St. Nicholas is Coming to Town

November 27, 2011

At this time of year we’re going to see more and more of the commercialized version of the holy man of Myra, St. Nicholas. His actual feast day is December 6th. A great video explaining who St. Nicholas really was:

For further reading:

Calculating Christmas

The Pagan Origins of Christmas?

Christmas and “Pagan Origins”


Seeds of Doubt for Jehovah’s Witnesses: The 144,000 — Part Two

November 27, 2011

Regular readers of the blog know I write occasionally on subjects related to the Jehovah’s Witnesses due to my background. This continues an earlier article which discusses the Witness teaching that only 144,000 people will go to heaven to be with Christ. The earlier article presents a couple of questions that can be asked to show the inconsistency of the JW interpretation about the 144,000. Still, what if the Witness you are discussing with wants to know what the 144,000 in the book of Revelation refers to?

I suggest these thoughts by James Kallas in Revelation: God & Satan in the Apocalypse:

To take the number [144,000] literally is to come to the exact opposite conclusion that John the author is trying to get across.

How many tribes in ancient Israel? Twelve. And how many disciples did Jesus choose as the basis of the new Israel, the Church? Twelve. And what is 12 x 12? 144! Now, before we go any further we must remind ourselves of how the ancient Jews thought, of a characteristic of their mental patterns, for John was a Jew. How did the Jew express infinity, a large and endless number? By simply multiplying the number by ten! When Peter asks Jesus, “How many times should I forgive my brother, seven times?”, Jesus answers him “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21-22). What does Jesus mean? Is he to be taken literally? Is Peter to walk about with a pad of papyrus and a pen in his hand, marking down the number or times he forgives his fellow man, and when he arrives at 490 times he can stop forgiving? Of course not! Jesus is not to be taken literally here. He is speaking concretely, as a good Jew would. He is simply trying to get across the idea of infinity, of an endless series, of a continuing never ending act of forgiveness, by multiplying by ten.

And that is what Rev. 14:1 and 14:3 are attempting to say. How many will be saved? A specific limited number confined to a mere and literally understood 144,000? Not at all! What John is saying, to a discouraged and persecuted people, on the brink of despair, tempted to believe that all is lost and God will not be able to deliver his people, is that not a one shall be lost. That God’s power is sufficient to deliver all who call on his name. That all the sons of the old covenant, the remnant of the twelve tribes of Israel, and all the followers of the new Israel, adherents to the teachings of the twelve apostles, that all of them, 12 x 12 = 144 x 10 x 10 x 10 [which would equal 144,000], that all of them shall be rescued by the redemptive power of God! To take the number literally, to limit it, is to come to exactly the opposite conclusion intended by John. He is speaking of the unlimited power of God.

Witnesses will sometimes counter that the number 144,000 must be literal because in Revelation chapter 7 they are mentioned before a vision of a “great crowd” or “great multitude” which could not be numbered. To understand the relationship of the 144,000 and the “great multitude” in Revelation, chapter 7, it’s necessary to look at the text. At Revelation 7:1-9, John says:

1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3 “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” 4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

5 From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,

from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,

[12,000 are sealed from each tribe]

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. (pp. 60-61)

John says he heard the number of those sealed: 144,000. What he saw after he heard the number was the “great multitude” in heaven. He heard about this group before he saw them. John elsewhere in Revelation uses the same method when he describes Christ in an earlier chapter. First he is told about the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and next he sees “a Lamb as if it had been slain” (Rev. 5:5-6). John Francis Coffey explains that

the great multitude “which no man could number” is not a group distinct from the 144,000, but rather, it is the same group. John is explaining one group by the other. “After this”, that is, after John “heard” the number of the sealed, he was granted a vision of the whole company of the elect. The definite number of the elect signified completeness:

All the tribes had their required number; none were missing (cf. Jn 17:12). Nor should God’s chosen people be understood as being only a tiny group, for the members were so many that John could not count them himself, he “heard” the number of those sealed – 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1,000). In apocalyptic imagery, the number 12, like the number 7 symbolizes perfection or totality. The second 12 corresponds to the tribes of Israel or the people of God. And the 1,000 indicates an immense number. In other words, the 144,000 symbolizes the great multitude of the elect whose exact number is known only to God. (The Gospel According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 119)

For further reading:

Is Your Hope Bible-Based? Questions and Reflections for Jehovah’s Witnesses

Do the Old Testament Saints Receive a Heavenly Reward?


Oxford Orthodox Christian Student Society Lectures

November 25, 2011

Within the last couple of weeks some notable lectures have been posted to Vimeo which were delivered to the  Oxford Orthodox Christian Student Society, which are not generally available elsewhere. A sampling:

“Eastern Sacred Chant” – a talk by Dr. Dmitri Conomos

“Translating The Liturgy: Was there a Great Entrance at the Last Supper? ” – a talk by Fr. Ephrem Lash

“Aquinas and Orthodoxy” – a talk by Fr. Andrew Louth


The Akathist of Thanksgiving: Glory to God for All Things

November 23, 2011

H/T: Preachers Institute

This Akathist, also called the “Akathist of Thanksgiving,” was composed by Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov shortly before his death in a prison camp in 1940. The title is from the words of Saint John Chrysostom as he was dying in exile. It is a song of praise from amidst the most terrible sufferings.

You can watch a video of this Akathist, preceded by some opening prayers, being celebrated by Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Parma, Ohio here. An audio recording of this Akathist can also be found on this webpage.


Kontakion 1

Everlasting King, Your will for our salvation is full of power. Your right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give You thanks for all Your mercies, seen and unseen. For eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Your praise, both now and in the time to come. Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

Ikos 1

I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Your angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Your love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Your providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give You thanks, with all who have come to know You, who call upon Your name.

Glory to You for calling me into being
Glory to You, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to You, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to You for Your eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to You for Your mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to You through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to You for every step of my life’s journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 2

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Your guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Your love. Blessed are You, mother earth, in Your fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!

Ikos 2

You have brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Your earth. It is a pleasure to be Your guest.

Glory to You for the Feast Day of life
Glory to You for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to You for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to You for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to You for the joy of dawn’s awakening
Glory to You for the new life each day brings
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 3

It is the Holy Spirit who makes us find joy in each flower, the exquisite scent, the delicate colour, the beauty of the Most High in the tiniest of things. Glory and honour to the Spirit, the Giver of Life, who covers the fields with their carpet of flowers, crowns the harvest with gold, and gives to us the joy of gazing at it with our eyes. O be joyful and sing to Him: Alleluia!

Ikos 3

How glorious are You in the springtime, when every creature awakes to new life and joyfully sings Your praises with a thousand tongues. You are the Source of Life, the Destroyer of Death. By the light of the moon, nightingales sing, and the valleys and hills lie like wedding garments, white as snow. All the earth is Your promised bride awaiting her spotless husband. If the grass of the field is like this, how gloriously shall we be transfigured in the Second Coming after the Resurrection! How splendid our bodies, how spotless our souls!

Glory to You, bringing from the depth of the earth an endless variety of colours, tastes and scents
Glory to You for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature
Glory to You for the numberless creatures around us
Glory to You for the depths of Your wisdom, the whole world a living sign of it
Glory to You; on my knees, I kiss the traces of Your unseen hand
Glory to You, enlightening us with the clearness of eternal life
Glory to You for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 4

How filled with sweetness are those whose thoughts dwell on You; how life-giving Your holy Word. To speak with You is more soothing than anointing with oil; sweeter than the honeycomb. To pray to You lifts the spirit, refreshes the soul. Where You are not, there is only emptiness; hearts are smitten with sadness; nature, and life itself, become sorrowful; where You are, the soul is filled with abundance, and its song resounds like a torrent of life: Alleluia!

Ikos 4

When the sun is setting, when quietness falls like the peace of eternal sleep, and the silence of the spent day reigns, then in the splendour of its declining rays, filtering through the clouds, I see Your dwelling-place: fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of Your presence, and call to us in their majesty. We turn to the Father.

Glory to You at the hushed hour of nightfall
Glory to You, covering the earth with peace
Glory to You for the last ray of the sun as it sets
Glory to You for sleep’s repose that restores us
Glory to You for Your goodness even in the time of darkness
When all the world is hidden from our eyes
Glory to You for the prayers offered by a trembling soul
Glory to You for the pledge of our reawakening
On that glorious last day, that day which has no evening
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 5

The dark storm clouds of life bring no terror to those in whose hearts Your fire is burning brightly. Outside is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm, but in the heart, in the presence of Christ, there is light and peace, silence: Alleluia!

Ikos 5

I see Your heavens resplendent with stars. How glorious are You radiant with light! Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars. I am small, insignificant, but the Lord is at my side. Your right arm guides me wherever I go.

Glory to You, ceaselessly watching over me
Glory to You for the encounters You arrange for me
Glory to You for the love of parents, for the faithfulness of friends
Glory to You for the humbleness of the animals which serve me
Glory to You for the unforgettable moments of life
Glory to You for the heart’s innocent joy
Glory to You for the joy of living
Moving and being able to return Your love
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 6

How great and how close are You in the powerful track of the storm! How mighty Your right arm in the blinding flash of the lightning! How awesome Your majesty! The voice of the Lord fills the fields, it speaks in the rustling of the trees. The voice of the Lord is in the thunder and the downpour. The voice of the Lord is heard above the waters. Praise be to You in the roar of mountains ablaze. You shake the earth like a garment; You pile up to the sky the waves of the sea. Praise be to You, bringing low the pride of man. You bring from his heart a cry of penitence: Alleluia!

Ikos 6

When the lightning flash has lit up the camp dining hall, how feeble seems the light from the lamp. Thus do You, like the lightning, unexpectedly light up my heart with flashes of intense joy. After Your blinding light, how drab, how colourless, how illusory all else seems. My souls clings to You.

Glory to You, the highest peak of men’s dreaming
Glory to You for our unquenchable thirst for communion with God
Glory to You, making us dissatisfied with earthly things
Glory to You, turning on us Your healing rays
Glory to You, subduing the power of the spirits of darkness
And dooming to death every evil
Glory to You for the signs of Your presence
For the joy of hearing Your voice and living in Your love
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 7

In the wondrous blending of sounds it is Your call we hear; in the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers: You lead us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels. All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards You, and to make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia!

Ikos 7

The breath of Your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets and scientists. The power of Your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Your laws, who reveal the depths of Your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of You. How great are You in Your creation! How great are You in man!

Glory to You, showing Your unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe
Glory to You, for all nature is filled with Your laws
Glory to You for what You have revealed to us in Your mercy
Glory to You for what You have hidden from us in Your wisdom
Glory to You for the inventiveness of the human mind
Glory to You for the dignity of man’s labour
Glory to You for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 8

How near You are in the day of sickness. You Yourself visit the sick; You Yourself bend over the sufferer’s bed. His heart speaks to You. In the throes of sorrow and suffering You bring peace and unexpected consolation. You are the comforter. You are the love which watches over and heals us. To You we sing the song: Alleluia!

Ikos 8

When in childhood I called upon You consciously for the first time, You heard my prayer, and You filled my heart with the blessing of peace. At that moment I knew Your goodness and knew how blessed are those who turn to You. I started to call upon You night and day; and now even now I call upon Your name.

Glory to You, satisfying my desires with good things
Glory to You, watching over me day and night
Glory to You, curing affliction and emptiness with the healing flow of time
Glory to You, no loss is irreparable in You, Giver of eternal life to all
Glory to You, making immortal all that is lofty and good
Glory to You, promising us the longed-for meeting with our loved ones who have died
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 9

Why is it that on a Feast Day the whole of nature mysteriously smiles? Why is it that then a heavenly gladness fills our hearts; a gladness far beyond that of earth and the very air in church and in the altar becomes luminous? It is the breath of Your gracious love. It is the reflection of the glory of Mount Tabor. Then do heaven and earth sing Your praise: Alleluia!

Ikos 9

When You called me to serve my brothers and filled my soul with humility, one of Your deep, piercing rays shone into my heart; it became luminous, full of light like iron glowing in the furnace. I have seen Your face, face of mystery and of unapproachable glory.

Glory to You, transfiguring our lives with deeds of love
Glory to You, making wonderfully Sweet the keeping of Your commandments
Glory to You, making Yourself known where man shows mercy on his neighbour
Glory to You, sending us failure and misfortune that we may understand the sorrows of others
Glory to You, rewarding us so well for the good we do
Glory to You, welcoming the impulse of our heart’s love
Glory to You, raising to the heights of heaven every act of love in earth and sky
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 10

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but You can restore a conscience turned to ashes. You can restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With You there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. You are love; You are Creator and Redeemer. We praise You, singing: Alleluia!

Ikos 10

Remember, my God, the fall of Lucifer full of pride, keep me safe with the power of Your Grace; save me from falling away from You. Save me from doubt. Incline my heart to hear Your mysterious voice every moment of my life. Incline my heart to call upon You, present in everything.

Glory to You for every happening
Every condition Your providence has put me in
Glory to You for what You speak to me in my heart
Glory to You for what You reveal to me, asleep or awake
Glory to You for scattering our vain imaginations
Glory to You for raising us from the slough of our passions through suffering
Glory to You for curing our pride of heart by humiliation
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 11

Across the cold chains of the centuries, I feel the warmth of Your breath, I feel Your blood pulsing in my veins. Part of time has already gone, but now You are the present. I stand by Your Cross; I was the cause of it. I cast myself down in the dust before it. Here is the triumph of love, the victory of salvation. Here the centuries themselves cannot remain silent, singing Your praises: Alleluia!

Ikos 11

Blessed are they that will share in the King’s Banquet: but already on earth You give me a foretaste of this blessedness. How many times with Your own hand have You held out to me Your Body and Your Blood, and I, though a miserable sinner, have received this Mystery, and have tasted Your love, so ineffable, so heavenly.

Glory to You for the unquenchable fire of Your Grace
Glory to You, building Your Church, a haven of peace in a tortured world
Glory to You for the life-giving water of Baptism in which we find new birth
Glory to You, restoring to the penitent purity white as the lily
Glory to You for the cup of salvation and the bread of eternal joy
Glory to You for exalting us to the highest heaven
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 12

How often have I seen the reflection of Your glory in the faces of the dead. How resplendent they were, with beauty and heavenly joy. How ethereal, how translucent their faces. How triumphant over suffering and death, their felicity and peace. Even in the silence they were calling upon You. In the hour of my death, enlighten my soul, too, that it may cry out to You: Alleluia!

Ikos 12

What sort of praise can I give You? I have never heard the song of the Cherubim, a joy reserved for the spirits above. But I know the praises that nature sings to You. In winter, I have beheld how silently in the moonlight the whole earth offers You prayer, clad in its white mantle of snow, sparkling like diamonds. I have seen how the rising sun rejoices in You, how the song of the birds is a chorus of praise to You. I have heard the mysterious mutterings of the forests about You, and the winds singing Your praise as they stir the waters. I have understood how the choirs of stars proclaim Your glory as they move forever in the depths of infinite space. What is my poor worship! All nature obeys You, I do not. Yet while I live, I see Your love, I long to thank You, and call upon Your name.

Glory to You, giving us light
Glory to You, loving us with love so deep, divine and infinite
Glory to You, blessing us with light, and with the host of angels and saints
Glory to You, Father all-holy, promising us a share in Your Kingdom
Glory to You, Holy Spirit, life-giving Sun of the world to come
Glory to You for all things, Holy and most merciful Trinity
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 13

Life-giving and merciful Trinity, receive my thanksgiving for all Your goodness. Make us worthy of Your blessings, so that, when we have brought to fruit the talents You have entrusted to us, we may enter into the joy of our Lord, forever exulting in the shout of victory: Alleluia!

(repeat Kontakion 13 and Alleluia three times)

Ikos 1

I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Your angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Your love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Your providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give You thanks, with all who have come to know You, who call upon Your name.

Glory to You for calling me into being
Glory to You, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to You, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to You for Your eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to You for Your mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to You through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to You for every step of my life’s journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to You, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 1

Everlasting King, Your will for our salvation is full of power. Your right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give You thanks for all Your mercies, seen and unseen. For eternal life, for the heavenly Joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Your praise, both now and in the time to come. Glory to You, O God, from age to age.


Liturgical Texts for Thanksgiving

November 19, 2011

Texts that can be used for Thanksgiving


Vespers Service for Thanksgiving

Matins Service for Thanksgiving

Divine Liturgy Prayers for Thanksgiving

From the Vespers service for Thanksgiving:

Come, ye thankful people,* and let us raise a hymn of grateful praise to God,’ our Benefactor and Creator,’ the bounteous source of all our blessings,’ the riches of our earthly life,’ and the glory of the world to come,’ for in His great mercy and love for us His children,’ He has granted us salvation.

Come, ‘ye thankful people,’ and let us praise the Father,’ who in His goodness’ created heaven and earth,’ and all that is in them,’ endowing us His creatures,’ with reason to worship Him,’ who in His great mercy and love for us His children.* has granted us salvation.

Come, ye thankful people,’ and let us praise the only-begotten Son,’ who for our sakes did clothe Himself in mortal nature,’ deigning to suffer and die for us,’ trampling down death and raising us with Himself,’ who in His great mercy and love for us His children,’ has granted us salvation.

Come, ye thankful people,’ and let us praise the Holy Spirit,’ who descended upon the Apostles,’ making them fishers of men,’ through whom the earth has received,’ the knowledge of the Holy Trinity,’ who in His great’ mercy and love for us His children,’ has granted us salvation.


Vatican: Ban on Ordaining Eastern Married Clergy in Western Lands is Not Dead

November 17, 2011

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Eastern Congregation, greets Archbishop Cyril Vasil, the Secretary of that Congregation, at the Abp's episcopal ordination in 2009.

Catholic News Service is now reporting that the Vatican’s ban on Eastern Catholic Churches ordaining married men to the priesthood in areas outside their traditional homelands was “reconfirmed” in 2008. In an article published Nov. 16, 2011, reporting on recent statements by an American Melkite Catholic Bishop on married clergy, Catholic News Service quoted the current Secretary of the Eastern Congregation (a department of the Roman Curia):

Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, told CNS [Catholic News Service] in Rome that the Vatican reconfirmed the general ban in 2008, “but in individual cases, in consultation with the national bishops’ conference, a dispensation can be given” allowing the ordination.

This confirms a 2010 report by the Italian news service Adista:

On 20 February 2008, the regular meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the validity of the norm of a binding obligation of celibacy for priests of Eastern Catholic Churches who exercise the ministry outside the canonical territory. The pope, however, has given the Congregation for the Eastern Churches the authority to give a dispensation from this norm, with the approval of the Episcopal Conference in question. (Text here, translated from Italian.)

Based on this latest statement from Rome published by Catholic News Service, it appears that the occasional ordinations of married men to the priesthood by some Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA and Canada (by Ukrainian, Romanian and Ruthenian Catholic Bishops) were authorized by “individual” papal dispensations, granted through the Eastern Congregation. Prior to this, it was thought that only the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh had to get such dispensations as they were required to insert a canon requiring papal dispensations for ordaining married men  in their 1999 Particular Law. An earlier 2003 statement from a representative of the Eastern Congregation, published in America Magazine, similarly reconfirmed the Ban but did not specifically mention the dispensations.

It is also not known what the criteria would be that might result in a negative reply to a dispensation request. Some have speculated that one reason for the dispensations is to discourage married men from transferring from the Latin Rite who might also eventually seek ordination.

As Archbishop Cyril Vasil explained, these dispensations are given by the Eastern Congregation “in consultation with the [Latin Rite's] national bishops’ conference.” In some countries (such as Canada and the USA), the national bishops’ conferences apparently do not object. The publication Program of Priestly Formation, published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, explains how this works in the USA:

An applicant for the priesthood must testify that he is not married or, if he is married, he has the approval of the Holy See. If an Eastern Catholic candidate is married, a certificate of marriage is required along with the written consent of his wife (CCEO, c. 769§1, 2°) and the approval of the Apostolic See…” (Program of Priestly Formation, 5th edition, 2006, paragraph 66)

However, the situation is different in other countries. For example, in Italy, the Italian Episcopal Conference has vetoed allowing married Eastern Catholic priests from serving in Romanian Catholic parishes there. The bottom line seems to be how the Latin Rite bishops’ conference in each country feels about the issue. It is believed that currently the only Western countries where Eastern Catholic Bishops are permitted to ordain married men to the priesthood with these dispensations from the Eastern Congregation are the USA, Canada and Australia.

This latest Catholic News Service report also noted that some Eastern Catholic bishops dispute the Ban:

Eastern Catholic bishops say the Second Vatican Council’s call to respect the traditions and disciplines of the Eastern churches, and the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches affirmation of that call, in effect nullifies the ban, or at the very least makes the ban a “disputed question” and therefore not binding.

Cardinal Antonios Naguib has asked Pope Benedict XVI to remove the canonical ban forbidding Coptic Catholics from ordaining married priests in Western lands

However, Coptic Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib acknowledged the canonical restriction in a 2011 interview:

“We are one in the faith, one in the highest authority, the Holy Father,” Cardinal Naguib explained. As with other Eastern Rite churches, the Coptic Catholic Church has a different historical, spiritual and patristic heritage than the Latin Rite that leads to some differences in church tradition and law, Cardinal Naguib explained, including married priests. But canon law only allows married priests to serve in Egypt, and the priests serving the diaspora around the world must be celibate, he said.

The Coptic Catholic Church has appealed to Rome to lift that rule….

This echoed a request listed in the Final List of Propositions sent to Pope Benedict XVI from the Synod of Catholic Bishops for the Middle East (dated 23 October 2010) and published by the Holy See Press Office:

Propositio 23
Married Priests

Clerical celibacy has always and everywhere been respected and valued in the Catholic Churches, in the East as in the West. Nonetheless, with a view to the pastoral service of our faithful, wherever they are to be found, and to respect the traditions of the Eastern Churches, it would be desirable to study the possibility of having married priests outside the patriarchal territory.

While the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (the Eastern Catholic canon law) honors the Eastern tradition of a married clergy:

[T]he hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor. Canon 373

Canon 758 §3 refers to “special norms” established by the “Apostolic See” (the Pope) for ordaining married men — a reference to the Ban:

The particular law of each Church sui iuris or special norms established by the Apostolic See are to be followed in admitting married men to sacred orders.

It is not known why the Coptic Catholic Church has not sought dispensations from Rome to ordain married men in the USA. This might be because they do not have their own hierarchy in the USA and their faithful are under the authority of the local Latin Rite Bishop.

Also this week, Italian news editor Sandro Magister wrote about tensions in the Catholic Church over married priests in an article entitled Married and Ordained: The Minor Leagues of the Catholic Clergy. In it, Magister noted comments made by Pope Benedict XVI at a general conference on November 9, 2011 about priestly celibacy. Commenting on Psalm 119, the Pope said:

Well, the Levites, mediators of the sacred and of the divine blessing, unlike the other Israelites could not own possessions, this external sign of blessing and source of subsistence. Totally dedicated to the Lord, they had to live on him alone, reliant on his provident love and on the generosity of their brethren without any other inheritance since God was their portion, God was the land that enabled them to live to the full….

Dear brothers and sisters, these verses are also of great importance for all of us. First of all for priests, who are called to live on the Lord and his word alone with no other means of security, with him as their one possession and as their only source of true life. In this light one understands the free choice of celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven in order to rediscover it in its beauty and power.

Magister observes:

If celibate priests have a theological foundation for their free choice, recalled so insistently by the pope, a theological foundation of equal power is nowhere in sight for the married priesthood, although its full validity and dignity have been recognized by Vatican Council II and by the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated in 1990.

This is the unresolved contradiction….

But pope Ratzinger has not yet produced an analogous teaching that would also provide a theological foundation for the other form of priesthood present with equal dignity in the Church: that of those who, before being ordained, have been united with their wives in a marriage that is itself a sacramental sign of the marriage between Christ and the Church, of which the priesthood is also a figure.

Magister also mentions the move by some Catholics to make mandatory priestly celibacy an “apostolic doctrine” by citing a “new historical reconstruction”  by writers such as Christian Cochini and Alfons M. Stickler.

The impact of such a development as this on Catholic theology would negatively effect the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck, Orthodox author of the book His Broken Body, comments:

…If this position becomes dominant in Roman Catholic circles, the effect on Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation cannot be ignored.

Fr. Cleenewerck then quotes Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos, of blessed memory, on the importance of this issue:

Very recently, there are disturbing signs of a new effort in Rome itself to claim that sacerdotal celibacy is “an apostolic tradition,” and to suggest that the married priests of the Eastern Churches are not fully canonical. This seems to have begun with the book of Christian Cochini, Origines apostoliques du célibat sacerdotal and to have continued with special reference to the Eastern Churches in a tendentious book of Roman Cholij. The latter book carries a ringing endorsement from Alfons Cardinal Stickler, Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church. From such one-sided works, the attempt to present sacerdotal celibacy as an apostolic tradition then began to appear in Vatican documents, such as Pope John Paul II’s Pastores Dabo Vobis of 25 March 1992 and the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests issued January 1993 by the Vatican Congregation of the Clergy, which actually asserts that “the Church, from apostolic times, has wished to conserve the gift of perpetual continence of the clergy and choose the candidates for Holy Orders from among the celibate faithful.” If this attempt succeeds – and may God not permit it – it would have the gravest consequence for the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

For further reading:

Can East & West Coexist With Married Priests?

Italian Catholic Episcopal Conference Vetoes Married Priests

Clerical Celibacy: A Matter of Ecclesiastical Discipline or Apostolic Doctrine?

A Critical Consideration of The Case for Clerical Celibacy

The Orthodox Churches and Priestly Celibacy from the Vatican website

The Contribution of the Eastern Catholic tradition to the issue of Clerical Celibacy in the wider Roman Catholic Church

Fr. Touze and Roman Miopia

Romance Blooms in a Catholic Seminary for Fr. Roman


St John Chrysostom Video

November 13, 2011

Because today is the feast of St John Chrysostom — a short video about his life and impact on the Church:


Florovsky on St. Ignatius of Antioch

November 11, 2011

Fr Georges Florovsky (1893-1979), a prominent Orthodox theologian, also taught at Harvard and Princeton

From the chapter, “The Earliest Christian Writers” in The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth Century by Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky:

The commonly accepted seven letters of St. Ignatius in their shorter form are exceedingly important documents in the history of Christian theology. They were written before 107, the commonly accepted time of his martyrdom in Rome. His letters are therefore an undisputed witness to the faith of the early Church. Those who find the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils difficult to accept will encounter difficulty with the thought of St. Ignatius. Again, it must be noted that these are not theological treatises but rather letters written by St. Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, on his way to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts. They are in a very real sense existential letters written by one about to die, existential letters, which just happen to touch on theological subjects as well as moral ones. Indeed, it was the so-called “developed doctrine” contained in St. Ignatius’ letters, which caused some Protestant theologians to question their authenticity until Lightfoot and Harnack established the authenticity of the seven epistles. It was especially the 1885 edition by Lightfoot, which established permanently the authenticity of the seven letters in their Greek shorter versions.

In his Letter to the Ephesians (7), St. Ignatius writes, “There is only one physician — of flesh yet spiritual, born yet uncreated God become man, true life in death, sprung from both Mary and from God first subject to suffering and then incapable of it — Jesus Christ our Lord.” He is God Incarnate. In the same letter, he writes (18-20): “For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary, in God’s plan being sprung forth from both the seed of David and from the Holy Spirit. He was born and baptized that by His Passion he might sanctify water for God was revealing himself as a man to bring newness of eternal life. What God had prepared was now beginning. Therefore, everything was in confusion because the destruction of death was being executed.” “The New Man Jesus Christ is Son of man and Son of God.” In his Letter to the Romans he writes that Jesus Christ is the “only Son of the Father” and he is the Father’s thought — γνώμη.

In his Letter to the Magnesians, St. Ignatius writes of the co-eternality of Jesus Christ (6): “…Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from all eternity and in these last days has been made manifest.” The union of the Father and Son is explicitly stated (1): “I desire that they confess the union of Jesus with the Father.” “The Lord was completely one with the Father and never acted independently of him” (7). “Make speed, all of you, to one temple of God, to one altar, to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from the one and only Father, is eternally with that One, and to that One is now returned” (7). “God is one he has revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ, who is his Logos issuing from the silence” (8).

In his Letter to the Trallians, he poignantly describes the reality of the humanity of Jesus: “Be deaf, then, to any talk that ignores Jesus Christ, of David’s lineage, of Mary, he was truly — άληθΰς- — born, ate, and drank. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate. He was truly crucified and died in the sight of heaven and earth and of the powers of the nether world. He was truly raised from the dead, the Father having raised him, who in like manner will raise us also who believe in him — his Father, I say, will raise us in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have no true life” (9).

He writes more forcefully in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, “I extol Jesus Christ, the God who has granted you such wisdom… Regarding our Lord, you are absolutely convinced that on the human side he was actually sprung from David’s line, Son of God according to God’s will and power, actually born of a virgin, baptized by John and actually crucified for us in the flesh, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the Tetrarch. We are part of his fruit, which grew out of his most blessed Passion. And thus, by his resurrection, he raised a standard to rally his saints and faithful forever, whether Jews or Gentiles, in one body of his Church. He truly suffered, just as he truly raised himself. It is not as some unbelievers say, that his Passion was a sham. Those are they, who are a sham! For myself, I am convinced and believe that even after the resurrection he was in the flesh. Indeed, when he came to Peter and his friends, he said to them, Take hold of me, touch me and see that I am not a bodiless phantom.’ And they at once touched him and were convinced, clutching his body and his very breath. For this reason, they despised death itself, and proved its victors. Moreover, after the resurrection he ate and drank with them as a real human being, though even then he and the Father were spiritually — πνευματικώς — one.” In this same letter he writes that Jesus Christ is Perfect Man — τέλειος.

In his Letter to Polycarp, St. Ignatius writes, “You must not be panic-stricken by those who have an air of credibility but who teach heresy. Stand your ground like an anvil under the hammer.” He refers to Jesus Christ as the “Timeless, the Unseen, the One who became visible for our sakes, who was beyond touch and passion, yet who for our sakes became subject to suffering, and endured everything for us” (3). These are indeed a collection of powerful and explicit statements on the reality of the full humanity and the full Divinity of Jesus Christ. It is, as it was, a preamble to Chalcedon already at the turn of the first century. It is not an exaggeration to claim that his expressions foreshadow the later doctrine of άντίδοσις των ιδιωμάτων.

Such are some of St. Ignatius’ explicit comments on Christology. If one looks carefully at what he writes about the Eucharist, the hierarchy of the Church, the unity of the Church and the Church’s unity with the unity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, a deeper and even more vital Christology obtains. Everything, for example, that he writes about the Eucharist becomes meaningless without his belief in the Divinity of Christ. The Church is the “place of sacrifice” — θυσιαστήριοι — and the Eucharist is θυσία. He writes in his Letter to the Ephesians (19-20): “Meet together in common — every single one of you — in grace, in one faith and on Jesus Christ (who was of David’s line in his human nature, son of man and son of God) that you may obey the bishop and presbytery with undistracted mind; breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, our antidote to ensure that we shall not die but live in Jesus Christ forever.” In his Letter to the Philadelphians (3) he writes, “Take great care to keep one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup to unite us by his blood; one sanctuary, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons.” And in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, he writes (8), “All of you follow the bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father and the presbytery as the Apostles. Respect the deacons as the ordinance of God. Let no one do anything that pertains to the Church apart from the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist, which is under the bishop or one whom he has delegated. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, just as wherever Christ Jesus may be, there is the Catholic Church.”

This is the first written use, which has come down to us of the term “Catholic” Church. The word “catholic” means in Greek “universal” but the conception of catholicity cannot be measured by its world-wide expansion — “universality” does not express the Greek meaning exactly. Καθολική comes from καθ’ ολου, which first of all means the inner wholeness, not only of communion and in any case not of a simple empirical communion. Καθ’ ολου is not the same as κατά παντός. It belongs not to the phenomenal and empirical, but to the nominal and ontological plane. It describes the very essence and not the external manifestations. If “catholic” also means “universal,” it certainly is not an empirical universality but rather an ideal one: the communion of ideas, not of facts, is what is meant. St. Ignatius’ use of the word is precisely this. This word gives prominence to the orthodoxy of the Church, to the truth of the Church in contrast with the spirit of sectarian separatism and particularism. He is expressing the idea of integrity and purity.

Grillmeier correctly observes that St. Ignatius foreshadows the later definitions of the Ecumenical Councils. Grillmeier writes that from “Christ’s Godhead and manhood there arises the antithetic, two-member formula, so well loved in the later history of the dogma of Christ,” which emphasizes the distinction between the Divine and human nature in the one Lord. σαρκικός και πνευματικός; γεννητός και άγγένητος; εν άνθρωπω θeoς; εν θανάτω ζωή αληθινή; και εκ Μαρίας και εκ θeov; πρώτον παθητός και ποτε απαθής εστίν Ίησοΰς Χριστός ό Κύριος ημών.

Martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch — fresco detail from a church in North Africa

There is a tendency among some scholars to assume that if something is not mentioned in a text, the author had no knowledge of it. This is a fundamentally erroneous presupposition and hence an erroneous methodology. The assumption of this methodological approach or perspective misses the prime reality — a living Church was already in existence since Pentecost and that living Church knew the deposit about, which they preached, knew the tradition, which they had received and continued to impart in their missionary activity. Again, the statement by Karl Adam is significant: “Even if the Bible [the New Testament] did not exist, a Christian religious movement would be conceivable.” Indeed, not only conceivable but it actually existed without the New Testament as we know it for decades. And during that time, the Apostolic and Sub-Apostolic Church flourished with and in the fullness of faith. St. Ignatius is an excellent example of this precisely because his seven occasional letters were written so early and especially because of what he has to say about the “documents,” “the archives.” In his Letter to the Philadelphians, St. Ignatius writes (8): “When I heard some people saying, ‘If I do not find it in the original documents, I do not believe it.’” Here, the essence of the dispute was that the Old Testament, the Bible for the early Christians in its Greek Septuagint version, was the reference point of validity. The New Testament is not the criterion, precisely because it was still in process in the days of the early Church and it was certainly not used as a canonical authority in the earlier days of the life of St. Ignatius. It is the reality of the living Church, which gives rise to the New Testament and it is the Church, which determines the “canon” of the New Testament — there were numerous writings circulating, which claimed apostolic authorship and it was the Church, which determined, which of those were authentic. St. Ignatius then makes a statement, which confirms how the early Church understood its reality, its faith, its tradition, its authority: “To my mind it is Jesus Christ who is the original documents. The inviolable archives are his Cross and Death and his Resurrection and the faith that came by him.” St. Ignatius needs no written “documents,” needs no written “archives.” The historical, existential, and ontological reality of the God-Man Jesus Christ and his redemptive work is the truth of the faith — he is oral “document” of the living God. He knows of this through the tradition, through that which was delivered, through the deposit, which was preserved and handed down in its original purity of content and fullness.

It is historically interesting to take even a casual look at St. Ignatius’ occasional, ad hoc, non-systematic, hastily written letters, for in these seven brief letters St. Ignatius just happens to touch on many of the basic principles of the faith of the living Church, a faith not recorded in a “document” but a faith that has been preserved and delivered faithfully from Christ to the Apostles to the episcopate. The main purpose of all seven letters is two-fold: it is to urge unity and also to convince the churches to which he writes not to interfere with his desire for martyrdom, his desire to “imitate the Passion of Christ God.” And yet we find in these brief pages a rather broad Christian theology in skeletal form. The reality of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is mentioned (in “Son, Father, and Spirit;” “to Christ, to the Father, and to the Spirit;” the Spirit “comes from God;” “the most High Father and Jesus Christ, his only Son”). He has no hesitation to speak of grace and deeds, of a justification by grace and one of deeds, implying an existential understanding of the synergistic relationship between grace and spiritual freedom, between grace and “works.” And from the totality of his seven brief letters, it is clear that everything is a gift from God. It is also clear that man participates in this gift, in his salvation. St. Ignatius also has no hesitation in speaking about predestination, election, and freedom. They all cohere for him in one theological vision. For him there is no tension between predestination and freedom. This is not a result of his inability to see a potential theological problem. Rather it is natural, instinctive, intuitive, and apostolic understanding of the vision of salvation, a salvation which comes from God and in which man participates, a salvation which is a gift but one, which must be received.

St. Ignatius speaks equally of the spiritual nature and the external structure of the Church — the bishops, presbytery, deacons (the “bishops reflect the mind of Jesus Christ;” the Church has a unique “intimacy” with Jesus Christ, as Jesus Christ has with the Father; the Church is “a choir, so that in perfect harmony and with a pitch taken from God,” it “may sing in unison and with one voice to the Father through Jesus Christ”). Jesus Christ is our inseparable life — το αδιάκριτον ημών ζήν, without whom we have no true life — το αληθινόν ζήν ουκ εχομεν.

St. Ignatius’ stress on the “imitation of Christ” is a theme that will be repeated often in the history of Christian spirituality. His specific idea of the “imitation of the Passion of Jesus Christ” is expressed in vivid, fervid terms (“Let me be fodder for wild beasts — that is how I can attain to God. I am God’s wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ;” “Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil — only let me get to Jesus Christ!”). This has struck many as an exaggerated form of spirituality, as one of arrogance. Yet St. Ignatius is quite humble in this respect. For him the process of salvation is dynamic and he in no sense sees his desire as a superior spirituality (“I am only beginning to be a disciple;” — “I am going through the pangs of being born Do not stand in the way of my coming to life”).

He is ever conscious of the importance, the necessity of a spiritual solidarity among Christians (“I needed your coaching in faith, encouragement.” — “Do not try to convince yourselves that anything done on your own is commendable. Only what you do together is right. Hence, you must have one prayer, one petition, one mind, one hope, dominated by love and unsullied joy — that means you must have Jesus Christ!”). He knows the pain he is to face, yet he is ever mentioning the God-given joy and the overflowing mercy of God. He is on guard against pride and boasting: “I keep my limits, lest boasting should be my undoing. For what I need most at this point is to be on my guard and not to heed flatterers. Those are my scourge.” He is fully aware that his desire is an “impetuous ambition” and this causes “all the more a struggle” within him. He exclaims that what he needs is “gentleness.” For those who think his desire is extreme, it must be admitted that his attitude towards it is spiritually balanced: “I endure all things because he gives me the power who is Perfect Man.”

The relics of St. Ignatius of Antioch were transferred to the church of St Clement in Rome in 637 AD

St. Ignatius stresses that we must “not only be called Christians but we must be Christians.” For him the Christian life was Christocentric, for through the God-Man all things come from the Father and return to the Father. The Christocentric emphasis of the Christian life is a constant motif in his letters — the constant mention of “the blood of Christ;” “love” as a hymn to Jesus Christ; the “mind of Christ” is “the Father’s mind;” “Jesus Christ is God’s knowledge;” the “Name” of Jesus is sacred; the Cross, the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection of Christ are the foundations of our “Hope,” creating, through the Incarnation, the path to our redemption; “if we live in union with him now, we shall gain eternal life,” we shall rise with him. Through “initiation” into the mysteries [sacraments], through faith, love, continual prayer, and fasting, we can have Christ “within us.” And, through union with Christ, “in faith and love in the Son and Father and Spirit” we shall have “increasing insight” and we shall rise with him, for true freedom is only in union with the Risen Christ.

St. Ignatius highlights a basic theology of worship and sacramental, liturgical life. The Eucharist is for him “the medicine of immortality.” He has, as is apparent, a developed theology of the unity of the Church. Conversely, he has a theological attitude towards heresy: “He who fails to join in your worship shows his arrogance by the very fact of becoming a schismatic… If then, those who act carnally suffer death, how much more shall those who by wicked teaching corrupt God’s faith for which Jesus Christ was crucified. Such a vile creature will go to the unquenchable fire along with anyone who listens to him.”

A theology of faith and love weaves its way through his letters: “Your faith is what lifts you up; while love is the way you ascend to God Faith is the beginning, and love is the end.” The dynamism in the process of salvation is constantly emphasized: “For what matters is not a momentary act of professing, but being persistently motivated by faith.”

St. Ignatius has an interesting theological insight into the spiritual importance of silence: “It is better to keep quiet and be real than to chatter and be unreal… He who has really grasped what Jesus said can appreciate his silence. Thus, he will be perfect: his words will mean action and his very silence will reveal his character.”

The great exclamatory Easter hymn in the Byzantine liturgy Χριστός ανέστη εκ νεκρων, θανάτω θάνατον πάτησας — is adumbrated by St. Ignatius: Christ’s death is described as “the destruction of death.” This realism carries over to the sanctification of the material world in the theology of St. Ignatius: Christ’s baptism “sanctifies water” and the pouring of ointment on the Lord’s head passes on “the aroma of incorruption to the Church.”

The deepest parts of the interior life of a person are not neglected in his thought: “all secrets are known and will be revealed.” But repentance and forgiveness by the overflowing mercy of the grace of God are not neglected either: “The Lord forgives all who repent.”

It is clear that the Church already at the time of St. Ignatius believed that marriage must be approved and blessed by the Church: “it is right for men and women who marry to be united with the bishop’s approval.” Already there is implicit here the sacramental nature of marriage.

Simultaneous with his theology of the active Christian spiritual life of continual prayer, humility, love, faith, constant participation in the sacramental life of the Church, simultaneous with his theology of the “imitation of the Passion of Christ God” is a theology of the “social gospel.” He places great stress on concern and care for widows, orphans, the oppressed, those in prison, those released from prison who are in need of help and guidance, those who are hungry and thirsty. His social concern extends to slaves who must not be treated “contemptuously.” He even emphasizes the spiritual importance of “taking an interest in those to whom you talk.”

This sketch of some of the subjects St. Ignatius just happens to address in his seven occasional letters reveals that he certainly had a grasp of the fullness of the Christian life and faith. The early date of these letters and their spontaneous, occasional nature cannot be overstressed. They are vital “documents” of a faith that was not rooted in “documents” or “archives” but rather rooted in the delivered tradition about the living person of Jesus Christ, divine and human, yet One Lord and One Eternally with the Father. It is not an exaggeration to point out that the definition of the Council of Chalcedon can is foreshadowed in general idea in the brief, occasional letters of St. Ignatius, letters, which predate 107.

Source

Resources on St. Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch (Wikipedia)

Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch (Lake translation — parallel Greek/English)

Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch (Lightfoot/Harmer translation)

Audio recordings of the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch (Lightfoot translation)

St Ignatius of Antioch — audio lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald

Ignatius of Antioch’s View of the Trinity

The Eucharist in the Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch


Melkite Catholic Church to Ordain Married Men to Priesthood in USA — Updated Report

November 5, 2011

Bishop Nicholas Samra was enthroned as Bishop for Melkite Catholics in the USA in August, 2011

Updated November 22, 2011

At his recent enthronement as the Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop in the USA, Bishop Nicholas Samra stated that the Melkite Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church in union with the Pope of Rome) will begin ordaining married men to the priesthood in the USA. While some American Melkite Catholic parishes currently have married priests, nearly all of these married priests were ordained in the Middle East where the Eastern tradition of a married clergy is normative. Instead of ordaining these married men overseas, the plan is now to develop seminary training of qualified Melkite men — both celibate and married — in America.

Bishop Nicholas Samra, Bishop of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts made the comment in a dinner speech following his enthronement on August 23, 2011. The Bishop’s speech, newly published in the Melkite journal Sophia, contains the first published public statements by the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (or of any Eastern Catholic Bishop in the USA) of their intention to ordain married men to the priesthood for the American Melkite Church.

Bishop Nicholas, the first American-born Bishop to serve the Melkite Church in the USA, noted that “we are on a shoe-string of clergy to serve our Church as priests.” At present, the American Melkite Eparchy, with 35 parishes and approximately 27,000 members  has only “one priest to be ordained next year.” Worldwide, Melkite Catholics number about 1.6 million and are part of the Melkite Partriarchate of Antioch. The Melkite Catholic Church shares similar traditions with the Antiochian Orthodox Church, but entered communion with Rome in 1729.

Encouraging vocations among his American flock is one of Bishop Nicholas’ goals:

We are grateful for our ancestors — priests and laity and bishops who came from the Middle East and brought us to where we are presently. But now we have come of age and we need priests from among our people in this American Melkite Catholic Church.

Bishops at the Enthronement of Melkite Bishop Nicholas Samra in Newton, Massachusetts

Towards the end of his speech, Bishop Nicholas spoke of the need to both study and implement the training of married men to the priesthood in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church so that “hopefully soon we can see the growth of properly formed married clergy”:

God calls men and women to religious vocations. And I believe he also calls married men to the priesthood. We need to study this situation in our country and develop the proper formation for men who are truly deemed worthy of this call. The Deacon Formation Program is a good program; however is not the backdoor to the priesthood. Married men who are called to priesthood need the same formation as those celibates who are called. I have already discussed this issue with those involved in priestly formation and hopefully soon we can see the growth of properly formed married clergy. Of course there are also major financial issues to be looked at and we will embark on this also.

I began my talk with vocations and I end with it also. We need priests for your sanctification and the mysteries of the Church. Seminary formation is a must — please send us vocations. The Church is in our hands, mine and yours. Together we build His Body. [(Sophia, Summer 2011, pp. 8-9; issue released October 2011)]

The Sophia article did not discuss the history of earlier restrictions on the ordaining of married men to the priesthood in America. Bans on ordaining married men to the priesthood for Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA were imposed by Rome in the last century, but enforcement of the Ban has waned in the past fifteen years causing many Catholics, both Eastern and Latin Rite, to wonder if the Ban was still in effect. Earlier, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Melkite Church ordained five married men for service in America as priests but the ordinations were ruled illicit by Rome and their priestly faculties were suspended. However, a 1996 ordination of a married Melkite deacon to the priesthood was noted by the press but was considered “hardly a trend” with no recorded public reaction by Rome. At the time, the 1996 ordination was seen by some as “testing the waters,” but there was no push by the previous American Melkite Bishops to encourage married men to enter seminary. Nonetheless, the Melkite Catholic Church has long felt that their right to have a married clergy is an important part of their canonical tradition. Since 1996, a few married men were ordained as priests for the American Melkite Church, but not by Bishop Nicolas Samra’s predecessors. Instead, these ordinations took place back in the Middle East in the home territory of the Melkite Church where the Ban does not apply and the newly ordained priests returned to America to serve Melkite parishes.

However, this latest move by the Melkite Catholic Church in the USA should not be interpreted as a revolt against Rome. In a subsequent news report based on this story, Catholic News Service confirmed that even though the Ban is still in effect, dispensations from it are made available. The CNS news correspondent in Rome contacted the Eastern Congregation in Rome and received this explanation:

Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, told CNS [Catholic News Service] in Rome that the Vatican reconfirmed the general ban in 2008, “but in individual cases, in consultation with the national bishops’ conference, a dispensation can be given” allowing the ordination.

Based on this latest statement from Rome published by Catholic News Service, it appears that the occasional ordinations of married men to the priesthood by some Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA and Canada (by Ukrainian, Romanian and Ruthenian Catholic Bishops) were authorized by “individual” papal dispensations, granted through the Eastern Congregation. Prior to this, it was thought that only the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh had to get such dispensations as they were required to insert a canon requiring papal dispensations for ordaining married men  in their 1999 Particular Law. An earlier 2003 statement from a representative of the Eastern Congregation, published in America Magazine, similarly reconfirmed the Ban but did not specifically mention the dispensations.

It is also not known what the criteria would be that might result in a negative reply to a dispensation request. Some have speculated that one reason for the dispensations is to discourage married men from transferring from the Latin Rite who might also eventually seek ordination.

As Archbishop Cyril Vasil explained, these dispensations are given by the Eastern Congregation “in consultation with the [Latin Rite's] national bishops’ conference.” In some countries (such as Canada and the USA), the national bishops’ conferences apparently do not object. The publication Program of Priestly Formation, published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, explains how this works in the USA:

An applicant for the priesthood must testify that he is not married or, if he is married, he has the approval of the Holy See. If an Eastern Catholic candidate is married, a certificate of marriage is required along with the written consent of his wife (CCEO, c. 769§1, 2°) and the approval of the Apostolic See…” (Program of Priestly Formation, 5th edition, 2006, paragraph 66)

Presumably, the Melkite Church will be following this procedure when married men are ordained to the priesthood in the future.

The situation is not the same in other Western countries. For example, in Italy, the Italian Episcopal Conference has vetoed allowing married Eastern Catholic priests from serving in Romanian Catholic parishes there. The bottom line seems to be how the Latin Rite bishops’ conference in each country feels about the issue. For further on these most recent developments, see the article : Vatican: Ban on Ordaining Eastern Married Clergy in Western Lands is Not Dead.

Bishop Nicholas’ public call for married men to be included in the call for priestly vocations for American Melkite Catholics is a first and is likely to signal greater acceptance of married clergy for Eastern Catholics in the USA. Greater acceptance of married Eastern Catholic clergy by Rome in Western lands may also now be occurring. Will it lead to a full repeal of the Ban on the ordaining of married men in Eastern Catholic Churches outside their traditional territories? Only time will tell.

For further reading:

Can East & West Coexist With Married Priests?

Italian Catholic Episcopal Conference Vetoes Married Priests

A Critical Consideration of The Case for Clerical Celibacy

Monogamy, Celibacy, and Fatherhood: Meditations on Catholic Priesthood

Fr. Touze and Roman Miopia

Romance Blooms in a Catholic Seminary for Fr. Roman


Another Look at the “Union Council” of Lyons

November 2, 2011

The Second Council of Lyons (1272-1274) failed to bring about union between East and West.

Recently, I came across an older article by Dr. Aristeides Papadakis entitled Ecumenism in the Thirteenth Century: The Byzantine Case, discussing the events surrounding the Second Council of Lyons — one of the failed union councils attempting to reconcile the Eastern and Western Churches held in 1272-1274. Dr. Papadakis, the author of two excellent studies of the period, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy and Crisis in Byzantium, succinctly explains how and why this so-called “union council” failed.

Dr. Papadakis discusses a letter from Patriarch Joseph 1 of Constantinople to the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII, in which the Emperor was counseled:

All the same, peace between the churches could never be achieved unless the theological issues that had caused the division … were first discussed in a fully representative assembly of the Church. Specifically, [the Byzantine Emperor] could not be a party to a settlement, [Patriarch Joseph 1] adds, that did not first air out these difficulties in a free dialogue in the presence of all the churches.

After demonstrating how this “free dialogue in the presence of all the churches” did not occur at the Council, Dr. Papadakis concludes:

Union could not possibly be restricted to the protocol items — what was needed was a discussion of the substantive issues. I suspect, moreover, that the hostility and forced latinization of the thirteenth century created a religious landscape in which ecumenism could hardly prosper. More important, the two radically different ecclesiologies, spiritually and theologically so different, made union almost impossible.

I was given permission to share this article by Dr. Papadakis and it can be downloaded in PDF format here. I believe many from both Churches — Catholics and Orthodox — would consider the article an interesting read.

Of course, we’ve come a long way in the ecumenical dialogue from those days and hopefully the lessons we’ve learned from the failure of the Council of Lyons will ensure that any future possible union is solidly based from the result of “free dialogue in the presence of all the churches” that tackles the substantive issues, particularly their differing ecclesiologies, which divide East and West.


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