Melkite Greek Catholic Church

The Passion and Death of Christ are commemorated on Great and Holy Friday. There is no Liturgy on this day, nor any distribution of communion.

Prayer service over the oil

Recalling the ointment bearing women

Prayer service over the oil

Tomb of Christ decorated with flowers

Prayer service over the oil

Throwing rose petals onto the epitaphios

Prayer service over the oil

Epitaphios carried around the Church

Prayer service over the oil

Kissing the Icon of Christ

Prayer service over the oil

Passing from death to life!

Last Updated - Current Status and Action Plan to Assist Middle Eastern Christians


Christian Arab and Middle Eastern Churches Together (CAMECT) and Telelumiere/Noursat, the largest Arabic broadcasting Christian I television network, jointly organized a Symposium "Christianity in the Middle East: Ancient Yet Ever New" on February 20-22, 2009, hosted by the Chaldean Catholic Church of Detroit. The Symposium focused on the Christian contribution to the life of the Middle East, especially, schools, monasteries, hospitals, social charities, ecumenism, interfaith dialogue and work for peace and justice.

Press Release Reprinted from Sophia, Winter 2009

A bell of warning was tolled that the Middle Eastern Christians are now only about 7 percent of the total population of the region. The majority lives in Egypt and Lebanon while some live in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Jordan and Palestinian territories. In almost all places in the Middle East they are minorities.

Most of the Middle Eastern Churches have dioceses or sister churches in the United States and throughout the world. In this connection, the participants expressed the opinion that the religions of the Middle East are not only Judaism and Islam. For that reason, participants pointed out that there is a great need to inform the American public that Middle Eastern Christians continue to exist as one of the important religious communities of that region, that despite their sufferings, the Holy Spirit helps them survive and witness to Christ. Participants appealed to all to support the continuing presence of Christians in the region and their efforts to live and prosper in peace.

Christians have made and continue to make important contributions to the development of Middle Eastern culture; they promote a significant spiritual climate through monasticism, they provide through schools and universities a good education, they care for the sick through hospitals and clinics and they render generous service to the poor, Christians and non Christians alike, and in the 20th Century, they promoted the movement of Christian Unity, which became a sign of hope for the unity of all peoples and nations.

At one point, the participants addressed the present politico-religious challenges making many Middle East Christians leave the Middle East because they are losing hope in the future. Nonetheless, it was recognized that the Christians want to continue to live in their motherland and witness to the region where Jesus was born and where Christianity has been rooted for the last 2000 years. To be able to promote love and peace between all peo­ples, they want to find with Jews and Muslims a formula that is neither secular, nor ethnocentric, nor theocratic, but respects religion and guarantees plurality, equality and freedom.

Middle East Christians are increasingly focusing on inter-religious collaboration in promoting dialogue instead of conflict and in finding with others, the proper solution to the present ideological and spiritual crises in their region. Their hope is also to promote peace in order to secure common living between all human beings who have been created in "the image and likeness of God" (Genesis 1:27).

At the end of the Symposium, the panelists agreed that all efforts in the United States as well as abroad should focus on four areas of support of the Christians of the Middle East:

Developmental Aid:

US officials, organizations and individuals should financially support Christian institutions, churches, and monasteries. They should invest in the Middle East to create jobs that will keep young people from emi­grating overseas. Expatriates should do more to assist their relatives and fellow Christians in their countries of origin.

Media Backing:

US Christians are reminded that spreading the Good News is the sacred mission of every Christian. By supporting Noursat, they support the efforts to share the light of Christ in the Middle East. Active collaboration in establishing "Media City" in Lebanon with its three satellite stations, its different offices representing all the Churches of the region, and its extensive archives and media resources will help enhance the attachment of Christians of all nationalities to their homeland.

Political Help:

By petitioning their representatives and officials, Americans can play an active role in influencing their government's positions in defense of minority rights in the Middle East as well as their human rights.

Spiritual Assistance:

Christians of the world are encouraged to offer prayer and sacrifice to alleviate the sufferings and hardship their brothers and sisters endure in the Middle East. They should come to a greater appreciation of the fact that Christianity, which began in the Middle East, continues to exist there. A day of prayer for the Christians in the Middle East, perhaps on the Visitation Feast Day (March 25th), may be chosen. Likewise, organizing pilgrimages to the land where Jesus was born will definitely bring together the two wings of Christianity, East and West. Ultimately, Christians must realize that the Bible is not only the printed book but also the way this book is being lived in this world.

Updated: Images of Pascha

Glorious and Holy Easter Sunday

The word Easter refers to the season of the rising sun, to new life of spring. The same feast is called Passover, or Pascha by many nations. The Hebrew Passover (Pasach) was instituted to commemorate the deliverance of the people of Israel the night before their departure from Egypt. The angel of God destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians, but "passed over" the houses of the Israelites.

By God's command, communicated by Moses, each Hebrew family was to slay a lamb without blemish and sprinkle its blood on the door frame. The lamb was to be roasted in the evening. No bones were to be broken, and it was to be eaten with unleavened bread. The same rite was to be repeated every year in a solemn ceremony on the eve of the feast, as it is still being done by Jewish people everywhere. Jesus observed it on the night before He died.

There is a significant link between the Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover since Christ died on Passover Day. The Jewish custom is also symbolic of Christ, "the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John, 1:29). Hence the name and signification of the Hebrew Pasch was devoutly accepted and used by the Church.

Invitation to Take light from the Light

Invitation to "Take light from the Light

that never Fades"

Procession outside begins

Procession outside begins

Approaching the altar outside of the church

Approaching the altar outside of the church

Litany of Peace

Litany of Peace

"O Christ Our Savior, the angels in heaven sing a hymn of praise to your resurrection. As for us who dwell on earth, make us worthy to glorify You with pure hearts."

Proclaiming the Resurrection

Proclaiming the Resurrection

Christ Is Risen!!!

The Easter Service Continues . . .

Updated: Images of the Pascha Liturgy Continued

On this glorious and holy day, the whole Church celebrates with joy the final triumph and life-giving resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. After the long period of darkness brought about by original sin, after the seemingly endless expectation of the prophets, after the glad tidings of the nativity that came to pass, when the time had come, after the thirty hidden years and the three years of public life, after the frightful passion which had seemed to be the end of all hope, after the two days in the depth of the tomb, behold: CHRIST IS RISEN !

Indeed, indeed, He is risen, all is true, every promise of God has been fulfilled; the Savior has come, the Lamb of God has been sacrificed to take away the sins of the world, and supremely triumphant in his apparent defeat, He has crushed death by his death and restored everlasting life through his resurrection!


Faithful Proclaim the Resurrection!

Christ is Risen!!


Rapping on the doors symbolizing
Christ's Descent into Hades


Entering the Church for Orthros

and Divine Liturgy


Distributing Pascha eggs

A sign of Christ's Resurrection


Breaking the Pascha eggs


Greeting, "Christ is Risen!"

Response, "He is Truly Risen"


Glorious Tomb of the Risen Christ


Celebrating the Good News

Images of Great and Holy Wednesday

Monday - On this day are commemorated the story of the Ten Virgins who went out to meet the Bridegroom, and that of Joseph, son of Jacob, whose brothers sold him to the Egyptians, but who remained pure and faithful to God. He is a prototype of Christ, persecuted by his own people and delivered by them to foreigners, but raised up by God to be King and Master of all nations. The third lesson of the day is the curse of the fig tree condemned by Christ because it bore no fruit. So shall we be condemned if we do not bear the fruits of penance, humility and renouncement to illicit worldly pleasures.

Tuesday - The story of the Ten Virgins is recalled once more, then that of the men who had received different talents. Any gift from the Lord must be worked and made to fructify. The last judgment and the end of the world are also remembered.

Wednesday - The example of Mary of Magdala is remembered on this day: how she washed the Lord's feet with her tears of love and repentance, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with costly perfume.

Oil Service for the Sacrament of Holy Unction

Oil Service for the Sacrament of Holy Unction

Prayer service over the oil

Prayer service over the oil

"Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night: blessed is the servant He shall find awake.

Do not fall into deep slumber, lest you be delivered to death and the door of the kingdom be closed on you."

The Gospel is sung over the oil

The Gospel is sung over the oil

Veneration of the Gospel

Veneration of the Gospel

Anointing of the Deacon

Anointing of the Deacon


A Photograph Album of the Melkite Services from Palm Sunday through Pascha with notes from the Byzantine Daily Worship by Archbishop Joseph Raya.

Holy Wednesday

Holy Thursday

Good Friday

Holy Saturday

Palm Sunday

Easter Sunday

Updated: Images of Palm Sunday

During the fourth century, at the very place where the glorious entrance into Jerusalem had occurred, Palm Sunday was commemorated in the following fashion: first, a public reading of the gospel in which Christ is hailed as the King of Israel taking possession of his capital city, Jerusalem, symbol of the Heavenly City; then a bishop, riding an ass and surrounded by a multitude of people carrying palms and singing hymns, went up to the Church of the Resurrection. Every Eastern Church took up this celebration in the form of a procession. This also was adopted by the Church of Rome in the year 1039.

“O Christ God, enthroned in Heaven and on earth riding upon a colt, You have accepted the praise of the Angels and the hymns of the children who were crying out to You: 'Blessed are You who come to restore Adam.' ”

Procession begins

Procession begins

Blessing of the palms

Blessing of the palms

Leaving the Church

Leaving the Church

Procession continues around the Church

Procession continues around the Church

Father Philaret Proclaiming the Gospel of the Feast

Proclaiming the Gospel of the Feast

The Office of the Burial of Christ

The Office is a meditation on the Savior's entombment and on his descent into Hades to save the souls of the just and open for them the gates of heaven. It is marked throughout with faith an hope, since the time of Christ remained in the tomb is seen by Christians as a period of refreshing sleep after the sufferings of the Passion, and as a prelude to the victory of the Resurrection.

Prayer service over the oil

Hades tearfully sighs! Darkness, no candles

Prayer service over the oil

Light of Christ enlightens all!

Prayer service over the oil

Procession of the New Light!

Prayer service over the oil

Spreading of the Laurel leaves

Prayer service over the oil

Proclaiming Christ's victory over death

with Laurel leaves

"The angel stood by the tomb and said to the ointment-bearing women: 'Ointments are for the dead, but Christ has proven Himself free from decay.'"

Aug 142010

The Melkites

The Melkites, or Byzantine rite Catholics of Middle Eastern origin, are the descendants of the early Christians of Antioch (Syria). Christianity was established in this area of the Middle East by St. Peter before he traveled on to the imperial city of Rome. In the 5th century, there arose some teachers who said that Christ was not truly God and truly man as well. They would not accept the teaching of the Catholic Church as defined by the Council of Chalcedon (451A.D.) Those in the Middle East who did accept the decision of Chalcedon followed the lead of the Byzantine emperor and were dubbed Melkites or King's Men from the Aramaic word "melek" meaning King.

So Melkites are the present day Catholics who follow the Byzantine worship, theology, and spirituality whose tradition is in the Middle East. The Melkites are not members of the Orthodox Church.

Melkites are members of the Catholic Church.

Antioch was one of the first cities to become a center of the Christian faith. It was in Antioch that St. Paul started his first apostolic journey, and before Peter was in Rome, he was the head of the Church of Antioch.. One of the most important Antiocheans of the earlier church was St. John Chrystostom

In 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea the patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch were established. Like the patriarchate of Jerusalem (Council of Chalcedon 451 A.D.) Antioch was both a territorial and juridical entity. The government of the church was held by the Sees of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The bishops of these sees were given the title of Patriarch. After the capitol of the Roman empire was moved to Constantinople, that city was also elevated to a Patriarchal see (381A.D.) and given the ranking of "second only to the See of Peter" (Rome).

With the seventh century onslaught of the Islamic conquest of the Middle East, the Melkites found themselves under non-Christian domination. During most of this first Islamic period the Melkites were well treated as a "protected people, but they were frequently denied all civic and social responsibilities. When the Byzantine Empire re-conquered the Middle East, the fashions of Constantinople were incorporated into the liturgical life of the Melkite Church. Between 960 and 1085 A.D. much of the imperial style of Constantinople became a part of the Melkite ritual. Despite the now close ties to Constantinople, the Melkite peoples never broke off relations with Rome and with the Pope.

The great strain between the Melkite Church and Rome happened because of the Crusader. When the Western Catholics came into the Holy Land they did not recognize the legitimacy of the Eastern methods of worship. In the worst cases marauding Crusaders ransacked orthodox churches, and at best cases they simply installed Latin patriarchs and bishops usurping the local control of the church. By the end of the Crusades there was an estrangement between the churches, but the Melkites never actually broke off relations with Rome.

The reign of the Mamelukes from 1250 to 1516 put an end to the Western occupation of the Middle East but it also brought harsh reprisals on the Christians of Anitioch. Sustained destruction of religious sites, persecutions of clergy, and massacres of faithful led to a depopulation of entire Christian communities. For at least two centuries after the Ottoman conquest in 1516, the persecutions continued unabated. The Turkish sultan wanted his capital, Constantinople, to be the religious capital of the East, so he gave the Ecumenical Patriarch complete authority over all the Melkite hierarchy. Although the Antiochean church was under the direct control of the Orthodox Church, the Melkites managed to maintain some links to Rome. Because the Melkite patriarchs were chosen from the local clergy, the church remained in union with Rome while under the direction of Constantinople. Some of the Melkite hierarchs were more disposed to Constantinople, while others favored the authority of Rome - but as "the church in the middle," the Melkites retained their allegiance to the Holy See.

In the 1600's western missionaries to the Middle East found fertile ground among the Melkites who were eager to obtain an educated clergy. Soon the Jesuits, Cappuchins, Carmelites, and Franciscans were educating and preaching the Word to a Melkite faithful starved for religious resources. . In 1709 Patriarch Cyril V formally recognized the authority of the Pope of Rome as the head of the Church. Some of the Antiochean faithful looked to the West for salvation of their church, while others only saw the missionaries as outsiders who did not understand their eastern customs, ancestral laws, and had not gone through the centuries of deprivations. As a result in 1724 the church split in two. One faction under the influence of Constantinople became known at the Antiochean Orthodox, while the other group, loyal to Rome, became known at the Melkite Catholics.

Since the formal declaration of Roman/Melkite union in 1724, the Melkite Catholics have worked steady to be a "voice for the East within the Western Church." Melkite Patriarch Gregory Joseph spent his thirty-three years working for union of the Churches while striving to maintain the Eastern traditions and rituals. His was a significant voice during the deliberations of the first Vatican Council and he was an important influence on Pope Leo XIII's Orientalium Dignit. During Vatican II, it was Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV who spoke on behalf of the "absent brother", the great Orthodox Church. And so, today, the Melkite Catholics are a small but vibrant voice within the Catholic Church; a voice calling upon the dignity of the orthodox faith and praying for the unity of the church of Christ.

The Role of Melkites in the Universal Church

Melkites serve as a witness to the Roman Catholic Church. We have, for centuries, maintained such practices as a married clergy, the election of bishops by the Church as a whole, collegial government and so forth. Many of these features are unknown to Roman Catholics and many Catholics feel that our practices may be more suited to today's world than their Roman counterpoint. Our presence is a witness to the universality of the Catholic Church.

Melkites also serve as a witness to the Eastern Orthodox Churches. To the extent that we are true to ourselves, we exist as a living example that one can be true to a different heritage and yet be truly Catholic, i.e. in communion with Rome. Thus we exist as an example, for good or bad, of what other Churches can expect if and when they too achieve a union with the Church of Rome.

Melkites also provide a different option for people searching for Christ. Any church exists to bring its people to Christ. There are many for who the 'style of Christian living' practiced in our Church is more compatible than contemporary Western forms. For these people the Melkite Church can serve a very important function; it can be their way to God.


Introduction by Robert F. Taft, S.J., Pontifical Oriental Institute

L'Eglise Grecque Melkite au Councile (The Melkite Greek Church at the Council) was the original title of this book, first published in French in 1967. Then as now, twenty-five years later, it would be difficult to imagine a book of this title about the role of any other Eastern Catholic Church at Vatican II. At that time no other Eastern Church in communion with Rome had as yet played any significantly "Eastern" leadership role in the wider Catholic Church. In the case of the Ukrainian and Romanian Catholic Churches, this was prevented by persecution. In the case of other Churches, their insignificant numbers or the vagaries of their history rendered any such corporate role unlikely, though outstanding individual bishops from these Churches, such as Ignatius Ziade, Maronite Archbishop of Beirut, and Isaac Ghattas, Coptic Catholic Bishop of Luxor-Thebes, gave eloquent voice to the aspirations of these Churches too. But if size or persecution explains why other Churches played no notable corporate role at Vatican II, this does not explain why the Melkite Church did. To what, then, can one attribute the remarkable role of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church at the Council? In his Preface to the 1967 French edition of this volume, Patriarch Maximos IV attributes it, first, to the fact that the Catholic Melkites had never lost contact with their Orthodox roots, and thus never became closed in on themselves. This allowed them to discern what is essential (i.e., Catholic) from what is contingent (i.e., Latin) in Catholicism, enabling them at Vatican II to witness to a pensee complementaire, another, complementary way of seeing things, as a counterbalance to Latin Catholic unilateralism. Maximos IV also offers a second reason: the synodal cohesion of the Melkite hierarchy (at that time the patriarch with sixteen bishops and four general religious superiors) in its pre-conciliar discussions preparatory to Vatican II, and the consequent unity of its voice at the Council. We see this exemplary Eastern conciliarity from the start, in the letter of August 29, 1959, accompanying the first Melkite response to the Preparatory Commission of the Council: "We have believed it more useful to give our proposals together, in common..." This was collegiality ante factum, long before the later work of the Council had made this ecclesiology common coin. With the advantages of hindsight, I would suggest adding to Maximos' list three other reasons that facilitated Melkite leadership at Vatican II: 1) education; 2) courageous, intelligent, innovative leadership; 3) imaginative and universal vision. None of these can be considered traditional clerical virtues. By training and tradition, the clergy are more inclined to conservatism, obedience, regularity, stability, the attributes of any social organization, where too much imagination is a liability, and routine is prized above initiative. First, education – All of us are at once the beneficiaries as well as the victims of our background and training. Eastern Catholicism is often criticized, sometimes exaggeratedly, for its "Westernization," an accusation, every honest person must admit, that contains some truth. This Westernization has brought with it obvious disadvantages, specifically a certain erosion of the Eastern heritage. But every coin has two sides, and contact with the "West," a term some Orthodox writers use like a "four-letter word," has also had decided advantages. It is "Western" culture that invented "modernity" with its traditional values of pluralism, civility, respect for individuals and their rights, and an intellectual, artistic and cultural life that strives to be free of outside restraint or manipulation, and seeks to be objective, even-handed, and fair. These ideals may not always be realized, but in the West they are at least ideals, and one cannot always say the same for the Christian East, where it is not uncommon even for representatives of the intellectual elite to engage in the most grotesque caricatures of the Christian West. But from that same bugaboo one can learn the "Western" secular values of intellectual honesty, coherence, consistency, self-criticism, objectivity, fairness, dialogue; moderation and courtesy of tone and language even when in disagreement; and a reciprocity which, eschewing all "double-standard" criticism, applies the same criteria and standards of judgment to one's interlocutor and his thought and actions that one applies to one's own. Such "Western" values lead to cultural openness and the desire to know the other. Just look at the endless list of objective, positive, sympathetic—yes—"Western" studies and publications on the Christian East, its Fathers, its spirituality, its liturgy, its monasticism, its theology, its history. How preferable this is to the ghetto-like insularity, the smug self-satisfaction of those convinced they have nothing to learn from anyone else! So a dose of the "West" can be good medicine for the East, and Melkite bishops at Vatican II, imbued with what was best in the superb postwar French Catholic intellectual tradition, speaking French fluently and thus accessible to personal contacts and dialogue, were enabled to understand and appreciate what was happening in the Catholic Church in a way they never could have done with a simplistic caricature-image and paranoid rejection of the "West." That is why the Melkites at Vatican II were repeatedly called a "bridge" between East and West: they knew both sides of the river and could mediate between them. Those who would deny this should remember that it is a question here of the lived experience of the Catholic Church, and only Catholics can judge that. So if Eastern Catholics at Vatican II were not a bridge between Orthodoxy and Rome—and only the Orthodox can decide that—Catholics experienced them to be a bridge that allowed the voice of the East to be heard at the Council sessions. Of the other qualities, courageous, intelligent, innovative leadership was not proper to the Melkite bishops alone but shared by all the great progressive leaders of Vatican II, to the discomfiture of the conservative minority and the astonished admiration of the rest of the world. Peculiar to the Melkites, however, was the disproportion between their conciliar leadership and their numbers, a patriarch and a mere sixteen bishops awash in a Latin sea. Equally unique to the Melkite Council Fathers as a group was the truly remarkable imaginative and universal vision they showed. Altogether too often, Eastern Christians think only within their own frame of reference, address only their own problems, protest only against injustices done to them, further only their own interests. Not so the Melkites. In addition to being among the first to state categorically that the Council should avoid definitions and condemnations, the list of important items of general import on the Vatican II and post-conciliar agenda that the Melkite bishops first proposed is simply astonishing: the vernacular, eucharistic concelebration and communion under both species in the Latin liturgy; the permanent diaconate; the establishment of what ultimately became the Synod of Bishops held periodically in Rome, as well as the Secretariat (now Pontifical Council) for Christian Unity; new attitudes and a less offensive ecumenical vocabulary for dealing with other Christians, especially with the Orthodox Churches; the recognition and acceptance of Eastern Catholic communities for what they are, "Churches," not "rites." But for the Melkites, perhaps none of the above qualities would have "worked" without the audacious yet unfailingly courteous courage of Maximos IV and his close collaborators. I first encountered this in 1959, I think it was, just after returning from three years teaching in Baghdad. I was doing Russian studies at Fordham University in New York, preparing for theological studies and ordination in the Byzantine-Slavonic Rite. With barely repressible glee the late Father Paul Mailleux, S.J., then superior of the Byzantine Jesuit Community of the Russian Center at Fordham, showed me a copy of a letter Maximos IV had sent to an American cardinal. For some time the Byzantine Rite Jesuits of that community had, on occasion, been following the lead of the U.S. Melkites in celebrating the Byzantine Divine Liturgy in English, in accordance with the age-old principle of the Byzantine Churches to use whatever language, vernacular or not, was deemed pastorally most suitable in the circumstances. The cardinal had written Patriarch Maximos to challenge this practice, surely not because of any special concern for the East, but, as with the issue of married clergy, from fear of "contamination." This was before the vernacular debate at Vatican II, and if U.S. Catholics were exposed to Eastern Catholic Eucharists, especially in their own parish churches on the dies orientales or "Oriental Days" held in those years to acquaint Western Catholics with the East, they might be led to the ineluctable conclusion that vernacular liturgy was not only possible, but a good thing. Here as elsewhere, Melkite attitudes and usage were prophetic, and the cardinal's fears real. Maximos IV, fully conscious of being an Eastern patriarch and not some curial dependent, responded with dignity and courtesy, but with great firmness and unambiguous clarity, that the liturgical languages of the Byzantine Church were none of His Eminence's business. It is of such stuff that leaders are made. And prophets too. For it is thus that in North America, Melkites and others, celebrated Catholic Eucharistic liturgies in English long before anyone ever heard of Vatican II. But Maximos IV did not stand alone at Vatican II. He was the first to acknowledge the synodal, collegial nature of the Melkite enterprise, and other major Melkite council figures like Archbishops Elias Zoghby, Neophytos Edelby, Peter Medawar, and our own Archbishop Joseph Tawil, also made the trenchant and eloquent "Voice of the East" heard at Vatican II. In this same context I must mention one of my own heroes, Archimandrite Oreste Kerame (+1983), who, though not a bishop, was a major source of Melkite thought at Vatican II. A former Jesuit, he left the order in 1941, in the name of a higher fidelity, when it was not so easy to be a member of a Latin religious order and at the same time a convinced ecumenist totally dedicated to preserving and living the traditions of the Christian East. In long conversations in French with him in his later years, I had confirmed what had always been a guiding principle of my own double vocation as an Eastern Rite member of a Latin religious order: whenever there is a conflict, real or apparent (i.e., so perceived by superiors), between the demands of my rite and those of the order, the rite, an ecclesial reality superior to the contingent customs of any religious order, congregation, or monastery, must always take precedence. Fortunately, the problem has never arisen for me in any substantive way, for times have changed since the early 1940s. The December 25, 1950, letter and decree of the Jesuit General John Baptist Janssens, Pro ramo orientali Societatis Iesu (On The Eastern Branch of the Society of Jesus), can be considered the Magna Carta of Eastern-Rite Jesuits. It legislates explicitly that they are to live their rite in its integrity, and elements of the Jesuit Institute that by nature pertain to the Latin Rite do not apply to them. Kerame, whose love for the Society of Jesus never lessened in spite of the painful choice he was forced to make, not only lived long enough to witness this greater openness in the Catholic Church. His life and thought prepared for it. But when all is said and done, our basic point of reference will always remain the great figure of Patriarch Maximos IV and the role he played in his own and the broader Church during the twenty critical years (October 30, 1947-November 5, 1967) of his historic patriarchate. Among the dozen or so most quoted Council Fathers in the published histories of Vatican II, he gave from the start a hitherto unimaginable importance to the Eastern Catholic minority at the Council by the content and elan of his interventions. The legendary Xavier Rynne first brought him to the attention of Americans in his gripping account of Session I serialized in The New Yorker, awakening the Western mass-media to the importance of this hitherto ignored minority. Rynne described Maximos as "the colorful and outspoken Melchite patriarch, His Beatitude Maximus IV Saigh, of Antioch," and spoke of His Beatitude's conciliar interventions as "laying the cards squarely on the table as was his custom, and speaking in French, as was also his habit." At Session I of the Council, Maximos' electrifying opening speech on October 23, 1962, set the tone for the Melkite onslaught on the one-sided, Latin vision of the Church. He refused to speak in Latin, the language of the Latin Church, but not, he insisted, of the Catholic Church nor of his. He refused to follow protocol and address "Their Eminences," the cardinals, before "Their Beatitudes," the Eastern patriarchs, for in his ecclesiology patriarchs, the heads of local Churches, did not take second place to cardinals, who were but second-rank dignitaries of one such communion, the Latin Church. He also urged the West to allow the vernacular in the liturgy, following the lead of the East, "where every language is, in effect, liturgical." And he concluded, in true Eastern fashion, that the matter at any rate should be left to the local Churches to decide. All this in his first intervention at the first session! No wonder numerous Council Fathers, overcoming their initial surprise, hastened to congratulate him for his speech. And no wonder it hit the news. That was a language even journalists impervious to the torturous periods of "clericalese" could understand. Maximos spoke simply, clearly, directly—and he spoke in French.
Has the post-conciliar Melkite Church lived up to its promise at Vatican II? Indeed, have any of us? Ideals always have a head start on reality—that is why we call them ideals, something not yet fully attained, that towards which we strive. So it is natural that certain Melkite ideas advanced at the Council remain undeveloped and unrealized in the Catholic Church: the principle that collegiality should be operative not just among bishops, but on the diocesan level, between the bishop and his presbyterate; that the laity, especially women, should be given their proper dignity and role in church life; that adequate hierarchical provision be made, as a pastoral right and not as a concession dependent on the good will of anyone, for the pastoral care of Eastern Catholics in the diaspora; that a more supple, nuanced view, like that of the Orthodox Churches, be allowed regarding the remarriage of unjustly abandoned spouses; that the problem of the date of Easter be resolved in ecumenical agreement with other Churches; that the Roman Curia assume its proper place within a healthy ecclesiology, no longer operating as a substitute for the apostolic college of bishops, or pretending to possess and exercise incommunicable powers which belong by divine right to the supreme pontiff alone, and cannot be delegated to or arrogated by anyone else. As for the Melkite Church itself, there can be no denying that Melkites, like many others, are often better at giving speeches and making proposals than at observing them. Even before the Council, Melkite rhetoric and Melkite reality have often been miles apart. So much work remains to be done. May this welcome translation of an historic book be a stimulus to getting on with it.

Robert F. Taft, S.J.

Pontifical Oriental Institute




  1. Cited in "Vatican II: 25 ans apres," Le Lien 55.1-2 (janvier-avril 1990) 37.
  2. Further documentation in N. Edelby, "The Byzantine Liturgy in the Vernacular," in Maximus IV Sayegh (ed.), The Eastern Churches and Catholic Unity (New York: Herder & Herder 1963) 195-218.
  3. X. Rynne, Letters from Vatican City (London: Faber & Faber 1963) 26, 85.
  4. Ibid., 102-5.

Table of Contents

Click on the Chapter to read online - or Click on "DOWNLOAD" for the PDF version of the document

Preface - Download

Chapter 1 – Preparation for the Council - Download

A. At the stage of the Ante-preparatory Commission

Note on Reconciliation with the Orthodox

Questions to be Submitted to the Council

Calling upon Non-Roman Collaborators

B. At the Stage of the Preparatory Commissions

For a Permanent Roman Organization on Ecumenical Matters

The Language of the Council Organization and Internal Regulation of the Council Invitation of Non-Catholics to the Council Remarks concerning a New Formula for the Profession of Faith

C. Patriarchal Letter on the Eve of the Council

Chapter 2 – Divine Revelation - Download

Sources of Revelation

The Absence of Eastern Theology

Growth and Progress of the Living Tradition in the Church

Scripture and Tradition in the Eastern Perspective

Chapter 3 – The Liturgy - Download

Various Aspects of Liturgical Reform

For the Use of Living Languages in the Liturgy

Concelebration and Communion under Both Species

Setting the Date for Pascha

Chapter 4 – The Mystery of the Church - Download

The Unilateral Aspect of Roman Ecclesiology

The Absence of Eastern Theology

The Church and the Churches

The Call to Holiness in the Church

Mary and the Church

Chapter 5 – The Constitution on the Church - Download

Priority for the Question of the Episcopate

Episcopal Collegiality

The Pope and the Origin of the Bishops' Powers

The Divine Constitution of the Church

Five Declarations of Principle

What Eastern Theology Says

Primacy and Infallibility

Chapter 6 – The Patriarchs in the Church - Download

The Rank of the Patriarchs at the Council

Memorandum on the Rank of the Patriarchs in the Church

For an Amelioration of the Conciliar Schema

The Patriarchate and the Cardinalate

Latin Patriarchs of the East

Final Declarations on the Patriarchate


Chapter 7 – The Episcopate and the Roman Curia - Download

The Pope, the Roman Curia, and the Episcopate

For a "Synod of Bishops" around the Pope

Episcopal Conferences

Episcopal "Faculties" or Pontifical "Reservations"?

Dividing Dioceses

Internationalization of the Roman Curia

Reform of the Holy Office

Ecclesiastical Censures and the Holy Office

Restoring the Free Election of Bishops in the Eastern Church

Memorandum on the Interpretation of a Conciliar Decree

Chapter 8 – Formation and Life of the Clergy - Download

The Formation of Priests

The Diaconate

Priesthood and Celibacy2

Fair Remuneration for Priests

Chapter 9 – The Religious Life - Download

Chapter 10 – The Laity - Download

The Apostolate of the Laity

Concrete Examples of Lay Apostolate

The Place of Non-Christians and of Women in the People of God

Chapter 11 – The Eastern Catholic Churches - Download

The "Rites" in the Church

Observations of the Synod on the First Conciliar Schema

Observations of the Synod on the Second Conciliar Schema

The Rite of Easterners Desiring Union with Rome

The Multiplicity of Catholic Jurisdictions in the Catholic Near East

Hierarchies for Eastern Immigrants

Public Discussion of the Conciliar Schema

Chapter 12 - Ecumenism - Download

The Requirements for Union

The Importance of the Secretariat for Christian Unity and Christians of the East The Ecumenical Movement

"Communicatio in Sacris"

Chapter 13 – The Missionary Church - Download

The Missions and the Roman Pontiff

For an East That Is Again Missionary

Mission in Eastern Theology

Chapter 14 – The Church and Other Religions - Download

The Jewish Problem at the Council and the Arab Reactions

Chapter 15 – Marriage and the Family - Download

Indissolubility of Marriage

Birth Control

Mixed Marriages

Chapter 16 – The sacraments of the Church - Download

The Minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation

The Sacrament of Penance

Penitential Discipline of the Church


Mass Stipends

Non-Catholic Ministers and their Admission to Holy Orders

Chapter 17 - Catholic Education - Download

The Infallible Magisterium


Catholic Schools

Chapter 18 – Codification of Canon Law - Download

Against the Drawing up of Single Code for East and West

Chapter 19 – The Church and the Modern World - Download

For a New Presentation of Morals

The Profound Causes of Atheism

The Serving Church

The Church of the Poor

The Church and Human Rights

Condemnation of War

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