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All the King’s Men

by Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern

On 30 December 2000, the new Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, Gregorios III, took possession of his patriarchal see in Damascus, Syria.

The newly elected patriarch, born Lutfi Laham 67 years ago in Syria, came back to his native land after 18 years of service as Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem – in effect, the local Melkite bishop for Jerusalem and the nearby areas of the Holy Land.

He succeeded 92-year-old, Egyptian-born Patriarch Maximos V, who resigned a few months ago after serving 33 years as Patriarch and, before that, 24 years as Bishop of Akka in Galilee.

I first met Bishop Hakim, later Patriarch Maximos, during the Second Vatican Council. His predecessor, Patriarch Maximos IV, was a strong voice for the Eastern churches at the Council.

Following Roman tradition, the working language of Vatican II was Latin – and it was often eulogized as “the language of the Church.” I remember when Patriarch Maximos IV stood up and startled the council fathers by speaking in French.

His rationale was that we are urged to speak “the language of the Church” and that, of course, the language of the Church was Greek until Rome adopted the vernacular – Latin – in the fourth century! Knowing that almost all the council fathers could not understand Greek, he said rather than use Latin, I will use a more common vernacular, French!

His challenges to the fathers of Vatican II echoed those of one of his predecessors, Gregorios II, at the first Vatican Council. Patriarch Gregory II left Rome before the vote on the doctrine of papal infallibility. Later he accepted it, “all rights, privileges and prerogatives of the Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches being respected.”

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is described as the most Orthodox of all the Eastern Catholic churches – which Melkites clearly take as a compliment.

Originally “Melkite” referred to Eastern Christians who remained faithful to the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Since the Council was presided over by the Byzantine Emperor, the faithful Christians were known as the King’s men, from the Syriac word for King, Melech.

In 1724 there was a split in the Patriarchate of Antioch. The Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople recognized one candidate for the See of Antioch. The rival candidate, later recognized by the Pope, was known as the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch.

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church today numbers more than one million members from Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and, in modern times, the Americas, Europe and Australia.

They embody the best of both worlds. Not only are they found in the Old World and the New, they remain faithful to the traditions of the Byzantine East and still are in communion with the See of Peter.

Patriarch Gregorios III, you have an illustrious past and predecessors to follow – all the King’s men!

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Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: Melkite Greek Catholic Church