Friday, June 7, 2019

Paul Bacel: Melkite Catholic Liturgical Innovations in the 18th Century

French original here. The author is, naturally, writing from a Roman Catholic perspective in the early 20th century, but this is still a very valuable account of liturgical practices in the 18th century and the trouble that the Latinizing reformers who spearheaded the movement for union with Rome in Antioch had with Rome's desire for them to remain similar in practice to the Orthodox. Footnotes below the jump.

Liturgical Innovations among the Melkite Greeks in the 18th Century

Towards the end of the 17th century, a man who, by his deep erudition, had acquired considerable influence in Syria thought himself authorized to modify, without informing the Holy See, certain usages and certain practices of the Eastern Church, which Rome is unafraid of qualifying as "praiseworthy and very ancient" (1). This was Euthymios Sayfi, Greek Melkite Archbishop of Tyre and Sidon. He had no other goal in doing so than facilitating the conversion of the Orthodox, who were very numerous in his diocese and who disliked some of these practices.

With the goal of repressing certain heterodox beliefs that had been introduced among the Catholics of his metropolis, Euthymios removed from the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom the epiclisis prayer that gives the impression that transubstantiation occurs at that moment, by the invocation of the Holy Spirit over the sacred gifts. He likewise forbade the mixing of zeon (hot water that is poured into the chalice before communion), because the faithful imagined that that the consecrated bread and wine then became the person of the Holy Spirit. He authorized the saying of multiple masses on the same day on the same altar with the same liturgical vessels, while from time immemorial the Greeks required that the altar, the chalice, the chasuble, and the other liturgical trappings all should have fasted, just like the priest. Another practice that was even more ancient and respectable was also abolished. At the hierarchical liturgy, the priests who concelebrated with the bishop commune from his own hand in the manner of deacons. That is to say that they receive the consecrated bread in the palm of the right hand placed over the left hand and then they commune.

In order, we believe, to avoid excessive fatigue, Euthymius Sayfi allowed all the concelebrants to commune themselves, as if they were celebrating the liturgy. He likewise permitted the consumption of fish, which was forbidden during Great Lent and the Advent fast, and he showed himself to be less severe than the Lateran Council of 1215 with regard to impediments of natural kinship.

Rome was alarmed by the news of all these innovations and, on February 6, 1716, it sent the following letter to the Archbishop of Tyre:

The aforementioned rites and customs are praiseworthy rites and customs in practice in the Greek church from time immemorial. Thus it is not fitting to remove from the holy liturgy the prayer of the Greeks employed after the formula of the consecration instituted by Jesus Christ. The Council of Florence gave it an orthodox meaning and the Holy See has never condemned it. So if there is someone who, out of ignorance or bad faith, remains persuaded that transubstantiation takes place by these prayers, it is incumbent on Your Eminence to instruct the ignorant and inculcate them with this truth of our holy faith that transubstantiation takes place through the words of institution and not by this prayer that is authored by man.

Nor does the Holy See approve of your prohibition regarding the mixing of the zeon with the precious blood. In fact, this sacred rite, which signifies the warmth of faith, was authorized by the Holy See for the Greeks of the very city of Rome: it is thus perfectly easy to instruct the faithful about it.

The Holy See makes the same recommendation for you in what concerns the third and fourth Greek rites that Your Eminence has modified. Nihil inovetur! for everything that is new ordinarily brings along with it a great subject of disagreements, scandals, and disagreeable enmities for the faithful.

The Holy See equally disapproves of the consumption of fish authorized by Your Eminence during the days and times when one does not consume it in the Greek church. That Your Eminence had as your goal to attract the Orthodox to the true faith, know nevertheless that only the holiness and truth of our holy faith are capable of attracting them, and by no means the relaxation of the fasts and abstinences of the Church.

Finally, the Holy Apostolic See condemns your perspective with regard to the fourth degree of natural and spiritual kinship which, according to the decision of the Lateran Council, constitutes an impediment to marriage, even for the Greek Catholics of the East. For this conciliar decision was announced to all Christian communities, including the Greeks. Consequently, it is important that Your Eminence submit to it and make sure that this law be observed, that prohibits marriage in the fourth degree of natural or spiritual kinship.

Two years later, on June 1 and 9, 1718, the Sacred Congregation for the Propaganda of the Faith responded to three new questions which, this time, Euthymius Sayfi himself had posed. The archbishop had then come to be in a better mood and only acted after asking Rome's opinion. He asked the Propaganda 1) to authorize the the celebration of several liturgies on the same day on the same altar; 2)  to permit those who had been confirmed by an unapproved priest, whether Catholic or not (2), to receive this sacrament a second time from the hands of the ordinary, at least conditionally; 3) finally, to permit second, third and fourth marriages.

Rome's responses were very categorical. On the first point, he was asked to keep to the decision of February 6, 1716 and to follow the rites and customs practiced in his church. On the second point, he was reminded of the decision of Clement VIII, which requires all who have received confirmation from the hands of an unapproved priest to receive this sacrament again and, if possible, from the hands of the ordinary. Nevertheless, since the sacrament of confirmation is not necessary for salvation, the Propaganda asked the archbishop not to trouble those who had received it in the conditions described above, because it would result in a scandal. Finally, the people should know that second, third and fourth marriages were permitted by the Church, so long as the marriage is performed according to the rules set by the canons.

* * *

There was nevertheless no peace, especially in that vast diocese of Tyre and Sidon, where the discussions of the faithful about religious issues gave their bishop justifiable worries. Euthymios once again resolved to bring the debate to the tribunal of the Propaganda, and twice, in 1722 and 1723, asked an entire series of questions, some of which had been settled previously, on February 6, 1716 and June 9, 1718. Here they are, just as the Rev Fr Charon presented them previously in this journal (3):

1) On Holy Saturday, the Greeks placed a torch below the altar then, after several prayers, the patriarch of bishop entered into the sanctuary carrying the lit torch and showing it to the people, claiming that this was a divine light coming from Christ's Sepulcher. This, as one may see, is nothing but a reenactment of the pseudo-miracle of the holy fire at Jerusalem.

2) On Holy Thursday, the Greeks consecrated a large loaf and then dried it over a stove, reducing it to a fine powder that each priest kept, in a barely decent manner, to use in the viaticum communion of the faithful throughout the year.

3) Moreover, they were persuaded that the sacrament of the Eucharist was celebrated on Holy Thursday in a more worthy manner than any other day of the year.

4) The Greeks believed that it was illicit to celebrate several liturgies on the same altar, inasmuch as the altar, the chalice, the chasuble, and the other trappings broke the fast if they were used a second time.

5) They anathematized those who believe that the consecration was done by the very words of Jesus Christ.

6) The pieces of the host which are taken from the bread when serving at the preparation of the Holy Sacrifice and are offered in honor of the Holy Virgin or the saints become, according to them, the body of the Holy Virgin or of the saints in whose honor they were offered, while only the large piece offered in honor of Jesus Christ became the body of Christ.

7) They likewise believed that the bread and wine became, through the words of consecration, the person of the Father, by those of the epiclesis, the person of the Son, and by the inmixing of the zeon, the person of the Holy Spirit.

8) Finally, they believed that the celebration of the holy mysteries during Lent is illicit except on Saturday and Sunday.

Unfortunately, Rome's response did not arrive until six years after the archbishop's death, when the discussions had doubtlessly already ended, while the patriarch Cyril VI Tanas, Euthymios Sayfi's nephew, had maintained all his uncle's modifications with regard to the rites and practices of the Greek church. The rescript, which is dated to March 15, 1729, contains a very explicit response to all the questions that we just listed.

It first warns the faithful against the alleged miracle of the holy fire, a vulgar deception of the Greeks that merits no attention. With regard to the second and third points, dealing with the Holy Sacrifice offered on Holy Thursday and the practice of conserving the viaticum for the whole year in a barely appropriate receptacle, the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda of the Faith send a decision of Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254) which states that the holy sacrament confected on Holy Saturday should not be saved for a whole year under the pretext that it would then be given as a viaticum for the sick. It is nevertheless permitted to keep the body of the Savior in order to commune the sick, but only for two weeks, for fear that the holy species might rot. A later decision of Pope Clement VIII, on August 15, 1595, says nothing else when it recommends that the holy sacrament that is reserved for the sick be renewed every week or at least every two weeks. With regard to the bizarre practice described in the question, the Propaganda ordered it to be suppressed immediately: "May this despicable custom of drying the the consecrated bread over a stove, reducing it to powder, and mixing it with holy oils on the day of the Lord's Supper be abolished. Likewise, if there exist other superstitious or blameworthy customs regarding the sacrament of the Eucharist, let them be suppressed, taking care to warn the faithful about the dangers they contain for their faith."

The Propaganda also did not want one to celebrate several liturgies on the same day on the same altar, while still recommending that the belief that the altar and its trappings should have fasted like the priest be eliminated. It asked the patriarch-elect, Cyril VI, to erect several altars in the churches when deemed necessary. As for the epiclisis and the pieces of the holy bread, numbers 5 to 7, the Sacred Congregation refers to its earlier decisions asking that all superstitions be abolished. Finally, it required that during Lent the liturgy only be celebrated on Saturday and Sunday, following the ancient canons (4).

Once people were in the habit of asking Rome questions, they continually renewed them, at the risk of annoying the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda by overwhelming it with often useless and almost always untimely questions. Thus the question was raised whether, in case of persecution or urgent necessity, it was permitted to celebrate the holy mysteries in private homes, then whether it was permitted for laypeople and monks to eat fish during Great Lent, then whether the Filioque could be added to the Creed, then finally whether it was suitable to give Holy Communion to the newly-baptized.

The Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda invited priests to address themselves on the first point to their legitimate pastors. It rejected the consumption of fish and tolerated giving communion to children, if that practice had already existed previously. As regards the question of the Filioque, it made the distinction that one already finds in the responses of Saint Leo III. The insertion of the Filioque in the Creed is distinct from the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. The Greeks should believe, like all Catholics, in this procession without being required to mention it explicitly when they recite the Creed. It is only in cases where it would otherwise be a scandal that they too should recite the Filioque in the Creed.

* * *

After his elevation to the patriarchal See of Antioch in 1724, Cyril VI had to renew the relations with Rome that his predecessors, even the Catholic ones, had not been able to reestablish. For six years, he did not cease to ask for his conformation from the Holy See.

On August 13, 1729, Benedict XIII asked Fr Dorotheus of the Most Holy Trinity to, a Capuchin, to receive Cyril's profession of faith in the form prescribed for the Greeks by Urban VIII. Additionally, Cyril had to swear and promise not to modify anything in the rites of the Greek church without prior consultation with the Holy See and examining the issue with the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda. He also had to restore to their original state the rites that had been modified, either by himself or by his uncle Euthymios, the archbishop of Tyre, and to conform to the Propaganda's instructions, which Fr Dorotheus would deliver to him or have a copy delivered to him. Once all these conditions were fulfilled, Fr Dorotheus had the mission of declaring to him that his election was confirmed by His Holiness and to convey to him the pope's congratulations. This encyclical from Benedict XIII was sent following deliberation by the Congregation of the Propaganda and dated March 15, 1729 (5).

Having received the pope's encyclical, Fr Dorotheus went to Dayr el-Mukhallis, where the patriarch was located at the time, and read to him the latest recommendations and requirements from Rome. Cyril VI did all that was asked of him and he immediately swore over the holy Gospels, between the hands of the apostolic delegate, the following oath:

I, Cyril, elected Greek patriarch of Antioch, vow and swear before this venerable assembly and before you my Reverend Father Dorotheus, Capuchin, apostolic delegate from His Holiness Pope Benedict XIII, that if the apostolic Holy See desires me as patriarch and confirms me in this office, I will observe all the rites and customs of the Greek Church and that have been modified by Euthymius, Archbishop of Tyre and Sidon, of blessed memory. I will likewise observe the same fasts, abstincences, quarantines and all customs newly enjoined by the Holy Apostolic See. In addition, I will observe them not only personally, but I will also apply myself to having them observed by the archbishops, bishops, priests, religious and by all the people of my nation. I will not innovate anything. I will not modify anything of the aforementioned things without the explicit authorization of the Holy Apostolic See. I will never permit or suffer that anything be neglected, not even an iota in the aforementioned orders. Finaly, I vow and I swear that I have understood this oath and that to which it obliges me; I will observe it in conformity with the desires of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda and the Apostolic Encyclical that was read in our presence. So may God deign to help me and His holy Gospels (6).

After this solemn oath, Father Dorotheus presented to Cyril the Encyclical from Benedict XIII and withdrew. That was in 1730.

Two years had not even passed before the new patriarch showed himself to be unfaithful to his oath. Strengthened by the support of two bishops, his subordonates, he held on his own a Council in the small town of Joun and once more abolished the three fasts of Nativity, the Holy Apostles, and the Holy Virgin. He notified the faithful with the following encyclical:

Glory to God forever,
Cyril, by the mercy of God patriarch of Antioch and All the East.
May divine grace and the heavenly blessing be granted to all our spiritual children, the Christians, our blessed flock in our Patriarchate of Antioch! May the Lord bless them, their children, their women and all their works by the most abundant heavenly blessings! Amen.
We inform you that we and our brothers, the Catholic bishops whom God has established in these times as shepherds of His rational flock and guardians of His people, after the necessary examination and very great research, we have been forced, to save our conscience (7), to abolish what should be abolished and to permit what should be permitted. And that, in what pertains to the three monastic absences, that is: the abstinence of Nativity, of the Apostles, and of the Holy Virgin. Consequently, we decree that the faithful, our flock, eat meat during these three abstinences, except for the last day of each of them, when they should abstain from meat and dairy products and fast absolutely as during Great Lent, in conformity with our ancient right and praiseworthy customs. We nevertheless decree that the abstinence of Wednesday and Friday of each week as well as the fast of Great Lent be observed in all exactitude, in all piety and with great respect. Thus we have authorized and thus we have decreed, instituted and abolished in our holy synod, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If any priest does not respect our decree, we forbid the faithful from confessing to him, since (in so doing) he will have disregarded our authority. Know this and may the blessing be upon you a second and third time.

Made and written on November 11, 1731.

     Patriarch of Antioch and All the East

The patriarchal encyclical was then sent to the two bishops who supported the one newly-elected [patriarch] with their infuence: Basil Finan, bishop of Bayas, and Clement of Aleppo, bishop of Saydnaya, a former monk of Dayr al-Mukhallis, ordained by Cyril VI in 1731 and entirely devoted to him. The two prelates were asked to affix their signature with their seal and to then publish it.

There was a strong reaction to this news among the monks of Mar Hanna: they organized an open resistance, castigating Cyril's unfaithfulness and standing up, whether in the flesh or in the confessional, against the patriarch's orders, which were in formal contradiction of those with Rome. The Choueirites even wrote to the Propaganda, which had the sending of the pallium until 1744, twenty years after the patriarchal nomination of Cyril VI. Thanks to the intervention of the consistorial lawyer Fracis Scaramuzzi and of Father John Amioni, a monk and Greek Catholic priest, at the time the patriarch's procurer in Rome, on February 29, 1744, Benedict XIV addressed to Cyril VI the Encyclcal Dum nobiscum animo reputamus as well as the pallium.

This was to be delivered to him by the Latin bishop of Babylon, after which Cyril would have renwed in front of him or his delegate his profession of faith and his oath of loyalty to the Holy See, with the promise to observe the constitution Demandatam, sent to him by the Pope the previous year (8). We just mentioned the constitution Demandatam Coelitus of December 24, 1743, addressed to Cyril VI and the bishops of his patriarchate. In it, Benedict XIV settles issues in dispute with regard to the rites of the Greek Church and their conservation. He declares that it is not permitted for anyone, under any pretext whatsoever, whether patriarch or bishop, to change anything in the Greek rites or to impede their exact observation. Consequently, the changes introduced by Euthymius of Tyre were once again repulsed; the patriarch and bishops should make them disappear as well as all the abuses introduced by the ignorance of the schismatics.

The pope then revokes the dispensation granted by Cyril for the fasts of the Apostles, Nativity and the Holy Virgin and he decrees that everything should be restored to its former state. Nevertheless, taking into consideration the needs of the populations, he gives the patriarch the faculty to dispense each year with fasts in the manner that he deems best, but in a prudent manner, so that the ancient rites do not fall into disuse (9).

I will stop here the analysis of Rome's relations with the Greek Melkite Patriarchate, the other instructions that the Holy See published on this topic were directed more to the Latin missionaries and Maronite propagandists. As such, they are of much less interest to us and, moreover, they have already been very well presented by the Rev Fr Cyrille Charon (10).

Paul Bacel,
priest of the Greek rite

(1) Rescript of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda of March 15, 1720.

(2) There Euthymius designates not only the Orthodox priests, but also the Maronite priests and the Latin missionaries who sometimes disturbed the jurisdiction of the Greek bishops, either by absolving them from penalties imposed on them by their legitimate priests or by attracting them to one rite or another in which they were not born. On this subject, see the constitution of Benedict XIV Demandatam Coelitus of December 24, 1743.

(3) Echos d'Orient 4 (1900-1901), 329.

(4) Apart from Saturday and Sunday, during Lent the Greek Church celebrates the socalled Presanctified Liturgy. Here is what we read about this topic in the schema of the future council of the Greek-Melkite Church: "We decree that the liturgy of the presanctified be celebrated at least every Wednesday and every Friday of Lent. As this liturgy should be celebrated with solemnity and it is not possible to do this in rural parishes, where the celebrant is sometimes alone with his server, one can then replace it with the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. The bishop alone shall be the judge of this."

(5) C. Charon "L'Eglise greque melchite catholique." Echos d'Orient 5 (1901-1902), 22. The Encyclical in question, Quamquam Sollicitudini, is found in R. de Martinis, Juris pontificii de Propaganda fide pars prima, Rome, vol. II, p. 414.

(6) Annales vol. I, fasc. 5, p. 67. This is the first oath taken by Cyril VI Tanas. He took another one at the command of Benedict XIV on October 7, 1744, before the Latin Bishop of Babylon, Mgr Emmanuel, apostolic delegate of the Holy See.

(7) The reasons for this sudden change are still not well understood. According to Annales vol. 1, fasc. 6, p. 82, Cyril took this dicision because Rome had not yet sent him the pallium. Cyril is supposed to have said the following words: "Fr Dorotheus had promised to install me on the see in Damascus and he has not followed up on his promise; likewise, because of this very lack of him keeping his word, I have published throughout my patriarchate the dispensation from these three out of four fasts that exist in the Greek Church." If these words were pronounced, they are unfortunate, but perhaps they should be seen as a bad attempt at humor. Perhaps this is also malice on the part of the Choueirites who have never expressed much in the way of sympathy for this patriarch.

(8) One may find in Paroles d'Orient 5 (1901-1902), p. 22 n. 4, the translation of the oath that the patriarch gave on October 7, 1744 according to the original written in duplicate, in Latin and Arabic, by Cyril himself.

(9) C. Charon, L'Eglise grec melchite catholique vol. 5, p. 22, 23, passim.

(10) Echos d'Orient 5 (1901-1902), 23, 24.

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