A Patriarch is a bishop who presides over a synod of bishops. All were major cities of the Roman Empire, and vibrant centers of Christianity.
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Each claimed Apostolic origin, and their prestige was heightened by their connection to the Apostle Peter. Peter was head of the Church in Antioch Syria and, later, in Rome. His brother, St. Andrew, according to tradition had presided in Byzantium later Constantinople. And the first bishop of Alexandria, St. Mark the Evangelist, was a disciple of St. Their prestige was later also heightened by political power, especially in the seats of Imperial Rome and Byzantium Constantinople.
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Just as the Bishop is the representative of Christ, and the head of the Church in a particular location, the Patriarch is the first among the bishops when they gather together to deliberate on matters common to their churches. Our Patriarch, Maximos V, presides over the synod of bishops of the Melkite-Greek Catholic church throughout the world. Among themselves, the patriarchs also have an order of precedence, with the Patriarch of Rome the Pope ,being the First, and the Patriarch of Constantinople the Ecumenical Patriarch being second, etc.
As the Churches in the East became isolated from the West, and from one another, with the dissolution of the Roman Empire, new patriarchates were established in the major cities, e. Moscow, Sofia, Bucharest, and Belgrade. These served to protect and unite the churches in the midst of alien invasion and oppression. Unfortunately, they also contributed to the concept of "ethnic" Churches, separate from one another. As successor of St. Peter, he has the added ministry of serving the other patriarchs and bishops in preserving the unity that is an essential characteristic of Christ's Church throughout the world.
Presently his synod is seeking ways to reunite with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatios, so that our Antiochene Church throughout the world may be one, and united with the Pope of Rome. They are following the teaching of Pope John Paul II that the solution to the reunion of East and West lies in the understanding of the undivided Church of the first millennium.
The church, for us, is the holy presence of God's Heaven on this earth. While we should feel "at home" in the house of the Lord, we must never give in to a spirit of neglect or forgetfulness. It is the House of God. In it is the Holy of Holies. Upon the throne of the altar is present the true Body and Blood of Christ our Lord, sacrificed for the life of the world.
Throughout this temple of God are angels and saints unseen to us, constantly adoring the Triune All-Holy God and interceding for us. As we sing in the Cherubic Hymn, we "represent the angels" and in our service we are required to "lay aside all earthly cares.
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Entering the church we should bow reverently and kiss the holy icons of Our Lord and the Theotokos. Once inside it is not appropriate to converse or to greet one another, except silently. Our focus should be on our role as members of the Body of Christ, saints of His Church, sinners who have been chosen by Christ to share in His Body and Blood, in His own saving work Divine liturgy.
Before the service begins, we should remain in silent prayer to prepare ourselves for the awesome task before us. During the services it is not proper to leave, unless there is a real need. After service, if we remain in church, we should be in a deep spirit of thanksgiving to God for all His blessings, particularly the blessing of having participated in the holy and awesome Mysteries of Christ.
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It is true that we are gathering in church as a family and as friends - but our purpose is to serve God in holiness and in prayer. For this reason we encourage social gathering after the Divine Services, and apart from God's holy temple the church proper. Remember, it is a higher act of charity to concentrate wholly on prayer and worship in the church, fulfilling the First and greatest Commandment. Then, having fulfilled the Commandment to love the Lord with our whole heart and our whole soul and our whole mind, we gather outside or downstairs to socialize. Before receiving the Sacrament of Baptism, a candidate must undergo a thorough catechesis, i.
Naturally, in the case of infants, we rely on the faith of their parents and sponsors. It is for this reason that the parents must be active, practicing, committed Catholics. And the sponsors, who represent the community of the faithful, must be exemplary Catholic Christians. For infants and small children, the Church requires a period of preparation for the parents and sponsors. Even though they are practicing their faith, and are fully members of the Church community, it is important to prepare for so great a Mystery and to clearly understand what they are doing on behalf of their child.
Unfortunately, sometimes the baptism of an infant must be delayed. This is not a penalty. Baptism is the complete immersion of the candidate into the Mystery of Christ's death and resurrection. It is an action of the Church signifying and bringing about a complete and essential transformation of the candidate.
With Chrismation and Eucharist the newly-baptized is made a full and active member of the Christian fold. To perform this sacred Mystery as a mere ritual, without expectation that the parents will nurture the divine life, would be a sin of sacrilege. Baptism, like all Sacraments, is never a private, family "event. The infant or adult is not being initiated into a vague idea of Christianity.
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She or he is being fully incorporated into a living Faith Community - a parish church. The role of the sponsors is sometimes confused with ideas that come from popular customs - not necessarily Christian.
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The sponsor sometimes called a "god-parent" is not a surrogate parent or guardian. The sponsor is an active and exemplary member of the Christian community, who is chosen to stand with the Baptized as a partner in faith - someone who will share his or her Christian spiritual life with the newly-baptized. It is for this reason that a sponsor must, obviously be someone who is actively living the life of Faith.
Chrismation is the second Mystery of Initiation. Immediately after Baptism, the candidate is anointed with Holy Chrism - a special mixture of oil and spices consecrated each year on Holy Thursday by the Patriarch for all the Melkite-Greek Catholic Churches throughout the world.
It signifies the royal and priestly character bestowed upon all Christians, the healing power of the Holy Spirit who is with us always. In a special way it connects us to the Holy Apostles through our Patriarch, the successor of St.
Peter at Antioch, and unites us with our brothers and sisters throughout the world. As the candidate is anointed the priest says "The Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. This sacrament seals the newly-baptized in the Faith, and joins him in a mystical way to the whole Church. Thus, he or she becomes a full member of the Body of Christ and takes his place among the faithful.
In the Western Churches this Mystery is called "Confirmation. In more recent years the proper order of conferring Confirmation after Baptism and before the first reception of the Eucharist is being restored in the West.
When an adult of another Christian Confession, who has been validly baptized, converts to our Faith, he or she is generally admitted into the Church by receiving this Sacrament. Members of the Eastern Orthodox Churches who wish to enter into communion with the Catholic Church are received by simply making a profession of Faith, usually during the sacrament of Confession.
The bread and the wine are sacred gifts, prepared by the priest during the prothesis liturgy of preparation. Following the Liturgy of the Word, they are carried in solemn procession the Great Entrance to be placed upon the holy altar, the very throne of God. The priest offers the gifts of bread and wine on behalf of the faithful, recalls the words of Our Savior on the night on which He was delivered up for the life of the world and then, with fervent prayers epiclesis , asks God to come down from heaven on the gifts of bread and wine to make the bread the Body of Christ, and the wine the Blood of Christ, changing them by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Once this sacred Mystery has taken place, prayers of petition and thanksgiving eucharistia in Greek are offered by the priest and the people. Following the Lord's Prayer the faithful are invited to approach "with the fear of God, with faith and with love. This "fear of God" means tremendous reverence for God's Mystical Presence and His intimate communion with us.
The Eucharist, thus received, forgives us our sins and grants us a special intimacy with the Living Christ. If we are aware of sins which prevent us from God's grace, or if we have anything against our brothers and sisters, we are obliged to abstain from receiving Holy Communion until we are reconciled through the Sacrament of Confession. Similarly, we are bound to prepare for receiving the Lord by examining our conscience, praying for forgiveness, and fasting.
We should approach the Eucharist at Holy Communion, with profound reverence and deep gratitude. The proper posture is to cross our hands over our breast, and to bow deeply before the holy chalice before and after receiving Our Lord. We must strive to be conscious of the tremendous Gift that is being offered us, though we are all unworthy sinners.
A portion of the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Christ remain on the altar in a special vessel called artophorion or "tabernacle" Thus, God Himself remains truly, mystically, physically present dwelling in the church at all times. In awareness of this Mystery, it is proper always to make a sign of reverence when we enter the church, when we pass in front of the holy altar, before we leave the church and even when outside, when we pass in front of a church. Likewise, we should always remain in a spirit of reverence shown by our behavior, the way we dress, keeping a spirit of silence and prayer.