No Feast Day?

Today is the Feast Day of St. Joseph in the Latin Tradition, the Holy and Fatherly Guardian of Christ the Messiah, Son of the Living of God, in His early years in human flesh. Also appropriately considered Spiritual Father of the Church. So where is the feast day in the Eastern or Orthodox Church? Are the eastern churches guilty of what the evangelicals do by perpetually ignoring the Virgin Mary, the closest human that will ever be to God?

The answer is no. There is a feast day of St. Joseph. But not alone:

December 2*. SUNDAY AFTER THE NATIVITY, Commemoration of Saint Joseph Spouse of the Theotokos, Saint James, Brother of Our Lord, and King David.

Here the commemoration of St. Joseph as father of the church is ACTUALIZED as James the first born son of Joseph in David’s line, as explained in the last three posts. Proceeding from Jacob and Joseph and ending with Jacob and Joseph, James became the first Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem with the Temple still intact. Resulting in a perpetual liturgical tradition, validated at the Council of Niceae, and further codified by Sts. Chrysostom and Basil.

Kontakion of Joseph, David and James

Today, David the holy one is filled with joy. Joseph and James offer their hymns of praise, for the crown of glory of their relationship with Christ fills them with joy. They offer their hymns of praise to the One born on earth in a manner beyond description, and they cry out: “O Merciful One, save those who honor You!”

This is a great grace given to the See of Peter, severed at the end of the first millennium and one could say compensated for with the creation of the College of Cardinals. An institution now stacked for the continuity of corruption and even immorality.

flower Byzantine cross
flower Byzantine cross

Undoing the Boast of Lineage

In the last two posts we see how the pride of lineage, represented by the artful deception of Jacob and his mother for the Messianic promise was interrupted with the struggle between Jacob and the angel of God in Genesis. With a new name and limp, Jacob (Israel) has a vision of Heaven opened and angels ascending and descending. With a direct reference to this vision while reintroducing a context of duplicity, Jesus the Messiah calls on the charitable heart of Nathaniel:

JOHN 1:47 Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”48 Nathaniel said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”49 Nathaniel answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

Christ the Messiah with His Mother have the remedy for all things presented to them by the converted heart of mankind. Now how could the knot of a boastful messianic lineage that began with warring first-borns in the womb of Rebekah be undone? If Jesus the Messiah had a brother, then maybe that would be a way.

Scripture describes three James’ specifically. There is James the brother of John, the two sons of Zebedee, and James son of Alphaeus, distinctly mentioned together when Jesus chose His apostles (Luke 6:12-14). Tradition has it that Alphaeus was an uncle to Jesus, so this James (also called the Lesser in tradition) a first cousin. Not a brother but close. There is a third James with the “brother” descriptor mentioned by Paul in Galatians:

Galations 19: I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

The use of the term brother for relatives is common in the middle east but if this were a first born brother of Jesus, he would be of Joseph from his former marriage.

Various traditions, including that of the Latin Church believe that there are only two James’, and that James of Alphaeus (the Lesser) are the same as this brother of our Lord that Paul found in Jerusalem. The Eastern Orthodox churches believe that there are three. If this sounds unbelievable witness what Paul says in Galatians in his next sentence:

Galatians 19: I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

Unless he frequently makes a point of saying he is not lying, it sounds like Paul himself was surprised to find out that Jesus had an actual brother.

A discussion on the James’ in the New Testament can be researched from the works of the first Church historian Eusebius and related commentaries. There are also apocryphal works that describe this third James.

But do we need these?

What should be more convincing is that the Eastern Liturgical calendar has three separate feast days for each of these James’ including for “Holy Apostle James, Brother of God, First Bishop of Jerusalem” (October 23). Thrown from the Temple at Jerusalem, this James was also martyred for the faith. He was called James the Just, known for his humility, maybe a cutout of his father.

But we rightly call the first two James’ apostles because Jesus appointed them among the twelve. Why is the third James an apostle? This is answered in a prayer from his feast day:

Kontakion of Saint James

When at the completion of time, God the Word, the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, came down to us, He established you, admirable James, as the first Shepherd and Teacher at Jerusalem, a faithful steward of the Mysteries of Faith; wherefore we honor you as an Apostle.

There is a surety here because the Divine Liturgy or Mass is an eternal event. A Liturgy from that time is as real to God now as it was then. It is a building block of the future resurrection to Eternal Glory. This is why attempts to “retire” a Liturgical form such as the Latin Mass are senseless. New liturgies may be started but to do away with a Liturgy is impossible.

In the genealogy of Matthew Chapter 1 we see the lineage from Jacob to Joseph and end with a new Jacob to Joseph. At this point the Messiah of all races offers the title of Bishop of Jerusalem to His race in the first-born son of Joseph. Maybe a suggestion from His Mother. The knot of Rebecca is undone.

This is why orthodox churches even up to the 20th Century looked like synagogues. Could this be why the Orthodox liturgical traditions have more national identities and less emphasis on priestly celibacy? Here also the heroes from the lineage of the Messiah are saints in the Liturgical calendar. Prayers for self-government and their armed forces are included in the Liturgy.

There is a reminder of all this in the story of how God found a home in the charitable heart of Edith Stein, who became a Carmelite, a tradition rooted in the prophet Elijah. She was martyred by an evil whose only defeat will be through Christ. She was canonized by miracles witnessed by a Melkite priest, descendants of the same orthodox apostolic lineage from Bishop James of Jerusalem, but now in union with Rome.

St. James “brother of the Lord” icon on the throne of the Church of St. Mark in Jerusalem

The Monetization of Religion and the Betrayal of St. Athanasios

This post can be an extension of the a prior, Taxes and the Incarnation of God, where the idea that a tax exemption for a religion as a corrupting element is introduced.   Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, paid the tax of His time then to serve as an example for us in our time. However the true story that follows can also be taken at face value about the history of early Christianity and provide insight into the propagation of heresy, and how seeds were sown for times that followed, including our own.  The history of the time is well-documented in many references but the particular details come from the reference, The Place of the Patriarchs of Antioch in Church History, by Exarch Elias B. Skaff, 1993,  Sophia Press.

With the Edict of Milan in 313, Emperor Constantine ended the official persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In fact the Edict gave freedom to all religions while it ended all ordinances hostile to the Christian religion. Constantine also gave the Church a tax-exemption status.

Meanwhile a disseminating heresy, formalized by Bishop Arius, resisted the idea that Jesus Christ is God as God the Father.  This heresy was addressed at the Council of Nicea in 325, where the defense of the co-substantial nature of Jesus with God the father (Greek term: homo-ousios) was championed primarily by Saint Athanasios, a deacon from Alexandria, and Saint Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch.  The Arian heresy was important to counter, because anything less than the co-equal Divine Nature of Jesus Christ with God (the Father and Holy Spirit) meant a return to the monotheism of Judaism or monotheistic variants where Jesus was less than God.  Jesus is the eternally-begotten Divine Son of God the Divine Father. Eternally begotten also means that there never was a single point in time when He was begotten, before which the Father was alone without Him. He was, is, and by the definition of the word eternal, will always be begotten [1][2].

The condemned Arius was present at the Council of Nicea and his followers were influenced to sign the Nicean Creed at the urging of the sister of Constantine, Constancia. Within a few years, Constancia’s influence on the Emperor resulted in the re-admitting of Arius into the Church.  Bishops leading the Arian heresy regained imperial favor which resulted in the replacement of Saint Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch, with an Arian.  A persecution of Athanasios began. A slow and labored fracturing at the Church of Antioch was started, whose first Bishop was the Apostle Peter.  Antioch is also known as the seat of the famous Bishop and martyr St. Ignatius in the 2nd Century.  At one point,  the majority of bishops in both eastern and western churches followed the Arian heresy.  Even after Arianism waned, divisions among the orthodox prevailed at Antioch and despite the works of Saints Basil and Chrysostom, the center of eastern orthodoxy shifted to Constantinople.   Antioch continued in orthodoxy, with the Melkites dividing off to formally recognize the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the 18th Century.

The sequels of the Arian heresy may not be obvious to the casual observer of history and for our time. Consider however the following quote from the monotheistic religion of Islam:

“He, God, is one! God, the Eternal One! He will not generate, nor was he generated, and none is equal to him!” (Koran, 112, 2,4).

And for the Christian in the current age, are there heresies or unorthodox teachings, such as those for contraception that are related? Consider again the following quote by Saint Athanasios about an Arian Bishop of Antioch, Leontius, who sterilized himself to live with a woman:

“How can sterile and ignorant persons understand the eternal birth of God?”

Note carefully. Baptism imparts the pro-creative Nature of the Trinity on us. Even without us physically procreating. In fact much more so than procreating. Meet the only religion of God, the ONLY religion compatible with our physiology.

Can then the dilution and weakening of Christian teachings then be related to the influence of government or empire?  Is one mechanism of influence of empire over the Church that of tax-exemption?  Do Christians have to oscillate from persecution and physical martyrdom to heresy of teachings during “official” offers of freedom of religion but with outside influence?  Can the worship of “officialdom” in our time explain the lukewarmness and even doublespeak of bishops and shepherds? Note that it only took a a generation for the persecutions of Christians to resume under Constantine’s nephew, Julian the Apostate.

[1] With the Incarnation of God in the flesh, His eternal begotten nature becomes manifest in the flesh through the Virgin Mother. The Eternal has now entered the physical realm.  That is why she is ever-virgin, and mother of the new eternal race.

[2] This understanding of the eternally begotten nature of Christ (past, present, and future) has the potential to solve the Filioque controversy, since the Holy Spirit, with the same eternal nature has to exist (in mystery and outside the constraint of time) in the “was”, “is”, and “will always be” begotten nature of the Son.  Only in the “will be begotten” understanding of the Son, can we see how the Holy Spirit can proceed from the Father alone.

The Dual Nature of Christ and What It Means To Us. Guadalupe Revisited.

Jesus Christ is God and and Man, the staple teaching about God in His Church. This has been true since the birth of Christ, actually since the Annunciation, when Christ was conceived by God the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. Perfectly God. Perfectly Man. Two natures. One Person. This dual nature (hypostasis) has been expressed in the Oral Apostolic tradition and in iconography, long before the printing press and the more widespread literacy that occurred in the second millennium. In ancient iconography, this is written in the extension of the second and third digit of the right hand of Christ as in the ancient icon of Christ Pantocrator from Mount Sinai monastery:

(The opposing two remaining fingers with the thumb represent the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one Divine Person, but that is not the subject of this essay.)

The dual nature is also written in the asymmetry of the eyes and facial expression. The asymmetric eyes indicate Christ’s (God’s) new (since the Incarnation) will to see with both Heavenly and human eyes.

A Heavenly and earthly perspective. This is for us, as He intercedes for us humans before God the Father. It is also representative of His life when He walked on earth, Perfectly God, and perfectly human. Two planes of existence. (Here are two examples of Christ being perfectly human in humility while being God: John 11:33-35, Matthew 24:35-37.)

Now what this means to us in the Vine of Christ is exactly the same. It is our life on two planes of existence, the human plane and Divine plane, where the Divine is through the Sacraments, the perspective of the eastern churches. How we live in the Divine plane is by living our ordinary human lives while partaking in the Sacraments. (Willful rejection of the Divine plane of existence is remedied through the Sacrament of Confession). We cannot fathom the full significance of our Divine plane of existence at this time (we can barely appreciate the significance of our human existence) but one way we can remind ourselves of this mystery is to think of ourselves as a chamber or temple where God and His angels, patriarchs, faithful, saints and the Queen of saints meet, confer, inspire, and act exactly in our moment in history, without us necessarily knowing of any plan or action, nor necessarily while receiving any inspiration, although He may let us, His vessels, know some things according to His Holy will or even give us a supernatural power to execute His will. Sometimes this occurs in the humiliations and sufferings of our human lives and these states may be when His power is most manifest (2 Corinthians 12:9). Here in the human plane, we work out God’s justice in penance. The Sacraments are the exquisite methods used by God whereby He imparts His Nature to us in doses while implementing His will on earth, even before we are fully converted. Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.

“For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the the hope of the resurrection to eternity.”

Saint Irenaios of Lyon, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 18, 2nd Century

How encouraging it should be to seek the Sacraments in this, God’s plan of salvation. How encouraging it should be to know that Christ’s dual nature becomes manifest in us this way. But how ineffable is our understanding a mystery so great. So let’s look at another icon for inspiration. This time of the Mother of God and from a different era and civilization, also without widespread literacy.

The asymmetry of the face of the Virgin of Guadalupe has been brought up recently with insight.

This link exposes the two sides of the Virgin’s face. We can extend this further, noting that the “brighter” or blissful side of the face is on the heavenly side, represented by the mantle of stars and the “sad”, or we can say more human/suffering side, with the tear drop in the eye, is on the side of the earth colored tapestry.  The pattern on the earthly tapestry is a direct reminder of the Mayan calendar for the peoples of that culture and represents our human existence at any moment in history. This is the sojourning (or revealing/manifesting?) side with the knee bent forward. (Click on image for detail.)

The Virgin’s forearm lifts the heavenly garment out of the way to expose the earthly tapestry for us on that side of her face. The winged creature reinforces this point by having one hand on the heavenly and the other on the earthly vestment, bringing each forward to parallel the facial expressions. And if you look closely at his face, you can wonder of another creature with human and heavenly perspective.

How ineffable is our understanding a mystery so great, but how full of grace is the Theotokos, assumed into heaven body and soul, to give us insight into the mystery in such a beautiful way.

Holy Virgin in my heart
every day before I start.
And when the daily heartbeats stop,
catch me Virgin when I drop.

The Bishop of Rome and the Twelve

The crises of our time compel us to look at the history and in the current ecclesial crisis we can look at Christ’s foundational and therefore eternal work for perspective. The Melkite Eparchy of Newton has an excellent document, The Melkite Church at the Council, in support of the argument to be presented here, particularly Chapters 5-7. This much shorter discussion will touch on the history of the College of Cardinals after primarily presenting the case for election of the Bishop of Rome by all apostolic churches.

That all the apostolic churches, including the Orthodox churches recognize the Primacy of the See of Peter is assumed here. This is generally case with the definition of primacy more the subject of controversy than its existence.

“He showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God… The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:10,14).

John’s reference is for the Church defined by Christ in the 12 Apostles. Most would agree that the number 12 represents the entire Church he founded. His foundation is an ecclesial mystery not founded by of the apostles, including the apostle Peter, rather by the mystery that is His presence after the resurrection. This Presence is Sacramental and in the case of the present day apostles, it is the Sacrament of Holy Orders that creates the new generation of apostles. The work and collegiality of the 12 apostles including the addition of more, not the least of whom is Paul, is well documented in the Acts of the Apostles. These works are both autonomous while in recognition of the Primacy of Peter, even with disagreements that are at worst temporary in the mystery of Christ’s Presence.

From Chapter 6 of the above reference:

“Holy Scripture affirms a power of primacy, on the part of Peter, over the rest of the Apostles and over the whole Church. But Scripture does not affirm in any way that no bishop can be constituted in the Church except through the intervention, “direct or indirect,” of Peter and his successors, the bishops of Rome. We even explicitly see the other Apostles constituting bishops without referring in any way to Peter. The same is true of their disciples, such as Titus or Timothy. If it is necessary to understand the text as applying to bishops in the strict sense, doesn’t the Scripture say that it is the Holy Spirit who instituted the bishops to rule the Church (cf. Acts 20:28)? It is difficult, without doing violence to the text, to find in the Scripture a basis which permits affirming that no bishop obtains jurisdiction over his Church except through the “direct or indirect” intervention of the Bishop of Rome, successor of Peter.”

Just as the validity of the Sacraments of Eucharist and Penance are direct works of God the Holy Spirit and are operational, i.e. valid, in all the apostolic churches and as affirmed by the Latin Church, so must the priesthood and episcopal ascendancy to Patriarchs of the eastern churches be valid. If the concern by the Latin Church under the See of Peter is that allowing full communion of the Eastern apostolic Churches with the Latin Church would compromise the Church instituted by Christ, then that same concern should be for any Sacramental event. A glaring witness of our time is the both doctrinal and personal perversion of priests and bishops, yet this does not compromise the efficacy of the Sacrament offered to the recipient. Christ guarantees His work and Presence in the Sacrament while waiting for the personal conversion of the administrator if necessary. He will confront the Bishop as he does with the seven Bishops in Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation, interpreted symbolically or literally. Therefore the ascendancy of the Bishop of Rome could involve the Patriarchy of the Eastern Churches to complete the role of the Bishop of Rome as representative of the 12 apostles. This completeness may have been wanting for over 1000 years.

This theory suggests certain degradation in those churches excluded from their “birth right” as part of the “12”. This can be the loss of the reach commanded by Christ to Peter to “feed my sheep”. Similarly, degradation to autocracy of the role of the See of Peter becomes a risk in any exclusion of the “12”.

“There is, in fact, among the bishops only one Church, only one soul, only one heart… There is, through the institution of Christ, one and only one Church, spread out over the whole world, one and only one episcopacy represented by a multiplicity of bishops united among themselves… The Church forms a single whole, whose bond is the union of bishops” (St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 66, 8,3).

As a final note, we touch on the body used to elect the Bishop of Rome in our current time and for the last 1000 years, namely the College of Cardinals. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that this was initially a closed group of individuals that included non-clergy and grew at the expense of the successors of the Apostles. Compare this to the notion of the “12” in full effect at the time of the Acts of the Apostles and for the first millennium.

Archbishop Elias Zoghby’s Vision of Christian Unity


by Father James K. Graham

Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2008 edition of Sophia, the magazine for the Melkite Eparchy of Newton.

The works of recently-reposed Archbishop Elias Zoghby, former Patriarchal Vicar in Egypt and Sudan, and retired Metropolitan of Baalbek, especially the essays collected in A Voice from the Byzantine East [1] and the monograph Tous Schismatiques [2], provide a vision of Melkite ecclesiology solidly based in the Eastern Tradition, representative of the thinking of the Melkite Fathers of Vatican II, and consistent with contemporary Orthodox ecclesiological thought.

Archbishop Elias bases his ecclesiology in the first millennium of undivided, but diverse, Christianity. During that period, he says, the Churches founded by the Apostles grew and evangelized the known world, developing liturgically, theologically, and ecclesiologically according to the particular needs of each geographical location and also according to their unique historical-cultural-political situations. A basic agreement on the essential content of the Christian faith, derived from the Scriptures and the teaching of Jesus and the disciples and their successors, and articulated for the universal Church at the seven Ecumenical Councils, united all Christians, despite their wide geographic dispersal and their many divergent local practices.

The Great Schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople came as the culmination of intensifying conflict between the two Churches, two cultures, and two political systems. The Councils of Lyons (1274) and of Florence (1439) aimed at reuniting the separated Churches, and despite the increasingly institutionalized condition of schism, both councils bear witness to a consciousness of some kind of continuing communion, for the bishops of both East and West convened and voted.[3] This sense of communion without administrative uniformity, at least tolerant of each other’s differences, but still agreeing on the essentials of the Christian faith, forms the foundation of Archbishop Elias’ proposal for reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in our time.

Even in Tous Schismatiques, which advances his notorious plan for immediate intercommunion between the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and its separated sister the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Elias does not provide more than an outline of how the Catholic and Orthodox Churches should realize their reunion. Let us sketch that outline.

1) “The rapprochement between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches requires a new formulation of the doctrine of Roman primacy. This formulation must be grounded in the common tradition of the first thousand years of Christianity.”[4]

2) “Only the union of Latins and Orthodox on the level of equality can bring together the apostolic tradition in its fullness and make Catholic unity complete. [Orthodoxy] must, therefore, share equally in the government of the reunited Church, just as must the Latin Church, under the primacy of Peter, of course.” [5]

3) The “East-West Christian dialogue should be accompanied by an even greater effort at the decentralization that was begun at the Second Vatican Council, and in the Orthodox Churches it should accompany an effort of extremely qualified centralization around Peter’s successor and in the framework of traditional collegiality.” [6]

4) “All of the Churches ought to be governed by their own bishops; Eastern Christians have never conceived of Church government in any other way… The pope and his coleagues must not be entrusted habitually and normally with the government of all the Churches.” [7]

5) The Pope cannot “exercise, normally and habitually, in the Eastern Patriarchates, the role he exercises in the Latin Church in his capacity as Patriarch of the West.[8]

6) “In recalling, with theologians and ecumenists, that the faith is essentially the same in the Roman Church and in Orthodoxy, we understand that doctrine elaborated after the schism by one of the two unilaterally, that is, in the absence of the other, cannot be part of what is essential in this faith.” [9]

7) Thus, doctrine and discipline defined at the General Councils of the West after the Schism oblige only the Latin Church, and definitions made at Orthodox synods after the Schism oblige only the Orthodox Church. [10]

8) “It is our understanding of Church history and Tradition that the Church is to be governed by the bishops who are in communion with the Pope, but not exclusively by the Pope to the exclusion of the Episcopate.” [11]

9) There can be no practical progress toward resolution of the problem of primacy and reconciliation of the Churches “as long as the actual government of the Catholic Church has not been wholly and uncompromisingly transferred from the hands of this minority [the Roman Curia] to those of the pastoral Episcopate, the only agent truly responsible for the Church of Jesus Christ. [12]

10) In ruling his diocese of Rome and the dioceses of Italy whose metropolitan he is, the Pope “ought to be assisted by his local clergy.[13]

11) “The responsibilities of ruling the Latin Patriarchate of the West ought to be assumed by the Latin episcopate or their delegates near the Holy Roman See, assembled in Patriarchal Synod around the pope in the exercise of his powers as Patriarch of the West.[14]

12) “Where the whole Church is concerned, the responsibility for its administration ought to fall upon the universal Catholic episcopate (or the representatives commissioned by them) to coordinate, under the worldwide primacy of the Pope, the life and activities of the entire Church.[15]

13) In order to make reunion with Orthodoxy possible, as well as to adapt to the free and democratic conditions of the modern world, the Roman Church must return to the synodal type of Church government that even it lived under in the first Christian millennium. This means national or local church “government by genuine Bishops’ Conferences with real power,” not merely consultative or advisory bodies. [16]

14) Episcopal authority must be reaffirmed and restored because it comes directly from Jesus Christ Himself, who founded the Apostolic College in accord with Divine will. “Christ gave the ‘presidency’ of the Apostolic College to Peter only after having entrusted all the Apostles with a clear cut, well-defined mission. The leader of the Apostles was designated, then, to be head of a College which had already been constituted, a College already enjoying authentic and inalienable powers.” The Pope is the first bishop in the Church because he succeeds Peter, who was “a member of this College when he received the mission of strengthening his brethren. [17]

15) The rights and privileges of the Patriarchs must be recognized, respected, and revitalized, for “the Patriarchate is the only genuine guardian of each Church’s patrimony and one of the only checks on the spread of heterodoxy”.[18] In the Christian East, the Patriarchs are the agents of the episcopate, members of it and chosen by it. Archbishop Elias quotes Archbishop Peter Medawar as saying that the patriarch is “the most eminent guardian of the deposit of the faith, “having “major responsibility for its true and integral diffusion… He is the official spokesman of his Church and of its peoples in all circumstances… In conformity with the ancient law, the patriarchs have the right and even the obligation to carry the burden of governing the Universal Church together with the Holy Father and to do so in a more outstanding and formal manner than the other bishops.[19]

16) The reinterpretation of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome should be based on the Eastern understanding of his position as primus inter pares, which is sacramental rather than juridical. That is, the pope is first among equals because he, the patriarchs, and all the bishops are equal by virtue of sharing the fullness of priesthood, which is episcopacy. This understanding does not exclude the possibility that the pope, like the patriarchs, may have certain powers that other bishops do not have, [20] but these powers come from the rank of his see among the dioceses of Christendom, not from his personal succession to Peter,[21] and they originate in canonical custom and legislation, not in divine institution or essential doctrine of the faith.[22]

17) Referring to the Third Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council, Archbishop Elias writes that “if the role of the Church of New Rome entails a veritable responsibility, witness, and diakonia in the service of the unity of Orthodoxy, one cannot be dealing simply with primacy of honor or precedence when one speaks of the Bishop of Rome, recognized by Orthodoxy as the first among all bishops.” [23]

18) In the reunited Church, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, so extensively elaborated by the Latin Church, would complement local autonomous episcopal collegiality, so zealously safeguarded by the Orthodox Churches. Excessive decentralization, the strength that has considerably weakened the Orthodox, would counteract excessive centralization, the weakness that has inordinately strengthened Rome.[24]

19)”Thus we would say that these rights reserved to the Bishop of Rome must be defined by mutual agreement of the Roman and Orthodox Churches. Since this matter must not in any way become a part of the essential deposit of faith required for canonical communion, it must be settled by the reunited Churches.” [25] This statement, of course, reflects Archbishop Elias’ conviction that the shared faith of the first millennium suffices for restoration of communion.

20) In fact, he says, “it is easier to agree on what concerns God than on what concerns men, knowing churchmen and their powers and privileges? Reaching accord on doctrine will be easy once we reach accord on the division of powers.” [26]

21) In matters of doctrine, the shared faith of the first millennium suffices; everything else is different non-essential formulations and elaborations of the same essential truths. And, since doctrinal formulations can never fully express the truth of what we believe, much less the truth of the Mystery of God, it is wiser to avoid dogmatic definitions as far as possible. “If one is obliged to do so‹which should be very infrequently after the stabilization of the depositum fidei‹one should do so with Christian modesty, and without a priori exclusion of other formulations that could be equally legitimate and maybe even more adequate… Revealed truth can be formulated in different ways and in different contexts. Factors such as cultural, historical, and other situations can influence these formulations without changing the Truth, which always remains the same.” [27]

22) Just as differences in doctrinal expression need not stand in the way of communion, so also differences in ecclesiology can be accommodated. “Until the 11th century, Rome and Orthodoxy each had its unique ecclesiology, at least germinally, and unity was not broken. One can conceive of these two different ecclesiologies in the Church without questioning the Faith and without altering communion.” [28]

23) We can even regard these differences as necessary for the wholeness of the Church, because “the Catholic Church, that is the Universal Church, can only consist of the Roman Church and the Orthodox Church reunited, since neither of them can claim to possess the whole Christian patrimony, spiritual, ascetical, liturgical, patristic, or doctrinal.” [29] The wholeness of the Church is legitimate diversity in essential unity.

24) Archbishop Elias conceives of Church unity in terms of East and West, and favors preservation and developement of the legitimate diversity of worship forms, theological expression, and church governance suited to peoples and countries. Jesus Christ is incarnated in each race, and each race shows forth in its own way the image and likeness of God. Thus, its expression of Christianity must be locally developed, not imported. [30] In this context, he seems to regard the re-entrance into Catholic communion by the churches of the Reformation and their descendants as a matter for the Western Church to deal with. [31] However, as expressions of legitimate diversity they figure in his larger vision of Christian unity: “no Church or group of believers however humble it may be, should be compelled to accept union by assimilation or disappearance… Indeed, we envision the true unity of the distant future to include several different rites in which almost everyone can find a home: an Anglican Catholic rite, a Presbyterian Catholic rite, perhaps even a Jewish Catholic rite, and many, many more; with some of them containing even smaller subdivisions.” [32]

25) Therefore, achieving the reunion of the Christian Church requires dedicated, humble, sacrificial effort on the part of all Christians, who should feel the pain of separation and who suffer from, as well as sometimes contribute to, its sinfulness.[33] However, the Church of Rome, since it is the head of the Churches, bears special responsibility for healing schism and restoring unity. This is its God-given mandate; this is the proper exercise of its primacy. [34] Fulfilling this role will require major changes in Roman self-understanding, a process begun at Vatican II, accompanied by fundamental changes in Roman dealings with other Christians, for “every attempt at unity centered in a pyramidal Church, built around an absolute juridical authority, and founded on submission to the Pope, instead of on co-responsibility with the older brother who is in Rome, would be doomed to failure.” [35]

However we may respond to this vision of Church unity – and as an ideal it has great appeal – our task here is to discover in it resources for fulfilling the ecumenical vocation of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, if we can. Let us begin, as we must, by flatly calling it a fantasy that ignores most of the secular and ecclesiastical history of the Christian age. Yes, the Churches should re-unite on the basis of the common faith of the first millennium, should accept legitimate diversity in worship and doctrine and discipline, and should govern themselves synodally under the benign primacy of the Bishop of Rome, first among equals, presiding in the service of charity. But at this time, and for the foreseeable future, such reunion seems at best highly improbable.

Nationalism, pluralism, colonialism,imperialism,and dogmatization of local customs and theological opinions contribute to the unlikelihood of reunion on these terms, as do centuries of carefully nurtured misunderstandings and even enmities. If the Churches truly hope one day to achieve reunion, they must strive diligently to resolve these misunderstandings and to heal these enmities, not simply at the level of international theological dialogue, not even at the level of the hierarchy or of clerical formation, but at every level of church life.

Agreement on theology by theologians has no meaning until the parishioners in church on Sunday can affirm it and apply it in their daily dealings with other Christians. As long as Catholics define themselves essentially as being “under the Pope,” and as long as Orthodox define themselves essentially as not being “under the Pope,” both sides ignorant not only of others’ faith but of their own, theological dialogue will remain so much wasted breath and reunion will remain a beautiful fantasy.

What, then, can Melkites learn from Archbishop Elias’vision? They can, and should, recognize its basic validity – it expresses our authentic understanding of the Church. It should be taught and nurtured in church schools, in homilies, in adult education classes, in regional and national clergy-laity conventions, in deacon training programs, in seminary curricula, in continuing education of clergy, in the Patriarchal Synod. It should become intimately and integrally part of the meaning of “Melkite.”

As this happens, we must also share our conviction that this vision authentically points the way to human achievement of God’s will that His people should be one with Him. Such sharing will involve more than words – though words, written in church bulletins, pastoral letters, episcopal statements, ecumenical documents, educational materials, popular magazines, and scholarly journals, will carry great weight.

Such sharing will involve acting according to our belief – individuals, families, parishes, dioceses, the entire patriarchate must seek cooperation with fellow Christians, repudiate inauthentic forms of worship and teaching and governance, and do whatever expresses our authentic vision: ordain married men, expunge latinizations, elect our own bishops, restore true monasticism, and adapt our heritage of Holy Tradition to the demands of life in the secular, pluralistic, technological, God-hungry world of the 21st century.

Often people contribute to making themselves invalids. They completely accept limitations placed upon them by circumstances or accidents, even further handicapping themselves by not daring to try actions that will challenge them but will not defeat them. Such people make themselves victims. They call themselves realistic. In effect, they deny God’s will and power. They defy God to heal them, without making any attempt to cooperate in their own healing.

Other people make every effort to overcome their handicaps or limitations. They constantly strive to reach farther or to walk longer or to stand longer by themselves. Such people make themselves victors. Others call them idealistic, but they too call themselves realistic. Consciously or not, they acknowledge God’s healing power and His willingness to cooperate with us when we try to cooperate with Him.

Melkites (and, indeed, all Christians) must stop acting like invalids, victims of circumstances and dependent on what others do to or for us. We cannot be like the paralytic, lying by the pool for 38 years waiting for someone to put him in the water. We must be like Zacchaeus, willing to climb up a tree – perhaps even to go out on a limb – to overcome our limitations. The Lord will recognize us, reward our efforts, and bring salvation to our house.

 

Father James K. Graham is the pastor of St. Elias the Prophet Melkite Church, San Jose, CA.

 

1. Archbishop Elias Zoghby, A Voice from the Byzantine East, trans. R. Bernard (West Newton, MA: Diocese of Newton Office of Educational Services, 1992; original French edition, 1970).

2. Archbishop Elias Zoghby, Tous Schismatiques? (Beirut: Heidelberg Press-Lebanon, 1981). An English translation is available from the Diocese of Newton Office of Educational Services. Citations in this essay are based on that translation, revised by James K. Graham. Page numbers refer to the French edition.

3. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.39.

4. Zoghby, Voice, p.71.

5. Zoghby, Voice, p.56.

6. Zoghby, Voice, p.57.

7. Zoghby, Voice, p.69.

8. Zoghby, Voice, p.70.

9. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.51.

10. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.51.

11. Zoghby, Voice, p. 75.

12. Zoghby, Voice, p.74.

13. Zoghby, Voice, p.110.

14. Zoghby, Voice, pp.110-111.

15. Zoghby, Voice, p.111.

16. Zoghby, Voice, pp.144-145.

17. Zoghby, Voice, p.83.

18. Zoghby, Voice, p. 104.

19. Zoghby, Voice, p. 118.

20. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.47.

21. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.59.

22. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.47.

23. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.48.

24. Zoghby, Voice, pp.56-57.

25. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.47.

26. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.109.

27. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.17.

28. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.29.

29. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p. 14.

30. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p. 63.

31. Zoghby, Voice, p. 86.

32. Zoghby, Voice, p. 104.