Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Bishop John Elya

Bishop John A. Elya

Thoughts 1998

Thoughts 1997

A COUNTERCULTURE MOVEMENT - NEW YEAR'S CELEBRATION

To all our friends and brothers and sisters in Christ, best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year overflowing with God's blessings. Jesus, Whose Birthday we are celebrating came "in order to give us His joy (John 15:11). He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10)

With full respect to any congenial expression of exuberant joy at the dawn of a new year, and with a clear disclaimer against any "kill-joy" accusation, permit me to invite you and all our friends to a higher level of concern for the seriousness of the passing of time and our responsibility at the coming of a new year. How beautiful and inspiring is the "Troparion" which we sing at the beginning of the liturgical year on September 1: "Maker of the Universe, O lord who alone have power over seasons and times: bless this year with your bounty, preserve our country in safety and keep your people in peace, through the prayers of the Mother of God, and save us."

And the "Kondakion" of the same day: "O Creator and Master of time and eternity, supersubstantial God of all, O merciful One: bless the course of this year, and in your boundless mercy, save all those who worship You our one and only Master and who cry out to You in fear: "O Savior, grant a happy year to all mankind." The candid question is: Are we going to welcome the New Year only with drinking and making silly noises? To the optimist, this display of childlike exhilaration may remind us of Our Lord's instruction: "Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3) However, allow me to recommend a more fulfilling way to welcome the New Year, as I know many people in recent times have used to do: A Divine Liturgy, a Vesper Service, A joyfully spiritual family gathering, a "Happy Hour" of songs and sharing concluded with a Midnight Divine Liturgy. If St. Paul was living on earth today, I am sure he would be delighted to join such groups. Aren't they following to the letter his wise advice?

"Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts. (Ephes. 5:15-19)

My dearly beloved in Christ, St. Paul challenges us: "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." (Galatians 5:25) On the first Christmas, the shepherds offered Jesus their adoration and probably their humble products of their sheep, the magi worshipped the Divine Child, opened their treasures and presented precious gifts to Him, gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11) As gifts of ours, let us offer Him, and exchange with each other, at Christmas and at the opening of the New Year, "the fruit of the Spirit,… love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." This is our challenge for the New Year and for a lifetime.

These gifts, joined to His gift of Himself for our salvation, will hopefully assure us joy, happiness and eternal life. May this Christmas Season during this Jubilee Year 2000 be blessed for you, your families and all those dear to you. May you come closer to Our Lord Who was born for our salvation. He emptied Himself and assumed our humanity in order to make us rich by His divinity.

CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!

+ Bishop John, Eparch

ZACCHAEUS (Luke 19:1-10)

Annunciation Cathedral, Roslindale, January 30, 2000

The Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost." (Luke 19:10)

Did you ever see, in crowded parades, an adult carrying a child over his/her shoulders, so that the little one can have a look at the parade? Zacchaeus, too short of stature, could not stand on anyone's shoulders. He was too old and probably too fat for that. So he ran ahead; he forgot the dignity of his age and his social status; and he climbed a sycamore tree where Jesus was going to pass, so that he could have a good look at Him.

"Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector (in Jericho) and a wealthy man," says St. Luke. He was a well to-do guy. He could afford to spend money to enjoy himself and to fulfill any material need. But mere satisfaction of material needs does not assure us happiness. Otherwise, how do you explain the fact that suicide among rich people is more frequent than among the poor? There is more to life than satisfaction of physical needs. Satisfaction of physical needs alone leaves us empty, "like the whale who is always hungry, he is thirsty in the middle of the sea," says an Arabic verse. (Qalxuuti la yaqfiihi cai'un yalhumuh, Yusbixu zam'aanan wfil baxri famuh !)

However, there was another fact in favor of Zacchaeus. He was not only a well-to-do man. He was also a doer of good. Tax collectors, at the times of Christ had the reputation of greed, shrewdness and cruelty. They used to bid for the job, then extort from the people as much as they could. But, although in a job known for wronging people, Zacchaeus, presumably, maintained fairness with his customers. Otherwise, how could he afford to rectify his wrong and restore fourfold whatever he took by fraud if he had defrauded too many people? We heard Zacchaeus saying: "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over." (Luke 19:8)

So, Zacchaeus was well provided materially. He also was an honest man, a doer of good, well provided morally. However, he lacked something, something which material goods and moral righteousness could not give. Deep inside, he longed to know Jesus the Christ. St. Augustine said it so well: "You created us for you, O God; and our heart is restless until it rests in You."

Zacchaeus heard the good news that Jesus was coming to town. He was so excited. He longed to have a good look at Him. But he was afraid or rather ashamed to come forward and introduce himself to the Master. He was afraid to be rebuffed by Jesus or by His entourage, because, in the eyes of his compatriots, he was presumed to be a public sinner, a greedy tax collector. How many times we clergy or church workers or "better than thou" dedicated people, scare away people who are less perfect than our hihh standard? Zacchaeus was inhibited by the gossip mongers and by the so-called righteous people. So he could not approach Jesus. He sought the second best; namely: having a look at Jesus safely from a distance. But he couldn't even do that, because he was small of stature. He couldn't climb over anybody's shoulders. So he climbed a sycamore tree; and he captured a good look at Jesus.

Jesus returned the curious look of Zacchaeus with a loving look of His. That loving look of Jesus, Zacchaeus will not forget for the rest of his life. Taken by Zacchaeus' courage and genuine desire to see Him, the Lord shouted: "Hurry down, Zacchaeus, I mean to stay at your house today." Oh! How I wish to hear my Lord tell me the same words. Don't you? Come down, John, Joe, Josephine, Ann, Rose. I mean to stay at your house today!" My dear friends, this is what our religion, is all about: to introduce us personally to Jesus. When we meet Jesus and surrender to Him our hearts and our lives, nothing is the same anymore. This is for us a new earth and a new heaven. This is the meaning of the exhortation of St. Paul to the early Christians: "Do not conform outwardly to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God." (Romans 12:2)

Then we see Jesus in the house of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus tendered a great banquet to Jesus and invited his friends. How proud he was to introduce his friends to Jesus. "Master, this is my friend Jacob. This is Mr. Levi, the Mayor of the town. This is Joshua, the chief police. We see here the importance of the role of the laity in spreading the good news of religion. Good lay people like you are bearers of good news. They can reach where clergy cannot. If we love Jesus, we introduce Him to our friends... When was the last time you introduced a friend to Jesus? Here is a recipe for happiness: Be friendly, make a friend, then bring your friend to Jesus. How often do we introduce our children to the friendship of Jesus? In our society, it is fashionable to tell others about good bargains, cars, houses, sports, movies, fads, etc. But to talk about religion, this is a no no! We leave it to Jehovah Witnesses, to Pentecostals, to Mormons or to fanatics of any cults. No wonder that all kinds of cults spread among our people at the expenses of true religion. If you are a light bearer, don't hide your light under the bed. Put it on a lamp stand so that it enlightens all those in the house. "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine!"

On that day, Zacchaeus was the happiest man in the world. And you and me, we are invited today to share Zacchaeus' happiness, without having to climb a sycamore tree. The condition is: Let us emulate Zacchaeus' honesty, eagerness and humility. Then we will hear the sweet voice of Jesus: "Hurry down! I mean to stay at your house today!" And then we will proudly introduce Him to our friends and relatives as the best honored guest we ever had!

One final remark about Zacchaeus who was fascinated by Jesus and about Levi also who was a tax collector and who was sitting at the money table when Jesus met him: Both were promoted from money handling into spiritual relationship with the Lord. If we have the Lord, we have everything. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be given you besides." Did you ever hear the saying: "If you meet me and ignore me, you have missed a lot; but if you meet Jesus and ignore Him, you have missed everything?" If we had a spiritual, truly alive parish, we would not need any money. Zacchaeus and Levi/Matthew graduated from money handling into spiritual life. God forbid that we fall down from spiritual life and generosity toward our church by returning to easy money, which would kill spiritual initiative and make the majority of us sit down and relax while a small minority get us the easy money.

We judge a church not by the amount of money it makes, nor by the social activities it entertains, but by the spiritual activities such as Bible studies, weekday liturgies and devotions, works of mercy, Theosis, Antioch weekends, Cursillo weekends, good participation at the divine Liturgy and love and respect for each others.

To sum up the lesson of the day, material riches cannot bring happiness. Even human friendship and self righteousness cannot assure us happiness. Encountering Jesus, inviting Him to our house and introducing Him to our friends and walking together with our families and friends in the love of Jesus, this is our sure way to happiness.

"Today salvation has come to this house! For this is what it means to be child of Abraham," said Jesus of Zacchaeus. May He say it as truly of you and me. Please, Lord, come to our house, as you came to the house of Zacchaeus and make us hold you as the best of guests, the best friend, the best lover of our souls for time and eternity. Amen.

THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT -- L O V E !

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST (MATTHEW 22:35-46) - Annunciation Cathedral 9-5-99

"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Mat. 22:37-39)

Once upon a time, a group of concerned people went "preacher hunting". They went from parish to parish, attended the Sunday service and listened carefully and critically to the sermons. They were looking for the best preacher to get to their congregation. Finally, they heard a sermon, the best one they ever heard. They were so impressed, they immediately asked the preacher to come to their own parish and to be their teacher and preacher and spiritual leader. The preacher readily accepted and the bishop or the Superintendent went along with their desires. {By the way, that was a Protestant parish; because, in the Catholic parishes, it is the Bishop who consults with the priests and assigns them, and not the other way around as in the story. Our chain of command is God, Pope, Patriarch, Bishop, priests, deacons, parish council, societies and people, in that respective order} Before long, they were very pleased to welcome their new pastor and teacher and preacher. The people filled the church. The sermon was terrific. Every body was happy.

On the second Sunday, the church was more full, standing room only. The preacher was excellent. However, to the disappointment of those who were there on the first Sunday, the preacher delivered the same, exactly the same sermon as of the previous Sunday. On the third Sunday, he did the same. So his friends who had asked him to come and serve them went to him and brought it to his attention. They told him:

"Sir, We don't mind if you forget once and give the same sermon, but twice on a raw?"

He answered: "My friends, what do you think? I am going to give the same sermon again and again until you really hear it and truly heed it. If you don't do what I am telling you, I'll be wasting my time preaching to you." (end of quote) So we keep repeating the same thing until it sinks in our mind.

The same thing happened, reportedly, to St. John the Beloved Disciple, Apostle and Evangelist. He was very old, and the only one of the Twelve who was still living. People would carry him on a chair, bring him to church and ask him to preach to them the word of God. Infallibly, he would say: "My children, love God, love one another!"

I invite you to read the Gospel of St. John, the Beloved Disciple, the Apostle of Love, and his three Epistles to the early Christians. This Gospel and these three letters are full to overflowing with love over and over again. Here are some passages:

FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN:

"This is my commandment," says the Lord Jesus, "love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:12-13)

AND IN THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN:

"We love, because he first loved us." (I John 4:19)

"Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you but an old commandment that you had from the beginning... Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause the fall..." (I John 2:7 & 10)

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love... No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us." (I John 3:7-8, 12)

"If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." (I John 4:20-21)

And the one which sums them all:

"God is love, and however remains in love remains in God and God in him." (I John 4:16)

St. Paul has also many passages about the love of God and of neighbor. Here is a short passage of his famous chapter 13 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. I will quote only the first and last verse. This chapter is worth reading everyday and memorizing as a code of conduct to all Christians:

"If I speak of human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. ... So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (I Corinthians 13:1 & 13)

I remember, as a child, my mother often saying:

"If I don't go to church on a Sunday, it doesn't feel like a Sunday." On that Sunday, she asked my father: "Why didn't you come to the Divine Liturgy today?" My father answered: "Oh! Yes I did. I went to the second Liturgy. Then my mother would quiz him: "What was the sermon?" And my father would answer, tongue in cheek: "Love God and love your neighbor." Of course, this is a fit-all answer. You can't go wrong.

St. Paul writes to the Romans:

"Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, [namely] 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10)

Many of you may remember from spiritual gatherings a juvenile play which goes like this:

"If you love me and you know it, clap your hands." (clap, clap) … "If you love me and you know it, and you are willing to show it; if you love me and you know it clap you hands." (clap, clap). Easier said than done, love is much more serious and much harder than a clap of hands or a stomp of feet. True love requires sincere effort and a wholehearted commitment. We heard our Master, in the Gospel of the day: "Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." The heart represents feeling… The mind represents conviction… And the soul represents our entire being, including our will. "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails." (I Cor. 13: 7-8)

At the Divine Liturgy, before the Profession of Faith, the deacon invites us: "Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess." Before we proclaim our faith, we have to express our love. The high point of love, Jesus' love for us and our love for each other as a community comes at Holy Communion. Communion means "union with," with Christ our Savior and with one another. Communion is the sacrament of love. Sharing in the same substance of life – divine life – makes us one with Christ and with one another.

Today, and every day, let us show our love to God by saying our prayers faithfully, morning and evening. Let us try to live in His presence every hour of the day. Let us love our neighbor by being considerate, gentle, care-full, respectful, patient, trustful, etc. – Read and heed I Cor. 13 … Let us live in love and create around us a better world to live in. Amen

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

V O C A T I O N S And Ordination of John Moses as Deacon Matthew 4:18-23 - Annunciation Cathedral - June 6, 1999
"Come after me and I will make you fishers of men." - (Matthew 4:19)

My dear friends and parishioners of the Annunciation Cathedral.

First, I am very happy to bring with me to the Cathedral this year's deacon candidates to participate in your Sunday celebration and have a first hand look at one of our best parishes, the Mother Church, the Annunciation Cathedral.

Second, I am very happy to ordain to the Diaconate a very committed parishioner, John Moses who has been involved in the various activities of the parish and who has given an outstanding example of dedication.

And now, would you believe it? Jesus could not do the work alone. He needed the 12 Apostles, then the 70 disciples, then the hundreds and thousands of good workers who are continuing His loving work through the centuries.

We heard the same thing in the Epistle of the day. The reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles is appropriately chosen for this special occasion. It takes us back to the time of the marvelous expansion of the early Church, immediately after Pentecost. In those days, the young Church was expanding by leaps and bounds like a growing baby under the spell of the Spirit. In one day - that was her Birthday on the first Pentecost - some three thousand joined the New Way. Then, "day by day", as writes St. Luke, "the Lord added to their number those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47). But growth, my friends, especially sudden growth, brings with it some trouble sometime. We call it growing pain. The Twelve Apostles were spreading themselves too thin. As we heard in the Reading, they had to act as referees between the Greek and the local widows in their picayune ethnic quarrels. They were forced sometimes to neglect the word of God to take care of material concerns. And do you know what happens often when we are torn between material and spiritual concerns? One of them suffers violently. And do you know which one suffers? The more precious, which is the more fragile. The same thing happened, in the old stories, between the pot of steel and the pot of porcelain.

One day, a pot of steel and a pot of fine China took a liking to each other; they fell in love; they took a leisurely walk together on a lovers' lane. The pot of China leaned lovingly on the pot of steel. Then the pot of steel leaned a little too heavily on the pot of China and... broke it. God alone can preserve our integrity when our spirit has to compete with our material and emotional needs. God preserve us!

The Apostles wanted to disengage themselves from the responsibility for material things, in order to dedicate themselves fully to prayer and to the preaching of the Word. Prayer and preaching is the main task of a priest.

Material work is much easier to engage into…And so, they summoned the many Disciples and said: "It is not good that we give up the word of God and serve at tables [or cut the lawn or clean the kitchen or do material work.] Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom that we could put to this service, while we devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." Seven believers were chosen and were presented to the Apostles, "who then prayed and laid their hands upon them." (Acts 6:6) These seven became the first deacons. Diakonos in Greek means servant. They became God's servants by serving His people, and especially the poor and the needy. Servant is not a demeaning word, but an imitation of Christ the Servant par excellence. Our Holy Father is called proudly "the Servant of the Servants of God."

What are the qualifications of a good Deacon, according to the Apostles' request heard in the Epistle of the day? Let us enumerate them and find out if our new deacon, John Moses, passes the test. Let each of us also - especially bishop and priests -- apply them to ourselves to see how much we deserve to be called servants of the Lord. The Apostles said: Deacons must be men of good reputation. They are taken from among the people; but they represent the whole church. All baptized people should give a witness of good conduct "worthy of the call God gave us", says St. Paul. "All of you (not some, but all) who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ". (Galatians 3:27)

A deacon is challenged to be one step ahead of the crowd. He is challenged to be a model to his fellow Christians. To him applies the challenge posed by Christ to His disciples, to be like a lamp which should not be put under a bushel basket or hidden under the bed, but kept on a lamp stand where it gives light to all in the house". (Matthew 5:15 & Mark 4:21) This is a great challenge that our dear Deacon John is taking on himself today. He has faired with an A+ so far. Good luck for a good continuation!

Besides good reputation, a deacon should be, according to the specifications given by the Apostles, "full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom." A good reputation, is an external quality. Being full of the Holy Spirit is an internal condition. The external should be a congenial extension of the internal. Otherwise we would be phony, acting a role, but not living an authentic life. It is not the name, but the deed that counts. No false advertising. We priests and deacons are men of the Spirit, men of piety. "If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk", writes St Paul to the first Christians in Galatia. (Galatians 5: 25) A deacon, like the priest should be a man of prayer. "Tell me with whom you spend your time, and I will tell you who you are," says an Arabic proverb. (… …) This is why a deacon, like the priest, is bound to praying the Divine Office every day. Canon 377 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches states it very clearly: "All clerics (that is deacons, priests and bishops too) must celebrate the divine praises." Then our particular law for the Melkite Church specifies: "Secular priests are obliged to recite individually or in community Vespers, Compline, Orthros and one small hour. They are encouraged also to recite all the other parts of the office as much as they can." The following canon #378 is also very clear: "Clerics are to celebrate the Divine Liturgy frequently, especially on Sundays and holy days of obligation; indeed daily celebration is eagerly encouraged." If we do not eat, we lose weight and we suffer of anemia. If a deacon, as well as the priest does not dedicate a time for prayer every day, he would be spiritually anemic. A deacon, as well as the priest, should be "full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom. This is the second challenge assumed by our new deacon.

I am glad to note that the double challenge of "being of good reputation" and of "being full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom" is not new in the life of our new deacon. It is a continuation and a deepening of what John has been doing all along in this parish for many years. Steady participation in the parish liturgical and spiritual activities, including serving at the sanctuary, conducting the weekly Bible Study and the monthly Theosis follow-ups and other parish activities, these have been the best preparation for the role of leadership and service to which our deacon John is being ordained today.

Let me conclude by offering my heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to John, to his wife Jerry and to their four children; to his father and mother and to his two brothers and one sister, and to all the Moses and Byda Family.

Congratulations to Frs. Ed and Alam and also John Ghaby who helped him to reach this day. Congratulations to Fr. Paul Frechette, Director of the Deacon Training Program who coached our new Deacon safely into this decisive moment.

"No man is an island". If we rise up, we raise with us in some way all those close to us, and if we go down, we lower with us the standard of others. May this occasion inspire more and more parishioners to emulate John's example of dedication. I hope and pray that many of you people present here today, especially our younger generation, will be inspired to dedicate your life to the Lord and to do more and more of the good things you have been doing; because there is no limit to God's love. Believe me, to serve God and to serve Him full time is the most worthwhile thing we can do with our life. He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.

GOD NEEDS YOU! God needs people to do His work. Let us heed His loving voice. Or at least, let us encourage our boys and our girls and our friends to join in the work of Jesus. Encourage vocations. Don't talk ill about a priest (or a bishop!) in front of your children. Treat your priest as a king, so that your son will be encouraged to consider joining the service of the Lord. And, most of all, pray for your priests (and your bishop); because their task is not easy. And especially pray for vocations. This is the commandment of our Lord: "The harvest is abundant and the workers are few; so pray to the master of the harvest to send more workers to His field."

To Him be glory forever. Amen
   

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