Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Eastern Catholic Churches of the Middle East

Original written by Andrea Kirk Assaf/Zenit; edited by George Farahat Armenian Catholic Church The country of Armenia was evangelized by Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus, and was the first to make Christianity its official religion in 301 under the governorship of St. Gregory the Illuminator. The Armenian Church broke away after the Council of Chalcedon in 554. After several attempts at reunification with Rome by members of the Armenian Orthodox Church over the centuries, Pope Benedict XIV ultimately announced the establishment of the Armenian Catholic Church in 1742. Its patriarchate (currently led by Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni) is located in Bzoummar, Lebanon, and its communities are found in Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Israel, Iran, Iraq, and Palestine, as well as in the global diaspora, particularly in the United States. There are an estimated 540,000 Catholic Armenians around the world. Chaldean Catholic Church The Chaldean Catholic Church originated in Edessa (in modern day Turkey) with the Apostle Thomas. Today its patriarchate is located in Baghdad, Iraq, headed by Patriarch Cardinal Emannuel III Delly, and its members number approximately 419,000. In 2007, Patriarch Delly became the first Chaldean Catholic elevated to the rank of a cardinal. The line of patriarchs in communion with Rome dates back to 1553, though this line was broken on several occasions and rival patriarchs created their own lines of succession. In 1830, only one patriarch remained and Pope Pius VIII granted him the title of Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans. The history of the Chaldean Church has been marked by waves of persecution through the centuries in Iraq, nearly decimating their number and scattering their population, yet the Church to this day maintains a firm presence and vibrant community. Coptic Catholic Church The roots of this Church are found in the conversion of an Orthodox Coptic bishop, Amba Athanasius, to Catholicism in 1741, along with 2,000 others. Athanasius was appointed apostolic vicar to this new flock but later returned to the Orthodox Church. He left behind a line of Catholic vicars, however, and in 1824 the Holy See created a Patriarchate for the Copts, re-established in 1895 by Pope Leo XIII, who appointed the first patriarch. The current Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, who heads a Church of 163,000 in Egypt, is Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib. Greek Melkite Catholic Church The Melkites, also known as Byzantine Catholics, number 1.3 million around the world. The See of Antioch never broke its ties with the Church of Rome after the schism of 1054. However, due to its proximity to Constantinople, it came under the influence of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch. The Melkites entered into full communion with Rome in the declaration of bishop Cyril Tanas in 1724 who was then accepted with his supporters into the Catholic fold in 1729. Melkite Patriarch Gregory signed the declaration on the doctrine of papal infallibility at Vatican Council I, but with the appended clause "preserving the rights and privileges of Eastern patriarchs." Gregory's concerns about the latinization of the Eastern Churches was somewhat relieved by Leo XIII's encyclical "Orientalium Dignitas." At Vatican Council II, the Melkite Patriarch Maximus IV contributed vigorously to the declaration of collegiality (the belief that all bishops together. headed by the pope, constitute the supreme authority in the Catholic Church.) The Melkites took further measures to remove Latin-rite traditions from their liturgy. The current Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Alexandria, and Jerusalem is Gregory III Laham, who resides in Damascus, Syria. In the Middle East his flock can be found in Israel, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, and also in Africa, South America, North America and Australia. Maronite (Catholic) Church The Maronites derive their name from the Syrian monk St. Maron, who was an important figure in the Christian community of Antioch at the same time as St. John Chrysostom, but who left the city to follow the example of St. Anthony of the Desert and took up a hermitic life. The Maronites voted in favor of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, subsequently finding themselves the sole Chalcedonian Christians in the region. Some 350 Maronite monks were then killed by Miaphysites/Monophysites, causing the Maronites to flee and settle in Lebanon, particularly in the mountainous regions. The first specifically Maronite patriarch, John Maron, was elected in 687, in the midst of an Islamic invasion and conflict with the Orthodox Church and the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian II. The Muslim conquest of Eastern Christendom cut off Maronite communication with Rome for 400 years, until the time of the First Crusade, when the Maronites re-affirmed their union with Rome in 1182, the only non-Uniate Eastern Christian Church in the Middle East to this day. In 1584, the Maronites established their presence in Rome with the Maronite College, followed by the building of several monasteries and convents of Maronite orders. Syriac Catholic Church The Syriac Church, also referred to as the Western Syriac Rite, uses a Syriac language liturgy that is called the "Anaphora of St. James" and dates back to the bishopric of St. Peter in Antioch. The Syriac Catholic Church made a final split from the Orthodox Church and came into union with Rome in 1781. Dramatically, in 1782, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Michael Jarweh of Aleppo declared himself Catholic and in union with Rome shortly after his election, and then took flight to Lebanon where he established an unbroken line of Catholic Syriac patriarchs. During the 18th century the Church went underground due to persecution from the Orthodox, encouraged by the Ottomans. In the subsequent years the patriarchate was moved from Lebanon to Aleppo, Syria, then to Mardin, Turkey, and finally back to Beirut during the Assyrian genocide of World War I, which brought about the deaths of over 37,500 Syriac Catholics at the hands of Turkish nationalists. Today there are approximately 159,000 Syriac Catholics globally, concentrated in the Middle East in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and also in the diaspora in Australia, Sweden, France, Venezuela, Brazil, Sudan, the United States and Canada. The current Patriarch of Antioch and All the East of the Syrians is Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, who resides in Beirut, Lebanon.

Interfaith Encounter with Islamic and Hindu People

On Saturday October 30, I was one of 3 speakers in an interfaith meeting for young adults and youth at Jaffari Islamic Centre. The two other speakers were Dr. Hashimi, a Muslim expert and Pandit Roopnauth Sharma, a Hindu guru. The topic was about angels and demons in Catholic Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. But I took this opportunity to speak, uninterrupted, about Christian faith and common themes with other religions: 1) Moral values and human dignity (Respect for human dignity may not be found in some traditions of the East) 2) Common things: Belief in God, prayer, fasting, and community life 3) Human needs: material, psychological, spiritual and security 4) We need love since love protects us 5) God loves us - In Christian tradition God is Love. Love is not only one of his names but his unique character. He loved us into life and cares about each one 6) Angels are servants of God. God loves his angels including the angels who fell into pride. The Devil and his angels separated themselves from God. 7) The lesson for us is not to separate ourselves from God - We need God - We need eternal happiness and salvation from sin through Christ 8) We have guardian angels who protect us. Angels came to Abraham, Jacob, Mary, and Christ. The angels of God sustained Christ in his fasting and in suffering before his crucifixion. 9) The most important point: In response to Dr. Hashimi who thinks that Christians are confused by considering Christ the Son of God, I said that we as Christians believe in Christ not only as the Son of God but also that Christ is God from God fully divine and fully human. When one of the Muslim youth questioned why Christians beliieve that Christ is God, I replied that the topic can be the subject of another debate. But I insist on finding common grounds rather than finding topics of differences with people of other religions. We cannot act like the self-righteous people. Moreover, When Christians speak to someone who is not Christian we need to be patient for him to learn. He will not learn as long as Christians do not show love by example. We need to respect everyone and love him as he is. Christ respected everyone and loved everyone. We must hope to be a bit as generous as our master and God.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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