"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Thursday, 31 August 2017


Perhaps this could have only happened in the Middle East where, on the whole, the ordinary lay people and the lower clergy haven't taken seriously the various schisms that have happened in the region in its long Christian history.   Perhaps because Christians have been a minority religion for a long time and the various Christian churches have had to face the same problems with Islam and other conditions.  Only lately we have seen what Pope Francis has called the "ecumenism of blood" where Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants have died for Christ.

It has been argued that, among the laity and lower clergy, the schisms never really happened.  What we call communicatio in sacris, sacramental hospitality, is quite normal and any attempts to stop it on behalf of higher authority have been ignored down the ages.   The Orthodox Church of Antioch, when our story opens at the beginning of the 18th century is very keen on education and learning, and the Jesuits were very much appreciated for this, as well as for confessions.   On the whole, relations between the Orthodox bishops and the Jesuits were good, and there was no effort on the part of the Latins to create any sort of parallel church.  However, there was a movement among the Orthodox to restore communion with the see of Peter without in any way breaking with the rest of Orthodoxy.  They did not think of Rome as an alternative to Constantinople, but as a logical step towards Christian integration.

In 1724, the bishops of the Orthodox patriarchate of Antioch elected Cyril VI Tamas as their patriarch.  Patriarch Cyril was very friendly to the Catholics which caused Patriarch Jeremias III of Constantinople to declare the election invalid, to excommunicate Cyril and to appoint a deacon Silvester as the new patriarch.  Any Orthodox reading this will appreciate how complicated the issue was.   What would happen now, we may ask, if Patriarch Barholomew were to declare invalid the election of another patriarch and appoint his man, unelected,to that office. 

The deposed patriarch appealed to Rome and the pope supported Patriarch Cyril, and thus, sadly, the schism happened.  However, this Melkite Catholic Church -as they came to be called - was very different from other "uniate" churches that were the result of Catholiv missionary activity in that it had its own Orthodox tradition, Orthodox polity, institutions, spirituality, culture and way of doing things, and they still identified with the Orthodox Church from which they had become separated and never claimed to be an alternative.    The next crisis for them was the First Vatican council.

Vatican I

Patriarch Gregory II Youssef (1864–1897) worked to restore peace within the community, successfully healing the lingering schism. He also focused on improving church institutions. During his reign Gregory founded both the Patriarchal College in Beirut in 1865 and the Patriarchal College in Damascus in 1875 and re-opened the Melkite seminary of Ain Traz in 1866. He also promoted the establishment of Saint Ann's Seminary, Jerusalem, in 1882 by the White Fathers for the training of the Melkite clergy.
Following the Hatt-ı Hümayun of 1856, decreed by Sultan Abdülmecid I, the situation of Christians in the Near East improved. This allowed Gregory to successfully encourage greater participation by the Melkite laity in both church administration as well as public affairs.
 Gregory also took an interest in ministering to the growing number of Melkites who had emigrated to the Americas. In 1889 he dispatched Father Ibrahim Beshawate of the Basilian Salvatorian Order in Saida, Lebanon to New York in order to minister to the growing Syrian community there. According to historian Philip Hitte, Beshawate was the first permanent priest in the United States from the Near East from among the Melkite, Maronite, and Antiochian Orthodox Churches.

Gregory was also a prominent proponent of Eastern ecclesiology at the First Vatican Council. In the two discourses he gave at the Council on May 19 and June 14, 1870 he insisted on the importance of conforming to the decisions of the Council of Florence, of not creating innovations such as papal infallibility, but accepting what had been decided by common agreement between the Greeks and the Latins at the Council of Florence, especially with regard to the issue of papal primacy. He was keenly aware of the disastrous impact that the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility would have on relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church and emerged as a prominent opponent of the dogma at the Council.

 He also defended the rights and privileges of the patriarchs according to the canons promulgated by earlier ecumenical councils. Speaking at the Council on May 19, 1870, Patriarch Gregory asserted:
The Eastern Church attributes to the pope the most complete and highest power, however in a manner where the fullness and primacy are in harmony with the rights of the patriarchal sees. This is why, in virtue of and ancient right founded on customs, the Roman Pontiffs did not, except in very significant cases, exercise over these sees the ordinary an immediate jurisdiction that we are asked now to define without any exception. This definition would completely destroy the constitution of the entire Greek church. That is why my conscience as a pastor refuses to accept this constitution.
Patriarch Gregory refused to sign the Council's dogmatic declaration on papal infallibility. He and the seven other Melkite bishops present voted non placet at the general congregation and left Rome prior to the adoption of the dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus on papal infallibility.[23] Other members of the anti-infallibilist minority, both from the Latin church and from other Eastern Catholic churches, also left the city.

After the First Vatican Council concluded an emissary of the Roman Curia was dispatched to secure the signatures of the patriarch and the Melkite delegation. Patriarch Gregory and the Melkite bishops subscribed to it, but with the qualifying clause of the used at the Council of Florence attached: "except the rights and privileges of Eastern patriarchs.".

 He earned the enmity of Pius IX for this; during his next visit to the pontiff Gregory was cast to the floor at Pius' feet by the papal guard while the pope placed his foot on the patriarch's head. Despite this, Patriarch Gregory and the Melkite Catholic Church remained committed to their union with the Church of Rome.

For me, this is a wonderful scene, with Pope Pius IX showing us what can happen when ecclesial jurisdiction, which is an exercise of ecclesial love, is confused with civil jurisdiction which is an exercise - perfectly justified within its proper context - of force.   On the other hand, Patriarch Gregory, forced on his knees in this humiliating scene, by his very humility in not breaking communion with Pope Pius, was heralding the end of this kind of misuse of papal power and the pivotal role played by his successor, Patriarch Maximos IV in Vatican II.

Relations with the Vatican improved following the death of Pius IX and the subsequent election of Leo XIII as pontiff. Leo's encyclical Orientalium Dignitas addressed some of the Eastern Catholic Churches' concerns on latinization and the centralizing tendencies of Rome.

However, there now existed a sui juris church in full communion with Rome whose bishops had voted non placet against two dogmas of the council and whose later acceptance of them was allowed to remain vague.  Later, at Vatican II, it became accepted that Tradition is local and regional before it becomes universal, and that culture, geography and schism can interrupt the full acceptance of Tradition as a whole by all. Bishops of regional churches can only give witness to the apostolic Tradition as they receive it.  We have to practice patience with one another, even with our own communion.

Patriarch Maximos IV and Vatican II

.But when all is said and done, our basic point of reference will always remain the great figure of Patriarch Maximos IV and the role he played in his own and the broader Church during the twenty critical years (October 30, 1947-November 5, 1967) of his historic patriarchate. Among the dozen or so most quoted Council Fathers in the published histories of Vatican II, he gave from the start a hitherto unimaginable importance to the Eastern Catholic minority at the Council by the content and elan of his interventions. The legendary Xavier Rynne first brought him to the attention of Americans in his gripping account of Session I serialized in The New Yorker, awakening the Western mass-media to the importance of this hitherto ignored minority. Rynne described Maximos as “the colorful and outspoken Melchite patriarch, His Beatitude Maximus IV Saigh, of Antioch,” and spoke of His Beatitude’s conciliar interventions as “laying the cards squarely on the table as was his custom, and speaking in French, as was also his habit.”

At Session I of the Council, Maximos’ electrifying opening speech on October 23, 1962, set the tone for the Melkite onslaught on the one-sided, Latin vision of the Church. He refused to speak in Latin, the language of the Latin Church, but not, he insisted, of the Catholic Church nor of his. He refused to follow protocol and address “Their Eminences,” the cardinals, before “Their Beatitudes,” the Eastern patriarchs, for in his ecclesiology patriarchs, the heads of local Churches, did not take second place to cardinals, who were but second-rank dignitaries of one such communion, the Latin Church. He also urged the West to allow the vernacular in the liturgy, following the lead of the East, “where every language is, in effect, liturgical.” And he concluded, in true Eastern fashion, that the matter at any rate should be left to the local Churches to decide. All this in his first intervention at the first session! No wonder numerous Council Fathers, overcoming their initial surprise, hastened to congratulate him for his speech. And no wonder it hit the news. That was a language even journalists impervious to the torturous periods of “clericalese” could understand. Maximos spoke simply, clearly, directly—and he spoke in French.

Patriarch Gregorios III

The Melkite Church owes its character to its triple loyalty to:
- first Seven Ecumenical Councils
- the Byzantine traditions
- communion with Rome

my source: ByzCath.org

From a Melkite Greek Catholic press release (September 1996):

"The holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church met in Rabweh, Lebanon, July 22-27, 1996 and, after studying the question of unity within the Patriarchate of Antioch, declared that communicatio in sacris = worship in common is possible today and that the ways and means of its application would be left to the joint decisions of the two Antiochian Church Synods - Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox. The Synod of thirty-four bishops and four general superiors under the presidency of Patriarch Maximos V (Hakim) deliberated extensively on the topic of church unity particularly within the Antiochian Patriarchate which has been divided since 1724, and issued a document titled, Reunification of the Antiochian Patriarchate. This document is part of the official minutes of the Synod and was made public on August 15, 1996 in the Middle East.... 

"The Melkite Synod sees that the church of the first millennium could be the model for unity today. The Synod strongly affirms its full communion with the Apostolic See of Rome and that this communion would not be ruptured. The Fathers offered their thanks to the International Theological Commission as well as the Joint Synodal Commissions recently reestablished by Patriarch Maximos V and Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV."

Key to this initiative was the profession of faith made by the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Elias Zogby:

"They offer special thanks to Archbishop Elias Zoghby whose 1995 Profession of Faith was the major force for reopening dialogue with the Orthodox brothers. Zoghby, the former archbishop of Baalbek and a long-time leader among the Melkite bishops, offered this brief statement in 1995 and it was subscribed to by 24 of the 26 bishops present at the 1995 Holy Synod:

1. I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches. 2. I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the first among the bishops, according to the limits recognized by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation."

In October, 1996 the Holy Synod of the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarchate issued a statement which included these concerns on the Melkite proposal:

"In this regard, our Church questions the unity of faith which the Melkite Catholics think has become possible. Our Church believes that the discussion of this unity with Rome is still in its primitive stage.  The first step toward unity on the doctrinal level, is not to consider as ecumenical, the Western local councils which the Church of Rome, convened, separately, including the First Vatican Council. 

"And second the Melkite Catholics should not be obligated to accept such councils.  Regarding inter-communion now, our Synod believes that inter-communion cannot be separated from the unity of faith.  Moreover, inter-communion is the last step in the quest for unity and not the first."

In a letter to the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, Metropolitan Philip also said:

"Please be advised that, while we pray for unity among all Christians, we cannot and will not enter into communion with non-Orthodox until we first achieve the unity of faith.  As long as this unity of faith is not realized, there cannot be intercommunion.  We ask you to adhere to the instructions which you receive from our office and hierarchs." 

Next is the text of the letter with Rome's commentary on the Melkite Initiative. It has been translated from the French by Ken Guindon. It was reviewed by His Grace Bishop Nicholas Samra (who made a few corrections) and permission was given to publish this in English:

Congregation for the Eastern Churches 
Prot. No. 251/75 
June 11, 1997 

His Beatitude 
Maximos V HAKIM 
Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and of all the East, 
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem. 

Your Beatitude, 

The news of the project for "rapprochement" between the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch has given rise to various echoes and comments in the public opinion. 

The Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity have made an effort to study and closely examine the areas which fall within their competence in this domain; and the heads of these Dicasteries have been charged by the Holy Father to express some considerations to Your Beatitude. 

The Holy See is greatly interested in and encourages initiatives which favor the road to a complete reconciliation of the Christian Churches. She appreciates the motivation behind the efforts undertaken for several decades by the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate, which is trying to hasten the coming of this full communion so greatly desired. The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches recognizes the duty for every Christian (Can. 902), which becomes for the Eastern Catholic Churches a special duty (munus) (Can. 903), whose exercise will be governed "through special norms of particular law while the Roman Apostolic Church functions as the moderator for the universal church" (Can. 904). 

This is all the more true for two communities which see themselves as being closely united because of the ties of common origin and common ecclesiastical tradition, as well as by a long experience of common initiatives which no doubt place them into a privileged situation of proximity. 

The Church's desire is to find adequate ways and means to progress further along the road of brotherly understanding and, to encourage new structures which further such progress towards full communion. 

Pursuing such goals, Your Patriarchate is motivated by a sensibility and a knowledge of the situation and an experience which are peculiarly its own. The Holy See desires to contribute to this process by expressing some considerations which she believes will eventually help the future progress of this initiative.

The Dicasteries involved appreciate very much that common pastoral initiatives are undertaken by Catholics and Orthodox, according to the instructions found in the Directory for the application of the principles and norms for Ecumenism, especially in the areas of Christian formation, of education, a common effort in charity, and for the sharing of prayer when this is possible. 

As to experiences of a theological nature, it is necessary to labor patiently and prudently, without precipitation, in order to help both parties to travel along the same road. 

The first level in this sharing concerns the language and the categories employed in the dialogue: one must be very careful that the use of the same word or the same concept is not used to express different points of view and interpretations of a historical and doctrinal nature, nor lends itself to some kind of oversimplification. 

A second level of involvement necessitates that the sharing of the content of the dialogue not be limited only to the two direct participants: the Patriarchates of the Catholic Greek-Melkites and the Orthodox of Antioch, but that it involve the Confessions with whom the two Patriarchates are in full communion: the Catholic communion for the former and the Orthodox for the latter. Even the Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities of the Patriarchate of Antioch have brought forth a similar preoccupation. This global implication also will permit averting the risk that some initiatives, meant to promote the full communion at the local level, might give rise to a lack of understanding or suspicions beyond the generosity of the intentions. 

Now we consider the elements contained in the profession of faith of his Excellency Kyr Elias Zoghby, Greek-Melkite Catholic Archbishop emeritus of Baalbek, signed in February 1995, and to which numerous hierarchs of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Synod have adhered. 

It is clear that this Patriarchate is an integral part of the Christian East whose patrimony it shares. As to the Greek-Melkite Catholics declaring their complete adhesion to the teaching of Eastern Orthodoxy, it is necessary to take into account the fact that the Orthodox Churches today are not in full communion with the Church of Rome, and that this adhesion is therefore not possible as long as there is not a full correspondence in the profession and exercise of the faith by the two parties. Besides, a correct formulation of the faith necessitates a reference not only to a particular Church, but to the whole Church of Christ, which knows no frontiers, neither in space nor in time. 

On the question of communion with the Bishops of Rome, we know that the doctrine concerning the primacy of the Roman Pontiff has experienced a development over time within the framework of the explanation of the Church's faith, and it has to be retained in its entirety, which means from its origins to our day. One only has to think about what the first Vatican Council affirmed and what Vatican Council II declared, particularly in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium Num. 22 and 23, and in the Decree on ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio Number 2. 

As to the modalities for exercising the Petrine ministry in our time, a question which is distinct from the doctrinal aspect, it is true that the Holy Father has recently desired to remind us how "we may seek--together, of course--the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned" (Ut unum sint, 95); however, if it is legitimate to also deal with this on a local level, it is also a duty to do this always in harmony with a vision of the universal Church. Touching this matter, it is appropriate to be reminded that in any case, "The Catholic Church, both in her praxis and in her solemn documents, holds that the communion of the particular Churches with the Church of Rome, and of their Bishops with the Bishop of Rome, is--in God's plan--an essential requisite of full and visible communion" (Ut unum sint, 97). 

As to the various aspects of communicatio in sacris, it is necessary to maintain a constant dialogue in order to understand the meaning of the current regulation in force, in the light of underlying theological presuppositions; premature, unilateral initiatives are to be avoided, where the eventual results may not have been sufficiently considered, they could produce serious consequences for other Eastern Catholics, especially for those living in the same region. 

In summary, the fraternal dialogue undertaken by the Greek-Melkite Catholic Partriarchate will be better able to serve the ecumenical dialogue to the degree that it strives to involve the entire Catholic Church to which it belongs in the maturing of new sensitivities. There is good reason to believe that the Orthodox in general so share the same worry, due also to the obligations of communion within their own body. 

The Dicasteries involved are ready to collaborate in order to further the exchange of verifications and echoes; they express their satisfaction for these meetings which have been held on this subject with the representatives of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church, and they hope and wish that these meetings continue and intensify in the future. 

Not doubting at all that Your Beatitude would want to share these ideas, we beg you to accept the expression of our fraternal and cordial greetings. 

Joseph Card. Ratzinger,  Achille Card. Silvestrini,  Edward Card. Cassidy 
For more information about this topic please contact the Melkite Church in America

Copyright © 1998 http://www.byzcath.org - Last modified 1/18/98 16:30


Full regard for the Official Relatio as well as a contextual reading of the Vatican 1 Decrees demonstrates that, contrary to the Absolutist Petrine excesses:1) "Papal infallibility" cannot be separated from the infallibility of the Church, but is actually merely a unique exercise of the infallibility of the Church itself (explicitly stated in the definition itself).2) "Papal infallibility" cannot be exercised at merely the Pope's discretion, but always in response to the needs of the Church through the solicitude of the bishops of the Church (explicitly stated in the historic Proem).3) "Papal infallibility" does not permit the Pope to proclaim new doctrine (explicitly stated in the historic Proem).4) The Rule of Faith which is Apostolic Canon 34 applies even to the definitions of the Pope ex cathedra (explicitly stated in the Official Relatio).5) Papal primacy does not impede the authority of the local bishop (explicitly stated in the Decree itself).6) The Pope is not above an Ecumenical Council (affirmed by the Official Relatio).

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