children, the priests and faithful of the Melkite Church in the United States, peace in Christ our Lord, greetings and blessings.

OUR INCOMPARABLE PATRIMONY

The incomparably rich writings of our Fathers are the voice of your own ancestors in the faith. Their names are known throughout the Christian world - Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil the Great, the two Gregories, John Chrisostom, John of Damascus, and the rest. We alone can truly say that they are bones of our bones, flesh of our flesh: ours in the truest sense of the term. They lived in the lands of our origin and the riches of their inheritance is now the treasured possession of the entire Church. Still we are the most rightful heirs of their inestimable treasures, for we are their very descendants, sons of the same soil. However true this may be, we do not live in the past, but in the present. Why must we exert so much energy to preserve the heritage of days long since past, we who are such a minority in American Catholicism? Since we live in the United States now, why do we not simply follow the majority of Catholics and become Latin? These questions are often heard and deserve answers. We can do no better than recall the teaching of Vatican II which declared: “History, tradition, and numerous ecclesiastical institutions manifest luminously how much the universal Church is indebted to the Eastern Churches. Therefore, …all Eastern rite members should know that they can and should always preserve their lawful liturgical rites and their established way of life … and should honor all these things with greatest fidelity.”

OUR MISSION TO ROMAN CATHOLICS

For a long time the principle of the superiority of the Roman rite, which had become general during the Middle Ages, prevailed in the West. The Latin tradition was considered the only true Catholic tradition, and this led to a certain fixedness among Catholics: the Latin way is the only way! Events of the succeeding centuries only served to heighten the feeling among Latin Catholics that to be Catholic one had to be Roman. Vatican II put an end to this provincialist view of the Church once and for all. The Church cannot be identified, it stressed, with any one culture, nation, or form of civilization without contradicting that universality which is of the essence of the Gospel. The existence of Eastern Churches as part of the Catholic family, although they have distinct customs and traditions in all areas of Church life, dramatically shows that to be Catholic one does not have to conform to the Roman model. Indeed, the Roman Church, as the Council affirmed, has learned many lessons of late from the East in the fields of liturgy (use of the vernacular, Communion in both kinds, baptism by immersion), of Church order (collegiality, synodal government, the role of the deacon), and spirituality. In a very real sense, the Western Church “needs” a vibrant Eastern Church to complement its understanding of the Christian message.

ECUMENICAL VOCATION OF EASTERN CATHOLICS

By our fidelity to maintaining our patrimony, by our refusal to be assimilated, the Eastern Churches render a most precious service to Rome in still another area of Church life. Latinizing this small number of Easterners would not be a gain for Rome; rather it would block - perhaps forever - a union of the separated Churches of the East and West. It would be easy then for Orthodoxy to see that union with Rome leads surely to ecclesiastical assimilation. Thus it is for the sake of ecumenism - to create a climate favorable to the union of the Churches - that the Eastern Catholic must remain faithful to his tradition. This providential vocation which is ours opens to the Church an unlimited perspective for preaching the Gospel to all peoples who, while they accept faith in Christ, must still remain themselves in this vast assembly of believers. From what has been said above, it is easy for us to find our place in America's pluralistic societies with its varied Churches and religious groups. In the now famous words of the late Patriarch Maximos IV, “We have, therefore, a two-fold mission to accomplish within the Catholic Church. We must fight to insure that latinism and Catholicism are not synonymous, that Catholicism remains open to every culture, every spirit, and every form of organization compatible with the unity of faith and love. At the same time, by our example, we must enable the Orthodox Church to recognize that a union with the great Church of the West, with the See of Peter, can be achieved without being compelled to give up Orthodoxy or any of the spiritual treasures of the apostolic and patristic East, which is opened toward the future no less to the past.”

A DANGER TO THIS MISSION: THE GHETTO MENTALITY

We have not yet mentioned the principal dangers which threaten our communities and their mission to the Churches: the ghetto mentality and the assimilation process. In a ghetto life is closed in upon itself, operating only within itself, with its own ethnic and social clichés. And the Parish lives upon the ethnic character of the community; when that character disappears, the community dies and the parish dies with it. One day all our ethnic traits - language, folklore, customs - will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we can not think of our communities as ethnic parishes, primarily for the service of the immigrant or the ethnically oriented, unless we wish to assure the death of our community. Our Churches are not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its riches.

A SECOND DANGER: THE ASSIMILATION PROCESS

Without doubt we must be totally devoted to our American national culture. We must have an American life-style. We must be fully American in all things and at the same time we must preserve this authentic form of Christianity which is ours and which is not the Latin form. We must know that we have something to give, otherwise we have no reason to be. We must develop and maintain a religious tradition we know capable of enriching American life. Otherwise we would be unfaithful to our vocation. It is often easier to get lost in the crowd than to affirm one's own personality. It takes more courage, character, and inner strength to lead our traditions to bear fruit than it takes to simply give them up. The obsession to be like everyone else pursues us to the innermost depths of our hearts. We recognize that our greatest temptation is always to slip into anonymity rather than to assume our responsibility within the Church. And so, while we opt for ethnic assimilation, we can never agree to spiritual assimilation. One prime source of spiritual assimilation for Eastern Catholics has been the phenomenon known as 'latinization', the copying by Eastern Catholics of the theology, spiritual practices, and liturgical customs of the Latin Church. Latinization implies either the superiority of the Roman rite -the position denounced by Vatican II - or the desirability of the assimilation process, an opinion with which we cannot agree. Not only is it unnecessary to adopt the customs of the Latin rite to manifest one's Catholicism, it is an offense against the unity of the Church. As we have said above, to do this would be to betray our ecumenical mission and, in a real sense, to betray the Catholic Church. For this reason many parishes are attempting to return to the practice of Eastern traditions in all their purity. This has often entailed redecoration of the churches and elimination of certain devotions on which many of the people had been brought up. In some places, our priests, attempting to follow the decree of the Council in this matter have been opposed by some of their parishioners. Other priests have been reluctant to move in this direction, as they feared that division and conflict would result. We should all know in this regard that a latinized Eastern Church cannot bear anything but false witness, as it seems to be living proof that Latinism and Catholicism are indeed one and the same thing. To be open to others, to be able to take our rightful place on the American Church scene, we must start by being fully ourselves. It is only in our distinctiveness that we can make any kind of contribution to the larger society. It is only by being what we are that we retain a reason for existence at all.

GRATITUDE TO OUR FOREFATHERS

Immigrants from Western Europe to the United States had less to do than our fathers did to adapt themselves to the American life-style. The Easterner, on the other hand, found himself immersed in a far different world than that which he knew. The temptation was great to throw off his entire heritage and become what he was not. And so we remember with gratitude our fathers and grandfathers and the priests who accompanied them from the old country for the foundations we have in this immense continent. Those who followed them have also worked well, often building splendid churches with the assistance of the Latin hierarchy. Now we are in the age of the young, American-born priests. To them especially falls the task of perfecting the work begun before them. They are still too few in number, but we hope with confidence that their number will increase. We cannot be grateful enough to those Roman Catholic bishops of this country who took the steps necessary to preserve our heritage while we had no hierarchy of our own on these shores. We think most of all of the late Cardinal Richard Cushing, undoubtedly the greatest benefactor of our church in the United States. Thanks to his apostolic openness and love, he worked for the establishment of our exarchate and generously endowed it with his psychological and financial support once it had been erected. For this reason we have directed that a solemn Liturgy be celebrated annually in our cathedral to perpetuate his memory.

TOWARD THE FUTURE

This is not the place to describe in detail the projects we are currently working on. We only list some here: a diocesan religious education program for both adults and youth, a unified text and musical setting for the Divine Liturgy to be followed by similar texts for the other services of the Church, such as the sacraments, a diocesan handbook which we will soon be happy to offer to the faithful and to the friends of our Church, a periodical which will also appear before long, and the general sharing with the faithful of our pastoral responsibility, as in parish councils and an active diaconate among other things. Also high on our priority list are the concerns of youth. Without the participation of the young, we can be assured that all our work is in vain and that our communities will disappear. And so we look forward to implementing a diocesan youth program as well before long. We also recognize that we are reaching only a small number of our faithful while the majority of them are unknown to us. Like the Good Shepherd concerned about the lost sheep, we ask ourselves what can be done for them. We are presently in the process of studying these situations and hope to provide for their pastoral care where possible. With what joy, then, was it to hear Bishop Mark Hurley of Santa Rosa, California observe in a recent speech that “in many of our dioceses Eastern Christians are without churches of their own. It is the duty of the Latin bishops to see that the venerable rites of the East are preserved.” The bishop then called on the Eastern Catholic bishops in America to form parishes in these areas so that “the example of the East may continue to instruct Western Catholics and that the true universality of the Catholic Church may be experienced.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Dear faithful, be united to one another in the love of Christ. Form one soul and one heart with your priests and with one another, for it is only by this union in love that God is truly glorified. With these prayers and sentiments, dear faithful, we ask for you and your families the most abundant blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Archbishop Joseph Tawil Christmas, 1970

Papal Views of the Eastern Rites

The Greetings of His Holiness Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II
An Excerpt from His Holiness John Paul II's remarks at the General Audience on Wednesday, August 9, 1995 - as reported by L'Osservatore Romano, August 23, 1995, p.7
I would like to convey a cordial greeting to those Eastern Churches who live in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, while still preserving their ancient liturgical, disciplinary and spiritual traditions. They offer a special witness to that diversity in unity which adds to the beauty of Christ's Church. Today more than ever, the mission entrusted to them is one of service to the unity Christ desired for his Church, by sharing 'in the dialogue of love and in the theological dialogue at both the local and international levels, and those contributing to mutual understanding …' (Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, n. 60).

Pope Pius IX, Encyclical: In suprema Petri, January 6, 1848

"We keep altogether intact the Greek Catholic Liturgies which we truly honor, although they differ in some ways from the Liturgy of the Latin Church. These liturgies have been equally honored by our predecessors, as being commendable through their great antiquity, and through the fact that they are written in languages spoken by the Apostles and Fathers, and by their comprising ceremonies of the splendor and incomparable magnificence, suited to sustain the nourish the veneration of the faithful towards the divine mysteries."  

Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical: Orientalium Dignitas, November 30, 1894

"The august age which ennobles these diverse rites is a great glory for all the church, and affirms the divine unity of the Catholic faith. No witness perhaps better brings to light the Catholicity of the Church of God in a more admirable manner than the unique homage which is rendered to it by the differing ceremonies and the noble ancient languages all made more venerable by their use by the Apostles and Fathers."  

Pope Benedict XV, Apost. Decree, July 10, 1918)

"The preservation of the Oriental rites is of greater moment than may believe. The Sacred Congregation has for its office and duty to uphold and foster as much as possible the venerable Oriental liturgies and to preserve them in their integrity and purity."

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