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Gregorios III: The Melkite Family in Europe under the Spirit’s breath
His Beatitude Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem concluded the first assembly of European Melkites which was held from 1st to 3rd November 2012 in Saint Stephen’s convent at Aubazine in Corrèze (France) owned by the Patriarchate.
If the main theme of the meeting that drew the representatives of the parishes of Paris, Marseilles, Aubazine, Vienna, Brussels, Stockholm, Rome,… without forgetting those who came from Spain or elsewhere was “Being Melkite in Europe: being rooted in Faith and Tradition” the discussions were noteworthy for their continual concern for Melkite Christian identity in the context of secularised societies that leave no room for Christian faith and values. Right from the early meetings the emphasis of each of the presentations made by the parishes was the place held by the Divine Liturgy in parish and community life.
The Divine Liturgy feeds.
The Divine Liturgy teaches.
The Divine Liturgy brings together.
A common point of all Melkite Greek Catholic communities in Europe is territorial dispersal. All priests present - Fr. Charbel Maalouf B.C. (Paris), Fr. Antoine Forget (Marseilles), Fr. Miled Jawich B.S. (Brussels), Fr. Hanna Ghnaim (Vienna), Fr. Ghattas (Stockholm), Fr. Fadi Rahi (representing the parish of Rome), Hieromonk Elisée (Aubazine) - emphasised and repeated that the parish is only rarely the territorial parish of the faithful. It is a personal parish and it is quite common to have parishioners who do not shrink from driving for over an hour to attend the Divine Liturgy.
So the Sunday Divine Liturgy becomes the means of gathering the parishioners who meet after the service over coffee and drinks. Often a picnic snack can bring the faithful together around their pastor.
Gregorios III emphasised the obligation of keeping strictly to the rite and respecting the translations, into English, French and Spanish of the Divine Liturgy, approved by the commission that emerged from the meeting of bishops of the diaspora.
The wide scattering of the faithful was the starting point for one of the main resolutions of the Assembly: drawing up files on parishioners in order to remain in constant contact by mailings, so that, for example, parish leaflets could reach everyone who had not been able to come to the Sunday service.
The second assembly of European Melkites will be held in Paris in 2014 on the theme of “Emigration and Melkite Identity” which follows on naturally from the discussions of the Aubazine assembly. Archimandrite Sharbel Maalouf B.C., priest of Saint Julien-le-Pauvre, was given the responsibility for setting up a committee to follow up on the resolutions of the first assembly and organising that of 2014.
On the day after the Aubazine meeting, His Beatitude Gregorios III arrived in Paris for the blessing of the icons of the restored iconostasis of the Melkite Greek Catholic Parish of Paris, Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre. On this occasion, Mister Gabriel Bittar, the generous patron who made this restoration possible, was decorated with the Patriarchal Order of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem. Gregorios III hailed Mr Bittar’s act of generosity and filial piety, recalling the original donation of the iconostasis, created by his grandfather Gergis Gabriel Bittar, an artist and craftsman in woodwork, who was called father of the poor and Damascus’ Saint Vincent de Paul.
Furthermore, Gregorios III announced the nomination of Archimandrite Sharbel Maalouf B.C., as Patriarchal Exarch in France.
In his sermon, the Patriarch emphasised “the glory of being Christian” recalling the words of the old hymn well-known to French people and French-speaking Christians and repeated what had become the leitmotiv of the Aubazine gathering “Fear not.” The little flock must not be afraid… It is salt, light and leaven. That is its mission, its great mission, for the big flock, wherever it may be. In the East for Islam; in the West for a totally secularised society that has lost its values. Wherever God has placed it, it is in communion and witness of faith in Jesus Christ, in order to walk along a road of faith with everyone.
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Nevine Toutounji-Hage Shahin