After meeting at a conference center in El Segundo on Friday night and Saturday, the Sunday portion of the Eastern Catholic Encounter West Coast was held at St. Andrew’s Russian Catholic Church in El Segundo. There, Bishop Nicholas Samra of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton gave the final talk. I was blessed to participate in the liturgy presided over by my own Bishop, His Grace Bishop Gerald of the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix, and you can see one photo from the liturgy above.
We had a wonderful liturgy and agape meal together, and we then reconvened for Sayedna Nicholas’ talk.
As was the case with the other speakers, I’d like to focus on three key messages in Sayedna Nicholas’ talk. The message began by asking this question:
Who are we as church leaders?
This question is not answered by producing a spiritual “org chart”-instead, we believe that holy orders serve to serve all people. Without the people, ministry has no meaning. Who is being ministered to, otherwise? Ministry is a servanthood, and we have to have someone to serve as ordained and lay leaders. We are part of the priesthood as other Christs, even as lay people who are leaders in the Church. Instead of seeing lay people versus the ordained as those in contrast, the ministerial priesthood that is unique to Holy Orders and Royal Priesthood which is from our common Baptism work together, hand in hand. To truly be Together in Christ, we must embrace this synergy between all Christians.
The second point I’d like to focus on is Sayedna Nicholas’ reflections on 1 Corinthians 3:9-10, which states,
“For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.”
From this reflection on us as co-workers in God’s building, Sayedna Nicholas reflected that there are three types of builders:
Architects, contractors and carpenters.
Paul is sometimes an architect, planting churches.
Paul is sometimes a contractor, passing ministry on for others to exercise leadership in those Churches.
Paul was also a carpenter, doing the actual baptisms and preaching.
Leadership is connected to being in the image and likeness of God, and we all play our part as different members in the Body of Christ. Not all of us will be as St. Paul, who built up the Church in such diverse ways. But if we are living in accordance to our calling to serve the Body of Christ, we will build up the one building that is the Church.
The last point that I wanted to emphasize in Bishop Nicholas’ talk was his reflections on the future of Eastern Catholic Churches in America. We came together, he said, but if it ended on that day, it would lead to little fruit. Long range planning is discerning strengths for the future. We have to ask what our strengths are so that we can expand and build on strengths.
For example, if our parish has good liturgy/cantoring, we must be faithful to sharing videos, recording music, and the like.
In essence, we must use our strengths to build up God’s vision.
On a practical note, Sayedna encouraged us all to take our excitement home and continue to consider how we can do things together.
The weekend can’t end, we need to follow up.
One text which was recommended to think about the importance of this was Fr. Anthony Coniaris’ book-The Eye Cannot Say to the Hand. I can testify from having read it that this is a wonderful work which shows the need that we have for each other, which runs so contrary to the individualism of our day.
He also recommended that we consult supplementary readings on the Eastern Catholic Encounter Website. If I’m following the website correctly, the link is here.
He then encouraged those of us who live near Eastern Catholics of other jurisdictions to get our communities together, planning to move forward, trying to get resources to build each other up.
In closing, I think this last point makes for a good reflection on ways Bishop Nicholas’ talk could be improved. Mostly, the improvement for which I hope can be found through all of us who have yet to live out this vision laid out in the talk. I do not feel that this follow up is actually happening on a large scale-perhaps this is only a matter of impatience or blindness on my part, but I sincerely hope that this vision can be truly lived out by all of us, so that the Body of Christ may be built up more and more.
Grant This, O Lord!