Melkite Greek Catholic Church

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?

Recovering Our Heritage

Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
email -

Recovering our heritage — We've Only Just Begun

For a number of years Eastern Christian writers in this country have been calling for the development of a style of church life which reflects what they call the distinctive fronema of Eastern Christianity. A fronema" a patristic term, is an attitude, a position and/or a posture which reflects a particular spirit, theological sentiment or frame of mind. The distinctive fronema of Eastern Christianity would be that which is reflected and realized in the personal and liturgical prayer tradition of our Church. This tradition embodies the scriptural, theological and historic spirit we know as Orthodoxy.

Eastern Christians on first coming to the West tried to adapt themselves as much as possible to the culture in which they were now living, including the religious culture. Church design was modified to look more like Western churches. Pews, stained-glass windows and organs appeared in both Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches. In our parishes, as confessionals and holy water fonts were added, Eastern elements were minimized or eliminated. Even Western vestments and altar breads were adopted by some priests, who were isolated from any structure of their own Church. Beards were shaved, icon screens forgotten and icons were replaced by statues. In some communities stations of the cross and novenas were substituted for the proper divine services of our Church. At best the entire liturgical and spiritual life of the community was reduced to an often bare-bones celebration of the Divine Liturgy. As a result, most of our distinctive fronema was lost in the attempt to insure the survival of our communities through "Americanization."

Due to the efforts of the late Archbishop Joseph Tawil, the most glaring examples of this movement have been eliminated, replaced by a more properly Eastern approach. We passed from a pre-teen compulsion to fit in and reached a point of maturity in which it was OK to admit that we are different. Some parishes have redis­covered part of this "fronema" in the restoration of liturgical services which have fallen into disuse. The revival of vespers, orthros, the Presanctified Liturgy and other lenten services is now fairly widespread in the eparchy. For this we can credit Archbishop Tawil who continually stressed a greater familiarity with our liturgical traditions. The hundreds of people chanting vespers at his retirement observance gave the greatest unspoken tribute to his achievement in this regard.

Yet it must be said that there are still a number of our parishes that have yet to achieve anything but the most basic observance of our tradition. As recently as 1999 it has been observed that many of the candidates currently accepted in our deacon program have no experience of vespers or orthros, much less of any lesser service. Have we made any progress in the past twenty years? Can we deny that the majority of our communities are still Western parishes where the Sunday Mass happens to be the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom?

Clearly Western church furnishings have been replaced with the latest from Greece, but this is only the beginning. The rediscovery of our Eastern fronema demands more that changing these externals. It means adopting a mind-set very different from that found in many parishes, where worship and learning consistently take a back seat to ethnic food and music, social activities or fund-raisers. Archbishop Tawil expressed this need in a 1978 message to catechists:

"My first recommendation, if we wish to make ready the way for the overflowing of the Divine in hearts, is to restore the spirit of piety among our people — piety wrought from Faith in the Divine Presence, as with Moses before the bur­ning bush — faith nourished in hope, by speaking to God as to our Father with fi­lial confidence, faith lived in charity and by good works which glorify our hea­venly Father. It is quite a long while since piety was restored, and con­sequently, the spirit of prayer, and we moan and lament in vain at the desolate spectacle of our empty churches and the diminution of religious practices. Piety feeds on prayer as plants do on the sap which comes from the roots.

"All this presupposes on our part a true love of prayer, which must not be presented as a boring obligation, but rather as a natural need, like plants turning towards the sun. God is our only source of life and it is towards Him that we must turn in order to fill ourselves with Him. The daily contact we have with holy things is, after all, only contact with the Living God who is a devouring flame consuming sin and calling to greater holiness. Theology, liturgy and spirituality are dif­ferent approaches to the same Mystery of Faith. Prayer is the glorification of Mystery, the song of humanity responding to divine love with love and manifes­ting its remorse for the offense against the Father's love. The prayer of repentance which becomes, according to St. Isaac the Syrian, 'the trembling of the soul before the Gates of Paradise.' While waiting for the Lord, the Church prays. …

"It is astonishing to see the spread of certain movements entirely centered on Christ or the Holy Spirit, which witness in their own way that the world, which is said to be indifferent to religion, is more athirst than ever for what is Divine. There is room for every one of us to examine our consciences. The youth are summoning us: What have we offered them? Stones, instead of bread? Or have we simply allowed them to die of spiritual starvation when they come to religion class because we have nothing to offer them while we possess the 'riches of Christ?' How sad should we not be, as true teachers and educa­tors, at such apostasy?"

The experience of the past twenty-five years in our diocese has shown that one of the most instrumental ways of reviving a more comprehensive liturgical life has been the restoration of the cantor's liturgi­cal role in our parishes. It is impossible to serve even the Divine Liturgy to the fullest (with all the changeable parts and hymns of the day) without a cantor who is intimately familiar with the liturgical books and can lead the singing of the people in a dignified way. Yet this is not yet a priority in most of our parishes. We have paid secretaries, cooks. housekeepers, janitors, bingo operators, even organists. Is there one parish in the eparchy with a paid staff which employs a cantor? Contrast this with the situation in many Slav parishes, which have two and sometimes three cantors. Our priorities are showing.

Restoring the spirit of piety, to use Archbishop Tawil's phrase, is connected with the state of parish liturgical life. The flowering of liturgical life in our parishes hinges to a great degree on the restoration of this office. This restoration in turn demands that priests and parish councils take the need seriously and seek out suitable men in their communities to fill this office. The Office of Educational Services has prepare a training program for cantors placed totally on cassettes so that each priest may train his singers locally. This program does not simply teach songs or even the eight tones, but our whole understanding of liturgical worship and spirituality as well.

A fuller liturgical life is only one area contributing to an Eastern fronema which we have yet to fully realize. Familiarity with the Scrip­tures, commitment to personal prayer, fasting, and almsgiving along with a host of other aspects of Eastern Christian lifestyle have yet to become fully part of our church life in America. These and more are necessary parts of our fronema and stand ahead of us as goals on the road of rediscovering and living our Eastern heritage.


A Call For Unity - the Melkite Synod (4/97)

Bishop Nicholas Samra

Melkite Synod Calls for Unity - Bishops Agree Reunification of Antiochian Patriarchate is Possible

A press release first issued, September 20, 1996, by Bishop Nicholas Samra Auxiliary Bishop of Newton

The holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church met in Rabweh, Lebanon July 22-27, 1996 and, after studying the question of unity within the Patriarchate of Antioch, declared that communicatio in sacris = worship in common is possible today and that the ways and means of its application would be left to the joint decisions of the two Antiochian Church Synods - Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox. The Synod of thirty-four bishops and four general superiors under the presidency of Patriarch Maximos V (Hakim) deliberated extensively on the topic of church unity particularly within the Antiochian Patriarchate which has been divided since 1724, and issued a document titled, Reunification of the Antiochian Patriarchate. This document is part of the official minutes of the Synod and was made public on August 15, 1996 in the Middle East. It includes eight points about the unity of the Churches and was sent by the Catholic Patriarch Maximos V to the Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV (Hazim). It emphasizes that there is an openness on the part of the Melkite Church to heal the division of 1724 and all the difficulties that followed in order to preserve our one heritage and one worship which is the fount of one belief. The Fathers of the Synod affirmed that unity was not a victory of one church over another, or one church going back to the other, or the melting of one church into the other, but rather putting an end to the separation between brothers... This unity has become possible today because of the extensive work of the Joint International Theological Commission between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. They site [sic] four specific documents of the International Theological Commission and look forward to the study that this commission will make on the role of the Bishop of Rome in the church and in the ecumenical councils.

Emphasis is placed on church unity as it existed in the first millennium when East and West were one. The document quotes Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint - That All May Be One: The Catholic Church desires nothing less than full communion between East and West. She finds inspiration for this in the experience of the first millennium (#16). The Melkite Synod sees that the church of the first millennium could be the model for unity today.

The Synod strongly affirms its full communion with the Apostolic See of Rome and that this communion would not be ruptured.

The Fathers offered their thanks to the International Theological Commission as well as the Joint Synodal Commissions recently reestablished by Patriarch Maximos V and Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV. They offer special thanks to Archbishop Elias Zoghby whose 1995 Profession of Faith was the major force for reopening dialogue with the Orthodox brothers. Zoghby, the former archbishop of Baalbek and a long-time leader among the Melkite bishops, offered this brief statement in 1995 and it was subscribed to by 24 of the 26 bishops present at the 1995 Holy Synod:

  1. I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.
  2. 2. I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the first among the bishops, according to the limits recognized by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation.

This brief profession and its subsequent explanation became the basis for the 1996 Synods discussion on unity. The Fathers delegated the Synod Ecumenical and Theological Commission to deeply research the ways of the reunification, and discuss its canonical and pastoral implications, and to hold joint conferences and conventions to include faithful of both churches (Antiochian Orthodox and Melkite Catholic) on the path towards this unity. Their prayer is that of Our Lord Jesus Christ to his Father: that they may be one, just as we are...that the world may know that you have sent me. (Jn 17: 21-23)

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is a patriarchal church in communion with Rome and is considered a sui juris church within the Catholic communion It follows the traditions of the Greek or Byzantine Church of Antioch. Its patriarch carries the title of Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem. The Church is based in the Middle East with the patriarchal see presently in Damascus, Syria. There are sixteen eparchies or dioceses in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Egypt. Outside the Middle East there are dioceses in the United States of America, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Australia, with vicariates in Western Europe and Argentina.


This document was issued by the Melkite Greek Catholic Holy Synod, meeting in Rabweh, Lebanon, July 1996. It was released to the public on August 15, 1996 - the feast of the Dormition of the holy Mother of God. It appears in the minutes of the above mentioned Synod, dated and signed on Saturday, July 27, 1996 by the Patriarch, 31 archbishops and bishops, and 4 general superiors, whose names and titles are included at the end of the document.

Reunification of the Antiochian Patriarchate

The Fathers of the Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate convened in Rabweh, Lebanon July 22 to July 27, 1996 and studied the documents presented by the Patriarchal Commission established by His Beatitude Maximos V Hakim on March 25, 1996. This Commission consists of Archbishops Elias Zoghby and Cyril Salim Bustros; the patriarch asked them to do whatever is necessary through communications and meetings with the Orthodox Patriarchal and Synodal Commission to reach Antiochian unity through oneness of heart, and to find ways for the two churches - Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox - to return to communion with each other and into unity within one Antiochian Patriarchate. His Beatitude Patriarch Maximos V and Fathers of the Holy Synod are happy to announce the following:

1.They thank His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim and the Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church for their concern on this subject, and the brotherly announcement they gave concerning this unity in the final communique of their Holy Synod convened October 16-22, 1995. They share what the Orthodox said [at this synod] that since receiving the mutual representatives in the 1974 synod with great love, we look forward together to Antiochian unity preserving our one heritage and one worship which is the fount of one belief.

2.They all anxiously look forward to the day when the Melkite Greek Catholics and the Greek Orthodox in the Antiochian Patriarchate return to being one church and one patriarchate. They affirm to all that this reunification does not mean a victory of one church over the other, or one church going back to the other, or the melting of one church into the other. Rather, it means putting an end to the separation between the brothers that took place in 1724 and led to the existence of two separate independent patriarchates, and returning together to the unity that prevailed in the one Antiochian Patriarchate before the separation.

3.They see that this reunification has become possible today through the progress in the communion of faith that has taken place through the grace of God in the recent years on the international level through the Joint International Theological Commission between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. This Commission produced four documents announcing the unity of faith in basic doctrines: The Mystery of the Church and of the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity (1982), Faith, Sacraments and the Unity of the Church (1988), Uniatism, Method of Union of the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion (Balamand 1993). They consider their task of reestablishing communion within the Church of Antioch a part of reestablishing full communion between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches on the international level.

4.The Joint Commission will discuss one point further, that is, the role of the Bishop of Rome in the church and in the ecumenical councils. On this subject the Fathers of the Synod adopt what was stated in the Second Vatican Council: to give due consideration to the character of the relations which obtained between them and the Roman See before separation (Decree on Ecumenism #14); and also what His Holiness Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical That All May Be One - Ut Unum Sint (#61): The Catholic Church desires nothing less than full communion between East and West. She finds inspiration for this in the experience of the first millennium. Concerning the primacy of the Bishop of Rome the Fathers declare that they are inspired by the understanding in which East and West lived in the first millennium in the light of the teachings of the seven ecumenical councils, and they see that there is no reason for the separation to continue because of that primacy.

5.Based on that unity in the essence of the faith [that existed in the first millennium], the Fathers of the Holy Synod that the communicatio in sacris is possible today, and that they accept it, leaving the ways and means of its application to the joint decisions of the two church synods - Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox.

6.The Fathers of the Holy Synod announce they will remain in full communion with the Apostolic Church of Rome and at the same time will work out with her precisely what is required for them to enter into communion with the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

7.They commend the efforts that the ecumenical leaders of our church have made especially Archbishop Elias Zoghby who has been laboring for this more than twenty years. They thank the members of the Joint International Theological Commission for their accomplishments, and ask them to continue the dialogue on this subject. The Fathers delegated the Synodal Ecumenical and Theological Commission to deeply research the ways of the unification, and discuss its canonical and pastoral implications, and to hold joint conferences and conventions to include the faithful of both churches on the path toward this unity.

8.Finally, they ask all their faithful to join with them in prayer so that the holy will of God be fulfilled in all of us and that the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ to his heavenly Father be accomplished: that they may be one, just as we are one...that the world may know that you have sent me. (Jn 17:21-23)

The delatinization process was already taking place in some parishes due to individual initiative. Archbishop Joseph had just been installed as exarch previously that year. Prior to this he had been the patriarch's vicar in Damascus, Syria.
The Courage to be Ourselves: Archbishop Joseph Tawil's 1970 Christmas Pastoral Letter النسخة العربية
To our beloved children, the priests and faithful of the Melkite Church in the United States, peace in Christ our Lord, greetings and blessings.


The incomparably rich writings of our Fathers are the voice of your own ancestors in the faith. Their names are known throughout the Christian world - Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil the Great, the two Gregories, John Chrisostom, John of Damascus, and the rest. We alone can truly say that they are bones of our bones, flesh of our flesh: ours in the truest sense of the term. They lived in the lands of our origin and the riches of their inheritance is now the treasured possession of the entire Church. Still we are the most rightful heirs of their inestimable treasures, for we are their very descendants, sons of the same soil. However true this may be, we do not live in the past, but in the present. Why must we exert so much energy to preserve the heritage of days long since past, we who are such a minority in American Catholicism? Since we live in the United States now, why do we not simply follow the majority of Catholics and become Latin? These questions are often heard and deserve answers. We can do no better than recall the teaching of Vatican II which declared: “History, tradition, and numerous ecclesiastical institutions manifest luminously how much the universal Church is indebted to the Eastern Churches. Therefore, …all Eastern rite members should know that they can and should always preserve their lawful liturgical rites and their established way of life … and should honor all these things with greatest fidelity.”


For a long time the principle of the superiority of the Roman rite, which had become general during the Middle Ages, prevailed in the West. The Latin tradition was considered the only true Catholic tradition, and this led to a certain fixedness among Catholics: the Latin way is the only way! Events of the succeeding centuries only served to heighten the feeling among Latin Catholics that to be Catholic one had to be Roman. Vatican II put an end to this provincialist view of the Church once and for all. The Church cannot be identified, it stressed, with any one culture, nation, or form of civilization without contradicting that universality which is of the essence of the Gospel. The existence of Eastern Churches as part of the Catholic family, although they have distinct customs and traditions in all areas of Church life, dramatically shows that to be Catholic one does not have to conform to the Roman model. Indeed, the Roman Church, as the Council affirmed, has learned many lessons of late from the East in the fields of liturgy (use of the vernacular, Communion in both kinds, baptism by immersion), of Church order (collegiality, synodal government, the role of the deacon), and spirituality. In a very real sense, the Western Church “needs” a vibrant Eastern Church to complement its understanding of the Christian message.


By our fidelity to maintaining our patrimony, by our refusal to be assimilated, the Eastern Churches render a most precious service to Rome in still another area of Church life. Latinizing this small number of Easterners would not be a gain for Rome; rather it would block - perhaps forever - a union of the separated Churches of the East and West. It would be easy then for Orthodoxy to see that union with Rome leads surely to ecclesiastical assimilation. Thus it is for the sake of ecumenism - to create a climate favorable to the union of the Churches - that the Eastern Catholic must remain faithful to his tradition. This providential vocation which is ours opens to the Church an unlimited perspective for preaching the Gospel to all peoples who, while they accept faith in Christ, must still remain themselves in this vast assembly of believers. From what has been said above, it is easy for us to find our place in America's pluralistic societies with its varied Churches and religious groups. In the now famous words of the late Patriarch Maximos IV, “We have, therefore, a two-fold mission to accomplish within the Catholic Church. We must fight to insure that latinism and Catholicism are not synonymous, that Catholicism remains open to every culture, every spirit, and every form of organization compatible with the unity of faith and love. At the same time, by our example, we must enable the Orthodox Church to recognize that a union with the great Church of the West, with the See of Peter, can be achieved without being compelled to give up Orthodoxy or any of the spiritual treasures of the apostolic and patristic East, which is opened toward the future no less to the past.”


We have not yet mentioned the principal dangers which threaten our communities and their mission to the Churches: the ghetto mentality and the assimilation process. In a ghetto life is closed in upon itself, operating only within itself, with its own ethnic and social clichés. And the Parish lives upon the ethnic character of the community; when that character disappears, the community dies and the parish dies with it. One day all our ethnic traits - language, folklore, customs - will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we can not think of our communities as ethnic parishes, primarily for the service of the immigrant or the ethnically oriented, unless we wish to assure the death of our community. Our Churches are not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its riches.


Without doubt we must be totally devoted to our American national culture. We must have an American life-style. We must be fully American in all things and at the same time we must preserve this authentic form of Christianity which is ours and which is not the Latin form. We must know that we have something to give, otherwise we have no reason to be. We must develop and maintain a religious tradition we know capable of enriching American life. Otherwise we would be unfaithful to our vocation. It is often easier to get lost in the crowd than to affirm one's own personality. It takes more courage, character, and inner strength to lead our traditions to bear fruit than it takes to simply give them up. The obsession to be like everyone else pursues us to the innermost depths of our hearts. We recognize that our greatest temptation is always to slip into anonymity rather than to assume our responsibility within the Church. And so, while we opt for ethnic assimilation, we can never agree to spiritual assimilation. One prime source of spiritual assimilation for Eastern Catholics has been the phenomenon known as 'latinization', the copying by Eastern Catholics of the theology, spiritual practices, and liturgical customs of the Latin Church. Latinization implies either the superiority of the Roman rite -the position denounced by Vatican II - or the desirability of the assimilation process, an opinion with which we cannot agree. Not only is it unnecessary to adopt the customs of the Latin rite to manifest one's Catholicism, it is an offense against the unity of the Church. As we have said above, to do this would be to betray our ecumenical mission and, in a real sense, to betray the Catholic Church. For this reason many parishes are attempting to return to the practice of Eastern traditions in all their purity. This has often entailed redecoration of the churches and elimination of certain devotions on which many of the people had been brought up. In some places, our priests, attempting to follow the decree of the Council in this matter have been opposed by some of their parishioners. Other priests have been reluctant to move in this direction, as they feared that division and conflict would result. We should all know in this regard that a latinized Eastern Church cannot bear anything but false witness, as it seems to be living proof that Latinism and Catholicism are indeed one and the same thing. To be open to others, to be able to take our rightful place on the American Church scene, we must start by being fully ourselves. It is only in our distinctiveness that we can make any kind of contribution to the larger society. It is only by being what we are that we retain a reason for existence at all.


Immigrants from Western Europe to the United States had less to do than our fathers did to adapt themselves to the American life-style. The Easterner, on the other hand, found himself immersed in a far different world than that which he knew. The temptation was great to throw off his entire heritage and become what he was not. And so we remember with gratitude our fathers and grandfathers and the priests who accompanied them from the old country for the foundations we have in this immense continent. Those who followed them have also worked well, often building splendid churches with the assistance of the Latin hierarchy. Now we are in the age of the young, American-born priests. To them especially falls the task of perfecting the work begun before them. They are still too few in number, but we hope with confidence that their number will increase. We cannot be grateful enough to those Roman Catholic bishops of this country who took the steps necessary to preserve our heritage while we had no hierarchy of our own on these shores. We think most of all of the late Cardinal Richard Cushing, undoubtedly the greatest benefactor of our church in the United States. Thanks to his apostolic openness and love, he worked for the establishment of our exarchate and generously endowed it with his psychological and financial support once it had been erected. For this reason we have directed that a solemn Liturgy be celebrated annually in our cathedral to perpetuate his memory.


This is not the place to describe in detail the projects we are currently working on. We only list some here: a diocesan religious education program for both adults and youth, a unified text and musical setting for the Divine Liturgy to be followed by similar texts for the other services of the Church, such as the sacraments, a diocesan handbook which we will soon be happy to offer to the faithful and to the friends of our Church, a periodical which will also appear before long, and the general sharing with the faithful of our pastoral responsibility, as in parish councils and an active diaconate among other things. Also high on our priority list are the concerns of youth. Without the participation of the young, we can be assured that all our work is in vain and that our communities will disappear. And so we look forward to implementing a diocesan youth program as well before long. We also recognize that we are reaching only a small number of our faithful while the majority of them are unknown to us. Like the Good Shepherd concerned about the lost sheep, we ask ourselves what can be done for them. We are presently in the process of studying these situations and hope to provide for their pastoral care where possible. With what joy, then, was it to hear Bishop Mark Hurley of Santa Rosa, California observe in a recent speech that “in many of our dioceses Eastern Christians are without churches of their own. It is the duty of the Latin bishops to see that the venerable rites of the East are preserved.” The bishop then called on the Eastern Catholic bishops in America to form parishes in these areas so that “the example of the East may continue to instruct Western Catholics and that the true universality of the Catholic Church may be experienced.


Dear faithful, be united to one another in the love of Christ. Form one soul and one heart with your priests and with one another, for it is only by this union in love that God is truly glorified. With these prayers and sentiments, dear faithful, we ask for you and your families the most abundant blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Archbishop Joseph Tawil Christmas, 1970

Papal Views of the Eastern Rites

The Greetings of His Holiness Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II
An Excerpt from His Holiness John Paul II's remarks at the General Audience on Wednesday, August 9, 1995 - as reported by L'Osservatore Romano, August 23, 1995, p.7
I would like to convey a cordial greeting to those Eastern Churches who live in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, while still preserving their ancient liturgical, disciplinary and spiritual traditions. They offer a special witness to that diversity in unity which adds to the beauty of Christ's Church. Today more than ever, the mission entrusted to them is one of service to the unity Christ desired for his Church, by sharing 'in the dialogue of love and in the theological dialogue at both the local and international levels, and those contributing to mutual understanding …' (Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, n. 60).

Pope Pius IX, Encyclical: In suprema Petri, January 6, 1848

"We keep altogether intact the Greek Catholic Liturgies which we truly honor, although they differ in some ways from the Liturgy of the Latin Church. These liturgies have been equally honored by our predecessors, as being commendable through their great antiquity, and through the fact that they are written in languages spoken by the Apostles and Fathers, and by their comprising ceremonies of the splendor and incomparable magnificence, suited to sustain the nourish the veneration of the faithful towards the divine mysteries."  

Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical: Orientalium Dignitas, November 30, 1894

"The august age which ennobles these diverse rites is a great glory for all the church, and affirms the divine unity of the Catholic faith. No witness perhaps better brings to light the Catholicity of the Church of God in a more admirable manner than the unique homage which is rendered to it by the differing ceremonies and the noble ancient languages all made more venerable by their use by the Apostles and Fathers."  

Pope Benedict XV, Apost. Decree, July 10, 1918)

"The preservation of the Oriental rites is of greater moment than may believe. The Sacred Congregation has for its office and duty to uphold and foster as much as possible the venerable Oriental liturgies and to preserve them in their integrity and purity."

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