A Call For Unity – the Melkite Synod (4/97)
Melkite Synod Calls for Unity – Bishops Agree Reunification of Antiochian Patriarchate is Possible
A press release first issued, September 20, 1996, by Bishop Nicholas Samra Auxiliary Bishop of Newton
The holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church met in Rabweh, Lebanon July 22-27, 1996 and, after studying the question of unity within the Patriarchate of Antioch, declared that communicatio in sacris = worship in common is possible today and that the ways and means of its application would be left to the joint decisions of the two Antiochian Church Synods – Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox. The Synod of thirty-four bishops and four general superiors under the presidency of Patriarch Maximos V (Hakim) deliberated extensively on the topic of church unity particularly within the Antiochian Patriarchate which has been divided since 1724, and issued a document titled, Reunification of the Antiochian Patriarchate. This document is part of the official minutes of the Synod and was made public on August 15, 1996 in the Middle East. It includes eight points about the unity of the Churches and was sent by the Catholic Patriarch Maximos V to the Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV (Hazim). It emphasizes that there is an openness on the part of the Melkite Church to heal the division of 1724 and all the difficulties that followed in order to preserve our one heritage and one worship which is the fount of one belief. The Fathers of the Synod affirmed that unity was not a victory of one church over another, or one church going back to the other, or the melting of one church into the other, but rather putting an end to the separation between brothers… This unity has become possible today because of the extensive work of the Joint International Theological Commission between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. They site [sic] four specific documents of the International Theological Commission and look forward to the study that this commission will make on the role of the Bishop of Rome in the church and in the ecumenical councils.
Emphasis is placed on church unity as it existed in the first millennium when East and West were one. The document quotes Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint – That All May Be One: The Catholic Church desires nothing less than full communion between East and West. She finds inspiration for this in the experience of the first millennium (#16). The Melkite Synod sees that the church of the first millennium could be the model for unity today.
The Synod strongly affirms its full communion with the Apostolic See of Rome and that this communion would not be ruptured.
The Fathers offered their thanks to the International Theological Commission as well as the Joint Synodal Commissions recently reestablished by Patriarch Maximos V and Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV. They offer special thanks to Archbishop Elias Zoghby whose 1995 Profession of Faith was the major force for reopening dialogue with the Orthodox brothers. Zoghby, the former archbishop of Baalbek and a long-time leader among the Melkite bishops, offered this brief statement in 1995 and it was subscribed to by 24 of the 26 bishops present at the 1995 Holy Synod:
- I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.
- 2. I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the first among the bishops, according to the limits recognized by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation.
This brief profession and its subsequent explanation became the basis for the 1996 Synods discussion on unity. The Fathers delegated the Synod Ecumenical and Theological Commission to deeply research the ways of the reunification, and discuss its canonical and pastoral implications, and to hold joint conferences and conventions to include faithful of both churches (Antiochian Orthodox and Melkite Catholic) on the path towards this unity. Their prayer is that of Our Lord Jesus Christ to his Father: that they may be one, just as we are…that the world may know that you have sent me. (Jn 17: 21-23)
The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is a patriarchal church in communion with Rome and is considered a sui juris church within the Catholic communion It follows the traditions of the Greek or Byzantine Church of Antioch. Its patriarch carries the title of Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem. The Church is based in the Middle East with the patriarchal see presently in Damascus, Syria. There are sixteen eparchies or dioceses in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Egypt. Outside the Middle East there are dioceses in the United States of America, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Australia, with vicariates in Western Europe and Argentina.
This document was issued by the Melkite Greek Catholic Holy Synod, meeting in Rabweh, Lebanon, July 1996. It was released to the public on August 15, 1996 – the feast of the Dormition of the holy Mother of God. It appears in the minutes of the above mentioned Synod, dated and signed on Saturday, July 27, 1996 by the Patriarch, 31 archbishops and bishops, and 4 general superiors, whose names and titles are included at the end of the document.
Reunification of the Antiochian Patriarchate
The Fathers of the Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate convened in Rabweh, Lebanon July 22 to July 27, 1996 and studied the documents presented by the Patriarchal Commission established by His Beatitude Maximos V Hakim on March 25, 1996. This Commission consists of Archbishops Elias Zoghby and Cyril Salim Bustros; the patriarch asked them to do whatever is necessary through communications and meetings with the Orthodox Patriarchal and Synodal Commission to reach Antiochian unity through oneness of heart, and to find ways for the two churches – Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox – to return to communion with each other and into unity within one Antiochian Patriarchate. His Beatitude Patriarch Maximos V and Fathers of the Holy Synod are happy to announce the following:
1.They thank His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim and the Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church for their concern on this subject, and the brotherly announcement they gave concerning this unity in the final communique of their Holy Synod convened October 16-22, 1995. They share what the Orthodox said [at this synod] that since receiving the mutual representatives in the 1974 synod with great love, we look forward together to Antiochian unity preserving our one heritage and one worship which is the fount of one belief.
2.They all anxiously look forward to the day when the Melkite Greek Catholics and the Greek Orthodox in the Antiochian Patriarchate return to being one church and one patriarchate. They affirm to all that this reunification does not mean a victory of one church over the other, or one church going back to the other, or the melting of one church into the other. Rather, it means putting an end to the separation between the brothers that took place in 1724 and led to the existence of two separate independent patriarchates, and returning together to the unity that prevailed in the one Antiochian Patriarchate before the separation.
3.They see that this reunification has become possible today through the progress in the communion of faith that has taken place through the grace of God in the recent years on the international level through the Joint International Theological Commission between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. This Commission produced four documents announcing the unity of faith in basic doctrines: The Mystery of the Church and of the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity (1982), Faith, Sacraments and the Unity of the Church (1988), Uniatism, Method of Union of the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion (Balamand 1993). They consider their task of reestablishing communion within the Church of Antioch a part of reestablishing full communion between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches on the international level.
4.The Joint Commission will discuss one point further, that is, the role of the Bishop of Rome in the church and in the ecumenical councils. On this subject the Fathers of the Synod adopt what was stated in the Second Vatican Council: to give due consideration to the character of the relations which obtained between them and the Roman See before separation (Decree on Ecumenism #14); and also what His Holiness Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical That All May Be One – Ut Unum Sint (#61): The Catholic Church desires nothing less than full communion between East and West. She finds inspiration for this in the experience of the first millennium. Concerning the primacy of the Bishop of Rome the Fathers declare that they are inspired by the understanding in which East and West lived in the first millennium in the light of the teachings of the seven ecumenical councils, and they see that there is no reason for the separation to continue because of that primacy.
5.Based on that unity in the essence of the faith [that existed in the first millennium], the Fathers of the Holy Synod that the communicatio in sacris is possible today, and that they accept it, leaving the ways and means of its application to the joint decisions of the two church synods – Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox.
6.The Fathers of the Holy Synod announce they will remain in full communion with the Apostolic Church of Rome and at the same time will work out with her precisely what is required for them to enter into communion with the Antiochian Orthodox Church.
7.They commend the efforts that the ecumenical leaders of our church have made especially Archbishop Elias Zoghby who has been laboring for this more than twenty years. They thank the members of the Joint International Theological Commission for their accomplishments, and ask them to continue the dialogue on this subject. The Fathers delegated the Synodal Ecumenical and Theological Commission to deeply research the ways of the unification, and discuss its canonical and pastoral implications, and to hold joint conferences and conventions to include the faithful of both churches on the path toward this unity.
8.Finally, they ask all their faithful to join with them in prayer so that the holy will of God be fulfilled in all of us and that the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ to his heavenly Father be accomplished: that they may be one, just as we are one…that the world may know that you have sent me. (Jn 17:21-23)