The Melkite Messenger

by Michael J.L. La Civita

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“I believe that the Vatican and the Orthodox have to be converted. Not just one part, but rather both parts of the church need conversion.”

The author of this prophetic statement is His Beatitude, Maximos V Hakim, Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Jerusalem and of Alexandria – St. Peter’s successor as bishop of Antioch.

“There is still a lot to do between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.” The patriarch continued, “the way the Vatican is treating Eastern Catholic churches, for example, is not the way it should be.”

On March 22, the patriarch, accompanied by his assistant, Archimandrite Jean Jeanbart, general secretary of the International Melkite Catholic Union, and Bishop Nicolas Samra, auxiliary bishop of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, Mass., was the guest of Catholic Near East Welfare Association at the agency’s New York headquarters. The patriarch, who presently resides in the Syrian capital of Damascus, visited North America to ordain Basilian Father Ignatius Ghattas as bishop of the Eparchy of Newton.

Patriarch Hakim has been in the forefront of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and interfaith dialogue between Christians, Muslims and Jews. His leadership is by deeds and example, not mere words.

One of the most powerful examples of this patriarch’s devotion to ecumenism is the renewal of the Melkite Church. The Melkite Catholic Church is an Orthodox Church that is in union with Rome. Its spirituality, theology, prayer life and liturgy follows the traditions of the Orthodox churches, yet it accepts the jurisdiction of the pope.

Due to the influence of western missionaries and contact with the Latin-rite hierarchy in the United States, the Melkite Church had lost some of these Eastern characteristics. Liturgically and spiritually, the pre-Vatican II church existed as a minor rite within the larger Roman Catholic Church. Western traditions, such as First Holy Communion, Stations of the Cross and Bendiction of the Blessed Sacrament became a part of the Melkite Church’s liturgical life. Though powerful expressions of the Roman Catholic faith, these traditions are not essential to the spirit of Eastern Christianity.

The Orthodox, fearful of the loss of their identity and independence, have pointed to such additions in the Eastern churches as Latin attempts to homogenize. Thus, the Eastern Catholic churches, whose raison d’etre was to serve as a bridge of unity between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, became a source of discord.

Since his election as patriarch in 1968, Patriarch Hakim has worked for the renewal of Eastern traditions.

“We want to live according to our Eastern spirituality, which is not yet 100 percent acquired,” he said.

The renewal of the Melkite Church requires great tact, tremendous insight, patience and Christian sensitivity. The patriarch is aware of his peoples’ devotion and attachment to the outward signs of their faith. Changes must come slowly so as not to confuse or alienate the people, he said, “but the way is for de-Latinization, with the help of the Holy Father himself.”

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Tags: Unity Ecumenism Christian-Muslim relations Eastern Christianity Melkite Greek Catholic Church