Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Ain Traz, 20 - 25 June 2011   Close of the Synod

Divine Liturgy of the Close of the Synod

A solemn Divine Liturgy was celebrated on Saturday, 25 June 2011 for the close of the Holy Synod, which had begun its work at the Patriarchal Residence of Ain Traz on 20 June, presided over by H. B. Patriarch Gregorios III. Participating with the Patriarch were eighteen bishops. The others had had to leave already on Friday, 24 for various reasons, as the Holy Synod ended at 7p.m. that day.

Features of that Liturgy

The Liturgy began on the solea (in front of the iconostasis) around the Patriarch. The multilingual service was celebrated in eight languages, Arabic, Greek, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, the languages of our liturgy in the Middle East of and the countries to which our faithful have spread. It was also the Liturgy of the Feast of the Divine Body. The Patriarch’s sermon centred on the words, “Take.., eat.., drink...” Priests say it in the name of Christ, but in doing so they put themselves at the disposition of the faithful, “Eat me, I am yours.” As Father Antoine Chevrier said, “The priest is a man consumed.” The Patriarch told his bishops that they celebrated the Synod, so as to be closer to their faithful. The Synod was in the line of the motto of the Synod of the Assembly of Bishops for the Middle East: Communion and Witness.

Communion ad intra

  • From or of the Church, the parish
  • With other Churches
  • With every citizen
  • Our identity

Witness ad extra

  • Witnessing, being martyrs
  • There is no Church that is without its martyrdom of blood and witness of life
  • Witness of our Church with fidelity to our tradition
  • Witness in the world: the multilingual liturgy bore witness and invited to openness
The Patriarch took pleasure in greeting his brother bishops from all eparchies. He named each bishop present, inviting the camera from Télélumière to focus on each, so that the faithful could recognize their pastor. Concerning solidarity, His Beatitude cited the words of the Apostle Paul, “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12: 26) Or, as the Fathers of Vatican II said in Gaudium et Spes, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.1” “That is the programme for our solidarity with our world, our eparchy, our parishes, our priests, monks and nuns and laypeople; but also with our world, especially our suffering Arab world, and Syria,” His Beatitude emphasised. On the Feast of the Ascension, 23 June, in Damascus, and elsewhere in Syria, and in the Holy Synod, His Beatitude asked for prayers to be held, for a peaceful future, with stability, understanding and prosperity.

Invitation to our faithful

“Courage! Be not afraid!” His Beatitude concluded. “Do what Jesus calls you to do: be the light, salt and leaven in the lump.” The Patriarch gave greetings to each and all through Télélumière, saying, “We love you: I love you. Love us: love your pastors.”

Kiss of Peace

The Patriarch kissed the holy gifts and the holy table. Then he took his seat on the solea, in front of the iconostasis. The bishops followed suit and came to greet the Patriarch and sit beside him. So a big circle was formed in the body of the church. Meanwhile the choir sang the hymn for the kiss of peace, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my firm support, my refuge, and my deliverer.”(Psalm 17: 1 LXX)

Creed

With everyone forming the big circle, the Creed was recited in the nave. Then the Liturgy continued. The Anaphora was carried out in Greek and Arabic and Portuguese. At the end, the Polychronion was sung.
 

Holy Synod

of the

Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Ain Traz, 20 - 25 June 2011


Inaugural Address

By Patriarch Gregorios III

Document No. 5

In the name of the Saviour, we open the Holy Synod. Let us sing with the Church: "Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has brought us together," (Vespers of Palm Sunday) for the Spirit brings us together, as successors of the holy Apostles around the Mother of God and our Mother, the Patron of Our Lady of the Annunciationin the Patriarchal Residence of Ain Traz, which this year celebrates the bicentennial jubilee of its construction (1811-2011.)

Let us sing festive hymns with the Holy Spirit on glorious Pentecost, praying to Jesus to bless our work and makes us members of our Synod live Pentecost in our Church and in our parishes and among the faithful, and we pray,

“After thy Rising from the tomb, O Christ, and thy divine Ascension to the height of heaven, thou didst send down thy glory to thy Disciples who had seen God, renewing a right spirit within them, O Merciful Saviour; therefore as a tuneful lyre they mystically made clear as with a divine plectrum thy melodies and thy dispensation.”

(Kathisma, Tone 8 after the Polyeleos at Matins of Pentecost)

Following the spirituality of our holy fathers, let us reflect together on our priestly and episcopal pastoral Christian vocation, saying,

"On as many as the grace which flows from God has breathed, resplendent, dazzling, transformed, with a strange, most glorious transformation, we have come to know the Essence of equal might, indivisible, wise, of triple radiance; and we give glory.” (Troparion of Matins of Pentecost, Ode 9, Tone 4)

We find in this spiritual fragrance the programme of our spiritual, ecclesial and pastoral work in this Synod, which is confronting us with our responsibility to our citizens and the dear souls entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul tells us in his appeal to the bishops and priests of the Church of Ephesus: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood."(Acts 20:28)

At the beginning of this Synod we want to commemorate our late lamented brother, Archbishop Salim Ghazal, who moved to his heavenly rest on the morning of Friday, 29 April 2011. The funeral was attended by a large number of members of our Holy Synod.

And we welcome our brother bishops and pastors: Archbishop Cyril Bustros, who has recently moved from the Eparchy of Newton in the United States to the Archeparchy of Beirut and Jbeil, Bishop Issam John Darwish, who has moved from the Eparchy of Australia and New Zealand to the Eparchy of Furzol, Zahlé, and all the Beqaa, and Bishop Nicholas Samra, who has received responsibility for the Eparchy of Newton and Bishop-elect of the Eparchy of Australia and New Zealand, Archimandrite Robert Rabbat. We also thank the Reverend Metropolitan Emeritus Joseph Kallas and Archbishop Emeritus André Haddad for their dedication to episcopal service and wish them well.

We cannot fail to offer thanks at the beginning of this Synod on the beatification of Father Beshara Abou Mrad, monk of Holy Saviour. May he be a patron of the Salvatorian Order and its monks, pastors and priests of the faithful.

Through the media, we are pleased to give our children and others, a glimpse of the basic orientations of the Holy Synod.

I.

Firstly our Synod has witnessed the sight of terrible scenes of the difficult conditions and tragic bloodshed experienced in our Arab countries, and so have our churches, eparchies, parishes and our sons and daughters and all our citizens. So our situation can be expressed in the words of the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes: "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ," (just like the Church in the world today.)

In fact, we lived the tragedies of our country, especially during the time of Lent, Holy Week and the Paschal Feast. Prayers were offered in our churches and monasteries for the victims and the suffering, the wounded and sick. And especially in Syria we abstained from external manifestations of the feast. Documents were issued and statements of us personally and a large number of bishops of our Church and our priests, urging all governments and citizens to show restraint, prudence, wisdom and discernment and dialogue, trust and unity, and to avoid violence and not be drawn into civil, factional, partisan or religious strife.

We shall offer daily prayers during the Synod for our peoples, our countries and all our citizens. The details of this situation will be made available by us to share with you, Venerable Brothers, so as to ensure we continue to do our canonical and national, humanitarian, social, domestic and international part, towards the issues of our countries, in particular with regard to working hard to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and bring a just, lasting and comprehensive peace to the Holy Land, as it is the key to resolving the conflicts and to overcoming the crises, calamities and destructive tendencies that afflict our region, and cause paralysis in our Church, and negatively affect our citizens in their spiritual progress. May it not incite more of our children to emigrate from their homes and livelihoods and heritage!

This situation of the Arab world was addressed in our Paschal Letter this year entitled, "The Arab World’s Way of the Cross towards Resurrection,” and conveying the Christian message to this world "Our Arab world, you have a resurrection.”

II: The Five-Year Plan

Our Synod this year is the first after the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Church in the Middle East, entitled: "Communion and Witness.” Our church had a distinguished and effective role in the meetings of the Synod (10-24 October, 2010.) We published a special issue of our magazine for the Synod. (Le Lien No: 3-4.75 5ème année 2010)

We have also in it published our speeches and the contributions of our bishops and others, and a Diary of the Synod in the press ...I am in the process of preparing a book on the Synod held in Rome for Melkite Greek Catholics in the Middle East, like the book which was issued on the occasion of the Second Vatican Council.

I have personally to follow up many of the activities of the Synod for the Arab world, at the level of the Latin and other Western Churches that participated in the Synod.

Among numerous initiatives, the First International Congress was held in Damascus on 15 December 2010, in cooperation between the Patriarchate (and the churches of Syria) and the Ministry of the Awqaf. There participated in it 13 Churches, including 35 Arab and Western representatives of the Patriarchs of East and West and 3,500 participants.

I am particularly keen for us to work during the Synod to follow up the idea of the “five-year plan.” Letters were sent about this to the bishops and superiors-general mothers general, and all the sons and daughters of our Church.

The five year-plan document is in your hands, for discussion in the synod and in workshop sessions, so you can decide what you think is appropriate given the subject matter, and formulate the way in which to apply it at the level of the Church, or the Eparchy, or the parish or monastic community...

III: Good Shepherds

The most important business before our Synod is the selection of good pastors for vacancies in our eparchies. Canon laws have been initiated to create the method for nominating and electing bishops. (Canon 182 of the Code of Canons for the Oriental Churches) The work of nominating according to canon law is always ongoing. All the local bishops are interested in identifying priests (and they are few) of our Church, by collecting public and private information about them, in order to identify them. Over time, a file is put together consisting of certain priests, who are most qualified, efficient and mature in knowledge and virtue. The information is gathered in the files of the Patriarchate. These notes facilitate the process of selection and election to the vacant eparchies during the synod.

We shall dedicated time to the important work of this Synod in selecting righteous pastors for our Church, for the foreseeable future and in the long run.

The importance of keeping this whole delicate process secret must be pointed out. All we bishops and priests, monks, nuns and secular lay people must help each other to respect the confidentiality of this important canonical task and avoid the leaking of information, rumours, and suppositions and speculation both before, during and after the Synod...

Many customarily solicit information on the process of nomination of candidates for the episcopate and election results.

We invite everyone to desist from this bad habit. Let us bishops and priests, monks, nuns and lay- people work together to abide by the duty of confidentiality imposed by canon law.

IV: other topics

The work of the Synod for the year includes administrative, pastoral and liturgical matters. There will be published the new edition of the Little Euchologion (or service book containing the Mysteries and blessings), and the and Evangelion. A prayer book has recently been published for young people and families, designed to help lay-people with prayer.

We will update and exchange information among our eparchies: there will be a paper on the Patriarchal Academy, and one on the Seminary of St. Anna at Rabweh, which educates students for the priesthood for our eparchies. We shall also hear news about the conditions of our eparchies...

Today, in this Synod we can rejoice together at this special news: the inauguration of the Liqa’a Centre for global dialogue of civilizations, on 10 May 2011, i n thepresence of the President of the Lebanese Republic. Please note that this unique building interreligious dialogue is gift of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, may God protect him. The benevolence of this great man and of the Sultanate of Oman will remain in the memory of our Church, and we wish them safety, security and prosperity.

This centre is for you, my brothers and sisters, and all the sons and daughters of our Church in the Arab world and in the expansion and everywhere. (See the attached Patriarchal Letter and brochure on the status of the Liqa’a Centre.)

V: The Synod on the New Evangelisation

We will reflect on the first document, the Lineamenta of the Synod to be held in Rome (7-28 October 2012.) The theme of the "New Evangelisation” is an important issue which will help us in the follow-up to the Synod for the Middle East, particularly in the renewal of pastoral work for the transmission of the holy faith in our Church, particularly among the younger generations, ravaged by currents destructive of evangelical values ​​and sound ethics, including: the secularised way of looking at life, hedonism, superficiality, self-centredness, the unproductive cult of the individual, spiritual atrophism, emptiness of heart and the loss of fundamental elements of explaining the faith. (See Section 6, para. 3 in the English text.1)

And we (Fathers) are asked to provide answers to the questions raised in the document before 1 November, 2011. The document was distributed to bishops and superiors-general of Orders, and mothers-general. It must be studied in our eparchies and institutions and among our citizens.

Dear Brothers and Sisters

In our Synod we shall study the topics in review (in addition to the later suggestions of the Fathers), as we see clearly the importance for our Synod of having broad horizons, and exercising great responsibility towards our citizens, especially in the current circumstances experienced by Arab countries. (Ten countries have been affected by revolutions and upheavals in varying degrees.) These conditions affect our parishes and the faith of our children, and the recommendations of the Synod for the Middle East, in which we our hope. These crucial developments have profound implications for our parishes and may have caused a new wave of creeping immigration.

For this we need to redouble our vigilance to the community in order to be closer to our parishes, supporting them, responsive to the most urgent needs in these circumstances.

We raised our voice in the meetings of the Synod for the Middle East, and warned all the participant Synod Fathers - both the Pope, cardinals and our other fellow-bishops - of the immediate and far-reaching danger of the succession of wars, crises and setbacks, that is due to the Palestinian Arab-Israeli conflict, that has now lasted for over sixty-three years .We sent message after message to the heads of state in the European Union and the Americas to do whatever can be done to bring about a just and comprehensive solution to this conflict, and the recognition of the rights of our Palestinian brothers in their homeland to their land and their water, their freedom and their dignity and their right to return to their ancestral land.

Now from the platform of this Synod, since we have nationals in Arab countries and abroad, let us raise our voice, demanding that efforts be made to end the conflict that threatens the security, integrity and stability of Arab society, and the dialogue between citizens, and co-existence among all denominations and confessions. can affect the values ​​of dialogue and coexistence, solidarity and peace throughout the whole world, especially among the youth and future generations.

What we fear for the Arab world in general and especially Lebanon and Syria in particular, is that the so-called revolutions are not rebellions demanding reforms, but are escalating towards sectarian strife here and there. Neither Lebanon nor Syria, nor other Arab countries are immune from this, so let us be wary of sedition!

Such strife is a way of driving a wedge into the Arab world to divide and weaken it. Political intrigue aims at damaging civil peace and harmony, especially Christian-Muslim co-existence in the Arab world and that living together, which, despite its deficiencies, remains a model for Christian-Muslim dialogue in Europe and the rest of the world.

We call for unity in Lebanon, and for Lebanon to be worthy of its vocation and mission and to reflect the language of civilization, and to distance itself from attempts to sow discord and destabilisation. This is what we see with regret going on here and there in various regions in Lebanon. We strongly condemn what happened in Tripoli2. Let all Lebanese citizens and Lebanese everywhere not allow Lebanon's “sectarian political system” to be reflected in a narrow, partisan, sectarian and factional mentality, which would negate the religious, social and political diversity that characterizes Lebanon.

That is why we are specifically calling for two things:

Firstly, the revival of the national dialogue roundtable for any domestic affliction, and for strengthening civil peace, so that this table can be a place open to all for permanent dialogue and communication, coordination, advice and solutions that preserve unity in love.

Secondly, we held a spiritual summit in May, and our citizens were glad to see their spiritual leaders presenting a united front. Now we call for a collective congress of Lebanese including spiritual leaders, political leaders and government and state officials, to be held at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, under the chairmanship of H. E. President Michel Suleiman. Such a conference would have a significant impact and strengthen Lebanon in all sectors in the current circumstances of the moment that the region is experiencing.

So our Synod, and our church and our pastors, the bishops who are here representing the Arab world and the world of expansion, are calling out to the leaders of the Arab world to “love one another, with a pure heart fervently.” (1 Peter 1: 22) Either the Arab world and its leaders must unite in solidarity and cooperate, and sketch out together a better future for their peoples, especially the young people and future generations, or fall too easily prey to regional and global interests and ambitions. Where is the Arab League and the Islamic Conference? Where do these institutions stand in the face of the explosive revolutionary internal situation of Arab countries and in the face of frequent meetings in Europe about the situation of our country?

We members of this Synod invite everyone to foresight, determination and solidarity and to develop plans to ward off the dangers surrounding us all, which can destroy all our societies in a conflagration of hatred!

We call upon the EU countries and the USA and Russia, not to waste their time and make decisions here and there, and talk of revolutions here and there! What we want is for them to be able to impose a just, comprehensive and lasting peace and recognize courageously and firmly a Palestinian State, and be even-handed in dealing with Israel and Palestine and other Arab states. Only this can safely restore the confidence of the Arab world, Israeli and Palestinian lives, and the lives of everyone in the region, and enable the cycle of reform, development and prosperity in the region to begin. We hope to be worthy of Christ’s blessing: “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God.”

We shall pray for this, and we shall offer our prayers in this Synod, first for our beloved Lebanon for hosting our Permanent Synod, and Syria, where our patriarchal seat of Antioch is, and for Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf States, as the Church is well represented over the greater part of the Middle East.

As we say at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, "We pray for peace from above and for the salvation of our souls. And for the peace of the whole world, the stability of the holy churches of God and the union of all.” We hope to spend in the light of our countries’ security and good government "a tranquil and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (1 Timothy 2: 2)

Thanks to the media for covering the opening of our Holy Synod, and thank you, brethren, distinguished members of the Holy Synod, fathers-general and mothers-general, for your attention. We thank the viewers following our Synod for their prayers and aspirations. The Synod’s greetings on behalf of all its members to the priests, monks and nuns and our children all over the world: we pray for them and ask for their prayers.

And we place this Synod under the intercession of Mother Mary, Our Lady of the Annunciation, who is the patron saint of the monastery and the Patriarchal headquarters, that it may be successful and blessed, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

With love, supplication and appreciation,

Gregorios III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria

And of Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

 

After the Synod

Melkite Initiatives

Damascus

December 2010

After the Synod for the Middle East: Melkite initiatives

Having participated in the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops held at the Vatican from 10-24 October 2010, on the theme of The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness, H. B. Patriarch Gregorios III undertook a number of activities to publicise this event.

Patriarch Gregorios called this Synod for the Middle East "a great gift of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Christian East, showing his special esteem for the Eastern Catholic Churches" and "an historic initiative."

Letter to Arab Heads of State

The Melkite Patriarch then undertook a series of post-synodal activities, through which he spoke to the Christian faithful. But he also wanted to challenge his Muslim brothers in Arab countries. He therefore wrote a letter (text here)to the Kings and Presidents of Arab countries before the Synodal Assembly (18 June 2010) and once it had been held (24 October 2010) (Text Here). He gave talks especially for Muslims in Beirut and Saida, Lebanon, and will be doing the same next month in Egypt (in Cairo and Alexandria) and in Jordan (Amman).

International Congress in Damascus

The biggest post-synodal event was the holding of an International Congress in Damascus, Syria, on 15 December 2010 entitled, The Impact of the Synod for the Middle East on Arab countries (Texts Here). This congress was organised jointly by the Syrian Ministry of the Awqaf and the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate.

Attending the congress from about thirty countries were some three thousand persons, includi ng three Damascus based Patriarchs (Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholic) the Syrian Catholic Patriarch (from Lebanon), representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarchates of Russia and Romania, the Orthodox Churches of Cyprus and Greece, the Holy Apostolic See of Rome (the Archbishop Secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches), as well as the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria and about twenty-five members of Episcopates of thirteen Orthodox and Catholic Churches from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Armenia, Jordan, Iran and Israel.

On the Muslim side, as well as the Syrian Ministers of the Awqaf and of Information, and the Grand Mufti of Syria, many religious and political personalities from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Libya and Iran attended, besides representatives of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Muslim-Christian dialogue centres and various Islamic institutions.

Christmas Plea for Peace to Western Heads of State

This week, Patriarch Gregorios III has written to Western leaders (Text Here) to apprise them of the Synod's importance with respect to three issues:

  1. The importance of the Christian presence in the Middle East and the challenges facing it
  2. Muslim-Christian dialogue
  3. The impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the two preceding issues, and thus the urgent need for peace.

Patriarch Gregorios argues that if Western leaders "wish there still to be Christians in the Middle East in the Holy Land, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and the countries of the Gulf," they should help with efforts towards peace and stopping Israeli settlements on the West Bank, recognized in international law as Palestinian land. He adds that Christians and Muslims are concerned about the apparent inequity of imposing sanctions on "Syria, Iraq, and Iran, but never any that affect Israel."

V. C.

 

Special Assembly for the Middle East

of the Synod of Bishops

October 10-24, 2010

Presented from Most Recent to Oldest

Presented In Chronologic Order

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.

 
The five story tall and very thin front of the former Church of Saint George in New York City

American Melkite

"Mother Parish Church"

Declared a Landmark

July 2009

The edited Press Release of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission follows below. For the complete report of the commission with details on the structure, the community of St. George and the New York Syrian-Lebanese community - click HERE.
The five-story, neo-Gothic style former church, featuring a vibrant white terra cotta façade, is located at 103 Washington St. between Carlisle and Rector streets, and housed the nation's first Melkite Greek Catholic parish from 1925 until 1966. It was located in a neighborhood known in the early 20th century as "the Syrian Quarter," because it attracted thousands of immigrants from the former Ottoman province of Syria, which include present-day Syria and Lebanon.

"This intact, vibrant former church is the City's most vivid reminder of the time when Washington Street was the Main Street of Syrian America," said Commission Chairman Robert B. Tierney. "Its history is as fascinating as its architecture is extraordinary."

The building that housed St. George's was originally constructed around 1812, and was three stories in height, with a peaked roof. It was used as a boarding house in the 1850s, and was raised to five stories in 1869. In 1929, four years after the Melkite Catholic parish moved into the building, the church hired Harvey F. Cassab, a Lebanese-American draftsman, to design a new façade, which was completed in 1930. Melkite Catholics recognize the primacy of the Pope, but worship using the Byzantine Rite and follow other Eastern customs.

The chief highlight of the white façade is a polychromatic terra cotta depiction of an armor-clad St. George on a white horse slaying a green dragon. The first three stories are separated into three bays by narrow buttresses, and the ground floor features a recessed main entrance, which is decorated with foliate ornament and grapes. The façade is crowned by an angular parapet and a central belfry, and is framed by pilasters with pinnacles.

 
Icon of the apostles at Pentecost Group photograph of all the Melkite Clergy surrounding Archbishop Cyril Bustros

It was a beautiful, bright, and balmy afternoon, August 18, 2004, when the lengthy procession of some thirty-three Archbishops and Bishops and over seventy Priests and Deacons solemnly made its way into the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Annunciation, the Mother Church of the Eparchy, for the Divine Liturgy of Enthronement. With great anticipation, the Faithful, representing many churches in the Eparchy, filled the Cathedral.

After the solemn vesting of the new Archbishop by the Deacons, Father Eugene Mitchell, B.S.O., Rector of the Cathedral, called upon His Excellency Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, the Pope's personal representative to our country, to come forward to read the Papal Bull proclaiming Archbishop Cyril Bustros as the Fourth Eparch of Newton. Then, His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III, Father of Fathers and Shepherd of Shepherds of the Melkite Church, imparted the pastoral staff of authority to Archbishop Cyril instructing him to rule, govern, and guide the Eparchy of Newton with firmness and love. The Pontifical Divine Liturgy then followed.

After the congregation had received the Precious Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion and the Divine Liturgy had concluded, Bishop John Elya, now Eparch Emeritus of Newton escorted his successor, Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, from the Holy Doors to ascend the Hierarchical Throne of his new Cathedral for the first time. From his Eparchial Throne, the new Eparch solemnly blessed the clergy and people with the Dikirion and Trikirion, the two and three-branched candles that symbolize the two Natures of Christ and the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. Then, the Clergy and the people came forward to kiss the hand of the new Eparch as a sign of loyalty and obedience.

Eastern bishops attending the enthronement

Patriarch Gregorios III Archbishop Montalvo, Papal Nuncio, Bishop John and Archbishop Cyril pause for a moment before entering the Cathedral

The procession into the church before the enthronement of the new Eparch of Newton

The Patriarch blesses the clergy and people

Eparchial Clergy in attendance at the Enthronement

Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Montalvo read Papal Bull proclaiming Archbishop Cyril Bustros Fourth Eparch of Newton.

Archbishop Cyril, Eparch of Newton

The Patriarch blesses the clergy and people

Archbishop Cyril receives the obeisance of clergy and people after his Enthronement

 

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:

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:

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.

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