Melkite Greek Catholic Church


Are we Orthodox united with Rome? Several different people have written in asking some variation on this most fundament of questions. Since each question was directed in a slightly different way, Bishop John has chosen a rather more complete answer.

Bishop John's Answer

Sometimes I think that the Melkite Catholic Church, as well as other Byzantine Catholic Churches, enjoys the best of two worlds: Orthodoxy and Catholicism. We rejoice in the affirmation of the good Pope John XXIII that "what unites us is much greater than what divides us."

When the Patriarchate of Antioch was divided into two branches in 1724, one branch kept the name Orthodox and the other branch which sealed its union with the Holy See of Rome, kept the name Melkite given to it since the Sixth Century and called itself Catholic. It became known as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. In the Middle East, although both branches claim orthodoxy as well as catholicity, however being Catholic means not Orthodox and being Orthodox means not Catholic. To be a Catholic Christian means that one accepts the primacy of the Pope of Rome, because he is the successor of St. Peter. To be an Orthodox Christian means that one does not recognize the primacy of the Pope of Rome, but considers him as "first among equals."

According to the Catholic teaching, Christ did not create a church with five heads of equal importance. He established One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church whose invisible head is the Lord, but whose visible head is the Pope of Rome.

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches states it in these terms: "The bishop of the Church of Rome, in whom resides the office (munus) given in a special way by the Lord to Peter, first of the Apostles and to be transmitted to his successors, is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the entire Church on earth; therefore in virtue of his office (munus) he enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church which he can always freely exercise." (Canon 43 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches)

If an Orthodox subscribes to the Canon quoted above, he/she can be called Catholic and be considered "united to Rome" or in full communion with the Catholic Church.

An illustration may help: Is the Province of Quebec a province of France united to the British Crown through Canada, or a Canadian province with special relations to France? Is the Melkite Church a hundred per cent Catholic with special relations with the Orthodox Churches or a hundred per cent Orthodox with special relations to Rome. Certainly, the first case is true:

The Melkite Church is a hundred per cent Catholic, but not a hundred per cent Orthodox.

Independence and sovereignty or dependence on another Church? Such a decision is difficult to make. However, the Melkite Church has chosen dependency as a price for unity, in order to comply with the will of our Lord who prayed repeatedly "that all may be one." (John 17)



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.



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


"Could you tell me about your Melkite monastic communities? I am a Byzantine Catholic (Ruthenian) with a calling to the monastic life, and wanted to know about the options available in the Melkite tradition.

Bishop John's Answer:

"The Church has always recognized a vocation to Religious life as a separate call from God Himself. Religious life involves a radical restatement and recommitment to one's baptismal vows. By living the evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the Religious conforms to Christ in most intimate way. Religious life brings with it many joys and many challenges. If you feel led to examine Religious life, I would encourage you to speak with your spiritual director and/or confessor. Certainly continue to ask the Lord for direction in prayer. Within our Melkite Church, there is a Religious community of very ancient origin. I myself am a member. For more information and a possible visit, you may contact Rt. Rev. Gerasimos Murphy, BSO at 18 New Dunstable Rd., Nashua, NH, the Regional Superior; (603) 595-9815 or Rev. Martin Hyatt,BSO, local superior, 30 East Street, Methuen, Massachusetts. 01844 (978)682-1963. The Salvatorian Religious take vows that are the equivalent of monastic vows, however, they are an active Order of priests involved in spiritual renewal and parish ministries. There are several other communities of Religious in the Melkite Church, however, they are located in the Middle East.


"I am a catholic interested in eastern monastic life. I am 21 years old and am wondering if I could have contact information for and monasteries under your eparchy or under the other eastern rites."

Bishop John's Answer:

I am sorry I have taken so long to answer, the delay is due to our moving our residence and chancery to new quarters (Brookline instead of West Newton). This is a list of what we could find on Eastern Catholic religious life here in the USA:

Melkite -
Basilian Salvatorian Fathers, 30 East Street, Methuen, MA 01844, (978) 682-1963
Ukrainian -
Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 17001 Tomki Road, P.O. Box 217, Redwood Valley, CA 95470, (707) 485-8059
Holy Dormition Monastery (Byzantine Franciscans), P.O. Box 270, Sybertsville, PA 18251, (717) 788-1212
Monastery of the Holy Cross, 1302 Quincey St., NE, Washington, DC 20017-2614, (202) 832-8519
Basilian Fathers, 31-12 30th St., Long Island City, New York, NY 11106, (718) 278-6622
Ruthenians -
Holy Trinity Monastery (Byzantine Benedictines), P.O. Box 990, Butler, PA 16003, (724) 287-6160
Holy Resurrection Monastery, 45704 Valley Center Road, P.O. Box 130, Newberry Springs, CA 92365, (760) 257-4008

Where are the houses of study or seminaries?

Which cities and what level of accreditation do they have, i.e. Master of Divinity, etc.

Bishop John's Answer

Our Diocesan House of Study is St. Gregory the Theologian Seminary, 233 Grant Avenue, Newton Center, MA 02159. Tel. (617) 965-9862. Vocation Director: The Rt. Rev. Philip Raczka, (983) 890-4140 Pastoral, spiritual and liturgical formation is given directly by the Seminary. Academic preparation is given in part by priests of the Diocese in the Seminary, and in part by participation in the Boston Theological Institute (BTI), comprising nine institutions with various degrees available: 1. Boston College Department of Theology (Roman Catholic) 2. Saint John's Seminary (Roman Catholic) 3. Weston School of Theology (Roman Catholic) 4. Holy Cross School of Theology (Greek Orthodox) 5. Episcopal Divinity School (Episcopalian) 6. Harvard Divinity School (Protestant) 7. Andover-Newton Theological School (Protestant) 8. Boston University School of Theology (Protestant) 9. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Protestant)

Registration in academic courses in the BTI is supervised by guidelines drawn from the Program of Priestly Formation (NCCB) and is monitored by the Rector of St. Gregory's, who functions as the academic advisor to the students and must approve all course selections.

We have also in the Diocese St. Basil Seminary of the Basilian Salvatorian Order, 30 East St., Methuen MA 01844 - Tel (978) 683-2471 - Vocation Director: Rev. Deacon James Whelan, BSO, Tel. (978) 683-2471 or (617) 899-5500

We have at the present time one seminarian at St. Gregory's Seminary and one at St. Basil Seminary. "The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for His harvest." (Matthew 9:37)


Icon of Christ rising from the tomb surrounded by people

The Patriarch in Our Melkite Church

by Fr. Francis Marini

Reprinted from Sophia, Volume 31, Number 1, Jan. - Feb. 2001

Role of the Patriarch

Every Melkite faithful knows that the head of the Melkite Catholic Church is the Patriarch, at the present time Gregorios III (Laham). The role of the Patriarch is not always well understood when it comes to the situation of Melkites who are living outside the Middle East, the historical seat of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

According to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Patriarch is the "Father and Head" of the Melkite Church. As Patriarch, he enjoys full authority over all the bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the Melkite Church according to the norm of the approved law. He represents in his person the entire Melkite Church and for all Melkites everywhere.

The authentic Eastern form of Church governance is synodal, that is, the Patriarch governs the Melkite Church together with the Synod or Assembly of Melkite Bishops. The Patriarch exercises executive power and the Synod of Bishops exercises legislative power, similar to the American civil government. That is the reason that all the Melkite Bishops throughout the world gather at Rabweh every year for the annual meeting of the Synod of Bishops. There, under the presidency of the Patriarch, all major decisions affecting the Melkite Church are discussed and enacted.

However, the present Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches distinguishes between the powers of the Patriarch and Synod of Bishops inside the patriarchal territory and outside of it; and it expressly states that their powers are exercised validly only inside the patriarchal territory, with certain limited exceptions. The basic reality is that all laws enacted by the Synod and promulgated by the Patriarch are effective inside the patriarchal territory, but for us Melkites in the United States, the only laws that are currently effective are liturgical laws.

The reason for this distinction is that, from the very earliest times, Patriarchal power or jurisdiction has been subject to a geographical limitation. This restriction, known as the Patriarchal Territory, refers to those regions in which the proper rite of the Church is observed and in which the Patriarch has the right to establish ecclesiastical provinces, eparchies and exarchies. Only the highest authority can change the Patriarchal Territory. The Patriarchal Territory of the Melkite Patriarch is Antioch, All the East, Alexandria and Jerusalem.

The Patriarchal jurisdiction goes back to the very earliest times of the Church. This is clear from canon 6 of the very first Ecumenical Council held at Nicea in the year 325, which recognized the already-existing jurisdiction of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, all based on a relationship to the Apostle Peter of Bethsaida. This same canon was cited by the Second Vatican Council in its decision to restore the powers of the Eastern Patriarchs as existing in a special relationship to the Western Patriarchate of Rome. Throughout the first two millennia of Christianity, the Eastern Patriarchate and the concept or principle of territoriality evolved side-by-side in the Church. A similar evolution occurred in the territoriality principle. In the beginning, the concept was strict territoriality, however, it began to erode almost immediately.

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) recognized the right of Catholic faithful of different rites to pastoral care in their own liturgical tradition and church hastened the formation of hierarchies for the various rites where faithful of different rites lived together. This in turn led directly to the practice of defining the jurisdiction of the hierarchy by the double standard of territory and rite, resulting in the application of a principle, not of strict, but of qualified territoriality as the norm. Thus, both territory and membership in a particular autonomous Church control in both the Latin and Eastern Churches, as is clear even with the Patriarchal Territories, since all of the Eastern Patriarchates overlap to some extent in the Middle East.

It is true that the authentic Eastern tradition requires a Patriarchal Territory, but it is certainly also true that there is nothing to prevent the expansion of the present Territory or the jurisdiction of the Patriarch and Synod of Bishops outside the Patriarchal Territory. The Melkite Patriarchal Territory was already extended in 1894 by Pope Leo XIII. Recent papal statements indicate that both expansion of the jurisdiction outside the territory and expansion of the territory itself are open possibilities. Thus, the idea of expanding the Patriarchal Territory to include all established eparchies wherever they may be is certainly viable.

It is necessary for the survival and growth of the Melkite Church to more fully implement the rich image of the Patriarch as "Father and Head" of our Melkite Church. At the present time, Melkite faithful living outside of the Middle East are more like step-children than children of the Patriarch. To remedy this situation requires the normalization of our relationship to our Father and Head , by preserving our authentic tradition while adapting to a changed and changing world.

(Fr. Francis Marini writes from Brooklyn, NY, where he resides and works)


Message from Lebanon -

From the Patriarchal Residence in Rabweh, near Antelias, Beirut, Lebanon, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving Day, overflowing with the blessings of the Lord.

+John A. Elya

Eparch of Newton

I am pleased to send you the following progress report on the situation of the Melkite Patriarchate regarding the resignation of His Beatitude Patriarch Maximos V Hakim, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem. His Beatitude, 92 year old, bedridden since he had a stroke last February, presented his resignation to the Melkite Synod in a letter dated on October 17, signed by him and four witnesses.

After due consultation with His Holiness Pope John Paul II and the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, an exceptional Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church was held at the Patriarchal Residence, Rabweh, Lebanon on Wednesday, November 22, 2000. It was convened and presided by the Patriarchal Administrator, Archbishop John Haddad of Tyre. The Synod was attended by the following Hierarchs who had come from the Middle East, the Americas and Australia:

Elias Zoghby (Emeritus of Baalbek)

Gregory Haddad (Emeritus of Beirut)

Saba Youakim (Emeritus of Amman, Jordan)

Paul Antaki (Patriarchal Vicar in Egypt and Sudan)

Maximos Salloum (Emeritus of Haifa & Galilee)

Michel Hakim (Emeritus of Canada)

Francois Abou-Mokh (Emeritus Patriarchal Vicar in Damascus)

John Mansour (Patriarchal Vicar Auxiliary in Lebanon)

Michel Yatim (Emeritus of Latakieh)

Lutfy Laham (Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem)

Boulos Borkhoch (Houran and the Arab Mountain)

Andre Haddad (Zahleh, Fourzol and the Beqaa)

John Adel Elya (the United States of America)

Ibrahim Nehmeh (Homs, Hama and Yabroud)

George Riachi (Tripoli, Lebanon)

Georges Kouaiter (Saida and Deir-el-Kamar)

Cyril Salim Bostros (Baalbek)

Antoine Hayek (Paneas and Gedeidet Marjeyooun)

Pierre Mouallem, Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee)

George El-Murr (Amman, Jordan)

Isidore Battikhah (Patriarchal Vicar in Damascus)

Jean Janbart (Aleppo)

Fares Macarone, Brazil

George Kahale Zuhairaty (Venezuela & Argentina)

Issam Darwich (Australia)

Sleiman Hajjar (Canada)

Joseph Kallas (Beirut & Gebeil)

Nocola Sawwaf, Lataquieh

Divided by their sees or residence, they had come from: Lebanon (12), Syria (7), the Holy Land (3), Egypt (1), the United States (1), Canada (2), Brazil (1) Venezuela (1) and Australia (1).

It is worth mentioning that, among the members attending the Synod, seven were retired bishops. In contrast to some other Bishops' gatherings such as the National Conference of Catholic Bishop of America (NCCB), and the Consistory of Cardinals, the retired bishops in attendance at the Melkite Synod enjoy full rights of voting and being voted, on a par with all other bishops. this concern is a good illustration of the traditional high esteem and piety in which Easterners hold the wisdom of old age. According to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, a bishop must present his resignation from office at the completion of 75 years of age. However nothing is mentioned about the retirement of the Patriarch.

Four bishops were excused from attending the Synod: Archbishop Capucci, former Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem and former Apostolic Visitator in Europe; Archbishop Joseph Raya former Archbishop Of Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee, presently residing at Madonna House, Combermere, Ontario, Canada; Bishop Spiridon Matar, retired Bishop of Brazil, and Bishop Nicholas Samra, Auxiliary Bishop of Newton, USA, who had undergone recently a surgical operation.

The following Press Release was issued by the Patriarchate in this regard {signed by the Most Rev. Archbishop Jean Mansour, the Patriarchal Administrator}

The Holy Synod of the Bishops of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church held on November 22, accepted the resignation of His Beatitude Maximos Hakim V, which he had presented to the Synod {by writing, signed by him and by four witnesses,} on October 17, 2000.

On this occasion, the Fathers of the Synod addressed to His Beatitude the following letter: "To His Beatitude Patriarch Maximos V Hakim, The Fathers of the Holy Synod meeting today at the Patriarchal Residence at Rabweh, beg your blessing and your prayer. They express to your Beatitude their gratitude and their appreciation for your great efforts and your valuable endeavors to enhance our Church on all levels and to make it grow spiritually, pastorally and physically, within the traditional area of the Patriarchate and in the Countries of Emigration.

Our Church owes you many memorable favors, which history will write in golden letters On its shining pages, and which your children will remember with great esteem and pride.

We implore long life for your Beatitude and we ask for your good prayers and your paternal blessings, so that we can continue our journey with diligence and perseverance that you and your great predecessors traced for us in the past.

The Synod decided to call for an "elective Synod" {for the election of a new Patriarch} at 10:00 AM, on Monday, November 27.

The Fathers of the Synod ask all their children, clergy, religious and laity, and all their friends, to help them through their prayers to God, so that He will give them the assistance and the Inspiration of His Holy Spirit, in order to elect the person who will be the father, the shepherd and the faithful servant to the Church and the people."

Roman or MelkiteWhat's the Difference   by Fran Colie Originally from Golden Chain - November 1999

Roman or Melkite - What's the Difference?

For many years due to an unhappy preoccupation with things Western, many Melkite Catholics viewed their tradition as simply one of liturgical difference, rather than what it is, a unique, authentic and totally integrated interpretation of the Gospel message. Despite our Patriarch's courage in shaking the torpor of the Latin West to restore the Byzantine Church to its rightful place, as an Eastern Church in our own rite and not merely as an Eastern Rite or subsidiary constituent of the Roman Church, there are still many who are attracted to Western devotions, services and worship, saying "what's the difference, we are all Catholics , Latin or Melkite –same God, same thing – we can fulfill our obligations either way" and pick and choose things they like about both traditions. The point is in the Melkite Church, we don't look upon Church as an obligation.. There is a difference! Church is not something we are obliged to do an hour a week on Sunday. In our tradition it's a way of life - our whole life! The way we see ourselves as people of God - the family of God! The Church is the visible sign of the invisible reality that the faithful are already members of the "kingdom". . Every Sunday at the Divine Liturgy we celebrate Christ's victory over death which has been given to us. when we were baptized and brought into the family of God – the Church. The Melkite Church is that Community of the Holy Spirit, where new relationships are built, a new way of sharing, celebrating, thinking, relating, etc,. Only Eastern Christian theology offers this earthly vision of a new kind of man in Christ, a new kind of society in Christ, which we call the Church. Western Christians with their emphasis on incarnation stress involvement which is good as far it goes. Eastern Christianity fulfills that incarnation with resurrection and transfiguration: the power of transforming man and his universe. Perhaps the best way to teach our tradition is to point out the the distinct differences in religious points of view and devotional attitudes between the Roman and Melkite Churches. When we discover how contemporary, liberating and dynamic our theology is in comparison –and when we discover the riches of our own spirituality, all of which are made manifest in a harmonious symphony in iconography, music and liturgy, - being a Melkite, clearly becomes a matter of .choice, rather than an accident of birth. The difference is that we are a risen people - we don't pray to save our souls - and we don't wonder if we have merited heaven by enough , piety , study and actions that are prescriptions for Western church models of spiritual development. In our tradition we are already in the Kingdom and our edict is not to save ourselves but to grow in divinity. Our tradition is not one of rules and recipes or ‘how to's', placing all the burden on what man has to do ‘to get to heaven when he dies', but an experiential faith built on relationship with God-Trinity, that transforms and makes us 'new creatures' as we open ourselves to God in prayer and receive His deifying love. We do not have to live in doubt as to the ultimate reality of what will happen to us when we die – heaven or hell? The choice is ours. We exercise our free will to choose to become like God or to close God out and become locked in a prison of our own self-centeredness, where the only face we see for all eternity is our own. When we are self-centered, it is impossible for us to love. We must transcend ourselves, move out of ourselves to love. God makes it easy for us to do this and grow by sharing the burden with us. In our church we call this reciprocity between God and man ‘synergy'. God works within us as we consciously center on God in our hearts. That is why our tradition is contemplative not activist. In silence, deep, focused prayer, we allow God to transform us into His ‘likeness' and move us outward in ‘diakonia' (service) to others. This process continues for all eternity. It doesn't end with physical death. Religion is relevant for living now and for all eternity. These are spiritual laws for success in this life and beyond. For Melkites, there is no difference between natural and supernatural. The supernatural is natural for us! We don't have to suffer now and wait for physical death in order to experience the joy of heaven. There is a difference! Our entire sanctuary is concealed by the iconostasis:the icon screen; the tangible witness to the mystery we live in the liturgy. It is a symbolic gateway into the kingdom of Heaven. The Church is not the result of human organization, law and order and uniformity. The Melkite mind sees the Church, not as a visible society headed by Christ, but as a Theophany, the eternal breaking into time and unfolding of the divine life through the deifying transformation of humanity in worship. Life in the Church is spoken in terms of glory, light, vision, union, transfiguration and deification. The more juridical vocabulary of power, order, right and justice is less known. The use of terms alone connotes a warm positive, joyful and dynamic attitude about religion rather than an austere and impending one. The Romanesque architecture, with its round arches gives us a safe feeling of being enveloped, rather than the narrow, upward pinnacles typical of Western architecture that leaves us feeling abandoned, spiritually indigent and distanced from God. In the Melkite Church we pray in the rich and full dignity of God and not in the misery and poverty of men. The western mind sees the moral aspects of the sacraments and spiritual life and the strength received from them as an aid in their pilgrimage toward their final beatitude, which to them is not certain. For the westerner, grace is a principle of meritorious action restoring in man the capacity for good works. For us, man is an imperfect similitude of God, which grace perfects. Life in Christ is progressive transformation unto the Likeness of God (process theology. We speak more of divinization and transfiguration to the 'Likeness' of God and less of merit and satisfaction and Beatitude. There is a difference! Divine providence has brought to a place in the history of Ecumenism where we have a responsibility to the universal church to be ourselves. The Roman Church cannot be Catholic (universal) without the Eastern Church. The Church to be truly Catholic must breath with both lungs – East and West. It seems in light of ecumenical events, we Melkite should be more conscious that we have an indispensable vocation to teach and to present ourselves to the whole Church. Moreso, we must reroute ourselves in the doctrines and writings of the Eastern Fathers and stand by what they represent. To do otherwise is to perpetuate an ecclesiastical schizophrenia among our Melkite people. Are we Roman Catholic or Melkite Catholic? No we are not Roman Catholics who do some things a little bit differently from the Latin Church. We have our own I dentity! We have a distinct, separate theology., tradition, spirituality, liturgy, and canon law – that is not opposed to Roman Catholicism, but complimentary to it We have so much to give of our unique and ancient theological and spiritual view of God, of what constitutes a human being in God's view, and of the world around us, that is not evil, but belongs to God. We cannot be casual about this. Continued indifference will result in continued second class citizenship and eventual loss of our identity..

A Vision for the Church

Chapter One


Bearers of the Mysteries

Chapter One

One of the most memorable characters in Alice in Wonderland is the Cheshire Cat. This creature has the unusual ability to appear and disappear, in whole or in part, when ever it is convenient. It is often portrayed issuing statements from its visible head while it's body is nowhere to be seen.

In the view of many people, the Christian faith resembles the Cheshire cat. There is a head (Christ) and a number of teachings issuing from his mouth (the Bible), but He does not seem to have anything like the body mentioned in the Scriptures themselves, which it calls the Church. People feel that they can be perfectly good followers of Christ without having anything to do with His Church.

This individualistic approach to Christianity is understandable within our society. We live a in much less communal lifestyle that most people before us. Whereas others lived around the communal camp fire, a town market place, even a tenement stoop, modern means of communication have made it possible for us to live in increasing isolation from one another. With our postal system, telephones, radio and TV broadcasts, cars and planes, fax machines, and the like we can live in the farthest suburb, shop by calling an 800 number, and pay by mail, and - best of all - unplug all these conveniences when we want to be alone. We could even use the skills and laborers of others without having to interact with them as persons.

The way the technology has transformed our society has, of course, touched the way that we look at our Faith. We can put our parish contribution on our charge card and then stay home and watch a TV preacher or hear a recording of Christian music. In short, we can take up all the devices available to support our Christian life but use them to replace our experience the church instead.

God Forms A People

The Cheshire Cat - the head without a body - exists only in Lewis Carroll's story. Our experience of God in Christ is the exact opposite, for it is His aim to make us all one body in Him. He created us as a community with the living need for living together, for "it is not good for man to be alone that am" (Genesis 2:18), and for living in communion with Him. Our identity, in God's plan, comes not so much from our individuality as from our connectedness with creation, with others, and with God Himself.

As we know, even God's plan hit a snag, as our desire for autonomy fractured these relationships. As the book of Genesis records, yielding to this side of our humanity causes us to be alienated from one another, from creation and from God. We are evicted from paradise, not so much as punishment it as the inevitable consequence of seeking autonomy.

Because our broken nature continually urges us to separate ourselves from one another, God has worked through our history to bring us back together in fulfillment of His original plan. Because it is the entire human family that He calls to be in fellowship with Himself, His love for us is always shown in the context of the community.

God's dealing with the Jews seem to contradict that plan. The set them up part as a separate people, a distinct community which was not to mingle with others. And yet this was precisely so they would come to see that true human society demands a relationship with God. Their ‘peoplehood", to invent a new term, was not to depend merely on tribal or racial characteristics, but on their faith in the one true God. As with Adam and Eve in the Garden, they were to form one community with Him. As such it was to be a preparation for an even richer experience of fellowship with God.

In Christ the "barrier of hostility" (Eph 2:14) separating the Jews from other nations is destroyed. In it no longer only the physical descendants of Abraham who are members of God's family (Rom 9), but anyone who trusts in God as Abraham did. There is a new Israel, as "those who are not my people I will call my people, and those who were not loved, I will call "Beloved" (Hos 2:25). God has expanded the ranks of His community to include anyone who would share in His life. Yet, although this community is not limited to a single racial or ethnic grouping, it is a people nonetheless.

Eden Revisited

When people use the word "church," they are often referring to a building usually their parish church or another neighborhood landmark. But when this term is used in Scriptures, it never refers to a place, to a ‘where,' but always to a ‘who.' The word literally means the ‘assembly' or the ‘gathering,' the people who are being called by God to live in fellowship with him. The church is the regrouping of the descendants of Adam and Eve, called back to the fellowship of the Garden. Living as it is in unbroken communion with God, the Church is that segment of the human family in which His original purpose for mankind is being fulfilled.

The Church takes us back to the creation, but the story of creation in the book of Genesis takes us still further back: to before time began. The Scriptures tell us that the human race finds its model or pattern in none other than God. "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26), says God, and then creates a family. Many Church Fathers saw this statement as pointing to the fact that God himself is a ‘family,' the Holy Trinity, and that none of us is ever complete as an individual. God has given us the possibility of being completed by being in relationship with others, even as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in fellowship of with one another. Since our human nature cannot be fulfilled except in community, the gift of the Christian life can be lived only in community as well: that community we call the Church.

In Christ and in the Spirit

In the life of each of us there are many communities. We belong to clubs, classes, professional associations: groupings of many kinds, formed when people decide to come together for one purpose or another. But in the church we have a fellowship with God as well. He is party to our gathering, and He in fact is the One who has called us together in Christ.

This is what is meant when St. Paul, echoed by many Fathers, speaks of the Church as "the community of the Holy Spirit". The Church is not simply a human community called together by like minded persons in a religious bent. It is gathered by God whose Holy Spirit dwells in it, enlivens it and makes its activities the occasion for divine action.

The Church is further described in the New Testament as the Body of Christ. This image says several things to us. First of all, it indicates that Christ is the Head of the body. He is the One who gives the direction, the energy, and the life to the entire organism. This image also speaks of the in describable intimacy which exists between Christ and His church. There is no closer bond in existence than the union of the varied aspects of the human person. They share one life, affect one another in every way, and depend on one another as well. And, as the head does not exist without the other parts of the body, unlike our friend the Cheshire Cat, neither does Christ exist any longer without His Body, the Church.

We see this divine presence manifested in the variety of spiritual gifts which are continually bestowed on the Church. St. Paul described many of them. Some we might call extraordinary gifts, such as prophesying, healing or working miracles. Other gifts involve authority, such as the exercise of headship: being an apostle or pastor. Still other gifts are concerned with more ordinary activities of the body such as teaching, extending charity, helping. In these, as well as the other gifts which have become evident throughout the history of the Church, such as the witness of martyrdom or monasticism, we see the evidence that the Lord is within His community. These signs are the fruit of God's presence to His people,

Another consistent sign of his presence is evident in the holy mysteries or sacraments, when God answers the Church's prayer to transform the situation into a vehicle of His presence. But the mysteries are not the only event in the Church's life in which the presence of God is shown forth. Every aspect of the Church's life can manifest the presence of God when its activities are conducted with the awareness of that presence and dependence on his guidance

And so, in all the facets of the church's life, we find that we have been gifted by God with nothing less than His own presence in our midst. Whenever we receive a gift, we are called to respond to the giver by accepting what we have been given, by taking care of it, and by treating it with something of the care that we would show to the one who has given it to us. The same is true with the great mystery which is the Church. We are called to be stewards of this vehicle of God's presence. Yet, at the same time, we know that many - perhaps most - church activities are conducted oblivious to the Spirit within and or to Christ its Head. As a result they are sometimes fruitless and at other times they may even manifest the presence of another spirit far from only. This is because, while the Spirit of God dwells in the Church, He does not oblige us to respond to His presence. Church life, like our own personal Christian life, is meant to be one of synergy, our conscious cooperation with God within. The Church is human as well as divine because it is us as well as it is God.

The tension between the presence of God in the Church and the effect of our broken human nature on Christians points to still another reality in the life of the Church. While the Church is essential to experiencing God's plan for us, it is also an inadequate vehicle for seeing that plan fulfilled. This is because the Christian community is but a token or pledge of the Kingdom of God to come. In that kingdom we will live in perfect harmony with the Lord, something only hinted at in the life of the Church today. But that life, which will be complete in eternity, has begun now in the Church. Here it is possible to share the divine life, to live in fellowship with God, to have the Spirit of God dwell within us. This is what the Church is all about, what all its structures, institutions, and rites are intended to revealed to us. Thus it is the Christian community itself which is, as St. Paul calls it, the temple of God in which His Spirit dwells (1 Cor 3:16). It is the building which we construct through our life together in Christ.

What is the "Local Church"?

When we speak of the church in the above images, we sometimes give the impression that we are describing an abstract or ideal Church. We may not see the presence of God in our personal experience of Church. Perhaps this has been partly responsible for the tendency to think of the Church as a world institution of which we are simply a division. Many people have come to see their local parish or diocese much like the local MacDonald's: a branch of a big, multinational corporation with national and state offices and identical outlets throughout the world. Wherever you go you can find the same Big Mac and fries that you will get that sure hometown store.

This is not the image of the Church we find in Scripture and in the consistent tradition of the Christian East. Here the local Church is not portrayed as a ‘part' of a universal Church. Rather the local Church is an incarnation of the entire Church, in heaven and on earth. Just as the risen Lord is fully present in each particle of the Holy Gifts which are "broken but never divided, eaten but never consumed", so too the Body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit, is fully present in each local Church throughout the world.

The average Christian tends to think of the "local church" as meaning the neighborhood parish. The Church's understanding of that term is different. Rather a "local Church" is that group of believers gathered around its bishop with his priests and deacons, and which is in communion with its sister Churches throughout the world.

Let's explore the various aspects of that definition.

First of all, as we have said above, the Church is a "who," not a "where." It consists of all those baptized in Christ, in whom the Spirit of God dwells. Because He is our bishop, Sayyidna is not more a member of the Church than the infant christened in the parish last Sunday. If your baptism has made you a member of Christ's Body and a temple of his Holy Spirit, you have the fullness of Christian life in you. There isn't any more.

The Spirit does give a variety of gifts to His Church. All these gifts are important, but the one that has been recognized since the first century as absolutely essential is the gift of overseeing the life of the community which is given to the bishop. He is the one who presides over the entire life of the community, especially the Divine Liturgy in which each local Church finds its identity. Thus the bishop is the focal point of unity in the local Church: you simply cannot have a Church without one. That is why St. Cyprian of Carthage would say, "The people at united to their bishop, the flock clinging to their shepherd, are the Church. So you ought to know that, while the bishop is in the Church, the Church is also in the bishop" (Letter 66,8).

When we speak of local Church, then, we mean that community of the believers headed by its bishop which we have come to call by the institutional terms of eparchy or diocese.

At the beginning of the Church's history, there was probably only one Christian community in a given area. Their bishop presided at a single liturgy which they all attended. In some respects, then, the local Church resembled the modern day parish. But because the church is not some kind of a monarchical state, the bishop in these communities was always surrounded by a group of presbyters or elders who were his advisers and associates in the ministry of the headship, and by another group, the deacons, who were responsible for the material affairs of the community. Because they had these positions of responsibility, they also had prominent roles in the worship of the community. The presbyters surrounded the bishop at the Holy Table and the deacons attended to the material requirements of the service

As a local church began to grow, subgroups developed, especially in outlying areas of the cities and it was increasingly difficult for everyone to gather in one place. So bishops began sending some of their presbyters out to these satellite groups as his representatives. Our modern day parrishes, under the leadership of a presbyter, are the results of this development. The parish, then, was a kind of mission from the bishop's cathedral to accommodate those believers living far from the center of the local Church.

The bishops role as father of every parish in the diocese is expressed in many ways to this day. Most visible is the bishop's chair traditionally found in every parish church, whether the bishop is present or not. It serves as a reminder of his relationship to the local parish. The bishop the is commemorated by name in all public offices of the Church (Liturgy, vespers, etc.) and, through his representative, the presbyter, is part of all activities of the parish.

Churches in Communion

No local church stands simply on its own feet. While each diocese fully reflects the entire Christian life, no diocese sprang into being in and of itself. A few local Churches, such as the Apostolic Sees of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch or Jerusalem, were gathered around the Lord's own disciples. All the rest throughout the world are the daughter Churches of the others.

The life of the local Church is maintained and strengthened through its communion with its mother Church and also with all the other local Churches with which it shares the faith. Thus our identity as a local Church is ratified through our relationship with our mother Church, the patriarchate of Antioch, and through it with all the other local Churches throughout the world. The worldwide Church is, therefore, more a family of families than in international corporation.

All these dimensions to the local Church are fully realized in the Divine liturgy, especially when celebrated by the bishop. Then the whole Church is seen as coming together to experience and celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit working in its midst. Bishops, presbyters, and deacons, surrounded by all the faithful, come before the Father with the assurance of an adopted family, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our communion with other local Churches is expressed as well. As the Bishop prepares to receive the gifts, he opens the antimension, the decorated altarpiece signed and blessed by the patriarch as a sign of communion. The bishop's response is to pray for the patriarch and synod and, through them, the Pope and all other bishops with whom we are in communion. Thus the fullness of the Church is made manifest in unity.

It is in this vision of Church that our own community, the diocese of Newton, has taken shape and lives. But every vision must be realized in the concrete, unless it is to remain the only a dream. And so, to know the Temple of God which is our local Church, we must begin to look at the living stones of which it is being built: to see who they are and what they are doing to realize this vision for our day.

For your reflection

1. When I hear the word "Church" do I think of:
Us or them?
A building or people?
A parish, the diocese, or the world wide body?
An institution or a community?
2. Does the description of our local Church in this chapter differ from my previous idea about what a local church is? If so, how?
Chapter Two of Bearers of the Mysteries


Every human family has its own story to tell. Its memorable figures, their actions that left a mark on their times, events that shaped their world – all these make fascinating study for their descendants if they be recorded for those yet to come.

The Christian community is no different. Each local Church has a history. In this country the story of every diocese is relatively short, but their connection with mother Churches, chiefly in Europe, join them to the 2,000 year history of the worldwide Christian community.

Our mother Church is perhaps the oldest continuous Christian community in the world. Our Church has its roots in the two principal cities of the Roman province of Syria. Scripture records that there was a Christian community of Jewish origin in Damascus before Saint Paul's conversion in 38 AD. It was there that he was headed when he encountered the risen Christ (Acts 9:1-9).

Even more than Damascus our history has been associated with the city of Antioch, established as a Greek colony in Syria about 300 BC. The beginnings of the church there are documented in the New Testament also, where we see the Gospel brought to Antioch by Christians who fled Jeerusalem when St. Stephen was martyred (c. 48 AD). It was at Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians (Acts 11:26) and it was in this same Church that the term "Catholic" was introduced by St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 108 AD). As the capital of the province, Antioch was to become the site of the area's most prestigious church, later to be designated third of the great Apostolic Patriarchates, along with Rome, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.

The 2,000 year history of the Patriarchate of Antioch – ten times longer than the life span of the United States - is too complex to be detailed here. We will not even begin to chronicle its story. We will simply indicate some of the people, events, and forces which shaped the life of our Church over the ages and which continue to touch us as members of the Melkite Church today.


From its very beginnings the Church of Antioch has been a heterogeneous community. Antioch was a Greek colony, a city established as a trading center. As such it attracted within its walls a variety of people's from east and west, with Greek, the "international language" of its day, as its tongue.

At the time of Christ it is estimated that Antioch contained from twenty to forty thousand Jews and it was among them the Gospel was first preached in Syria. The Scripture records that almost immediately the local Greeks (pagans) were evangelized as well (Acts 11:19-21). This made Antioch to be the first Church community in Christian history made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. Many scholars feel that much of the controversy between these two groups recorded in the New Testament was played out in this first Antiochian Church.

While the Jews who accepted Christ were eventually assimulated into one community with the Gentiles, there was another example of pluralism in Syrian Christianity which exists to this day. Antioch was always a Greek speaking settlement in the midst of a native Semetic peoples. Outside the city walls Syriac or Aramaic was the more common language. As the gospel spread into the outlying areas the Church took on a Semetic as well as a Greek face. While they were one in many forms and expressions, they also developed different characteristics in thought, liturgical flavor, and finally Church structure. During the period of the Byzantine Empire (fourth to fourteenth centuries) the Greek community increasingly identified with its co-religionists in Constantinople while the Syriac community remained distinct. Today descendants of the Greek community form the Antiochian (Greek) Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholic Church's. The Syriac community continues in the Maronite, Syrian Catholic and Syrian Orthodox churches.

While God works for good in the midst of every circumstance (cf Rom 8:28), so does satan. Thus it was that two enriching developments, cultural pluralism and freedom, contributed to the first major lasting division among Christians! The fourth century brought the Church freedom from persecution as the Empire at first tolerated then embraced Christianity. Christians no longer needed to concentrate on survival. The resulting freedom saw an explosion of creativity in religious expression. It also witnessed the rise of conflicting theologies. As culturally distinct Churches embraced one or another of these theologies, the disruption of communion resulted.

The first such fracture enduring to our day came in the early fourth century, in what has become known as the Nesorian controversy. Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, upheld a vision of Christ which seemed to deny the unity of divinity and humanity in Him. In consequence he refused to call Mary Theotokos (Mother of God). Saying that she was only the mother of Christ's humanity. When this position was rejected at the Council of Ephesus (431 AD), many in the East Syrian or Mesopotamian Church continued to side with Nestorius, a Persian by birth. They severed communion with the other Churches and became known as the Church of the East and of the Assyrians.

In the next generation a similar rupture touched Antioch itself. While Nestorius' vision of Christ seemed to deny the unity of His human and divine nature's, others had a viewpoint which seemed to deny the distinctness between them. This teaching, which became known as Monophysitism, was rejected at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In the Middle East this Council was perceived as preferring Greek philosophy over the Scriptures. The non-Greek communities (Syriac and Coptic) would not accept it. There were now three distinct communions. In addition to the Nestorians mentioned above, there were the Chalcedonians (the Latins and Greeks) and the non-Chalcedonians (the Armenians, Copts and Syrians). The non-Chalcedonian Churches remain in communion to this day and are generally known as the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

It is in the context of this Chalcedonian controversy that the term Melkite first made its appearance. The Byzantine Emperor often used his civil power to enforce Chalcedonian teaching in his realm. Thus the opponents of that council labeled its supporters "king's men" or imperialists. This had the same emotional connotation as the term Tory held during the American revolution. Nonetheless it stuck, and remained popular in the Middle East for centuries to designate all those (Greeks, Latins, Maronites and the Syriac speaking Christians in the patriarchate of Jerusalem) who accepted Chalcedon. In the modern era the term has been used exclusively by the Greek Catholic Church in the Middle East.

Pluralism is still an important factor in our life today. Unlike many other groups, we were never in serene possession of a territory unto ourselves. We have always lived with others in the wider community and in our own Church. This might account for the fact that many in our Church often seem more knowledgeable and/or more familiar about other Church traditions and less concerned about their own? Might it also account for the fact that many in our Church are more concerned than average about Christian unity?

For your reflection

Reflect on your personal experience of pluralism in the church. Then consider this:

  1. What you think are the advantages to pluralism in the Church?
  2. What are some possible disadvantages?
  3. What can overcome these disadvantages?
  4. Is there pluralism within your local parish? What is the effect on the community and how to you deal with it?

Islam and the Crusades

The next major factor with lasting effect on our Church was the rise of Islam in the seventh century. The successors of Muhammed were able to unite the many nomadic tribes of Arabia and within 50 years had wrested most of the Middle East from Byzantine control, capitalizing on the increasingly bitter divisions between the Greeks, Syrians and Copts. The Muslim conquest had the curious effect of bringing stability to the Christian communities, unknown since the Roman persecutions. The need to survive unified each group within itself and from time to time the specter of a common foe even caused the various Christian communities to improve their relations.

The Melkites, being most associated with the routed Byzantines, became isolated. As a result, the Antiochian Melkite increased their identification with Constantinople. For some time the patriarch was appointed by Constantinople and even resided there. Sometimes there was no patriarch. This continued into the eighth century when the Moslem caliph intervened, ruling that the patriarch had to be a Syrian and reside in his territory.

Nevertheless, the Melkite identification with Constantinople continued. Antioch drew a kind of solace from its connections with the free Byzantine patriarchate. Constantinople drew much wealth from the spiritual resources of the Melkites in the Middle East. Much of the Byzantine liturgical tradition came from Antioch and Jerusalem during this period, especially through monastic influence. Melkites too felt the effects of the sporadic Byzantine attempts to reconquered territory from the Muslims. Although no longer politically united, the Melkites of Constantinople and the Middle East were spiritually one.

It was no surprise, then, that the Greek Melkites in the Middle East continued their identification with Constantinople during its controversy with Rome in the eleventh century. Despite the many attempts of Constaninople to control the church in the Middle East, there was never a question that the two shared one spiritual tradition. This sense of identity was heightened during the Crusades.

The period from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries was punctuated by several Crusades, attempts by European Catholics to drive the Moslims from the Holy Land and the Middle East in general. Many of these Crusaders often had their purposes as well, chiefly the building up of their own fortunes. When they were successful in seizing territory from the Muslims they would set up their own principalities rather than restore the native Christians to power. They did the same in the Church, often replacing Melkite biships and patriarchs with Latins. As a result the Greek hierarchy in the Middle East was forced to take refuge in Constantinople once more, fostering an even greater sense of identity than before. They now had the Latins was as well the Muslims as their common enemy.

This identity with Constantinople insured that the Melkite spirituality and tradition would continue to develop along the same lines as the other Byzantine churches. Nevertheless, because of the Islamic society in which they lived, Christians in the Middle East did develop distinct strains of thought which have long escaped the attention of the rest of the Christian world. Many writings from this period are now being translated into western languages for the first time with the promise of shedding new light on the life of these, the first Christians since Constantine to be living in a post-Christian culture.

Surprisingly enough, the dependence of Antioch on Constantinople increased after the Turks conquered the Byzantine Capital in 1453. The Turkish Sultan wanted to deal with as few underlords as possible, so he made the patriarch of Constintinople responsible for all the Greek Christians in his realm and the Armenian patriarch responsible for all the non-Chalcedonians. These hierarchs became the civil as well as the religious leaders of the people, leaders of the millet, or nation, as well as of the Church.

Besides deepening the relationship of Greek Christians in the Middle East with Constantinople, the Turkish plan also helped to preserve the identity of the individual Christian communities. Since the empire adopted Islamic law as its official norm, the millets were allowed to follow their own disciplines, especially governing family life. They often had their own sections in the larger cities as well, allowing them to live relatively autonomous lives. A remnant of this may still be seen in the old city of Jerusalem where the Greek and Armenian Quarters are still well defined.

In the centuries to follow the Turks allowed first one Christian community then another to form their own millet. This meant in effect that each Church was a separate subject nation with its chief bishop as ethnarch (head of the nation) as well as patriarch. One feature of the millet system which survive the fall of the Turkish empire is the sense of membership in a Church as first of all a matter of ethnic heritage rather than of personal faith commitment. Thus Bishop Kallistos (Timothy Ware), an English convert to Orthodoxy, tells of being criticized by a Greek for joining the Orthodox Church. The Greek believed that Ware, as an Englishman, should have remained Anglican. The Greek himself claimed to be an atheist, but participated in the life of the church for purely ethnic reasons!

Today our Church has to deal with the same realities. It is a segment of the Antiochian Church, sharing much in common with Syrian Catholics and Othodox as well as Maronites. At the same time, like the Antiochian Orthodox, we identify more with the Byzantine spiritual tradition that the Antiochian. Nevertheless, people often ignore our common spiritual heritage to focus on ethnicity, perpetuating the millet system, as it were.

For your reflection

Look at your own perception of our Church's relationships with other eastern Christians and ethnic Middle Easterners. Then consider this:

  1. Do people in your town identify your parish chiefly as a "millet" (ethnic community) or Church (religious community)?
  2. Do people in your parish identify more with other Byzantines (Romanian, Ukrainian, etc.) or other Middle Easterners (Christian or Muslims)?

Contact with the West

The third major factor in our Church's development has been the influence of Western Christianity. Although there was never a time when there was not some kind of relationship between Eastern and Western Christians, perhaps the most decisive of such contacts came in the wake of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation in Western Europe. The challenges of this age motivated a great deal of activity of all kinds in the West. One of these movements concerned the East.

Early in the Reformation some Protestant authorities had established communication with the Greek patriarch in Constantinople, hoping to find a common faith with the Orthodox. Although one patriarch, Cyril (Lukaris), showed marked Calvinist leanings, the Orthodox were quick to refute Protestantism in their church.

In reaction Roman began opening a series of colleges for Eastern Christians in Rome: the Greek College, the Maronite college, the Armenian college. These were welcomed by the Easterners who had no opportunities for learning under the Turks. The renaissance and baroque eras were the West's most creative and developed ages, and the contrast with the subjected Christians of the East was painfully obvious. The next hundred years were marked by a continually increasing Westernization of the Eastern Churches. The Orthodox in Eastern Europe, were free to establish learning centers, adopted Western methods, even in the study of theology. The Orthodox in the Middle East, who were not free in this way, welcomed the presence of Western clergy and nuns who opened schools on European models under the protection of the European embassies. From a cultural standpoint the Westernization of the Byzantine Churches, which began in earnest at this time, continued unchecked until the present century.

Throughout the seventeenth century, a number of bishops and patriarchs favored union with Rome, for various reasons. They were accustomed to seeing an outside patriarch as a patron, a role which the equally subject patriarch in Constantinople could no longer fulfill. In addition, local ecclesiastical politics was often a factor. One party in a controversy would appeal to Constantinople: the other would profess union with Rome. If the favorite of Rome achieved his goal, he often rennounced his association with the Pope. It had served its purpose. It can be said that the flirtation with Rome in this period was a reaction to Constantinople's centuries old habit of interfering in the affairs of the Middle East.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century several bishops of the Antiochian patriarchate sent a profession of faith to Rome. The Pope appointed one of them, Bishop Euthymios (Saifi) of Tyre and Sidon as vicar for any Catholics not under any of these bishops. Finally in 1724 the Catholics chose Euthymios' nephew, Seraphim Tanas, the preacher of the patriarchate, to head the Antiochian Church. The Orthodox appealed to Constantinople which appointed a Cypriot monk on Mount Athos, Sylvester, as patriarch. This marks the beginning of the two Greek patriarchates of Antioch , Catholic and Orthodox, which exist today.

Curiously enough the Latin man missionaries in the Middle East at the time were themselves divided over which patriarch to recognize. International politics and regional loyalties enabled with questions of doctrine any clues he asked ideology, leaving the situation fluid for several years. It was not until a full 20 years later after his election that Cyril was recognized by Rome as patriarch.

This division into two rival patriarchates has several consequences which affect us to this day. The first is institutional: that we exist as a distinct community, separated from the Antiochian Orthodox Church with which we were one for 1700 years. We share the same liturgical, spiritual and theologic tradition but have gone on own way for over two centuries. At the beginning the division was bitter, later on people got used to it and accepted it as normal. This is perhaps worse than the bitterness, because it says that the division is to be expected in the Body of Christ.

For Your Reflection

In many places, particularly in some parts of the Middle East, there is cooperation between our patriarchs, bishops, and local parish priest. Yet it is too easy for us to concentrate on our own activities and not feel the pain of separation from this, our closest Sister Church. Reflect on your own experience, then consider this:

  1. What do you think can be done in your community in common with our sister Antiochian Orthodox Church? What must be done separately?
  2. How important is it to you that such cooperation take place?
  3. Where might you start to initiate such activity?

The Second Consequence

The second consequence is on the level of ideas and attitudes: because of our union with Rome, we've come under an ever increasing Westernizing influence during the last 250 years. As clergy and people promoted Western Catholic education for themselves and their children, they exchanged their own proper heritage for the western theology and spirituality of the time. What was a Roman Catholic was, after all, European and what was European was clearly superior to anything and their experience, or so it seemed.

While clearly seeking to introduce Western thinking into the Melkite community, Rome insisted that the liturgy remain unadulterated. Nevertheless, a growing number of Western customs found their way into Melkite practice. Even when they did not, our community understood less and less of the spirit which had formed its worship. It retained the forms, but was going further and further away from the thinking which underlies these forms. We approached Byzantine Christianity in much the way that Kierkegaard described religion and modernist Europe. We were making tea with a piece of paper that had lain in a drawer next to used tea bag. In other words, there was some connection back in with our Eastern heritage, but it had become so watered down as to be unrecognizable in many instances.

Curiously, something similar happened to the Orthodox. In reaction to Rome, which had swallowed a goodly number of its children, the Antiochian Orthodox Church welcomed the Protestant missionaries from England and the US. Although the goal was first to assist the Local Church, these missionaries some decided that orthodoxy was "unreformed" (or on reformable) and set up their own congregations, drawing many away from the Church. The result was a number of former Orthodox Christians formed into imitation Victorian Protestants, singing "Nearer My God to Thee" in Arabic. As in the Catholic experience, Protestantism was seen as superior because it was European. The importance of this cultural factor is clear when we realize that in some parts of the Middle East the popular name for all Catholics was "Frenchmen" (Frangi) and for all Protestants was "Englishmen" (Ingleesi)!

Recovering an Identity

Throughout the eighteenth century our Melkite ancestors lived in a fragile existence. Spiritually and culturally they had identified with European Catholics and yet we're not European. Civilly they remained as part of the Greek or Rum millet, which meant that they were still civil subjects of the Ecumenical Patriarch, although no longer in communion with him. This only changed in the nineteenth century when the Sultan removed the Catholics from his rule. The Sultan was not doing this out of any consideration for the Melkites, but to punish the Ecumenical Patriarch for the Greek Revolution of the 1820' s!

At first the Melkites were made part of a generic Catholic millet with an Armenian priest as ethnarch, but they continued to agitate for recognition as a separate "nation". This was achieved at last in 1848 through the efforts of Patriarch Maximos III. Over 100 years after its ecclesiastical identity was determined, the Melkite community attained civil recognition.

Civic status was extremely important to the Melkites of that day. It provided them with a sense of identity, recognition that they were a Church, a distinct community, not a part of another identity. They continued to find their identity in this civil nationhood as long as the Turks governed the Middle East. The Church retains some civil functions to this day in some parts of the Middle East, where Church courts often have the power which belong to probate courts in the U.S.

The millet system continued until the downfall of the Ottoman Empire after World War One when power in the Middle East passed from the Turks to the British and French. When that happened, a new nationalist identity (eg. Syrian or Lebanese) began to emerge and the Churches began losing their tribal functions. The Melkite community started to look elsewhere to find its purpose: back to the roots of its Eastern spiritual heritage.

The Westernizing tendency mentioned above was especially strong after the First Vatican Council. Vatican officials constantly sought to control the activities of the patriarchate, despite continual Papal assurances that the patriarchal autonomy of our Church would be respected. This prompted several of our clergy in Egypt to begin investigating the sources of Eastern Christianity during the 1930's. This coterie, nicknamed the Cairo School, included our present patriarch, Maximos V, our eparch, Archbishop Joseph, and the late Archimandrite Orestes Kerame as well as Archbishop Elias Zoghby and Father Michael Geday. Their studies and writings over the next 30 years made a strong impression on our community, reorienting its direction from being a willing participant in the Latinization process. Now the leadership in the Melkite community began to oppose the same Westernizing tendencies in had so long endorsed.

This turnabout came to a head at the Second Vatican Council (1960-65) when an articulate group of Melkite bishops had a great effect in returning the Catholic Church to more collegial and participatory lifestyle. The addresses of Patriarch Maximos IV and other bishops were significant in determining the council's teachings and the nature of the Church and the question of freedom and conscience. Their liturgical witness was received with respect and affected a number of changes in Roman worship. The Ecumenical Patriarch, Athenagoras, considered that Maximos IV was his "representative" at the Catholic Council.

In terms of our own community, this Council's Decree on Eastern Catholic Church's confirmed the direction begun by the "Cairo School" a generation before. It called on us to remain faithful to all our traditions as well as to any which had been allowed to lapse through misunderstanding and neglect. It recognized that we had, not only our own Liturgy, but our own proper spirituality, theology and discipline as well. We were a constituent Church in the Catholic family and needed to maintain fidelity to our traditions if our witness was to be credible. Finally, as a result of this conciliar activity, our community in America was formally instituted as a local Church under the presidency of our own hierarchy, Bishop Justin (Najmy).

The recovery of our Eastern identity is an ongoing process. We have made great strides in this direction in the past 20 years, especially in the area of liturgy. There remains much to be done, particularly on the level of the structural and ecumenical levels, if we are to fulfill our call to witness to the possibility of an authentically Eastern Christian Church living in communion with the Church of Rome.

Working out of this process in our parishes has sometimes been welcomed with joy and at other times has been a source of contention. People have been shaken by the removal of statues or holy water fonts, were confused by the introduction of vespers and orthros. This was anticipated by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council who said,

"All Eastern right members should know and be convinced that they can and should always preserve their lawful liturgical rites and their established way of life, and that these should not be altered except by way of an appropriate an organic development. Easterner's themselves should honor all these things with the greatest fidelity. Besides they should acquire an even greater knowledge and more exact use of them. If they have improperly fall of away from them because of circumstances of time or personage, let them take pains to return to their ancestral ways." (Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches, 6)

For Your Reflection

Change, especially when it means giving up something that we learned to hold dear, is always difficult. It demands "taking pains", as the Fathers understood. And so many of us find ourselves called to endure these changes as a sacrifice born of the greater good of the Church. Reflect on your experience of the last ten years in our Church, then consider this:

  1. What elements in your experience of our Church reflecting the Westernizing tendency have been removed over the past few years?
  2. Have any instances of delatinization caused bad feelings in the parish? How can confusion about this process best be handled?
  3. In which aspects of this process might your parish be ahead of or lagging behind others in the diocese?

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