Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

Question:

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.

 

Question:

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.
 

Question:

"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."

 

Question:

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

 

Question:

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.

 

Question:

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.

Question:

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.

 

Question:

How many parishes you have in the Diocese of Newton? (asked on Oct 12, 1997)

Bishop John's Answer

We have presently 30 established parishes, 12 missions, 2 religious houses of study (Seminaries), one convent and several communities which could be opened as misions if we had priests to serve them
 

Question:

"As a convert to Catholicism (Latin) I have taken a great interest in the rites and traditions of other Rites in communion with the Holy Father in Rome, i.e. the Maronites, the Ruthenians, etc. I have fallen in love with the spirituality of the east and try to learn as much about it as I can. there are no Eastern Rite churches within 200 miles of where I live so I don't get a chance to worship with my eastern brothers and sisters. How does an Eastern Catholic church get established in an area where there are none?

Bishop John's Answer:

I regret my delay in responding to your question. Life is busy here in our hectic world.

Without knowing your location, it is difficult to check the various directories to see whether or not there is an Eastern Catholic parish of any jurisdiction near you. Ordinarily, a parish or mission is established after a group of interested persons gathers to invite a priest to visit and celebrate an occasional Liturgy. Once a community of persons reaches a critical mass or is able to support itself in some manner, consideration can be given to establishing a mission or parish. I would encourage you to continue your interest in the Eastern Churches. You will find that the Church is very rich indeed with a profound heritage with roots in both the east and west.

 

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:

"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.

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