The new Patriarch celebrated his 71st birthday yesterday. He is 44 years a priest and 15 years a bishop and a member of the Melkite Paulist Order.
Eis pollá eti Déspota!
The annual Synod of Bishops of the Melkite Church just finished meeting. The Melkite bishops from around the world meet together each year for some time in prayer, discussions on theology, liturgy, canonical process and the election of bishops. This year the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, John X, met with Melkite Patriarch Gregory III –a historic meeting.
The Melkites in the USA are governed by Bishop Nicholas J. Samra (of the Eparchy of Newton) and the Antiochian Orthodox Church is awaiting a new head of church since their Metropolitan Philip Saliba died not long ago. The new metropolitan is expected to be announced late next week.
Recently on the Sunday of All Saints (26 May 2013) –the Byzantine Church observes a different feast of All Saints than do the Latin Christians– the Eparch (the Greek word for bishop) of the Melkites in the in the USA, Bishop Nicholas James Samra wrote to his people about preparing for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29. Yes, some Catholics do make preparations for other feasts!
One of the reasons I am drawing our attention to this matter is two-fold: 1.) being Catholic is more than merely following the Latin Church’s disciple — we can learn from others; and 2.) the discipline of those who belong to Christ is more than merely praying, fasting, and almsgiving for selfish reasons, that is, these spiritual activities are to break open our spiritual capacities. Remember what John Paul taught: Christians breathe with two lungs.
The liturgical feast of Ss. Peter and Paul is traditionally preceded by a period of concerted prayer and fasting. These saints –indeed, all of the apostles– are the pillars of our Church. In times past the period of fasting was significant while today it is much modified. The controlling idea is that before an important feast of the Lord, the Mother of God and some saints, the faithful are encouraged to prepare themselves to receive God’s graces in a worthy manner. We prepare by getting rid of sin and living virtuously: corporal and spiritual works of mercy are good things to do.
Bishop Nicholas recalls for us that the Monday after Sunday of All Saints the Byzantine Church begins a time of prayer and fasting leading us to the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul on 29 June. But now the preparation is modified to 10 days by the Melkite Synod of Bishops. Fittingly, the bishop notes: “We are given this “Apostles Fast” in order to fan into flame the grace of the Holy Spirit within us and to reflect upon the hardships endured by the Apostles as they preached Divine grace and truth to the world.”
Faith needs to be connected with reality. This is the context in which God acts. Several things in our own lives can and ought to be connected with life. Bishop Nicholas indicates that one good way to extrovert our faith by having some sense human ecology on the spiritual level is remember those suffering the effects of the war in Syria. Certainly, we pray for all but special attention to be paid to the Catholics and Orthodox peoples.
Hence, the proposal is to begin our spiritual discipline on June 19. I recommend that you make a confession of sin and receive Holy Communion, pray for the Pope’s intention for June, and name the intentions. Select a charitable organization to to make a donation of funds.
Perhaps we can also use the Apostles’ Fast to pray for those living with cancer. I am thinking of my friend Jesuit Father Edward Oakes who is in need of a miracle due to his recent diagnosis of Type 4 pancreatic and liver cancer.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
The violence in Syria doesn’t seem to end, the dignity persons disrespected. Recent terrorist explosions in Damascus’ Mazraa district left 53 dead and 235 injuredand caused extensive damage, particularly to a school and a hospital.
Melkite Patriarch Gregory III issued a statement on February 21st. I recommend to your prayers His Beatitude’s intentions and leadership, and to work for peace in your own particular context.
He calls for an end of providing weapons to the warring factions.
Read the full Statement of Patriarch Gregory 21 February 2013.pdf
In short he said,
Recently I was reading some blog written by a Catholic extolling the virtues of a Melkite parish near to where she lives. Hurray! This woman found peace in the Byzantine East, and Melkite no less. What right-thinking Catholic would dismiss Eastern Christianity? All the things this blogger noted from icons, to incense, to singing the Liturgy, and the priest facing East are good and beautiful things; but the essential was missing from her comments. No mention of Jesus Christ and the personal encounter needed for the attainment of one’s Destiny. One can only say to her list of likes: so what!
The string of pearls this blogger noted are good and essential as they are constituent to an incarnational faith, that is, to our worship of the One Triune God. They are, however, meaningless if not backed by a familiarity with Scripture, an abiding love for the liturgical tradition of the Church, the clear, consistent teaching of the Church, the teachings of the Church fathers and mothers, a personal and ongoing conversion, and a humanity that is happy and making progress in working out salvation. Yet, let’s not confuse personal with private. Let me say it another way: an iconostasis doesn’t save – Jesus does; the icon of the Hospitality of Abraham doesn’t save – Jesus saves; the Trisagion doesn’t save, even if it’s a cool prayer – Jesus does. Unless there is a down-and-dirty conversion from sin to grace no piece of a religious aesthetic is meaningful or redemptive.
Remember that the Servant of God Pope Paul VI said: “the first fruit of the deepening consciousness of the Church itself is the renewed discovery of its vital relationship with Christ. A well-known thing, fundamental, essential, but never quite understood, meditated upon, celebrated enough.”
Yet, the icons, sacred music, gestures, prayers, and sweet smelling air, etc. do contribute to vitality of one’s spiritual itinerary. AND most of all, we need a renewed attention to the lex orandi tradition of the Church not just a moralist view that leads to individualism. “Church things” cultivate the beautiful aspects of Catholic living and thinking, they contribute to the process of conversion because they point to something deeper and more real than not. We are persons and not individuals who need to the beautiful, who need each other.
Today more than ever, following the indications “unto salvation’ of the saints and the angels, plus the authentic teachings and witness of church leaders like Pope Benedict, the Ukrainian Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Angelo Scola, Massimo Camisasca, Luigi Giussani, Julían Carrón, Enzo Biachi, Chaira Lubich, Sophia Cavelletti, Cristina Canetta and the like is critical for the flowering of the spiritual life. Some of these people are dead. But the point is that we are in desperate need of having a personal relationship with good men and women who point us in the right direction. These Christian leaders, through their writings and the communities they founded, are crucial because it’s only through the personal that we break out of our isolation and I dive into community, especially the community of faith. It is not easy for some to do this; all I ask is that you try. We know that the personal is respected and cherished.
The personal encounter with Jesus the Christ mediated through the Other is the logic of Christianity, indeed, that’s the point of today’s feast of the Guardian Angels: God so loves us that we have others to rely upon to help us on our way. The Guardian Angels help and support this encounter in the guided companionship we call the Church.