"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

Wednesday 11 September 2013


  Melkite Greek Catholic 
P  A  T  R  I  A  R  CH  A  TE
of Antioch and All the East
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
Pope Francis is preparing an overhaul of the Curia.   One area which needs to be revised in favour of collegiality is the relationship between the Vatican and the churches sui juris.  As we await his decisions, the talk given by Patriarch Gregorios III to the Synod in 2010 becomes very relevant.

Speech of H. B. Patriarch Gregorios III
During the Synod of Bishops:
Special Assembly for the Middle East
Rome 10-24 October 2010

Ecclesiology and Ecumenism

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, promulgated by the Venerable Pope John Paul II, says very p
            As you know, I recently took part in a meeting of Benedictines and Cistercians from all over Latin America in Mexico and have just returned from preaching two retreats to Benedictine nuns in the Philippines. In a way, these visits, although hard work and, at times, quite heavy going, were really a holiday for me in the sense that they gave me some opportunity for rest and have left me relaxed and refreshed. There must have been over 150 sisters, nuns and monks present at the Mexico meeting and in the Philippines I met about 100 sisters and nuns but few monks. One thing is clear: all over the world, even in those countries where there was once an abundance of vocations, monasteries and monastic communities are going through the same difficulties and suffering from the same problems. Yet there is a special solidarity that comes with suffering and that means that the monastic world, particularly the Benedictine world, is more united today than ever before. This has led to more cooperation and collaboration between congregations and orders as well as among individual houses. These visits also brought home the importance of and appreciation for Fr Brendan’s work with the Monastic Formators’ Programme.

            There are times when we feel overwhelmed by the fragility of the Belmont Community and probably wonder where the Lord is leading us. We are fully stretched as far as parish work goes and there is no room for manoeuvre, unless we radically reorganise the way we do things. There are times when the monastery seems half empty and the burden of keeping things going falls to a handful of people. Although we have been blessed in recent years with a number of vocations, not all have persevered and we have been saddened by some of our losses. We are also aware that time stops for no one and that we are all getting older and frailer and so less able to do the things we used to do. We are also aware that Death respects no one and that it’s not always the oldest who dies first. Having said that, few of our works are indispensible and a thriving, vibrant monastic community doesn’t need to be a large one or a young one. What really matters is our obedience to the will of God, our fidelity to the Gospel and to the Holy Rule and the love we have for one another, in other words, that we are truly a Christian community and a Benedictine one. What is really important is our life of prayer and our willingness to work together for the good of the Church, the salvation of souls, including our own, and the building up of the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God.

            I have already mentioned obedience, without which there can be no vocation to the monastic life and no following of Jesus on the Way of the Cross. I would also like to mention humility, which lies at the very heart of our vocation. St Benedict tells us that, “the first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all.” But he also writes that, “this obedience is acceptable to God and agreeable to men only if compliance with what is commanded is not cringing or sluggish or half-hearted, but free from any grumbling or any reaction of unwillingness.” Humility is the antidote to pride, pride that reveals itself in the wilfulness that leads to self-centredness, self-interest, self-absorption and self-determination, the wilfulness that separates us from God and from each other and destroys the life and unity of the community. A happy and fulfilled life in a Benedictine community depends on our understanding and putting into practice of Chapter 7 of the Rule, on Humility. More than ever, we need to read and study that chapter and so discover how we can faithfully live out what we signed up to the day we made our monastic profession. Let us never forget that the goal of humility is “that perfect love of God which casts out fear. Through this love, all that we once performed with dread, we will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue.”

            Through the intercession of our Blessed Lady and of our Holy Father Benedict, may the good Lord help each one of us find peace, love and joy as members of of the Belmont Community as we strive to do God’s will in humility and obedience. May he help us keep our hearts and minds focussed on “the one thing necessary,” that search for God, which alone gives meaning to our lives. It is true that we are coenobites, who “serve under a rule and an abbot,” even so, for much of our life we walk the monastic road very much in the solitude of the hermit. Our vocation is not an easy one, needing to be lived in moderation and with balance: work and prayer, solitude and community, silence and communication, suffering and joy, discipline and humanity, austerity and beauty, freedom and obedience. Such is the rich fabric of the Benedictine life. May we ever give thanks to God for calling us to this life, for calling us to Belmont, “and may he bring us all together to everlasting life”.  Amen.roperly that the Patriarch is Pater et Caput of his Church. The title of Patriarch is a synodal title. We very much regretted the fact that the Pope renounced his title of Patriarch.

Cardinal and Patriarch
Consequently, we want to have a role in the decisions taken about our faithful. We want to be closer to the Pope, without however becoming part of the College of Cardinals. The title of Patriarch is different, from the perspectives of protocol, ecclesiology, pastorate and history, from that of Cardinal. The Patriarch is neither superior nor inferior to the Cardinal: there is a difference of category. The title of Cardinal, which for very special reasons, was conferred on my predecessor Patriarch Maximos IV and more recently on certain of my colleagues, Patriarchs and Major Archbishops here present, confronts us with an ecclesiological problem. So we prefer to remain satisfied with the great inheritance comprised in the title of Patriarch.

Patriarchal Council around the Pope
As a corollary of that, we repeat our previously formulated proposal, which has a pastoral, ecumenical, ecclesiological and even political significance: significance for our presence in the Muslim Arab world, and importance for the dual title of this Synodal Assembly, Communion and Witness.

The proposal is the following: we are keen to request firmly that we form a Patriarchal Council around the Pope to meet according to its own agenda.

We hope that this proposal will be adopted by this Synodal Assembly and accepted by His Holiness as primordial and important fruit of this Synodal Assembly and for a good outcome of its acts and results.

Eastern Catholic Churches
From the rostrum of this Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is entitled, The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness, we ask for a clarification as far as we are concerned. We are Eastern Catholic Churches. Why are these attributes suppressed?

We do not wish in any way to hide these Eastern titles, because of the minority presence (except in the Apostolic Vicariates of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) of the Latin Church in the East.

We ask to be treated as Eastern Catholic Patriarchal Churches. We are neither suffragans nor dependent dioceses of some dicastery or other, as is continually stated in some Roman news bulletins.

Our Synods are very different from Latin Episcopal Conferences. It should be noted that the concept of an Episcopal Conference was set out at the Second Vatican Council by our predecessor of blessed memory, Patriarch Maximos IV.

But his idea was very different from what is today the Episcopal Conference of the Latin Church. He wanted it to be an embryo of the patriarchal system.

Retreat on the ecclesiological level
We wish to be taken seriously when we tell you that our tradition, in its fullness, is Eastern and Orthodox, not Latin and Western.

In the measure that you take us seriously as authentically Eastern Churches, to that same degree the Orthodox world will believe in the veracity of the ecumenical activity and dialogue of the Roman Church.

Unfortunately, the decrees of Vatican II Unitiatis Redintegratio and Orientalium Ecclesiarum have not been sufficiently incarnate in the life and ecclesial praxis of the Latin Church nor in that of several Roman Dicasteries, contrary to what was hoped.

The Dies Orientalis instituted by Pius XI practically disappeared after Vatican II.

Interest for the Eastern Churches in general (Catholic and Orthodox) has lessened in the West, both on the official level and on the level of the faithful.

Ecclesiology was more sensitive towards the East before the Council and during its celebration, but it did not progress after the Council.

Election of bishops in the Eastern tradition
For more than two centuries, our Church elected its bishops in the context of our synods, but since the Council, our elections have to be sanctioned by a Roman enquiry.

The late Metropolitan Neophytos Edelby, in his book The Eastern Churches (written in collaboration with Archimandrite Ignace Dick) wrote, “The Melkite Synod, presided over by the Patriarch, has always proceeded freely to the election of bishops, without being required to have any prior authorisation or confirmation from the Holy See.”

From 1817 to 1954, the election of just twenty-three bishops of our Church was confirmed by the Apostolic See of Rome, and that at the express request of the Patriarch or of the bishop concerned.

Canons 251-255 of the Motu Proprio, Cleri Sanctitate of Pope Pius XII (2 June 1957) prescribe that the election of a bishop by the synod must be communicated by the Patriarch to the Roman Pontiff, who, if the elected does not figure in the list of “episcopable” priests previously drawn up (by vote) by the synod and confirmed by the Pope, either confirms or rejects the election. From 1959 to 1962, six hierarchs of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church were confirmed in that way by Rome after their election by the synod.

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (1990), on the basis of the Vatican’s decisions, keeps the list of episcopables and replaces the “confirmation” of the episcopal lists by what is called the “consent” of the Pope to the election.

This issue has been the subject of several meetings of the Council of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, which presented a collective paper on the matter to the Holy Father in October 2001, that was almost completely in agreement with the viewpoint set out on 21 January, 2000 in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by the then Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, now Emeritus, His Most Eminent Beatitude Cardinal Ignatius Moussa Daoud. 

As we did already during the plenary session of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in November, 2002, we propose a slight modification to canon 182 of the CCEC (CCEO), with a view to introducing a more collegial procedure for gathering information about candidates for the episcopate, without losing the spirit of the legislation.

That means that the Pope and the synod will together exercise their prerogative and duty of vigilance in the choice of the Church’s pastors.

Communion between Rome and the Eastern Catholic Churches: trust and co-ordination
There must be created an atmosphere of complete trust, real collaboration and co-ordination, and effectual communion between Rome and the Eastern sui iuris Churches. The former terms of confirmation, consent or assent should be avoided and replaced by that of joinder, in the sense that the Pope joins in the synodal collegiality and adopts as his the decision of the bishops with their Patriarch.

There remains however the Pope’s right – ius vigilandi – not to join in an election but to reject it for special reasons which should be communicated confidentially to the Patriarch and eventually to the synod.

However this ius vigilandi of the Apostolic See of Rome, always exercised, from the perspective of Vatican II, in harmony with the Eastern Churches sui iuris, which themselves also enjoy this ius vigilandi, should not become the basis for regular interference.

East and West, even in the Catholic Church, must be in continual dialogue to bring about unity. The election of bishops is one of the most important issues in this regard, since it affects the East’s autonomy and furthermore the Orthodox brethren with whom we long to resume communion.

We ask to be treated as real Easterners and even, to speak plainly, as Orthodox in communion with Rome and so Catholic.

We are an Eastern Church in communion with Rome
We are an Eastern Church in communion with Rome and faithfully so, yet which wants to remain faithful to the pure, Orthodox spiritual tradition. I make bold to say that we are an Orthodox Church with the little or big plus of communion with Rome, with the Pope and our Holy Father Benedict XVI who presides in primacy and charity. Treat us as a real Eastern Church, just as you would the Orthodox on the day when the much longed for union takes place!

It is not just a matter of simple terminology or etymology. The great theologian Joseph Ratzinger certainly understands the justification for this account.

I am still referring to what the then Professor Ratzinger wrote in a book (in French) published in 1971, The New People of God: “Unitary ecclesial law, unitary liturgy, one and one and the same centralised model of bishops being nominated by Rome, all those do not necessarily form part of the primacy as such, as may be seen to be true only when both ministries [of Pope and Patriarch] become just one. So, in future, we shall have to distinguish more clearly the actual function of Peter’s successor from the patriarchal function and if need be, create new Patriarchates detached from the Latin Church.” 

These words form a very significant ecclesiological basis which has not yet been taken up and used by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, or in the dialogue and work of the Joint Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. 

For all that, we urge that a place be given us on the Joint Commission.

Encouraging local dialogue: Orthodox-Catholic
On that basis, we wish then for more encouragement to develop local dialogue with our sister Orthodox Church and co-operation with her in the fields of pastoral care, catechesis, activities of confraternities, social involvement and matters relating to the personal statute.

It should be recalled that after our synodal initiative of 1996 with the aim of re-establishing communion with the Orthodox Church of Antioch, while remaining in communion with the Catholic Church, Rome, through the agency of Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger, Achille Silvestrini and Edward Idris Cassidy in a letter dated 11 June 1997, opposed no veto on that initiative, as many thought and said, but asked us to consult the Holy See for any decision in which doctrinal questions were involved.

Gregorios III
Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain 

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