Category Archives: Eastern Church

The Plight of Churches in the Middle East – Revisited

ravennaxcTheologians and bishops from the Catholic and Orthodox Church meet frequently to discuss topics of mutual concern fostering not only good friendships but also doing some intellectual work in an effort to know what each other holds to be to true and how each Church works pastorally.

There are times one gets the impression that these consultations are great for mutual understanding but lack an identifiable concrete plan for full, visible and concrete unity. Statements, discussions, lunches and other collaborative efforts are noble and worth supporting. Who could pass up good food and discussion. Yet, there has to be more. This is especially helpful in humanitarian efforts and developing a friendship in Christ as a brothers and sisters. But can we ask, what the concrete goal is for the theological consultations like this one?

What follows is the Statement of the Members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, Mississauga, Ontario October 26, 2013.

In 2011 we, the members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation* deplored the devastating losses in the Christian communities of the Middle East in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring.” Today the situation of many of the Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine has become catastrophic.

Together with the 2013 Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, we repudiate all violence and demand action by responsible authorities to end the kidnapping, torture, and killing of Christians and all civilians. We also appeal for the release of Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, both of Aleppo, Syria.

Pope Francis in exhorting the international community “to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation… May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries.”

As the Canadian Council of Churches has stated, “We are concerned for the safety and security of all the people in the region, but in particular, the weak, vulnerable and powerless. The spread of sectarian violence puts all generations throughout the region at risk and is a menace to the hopes and dreams of the younger generations.”

With the Clergy-Laity Conference of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, we “deplore the wanton destruction of Christian churches, monasteries, convents, orphanages and hospitals throughout the Middle East….We call upon the leaders of our nation to protest these unspeakable acts of terror and to work unceasingly to bring to an end the heinous genocide of our brethren.”

When one part of the body suffers, all suffer (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26). As Orthodox and Catholic Christians, we therefore have the responsibility to respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters. We call upon our communities to continue to pray for the churches and for peace in this part of the world. We urge the leadership of our churches to continue to intervene vigorously in behalf of the Christians of the Middle East, who live in fear for their lives, their communities, and the very future of Christianity in the region.

*The members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation are appointed by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America and, on the Catholic side, by both the Canadian and United States Conferences of Catholic Bishops.

Some notes:

Members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation of meet every five years in Canada. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops hosted this year’s meeting.

The Consultation was co-chaired by Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, and by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

The Consultation engaged in discussions pertinent to Orthodox – Catholic relations around such matters as synodality, papal primacy, priestly celibacy and the role of the laity.

Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Ph.D., of Brown University and Sr. Susan K. Wood, SC, of Marquette University provided a summary of papers already presented on the role of the laity in the two churches; Father John Erickson, emeritus dean and professor of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, presented his paper on “Conciliarity or Synodality? Historical Notes on a Modern Issue”; Father John Galvin, of The Catholic University of America, presented a paper by Msgr. Thomas J. Green, “Lay Ministries in the Church: Comparative Reflections on the Eastern and Latin Codes”; and Father Peter Galadza, of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute summarized previously published papers on celibacy, marriage and the priesthood.

The Consultation reports that a panel discussion and meeting between seminarians from St. Augustine’s Seminary (Catholic) and The Greek Orthodox Theological Academy of Toronto. Among the many things shared, there were reflections on the Consultation’s 2010 agreed statement, “Steps Towards a Reunited Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision for the Future.”

Metropolitan Sotirios, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto host lunch and Cardinal Thomas Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto also encouraged the seminarians and members of the Consultation in their important work. The next meeting is scheduled for June 2-4, 2014.

Syrian Patriarch advocates for Middle Eastern Christians

 Ignatius Joseph III YounanA month ago Patriarch of Antioch for Syriac Catholic Church Ignatius Jospeh III Younan, 68, delivered an addressed entitled, “An advocacy for the survival of Christians in the Middle East,” in Bratislava.

Younan was the first eparch of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance centered in New Jersey. He was elected patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church in 2009. At the time of his election the Syrian Catholic Church numbered c. 132,000.

Patriarch Ignatius offers a perspective not readily heard in the secular media outlets. And while  some will say he is advocating for the Christians in Syria, he’s actually advocating for peaceful coexistence for all who live in the Middle East. The sufferings that our brothers and sisters in Syria are facing each day are but a drop in the bucket that others around the world also encounter. While we don’t know the violence and oppression in the Western world as do the Middle Easterners, we are aware of the meaning and contours of human indignities.

When Pope Francis called for a day of fasting and prayer several weeks ago for peace in the world, he didn’t do so without knowing the concrete faces many men and women and children. We all have to make peace in Syria and all the Middle East a priority and not merely a public relations opportunity…and realize that “the war is the defeat of humanity.”

Saint Ephrem and all Syrian saints and blesseds, pray for us.

Younan said,

Since I was elected to Patriarch of Antioch January 2009, I already visited 10 times Iraq, the war torn country, and where we already lost close more than the half of our faithful who emigrated abroad or still waiting to emigrate as refugees in neighboring countries. I visited 3 times Turkey where only a tiny  minority of Christians still live, mostly in the huge Istanbul area. I already made visits once to the Holy Land,  twice  to Jordan and Egypt. I also traveled 3 times to Kerala, India, to strengthen ties with our sister Churches of Syriac heritage, the Syro-Malankara and the Syro-Malabar Churches.

Therefore, by experience, I can tell you that, like all Catholic and Orthodox Patriarchs, I am acquainted with the plight of most Christian communities in the Middle East. Because of the unending spiral of violence, that is undermining the very existence of non Muslim minorities, particularly Christians in lands that was the cradle of early Christian Communities, we have the very reason to fear falling in limbo following the upheaval of the regime.

But the greatest concern we have at the present time is the terrible situation happening in Syria, my birth country where my parents, fleeing Turkey, sought refuge right after the First World War. The last time I could visit Aleppo,  the  second largest city of  Syria was in the summer of last year. Since then I only had to communicate with the bishops, clergy and faithful of our 4 Syriac Catholic Dioceses, Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Hassakeh by phone calls when available.

Because of the ongoing bloody conflict in Syria, that lasted already more than  two and half year, this country so deeply rooted in the ancient civilization, is horribly ravaged by a sectarian religious civil war, that quickly as we warned, turned into a regional even international conflict. We have reason to believe this conflict was triggered by the Sunni Muslim majority supported by some Western countries for a geo-political agenda. Some politicians in the West, pretending to defend democracy, with the complicity of agglomerate media, gave up their own principles and values. It seems that behind this confusing attitude, was the fear of violence coming from radical Sunni Muslims, and the secularist opportunism that worships modern times “Mammon”!

One must recognize that after Turkey a century ago, Palestine and Lebanon some decades ago, and Iraq for the past 20 years, it is Syria now that knows the frightening exodus of its Christian population living there for millennia. This country has been rocked since March 2011 by a conflict triggered by opponents and rebels, who initially pretended a peaceful change of a regime blasted as a dictatorial.  Although Syria was commonly known as the second country in the Middle East, after Lebanon, that respected all religious denominations and exercised tolerance towards all minorities including Christians.

Now it is a common understanding that Syria well rooted in ancient civilization like Mesopotamia and the Nile Valley, is ravaged by a sectarian war, between two religious denominations: the Sunnis who make the majority of the population and the Alawites (a Muslim sect not recognized by the Sunnis as true Muslims) who used to be marginalized even mistreated for centuries, because of hateful discrimination, until they ascended to power in the 1970s.

As a result of the violent turmoil in Syria, over one hundred thousand were killed, millions were displaced inside the country or became refugees in neighboring countries, living in a horribly inhumane conditions.

Fighting, bombing attacks, kidnapping and killing horrified and alienated mostly innocent population looking for peace and security. The chaos that led to the civil war, brought a horrendous destructions of a country known to be one of the safest in the region. Massive emigration resulted  that needs immediate intervention for humanitarian assistance, as the winter is approaching, while spring seasons seem fading!

We still remember the insidious Machiavellian assertions of Western politicians telling publicly since the beginning of Syrian tragedy, that it will be soon an end by the fall of the regime.  On the contrary, as we feared, the crisis turned into chaos, and the chaos ultimately led to the most horrible sectarian civil war in recent generations.

As you are well aware, this sectarian war spread to many areas, and Christians have been targeted by radical groups. Several churches and monasteries have been heavily damaged and even burned.. Exactly what we, Christian leaders, warned most often of, since the beginning. (Maaloula and Raqqa are the latest examples.)

We, Christians of the Middle East, we really do not understand why politicians of the Western World,  believing in principles of democracy, ignore that what is happening now in Syria, is far from seeking a true democracy, freedom and equality for all citizens. At one hand, those  politicians  profess a separation of Church and State in their own countries, while they tolerate emerging regimes based on political Islam with a clear agenda of applying the Sharia and professing an amalgam between the religion and every aspect of life, individual or public!

Christian Leaders in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, made many statements that clearly say that they do not side with any governing person or family, neither with any regime or political party. They did urge all parties in conflict to act for reconciliation and to seek reforms by a patient dialog not with violent means.

Looking at what did happen to the Christians in neighboring Iraq, we have believed that any political change of the regime in Syria should have been solely peaceful. First of all we feared that this sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites with their multiform denominations, will undoubtedly spread to Lebanon that hangs to a very delicate balance and other Middle Eastern countries. It is primarily the duty of the Sunni majority to inspire confidence and respect the civil rights of all minorities.

This is the message of the Holy Father Pope Francis, who kept praying for peace and calling for a reconciliation among all components of the Syrian people. We owe the Successor of Peter a lot of gratitude for his courage following the steps of the Divine Master and proclaiming that “the war is the defeat of humanity.”

Christians of the Middle East are facing in recent times the greatest challenge of their history that put their very survival at risk. Given the spreading of violent radicalism in political Islam, the young generations instead of remaining rooted in the land of their ancestors, to be witnesses to the Lord, they are seeking freedom and dignity in the lands of emigration. Let us remember any evangelization is still a proselytism forbidden in countries where Islam has the majority. Because Islam does not recognize the religious freedom, it condemns those willing to embrace the Christian faith even to death! Unless, the community of nations clearly and without any politically correct language or condition, defends the Charter of Human Rights, as it was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the Middle East will continue to sink in a fatal hemorrhage  emptying itself of Christian communities that lived for millennia in that region.

We have confidence that you, dear brother shepherds, will do whatever you can to bring Catholics to awareness to the plight of Christians in the Middle East. We need you to waken up the silent majority of citizens, who are lovers of truth in charity, seekers justice to all and who want to be peace makers in our turbulent world.

“…Remember in your prayers the Church which is in Syria, from which also I am not worthy to receive my appellation, being the last of them.” (From the Letter of Saint Ignatius of Antioch to the Trallians)

Kurt Burnette next bishop of the Eparchy of Passaic

Kurt BurnettePope Francis has appointed the Very Reverend Kurt Burnette, Rector of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as fifth Bishop of the Eparchy of Passaic. Burnette replaces Archbishop William Skurla who was translated to the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh on April 18, 2012 when he was enthroned Fifth Metropolitan of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of America and Archbishop of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.

According to Vatican published statistics, this eparchy has “Catholics 14,729, priests 80, permanent deacons 26, religious 27.” The Eparchy of Passaic was established by the Holy See on July 31, 1963.

Bishop-elect Kurt will be ordained and enthroned in Passaic on Wednesday, December 4, 2013.

The Holy Father has also appointed Metropolitan Archbishop William C. Skurla as Apostolic Administrator of the Eparchy of Passaic. The Reuthenian eparchies number 4 in the USA.

Why be a Byzantine Catholic

Father David Petras, an archpriest priest of the Reuthenian eparchy of Parma, OH, and now a retired professor the sacred Liturgy at Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary (Pittsburgh, PA).

Petras gave his a witness to his Byzantine faith, Why be a Byzantine Catholic, at the Parma Assembly 2013. Listen to what Father David says.

What I like about Father David’s witness is that he speaks about his experience of faith refracted through a Byzantine lens, a message of love, an experience of God who deifies us; he communicates in a real way that faith is a recognition of God who takes the initiative in calling us to Himself. Hence, the conversion that Petras speaks of is a commitment to the Church to which you belong, the decision to know, love and serve the church; the conversion Father David emphasizes so beautifully means being in love with God!!!

What is important to hear in this presentation is that Father Petras had a felt presence of the Holy Spirit, a direct experience of the Divine Majesty. Every Christian, in fact, has an experience of God and ought to reflect upon the ways in which the Spirit talks to you. But you have to listen carefully. It is true that our faith depends on how we personally engage the process of being a mature Christian seeking transfiguration into being a new creation. This is what it means to be a disciple of the Lord: to live in the graces of the Transfiguration on the mount. How will we work out the demands of being good students (disciples) of the Lord depends on our cooperating with Grace.

How do we cooperate with Grace? We cooperate with Grace by living in the heart of the Church: faithfully receiving the sacraments of confession and Eucharist, Lectio Divina, study of the faith, being a part of the community of faith in an active way, by being of service to those in need, and by having a healthy humanity. This is a robust faith.

Father David sets an agenda item for all of us: to work on a renewed theology of Holy Communion, because through communion we are united with God. He’s not advocating a theology that merely talks about the reception of Holy Communion but a manner of living in communion (Communio) with God, the Church, the self and others.

You may want to read his book, Time for the Lord to Act: A Catechetical Commentary on the Divine Liturgy.

Lights From the East, Pray For Us!

James Michael Thompson has a new book, Lights From the East, Pray For Us!  This is his second.

Published by Liguori Publications, so pre-order now.

The book provides a brief biography, a scripture reading, a reflection, a prayer, and a hymn for fifteen saints from the Eastern Churches. Lights From the East presents the Church’s incredible riches of some of the saints to English speakers, by giving the reader icons, biographies, Scripture, reflections, translated quotations from the service that honors the saint, prayers, and original hymns set to Rusyn or Galician melodies.

Thompson covers saints of the Old and New Testaments, Prophet Daniel and the Three Holy Youths, the First-Martyr and Equal-to-the-Apostles Thecla, Martyr Barbara, Macrina the Younger, Sabbas, Xenophon & Mary, and their sons, Arcadius & John, Cyril & Methodius, Theodosius of the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, David of Thessalonica, Maximus the Confessor John Chrysostom, John of Damascus, Martyrs of the Twentieth Century.

The forward is by the Rev. Dr. Peter Galadza of the Sheptytsky Institue for Eastern Christian Studies.

J. Michael Thompson of Pittsburgh is a well-known choral director, liturgical scholar and practioner. One of his major works has been the Schola Cantorum of St. Peter the Apostle of which he is the founder and artistic director. Thompson has served as professor of ecclesiastical chant at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh and was the cantor/ director of music at the Byzantine Catholic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Munhall, Pennsylvania.

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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