Holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Ain Traz, 20 - 25 June 2011
Document No. 5
Speech of Patriarch Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem
at the opening of the Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Ain Traz June 20 2011
In the name of the Saviour, we open the Holy Synod. Let us sing with the Church: "Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has brought us together," (Vespers of Palm Sunday) for the Spirit brings us together, as successors of the holy Apostles around the Mother of God and our Mother, the Patron of Our Lady of the Annunciation in the Patriarchal Residence of Ain Traz, which this year celebrates the bicentennial jubilee of its construction (1811-2011.)
Let us sing festive hymns with the Holy Spirit on glorious Pentecost, praying to Jesus to bless our work and makes us members of our Synod live Pentecost in our Church and in our parishes and among the faithful, and we pray,
“After thy Rising from the tomb, O Christ, and thy divine Ascension to the height of heaven, thou didst send down thy glory to thy Disciples who had seen God, renewing a right spirit within them, O Merciful Saviour; therefore as a tuneful lyre they mystically made clear as with a divine plectrum thy melodies and thy dispensation.”
(Kathisma, Tone 8 after the Polyeleos at Matins of Pentecost)
Following the spirituality of our holy fathers, let us reflect together on our priestly and episcopal pastoral Christian vocation, saying,
"On as many as the grace which flows from God has breathed, resplendent, dazzling, transformed, with a strange, most glorious transformation, we have come to know the Essence of equal might, indivisible, wise, of triple radiance; and we give glory.” (Troparion of Matins of Pentecost, Ode 9, Tone 4)
We find in this spiritual fragrance the programme of our spiritual, ecclesial and pastoral work in this Synod, which is confronting us with our responsibility to our citizens and the dear souls entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul tells us in his appeal to the bishops and priests of the Church of Ephesus: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood."(Acts 20:28)
At the beginning of this Synod we want to commemorate our late lamented brother, Archbishop Salim Ghazal, who moved to his heavenly rest on the morning of Friday, 29 April 2011. The funeral was attended by a large number of members of our Holy Synod.
And we welcome our brother bishops and pastors: Archbishop Cyril Bustros, who has recently moved from the Eparchy of Newton in the United States to the Archeparchy of Beirut and Jbeil, Bishop Issam John Darwish, who has moved from the Eparchy of Australia and New Zealand to the Eparchy of Furzol, Zahlé, and all the Beqaa, and Bishop Nicholas Samra, who has received responsibility for the Eparchy of Newton and Bishop-elect of the Eparchy of Australia and New Zealand, Archimandrite Robert Rabbat. We also thank the Most Reverend Metropolitan Emeritus Joseph Kallas and Archbishop Emeritus André Haddad for their dedication to episcopal service and wish them well.
We cannot fail to offer thanks at the beginning of this Synod on the beatification of Father Beshara Abou Mrad, monk of Holy Saviour. May he be a patron of the Salvatorian Order and its monks, pastors and priests of the faithful.
Through the media, we are pleased to give our children and others, a glimpse of the basic orientations of the Holy Synod.
Firstly our Synod has witnessed the sight of terrible scenes of the difficult conditions and tragic bloodshed experienced in our Arab countries, and so have our churches, eparchies, parishes and our sons and daughters and all our citizens. So our situation can be expressed in the words of the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes: "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ," (just like the Church in the world today.)
In fact, we lived the tragedies of our country, especially during the time of Lent, Holy Week and the Paschal Feast. Prayers were offered in our churches and monasteries for the victims and the suffering, the wounded and sick. And especially in Syria we abstained from external manifestations of the feast. Documents were issued and statements of us personally and a large number of bishops of our Church and our priests, urging all governments and citizens to show restraint, prudence, wisdom and discernment and dialogue, trust and unity, and to avoid violence and not be drawn into civil, factional, partisan or religious strife.
We shall offer daily prayers during the Synod for our peoples, our countries and all our citizens. The details of this situation will be made available by us to share with you, Venerable Brothers, so as to ensure we continue to do our canonical and national, humanitarian, social, domestic and international part, towards the issues of our countries, in particular with regard to working hard to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and bring a just, lasting and comprehensive peace to the Holy Land, as it is the key to resolving the conflicts and to overcoming the crises, calamities and destructive tendencies that afflict our region, and cause paralysis in our Church, and negatively affect our citizens in their spiritual progress. May it not incite more of our children to emigrate from their homes and livelihoods and heritage!
This situation of the Arab world was addressed in our Paschal Letter this year entitled, "The Arab World’s Way of the Cross towards Resurrection,” and conveying the Christian message to this world "Our Arab world, you have a resurrection.”
II: The Five-Year Plan
Our Synod this year is the first after the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Church in the Middle East, entitled: "Communion and Witness.” Our church had a distinguished and effective role in the meetings of the Synod (10-24 October, 2010.) We published a special issue of our magazine for the Synod. (Le Lien No: 3-4.75 5ème année 2010)
We have also in it published our speeches and the contributions of our bishops and others, and a Diary of the Synod in the press ...I am in the process of preparing a book on the Synod held in Rome for Melkite Greek Catholics in the Middle East, like the book which was issued on the occasion of the Second Vatican Council.
I have personally to follow up many of the activities of the Synod for the Arab world, at the level of the Latin and other Western Churches that participated in the Synod.
Among numerous initiatives, the First International Congress was held in Damascus on 15 December 2010, in cooperation between the Patriarchate (and the churches of Syria) and the Ministry of the Awqaf. There participated in it 13 Churches, including 35 Arab and Western representatives of the Patriarchs of East and West and about 3,500 participants.
I am particularly keen for us to work during the Synod to follow up the idea of the “five-year plan.” Letters were sent about this to the bishops and superiors-general and mothers general, and all the sons and daughters of our Church.
The five year-plan document is in your hands, for discussion in the synod and in workshop sessions, so you can decide what you think is appropriate given the subject matter, and formulate the way in which to apply it at the level of the Patriarchal Church, or the Eparchy, or the parish or monastic community...
III: Good Shepherds
The most important business before our Synod is the selection of good pastors for vacancies in our eparchies. Canon laws have been initiated to create the method for nominating and electing bishops. (Canon 182 of the Code of Canons for the Oriental Churches) The work of nominating according to canon law is always ongoing. All the local bishops are interested in identifying priests (and they are few) of our Church, by collecting public and private information about them, in order to identify them. Over time, a file is put together consisting of certain priests, who are most qualified, efficient and mature in knowledge and virtue. The information is gathered in the files of the Patriarchate. These notes facilitate the process of selection and election to the vacant eparchies during the synod.
We shall dedicated time to the important work of this Synod in selecting righteous pastors for our Church, for the foreseeable future and in the long run.
The importance of keeping this whole delicate process secret must be pointed out. All we bishops and priests, monks, nuns and secular lay people must help each other to respect the confidentiality of this important canonical task and avoid the leaking of information, rumours, and suppositions and speculation both before, during and after the Synod...
Many customarily solicit information on the process of nomination of candidates for the episcopate and eventual election results.
We invite everyone to desist from this bad habit. Let us bishops and priests, monks, nuns and lay- people work together to abide by the duty of confidentiality imposed by canon law.
IV: other topics
The work of the Synod for the year includes administrative, pastoral and liturgical matters. There will be published the new edition of the Little Euchologion (or service book containing the Mysteries and blessings), and the Epistolarion and Evangelion. A prayer book has recently been published for young people and families, designed to help lay-people with prayer.
We will update and exchange information among our eparchies: there will be a paper on the Patriarchal Academy, and one on the Seminary of St. Anna at Rabweh, which educates students for the priesthood for our eparchies. We shall also hear news about the conditions of our eparchies...
Today, in this Synod we can rejoice together at this special news: the inauguration of the Liqa’a Centre for global dialogue of civilizations, on 10 May 2011, i n thepresence of the President of the Lebanese Republic. Please note that this unique building for interreligious dialogue is the gift of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, may God protect him. The benevolence of this great man and of the Sultanate of Oman will remain in the memory of our Church, and we wish them safety, security and prosperity.
This centre is for you, my brothers and sisters, and all the sons and daughters of our Church in the Arab world and in the expansion and everywhere. (See the attached Patriarchal Letter and brochure on the status of the Liqa’a Centre.)
V: The Synod on the New Evangelisation
We will reflect on the first document, the Lineamenta of the Synod to be held in Rome (7-28 October 2012.) The theme of the "New Evangelisation” is an important issue which will help us in the follow-up to the Synod for the Middle East, particularly in the renewal of pastoral work for the transmission of the holy faith in our Church, particularly among the younger generations, ravaged by currents destructive of evangelical values and sound ethics, including: the secularised way of looking at life, hedonism, superficiality, self-centredness, the unproductive cult of the individual, spiritual atrophism, emptiness of heart and the loss of fundamental elements of explaining the faith. (See Section 6, para. 3 in the English text.)
And we (Synod Fathers) are asked to provide answers to the questions raised in the document before 1 November, 2011. The document was distributed to bishops and superiors-general of Orders, and mothers-general. It must be studied in our eparchies and institutions and among our citizens.
Dear Brothers and Sisters
In our Synod we shall study the topics in review (in addition to the later suggestions of the Fathers), as we see clearly the importance for our Synod of having broad horizons, and exercising great responsibility towards our citizens, especially in the current circumstances experienced by Arab countries. (Ten countries have been affected by revolutions and upheavals in varying degrees.) These conditions affect our parishes and the faith of our children, and the recommendations of the Synod for the Middle East, in which we place our hope. These crucial developments have profound implications for our parishes and may have caused a new wave of creeping immigration.
For this we need to redouble our vigilance to the community in order to be closer to our parishes, supporting them, responsive to the most urgent needs in these circumstances.
We raised our voice in the meetings of the Synod for the Middle East, and warned all the participant Synod Fathers - both the Pope, cardinals and our other fellow-bishops - of the immediate and far-reaching danger of the succession of wars, crises and setbacks, that is due to the Palestinian Arab-Israeli conflict, that has now lasted for over sixty-three years .We sent message after message to the heads of state in the European Union and the Americas to do whatever can be done to bring about a just and comprehensive solution to this conflict, and the recognition of the rights of our Palestinian brothers in their homeland to their land and their water, their freedom and their dignity and their right to return to their ancestral land.
Now from the platform of this Synod, since we have nationals in Arab countries and abroad, let us raise our voice, demanding that efforts be made to end the conflict that threatens the security, integrity and stability of Arab society, and the dialogue between citizens, and co-existence among all denominations and confessions. This can affect the values of dialogue and coexistence, solidarity and peace throughout the whole world, especially among the youth and future generations.
What we fear for the Arab world in general and especially Lebanon and Syria in particular, is that the so-called revolutions are not rebellions demanding reforms, but are escalating towards sectarian strife here and there. Neither Lebanon nor Syria, nor other Arab countries are immune from this, so let us be wary of sedition!
Such strife is a way of driving a wedge into the Arab world to divide and weaken it. Political intrigue aims at damaging civil peace and harmony, especially Christian-Muslim co-existence in the Arab world and that living together, which, despite its deficiencies, remains a model for Christian-Muslim dialogue in Europe and the rest of the world.
We call for unity in Lebanon, and for Lebanon to be worthy of its vocation and mission and to reflect the language of civilization, and to distance itself from attempts to sow discord and destabilisation. This is what we see with regret going on here and there in various regions in Lebanon. We strongly condemn what happened in Tripoli. Let all Lebanese citizens and Lebanese everywhere not allow Lebanon's “sectarian political system” to be reflected in a narrow, partisan, sectarian and factional mentality, which would negate the religious, social and political diversity that characterizes Lebanon.
That is why we are specifically calling for two things:
Firstly, the revival of the national dialogue roundtable for any domestic affliction, and for strengthening civil peace, so that this table can be a place open to all for permanent dialogue and communication, coordination, advice and solutions that preserve unity in love.
Secondly, we held a spiritual summit in May, and our citizens were glad to see their spiritual leaders presenting a united front. Now we call for a collective congress of Lebanese including spiritual leaders, political leaders and government and state officials, to be held at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, under the chairmanship of H. E. President Michel Suleiman. Such a conference would have a significant impact and strengthen Lebanon in all sectors in the current circumstances of the moment that the region is experiencing.
So our Synod, and our church and our pastors, the bishops who are here representing the Arab world and the world of expansion, are calling out to the leaders of the Arab world to “love one another, with a pure heart fervently.” (1 Peter 1: 22) Either the Arab world and its leaders must unite in solidarity and cooperate, and sketch out together a better future for their peoples, especially the young people and future generations, or fall too easily prey to regional and global interests and ambitions. Where is the Arab League and the Islamic Conference? Where do these institutions stand in the face of the explosive revolutionary internal situation of Arab countries and in the face of frequent meetings in Europe about the situation of our country?
We members of this Synod invite everyone to foresight, determination and solidarity and to develop plans to ward off the dangers surrounding us all, which can destroy all our societies in a conflagration of hatred!
We call upon the EU countries and the USA and Russia, not to waste their time and make decisions here and there, and talk of revolutions here and there! What we want is for them to be able to impose a just, comprehensive and lasting peace and recognize courageously and firmly a Palestinian State, and be even-handed in dealing with Israel and Palestine and other Arab states. Only this can safely restore the confidence of the Arab world, Israeli and Palestinian lives, and the lives of everyone in the region, and enable the cycle of reform, development and prosperity in the region to begin. We hope to be worthy of Christ’s blessing: “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God.”
We shall pray for this, and we shall offer our prayers in this Synod, first for our beloved Lebanon for hosting our Permanent Synod, and Syria, where our patriarchal seat of Antioch is, and for Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf States, as the Church is well represented over the greater part of the Middle East.
As we say at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, "We pray for peace from above and for the salvation of our souls. And for the peace of the whole world, the stability of the holy churches of God and the union of all.” We hope to spend in the light of our countries’ security and good government "a tranquil and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (1 Timothy 2: 2)
Thanks to the media for covering the opening of our Holy Synod, and thank you, brethren, distinguished members of the Holy Synod, fathers-general and mothers-general, for your attention. We thank the viewers following our Synod for their prayers and aspirations. The Synod’s greetings on behalf of all its members to the priests, monks and nuns and our children all over the world: we pray for them and ask for their prayers.
And we place this Synod under the intercession of Mother Mary, Our Lady of the Annunciation, who is the patron saint of the monastery and the Patriarchal headquarters, that it may be successful and blessed, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
With love, supplication and appreciation,
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria
And of Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Prepared from the Arabic by V. Chamberlain
 The sectarian clash on 17 June, in which two people were killed. See http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/two-dead-in-sectarian-clash-in-north-lebanon/