The heart of the community is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The message preached and shared –meaning, concretely, really, truthfully lived– is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Melkite Church maintains an historic continuity with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; she lives and preserves the faith and practices of the Faith as defined by the first seven Ecumenical Church Councils as well as the decisions from local Church councils. We call ourselves Catholic because the faith is all over the world, taught by the bishops who are in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The word “Orthodox” is applied to our faith because it reveals the reality of being both “right believing” and “right worshipping”: it is the encounter with beauty of the Holy Trinity. We believe and experience the Melkite Catholic Church as the bearer of an uninterrupted Christian tradition expressed by true faith lived out in worship of God because the Melkite Church is a sure and certain path to Jesus Christ.
The Divine Liturgy
As the Gospels and the writings of the Apostle Paul taught, the Last Supper, that is, the “night when He [Jesus] was betrayed” (I Cor. 11 :23), He instituted the Holy Eucharist, the sacrifice of the New Testament. The Lord wanted to perpetuate His sacrifice on the cross a “memorial” of His life, death and resurrection” until He comes again (I Cor. 11 :25-26). This memorial is known variously as the Breaking of the Bread, the Offering, or the Eucharist. As St. Augustine of Hippo said, the Holy Eucharist becomes a “mystery of piety, a sign of unity, and a bond of charity” (PL, 35, 1613). Historically, the word “Eucharist” means eucharistia –thanksgiving, in Greek. But by the early years of the First Century St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. AD 107) taught that what is done at the Liturgy, the Holy Eucharist, is what is commonly known by the faithful. He said, “Make an effort to meet more frequently to celebrate God’s Eucharist and thus offer to Him praise” (cf. Letter to the Ephesians, ch.13).
Later theologians of the Church speak of the the Eucharist as sacrament of the Church.
The common Greek word “liturgy” means any public function in the interest of people. But when applied by the community of faith taking the witness from The Septuagint –the ancient Greek Bible– the word “liturgy” means a sacrifice as a religious public service given to us through the Lord’s “priestly function” (Hebrews 8:6). It is THE privileged point of encounter with the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). What the bishop or the priest does is to pray the Liturgy on behalf of the people who are entrusted to his care. So, each Sunday the priest is enjoined to pray (to offer, to serve) the Liturgy for the people of the parish. The public ministry of the priest, hence, is the offering to God as a Eucharistic sacrifice of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Letter of St. Clement of Rome, c. AD 96).
The regular, communal prayer of the Melkite Church is the Sunday and holy day Divine Liturgy. For most of the year the Church prays the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
For several weeks of the year, however, the Church prays the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea; Basil was the bishop there from AD 370 – 379. The prayers of the Liturgy of St. Basil is much longer than those of the Chrysostom’s Liturgy which has a rich patrimony of theology and spirituality that will inform and form our spiritual life. St. Basil’s Liturgy is prayed ten times a year:
- The vigils of Christmas and Theophany
- The feast of St. Basil, January 1
- The first five Sundays of Lent
- Holy Thursday
- Holy Saturday.
On one or two days of the year, the Liturgy of St. James is prayed, typically on his feast day (October 23rd) and perhaps on the Sunday after the Nativity. It is derived from the Liturgy of the Church in Jerusalem. Generally speaking you will hear this Liturgy prayed by the Melkites and rarely among Slavs, due to the historical links between the Melkites and the Church in Jerusalem. In Eusebius’ Church History James was James, son of Zebedee, the brother of the Lord, and elected named the bishop of Jerusalem by the apostles.
The Liturgical Calendar 2020
The liturgical year of the Byzantine Church begins on September 1. In contrast, the Liturgical year of the Latin Church begins on the First Sunday of Advent.
Here are the Sundays and Holy Days of the Byzantine Church year:
January 1, Circumcision of our Lord
January 5, Sunday before the Theophany of the Lord
January 6, Theophany of the Lord
January 12, Sunday after Theophany
January 19, Twelfth Sunday after the Holy Cross
January 26, Fifteenth Sunday after the Holy Cross
February 2, Encounter of our Lord (Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican)
February 9, Sunday of the Prodigal Son (Leave-taking of the Encounter)
February 16, Sunday of Meat-fare
February 23, Sunday of Cheese-fare
February 24, Great Fast (Lent) begins
March 1, Sunday of Orthodoxy
March 8, Sunday of the Holy Relics and St. Gregory Panamas
March 15, Sunday of the Holy Cross
March 22, Sunday of our Father John Climacos
March 25, The Great Feast of the Annunciation of the Mother of God
March 29, Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt
April 4, Saturday of Lazarus
April 5, Palm Sunday
April 6, Great and Holy Monday
April 7, Great and Holy Tuesday
April 8, Great and Holy Wednesday
April 9, Great and Holy Thursday
April 10, Great and Holy Friday
April 11, Great and Holy Saturday
April 12, Holy Resurrection
April 13-18, Bight Week
April 19, Sunday of St. Thomas
April 23, Great Martyr George the Triumphant
April 26, Sunday of the Ointment Bearing Women