Byzantine Catholic Church in America: News of the East


 
Patriarch Gregory III Welcomed in Boston

 

Submitted on May 21, 2001 by Fr. Serge Keleher of Dublin (A personal account)

On Thursday, 10 May 2001, Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem and All the East arrived in Boston for his first visitation to the United States. Bishop John (Elya) of Newton with a number of clergy welcomed His Holiness at Boston's Logan Airport in the early evening; after completing customs and immigration formalities, the party proceeded to the temporary seat of the Eparchy of Newton, at Saint Aidan's Church in Brookline, where a larger group of hierarchs, clergy and faithful were waiting.

As the Patriarch entered the house, traditional shouts of triumph greeted him, with the chanting of Ton Despotin in Greek and in Arabic. Arabic hospitality is legendary, but for this occasion the Eparchy of Newton added yet more luster to the good name of the Arabs for welcoming guests: there was a most bountiful Middle Eastern dinner, deliciously irresistible and with plenty of time to enjoy it. This was an occasion to gather many old friends and to meet new ones, a genuine "fellowship" in the full extent of the word. Hierarchs were there from Canada, from Australia, from Latin America, from the Middle East and from the United States, including Bishop John of Newton, Bishop John-Michael of Canton, and Bishop Nicholas (Samra) of Gerassa, Auxiliary of Newton. Most of the guests lodged at a Brookline hotel three or four blocks from the temporary diocesan building; it was an easy walk for those who cared to stroll, and there was abundant transportation for those who were a bit weary from travel.

On Friday morning cars and buses took the whole party to the waterfront, where we boarded the Spirit of Boston ship for a lovely luncheon cruise around the Bay. The weather was bright and warm, and while enjoying our lobsters we had a spectacular view of Boston such as most of us had never seen before. In such good company, the time passed all too quickly.

Soon the ship returned to the docks, and it was time to go back tothe hotel and get ready to be at the Greek-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Annunciation. At 6:30 Patriarch Gregory blessed the site of the new diocesan center and Chancery. At 7:00 PM the clergy, the hierarchs and the Patriarch processed into the nave for the Divine Liturgy. The Cathedral was filled beyond capacity. Bernard Cardinal Law headed the guest list of Latin clergy and ecumenical guests; all the Greek-Catholic hierarchs and most of the clergy (including at least four Archimandrites and about two dozen priests, with about ten deacons) served with the Patriarch.

For the Enarxis the Patriarch and Hierarchs remained in the center of the nave, entering the Altar after the Protodeacon had carried in the Gospel Book. In place of the Trisagion there was the Paschal verse "All ye who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia!". His Holiness gave the hierarchal blessing in Greek, in Arabic and in English, asking God to "visit this vine and perfect it". One of the deacons intoned the diptychs in Arabic, and Bishop Nicholas then lead the chanting of the Polychronion for the Patriarch in Greek. After the Gospel, His Holiness preached in English, describing some of the difficulties of the Church in the Middle East. The Great Entrance was done in full procession around the Church so that the Patriarch could receive the Gifts at the Royal Doors. At the Kiss of Peace Cardinal Law came into the Altar and remained throughout the Anaphora.

The Patriarch read most of the Anaphora in English. After the Epiclesis the Patriarch and Cardinal offered the traditional prostration before the Holy Gifts. At the diptychs, the Patriarch commemorated
Patriarch Maximos V, whose retirement in November 2000 brought about the election of Patriarch Gregory III.

After the Elevation and the infusion of hot water into the Chalice, the Patriarch lead the Prayer Before Holy Communion. After the Patriarch and Bishops had communicated, several Bishops gave Holy Communion to the priests and Deacons. There were an uncountable number of faithful to receive Holy Communion.

After the Dismissal, Bishop Nicholas intoned the Polychronion for the Patriarch and the Bishop of Newton; the choir sang the "Many Years" in the traditional Slav setting harmonized by Dmitri Bortniansky. The hierarchs and clergy distributed the Antidoron to the faithful.

A grand banquet in the Cathedral hall followed the Divine Liturgy. Cardinal Law offered a warm welcome to Patriarch Gregory on the Patriarch's first visit to America. Bishop John introduced many of the guests to the assembly. The Patriarch spoke again in English, thanking everyone for this most enthusiastic welcome and expressing the hope that the rest of his visit to the United States would be equally joyful. Everyone was reluctant to leave, and bring this extraordinary evening to an end.

On Saturday morning at 10 AM at the temporary diocesan center, the Patriarch presided at the Third Hour and then held a meeting with the Reverend Clergy, both presbyters and deacons. There were many questions and much interaction; Bishop John commented that even though the canonists think that the Eparchy of Newton, being away from the Middle East, is not strictly part of the Patriarchate, the fact is that during the time of Patriarch Maximos V the Eparchy of Newton welcomed the Patriarch much more often than any other Eparchy, and now Patriarch Gregory III has chosen to come to the Eparchy of Newton before visiting any other Eparchy! So the ties of the Eparchy of Newton to the Patriarchate are close and firm, and will become even closer.

At the same time, the Patriarch noticed that an absolute majority of the Reverend Clergy are completely loyal to the Patriarchate without themselves being of Arab ethnic extraction, and that in every way the Eparchy of Newton functions primarily through the English language. One of the priests observed that the Church in the USA has rather more than a hundred years of experience, and can offer reflections on that experience to the Church in other countries where a Greek-Catholic presence is much more recent.

There was some discussion of liturgical matters. On this point, the Patriarch commented that there is room for legitimate pluralism - for example, one may abbreviate the Divine Liturgy in the manner approved by the Holy Synod, but it always remains lawful to serve without abbreviations. In response to a question about the prostration after the Epiclesis, the Patriarch said clearly that this is certainly a part of our proper tradition, and should be retained. Several other points of liturgical practice were discussed.

The Patriarch mentioned as an interesting example that he is personally familiar with several parishes in various countries of the European Union, organized with no Arabic parishioners or clergy, which nevertheless maintain a full cycle of liturgical services and are enjoying a good success in making our Church and our tradition better known. The Patriarch expressed the hope that this movement will expand in the future, because such parishes are needed. Most importantly of all Patriarch Gregory III expressed several times his deep love and concern for everyone, and his wish to embrace everyone in that paternal love. The visible sincerity of the Patriarch's words moved everyone present to offer their own love and loyalty, and their well-founded hope in the leadership which Patriarch Gregory offers to the Church.

After another delicious meal, the Patriarch honored me with a brief private audience. It was then time for me to make my adieux to His Holiness, to Bishop John, to the other hierarchs and to so many friends, because I had to pack my bags and hasten to Logan Airport to fly home to Ireland.

I offer this report on those unforgettable days with special thanks to Bishop John (Elya) for his most kind and thoughtful invitation for me to participate in this unique welcome for Patriarch Gregory. This was a privilege which I shall assuredly not forget. Bishop John and the Eparchy of Newton offered me outstanding and exemplary hospitality, which only God can reward adequately. 

 

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