Category Archives: Eastern Church

Lent in the Western Syriac Tradition: Blessed are your guests, beautiful city of Cana

Archimandrite Manuel Nin, rector of the Pontifical Greek College, Rome, Italy, published the following article in L’Osservatore Romano English Edition on February 24, 2010. The Church is more than a western experience and Nin’s article brings a richness here for reflection and appreciation.


Lent in the Western Syriac tradition is preceded by a tradition that begins with the Fast of the Ninevites, which has as its reference and model the people of Niniveh who converted after hearing the Prophet Jonah’s preaching.


In these days of fasting the deceased -priests, foreigners and faithful– are commemorated and this means that the Church and Western Syriac liturgical tradition are closely bound to pilgrimages to the holy places and the tombs of martyrs.


The Lenten Liturgy begins with what is called the “Monday of oil” and one of the hymns of St Ephrem gives us the key to its interpretation: “stained bodies are anointed with sanctifying oil with a view to expiation. They are purified but not destroyed. They descend marked by sin and arise as a child.”


This was originally a rite of anointing for catechumens that was later extended to all the faithful: the Liturgy also links it to the anointing at Bethany: “How gentle is the voice of the sinful woman when she says to the perfumer: “Give me the oil and tell me the price; give me the best quality oil and with it I shall mingle the sorrow of my tears, the better to anoint the first-born of the Most High; I trust in the Lord that through this oil he will forgive me my sins. The Lord see her faith and forgives her.”


The six Sundays of Lent take the name of the Gospel passage that is read: the miracle of Cana, the healing of the leper, the healing of the paralytic; the healing of the Centurian’s servant, the raising of the son of the widow Nain; the healing of the blind Bartimaeus. The Syriac Liturgy is intended to shed light light on the thaumaturgical and judicial aspects of Christ.


Rabbula Cana Feast.jpgThe miracle of Cana of Galilee begins the series of miracles contemplated in Lent to indicate mercy, forgiveness, salvation and life, which are given to us by Christ, the physician of humankind.


At Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent this aspect is developed at length: “Good Physician who heals all through repentance, Lord, sovereignly good and the First Physician, source of life and fount of healing, who heals our souls through our physical illness. You who have been called our true Samaritan and who, to deliver us from the wounds of our sins, have poured upon them mysterious oil and wine. You, Doctor of hearts and Healer of suffering, have marked us with the sign of the Cross, sealed with the seal of the holy oil, nourished with your Body and your Blood; embellish our souls with the splendor of your holiness; protect us from every fall and every blemish and bring us to the blessed inheritance reserved for those who have done acts of penance.”


Furthermore, the Syriac tradition sees in the miracle of Cana the spousal union of Christ with his Church, and with the whole of humanity; at Cana the true Spouse  is Christ himself who invites suffering and sinful humanity to be united with him in order to bring it to the true nuptial chamber which is the Garden of Eden.


St Ephrem.jpgSt Ephrem sings: “Blessed are your guests, beautiful city of Cana! They enjoy your blessing and the jars filled with your word proclaim that in you are found the heavenly gifts that gladden the heavenly banquet.”


The new wine that unites the fellow guests at the banquet is a symbol of the precious Blood that unites us with Christ himself: “You who, as the promised Spouse redeem the Church with your Blood, you who gladden the wedding guests of Cana, may you make your Church rejoice with your Body.” The Syriac Liturgy still sees the jars as a model of the soul that becomes the place of a wonderful transformation in which Christ himself renews all that is old.


On all the Sundays in Lent prior to the celebration of the Lord’s Passion, death and Resurrection, the Western Syriac tradition wishes to celebrate the miracles with which the Savior desired to manifest his divine mission among human beings. The Morning Office of all the Sundays in Lent contains this prayer:


“Merciful Lord, who came down to earth, in your compassion for human nature, you who purified the leper, opened the eyes of the blind and raised the dead, obtain that our souls may be purified and bodies sanctified; that the eyes of our hearts may be opened to understand your teachings so that, with repentant sinners, we may raise our praise.”


The miracles recounted and celebrated on these Sundays lead us to contemplate the wonders of divine grace in human souls; thus many of the liturgical texts of Lent always end with the same conclusive refrain:


“We, too, Lord pray to you: touch our spirit and purify it from every stain, from every impurity of sin, and have mercy on us.”

Succeeding a martyr as archbishop, Emil Shimoun Nona

Emil Shimoun Nona ordination.jpgOn January 8th, a new archbishop of Mossul, Iraq, was
ordained: 42 year old Emil Shimoun Nona, a priest since he was 23, succeeded Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, killed on March 12, 2008. 

The new archbishop was
ordained by Patriarch Emmanuel III and 9 co-consecrators according to the
rites of Chaldean Church. In 2004, the directory lists 20,600 Catholics with 10
diocesan priests and 4 religious priests. Our prayers go with Archbishop Emil
as he begins his pontificate. More pictures of the ordination rites may be seen here.

Archbishop Job of the Orthodox Church in America: RIP at 63

Archbishop Job.jpgLast week the Lord called to Himself Orthodox
Church of America’s Archbishop Job. After a serious of religious services in Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where he was buried. Since hearing of the archbishop’s sudden death of pulmonary embolism, I’ve kept +Job in prayer, and I urge you to do the same.

Archbishop Job was a talented, spiritual
and a man of great humanity. His spiritual sons all testify to the beauty of
his person. Born of a bi-Church family (Catholic & Orthodox), young Richard John was baptized Catholic and later, for serious reasons, was received into the Orthodox Church. The Archbishop’s father rejected his son for many years but reconciled. Through the years he developed the skills of writing liturgical music and icons and was an acclaimed pastor of souls. Before returning to his home city of Chicago as bishop in 1992, Job served the Orthodox faithful of New England beginning in 1983 when he was ordained a bishop at 37 years old.

I was struck by the person and ministry of +Job a number of years ago and was saddened by
his death. The Archbishop’s bio can be read here and his obit here.

Let us pray.
O God of spirits and of all
flesh, Who has trampled down death; You have overthrown the devil and have
given Life to Your world: now give rest, Lord, to the soul of Your departed
servant Archbishop Job, in a place of light, a place of refreshment and a place
of repose, where there is no sickness, sighing nor sorrow.  As You are a
Good God, Who loves mankind, pardon every sin, which he has committed, whether
by word or by deed or by thought, for there is no man who lives and has not sinned. 
You alone are sinless, Your Righteousness is Eternal and Your Word is
Truth.  For You are the Resurrection, the Life and the Repose of your
newly presented servant, Archbishop Job, Christ our God and we give glory,
together with Your Father, Who is Eternal and Your All-Holy, Good and
Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen!

May his memory be eternal!

It all started here: What Christianity in Constantinople gave to the world

Those interested the roots of Christianity ought to watch the 60 Minutes story on Patriarch Bartholomew. Don’t neglect watching the 3 extra video pieces located to the right on the 60 Minutes’ page.

Saint Andrew, pray for us.

Patriarchs meet: Moscow visits Constantinople

Kyrill & Bartholomew.jpgWonderful news: Moscow’s Patriarch Kyril visited Patriarch Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This is Kyril’s first foreign trip since being elected Patriarch of Moscow in January 2009.

Why is this event important? Past tensions and subsequent lack of cooperation between the two Sees have stunted the fruitful proclamation of the Gospel. Unity suffered. Also, as the Asia News headline indicates, the gesture of the two patriarchs’ meeting opens the possibility significant dialogue with the See of Rome.
The homilies of each patriarch was a stunning example of grace at work. Content could not be out done but the promise of the Halki’s school of theology on the part of the Turkish government is impressive. I pray that it comes about.
The story of the historic visit is reported by Asia News.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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