December 13, 2017

Catholic-Orthodox fraternity is a great blessing in the wake of troubles, Bishop tells Cardinal

Melkite Bishop Robert Rabbat, leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Australia and New Zealand, presents Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, with a gift at an ecumenical Compline service on May 10, 2017. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Melkite Bishop Robert Rabbat has renewed the call of many Catholic and Orthodox Church leaders that there be a common date for Easter, speaking at an ecumenical prayer service in the presence of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the head of the Holy See’s congregation for Oriental Churches. (See the Catholic Weekly Facebook Page for more photos).

Cardinal Sandri joined Eastern Catholic and Orthodox leaders, and the lay faithful for Compline (Night Prayer) on May 10 at the Melkite Church of St John the Beloved in Greenacre.

During his remarks, Bishop Rabbat said if there was any good that arose in the wake of the bloodshed that had devastated the Middle East – events that have resulted in more Middle Eastern Christians seeking refuge in Australia – it was the opportunity for fraternity that it had created between Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

Cardinal Sandri meets the locals at the reception after Compline. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“If good can come forth from disaster, it has indeed been good for us – Catholics and Orthodox – to learn once more, no matter how painfully, that we do indeed constitute the one Household of the Faith,” Bishop Rabbat said.

“I (assure) Your Eminence that the Middle Eastern Orthodox Bishops and Faithful in Australia are most appreciative of your concern for the well-being of their Brethren in their long-suffering Homelands.”

He also spoke of the desire for a common date for Easter, something the Catholic and Orthodox Churches enjoyed recently in the rare convergence of the Gregorian and Julian calendars. (The next such occasion will be in 2025. Bishop Rabbat told The Catholic Weekly earlier this month that he hoped the Holy See and the Orthodox Churches would be able to settle on common dates by 2019 – 40 years after substantive dialogue with Orthodox Churches began under Paul VI.)

“I am sure you have heard many times in many parts of the world the longing expressed for a common celebration of Easter,” Bishop Rabbat said.

“Tonight, in the presence of Your Eminence, all of us in this holy church, Catholic and Orthodox, renew our desire for the one celebration. This painful sign of separation, a divided Easter, is a scandal and must not be allowed to continue.”

Cardinal Sandri concluded his visit to Sydney on May 16, 2017, when he returned to Rome.

The full text of Bishop Robert Rabbat’s remarks:

Your Eminence,

Christ is Risen! He is Truly Risen!

It is with great joy and much thanksgiving that we welcome you to our Melkite Catholic Church of St John the Beloved for the Office of Compline or night prayer.

The English word “compline” is derived from the Latin “completorium” – the completion – and is thus the prayer that completes or fulfils the worship and work of the day. Those who are familiar with the monastic life will appreciate the importance of night prayer as the seal which closes the day’s activities. We recall also that as we complete our day of prayer, others elsewhere are beginning their cycle of praise and worship …

As the 19th century Anglican hymn reminds us:

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

This evening our gathering is made complete in a particular way and that is by the presence of Your Eminence. That you have been able to find time in the midst of a crowded schedule to be with us tonight, to meet with us and to pray with us, speaks to us of your priorities – the People of God as a people of prayer and worship.

PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Tonight, there are made very real to us the words of our Lord, Jesus Christ, remembered by St Matthew: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Mt 6:33)

The Congregation for the Eastern Churches is marking the 100th year since its foundation by Pope Benedict XV in 1917 and we offer to you our warmest best wishes for the Congregation’s second century. That you are with us provides us with an appropriate occasion to thank you, and those who labour with you, for your untiring efforts on behalf of the Eastern Catholic Churches – both in our Homelands and in the land of the migration. And we especially thank you for your endeavours in these days of great distress in many parts of the Middle East and Africa.

I can also assure Your Eminence that the Middle Eastern Orthodox Bishops and Faithful in Australia are most appreciative of your concern for the wellbeing of their Brethren in their long-suffering Homelands. If good can come forth from disaster, it has indeed been good for us – Catholics and Orthodox – to learn once more, no matter how painfully, that we do indeed constitute the one Household of the Faith.

Today we mark the mid-point of the Easter Season, and this year we are blessed – both Catholics and Orthodox – to share this Mid-Pascha together, because this year we have shared the Feast of Feasts, Easter, the glorious Pascha of the Lord.

I am sure you have heard many times in many parts of the world the longing expressed for a common celebration of Easter. Tonight, in the presence of Your Eminence, all of us in this holy church, Catholic and Orthodox, renew our desire for the one celebration. This painful sign of separation, a divided Easter, is a scandal and must not be allowed to continue.

PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Your Eminence, other Churches within the Catholic Communion rightly pride themselves on the great numbers of their Faithful, and the many works that they undertake for the glory of God. It is with great joy that we give thanks to the Lord of the Harvest for the great diversity of life and worship which enrobes the Catholic Church as a precious garment.

While we remember with gratitude this year the 30th anniversary of the establishment in Australia of our Melkite Eparchy of St Michael, next year – 2018 – will be a year of celebration for the Melkite Catholic Eparchy as we commemorate the laying of the foundation stone at the old St Michael’s Church in Sydney 125 years ago.

By some standards this may not seem a great (deal of) time. Your own titular church in Rome is over 400 years old. However, even though we have been in Australia for a comparatively short time, and we remain small in numbers, even throughout the world, we like to think of ourselves as the necessary yeast, and indeed, as the flavoursome salt, which although often taken for granted, is much longed for and much desired when absent.

Your Eminence, although we are at a great geographic distance from the First Throne of the Church, and our Holy Father Francis, who presides in love – we strive to be amongst the nearest and most devoted of his sons and daughters. Tonight we ask of you but two things: first, a remembrance in your prayers; and second, that upon your return to the Eternal City, the Old Rome, you will convey to the Holy Father the renewed and unfailing devotion of the Melkite Catholic Clergy and Faithful in Australia and New Zealand.

(In Christ),

Robert Rabbat, DD

 

Religious leaders in attendance:

His Eminence Leonardo Cardinal Sandri
Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches

His Excellency, Most Reverend Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana
Apostolic Nuncio of Australia

His Grace, Amel Shamon Nona, DD
Archbishop of St Thomas the Apostle of the Chaldeans Catholics

His Grace, Bishop Antoine Charbel Tarabay, DD
Eparch of the Maronite Catholic Church

His Eminence, Mor Malatius Malki Malki
Metropolitan Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church

His Grace, Basilios Georges Casmoussa
Patriarchal Visitor from the Syriac Catholic Church

Very Reverend Msgr Basil Sousanian
Patriarchal Vicar of the Armenian Catholic Church

Rev Fr John Karaan
Representing His Eminence, Metropolitan Archbishop Paul Saliba of the Antiochian Orthodox Church
Rev Fr Assaad Lahoud
Representing the Very Reverend Abbott Hachem, Superior General of the Lebanese Maronite Order

Rev Fr Louis Ferkh,
Superior of St Charbel’s Church and Monastery
Rev Fr Yousef Yousef
from the Coptic Catholic Church

Sr Elizabeth Delaney
General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia

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