- BY V. REV. ARCHDEACON JOHN DEMEIS

QUESTION: What is the history of the Maltese cross?

The Maltese cross was the emblem of the Knights of Malta whose headquarters moved to Rome after they were expelled from Malta in 1798. When Knights beseiged city walls in the Crusades, the enemy would hurl incendiary devices (glass containers filled with naphtha) at them. Many were burned alive and others risked their lives to save them. Modern firefighters have adopted a form of the Maltese Cross as their badge in honor of these medieval firefighters. Note: Many American firemen (firefighters) are unaware of this historical event..

QUESTION: What do the bells signify on the censer as used by the priest and deacon during the Liturgy?

There are twelve bells on thc censer which represent the twelve Apostles, nine on the external chains and three on the central chain. His Grace Archbishop Joseph (Raya) says "The censers in which we burn incense generally have twelve bells on the chains. The bells represent the original twelve Apostles, singing and rejoicing the presence of the Lord. One of the bells is a 'dumb bell' that does not ring; it represents Judas Iscariot.

QUESTION: I recently joined a Bible study group. No one seems to know when the Bible books were put into chapter and verse.

The chapter and verse subdivisions of the Bible, the descriptive headings of chapters and the presence of italics, or sloping letters, in the text, did not exist in the original. The division into chapters, which was for greater ease of reading and quotations, was made in the thireenth century by Cardinal Hugo and Archbishop Langton. At a later period, probably 1551, one Robert Stephens made the division into verses. This was long befoe the Reformation, hence, they were Catholic clergy scholars.


QUESTION: I read somewhere of a Religious "Double Crown". Is this a form of the Papal Tiara?

No, the Pope's tiara is a triple crown. Its origin is uncertain and its significance varied, e. g., a symbol of the Church Militant, Suffering and Triumphant, the Pope's office of "Pope of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West, Bishop of Rome. Note: Our present Holy Father does not use the tiara.

What you might have read is the "Jewish Double Crown", a large crown surmounted by a smaller crown. Jewish tradition has it when God was about to give the Torah to the Jewish people, He offered it first to all the nations of the world. After inquiring what was written in it, each of the nations found something in the Torah that was not agreeable to their way of life. When God offered the Torah to the Jewish people, they did not ask what it contained, but immediately exclaimed, "Na'aseh V'Nishma" - "we will do and we will listen". Because of this unconditional devotion and acceptance of God's law, God gave the Torah to the Jewish people. In addition, He gave two crowns to each and every Jew - one for the Na'aseh and one for the Nishma.

QUESTION: Who exactly are Byzantine Catholics?

We are Catholics in union with the Bishop of Rome (His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI) whom we recognize as the visible Head of the Catholic Church. We are recognized as being "Catholic" by the local Roman Catholic Bishops and the Bishops of the United States of America and the whole world. Having said that we are "Catholics", we must now state that we are NOT Roman Catholics, but Catholics who are identified as being Eastern Catholics. As Catholics, we Eastern and Roman Catholics share the same faith and have the same seven sacraments. The difference is that we Eastern Catholics have a different way of or Rite of expressing our faith in regards to Liturgy and customs.


At the Last Supper, after Jesus changed bread and wine into His own Body and Blood, He told His disciples to "Do this in memory of me." This they did. As the disciples brought the Gospel to different parts of the world, they adapted ceremonies of the Liturgy to the customs and music of the people. In the end, four great centers of Christianity emerged with distinctive Christian customs, but the same faith. These centers were located in the great cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome and Alexandria. A couple of centuries later when the capital of the Roman Empire was moved to the Eastern city of Byzantium and renamed Constantinople, an adaptation of the Antioch way of celebrating the Liturgy was made. Thus a new center of Christianity arose in Constantinople and her ritual became known as the Byzantine rite. Today the Byzantine Rite is subdivided into ecclesiastical jurisdictions based on ethnic groupings, such as Albanian, Greek, Italo-Greek, Italo-Albanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Serbian, etc.

The Roman Catholic Missal says, "Members of the Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of communion by Christians of these Churches" (canon 844:3). In our community, we have shared the Holy Eucharist with our Orthodox brothers; not sure of the other Eastern Catholic Churches.

QUESTION: What is the function of an Archdeacon and does he wear special Vestments?

In the Byzantine church, Archdeacon is a Title of honor given to a Deacon who has done some favorable service to the church at large, and to the particular people of God in his community. The Archpriest and the Archimandrite are similar titles of honor in the Byzantine church as applies to Priests. In the Roman Rite certain pastors receive the honorary title of Protonotary and Monsignor. The Roman Rite no longer retains the title of Archdeacon; there are however several Cardinal Priests and Cardinal Deacons, who of course are Bishops in the fulness of the priethood.

As to Vestments: the Orarion (stole, or scarf of office) is worn differently, similar to the Deacon's but comes to a point below the right hip, with a gold tassel at the point. The Archdeacon's Orarion cannot be crossed as the Deacon does at the recitation of the "Our Father" by clergy and faithful. The Kamelavikion (Hat), Sticharion (Tunic) and Epimanikia (Cuffs) are the same as the Deacon's.

NOTE: In Russian Rite usage, the Archdeacon wears a purple Kamelavkion, called Kamelavka in the Old Slavonic Liturgical language.

QUESTION: Are there Greek Jews?

Yes. In Rhodes, there is a 475-year old Synagogue, "Kahal Shalom" (Holy Congregation of Peace), the oldest still-functioning Synagogue in Greece. Many a Rabbi has stepped up to the bimah to read from the Torah facing the Western Wall. Much of the mosaic floor has worn away. The painted walls, showing the lulav, the menorah, and the shofarim have faded over the centuries, but Kahal Shalom still stands as a vibrant monument to the once thriving Sephardic community that flourished here for 475 years. (Gleaned from "Sephardic Synagogues in Greece" by Maria Haddad Ikonomopoulos, President of the Association of Greek Jewry in New York.)

QUESTION: What are the origins of priestly celibacy?

The very idea of a celibate life for men or women was generally repugnant to Hebrew culture. The only Old Testament figure who was most likely celibate was Jeremiah. He was told by the Lord not to marry as a sign that children then being born would die in the exile tragedies to come (see Jer. 16:1-4). The Christian story on the subject is naturally long and complicated, but here are a few highlights. During the first 1,000 years of Christianity, of course, many clergy, including some popes, were married men. A number of popes in fact, including Gregory the Great (590-604), were children or descendants of married bishops and priests, and other popes. The first general law in the Western church binding clergy to a celibate life came in the late part of the fourth century, with decrees by popes, beginning with Pope Damasus (366-384) and regional councils in Europe and Africa. During the next 70 years, marriages of priests, deacons and bishops were held to be unlawful. The movement toward clerical celibacy culminated for the universal church in the 12th century, when the First and Second Lateran Councils declared such marriages illict and invalid. Much later, in 1563, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the law of clerical celibacy. Against enormous opposition, however, the council declared that clerical celibacy is a matter of church law, not divine law. This means the church could change its legislation concerning celibacy if it wishes.

As we all know, this is what happened for deacons when Vatican Council II instituted a married permanent diaconate. While a number of married converts to the Catholic Faith have been ordained recently to the priesthood and remained married, the Western church obviously is not preparrd to alter easily a practice which has been so intimate a part of its life for the past 800 years.


QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the Papal Encyclical pertaining to the Italo-Greeks?

Etsi Pastoralis: a bull of Pope Benedict XIV, in 1742, with primary reference to the Italo-Greeks in Southern Italy, ordering them to keep studiously and carefully the habits, institutions, Rites and customs which they have received from their Greek fathers, via Constantinople, forbidding "Latinization" or interference; recognizing the ordination of married men; ordering that there shall be no precedence based on rite, etc. On the other hand, it legislated definitely for privileges for the Latin rite, which provisions subsequent legislation has cancelled. NOTE: Much of this Encyclical was disregarded and Latinization was the norm. Our own small chapel on Stanton Street in lower Manhattan had statues and Stations of the Cross. Papa Ciro Pinnola always wore Greek Vestments with Kamilavkion and the Liturgy (Mass) was in Liturgical Greek. Since Vatican II many Byzantine forms have been restored. The churches now have Ikonostasis, Ikons, etc.

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