Melkite Greek Catholic Church


Gospel of the Egyptians "In the last year I was given a handoutby a homilist that quoted from the "The Gospel of the Egyptians" included in the "The Nag Hammadi Library". (The Nag Hammadi Library is a collection of Gnostic texts).

The quote was as follows: "Three powers came forth from the great invisible Spirit, they are the Father, the Mother and the Son." The priest/homilist said thatthe "Father, the Mother and the Son meant the Trinity according to nature, not according to Church Doctrine, and that we should think of God as Father, Mother and Son. I heard this message again to-day, that the Trinity is Father, Mother, and Son, and that motherhood had to do withthe personhood of the Trinity.

As Christians can we accept this teaching derived from the Gospel of the Egyptians, when the Creed of Nicea I and Constantinople I teaches that God's name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the whole of our Melkite Liturgy confirms the latter?

Bishop John's Answer:

The Egyptian Trinity teaching is a strange teaching to which we do not subscribe as Melkite Catholics in full communion and in full agreement theologically with the Catholic Church at large. There have been too many heretical teachings in history. Some are beautiful poetically, but theologically incorrect. I think that, in this case, the Gospel of the Egyptians is theologically incorrect.


Snakes on Icons: Often we observe snakes or sea monsters under the feet of Christ in the icon of the Theophany, in the Jordan river . Why are they there, what do they mean?

Bishop John's Answer:

What is the meaning of the snakes that we see under His feet in the icon of Christ's baptism in the River Jordan?

You ask an interesting question about the traditional icon of the Lord's baptism in the River Jordan often called a Theophany. All icons are meant to teach us a cherished lesson of the faith. Icons are didactic. At the Lord's baptism, His divinity was made clear. The Lord is fully God and fully human. The Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form a dove and the Father's voice was heard to say: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Hear Him."

The snakes (dragons) that you notice under the feet of the Lord as He stands in the waters of the Jordan River are symbols of demons and Satan. The Lord crushes them under His feet. We remember that we are saved from the domination and dominion of Satan when we are baptized in imitation of the Lord. In the baptismal ceremony, the priest prays an exorcism over the person about to be baptized and prays that the Lord will "rebuke the unclean spirits and crush them beneath the feet of the newly baptized". When blessing the waters of baptism, the priest prays again, "Lord, we confess (acknowledge) Your power. You did walk with men and did bless the waters of the River Jordan (at Your baptism) by sending down your Holy Spirit who crushed the heads of the dragons (demons) who lurked there (and elsewhere in the world)."

We are reminded of the great transformation that occurs in us when we are baptized. We are claimed by Christ and are no longer under the power and dominion of Satan. We are sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and made living temples of the Most High God. We are changed and empowered by grace, and, if we cooperate with God's grace, we are assured victory over Satan and his demons. You noticed an important lesson depicted in this icon. It is good to notice the rich lessons that are written by the hand of the icon painter for our nourishment and reflection.



"My question is regarding the position of an Eastern Catholic (a Greek-Catholic, such as a Melchite) as to the pope's encyclicals. In particular, this came up in a discussion on Humanae Vitae and a person made the statement that the encyclical only pertained to the Roman Catholics and didn't concern us at all, especially since the "Orthodox Church" has a different position on birth control. It is my understanding that we are not "Orthodox in communion with Rome" but we are Greek Catholics in union with Rome therefore we are obliged to accept Roman doctrines such as Purgatory, Papal Infallibility and their positions on birth control. Is this true?

Bishop John's Answer:

When we declared our union with Rome - in consistency with Apostolic tradition interrupted somehow by historical circumstances - we accepted the Catholic faith in its entirety. We do recognize the authority of the Pope of Rome, including universal jurisdiction and infallibility for whatever concerns faith and morals. It is true that the Western Theologians themselves have their own debates concerning these points; so we should not be "more papist that the Pope;" but Catholic is Catholic and truth is truth. We cannot pose as "Orthodox united to Rome" only for what suits us. I do mean it when we pray every day, at the Divine Liturgy, for "unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit."

There is no 'Eastern truth' vs 'Western truth'. Truth is one. It may be articulated according to various cultural expressions, but truth is super-cultural. Truth should not be restricted by "party line" positions. We should accept or reject ideas for their worth and not for an artificial attachment to a given "identity." The Church teaches truth. If something is true, it would be absurd to say "Oh, we don't believe that in the East." This seems to be where we get short-circuited in ecumenical "dialogue." All too frequently, such "dialogue" seems to presuppose a relativism where you speak "your truth" and I'll speak "my truth" and we'll just leave it at that. A sort of ecumenical schizophrenia.

As to the Catholic position on birth control, we have no choice to accept it or leave it. If we leave the Catholic position, can we still pretend to be Catholic? "Humanae Vitae" is a given. However time is too short here to elaborate on its interpretations and implications by various theologians and National Episcopal Conferences. I must add, however, that Humanae Vitae is now much more appreciated in many academic circles as we come to realize its merit, especially regarding the dignity of marriage and the great abuses in recent years such as surrogate motherhood, sperm banks and cloning of humans, to name but few.

Here are two relevant canons from OUR Eastern Catholic Church Law:

c. 597 CCEO: "The Roman Pontiff, in virtue of his office (munus), possesses infallible teaching authority if, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful who is to confirm his fellow believers in the faith, he proclaims with a definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held."

c. 599: :A religious obsequium of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching of faith and morals which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim with a definitive act.; therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching."



I find no solace in my prayers, in church, in Catholic literature. I feel nothing and this scares me. Do I still love God? Yes. But my brain mocks me. I begin to question everything and I just don't feel sure any more. My mind tells me I'm a hypocrite to go around calling myself a Christian when I don't feel much like one. What should I do? Why won't God respond to my prayers?

Bishop John's Answer:

Dear friend and beloved child of God:

Thank you for your candid question. Your feelings are not uncommon. Many of the greatest saints share those feelings with you. A recent article on Mother Teresa of Calcutta shows her struggle with darkness of the soul for many years.

Faith is not a feeling; it is a fact. The fact is that God loves you very much. He gave His Son Jesus Christ for your salvation and for mine. We don't deserve it. The mercy and unconditional love of Jesus is God's free gift to us.

God is so close to you. It is a deception of the evil one to let us think that God is far from us when we feel that way. Faith is not known in the feelings. In many ways it is a heart thing. Saint Paul talks about "believing in our hearts". (Romans 10:9) Be assured that God is as close to you as your breath. He is as close to you as your heart. "Nothing can separate us from the love of God.(Romans 8:35-39)

Maybe you will find solace and comfort in the Jesus Prayer. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner." Many who pray this prayer often are greatly blessed by it.

Be assured of my prayers for you . . . May Jesus hold you close to Himself. May His Mother Mary, comfort you.

+ Bishop John



I have heard a number of Bishops say that one cannot support abortion and be Catholic. Is it not a scandal for pro-abortion politicians to claim they are Catholics in good standing and to receive Holy Communion? What is the Church's teaching on this?

Bishop John's Answer:

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Himself, said: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the LIFE." So, if we say we are followers of Christ, we, too, must be pro-life, for all life is a gift from our Loving Father. Our Eastern and Western Tradition is unanimous in its teaching that any form of abortion is contrary to God's law and a serious offense against the Life-Giver. Christ is Philanthropos, the Lover of Man. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has eloquently proclaimed this tradition in his encyclical The Gospel of Life. See also the pamphlet of our Office of Educational Services entitled The Fathers Speak for Life that demonstrates the early Church's opposition to abortion.

Each time we prepare to receive the Holy Mysteries of Christ's spotless Body and precious blood we pray, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, that they may "be not for our judgment or condemnation." It is impossible to receive Christ, our Life, in Holy Communion and remain obstinately pro abortion. Indeed, politicians who, by their actions (i.e. voting, speeches, etc.), promote abortion cooperate with evil. If they receive Holy Communion without sincere repentance they do so at the peril of their own souls. Such is cause for great scandal.



What is the procedure one must follow to become a member of the Melkite Catholic Church? I really feel blessed to be able to attend such a wonderful church in Atlanta. Thank you so much for your help.

Bishop John's Answer:

Please realize that there really is no need to obtain a "change of rite" in order to be a full-time parishioner. The beauty of all the Traditions of the Eastern and Latin Catholic Churches are a common patrimony and heritage belonging equally to all Catholics. Should there be some need in the future to obtain a canonical transfer, the procedure is facilitated by the parish priest who could help you with the details. Basically it involves a formal petition on your part. This is forwarded to the Melkite Bishop. The Chancery then seeks the opinion/consent of the Latin Bishop. If both Bishops are in agreement, the "transfer" is granted, signed by the petitioner in the presence of witnesses and entered into the registry of the Melkite parish.


Are children who are chrismated in a Byzantine church officially byzantine? My kids were baptized in the Roman church. We have been attending the Byzantine church for some time now and they have now been chrismated in the Byzantine church. My question is this, are they now officially Byzantine Catholics?

Bishop John's Answer:

Even though you do not say this, I am assuming from your question that you are a Latin Rite Catholic. Then your children are also Roman Rite Catholics.

According to Canon Law, a person remains a member of his church sui jurid, unless he/she obtains a transfer of membership. Although you may practice your Catholic faith in any Catholic church, receiving the sacraments (Baptism & Christmation) in the Byzantine Church does not automatically make you Byzantine.

Should you desire such, you must petition the Bishop of your Byzantine Church as well as the Latin Rite Bishop, explaining your request. This would be done through your local Byzantine Pastor. If a transfer by the parents is obtained, children under 14 receive the same transfer. After the age of 14, they have to apply for the transfer on their own.

May God bless you and your family.



"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.


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.



"Is there any way to preserve liturgical and cultural heritage of the three branches in the one patriarchate of Antioch?"

Bishop John's Answer:

While you are correct to notice that there are several churches that claim Antioch as their See of origin, the various churches have separate and very rich histories. The obvious duplication is that of our Melkite See that is parallel with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. This duplication came as a natural result of the historical circumstances that surrounded the undivided See during the 18th century. Our Catholic bishops aligned themselves with the See of Rome in response to their thirst for direction and spiritual depth. The See of Antioch is described by historians of this period as "the sleeping giant of Antioch".

You suggest, however, a unification of very disparate churches. The Major liturgical traditions converge in Antioch. The Byzantine-Constantinopolitan tradition is one of many ancient liturgical families that make up the rich patrimony of this area. Certainly, many liturgical traditions can co-exist in one See to portray the rich diversity of the Church. Each patriarch serves as the head and father of a specific liturgical family or church sui-iuris.

As Catholics, we find a unity in faith as we walk with the successor of Peter. Indeed, the Petrine Office is seen as a service to the unity of the Body of Christ. The unfortunate divisions within the same liturgical family will one-day yield, through prayer, to the unity that Christ promised. I urge you to join me in such prayers.



I have notice that during Great Lent our churches pray the Liturgy of St. Basil yet it seems to me that the Liturgy is the same as that of St. John Chrysostom. What is/are the difference(s) between the two?

Bishop John's Answer:

The difference between the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and that of St. Basil is mainly in the so-called "Secret Prayers". These prayers are not really "secret", They are just recited by the priest in a low voice - "secretly" or "mysteriously, if you wish. Now, in recent years, the priest has been saying these prayers aloud. This practice has been recommended by the Patriarchal Liturgical Commission since 1992.

The second major difference is in the Hirmos to Our Lady, the Theotokos, which comes toward the end of the Anaphora after the formal Epiclesis or the Prayer to the Holy Spirit. This beautiful Hymn, in the Liturgy of St. Basil, starts (in English) with the words, "In you, O Full of Grace, all creation rejoices…". The equivalent Hymn for the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom starts with "It is fitting and right to call you blessed, O Theotokos…" There is also a slight difference in the Thanksgiving Prayers after Communion.

St. Basil Liturgy is used only ten times a year, namely: The vigils of Christmas and Theophany, the feast of St. Basil on January 1, the first five Sundays of Lent, Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. The prayers in the Liturgy of St. Basil, much longer than those of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, carry a wealth of Theology and spirituality very beneficial for our meditation during the period of the Holy and Sacred time of Fast.

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