His Beatitude Gregorios III Laham
Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in communion with Rome.
Our Patriarch Gregorios III has asked us all to offer our sacrifices during this time for the people of Syria and Lebanon who are suffering, offering these petitions with our daily prayers, ...”so as to accompany the situation (in Syria) with prayer, hope and optimism, for God protects Syria, as he is God of peace.”
For all Christians, that their hearts may be confirmed in true faith and kept from false doctrines, that they may be united in thy Church, and be children of the light and of the day, we beseech thee, O Lord.
For leaders and members of Parliament, that they may be enlightened, and follow the ways of understanding, compassion and effectual co-operation, in order to improve social situations, let us pray to the Lord.
Grant to all the inhabitants of this country faith and love, that their hearts may be confirmed in understanding and peace, we beseech thee, O Lord.
For all Christians who are sad and in need of thy compassion and help, that Thou mayst be for them, O Christ, a God of goodness, comfort and healing, we pray thee, O Lord.
Letter for Pascha 2015 From His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III
Gospel of the Resurrection: Good News of Life
We bring this good news joyfully to all those who will read this letter. We express this good news in this, brief, marvellous and spontaneous Paschal greeting, as we say, “Christ is risen! – He is risen indeed.” This good news is shared between the one who brings it and the one who hears it, good news that is full of faith and joyful, a good news proclaimed by great and small, good news that we repeat hundreds of times on the day of Pascha and the whole paschal period – the good news of life.
The Myrrhophoroi, the holy Myrrh-bearing Women who accompanied Christ as he walked and proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of Love and Life, were the first to bring the Gospel of the Resurrection to the frightened, doubting apostles. That is why they have been given the beautiful, splendid, glorious title of holy myrrh-bearers, equal to the apostles.
Good News of Life: the Substance of Christianity
That means that the Kingdom, the centre and basis of Christian faith, is the resurrection. That means that life is at the very heart of Jesus Christ’s mission, as he said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) That means that anyone who believes in Jesus believes in life, because the gospel of the resurrection is the good news of life.
The good news of the resurrection, having been brought by the myrrh-bearers, became the great news on the lips of the apostles, who spread it from one person to the next – Peter to the twelve, and Mark, Cleopas and Luke to others among the seventy-two apostles. Paul excelled as an apostle of the resurrection, the great teacher of resurrection: such that not one of his epistles omits mentioning the resurrection. He is the great apostle of the resurrection, so that it may be said that resurrection, one of the great concepts in the theology of St Paul, has become an everyday reality in the life of every believer.
So resurrection is not just good news about the life to come – as we say in the Creed, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come,” – but resurrection has been brought about for life for us on earth now. As St Paul says, “Like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
The whole of life is a transition or Passover, a Pascha. We call it fleeting: years have flown by us like a bird in flight. The Jews or Hebrews are so-called after the crossing of the Red Sea, which symbolises our passing over, to freedom, dignity, a better life (from sin to virtue), from evil to good and from falsehood to truth.
All our life has as its goal life and resurrection. We do everything possible to grow and develop, and conquer all aspects of death through medicine and other inventions: all aimed at life. St Paul sings a hymn of victory over death, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) St John Chrysostom repeats these words in his Paschal Homily, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and ye are overthrown. Christ is risen, and life reigns.”
That is why the Great Feast of the Resurrection is generally referred to by two titles or phrases: as Feast of Passover (Pesah=Pascha) and of Life. We must not separate one from the other. Passover is a passage or movement between life on earth and the life to come, eternal life. The Paschal Canon refers to this, “Today is the day of resurrection…for Christ our God has brought us over from death to life, and from earth to heaven, as we sing the triumphal song.” (Ode I, Tone 1)
Unfortunately, man invents also instruments of war, death and destruction. Man destroys what God has built and destroys life.
Christ is Resurrection and Life
Jesus states, “I am the resurrection, and the life.” (John 11:25) He also said, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35) He said, “He that followeth me … shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) He states, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
The Evangelist John speaks of Christ, who is the life, in these words, “The life was manifested, and we have seen it.” (1 John 1:2) “He that hath the Son hath life.” (1 John 5:12a) “Ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.” (John 14:19b) He reports Jesus saying he would give his life “for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) In the First Epistle of the Apostle John, he writes, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” (1 John 3:14)
Paul speaks of his relations with Christ Jesus with expressions in which he explains the depth of his relationship with Christ and with the life of Christ and life in Christ. “For to me to live is Christ.” (Philippians 1:21) “The promise of life … is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:1) “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20b)
We are children of the resurrection and of life: we are resurrection people, to coin a phrase.
Incarnation is Life and Resurrection
Humanity’s mission is to preserve life. We are resurrection people, each and every one, meaning that each of us is the child of life, of resurrection, and the bringer of life to others. Thus it was that in the early period of Christianity in the East we were called, “children of the resurrection,” that is children of life and bearers of the culture and civilization of the resurrection and life.
So our pastoral activity is resurrection and life. Good education is a factor in resurrection and life. Good charitable actions are resurrection and life. Welfare institutions are resurrection and life. Our various Church institutions are resurrection and life. The aid that we bring to this tragic situation is life and resurrection: when hope is dying in the human heart, we revive it.
The expression, “intensive care,” or “reanimation,” suggests restoring human life. Liturgical animation means making the liturgy alive. Reconciliation is a work of resurrection and life, meaning that we restore trust and friendship by bringing confidence and amity to life. Consolation is an act of resurrection, because it revitalises and revives hope in the heart. A smile brings resurrection and life. A warm and loving greeting is resurrection and life. Greeting even a complete stranger in a friendly and considerate way is resurrection and life. Hope comprises several chapters in the book of resurrection and life. The events of the resurrection that we proclaim for twelve weeks during Sunday Orthros (Matins) are all chapters of new life. That is why our Eastern rite is called the rite of resurrection and life. That is why every week ends with the celebration of the resurrection in the Anavathmoi (Songs of Ascent) and begins with the Resurrection, or Descent, so that the whole week is a movement of resurrection and life. In the Christian Creed, we end with mention of our belief in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come.” So we are born to die and we die to live. Death is not a continuous situation, but a moment of passing on from one life to another.
The human body is at the service of life. Human limbs are instruments of piety and life. They are not instruments of evil and corruption. As the Holy Apostle Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” (Romans 6:12-13)
What do we see today? People use their limbs, hands, feet, eyes, thoughts, imagination, ingenuity and inventiveness to devise instruments for killing, destruction, terrorism and death. So man destroys what God has created.
I would have liked to apply the above only to the criminal acts that we see nowadays on the media and in our countries in recent years, due to the chaos of war, jihadist, takfiri and Daeshist movements, but it could also be applied to education at home, in school, on the streets and at work.
That means that parents have great responsibility to educate their children about the importance of how they use their body: feet, hands, sight, hearing, smell, imagination, thoughts and all their limbs and functions, so that they all become instruments of friendship, compassion, help, thanks, solidarity, service, giving and life.
It is wonderful to see that our liturgical services make allusion to this education of the human senses and give guidance on how to use these functions, purify them and put them to good use, so that they become instruments of life and not of death. So we read in the Liturgy of the Presanctified, a service to which I referred in my Lenten Letter, and it can be an extraordinary lesson of education for social life and a topic of good advice, which parents can give their children to teach them how to use their limbs and bodily senses for good, learning, edification and life. So we find an instruction for every sense: – sight (“Let the eye be averted from every evil sight…”) – hearing (“…and the ear be deaf to idle talk.”) – speech (“May the tongue be purged of unseemly speech.”) – mouth (“Purify these lips that praise thee, O Lord.”) – hands (“Make our hands abstain from wicked deeds, doing only such things as are pleasing to thee.”) – all our limbs and mind (“..thus sealing with thy grace all our members, and our mind.”)
So, in the face of all that we are seeing, in front of the scenes of death and violence, terrorism, killing, throat-cuttings, beheadings, burning of bodies and severing limbs, let us strengthen our faith in life, in the risen Christ who has conquered death and bestowed life and calls us all to be children of the resurrection and life, to be bearers of the Gospel of life and work for success and the conquest of death by life, enmity by love, and hatred and revenge by forgiveness and reconciliation.
Bearers of the Gospel of Life and Resurrection
Today, seeing the very serious escalation in the tragic situation and the suffering of our people – all people – we need people to bring us all the proclamation of the resurrection of Christ, like the Myrrh-bearing Women, like Luke and Cleopas and the other apostles. The eleven apostles and those with them began praying in the Upper Room behind closed doors in their despair, having lost all hope in their great Master, who had assured them on the night of his Passion that he would suffer much, but would rise from the dead on the third day. Well, the third day was passing without anyone seeing him, but then suddenly, the shout goes up as Luke and Cleopas return from Emmaus, “The Lord is risen indeed and hath appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:34) Each began recounting to the other the events of the resurrection and the appearances of the divine Master in various places. Then, Christ himself, risen from the dead appears to them, entering into the room, though the doors are closed out of fear while waiting in despair. And he says to them, “Peace be unto you.” (Luke 24:36) “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see…”(Luke 24:38-39) So he appears in Jerusalem and Emmaus, on the Mount of Olives, on the shore of Lake Tiberias, Bethany and elsewhere.
The Church expresses its joy in new life through its hymns of the Resurrection and Pascha that fill us with joy, as we notice on the faces of the faithful as they sing with the choir the most beautiful hymns of the joyful Resurrection written by the inspired pen, mind and heart of the great Saint John of Damascus, son of Sarjun ibn Mansur, minister of the Umayyad caliph, monk and hermit in the desert of Palestine in the monastery of St Saba near Jerusalem.
The Resurrection: Good News of Life for all Citizens
Dear brothers and sisters, we have indeed need today of these summons to joy, as we have entered upon the fifth year of the way of the cross and Golgotha of the suffering of us all.
We need to rejoice together, celebrate together, sing together and encourage one another, to convince one another in friendly fashion and bring joy to one another’s heart, visit one another, be in solidarity with one another, helping one another, dancing, singing, especially singing hymns of the Resurrection in our homes, gatherings, meetings, congregations, confraternities, various pastoral activities, youth meetings, scout meetings and all other youth associations. I summon all our faithful to that joy in our parishes everywhere, in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and the world over.
Let Christians on the day of Pascha and the glorious Resurrection, set an example of joy and let the contagion of joy, their joy in the Resurrection of Christ, affect their neighbours and all citizens around them! So our children and all citizens of our Middle East will be able to participate in the joy of the resurrection among all Christian communities, whether they follow the Eastern or Western computus or the Gregorian or Julian calendar.
We Christians are the bearers of a really splendid message of resurrection and life, hope and gladness in the heart of everyone. May the Feast of the Resurrection this year, the fifth of war and suffering, be a feast of joy for all the children of our suffering East!
Joy, gladness, hope, optimism, singing, celebration of the feast-days, family reunions, meetings with friends, acquaintances and neighbours, and especially with those who are afflicted by mourning, the loss of friends and loved ones are really needed by us today to enable us to cope with all the tragic suffering around us. We have spent forty or even fifty days in fasting and prayer, that God may remove from our Eastern countries, especially Syria and Iraq, this evil spirit that can only go out through prayer and fasting.
“God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us.” Let us celebrate the feast and let us joyfully receive Christ, risen from the dead. And we call on him, as did the two disciples of Emmaus, to come and abide in our home, our houses, our districts, our hearts, our institutions, saying like them, “Abide with us: for it is towards evening and the day is far spent.” (Luke 24:29)
How great our blessedness and joy will be when we hear Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, participating in our festive meal, sitting at table with us, living among our families, breaking bread with us, causing joy and gladness to well up in our hearts through his love so that our hearts will be full of joy and consolation. We feel that Jesus has been our companion on the way of our sufferings and tragedy during the past four years, but we did not know that it was he who was accompanying us along the road and protecting us despite the shells and mortars that were falling on us.
We, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke and Cleopas, become in our turn, bearers of the message of joy and we proclaim to others our spiritual experience, our experience of faith. So we really feel the joy of the resurrection and that Jesus has accompanied us in this tragedy and has saved us from various dangers.
The Martyrs are Children of Resurrection and Life
Many of our parishioners and other citizens have fallen as martyrs and victims of savage warfare. We should like to mention especially three groups of events that have really shaken our feelings and destroyed our morale and have caused fear to well up in our hearts, bringing many of us to emigrate because of fear and lack of security. Firstly, our brothers and sisters in Mosul and on the Nineveh Plain have been driven out; secondly, Daesh (ISIS) slaughtered twenty-one Copts who were Egyptian citizens, and thirdly there occurred the expulsion, killing and kidnapping of many of our Assyrian brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of thirty-five villages along the Khabur River in Northern Syria. We offer our heartfelt condolences to all those who are grieving. We shall remain always trusting in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, who has destroyed death.
Let us not forget, as I mentioned earlier, that we are the children of the resurrection. Nor let us forget that Damascus itself and the surrounding region, which has seen so much fighting, is the place of the appearance of Jesus, risen from the dead, to Saul, the persecutor, who came to Damascus with the intention of destroying the new Church that had been born in Damascus. There he was, on the road to Damascus, to kill, slaughter, abduct and take captive, when he saw Christ himself, risen from the dead, who appeared to him saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4)
So Saul continued on his way to Damascus, as mild as a lamb. In Damascus he receives the illumination of holy baptism at the hands of Ananias, the first bishop of Damascus. In Damascus, Saul becomes Paul, the bearer of the good news of the resurrection, and he goes off into the desert of Deraa to Mismiyeh, and there he proclaims the good news of Jesus, risen from the dead, and from the East, he goes into the whole world, to announce the good news of the resurrection and life, which is in Jesus Christ.
Call to Resurrection and Life
From Damascus, on the day of the Resurrection, of glorious Pascha – the passing over from death to life, slavery to freedom, lack of dignity to dignity, war to peace – we proclaim, with all the means at the disposal of our churches and parishes, this shout of victory and life, “Christ is risen!”
From suffering Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and our East, especially Jerusalem, the city of resurrection, we launch this appeal to the whole world.
Instead of joining the various takfiri and jihadist groups, and other murderous, terrorist, destructive, chaotic groups, we say, “Join the two hundred thousand Christians who are celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection and life, love, solidarity, forgiveness, reconciliation, joy, and universal fraternity.”
We address this appeal especially to all those enrolling under the banners of those organisations, telling them to join us, the sons and daughters of the resurrection and life. We tell them, “We should like you also to take part in the joy of the feast. We love you!” In the words of the Church’s doxastikon, “It is the day of Resurrection; let us be radiant for the festival, and let us embrace one another. Let us say, O brethren, even to those that hate us: let us forgive all things on the Resurrection; and thus let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead, by death He hath trampled down death, on those in the tombs bestowing life.”
The call to reconciliation means embracing one another and being reconciled. Since the first month of the crisis in Syria, we have not stopped proclaiming that appeal. Today again, we call for there to be a mutual embrace and reconciliation. We address this appeal to all Syria’s sons and daughters, wherever they may be and whatever their affiliations, rites or communities, including the various opposition groups, whoever and wherever they may be: we are all Syria’s children!
We are glad about the various meetings that have been organised in Russia and elsewhere aimed at bringing together various perspectives in order to reach the peaceful resolution for which we are all hoping of this very tragic crisis, which has made victims of us all.
We in all our churches will remain with hands uplifted in prayer for the realisation of this great goal. We say to everyone in the language of the Qur’an, “Come to a common word between us and you.” (Al-Imran 3:64) God grant that the day of reconciliation, salvation and mutual embrace may come! Then indeed there will be a great feast for the whole of Syria, a feast of resurrection and life.
How great will be our joy at this great feast, when joy will enter the hearts of the vast majority of inhabitants of this society so full of human wars and disputes – though masquerading as religious under a kamilavkion or a turban, raising aloft symbols or flags adorned with some slogan or other, yet in the end they can be seen as merely internecine, human wars.
So we say to everyone in the East and in the West: dismiss any idea that this conflict is over religion. When I look at what is happening in our countries, it seems to me that Daesh (ISIS) has nothing whatever to do with religion. ISIS is rather an instrument which takes on, very foolishly and insolently, the outward aspect and show of a religious movement. However, in reality they show Islam in a most hideous, deceitful and fraudulent guise.
The conflict is not merely a Sunni-Shi’a one, though this aspect has been seen here and there as significant in Syria. Even this conflict has become a tool and a cover for proxy war in our region and at the cost of all its citizens.
This is in the line of what Pope Francis said in his New Year’s Day letter for the World Day of Peace (2015) and in his Lenten Letter, in which he draws attention to the fact that humans should not be used. So I say with great certainty and with great pain that religion has become a tool; human beings have been instrumentalised and commoditised. Religious conflict has become marketable. Killing the innocent has become a commodity and instrument and slaughtering Christians has become a tool. The Syrian crisis, or world war on Syria, has become an instrument and commodity. Those who profit from this situation and the tragedy of our Arab world and societies are many amongst us: rows, local, regional and international who make war on humans and instruments of us all. Even killing Christian brothers and sisters and expelling them from their villages, properties and sanctuaries has become a tool for unfathomable ends. Killing our children, Christian children is also a commodity and tool for other reasons. The war on Syria is also a commodity: everyone is buying it; every citizen, one way or another, even among us, is using this crisis as a profitable commodity and we wonder whether something of Daesh ideology has not found its way into every human being nowadays.
How greatly we shall rejoice at the great feast, when joy will enter the hearts of all the fighters in Syria and they will discard their weapons and walk all together in the light of resurrection and life.
Being Apostles of Life and Resurrection
You are an apostle if you believe in resurrection and life, and when you proclaim the resurrection and life. Let us be agents of life, prosperity and progress. Let us be agents to build up the culture of life and not be instruments of death, war and destruction. That is the meaning of life: that is its beauty.
In conclusion, I offer my heartiest greetings to all those who will read this letter, especially to my venerable, beloved brother bishops, consecrated monks, nuns and religious and all our faithful, especially the lay-persons who are involved in pastoral work, in parish and church activities who are really servants of the resurrection and life. They realise what Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.
With my friendship and blessing
+Gregorios III, Patriarch
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
For the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
My Beloved Clergy and Faithful,
Christ is risen! He is truly risen!
Pascha is our celebration of Faith and Hope, our belief and trust in God’s promise that “we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4). Indeed, our yearning for abundant life is fulfilled by the Resurrection that gives promise for our future.
Without hope life can be very sad and painful, and we can become disillusioned in relationships, in shattered dreams, in family problems, in illness, and of course, in death. Yet Pascha proclaims an undying hope–the risen Christ comes today to bring hope and victory. He comes to bring resurrection and new life.
On Holy Friday, we heard the reading of Ezekiel’s vision of an entire valley filled with dead men’s bones. The Lord who is ever faithful breathes over the bones and brings His people back from death and captivity. This vision is fulfilled by the risen Christ who even today calls us back to life and clothes our dry, dead bones with purpose, hope, and eternal life!
On the night of His Resurrection, Jesus walks to Emmaus with two of his disciples who do not recognize Him immediately (Luke 24:13-35). In their sadness they tell Him: “We hoped that He was the one who would redeem Israel.” They mention the women, and some other disciples, finding the empty tomb, “but Him they did not see.” Jesus then interprets for them the Scriptures concerning Himself, and He opens their eyes in the “breaking of the bread.” Immediately, He brings them from the darkness of despair to the joyful light of hope in Him.
Our life, too, is often filled with shattered dreams and broken hopes. Truly, our world is still filled with problems: wars, killings, injustice, hatred, and the like. So many people lose themselves in despair. But if Christ is risen, then hope is risen! If Christ is risen, death is conquered, and we live in the everlasting arms of our beloved Savior who died so we may live. In Him “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13).
The risen Christ liberates us from all negativity and pessimism. Our lighted candles on Pascha remind us that we sing with full and joyful hope as we proclaim with St. John Chrysostom: “Christ is risen, and the demons are cast down. Christ is risen, and the tombs have been emptied of their dead. Christ is risen, and life is set freed” (Paschal Homily)!
Sartre speaks of the silence of God.
Heidegger speaks of the absence of God.
Jaspers speaks of the concealment of God.
Bultmann of the hiddenness of God.
Buber of the eclipse of God.
Tillich of the nonbeing of God.
Altizer of the death of God.
However, the New Testament writers–eyewitnesses–speak of the hope of the Risen and Living Lord! To Him be glory, honor, and worship, praise and thanksgiving for all ages. Amen.
My sincere and prayerful wishes that you will find your Hope in the risen Lord, and that your Paschal celebration and its forty-day festal season be filled with great joy. I offer all of you my prayers, blessing, and love.
Sincerely yours in the risen Christ,
✠ Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton
Eastern Catholicism in the Middle East
Fifty Year after Orientalium Ecclesiarum
Observation – Analysis – Evaluation
Turmoil, Divisions and Hopes For Unity in the Church of Antioch
Bishop Nicholas Samra, Eparchial Bishop of Newton
University of St. Michael’s College
In the University of Toronto
October 18, 2014
2 Historical Evaluation of Divisions
3 Insights to Vatican II Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum
4 Ecumenical Observations
5 The “Zoghby Initiative”
My presentation on Eastern Catholicism in the Middle East fifty years after Vatican II’s document Oreintalium Ecclesiarum needs an introduction that begins long before Vatican II. It actually begins in the early Church centuries when the faith was being formulated in human languages, especially through the seven ecumenical councils as well as many other local councils. These early centuries witnessed great discussions as well as what have become known as many heresies.1
I speak mainly of the Church of Antioch, the major city of the Roman Empire in the East – in the area which was known as Greater Syria: present day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, modern day Israel, and parts of Southern Turkey. It was the Patriarch of Antioch who had jurisdiction over this vast area. The designation of Jerusalem as a Patriarchate became more honorary to a very limited area.
Even though Greek was the major spoken language in the entire Roman Empire, local languages still existed, particularly in villages outside of populated cities. Aramaic and Syriac were predominant in the Christian villages and had a variety of dialects. Arabic was unknown in this area until the coming of Islam hundreds of years later and did not become the more commonly spoken language until the 17th century especially among Christians.
Without getting into dates and council declarations, very early on the Church of Antioch became very diverse. From its common core, numerous Churches developed. The main liturgical setting of the Church of Antioch was the Liturgy of St. James, however others developed. The East Syrian Church used the more ancient Anaphora of Addai and Mari, noted because it does not contain an announced institution narrative.
A large part of the Church of Antioch followed the Nestorian issues, although today we do not use that term as a designation. This Church of the East spread from what is modern day Iraq into the Persian Empire (Iran) and all the way east and south to China and India. At one point in history it was larger in numbers than the spread of the Roman Church in the West. A very evangelical Church, it almost went into extinction in many areas, but developed in others, particularly India.
The West Syrian Church developed into the Syriac Church, which through theological debates divided more. Parts of it followed the Nestorian heresy. After the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) the Syriac Church divided into Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Churches. Those opposed to the Council dubbed those who accepted it “ the Melkites,” a word from Syriac (Malko) meaning the King or Emperor – or royalists since the emperor accepted the Chalcedonian doctrine that Jesus Christ was true God and true man. At that time “Melkite” was considered a derogatory term. The non-Chalcedonians had a different understanding in the unity of Christ – God and man. And I note that it was not until almost 1900 years later that it was recognized as a mainly semantic issue and not a theological misunderstanding.
Another part of the Chalcedonian Church, the Melkite, now divided again into what is known as Maronite and Melkite. The Maronites at first were not pure Chalcedonians. According to some historians (of course mainly non-Maronite) they were for a time Monothelites – another bad word today. But for the sake of starting a public controversy, I will not pursue the theological debate but just emphasize two more Churches, each distinct, were born.
The Church of Antioch spread into Asia Minor and gave its initial liturgical life to Constantinople – the seat of the empire, where it was more hellenized and stylized. John Chrysostom was Patriarch of Antioch before his election to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Byzantine Church developed, although much of the liturgical life of Palestine passed directly to Constantinople unaltered.
After the Muslim conquest in the 7th century and the Crusades which were initially meant to check its presence, more divisions developed. The Crusaders ousted the legitimate church leaders – Patriarch and bishops – in favor of Latin appointees. The Patriarch of Chalcedonian Antioch fled and took refuge in Constantinople where his Church was more hellenized. After several hundred years it lost its Syriac liturgical traditions to the more Hellenized traditions of Constantinople, sometimes called the Byzantine Church.
Jump ahead several hundred years and we see the Church of Rome, the Latins, sending missionaries to the Middle East beginning in the 1600’s. If it was considered to convert Muslims, it was not successful because Islam prohibited conversions to Christianity and protected itself with fear of death to any Muslim who even considered conversion. In actuality a tremendous proselytizing took place among the Orthodox faithful and new Churches were born of unions or communions with Rome – derogatorily called “uniates”, now Eastern Catholics. The Romans or Latins now opened their own churches and because of the financial support of the west, won converts to the Latin churches, a poor means of evangelizing.
To recap then in this long introduction, from the one Church of Antioch the following developed:
•West Syrian: ◦Syriac Orthodox/Catholic
◦Maronite – all Catholic
◦Melkite Greek Catholic and Orthodox, known as Greek Orthodox in the East and Antiochian Orthodox in the West.
•East Syrian: ◦Chaldean Catholic and Church of the East (the non-Catholic branch) which does not use the term Orthodox but rather Apostolic Catholic Church of the East.
◦Syro-Malabar Catholic and Orthodox in India – following the Chaldean tradition.
◦Syro-Malankara Church in India – Catholic and Orthodox following the west Syriac tradition.
Let me add to this unique Church of Antioch, now divided into different Churches, the Church of Armenia – a national Church, even older than the Church of the Empire. The Armenian tradition is a mixture of Syriac and Byzantine elements as it developed across Asia Minor. There are two Churches: Catholic and Orthodox, also called Apostolic Armenian.
So what developed were six Orthodox Churches and seven Catholic Churches all from the one Church of Antioch – not counting the proselytizing Latin churches.
I take another leap to the Ottoman Empire. In order to conquer and rule, the Ottomans who ruled in the Middle East, the Balkans and Greece 400 years, made each Church a “nation” or in Arabic a “Taifat,” in Turkish a “millet”. The patriarchs and bishops of each “nation” or community were civil heads over their individual churches. Ottomans interfered to collect head tax and when a Christian killed someone. All other issues were resolved by the Church heads. Christians were heavily taxed and even had to pay to have bishops and patriarchs recognized by the civil authorities. Thus many patriarchs and bishops were elected more for their civil know-how and not necessarily for their spirituality.
To save their own lives, many Christians learned the bad aspects of their rulers – cheating and lying in order to deal with the Ottomans. Many bishops, priests, patriarchs and laity died for their faith during Ottoman times. World War I – the Great War ended the Ottoman rule which had begun to crumble long before with the West’s involvement in the Middle East, yet Christians learned Turkish conniving and scheming.
Historical Evaluation of Divisions
This brings me to today and several issues or problems that I see were predominant. The Church of Antioch was greatly divided and very much competition took place. Jealousies abounded. Each particular Church developed strong individuality and each Church saw itself as the more legitimate heir of the See of Antioch. Three Catholic Patriarchs and two Orthodox Patriarchs claim the title of Patriarch of Antioch and all the East.
Competition and rivalries developed among the Churches, each group thinking itself more authentic than the others. With the existence of the Latin religious communities (Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, etc) each Church had to struggle to keep their own faithful because the Latins began to build churches and homes for the people – in a sense buying them to accept the Latin Church. In Jerusalem the Latin Church is still nicknamed the Church of the Bread Latins! because they became Latin for food and financial support.
Instead of all Christians working together for education and schools, each Church attempted to open their own schools in the cities as well as in small villages where several churches existed.
Enter the Protestant Churches who were financially supported by the West, particularly the United States. Again, money, homes, food, and support distracted Eastern Christians away from their proper roots and traditions.
Orthodox faithful were greatly disarmed and Eastern Catholics were born of divisions from their mother Churches and were greatly Latinized.
Insights to Vatican II Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum
In the Vatican II decree of which we are speaking, recognition of each particular Church was noted. It speaks of the “Rites of the Catholic Church” and not as the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, as if the Catholic Church was Latin. There is equal dignity among the Churches – none superior to the others – Latin included.2 But recognition of this fact would take years to develop, coming out of hundreds of years of oppression and a great loss of their faithful. The “unity of action and common endeavor to sustain common tasks; so as to safeguard more effectively the ordered way of life,” took many more years to expand and it is still not flourishing.3
Vatican II calls for the Eastern Catholic Churches to rule themselves. This is still delayed and impeded because of Roman interference. Here I mention one of the difficulties of Roman interference. When there is a head above the head – in other words the pope above the patriarch and synod, in the event a problem is not solved to the likings of the complainers, the “super head” is appealed to. We have a problem in Jordan where several priests did not agree with their proper Melkite bishop and were not satisfied with the Synod’s assessment. So they made an appeal, and Rome named a Latin Rite Auxiliary Bishop to the Melkite Archdiocese in Jordan with full power over the seated Archbishop.
The Vatican document calls the Churches “to preserve their legitimate liturgical rite and their established way of life.” This is still lacking due to excessive Latinization, theologically as well as liturgically. There is more to dressing up Eastern Catholics in Orthodox clothes and calling them legitimate to their proper traditions.
I cannot speak for all the Churches but I can speak for mine – the Greek Melkite. After Vatican II, our Synod returned in 1968 to the practice of communicating newly baptized and chrismated children, but you will still see First Communion ceremonies at age 7 throughout the Patriarchate. They may now call them “Solemn Communion” but let us not be fooled. Ask the laity what is celebrated! The identity has not totally been integrated. The U.S.A. Eparchy instituted this in 1970 with the coming of Archbishop Joseph Tawil and we took pains to reeducate our faithful in this matter. After Tawil the custom redeveloped in a few parishes with a few priests, and three years ago after I became Eparchial Bishop, I had to reissue this proper tradition via a Pastoral Letter,4 stronger than the first time around.
The feast of Corpus Christi, a distinct Latin feast was adopted by the Melkite Church soon after its communion with Rome in 1724. It was discussed at the Synod after Vatican II. The bishops concurred it was a Latinization but chose to keep it on the calendar – even as a 1st class feast with a pre-feast and after-feast. Their reasoning was still Latinized since the text was composed in a Byzantine fashion, but it boiled down to its social aspect in some eparchies, a religious procession enhanced with street fairs of food and dance and even carnival atmosphere.5
We still have issues with Rome’s involvement in the election of bishops within and outside of the traditional patriarchate which Rome seems to see as the lines of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1995 the Congregation for the Eastern Churches issued a document titled Instruction for the Application of the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.6 I will not get into all of the prescriptions but it is clear that pains should be taken to return to the legitimate customs of the Eastern Churches. This is one of the best documents from Rome on this subject. However, to date, the only one giving Communion to infants after baptism and chrismation is the Melkite Church. It appears as if the other Church synods haven’t even read the document, or if they have, just ignored it, refusing children to participate in the Lord’s Eucharistic table. And that’s just one of many prescriptions and traditions to reintroduce. I have repeatedly asked our Synod to discuss this document and to date nothing has happened. I comment no further.
The question of the date of Pascha still remains an issue. As you know Christians are laughed at and mocked by Islam because we generally have two Paschas. Islam considers this a scandal and sees our divisions, yet sometimes not seeing their own. Yet it remains a scandal that after so long we cannot agree on a date. The Vatican II decree states that the “patriarchs or supreme authorities of a place come to an agreement” but it adds “by unanimous consent and combined counsel of those affected to celebrate the feast of Easter on the same Sunday.”7
This has worked in Egypt and Jordan where all Churches celebrate Pascha with the Orthodox, but it was mainly the civil governments who got this to work. In the Holy Land, Melkites celebrate both dates according to the majority faithful although this may change in 2015 when hopefully all Catholic Christians will celebrate on the Orthodox Pascha date.
When Pope, now Saint John Paul II visited Syria after the year 2000, the common date of Pascha surfaced. There was an attempt for all Churches to be unified and celebrate with the Orthodox. Initially there was agreement, however the Armenian Catholics in Syria pulled back because their sister Orthodox Church had accepted to celebrate the western date internationally. Then the Syriac and Maronite Churches reneged because across the borders in Lebanon they would not be in line with their local churches there. The Melkite Patriarch remained committed but Rome recommended (or maybe imposed) that there should be unanimity among the Churches in one country. So we remain the laughing stock of Islam, crucifying and raising Christ twice.
Orientalium Ecclesiarum speaks about relations with the Orthodox Churches, and urges Eastern Catholics “to promote the unity of all Christians, especially Eastern Christians.”8 The means it offers are “Prayer… example of their lives, by religious fidelity to the ancient Eastern traditions, by a greater knowledge of each other, by collaboration and a brotherly regard for objects and feelings.”9
The document admits Orthodox to the Mysteries of Penance, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick “if they ask of their own accord,” and if needed because of no Catholic priest, a Catholic may receive the same from an Orthodox priest – if the priest is so disposed to do so.10 At a recent ordination of a priest several weeks ago in Placentia, California, a visiting Syriac Orthodox priest approached the Eucharistic table along with my Melkite priests and deacons. The same happened at a Patriarchal Liturgy some years ago in Los Angeles when the Syriac Orthodox Bishop of the west coast approached the Eucharistic table to communicate from the Melkite Patriarch.
Two popes visited Syria and Lebanon in the past decades: Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Both called for a greater working relationship among the Churches – first among Catholics and also with Orthodox to give witness to the one Christian faith in prayer and practice. Both went beyond the Catholic communities to our Orthodox brothers and sisters in the faith – a communion that is tarnished but yet can be polished and relived in a united Church. All Eastern Catholics and Orthodox were urged to work together, use common facilities, have common mission and break down barriers of separation.
Here I note a great development in the past 10 years. In Aleppo, Syria and Damascus, Syria, the Melkite Catholics and Greek (Antiochian) Orthodox built common churches by a working relationship with Church officials. Both churches were consecrated jointly by Orthodox and Catholic patriarchs and times for Divine services were set. However, it is well known that Orthodox and Catholic faithful crisscross liturgies and receive communion.
This brings me to my last point in this presentation – ecumenism, called for by Vatican II in Orientalium Ecclesiarum and other documents as well. In the past several decades the issues that I mention of diversity, competition and proselytizing have been greatly discussed and met head on through the formation and gatherings of the Patriarchs and Bishops. Conferences were formed and even Orthodox/Catholic meetings now take place among the hierarchs of all the Churches in the Middle East.11
Vatican II assisted the Eastern Catholic communities to a stronger working relationship for common issues such as religious education, social gatherings, conferences and service related programs particularly of charity. In education Catholic students study at the Orthodox Balamand University and Orthodox students at the Maronite University of Holy Spirit (Kaslik), Lebanon. A greater focus was placed on working together. This continues to escalate in the past few years especially with the internal strife within Islam, now overflowing severely to affect the Christian presence in the lands of its birth and growth. A new genocide is taking place.
Initially after the partial communions of some Orthodox Churches with Rome, there was great strife within each liturgical family. However the Catholic Churches slowly began to see that partial unions were not the most praiseworthy and a greater working relationship developed between the Orthodox and Catholics.
A great change took place within the Roman Church and it slowly filtered down into the Eastern Catholics. Papal concern began to grow particularly since St. John XXIII, Venerable Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis. Meetings went beyond just polite “hellos” and “nice words.” There has been a breakdown to understand how East and West were one and united for 1000 years. New studies developed. Divisions were recognized as more politically oriented than theologically motivated and new dialogues resumed.
I will speak specifically about my Church, the Greek Melkite Catholic and our goals for unity with the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, which is known in the West as the Antiochian Orthodox.
The Melkite Church took an important role in Vatican II as spelled out by Fr. John Erickson and Fr. Brian Daly SJ, earlier at this Conference. It acted as a synod of bishops in their preparations concerning all documents and as a united hierarchy at the Council under the leadership of Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh.12 The preparation work, discourses and memoranda of the Patriarch and his hierarchs have now been published in English by Sophia Press of my Eparchy The Greek Melkite Church at the Council.13 I worked hours upon days to edit this great translation from French. Publication was this year in commemoration of Vatican II – 50 years later. Obtain from our website Melkite.org – books in Sophia Press, $30.00.
The “Zoghby Initiative”
In 1975 a prophetic voice arose in the Melkite Synod. Archbishop Elias Zoghby of Baalbek, Lebanon, was already known at Vatican II for his forward thinking about the Eastern Church’s concept of divorce and remarriage. He now proposed to his synod a project of double communion with Rome and Orthodoxy for his Melkite Church. It would allow the Greek Melkite Catholic Church to reunite with the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch while remaining in communion with Rome.
Initially the majority of synod fathers were not enthusiastic about the project. Rome too had objections. The Catholic and Orthodox synods formed a joint commission to study the project but the long disastrous Lebanese war hindered much progress.
In 1981, Zoghby published a small book: Tous Schimatiques published later in English as We Are All Schismatics.14 It was welcomed by ecumenists but frowned upon by Rome because it questioned the recognition of the infallibility of Vatican I. Zoghby quoted Pope Paul VI who qualified the Council of Lyons as the 6th of the General Synods of the West. Since Paul VI did so, Zoghby extended this thinking to Vatican I.
Twenty years passed and ecumenical ideas matured with Vatican II and the Popes St John XXIII, Venerable Paul VI and St. John Paul II. Zoghby renewed his project of double communion, now known as the “Zoghby Initiative” internationally. He wrote a short thirty one page booklet, Orthodox Uni? Qui! Uniate? Non! (United Orthodox? Yes! Uniate? No!)15
It contained a short profession of faith:
1.I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.
2.I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome in the limits recognized to the first among the bishops by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation.
An Orthodox theologian Metropolitan Archbishop George Khodr of Byblos and Batroun (Lebanon) was satisfied with this Profession of Faith. It was also accepted and ascribed to by another member of the Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue in Antioch, Archbishop Cyril Bustros of the Melkite Catholics.
Twenty five of twenty seven bishops at the Melkite Synod of 1995 signed the document which was done during coffee breaks after each bishop read it and not at a public session of the Synod. Patriarch Maximos V sent it to the Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV and was surprised with his enthusiastic response to proceed with study by his Synod. Then the Melkite Synod spent several days of its 1996 Synod to study more and it unanimously adopted the project and issued a document calling for an end to divisions of the two Churches.16
The Orthodox Synod reacted with a serious study and emphasized that Antiochian unity could not be separated from the restoration of communion with Rome and all of Orthodoxy.
I add a note here that one cannot deny that there was a double communion in Antioch in the 1600’s and 1700’s before the full communion with part of the Church of Antioch in 1724. Latin missionaries confessed and communicated Orthodox laity with the permission of their Orthodox hierarchs and even preached in the Orthodox Churches. Orthodox bishops entered into communion with Rome without being rejected by their confreres.
Ecumenists and many others saw the “Zoghby Initiative” as a door opener. Numerous articles appeared internationally.
In 1997 a letter to the Melkite Patriarch and Synod was presented by Joseph Cardinal Ratsinger, Achille Cardinal Silvestrini and Edward Cardinal Cassidy, representing the Pontifical Dicasteries of Doctrine of the Faith, Eastern Churches, and Council for Christian Unity respectively. Although many interpreted this letter as a rejection of the project, it gave in reality reflections to continue this dialogue “with caution.”17
Proof of this came on September 29, 1998 when Pope John Paul II met with the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs and strongly encouraged them to help restore full unity with Orthodox Churches. St. John Paul II asked them to seek with him the most suitable forms of Petrine ministry, engaging them and also Orthodox Patriarchs and theologians “in a patient and fraternal dialogue on the ways to exercise this ministry of united”. Basically he said and recognized that the Pope was the issue of disunity in sense – so let’s talk about how my ministry can be adapted and properly understood.18
Such an important dialogue has ups and downs – we see this also in the International Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue as well as its forerunner, the North American dialogue.
A damper arose once again over Antiochian Dialogue toward unity. But a new sign appeared just this year. The horrific war in Syria, the near extermination of Christianity in Iraq, the instability of all the countries of the Middle East, particularly in Egypt and Palestine, the severe rivalries among Sunni and Shiite Muslims, once again spilling over to Lebanon which had a majority of Christians until its disastrous war: all this now threatens the existence of Christianity and its faithful. These issues bring a new impetus for the need of walking together, working together and healing our age old problems and divisions.
The new Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, John X, met with Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III and asked to visit our Melkite Synod this past June. He also brought up: “we need to look at the Zoghby Initiative once again.” It was a great day on June 19, 2014 when Patriarch John X arrived to Ain Traz, Lebanon with three of his Metropolitans and secretary to meet and speak brotherly love with our Melkite Synod, and he spoke strongly for unity.19
Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III along with other Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch participated at a special conference on the Church of Antioch in July 2014 at Balamand University and Monastery. They were also welcomed to visit at the Greek Orthodox Synod days later.20
Another great ecumenist is the newly elected Moran Mor Ignatius Afram II, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. Now forty-eight years old, he served as Archbishop of the Eastern Diocese of his Church in the USA for eighteen years. He and I are members of CCT – Christian Churches Together, the largest ecumenical body in the USA.
Good days, bad days, ups and downs, rigidly and flexibility, enthusiasm and calmness – yet we are on a new road to unity within the ancient Church of Antioch which is now spread worldwide.
Orientalium Ecclesiarum of Vatican II is somewhat a weak document but it inaugurated a stronger belief for working Church relationships as well as the need of unity. Could we ask for more?
Thank you for your kind attention.
1.On this Introduction cf. Ignatios Dick, Melkites: Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholics of the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem (Nicholas Samra, trans. and ed.), West Roxbury MA: Sophia Press 2004, Part 1, pp.13-54.
2.Orientalium Ecclesiarum (OE), www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican _council/documents/vat-ii_decree1..., No. 3. 3.OE, No. 4.
4.Bishop Nicholas Samra, Pastoral Letter on Infant Communion and “First Communion” Ceremonies also called “Solemn Communion” or “Eucharistic Awareness, Sophia – Journal of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Vol. 42, No. 2, (Spring 2012), pp. 6-7.
5.Ignatios Dick, Melkites Op.Cit., p. 151
. 6.Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 1995.
7.OE, Op.Cit., No. 20.
8.OE, Ibid., No. 24.
9.OE, Ibid., # 24.
10.OE., Ibid., No. 27.
11.Elias Zoghby, (Nicholas Samra, trans.), “Triumph of Uniatism: The Congress of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of the Middle East,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Winter 2000), pp. 93-95.
12.On Maximos IV Sayegh, cf. Gerasimos T. Murphy, Maximos IV at Vatican II, A Quest for Autonomy, West Newton MA: Sophia Press 2011; cf. also Thomas E. Bird, Patriarch Maximos IV Saygh, (Men Who Make the Council Series, M. Novak ed.) Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame Press 1964; cf. also George D. Gallaro, The Greek Melkite Church at the Council – The Melkites’ Day at the Second Vatican Council, unplublished English manuscript, Arabic translation publish in al-Masarat, Harissa Lebanon: Paulist Press.
13.Sophia Press, West Roxbury MA 2014.
14.Philip Khairallah (trans.), We Are All Schismatics, Educational Services Office of Eparchy of Newton, 1996.
15.Elias Zoghby, Jounieh Lebanon: Paulist Press 1995; English translation in Eastern Churches Journal, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Autumn 1995), Fairfax VA, pp. 11-14.
16.Bishop Nicholas Samra (trans.), Press Release and Synodal Text in Eastern Churches Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Summer 1996), Fairfax VA, pp. 5-12
. 17.French Original with Bishop Nicholas Samra.
18.Cf. “We extend our arms in brotherhood – Holy Father encourages Catholic Patriarchs to help restore full unity with Orthodox Churches,” L’Osservatore Romano, No. 40, 7 October 1998, Weekly Edition 7.
19.“Orthodox Patriarch John X Visits Melkite Synod,” Sophia – Journal of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Fall 2014), p. 11.
20.“Patriarch Gregorios Addresses Antiochian Unity Conference in Lebanon,” Sophia, Ibid., p. 12.
(1928- ) was the third eparch (the fourth bishop), serving from 1993 to 2004.
Born in Maghdouche, Lebanon he is a member of the Basilian Salvatorian Order. He previously served the eparchy as a parish priest, an instructor and rector of St. Basil’s Seminary before become auxiliary bishop of Newton in 1986. He retired in 2004 and is presently eparch emeritus.
Rt. Rev. Arch. Mark Melone
Saint joseph Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Faith and Worship
Authentic Christian faith is always about the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. From the beginning local Churches have expressed that relation-ship differently in various liturgies, hymns, theologies, icons and more.
Melkites express their faith in the Byzantine tradition of the Greek Patriarchate of Antioch. Liturgically we follow the Byzantine rite. Our spirituality is that of the Christian East (healing, re-creation, theosis, etc.) in common with other Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox.
In addition, our particular identity is as Greek Catholics: Eastern in faith, worship and spirituality but united to the Church of Rome with all the problems and opportunities that relationship affords.
THE FEAST OF THE EXALTATION OF THE CROSS is the occasion for us to begin the reading of St. Luke’s Gospel. As we have seen, Pascha begins the reading of John and with Pentecost we start to read Matthew. At the same time we continue the cycle of Epistle readings begun at Pentecost without interruption.
Luke, whom St Paul describes as “the be-loved physician” (Colossians 4:14) is thought to have been a Greek-speaking native of Antioch, probably a Gentile, possibly a Jewish proselyte. Luke may have been one of the multitudes who came to Jerusalem that Passover, was attracted by the teaching of Jesus and then encountered the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:12-35).
Luke may have returned to Antioch as one of the first members of the Church there, as he recalls with pride that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). He later became the companion of St Paul, who was himself a missionary sent out by the Church of Antioch to preach Christ. In Acts Luke describes how he traveled with St. Paul on his journeys to Macedonia (Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15), how he returned with him to Syria and went from there to Jerusalem to report to the Eleven.
Luke composed both the Gospel which bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles as a kind of diptych. While the Gospel sets forth God’s call to mankind in Christ, Acts shows the response of the first disciples, both Jews and Gentiles, to the message of salvation.
Pass On Your Family Traditions
As the passing on of Holy Tradition is one of the main tasks of the priests of the wider Church, so too passing on of the family story is an important role for parents, the priests of the domestic church. Parents should tell family stories with a sense of appreciation, remembering the good things from their own growing- up years as well as the stories they heard from their parents and grandparents. If you have never done this before, sit down some evening and make a list of these stories and lessons as well as the lessons you want your children to learn from them.
The way we tell our family stories can be a great help in bringing our children to see that God is working in your lives: If, with St. Paul, “We know that in all in both the good and bad events of our lives to bring us to where we are in our life now. And so we can tell our stories with a sense of destiny: that God has been at work in our family and is still working, calling us to grow in His love and service. As God worked in the past to bring us to this place in the same way He is preparing us for something else.