Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Bishop Samra at the Entrhonement

August 23, 2011

As reported by Justin Bell in PilotCatholicNews.Com

with additional photography from Kathleen Laplante's Blog Taste and See

A New Jersey native was installed as the first American born eparchial bishop in the United States for the Greek Melkite Catholic Church on August 23.

Bishop Nicholas J. Samra, 67, was installed as the Eparch of Newton during an elaborate service, called an Enthronement Liturgy, at the Melkite Cathedral of the Annunciation in West Roxbury.

The Melkite Church is an Eastern rite of the Catholic Church.

Bishop Samra was first ordained as an auxiliary bishop of Newton in 1989 and went into retirement in 2005, until his appointment as eparch this June.

After an entrance procession that included many bishops, priests, and deacons, Exarch Joseph Haggar read a letter from Pope Benedict XVI, called the Papal Bull of Designation, which declared the appointment of Bishop Samra.

Bishops at Enthronement

Bishops and Heirarchs at the Enthronement

"May the lights and joy of the Holy Spirit and under the protection of the most holy Mother of God, be always with you and with your ecclesial community which is so very dear to us," stated Pope Benedict in his letter.

The previous Eparch of Newton, Metropolitan Archbishop Cyrille Bustros of Beirut and Jbeil, thanked Bishop Samra for his work as a priest and auxiliary bishop. He also thanked the clergy, religious, and laity of the Newton Eparchy and pledged his prayers for them, while asking for their prayers in turn.

Archbishop Bustros then read a letter from Patriarch Gregory III, the head of the Melkite Church who resides in Damascus, Syria.

The patriarch wished Bishop Samra "a successful pastoral ministry founded on strength and faith in the hearts of the believers in your vast country."

"We pray that he will continue to find those we call the hidden Melkites, whom we do not know, so we can serve them the holy mysteries and that they will not feel lost in their Church, but have one Church to belong to," stated Patriarch Gregory.

Following the letter, Bishop Samra approached Archbishop Bustros to receive the shepherd's staff, escorted by various clergy. Prayers were then invoked by a deacon and the choir that the new bishop may be preserved by God for many years.

Clergy at the Enthronement

Preists and Deacons at the Enthronement

In the vesting ceremony of the liturgy, Bishop Samra received and blessed seven distinct vestments, a pectoral cross, and medallion called an engolpion. He also blessed his crown--similar to a bishop's miter in the Roman rite -- and his staff.

Following these rituals, the Divine and Holy Liturgy of John Chrysostom began. After a Gospel reading, Bishop Samra addressed the congregation.

He noted that the date was the closing of the eastern feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, marking the death or "falling asleep" of Mary. Bishop Samra called it probably the most important day of commemoration for Mary. In the Roman rite, the Dormition is celebrated as the Assumption, when Mary was taken into heaven.

In his remarks, he repeatedly pointed to Mary as an example for Christians to follow in giving flesh to Jesus. Bishop Samra cited Sacred Scripture and the Eucharist as ways for the faithful to bring Christ to others.

"Not only should we hear it, but we should digest it into our hearts and then when we leave the church, we become the word of God to the community outside," said Bishop Samra.

He noted that when the bread and wine are brought to the altar prior to the consecration, these items also represent the gifts of the people assembled.

"We say thank you to God for life and for all the aspects of life that he continues to give us -- each day of our lives -- and we take those gifts and place them on the altar, you are now there," said the bishop.

He said that God in turn gives the gifts back to the people transformed into the body and blood of Christ.

"Now Christ flows through you, but it's not over. That's nice, we're transformed, we become one body because we're one bread and one cup. It unites us together, but something more important happens, we leave the church...Now that we are transformed we go back into the world in which we live to transform it," said Bishop Samra.

Following his homily, the liturgy proceeded into the eucharistic consecration and distribution of communion. The overall ceremony incorporated English, Aramaic, and Greek words and chants.

Toward the end of the liturgy, Bishop Samra expressed thanks and signaled the dismissal of the people with a blessing gesture with two long candles, called a dikerion and trikerion.

Cathy Moody, whose grandfather came to Massachusetts from Lebanon and was one of the founding members of the cathedral, described the event as "incredible" and said she was "excited for the future of the Melkites in America."

Eric Alaimo, 27, a religion teacher from Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, is a Latin Catholic who attends the Latin Rite Mass on Saturday evening and the Melkite liturgy on Sunday morning.

"To quote Blessed John Paul II, I like to breathe with both lungs," said Alaimo, referring to the late pope's description of the Churches of the East and West as the two lungs through which the universal Church breathes.

Alaimo said the event had an extra special significance with Bishop Nicholas being American born.

"I'm curious to see where that's going to lead the Melkite Church in America," said Alaimo.



Great Honors


Wonderful News

For the People of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton

June 15, 2011

The Rt. Rev. Exarch Joseph Haggar, Administrator pro tempore of the Eparchy of Newton, announces the following:

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has given assent to the canonical election by the Holy Synod of the Melkite Catholic Church of the Most Rev. Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros as Metropolitan of Beirut and Jbeil, Lebanon, and, at the proposal of the Holy Synod of the Melkite Catholic Church, has named the Most Rev. Bishop Nicholas James Samra as Eparch of Newton.

In addition, His Holiness has also given assent to the canonical election of the Most Rev. Bishop Issam John Darwish as Archbishop of Zahleh and Furzol, Lebanon, and has named the Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Robert Rabbat as Eparch of St. Michael the Archangel of Sydney (Australia and New Zealand).

The Patriarchal Web Site announced the joyous news this way . . .

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has given his assent to the election of two archbishops, canonically elected by the Holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, at Ain Traz on 25 June 2010.

They are:

The Most Rev. Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, hitherto Eparch of Newton (USA), elected Metropolitan of Beirut and Jbeil, Lebanon; and The Most Rev. Bishop Issam John Darwish, B. S., hitherto Eparch of St Michael the Archangel of Sydney, (Australia and New Zealand), elected Archbishop of Zahleh and Furzol, Lebanon. 15 June 2011

As of today, 15 June 2011, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, at the proposal of the Holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, has named two hierarchs for the eparchies of our expansion vacant as a result of the transfer of their respective eparchs to other eparchies.

They are:

The Most Rev. Nicholas James Samra, hitherto titular Bishop of Gerasa and former Protosynkellos of the Eparchy of Newton, (USA), named Eparch of the same Eparchy of Newton; and The Rt. Rev. Archim. Robert Rabbat, hitherto rector of the Eparchial Cathedral of Newton and editor-in-chief of the eparchy’s journal Sophia, named Eparch of St Michael the Archangel of Sydney (Australia and New Zealand).

Bishop Nicholas Samra

The Rt. Rev. Exarch Joseph Haggar, Administrator pro tempore of the Eparchy of Newton, on June 15, 2011 announced the following:

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has given assent to the canonical election by the Holy Synod of the Melkite Catholic Church of the Most Rev. Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros as Metropolitan of Beirut and Jbeil, Lebanon, and, at the proposal of the Holy Synod of the Melkite Catholic Church, has named the Most Rev. Bishop Nicholas James Samra as Eparch of Newton.

Biography of Bishop Samra

Bishop Samra, who is widely recognized for his many accomplishments, has just attained another "First." Bishop Nicholas will be the first American-born Eparch of the Melkite Church in the United States. While Bishop Nicholas is well known and loved by the flock of the American eparchy, the following Wikipedia biography sketches out some of his history.

Nicholas Samra (born August 15, 1944) is the former auxiliary bishop and protosyncellus of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton in the United States. He has written extensively on the subject of ecumenism and the Eastern Catholic Churches. On Wednesday, June 15, 2011, he was appointed Bishop, or Eparch, of the Eparchy (Eastern Rite Diocese) of Newton by the Holy Father, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, replacing His Excellency, the Most Reverend Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros.

Samra was born in Paterson, New Jersey to George H. Samra and Elizabeth Balady Samra. His grandparents and his father were immigrants to the United States from Aleppo, Syria. He was ordained a priest for the Eparchy of Newton on May 10, 1970 and served as a pastor in Melkite parishes in Los Angeles, Chicago and New Jersey. Bishop Samra has a B.A. from St. Anselm's College, in Manchester, New Hampshire, and a B.D. from St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts.

On April 21, 1989 Samra was appointed Auxiliary Bishop and Protosyncellus of the Eparchy of Newton, and Titular Bishop of Gerasa, by the Holy Father, His Holiness Blessed Pope John Paul II. He was consecrated and installed on July 6 of that year by Archbishop Joseph Tawil as Auxiliary Bishop and Protosyncellus of the Eparchy of Newton and Titular Bishop of Gerasa. Samra served as Auxiliary Bishop and Protosyncellus until his retirement on January 11, 2005.

An active speaker and author, Samra has written extensively on the subject of ecumenism, Christian leadership and stewardship. He has also published a multi-volume history of the Melkite Church and a book on the legacy of Archbishop Joseph Tawil. He is the past president of the Eastern Catholic Association of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Vision of Our Church in this Third Christian Millennium

By Auxiliary Bishop Nicholas Samra

Delivered at the Annual Melkite Convention in Providence, R.I. in July of 2003

Seeds for the Melkite Church were planted in the United States in 1889 with the arrival of Fr. Abraham Bechewate in New York City, and Fr. Makarios (Al-Hajj) Nasr in Chicago in 1890. Now after 114 years the Melkite Church is spread over the whole continent – forty five communities: parishes, missions and mission stations.

The focus over these years was survival, which was not always accomplished since we closed at least ten parishes and missions during these 114 years. Some were very small communities, others were lost to the Romans and there are also various other reasons that need not be mentioned now because of time constraints.

Interestingly, on Sunday, July 27, I celebrated a Divine Liturgy, assisted by Fr. James Babcock, in Trinidad, Colorado. There we had a Melkite Church from 1914-1969, served by Fr. Clement Sawaya, BCO. Having no bishop in the USA until 1966, we knew very little about this parish community. Through researching archives in order to prepare a history of our Melkite Church, I've had some contacts with a few Melkites in Trinidad. A "Hadad Family Reunion" is scheduled in Trinidad next weekend and I've been invited to celebrate the Liturgy with the Melkite families. Our Liturgy will be one of the scheduled Liturgies at the local Roman Catholic Church of Holy Trinity to which most area Melkites go. Interestingly also is that the pastor, a Jesuit priest, is very concerned about the Eastern traditions and would like a Melkite Liturgy there more often. A resurrection of a mission? With the help of God we shall see.)

We formed ethnic communities in areas that later became Middle Eastern ghettos but began to downslide when ethnicity became less a value for a majority of our people and suburban life took them to other churches – Catholic and otherwise.

During these 114 years – we projected good values: family life, sense of community in parishes, strong focus on having a unique liturgy and traditions, etc. But we also lacked many good values by strongly encouraging religious training in (Roman) Catholic schools, dare I say that we lost at least half or more of our people to the Roman Catholic Church.

In some parishes ethnicity was the name of the game. Focus was placed on only those who were born Melkites. This is evident because some of the parishes are now closed and others are on the brink of closing.

We wrongly accepted Arabic as our liturgical language for too long rather than the proper Eastern principle that the language of the people is liturgical We involved ourselves - clergy and laity alike – in the politics of the Middle East which are so diverse and so foreign to our American way of life. We allowed people in our local parishes to divide into camps – unfortunately accepting in our parishes the modern carving out of the Middle East by European powers.

We have struggled to build and keep churches open on fund raising techniques rather than on God's plan of giving. Priests now become social directors, banquets managers, wizards in fund raising gimmicks and techniques – everything but ministers of the good news and evangelizers for Jesus Christ.

We have allowed the laity to be involved in the churches, bur most times in the wrong roles, never focusing on their spiritual talents. We have down played the ministry of all of God's people and have become very clerical.

Even after 114 years, many of our communities still struggle to pay their church bills and their priest a due and just wage.

Many of our people, a majority, I beg to offer – are not evangelized. I have served as a priest for thirty-three years in four parishes and over six missions and now fourteen years as bishop within the family of parishes that make up the local eparchial Church of Newton. I have transcribed Baptism and Marriage registers from Arabic to English in each parish I have served. Dare I say 85 to 90% of those recorded are unknown to us today in the parishes. Each and every one of our parishes should be tripled and quadrupled in size by now after 114 years; or better yet, we should have had several churches in each of the major cities like New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and others.

I offer a vision for this third Christian millennium. We need to live it today:

  1. We need a stronger and direct role of the laity. Through Baptism and Christmation each is a part of the royal priesthood; you share in the work of evangelizing and spreading Christianity. You need to live the Liturgy that is celebrated in church and in the world after you leave the church. We need to evangelize those we have within our parishes and welcome others into our communities.
  2. We need to recognize our gifts and talents for the building up of the body of Christ.
  3. We need to emphasize stewardship, the proper use of our God-given gifts, for the life and growth of the Church,. I speak of our gifts of Time, Talent and Treasure. Stewardship is not a program but a way of life.
  4. We need to re-focus on religious education, especially for the adults from whom the youth learn. In this area our Church is almost sterile; we have good people but they are very poorly formed spiritually.
  5. We need to emphasize spiritual leadership; our churches are not businesses like IBM or General Motors – they are houses of God and need to be run in a businesslike manner but never become businesses. How can we expect laity to lead without formation programs?
  6. We need to use language as a medium of communication – whether it be Arabic, English, Spanish or others. We must pray in the language of the people and not use foreign language because we like its sound or because of its antiquity or history with in our Church. The Russian and Slavic peoples would not be Christian today if Cyril and Methodius forced Greek upon them. The largest Eastern Catholic Church is the Ukrainian, with 5 million people. Following them is the Syro-Malabar, with nearly 4 million. These people are Christian because they were evangelized in their own languages. Arabic is important for those who need it and properly understand it. One of the reasons for losing so many young people is the language. If they do not understand Arabic they will filter way from our communities and go where they can understand. English is the language of our country and should be the major focus.
  7. We need to worry less about haflis and tabooli – it is not the task of our churches to propagate Arab culture. The Church's task is to propagate Christ.
  8. We need to return to financial stewardship, or God's plan of giving. We call this plan tithing. We must reeducate our people about this biblical system blessed by God. As soon as possible we need to delete the gambling and drinking fund raising techniques and teach our people to put God first. He is our hope and trust. This task is awesome and probably the most difficult, but without it we are heading towards financial and spiritual bankruptcy.
  9. We need to keep and maintain our proper traditions that are based in the East, and are so needed by our diverse communities today.
  10. We need to break the bonds of animosity, jealousy and competitions with our Orthodox brothers and sisters. We need to work on a grass roots level to prepare for our full unity.
  11. We need to say "yes" once again to the man who has a genuine vocation to the priesthood and yet is married. If God calls a person to service and we say no – how damned we shall be for rejecting what God wants.

I could go on and one with other dreams and visions but I will end with naming just these few.

Is there hope and life for our Church beyond the year 2003? YES, an emphatic YES! I strongly believe so and to it I am strongly committed.

But the Church is in our hands today. You young and you elders alike take up the arms of Christ: His Word and His Eucharistic Body and Blood, and revolt against the many unchristian ways we have accepted. Renew your communities and renew your eparchy – do this for the sake of God and His Holy Church, which is His Body today.

I conclude with a paraphrase of the words of a famous U.S. president, John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what your Church can do for you. Ask what you can do for your Church."

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