Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

Question:

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

Bishop John's Answer:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Question:

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

Bishop John's Answer:

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

Bishop John's Answer:

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

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

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

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

 

Question:

I am an orthodox Christian and I am wondering if the Byzantine rite Catholic Church will ever unite under the mother church of Constantinople. We are so similar in almost everything that it's a shame for us to be apart, from the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomeow.

Bishop John's Answer:

Thank you for your candid question. Books filling innumerable libraries have been written pro and con your question. I don't intend to give you a last answer. However, you may consider the following facts: The Holy Scriptures never promised primacy to St. Andrew who is traditionally believed to be the founder of the Patriarchal See of Constantinople. In fact, the See of Constantinople became listed as apostolic See late in history, due to the residence of the Emperor.

Our Lord gave St. Peter the "Keys to the kingdom of heaven …" (Matthew 16:19) He told him: "You are Peter (the Rock), and upon this Rock I will build my Church … etc." (Matthew 16:18) He previously had changed his name from Simon to Peter.(Mark 3:16) Despite his weakness, Peter was entrusted by the Lord to "strengthen his brothers." The Lord told him: "Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat. But I prayed that your own faith may not fail. And, once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:32) Among the Apostolic Sees, Rome alone claims to be the model to other churches in falling in no heresy. Peter's name is always mentioned in the Scriptures at the top of the lists of the Apostles. (Cf. Matthew 10:2; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13, I Corinth 15:5-8) Were any of the above prerogatives given to Andrew or to any of the other Apostles?" Can His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, successor of St. Andrew, claim any of these? I think that the Eastern Catholics, despite their small number and their many limitations, are called to show the other Eastern Christian brothers and sisters the way to unity not "under," but "with" the Successor of Peter.

Let us pray for the unity of all the followers of Christ, as Our Lord prayed at the Last Supper, "That all may be one." God bless all the people of good will who are working to make the wish of Christ come true.

 

Question:

Why the words of Epiclesis are pronounced after the consecration of bread and wine. Are the words of Epiclesis an element of consecration? What's the moment when the bread and the wine are the Body and Blood of Christ? Before or after Epiclesis? If the priest doesn't pronounce the words of Epiclesis, there is no consecration?

The Bishop Answers

Dear Friend: The Greek word for Sacraments in our Eastern tradition is "Mysteria", i.e. "Mysteries". A sacrament is a mysterious action which makes God's beneficial presence felt and real. We should not bind God to a single word or gesture, as through a magic formula. The whole action constitutes the "Mystery." In the Roman Canon (which we call "Anaphore") the Epiclesis is said before the words of "Consecration." In the Eastern tradition, we have the Epiclesis after the same words which we call "words of Institution." In our belief, the action is not complete until God the Father "in the good pleasure of (His) bounty, makes (His) Holy Spirit come down upon us and upon the present gifts here offered and bless and sanctify them and reveal this bread to be truly the precious body of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, etc." (Liturgy of St. Basil) There is no magic moment or formula or word or syllable, which effects the presence of God and makes it complete; but the whole action makes God's presence effective and real.
 

Question:

"What is wrong in letting folks know that there is a human face that can be seen in the Church - a face that is gay? Is it wrong to say that one is gay?

Bishop John's Answer:

My dear friend:

By chance, I have taken note recently of some statements such as these: "No one recruited me, no one 'brought me out'. I am totally convinced that I was born this way." And "What gives the people who have the power of thought control over Catholics the right to tell me that I am doing something wrong when it is exactly the way God programmed me to be?"

To admit that one is homosexual -- "God created me that way" -- is a statement of fact which should not offend adult people who discuss issues and not persons. To admit that one is active homosexual or active heterosexual out of marriage, and to brag about it does cause scandal in a Catholic assembly, and is contrary to two thousands years of Christian tradition based upon the Judeo-Christian ethics. The teaching of the Church is deeply rooted in the Sacred Word of God. It is a fact that in our American society there are many homosexual people, regardless of the controversy whether this condition is innate or acquired, whether it has to be cured or lived with.

No discrimination (and no preferential treatment either) should be practiced against or ln favor of those with homosexual orientation. However, the fact remains, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, that sex out of marriage is gravely sinful, whether it is among homosexuals or heterosexuals. To point a finger at the homosexuals while condoning heterosexual promiscuity is prejudicial and hypocritical. We are all sinners in need of the mercy of God; but we are not allowed to brag about it or to condone it as if it were the right thing to do. The Pastoral Letter on the subject issued recently (1997) by the Administrative Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops titled "Always Our Children" asks the parents of homosexual children to show them love and affection and not to let their religious conviction spoil their family relationship. However it did not change the stand of the Catholic Church as mentioned above

 

Question:

"How can a Roman Catholic help Eastern Churches achieve equality with my brothers and sisters who are ignorant of the glorious Divine Liturgy and Vespers. I have had the experience of attending Divine Liturgy at St. Basil The Great in Lincoln, Rhode Island. I try to get others in my parish (St. Joseph's in Attleboro, Massachusetts) to attend one of The Eastern Liturgies-so far no takers." -

Bishop John's Answer:

I am happy that you have discovered the richness and beauty of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Please realize - and suggest also to your friends - that the patrimony of the Eastern Churches also belongs to you and them - it is part of your heritage. All the treasures of both the Latin and Eastern Churches belong equally to all Catholics - all make up the patrimony of the Universal Church, a gift God has given to all His children. By appreciating the beauty and complementarity of all the various traditions, one actually gains a better appreciation of the unique contribution and identity of his own. You might point out to your friends elements in your own Latin Tradition (which perhaps you may not have noted before) which you have learned to appreciate more by seeing them expressed in a different way in the Eastern Tradition: e.g., the centrality of the Trinity in our life, the divinity of Christ, the awesomeness of the Sacramental celebrations, the mercy and compassion of God, etc.
 

Question:

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

Bishop John's Answer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Question:

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:

I wonder why did you say, in your homily at the Ordination of Deacon James Whelan, BSO, on September 18, that "the deacon is an extension of the priest?" I thought that the deacon was originally the extension of the Bishop and later the formation of priests came. (Asked by Elias Sahyouni, Deacon at John the Baptist Melkite Church in Chicago)

Bishop John's Answer:

When I said that "the deacon is the extension of the priest, as the priest is the extension of the bishop," I meant it pastorally rather than sacramentally. The Bishop is the only minister of the sacrament/mystery of Orders. Deacons as well as priests are extension of the Bishop's full priesthood. He represents the High Priest, Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, pastorally, that is for the sake of harmony in the parish and efficient service to the People of God, the Deacon extends the service of the priest in his respective parish, as the priest extends the service of the Bishop.

In all cases, bishops, priests, deacons and faithful, we all are extensions of God's love to each other and to the world.

It is as you said the Holy Spirit is the extension of the Son as the Son is the extension of the Father. The Son is the image of the Father and (quote Christmas Vespers…) and the Holy Spirit is the Image of the Father through the Son. Is it a triaingle of equal distance, or a straight line pointing exclusively to the Father who is the Godhead?

Question:

"I would like to know the difference between the priest and the deacon can the deacon give a blessing to the people of the church and can he perform marriages and funeral masses. Or does he just assist the priest during the mass by doing the ritualistic part of the mass and proclaim the gospel to the people…"

Bishop John's Answer:

Thank you for your question about deacons. I can see that you observe things happening at Liturgy. Have you ever considered some form of ministry within the Church yourself?

Christ acts in the Liturgy and Sacraments of the Church. In them, He acts through all the people. We all share in His priesthood through Baptism - the royal priesthood of the faithful. But He has also left a special gift to the Church of an ordained priesthood. The fullness of that priesthood is found in the Bishop, who is head of the local Church and makes God's Fatherhood present. But, since the Bishop cannot be present at all times in all the parishes of his church, his priesthood is extended and partially shared by two groups of men: one is the presbyterate (priests). The priests lead the worship in local parishes, standing in for the bishop. They share the bishop's priesthood, but not to its fullest. The other group of his helpers is the diaconate (deacons). Deacons are also ordained by the bishop and share in his priesthood, but not as fully as the priests. Each group helps the bishop and extends his presence and ministry to the local community, each in his own way.

Now, to get to your particular questions. From the tone of what you asked, I gather that you are more familiar with the role of deacons in the Latin Rite, rather than the Eastern Churches. There are differences in what the deacon can do. In the Latin Rite, deacons can do weddings and funerals on their own - but not in the Eastern Churches. In the Latin Rite, there are several blessings which a deacon can do - but not usually in the Eastern Churches. In general, in the East, the deacon invites the people to pray - he directs their prayers by announcing intentions for prayer. The people respond by singing "Lord, have mercy" or "Grant this, O Lord". He also sings the Gospel and assists at Communion by handling the chalice. The deacon normally assists the bishop or priest - they give him a blessing before each thing he is to do - he does not usually do any service on his own.

Question:

"Does the eparchy have a permanent deaconate program? If so, where can I get information on it."

Bishop John's Answer:

Thank you for asking. The Director of our Deacon Formation Program, which has been conducted every year since 1971, is The Reverend Father Paul Frechette, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Melkite Church, 256 Hamilton St., Worcester, MA 01604, (508) 752-4174.

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