Tag Archives: Maronite

Maronite Servants of Christ the Light

There is a new expression of religious life for women in the Maronite Church in the USA with the Congregation of Sisters called the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light. They were founded in 2008 under the guidance of Bishop Gregory Mansour. Even if you are not discerning a vocation, I would recommend watching this video.

Here’s the blog: Radiate His Light

A vocation to family, and a vocation to priesthood

Wissam-AkikiWhen people start asking about the possibility of a married priesthood usually detail escapes them. The  fact is, the Catholic Church has had a priesthood for millennia. However, in the Latin Church the priesthood has been celibate for the most part since the 11th century (or thereabouts) and Eastern Christianity has retained to a unity of marriage/family and the ministerial priesthood. Only since the late 1980s has the Latin Church started to admit married men to the priesthood in small numbers and now with the Anglican Ordinariates more married men have been ordained. Bishops are never married according to the discipline of the Church.

Among many things, the Eastern Christians in the USA have had to suffer without a married priesthood, something that is very connected to their traditions. In part, the plight of Eastern Christians in the USA has a lot to do with inadequate episcopal leadership which had dire consequences for all sorts of issues ranging from the Liturgy to canonical matters and identity.

One of the problems surrounded the time of Archbishop John Ireland (r. 1888-1918) of Minneapolis, who specifically in 1891, questioned the Catholicity of the Byzantines in Minneapolis. Acrimony ensured. And open hostility became common among various of the Latin Church’s bishops. As consequence of the argument Ireland told the Byzantine Catholic priests to become more Latin and that they were banned from being married in the USA.  Ireland obtuseness ultimately gave rise to a 1929 Vatican decree called Cum Data Fuerit, which imposed a requirement of celibacy on Eastern Catholic clergy in the West.

Archbishop Ireland is credited, hence, with the creation, in 1892, of the Reuthenian (Russian) Orthodox Church in America which gave rise to the Orthodox Church in America with Father (now saint) Alexis Toth and others breaking from the Catholic Church by uniting with Orthodoxy.

If you fast-forward a bit, we have to recognize that certain Eastern Catholic bishops in the USA have ordained married men since the 1990s, namely in the Byzantine tradition, and there have been a few married priests in the Maronite Church in the West but usually this  is kept quiet. That is, until the Maronite Bishop Robert Shaheen requested of Pope Benedict –prior to the famed resignation– for permission to ordain a married deacon a priest. A new Pope, a new openness to an old question. Not long ago Bishop Shaheen retired and his successor received word that Deacon Akiki could be priested. What we’ve seen with the ordination of Father Wissam Akiki there is finally a living of an ancient tradition held by Catholic theology and supported by canon law.

Jennifer Brinker wrote a great article that’s paired with Lisa Johnston’s photos for the St Louis Review, “A Vocation to Family.” I highly recommend the article AND viewing the images.

Best wishes and abundant blessings for Father Wissam Akiki and his beautiful family.

Light pointing to Christ in the Liturgy, in life

candlesDo you ever think about our use of light in the Church? Does the use of light in the Liturgy ever cross your mind other than what you have experienced at annual the Easter Vigil? Even those churches with dedication candles rarely, if ever, get used. So, it seems fair to say that we don’t think of lighting the Church as remotely significant to the liturgical act, not at least since Thomas Edison. The use of electricity has minimized the sensual experience of light and darkness as part of the litugical-theological drama in the Latin Church, and in the Eastern Churches where it was more developed over the centuries. But the Easterns have burned through tradition.

I have tried  to get priests and altar servers to be more attentive to the use of light and shadow in the time prior to and following the Mass but efforts have been rather difficult. More often we think of convenience, that is utility, as having a higher value than biblical typology. Think of the various points found in the Pentateuch, the prophets and the gospel of John. I happen to think that we need a recovery of biblical typology influencing liturgical ritual in concrete ways. Benedict XVI taught us this fact, too. Surely you might concede that Divine Revelation and development of biblical imagery in the Liturgy of Christ the Light has much to teach us —the lex orandi, lex credendi— thus having an educative side to our Catholic worship and imagination. The worship of God educates us as well as give proper glory and honor to God.

Catholic liturgy over the years has taught us that the burning candle is a form of sacrifice, a gift consuming itself just like the fire consuming the animal sacrifice; it also serves as a reminder of the prayerful intentions of the faithful. Churches have vigil lights at shrines imploring intercession. Even more poignant is the Paschal Candle because of its symbolism of the risen Christ Jesus. Some will recall that the wax made by honey bees is said to represent the flesh of Jesus; the wick and the wax working together is understood as a symbol of the hypostatic union of the Lord’s humanity and divinity; the flame recalls the Lord’s divinity. The biblical readings and prayers prayed at the Easter Vigil will remind the faithful of God’s presence among the Israelites in a pillar of flame. And no Catholic Church with the Eucharistic Presence is left without a vigil light continuously lit indicating the presence of Jesus Christ.

Imagine what our worship of the Triune God would be like if we were slightly more attentive to revelation and biblical premise! Certainly, our Christian anthropology would be keener. Little known is the Syriac liturgical tradition of which the Maronite Church belongs, has the unique ritual in the Liturgy of Lighting the Church. Yet, the lighting ritual has not really been seen in the USA too much until recently when Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour asked the priests of the Eparchy of St Maron to shed some good light with both the candle lighting and the preparation of the gifts using the ritual the of “Lighting of the Church.”

Chorchishop Seely Beggiani, a liturgical theologian and recently the former rector of the Maronite Seminary in Washington, wrote about Light in the ritual of the Maronites.

Light is taken for granted by most people in the twentieth century. Our modern science has demystified the sun, the cycle of the seasons and the solar year. The invention of electricity has given ordinary human creatures power over light and darkness. Earlier generations were in awe of the sun and light. When day came to a close and pitch darkness covered the earth, they prayed that the sun would rise again and that warmth and life would again deliver them from the seemingly endless cold and a dying earth. Our ancestors had a deep awareness of their total dependence on light.

However, modern science can also make us aware of the absolute necessity of light in our lives. Photosynthesis is critical to any life at all on earth. If humans were deprived absolutely of light for even a short time, they would go mad and ultimately die. It is no accident that according to Albert Einstein the speed of light is the absolute for our universe.

Our faith tradition teaches us that primordial light was the first creation of God and thus the very stuff of the universe. God is portrayed as the “Father of Lights” and Christ is the Light of the World. The Bible often teaches us that we ultimately choose to live our lives either according to the Way of Light or the Way of Darkness; and that light leads to life while darkness leads to death. The true nature of Christ was revealed as uncreated light at the transfiguration, and it was the light of Christ at his death that destroyed the darkness of Sheol (the region of the dead.) Our immortal destiny is presented as the eighth day of creation where the sun will never set, where we are called to view the shining face of Christ.

It is for all these reasons that the lighting of the Church in preparation for the divine liturgy has such a great significance. In participating in this act we are proclaiming our readiness to be children of the light and to allow our deeds to be judged in the open light of day. The lighting of the candles announces the presence of Christ, the light of the world, whom we welcome among us. In the fully lighted church which represents the universe in miniature, we give thanks for the light and warmth of God’s creation.”

Saint Maron

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Holy are You O God,
Holy are You O Strong One,
Holy are You O Immortal One,
O Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us; Lord teach us to pray!

Saint Maron, pray for us.

The Season of Advent proposes reclaiming the Garden of Eden

I love the Syriac tradition of liturgical theology. Often I find it a far more satisfying liturgical tradition than the Latin church craziness I face. It is Semitic, very biblical and rich in humanity. I recommend that you immerse yourself in the poetry of Saint Ephrem, deacon and Doctor of the Church.

The Maronite Church is one of whose heritage is West Syrian theologically; historically it’s rooted in the mountains of Lebanon. Their Advent Season has already begun with what is called the Season of Announcements (follow this link for more info on the season). This past Sunday was the Announcement to Mary. This coming weekend the Maronites will celebrate the Visitation of Elizabeth.
Father Steven Bonian, SJ, writes frequently on the sacred Liturgy of the West Syrian Church, the Maronites. See how he connects the Creator, creation and the Liturgy; the image of the Garden is key here for us Christians who are seeking salvation, that is, to dwell again in the Garden of Eden. 
Father Bonian said about the Sunday of Mary’s Announcement:

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Today, the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians (3:15-22), reminds us of how the promise made to Abraham is now being fulfilled through those who believe; those who live by the Law and the Torah of the heart through righteousness. To such as these –like Mary– is the gift of God and his promise handed down through his angels. The Gospel of Luke makes it clear that Mary is the righteous one who has gained the favor of God, and thus, inherited this Gift (Christ) and the Promise (Salvation).
In the Gospel-Icon of Mary and the Angel drawn for us by Saint Luke, and framed for us in this Sunday’s prayers –in the context of the relationship of the creator with his creation –the mountains, the earth, the sea, and the waves are rejoicing in God’s Word! Mary herself has become the New Earth (as Saint Ephrem would teach us) and true representative for all of God’s creation. The Son of God comes to dwell in her, and through her God has returned to live –as in Paradise— in the midst of his creation. Now in Mary, the new covenant, and God’s plan of salvation is being fulfilled. She has become the Cloud, the Pure Womb, the Fountain of Life and Blessings!

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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]yahoo.com.
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