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2018-05-18 Homily. Fr. François Beyrouti. "Communion: Already here and more to come."

Communion: Already here and more to come.
Homily. Father François Beyrouti. Pastor of Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church.

Friday, May 18, 2018. 7:00 p.m.“That they may be one as You Father are in Me and I in You.” (John 17:20).
The Twelfth Annual Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Orthodox Christian Ecumenical Service of Prayer for Christian Unity at Pentecost will be held at Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church (995 N. West Street, Anaheim, CA 92801). Orthodox and Catholics Together/Orange County OCTOC.org
Featuring choirs from Saint Nicholas Roman Catholic Church, Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church, St. Paul’s Assyrian Church of the East, St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, and the Coptic Youth Singers. Organized by “Orthodox and Catholics Together in Orange County” octoc.org


Some jokes start with the line: “A priest, an imam, and a rabbi walk into a bar…”

Once a Catholic and Orthodox priest walked into a bar and the bartender said: “Hey, what is this a joke or something?”

We have a lot of priests here tonight. We did not walk into a bar together before we got here, neither will we be going to one after. This is our only event tonight. Although we are all very happy to be here, our gathering is definitely not a joke. Rather, our prayer this evening is nothing short of the work of the Holy Spirit who brought all of us together, clergy and lay people, to first rejoice in the fellowship and communion we already share and second to discern how to increase that fellowship and communion.

The opening Biblical verse of the 2016 statement of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church emphasizes the communion, in Greek “koinonia,” we already share between us (September 21, 2016 “Synodality and Primacy during the First Millennium: Towards A Common Understanding in Service to the Unity of the Church”).

This document quotes 1 John 1:3-4: “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have communion [koinonia] with us; and truly our communion [koinonia] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

It is always important to clarify expectations, especially in ecumenical prayers and dialogue. Our event today is not a meeting of the Theological commission nor is it a social gathering. Rather, it is a truly profound expression of our already existing communion [koinonia] and a prayer for fuller communion [koinonia].

My goal is simple, yet the crucial starting point if we are to bear further fruit. First, I will share with you the joy I have for the communion we already share and second, highlight the importance of our common witness as Jesus clearly expressed His desire that we keep growing in our unity when He said: “That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent me” (John 17:21).

Jesus tells us our unity is specifically tied to the legitimacy of our witness that He is the Messiah who suffered, died, and rose for the salvation of the whole world. When we lack a visible unity we compromise the unity that Jesus desired we have and weaken our witness to a world that is more in need than ever to hear clearly His saving message. Although we can’t lose sight of this goal, let us first rejoice in the communion we already share at the Theological and pastoral levels.

At the pastoral level, let us start with what is happening here in Orange County. Every month the Catholic and Orthodox clergy meet for a dinner at one of our Churches. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange organizes these dinners, which are coordinated by Fr. Quan Tran, the Episcopal Vicar of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. The primary goal is for the Catholic and Orthodox clergy to better know each other, share a meal, discover “in vino veritas,” and exchange our common pastoral experiences of shepherding the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2 & Acts 20:28).

This is not considered an official theological dialogue, but perhaps it should be, as Jesus wanted us to understand that the first steps of communion happen with a meal: from Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-12), to the feeding of the 5000 (Mt. 14:13-21), to the last or mystical supper (Mt. 26:17-30, Mk. 14:12-26, Lk. 22:7-39, Jn. 13:1-17:26, and 1 Cor. 11:23-26), to the meal at Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35), to other times in Jesus’s ministry, and finally at “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).

The word “companion” comes from two Latin words “cum” (with) and “panis” (bread). Thus, “companion” means to share bread with someone. We cannot have full communion if we don’t first consider each other companions. Without this informal growth in friendship, the formal theological dialogue and statements will never bear fruit.

This friendship between the Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Oriental and Eastern Orthodox clergy is also found in other dioceses around the world. In the Syrian cities of Damascus and Aleppo, there are Churches that Eastern Catholics and Orthodox use together. One was built by a Melkite Eastern Catholic donor and the other by an Eastern Orthodox donor. Although we do not yet have full Eucharistic communion, this is an example of a communion of friendship where a Catholic and Orthodox community share the same Church, but have their own times to celebrate the Sunday Divine Liturgy and other services.

In addition to this, the Catholic and Orthodox Church in Jordan celebrate Christmas together on the Gregorian calendar, December 25, and Pascha together on the Julian calendar. This avoids the embarrassment, especially in a predominantly Muslim country, to have, in some cases, the Orthodox, celebrate Palm Sunday on the same day that the Catholics are celebrating the Resurrection.

At Pascha, in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Church, we greet each other: “Christ is Risen. He is truly Risen.” An internet meme was shared in the Middle East last year with the title: “Christ is Risen, … and now is He looking for a donkey to re-enter Jerusalem.”

Our pastoral communion is important for us and for our witness to the Gospel. These examples of our pastoral communion in Orange County and from the region where Jesus and the apostles lived and walked, remind us that communion is something we have and that fuller communion is something we need to keep praying for. However, if we don’t live the communion we can with those around us, then we will never have the fuller communion we’re praying for.

In addition to this pastoral communion, we as Catholics and Orthodox already share a Theological communion. Saint Pope John Paul II in his encyclical “Ut Unum Sint/That they may be one” reminded us of the words of Saint Pope John XXIII who said: “What unites us is much greater than what divides us” (Paragraph 20. May 25, 1995).

The Theological dialogue is doing great work focusing on the important points needed for full Eucharistic communion between our Churches. There is great optimism for this dialogue because there is already so much koinonia [communion] between the Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Orthodox Church on many Theological issues.

Although expressed in different ways, all Catholics and Orthodox have the same Theological understanding of the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Jesus, the centrality of the Mary, the Mother of God, the importance of saints and sacred images, apostolic succession, and a variety of other crucial historical Christian teachings.

Tradition is crucial to the Orthodox and Catholic understanding of doctrine. Saint Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered [traditioned] to you” (1 Cor. 11:23). This is not human tradition (Col.2:8), it is sacred tradition (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thes. 2:15; 2 Thes. 3:6) because it was handed down from the Lord, to the apostles, then to every generation that preceded us and which we continue to treasure.

We as Catholics and Orthodox should never forget our common witness to this apostolic faith that already unites. Today, what it means to be a Christian has become diluted as we live in a world where you can buy a clergy license online within a few minutes and start up a church with you and your neighbors within a few weeks.

The word Catholic means “universal” in Latin and “belonging to the whole” in Greek. The word Orthodox means “correct teaching.” Whether we are Catholic or Orthodox we believe in a Church that is both Catholic and Orthodox. This Church that we both believe in is Catholic because it teaches the same thing throughout the whole neighborhood and has done so since the time of the Apostles and it is Orthodox, because what it teaches is consistent with the teachings of the Apostles, ecumenical councils, and Church hierarchy.

Our names, irony reflect an already present unity. The Catholic Church believes profoundly that it is Orthodox, that it is professing the right teachings, and the Orthodox Church believes it is Catholic, that it is a Church that goes back historically and geographically to the foundations of Christianity.

At the transfiguration Peter says “Lord, it is good that we are here” (Mt. 17:4). It is only when Peter recognizes the beauty of the moment that God showed him, James, and John something greater: the voice of the Father saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt. 17:5. Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36).

Today, we are here together from all five apostolic liturgical families: Roman, Byzantine, Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac. This is truly ecumenical, because the whole household of God is together. Let us keep rejoicing at the unity that we have as we say with Peter: “Lord, it is good that we are here” (Mt. 17:4). After we recognize how good it is that we who are praying here together already share a communion of truth, love, and friendship with each other, we can listen to the voice of the Father who says “this is my beloved Son” to remind us of the focus of our communion.

We do not want and are not looking for mere human communion, but one that is built on and always faces the beloved Son, who died and rose from the dead as Saint Paul tells us: “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. …[10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection” (Phil.3:8, 10).

We are in communion in so many ways, let us continue to rejoice in that communion, and realize that through our humility and unwavering prayers before our Savior, He will at the right time prepare our hearts for an even greater communion to fulfill His words “that the world may believe that You have sent me” (John 17:21).
Since, the proclamation of the death and resurrection of our Lord is the foundation of our faith, I would like all of us to share this Paschal greeting with each other: “Christ is Risen. He is truly Risen.”

Father François Beyrouti
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church
451 West Madison Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870-4537
Office: (714) 985-1710
My cell: (714) 914-1710
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