Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

Question:

"Is it customary to say the anaphora aloud or silently in the Melkite usage of the Byzantine rite?"

Bishop John's Answer:

According to the latest recommendations issued by the (Melkite) Synodal Liturgical Commission in 1992, "Prayers, in general, are not secret (in silence)" We insist that the Anaphora should be recited aloud. We leave to the initiative of the celebrant to decide which other prayers he would recite at a loud voice. If a prayer is said at a low voice, it should be recited in a way that the concelebrating priests hear it."
 

Question:

"As Melkite Catholics, are we allowed to participate in the prayer services (such as Vespers) of our Antiochian Orthodox counterpart? I would like to know: What are the rules?"

Bishop John's Answer:

Thank you very much for your question regarding attending services with the Antiochian Orthodox. Vatican II urged all Catholics to become more familiar with Eastern Orthodox Christians, since there is so little that separates them. The present Holy Father is most eager to work toward a reunion of the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. For us as Melkites, the issue is even more pressing, since we have common family roots - many of our families are inter-related, and we have so much in common. You probably notice that the music and services are so very similar. By all means attend the Offices with the Antiochian Orthodox and pray with them, as well as inviting them to services in our Melkite churches. However, we do not have full Communion re-established with them yet. At present, we refrain from receiving Communion in each other's churches, ... not because we are better than they, nor they better than us ... we refrain as a recognition that both sides have to work harder toward reunion so that one day we may all intercommunicate and enjoy that unity that Christ God prayed for so fervently at His Last Supper with the Apostles, when He gave us the Divine Liturgy as a celebration of full communion with the Father and each other through Him in the Holy Spirit.
 

Question:

"Could you tell me about your Melkite monastic communities? I am a Byzantine Catholic (Ruthenian) with a calling to the monastic life, and wanted to know about the options available in the Melkite tradition.

Bishop John's Answer:

"The Church has always recognized a vocation to Religious life as a separate call from God Himself. Religious life involves a radical restatement and recommitment to one's baptismal vows. By living the evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the Religious conforms to Christ in most intimate way. Religious life brings with it many joys and many challenges. If you feel led to examine Religious life, I would encourage you to speak with your spiritual director and/or confessor. Certainly continue to ask the Lord for direction in prayer. Within our Melkite Church, there is a Religious community of very ancient origin. I myself am a member. For more information and a possible visit, you may contact Rt. Rev. Gerasimos Murphy, BSO at 18 New Dunstable Rd., Nashua, NH, the Regional Superior; (603) 595-9815 or Rev. Martin Hyatt,BSO, local superior, 30 East Street, Methuen, Massachusetts. 01844 (978)682-1963. The Salvatorian Religious take vows that are the equivalent of monastic vows, however, they are an active Order of priests involved in spiritual renewal and parish ministries. There are several other communities of Religious in the Melkite Church, however, they are located in the Middle East.

Question:

"I am a catholic interested in eastern monastic life. I am 21 years old and am wondering if I could have contact information for and monasteries under your eparchy or under the other eastern rites."

Bishop John's Answer:

I am sorry I have taken so long to answer, the delay is due to our moving our residence and chancery to new quarters (Brookline instead of West Newton). This is a list of what we could find on Eastern Catholic religious life here in the USA:

Melkite -
Basilian Salvatorian Fathers, 30 East Street, Methuen, MA 01844, (978) 682-1963
Ukrainian -
Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 17001 Tomki Road, P.O. Box 217, Redwood Valley, CA 95470, (707) 485-8059
Holy Dormition Monastery (Byzantine Franciscans), P.O. Box 270, Sybertsville, PA 18251, (717) 788-1212
Monastery of the Holy Cross, 1302 Quincey St., NE, Washington, DC 20017-2614, (202) 832-8519
Basilian Fathers, 31-12 30th St., Long Island City, New York, NY 11106, (718) 278-6622
Ruthenians -
Holy Trinity Monastery (Byzantine Benedictines), P.O. Box 990, Butler, PA 16003, (724) 287-6160
Holy Resurrection Monastery, 45704 Valley Center Road, P.O. Box 130, Newberry Springs, CA 92365, (760) 257-4008
 

Question:

Your Grace, The Holy Father Pope John Paul II has said that this Jubilee Year of 2000 is an opportunity for Catholics to gain indulgences such as by going on pilgrimage to a church designated as a pilgrimage site or by making an act of charity towards one's neighbor. The belief in indulgences is a doctrine long held by the Roman Catholic Church.

Are Melkite Catholics and all other Eastern Catholics obligated to believe in the doctrine of indulgences? I know of Eastern Catholics who say "no", stating that it has no basis according to the Eastern understanding of sin, and that it is a "Latin" doctrine. I always understood the doctrine of indulgences to be a "Catholic" doctrine- not a "Latin" one - and therefore all Eastern and Western Catholics are to believe in it.

Are Eastern Catholics to believe in indulgences?

Bishop John's Answer

You ask whether or not Eastern Catholics are to believe in indulgences. Yes, I too have heard some folks remark that the doctrine is incompatible with Eastern theology, however, they are sadly mistaken.

The notion of an indulgence that removes the temporal punishment due to sin is deeply rooted in the theological consciousness of both East and West. While it is an explicit doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and thus a doctrine that we Eastern Catholics accept as we walk with the successor of Peter, you will find ample evidence of our Eastern affirmation of the cleansing of the soul after death as we progress towards the moment when, through God's generosity, we are admitted to eternal intimacy with Him.

When we look, for example, at the prayers that comprise the Sacrament of Holy Anointing that we celebrate as part of our observance of Holy Week, we find there, in several of the prayers, the notion that God's healing comes to us as we submit ourselves to His cleansing grace. Repeatedly, the priest prays for a purification from the effects of sin, the complete remission of the effects of sin, and for a healing that penetrates both body and soul. Many of the sacred traditions of our Eastern Church that deal with our prayers of suffrage for the dead speak of our plea that the Lord will wipe away the effects of sin, cleanse us and the faithful departed from its effects so that they might enter fully into the kingdom.

The Church, as the living, mystical Body of Christ, dispenses the mercy of God in many ways. We find that the doctrine of indulgences is a beautiful expression of the Church's role in bringing salvation and healing to both the living and the dead. Feel secure in the teachings of the Church. I suggest that you read No. 1471 of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church that Pope John Paul II addressed to all Venerable Cardinals, Patriarchs, Bishops, Priests and to all faithful [of the East and West.] This is a jubilee year of abundant graces and many indulgences. We do well to take advantage of its many blessings.

Bishop John's continues to explain indulgences and praying for the dead.

Several folks have asked questions concerning the doctrine of indulgences given the heightened interest in indulgences granted during this jubilee year. I am often astonished at remarks that the legal nature of indulgences seem to prove that they are applicable only to the Latin Church and are thus foreign to our Eastern theology. Many people do not realize that the legal aspects of church life, including canon law, began in the East. The Emperor Justinian and the Byzantine court developed canons that are still the basis for many principles of law used in the church today.

Indulgences deal with the wider notion of praying for the dead. We ask the question: Are our prayers for the dead efficacious? Can we benefit our deceased loved ones by prayer, good works and suffrage prayers such as liturgies? Our Eastern liturgy is replete with prayers for the dead. Our calendar, unlike the calendar of the Latin Church, has several feast days that are set-aside for prayers for the dead. The Saturday before Pentecost and the Saturdays of Great Lent are good examples. Further, we observe the third, ninth, and fortieth day after the death of a loved one as important anniversaries that we observe with a Liturgy offered for the repose of the soul of a loved one. Clearly, both in the East and the West, we believe that our prayers benefit the dead. The writings of St. John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent describes some of the imagery that we find in our Eastern view of the soul's ascent to God. Perhaps you have seen the ancient icon that portrays the soul on its ascent to God. We pray that the journey will be free of pain and diabolical attack.

Indulgences, while subject to abuses in the Middle Ages, and an object of polemics against the Catholic Church in many circles, are, nonetheless, connected to the valued doctrine of God's mercy and generosity in dealing with us when we present ourselves to Him before the "awesome judgment seat of Christ". The idea of temporal punishment due to sin is not entirely foreign to our Eastern theology. In some Eastern cultures, the surviving family members of dead offer candy to passersby at a Memorial Service, especially on the Saturday of the Dead, praying that the person would offer forgiveness to the deceased for any wrongs, imagined or real. In the prayers of absolution said over the deceased, the Church prays for the dissolution of any bonds that would keep the deceased tied, in a temporal way, to the corpse or to an intermediate state of purification. We see dying and death as a process of growing towards union with God in eternity. We assist our loved ones with our prayers, our sacrifices, and even by applying indulgences to them.

Our Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Apostolic See of Rome have experienced theological developments and growth. We, as we walk with the successor of Peter, are not bound to the forms of the ancient East in a slavish manner, but rather interpret our liturgy and forms of prayer through the eyes and insights of a church that is both alive and evolving. It is a grave error to keep ourselves blindly confined to the theological ideas of the first 10 centuries. My family has been Melkite Catholic for many generations. Are we to discard our Catholic beliefs because they find their origins in Catholic thought of the 20th century? We appreciate and value our heritage, but we are open to the development of new theological insights as they develop under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are a living Church.

 

Bishop John's Answer:

In response to your question, let me say that as Melkite Catholics, we freely embrace the moral teachings of the One Catholic Church of the East as of the West. We find that our own traditions support the teachings of the Church in ways that add to our celebration of faith.

Since Pope Paul VI promulgated the encyclical Humanae vitae in 1968, volumes have been written by way of response. In the last few years, the wisdom of his words has become more and more apparent. In our Melkite celebration of marriage, we begin by praying with the Psalmist that the couple might one day "see their children's children like olive branches around their table." This poetic language captures the fundamental values of both the unitive and procreative aspects of the sacramental marital union. Just prior to crowning the couple, the priest prays that the Father will stretch forth his hand and make the two one in flesh granting them fair children for education in the faith and fear of God. The symbol of the marriage crown speaks to the glory and honor of their chaste love that is seen as a sublime gift from the Father. Our liturgy proclaims the truths of marital love that is rich in meaning and challenge.

You might agree that we live in a culture that presents great challenge to Christian couples as they live out their commitments to one another in marriage. Human sexuality is poorly appreciated in our modern culture. In Humanae vitae, the Pope writes: "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil." This moral teaching poses a true challenge to many in our modern culture. We hope to deal with the issues with compassion and truth. Anything less detracts from God-given values.

In his recent writings, Pope John Paul II has emphasized the fundamental value of the Christian family as a microcosm of the church itself. The theological insights of the Holy Father deserve the serious consideration of every serious Christian as we search for the fullest meaning of married life. I recommend that you read what is contained in The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Nos. 2368-2371. God bless you.

 

Question:

What is the relationship between our Bishops and the Pope? Are we obliged to accept dogmas like "The Immaculate Conception" as it is defined by Rome? Why are there differences in the way the Pope is commemorated between the various Eastern rites?

Bishop John's Answer:

God bless your eagerness to see clearly and concisely points that require volumes to elucidate and that have been object of controversy among many people of good will for too many years.

The truth is one, although interpreted in different ways, depending on where you stand. However, the same object could not be white for you and black for me, and we still pretend that we are both right. East and West see reality under different angles sometimes, in complicated manners hard to explain here in short terms. Some people enjoy finding differences, and other (as I try to do as often as I can) focus on what unites us rather than on what separates us. In all cases, if we are Catholic, then we have to accept all Catholic dogmas.

You are right to think that " we are one of many Eastern autonomous Churches (self-governing) as the Ukrainians, the Ruthenians and other self-governing (sui juris) Eastern Catholic Churches. We hold that the Pope of Rome is infallible in important matters of faith and morality, when he speaks "ex cathedra", in his position as the visible head of the Catholic Church. We may interpret these dogmas in "Eastern" terms; however, we are not allowed to deny their truth without breaking the bond of unity with the Pope of Rome, the successor of St. Peter the Rock.

You are right also that we commemorate the Pope of Rome only once, namely at the end of the Anaphora. However, the exact mandated translation is "FIRST, Lord, remember His Holiness N. Pope of Rome, His Beatitude … etc." Regardless of linguistic or historic pretexts, "Among the first" translation has been repeatedly prohibited by me, as Melkite Eparch, and by my predecessors. I consider persisting in using "among the first…" in our Melkite churches in America as an open defiance to legitimate authority.

I wish you continued success in your endeavors. May our Lord direct your thoughts and words to His pleasure in truth and love.

 

Question:

"What are the requirements for acceptance as a candidate for the priesthood in the Melkite Church? What are the educational requirements for ordination? I have long felt a calling to the priesthood but was advised to finish my academic training first. Over the years, the sense of a calling has persisted. Your comments would be greatly appreciated."

Bishop John's Answer:

God bless your good will to serve His people. The first condition to be a candidate to serve a people is to know them and to be known and accepted by them. There is a general understanding that, to be accepted in our seminary, one should have belonged to a Melkite community for two years. Where do you live? Do you live near a Melkite community? How much you know about the people you intend to serve? You may get more information by writing or talking to our Vocation Director.

God bless your good will and direct your steps to His pleasure and glory.

Question:

"I am interest in how one becomes ordained in your church."

Bishop John's Answer:

Odination is a serious goal that can only be achieved after much prayer and discernment. On the occasion of his fiftieth year of ordination, Pope John Paul II spoke of his vocation to the priesthood as a gift from God and as a deep mystery known only to God Himself. Anyone attracted to the life of a priest should take this matter up with a spiritual director who can assist him in discerning God's will. The first goal of every serious Christian is the salvation of his soul. If you feel called to service as a priest, your spiritual director can show you the way to make application to the various Religious orders and diocese seminaries. Ordination in the Melkite Church follows the same course for those who are called to the service of an Eastern Catholic Church. Certain rules of the Church govern the acceptance of candidates for the priesthood. Our priests complete a prescribed course of studies in a major seminary prior to ordination. I wish you every blessing in your quest.

Question:

Is it possible for a married Roman Catholic such as myself to be ordained a priest in the Eastern Rite?

Bishop John's Answer:

Thank you for your inquiry about the possibility of a Roman Catholic layman to be admitted to the priesthood in the Melkite Church. As it is well known, it is the tradition of the Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic, to admit married as well as celibate men to priestly ordination. However, it is not allowed, at the present time, to a Roman Catholic in the United States to seek priestly ordination in the Melkite Catholic Church. Besides, to serve a people you have to be part of them. You have to be a member of a Melkite Church for at least two years before being admitted to our Melkite Seminary or to our Diaconate Formation Program. Your seeking priestly ordination in a church should be for the sake of serving its people in their own style of worship (rite). That would be "false pretense," so to speak, to seek entrance into another church only for the sake of being ordained.

As sister Catholic Churches of East and West, we belong to the same "union." If there is a ban (a strike) against a practice in one church, the other churches should not provide the members of that church "to cross the strike line" and to break the rules of their church.

Consequently, it is not permissible for a Married Roman Catholic to seek priestly ordination in the Melkite Church. This is the rule at the present time. But we do not know what the future will hold. There are many way to serve the Lord. May God direct your step the the best track to serve Him and His people redeemed by His Precious Blood.

 

Question:

"Is there a distinction between Melkites and Other Eastern Catholics? Perhaps the question is best phrased: What makes our Melkite Church distinctive?"

Bishop John's Answer:

As a Catholic Church, we belong to the One Body of Christ, or His Mystical Body which is the Church. Our Holy Father, as the vicar of Christ, is our head and our symbol of unity just as Peter was the head of the apostles.

Our Melkite Church is distinctive in several ways. We are a Church with a separate and distinct means of internal governance known as a Church sui iuris, or a Church with a law unto itself. Our Church is made up of a Patriarch and a Synod of Bishops who govern our church in administrative ways. The bishops with the Patriarch are responsible for safe-guarding our sacred traditions such as our Liturgy and liturgical practices. They decide certain issues of discipline for our Melkite people such as the rules of fasting and abstinence. Our Patriarch and bishops are in full communion with the See of Rome and with all other Catholic Churches such as the Maronite Church, the Armenian Catholic Church and twenty-two other Churches in full communion with Rome and one another.

Our Church finds its spiritual roots in the ancient city of Antioch mentioned in the Bible (Acts 11) where the faithful were first called Christians. Our traditions, many of which are shared with the Eastern Orthodox, are ancient indeed and give great emphasis to the teachings of the early Church Fathers, especially the Greek Fathers of the Church.

We take great pride in our distinctive traditions and know that our distinctiveness adds much to the fullness of the Catholic Church where there is unity of faith and diversity in worship. There are many sources that you can read and enjoy. I suggest that you check with your local pastor for a reading list that will give you much information.

 

Question:

What is the Byzantine "Service for Making Brothers"? What applications it might have in the modern church?

Bishop John's Answer:

The "Rite of Brotherhood", or "Rite of Entering into Spiritual Brotherhood", "Rite of Fraternization" or "Adoption as Brothers" (as it is variously called in English translations, "Adelphopoiia" in Greek) appears in many manuscript forms from the ninth century on. It can be found in the famous Euchologion of Goar (originally collected and printed in1647, revised and reprinted in 1730) Usually it is located in the service books in the sections for blessings: blessing God on account of a certain happening: e.g., betrothal, cutting of a boy's hair or beard, prayers for rain, first fruits or the blessing of seed corn - things that have a natural integrity and potential of their own, to which the believer responds in praise of the Creator. It was used more commonly in the Slav-Byzantine than in the Greek-Byzantine tradition.

In our Melkite Eparchy, we make use of it in our Theosis Program (parish renewal project). Participants who agree to pledge themselves to working together as a group for a greater understanding of the faith, a more intense living out of the mystery of Church and growth in the spiritual life, receive a blessing in their good resolve and commitment. As a group, a spiritual fraternity, they take part in this ritual.

What was the intention behind the rite in earlier times? It originally seems to have been designed for creating a spiritual, rather than a natural kinship, i.e., making a bond between or among brothers (or sisters) not based on being born of the same parents, nor of becoming "blood brothers" as some cultures permitted by an actual ritual exchange of blood - but by "adopting" someone as a brother (or sister) for spiritual reasons. The prayers refer to a kinship "not by nature, but by faith and the Holy Spirit". The prayers refer to the spiritual bonds between Peter and Paul, Philip and Bartholomew (a kinship in Christ for the sake of spreading the faith), between Sergius and Bacchus (a kinship in Christ for bearing witness to the faith, as military men, in a time of persecution in the Roman Empire).

Throughout history it was used - and abused - for various reasons. Sometimes rulers used it to enter into "brotherhood pacts" with other rulers (being a type of "non-aggression" pact). At other times, it may have been forced upon combatants to bring an end to ongoing strife or vendettas. (There was a parallel reality in the medieval Western Churches). On occasion, it joined people to work together on spiritual - or commercial - projects. The Church saw a good in blessing God for sworn brotherhood, fraternity and cooperation for positive purposes. It did not "unite" those entering adopted brotherhood, but blessed God for the good reality already there (unlike crowning or other Mysteries which created a reality).

Normally the ceremony was recognized as creating a bond of adopted brotherhood between the participants. At times, this was canonically considered as an impediment to matrimony with members of the adopted brother's family. Monks were forbidden to use it, since they already belonged to a "brotherhood of adoption" in their community. Several local Churches eventually banned the used of the ceremony because of complications resulting: e.g., did the "adopted brother" have rights of inheritance when his adopted brother died? Was he legally responsible for the support of a deceased "brother's" survivors? Were "his enemies" my enemies - and what did I have to do about that? "Adoption" normally refers to parent-child relations, necessary by nature - "adoption" as a brother (or sister) does not seem to be so necessary and maybe should not be given the same importance. Because of these and other complications and questions, it was periodically suppressed. When culture and society changed from the medieval (feudal and fealty based relations) world to the modern world, it gradually fell out of use.

More recently, unfortunately some groups have tried to find in it a form of "marriage" for same sex partners. That this was not the intent can be seen in the history of its use. Most men who entered it were already married to women and had children. The nobles and rulers using it politically were generally married men. Saints mentioned in the Troparia at the end, in some manuscripts, were sometimes blood brothers by birth (e.g., Cosmas and Damian), or Apostles or Bishops (e.g. Basil and Gregory, whose bonds were clearly - in their own description of their close friendship - a spur to greater holiness and growth in Christ).

A Yale professor, John Boswell, a pro-gay advocate, wrote a "scholarly" book on Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. In it, he mentions the Adelphopoiia ceremony as a same-sex 'marriage" from the Eastern Tradition. His scholarship has been criticized and refuted by other medieval scholars - from as far away as Europe, showing his errors in having a conclusion in mind before studying the issue.

 

Question:

Are we Orthodox united with Rome? Several different people have written in asking some variation on this most fundament of questions. Since each question was directed in a slightly different way, Bishop John has chosen a rather more complete answer.

Bishop John's Answer

Sometimes I think that the Melkite Catholic Church, as well as other Byzantine Catholic Churches, enjoys the best of two worlds: Orthodoxy and Catholicism. We rejoice in the affirmation of the good Pope John XXIII that "what unites us is much greater than what divides us."

When the Patriarchate of Antioch was divided into two branches in 1724, one branch kept the name Orthodox and the other branch which sealed its union with the Holy See of Rome, kept the name Melkite given to it since the Sixth Century and called itself Catholic. It became known as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. In the Middle East, although both branches claim orthodoxy as well as catholicity, however being Catholic means not Orthodox and being Orthodox means not Catholic. To be a Catholic Christian means that one accepts the primacy of the Pope of Rome, because he is the successor of St. Peter. To be an Orthodox Christian means that one does not recognize the primacy of the Pope of Rome, but considers him as "first among equals."

According to the Catholic teaching, Christ did not create a church with five heads of equal importance. He established One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church whose invisible head is the Lord, but whose visible head is the Pope of Rome.

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches states it in these terms: "The bishop of the Church of Rome, in whom resides the office (munus) given in a special way by the Lord to Peter, first of the Apostles and to be transmitted to his successors, is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the entire Church on earth; therefore in virtue of his office (munus) he enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church which he can always freely exercise." (Canon 43 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches)

If an Orthodox subscribes to the Canon quoted above, he/she can be called Catholic and be considered "united to Rome" or in full communion with the Catholic Church.

An illustration may help: Is the Province of Quebec a province of France united to the British Crown through Canada, or a Canadian province with special relations to France? Is the Melkite Church a hundred per cent Catholic with special relations with the Orthodox Churches or a hundred per cent Orthodox with special relations to Rome. Certainly, the first case is true:

The Melkite Church is a hundred per cent Catholic, but not a hundred per cent Orthodox.

Independence and sovereignty or dependence on another Church? Such a decision is difficult to make. However, the Melkite Church has chosen dependency as a price for unity, in order to comply with the will of our Lord who prayed repeatedly "that all may be one." (John 17)

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