Yesterday, I had the joy of meeting the new Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholics who was in Ottawa as part of a congress bringing together bishops from the countries of immigration. Then I attended Vespers at St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Ottawa.
Though the service was in Arabic, a screen showed the English translation of some of the prayers. There were Psalms and the Phos Hilarion, but wow, what a different, oriental setting than the one we sing at our Evensong. Beautiful and beautifully done by an all male choir.
I found it thrilling to be there, including the fact that I am, as a Catholic, in communion with them, yet our worship style and culture is so different. Our unity comes from our unity in the faith and our communion with the Bishop of Rome.
I also mused how it would be a shame if their unique and ancient expression of the Catholic faith were to die out, or to be homogenized into a one-size-fits all, bland lowest common denominator version, like a trademarked brand. Yet, I am opposed to any diversity that fiddles around with the faith once-delivered to the Apostles. The Anglican world has tried that. Big fail.
In an interview afterwards with the Patriarch Youssef Absi and the Canadian Eparchial Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim, we discussed the challenges facing Melkites in the Middle East and in Canada.
In the Middle East, war, instability and emigration threaten their ability to maintain their communities; here in Canada its atheism, consumerism, and all the subtle forces of assimilation and cultural homogenization.
“In the Middle East if you are born a Melkite, you die a Melkite,” Bishop Ibrahim explained. But here in Canada there’s a risk not only of not dying a Melkite but of not dying a even as a Catholic, of losing one’s faith altogether. Convenience, losing the language, a desire of children to fit in with their peers, all mitigate against passing on the faith in this unique expression.
I remember a discussion I had with a Ukrainian Catholic priest once about the dangers of ethnic parishes merely becoming a place where the language and culture are pass on, with the faith and sharing the Gospel receding into the background.
This goes back to my conversation with one of our new board members about ensuring we are about the salvation of souls while maintaining our traditions and our ethos within the Catholic Church. We may be less convenient, perhaps offering worship at odd times, or in a school or less than optimum borrowed space; our people may have to drive further distances when there is a local Roman Catholic parish within walking distance. We may lack the beautiful music and church building of some of the Anglican churches some of us left behind. Thus it is all the more incumbent upon us to make sure it is the fire of the Holy Spirit that unites our communities in mission and attracts new members to join us.
I feel deeply blessed by yesterday’s encounter and happy to observe the Holy Spirit fire is alive and well among the Melkite Catholics.