The Feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs!

img_5979

Today in the Byzantine/ Greek Catholic Churches, we celebrate the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs: St Gregory the Theologian, St John Chrysostom, and Saint Basil the Great. Troparion of the Holy Hierarchs: “Let us come together in honor with hymns and sings the Three Great Stars of the Threefold Sun of the Holy Trinity.

They enlightened the universe with the rays of their divine doctrine, flowing with holy rivers of wisdom and refreshing the desert with streams of divine wisdom: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian; and John the famous orator, the Golden Mouthed. Let us express in hymns our love for their teaching, for they are constantly interceding for us before the Holy Trinity!

 

The Maronites: who are they and what is their origin?

                               lebanese-holy-saints

(Image of the three 3 Lebanese Maronite Holy Saints: St. Rafqa, St. Charbel, St. Al Hardini. The bottom man is Lebanese Maronite Beatified and soon to be Saint, Blessed Estephan Nehme)

The Maronites are essentially Eastern Rite Catholics, whom since their origin have professed the One True Apostolic Catholic Faith of Pope St. Peter the Prince of the Apostles, have celebrated the same Sacred Mysteries and retained the same Holy Sacraments as the universal Catholic Church, the One True Church of Jesus, all the while maintaining diversity through their own distinct Code of Canon Law and Divine Liturgy. The one true thrice-fold goal of all Maronite Clergy and Laity is the Love of The Lord, the salvation of souls and loyalty to the Supreme Pontiff who gives their diversity meaning and canonical status.

The origin of the Maronites was in the fertile crescent, which is an area modernly comprised of Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, which all spoke the common language of Aramaic, receiving it’s sacredness for being one of the primary languages Our Divine Master Jesus spoke while at the last supper and with the Holy Apostles. Because of this, the Maronites chant hymns in Aramaic, learn this language thoroughly in seminaries and sing the opening prayers, the most Sacred Consecration and the Our Father of the Divine Liturgy all in Aramaic.

A certain Holy Saint by the name of St. Maroun or Maron, who was born in around 350 AD in a town near Antioch named Cyrrhus, and after having grown into a young man, left to live a hermitic and penitential life of asceticism on a hill. It was recorded that this hill was home to thousands of pagan worshipers, to which St. Maron responded with prayer and penance which saw thousands of pagans convert to the True Holy Mother Church and Her invisible head: Jesus our Beloved. St. Maron attracted many followers through His acts of extreme charity, Miraculous physical and spiritual healings, Piety and Holiness, which attracted both laity and desert monks, to the extent where the revered and Pious St. John Chrysostom while in exile wrote a letter to St. Maroun, reading: “[Dear Maroun], we are bound to you by love and interior disposition, and see you here before us as if you were actually present. For such are the eyes of love; their vision is neither interrupted by distance nor dimmed by time… we address ourselves to your honour and assure you that we hold you constantly in our minds and carry you about in our souls wherever we may be… please pray for us.”

After St. Maron faithfully departed in 410 AD, many of the faithful Laity and Clergy that were followers inspired by St. Maron’s remarkable example of Sainthood, built numerous monasteries in His name, including one of the largest monasteries by the name of “Beit Maron” or “house of Maron.” One of the primary characteristics of Beit Maron and the Holy Maronites was their fervency for defending the fullness of truth and their loyalty to the princely throne of Our Holy Father St. Peter, to the extent where they upheld every Catholic Doctrine even under the pain of death, and because of this, came about the persecutions of the Maronites in 517 AD which saw 350 Maronite monks martyred for their loyalty to the Council of Chalcedon (451) which declared Jesus as “True Man and True God.” Even to this day, on the Holy Feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul, we pray during the Divine Liturgy; “O Lord, preserve your children from all error or deviation, grant us to live and die proclaiming: ‘Our Faith is the faith of Peter, the faith of Peter is our faith!’” This is arguably not only because of Our Lord’s words in the Holy Gospel deeming St. Peter as rock, but also because St. Peter fled to Antioch during the persecutions in Jerusalem and passed on the Faith to Antioch who were the first people to call the Holy Apostles Christians (Acts 11:26) and the Maronites are direct descendants of these people.

In the 7th century, the Maronites selected their first patriarch, another Holy man named St. John Maroun, who was approved by Holy Father Pope Sergius I which highlights the everlasting Maronite communion with Holy Rome, however years later another wave of persecutions hit the Maronites killing 500 and causing the Maronites from the fertile crescent and Israel to recede into the Lebanese Mountains, in which they flourished until about the 13th century. In the 13th Century during the crusades, Beit Maron was destroyed completely and Patriarch Daniel ELhadsheeti was martyred along with many of the northern villages of Lebanon being destroyed (the village of I, the author, being one of the many destroyed). In 1367, Patriarch Gabriel Hejola was burned alive at the stake, and the many persecutions that followed caused the Maronites to move temporarily to cyprus and the Patriarchate also moved to Wadi Qonnoubine.

Later in the 19th century, the ottoman empire took control and during their rule managed to completely destroy many villages, Holy Churches and martyred many Maronites, among whom were the Blessed Massabki Brothers, Francis, Abed and Raphael who were beatified by Holy Father Pope Pius XI. This then catalysed several waves of migration to the Americas and Australia, which has now made the Maronites internationally situated but nevertheless many remain in the original Lebanese mountains. Many of us, including I who am in Australia, uphold Maronite Catholic tradition to this day which is Sacred and represents the very birth of the Bride of Jesus in the middle east, by speaking the native tongue of Our Lord and remaining forever faithful to the Holy Father.

How can we be inspired by the Maronites of Holy Mother Church? the Faith of the Maronite people which is like an inextinguishable fire, reveals to us that Our Holy Lord and His Immaculate Mother Mary, the “OuhmAllah” or “Mother of God” call people of all nations and cultures to enter into a union with the Celestial Courts of Heaven and thus realise, through Humility which means to know yourself, that we are an abyss of Misery that can do nothing on our own but we find greatest fulfilment in union with the Life giving spirit of Jesus. The Martyrdom of the Maronites who remained faithful to the infallible teaching of the Living Magisterium and the Holy Father that Jesus is True Man and True God, through the hypostatic union of both His two natures, teaches us that the greatest act of Love is the baptism of Fire; to lay down one’s life for his Friends, or in other words, to give up oneself sacrificially and in toil for Holy Mother Church, all Her teachings, Her visible head the Supreme Pontiff, and of course, Our Best Friends Jesus and Mother Mary (St. John 15:13).

Most Rev. John Adel Elya, former eparch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of Newton, hammers false ecumenism.

IMG_5903.JPG

As a Melkite Greek Catholic, it’s not uncommon to witness many traits of false ecumenism within our church. You may have come across many Melkites in whom are very pro – Eastern Orthodox to the point that they begin to reject Catholic doctrine and dogma: something in which is absolutely grave matter considering that Catholics are bound to accept everything the Church teaches.

The rejection of Catholic doctrine and dogma comes from false ecumenism in order to please those outside the Church. However, the Eastern Catholic code of canon law opposes this.

“In fulfilling ecumenical work especially through open and frank dialogue and common undertaking with other Christians, due prudence has to be kept avoiding the dangers of false irenicism, indifferentism, & immoderate zeal.” (Canon 905, Eastern Catholic Canon Law.)

To put it in simple terms, this canon is opposing the idea that there must not be a ultimate goal to promote union under the umbrella of the one true Church of Christ; that being the Catholic Church. With that being said, many have unfortunately rejected this mission and have given into error by refusing to recant their errors in order to promote false unity with our schismatic brothers and sisters in the orthodox communions.

Ironically, The Most Rev. John Adel Elya, former eparch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of Newton, addresses a lot of claims of false ecumenism in which are commonly stated by clerics and laymen of our church. Within his Q&A sessions on the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, he addresses the following claims in which I have heard personally:

First claim: We are the Orthodox Church in communion with Rome!” 

Objection: “When the Patriarchate of Antioch was divided into two branches in 1724, one branch kept the name Orthodox and the other branch which sealed its union with the Holy See of Rome, kept the name Melkite given to it since the Sixth Century and called itself Catholic. It became known as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. In the Middle East, although both branches claim orthodoxy as well as catholicity, however being Catholic means not Orthodox and being Orthodox means not Catholic.

To be a Catholic Christian means that one accepts the primacy of the Pope of Rome, because he is the successor of St. Peter. To be an Orthodox Christian means that one does not recognize the primacy of the Pope of Rome, but considers him as “first among equals.”

According to the Catholic teaching, Christ did not create a church with five heads of equal importance. He established One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church whose invisible head is the Lord, but whose visible head is the Pope of Rome.

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches states it in these terms: “The bishop of the Church of Rome, in whom resides the office (munus) given in a special way by the Lord to Peter, first of the Apostles and to be transmitted to his successors, is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the entire Church on earth; therefore in virtue of his office (munus) he enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church which he can always freely exercise.” (Canon 43 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches) If an Orthodox subscribes to the Canon quoted above, he/she can be called Catholic and be considered “united to Rome” or in full communion with the Catholic Church.”

(source: https://melkite.org/eparchy/bishop-john/are-we-orthodox-united-with-rome)

 

Claim 2: The encyclicals from the Pope of Rome is not binding upon the Catholic East.

Objection: “When we declared our union with Rome – in consistency with Apostolic tradition interrupted somehow by historical circumstances – we accepted the Catholic faith in its entirety.

We do recognize the authority of the Pope of Rome, including universal jurisdiction and infallibility for whatever concerns faith and morals. It is true that the Western Theologians themselves have their own debates concerning these points; so we should not be “more papist that the Pope;”

but Catholic is Catholic and truth is truth. We cannot pose as “Orthodox united to Rome” only for what suits us. I do mean it when we pray every day, at the Divine Liturgy, for “unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit.”

There is no ‘Eastern truth’ vs ‘Western truth’. Truth is one. It may be articulated according to various cultural expressions, but truth is super-cultural. Truth should not be restricted by “party line” positions. We should accept or reject ideas for their worth and not for an artificial attachment to a given “identity.” The Church teaches truth. If something is true, it would be absurd to say “Oh, we don’t believe that in the East.”

This seems to be where we get short-circuited in ecumenical “dialogue.” All too frequently, such “dialogue” seems to presuppose a relativism where you speak “your truth” and I’ll speak “my truth” and we’ll just leave it at that. A sort of ecumenical schizophrenia.

Here are two relevant canons from OUR Eastern Catholic Church Law:
c. 597 CCEO: “The Roman Pontiff, in virtue of his office (munus), possesses infallible teaching authority if, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful who is to confirm his fellow believers in the faith, he proclaims with a definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held.”

c. 599: :A religious obsequium of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching of faith and morals which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim with a definitive act.; therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching.”

Source: https://melkite.org/eparchy/bishop-john/how-do-the-popes-encyclicals-and-teachings-impact-on-the-melkites

 

Claim 3 : “Melkites and Eastern Catholics can participate in the services of the separated Eastern Churches

Objection: “Vatican II urged all Catholics to become more familiar with Eastern Orthodox Christians, since there is so little that separates them. The present Holy Father is most eager to work toward a reunion of the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. For us as Melkites, the issue is even more pressing, since we have common family roots – many of our families are inter-related, and we have so much in common.

You probably notice that the music and services are so very similar. By all means attend the Offices with the Antiochian Orthodox and pray with them, as well as inviting them to services in our Melkite churches. However, we do not have full Communion re-established with them yet.

At present, we refrain from receiving Communion in each other’s churches, … not because we are better than they, nor they better than us … we refrain as a recognition that both sides have to work harder toward reunion so that one day we may all intercommunicate and enjoy that unity that Christ God prayed for so fervently at His Last Supper with the Apostles, when He gave us the Divine Liturgy as a celebration of full communion with the Father and each other through Him in the Holy Spirit.”

Claim 4:  Eastern Catholics don’t have to accept the Council of Trent and the councils after the 7th ecumenical council.

Objection: “Although the Council of Trent was convened in order to meet the challenges of the Reformation in the west, the recapitulation of dogma concerning the sacraments that came from the Council has been an enriching source for the Churches of both east and west.

Indeed, you will note that many Eastern theologians have reacted in various ways to the decrees of the Council of Trent. As Catholics, we are bound to all of the decrees of the councils that have been promulgated by the Holy Father. In some instances, the decrees of the Council have direct application to the discipline of the west only. Usually this can be discerned either by the decree itself or by its logical application to the discipline of the west.”

https://melkite.org/eparchy/bishop-john/what-is-the-melkite-view-of-the-council-of-trent

Second Objection: Patriarch Gregory II Youssef-Sayour occupied the Melkite throne of Antioch for thirty-three years (1864-1897). At Vatican I, the Patriarch gave an impassioned plea to the assembled bishops in defense of the prerogatives of the ancient patriarchs. He said: “The Eastern Church attributes the highest and most complete power to the Pope, but in such a way that the fullness of his power is in harmony with the rights of the other Patriarchal Sees. (Mansi 52,cols. 133-137).

Patriarch Gregory finally signed the document Pastor aeternus but only after adding the phrase made famous at the earlier Council of Florence that expressed his reservations. He added: “salvis omnibus iuribus et privilegiis patriarcharum”. {saving all of the rights and privileges of the patriarchs}.

While the first seven ecumenical councils enjoy a place of prominence, especially in the East, both the Churches of the East and West have experienced local councils and synods throughout their rich histories. The early ecumenical councils met to resolve and articulate important Christological doctrines. The Melkite Church participated fully in Vatican I and Patriarch Gregory spoke clearly to his affirmation of the fullness of power enjoyed by the Petrine Office.

The Patriarch was very concerned that the exercise of papal powers be “in harmony with the rights of the other Patriarchal Sees.” The second Vatican Council is seen to have completed the unfinished business of Vatican I with its special emphasis on ecclesiology, specifically on the nature of the Church.

Recent theological speculation has developed the concept of “communion of churches” with promising results for ecumenism and rapprochement with the Orthodox. It would be a simple rekindling of the old controversy of conciliarism to suggest that some councils are less ecumenical than others.

With the promulgation of the Holy Father, the doctrinal content of the various councils is a part of the sacred magisterial teaching of the Church to which Melkites in full communion with the See of Rome give wholehearted assent.”

https://melkite.org/eparchy/bishop-john/what-is-the-melkite-view-of-the-post-schism-ecumenical-councils

Claim 5: the Melkite Church doesn’t hold that the Pope is infallible.

Objection:”In all cases, if we are Catholic, then we have to accept all Catholic dogmas.You are right to think that ” we are one of many Eastern autonomous Churches (self-governing) as the Ukrainians, the Ruthenians and other self-governing (sui juris) Eastern Catholic Churches. We hold that the Pope of Rome is infallible in important matters of faith and morality, when he speaks “ex cathedra”, in his position as the visible head of the Catholic Church.

We may interpret these dogmas in “Eastern” terms; however, we are not allowed to deny their truth without breaking the bond of unity with the Pope of Rome, the successor of St. Peter the Rock.

You are right also that we commemorate the Pope of Rome only once, namely at the end of the Anaphora. However, the exact mandated translation is “FIRST, Lord, remember His Holiness N. Pope of Rome, His Beatitude … etc.” Regardless of linguistic or historic pretexts, “Among the first” translation has been repeatedly prohibited by me, as Melkite Eparch, and by my predecessors. I consider persisting in using “among the first…” in our Melkite churches in America as an open defiance to legitimate authority.
I wish you continued success in your endeavors. May our Lord direct your thoughts and words to His pleasure in truth and love.”