The body of Patriarch Maximos V lies in state at the Cathedral of the Dormition, Damascus, Syria. (photo: AFP/Corbis)
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Maximos V. (photo: courtesy, Eparchy of Newton)
An outstanding leader of the Eastern Church, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Maximos V, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, died on 29 June at the age of 93 at Sacred Heart Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon.
Elected their 20th patriarch by the Synod of Bishops of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church on 22 November 1967, Patriarch Maximos led his church for 33 years. A direct successor of St. Peter in the See of Antioch, he retired on 22 November 2000, nine months after suffering a stroke that left him gravely incapacitated. He was succeeded only a few months ago by Patriarch Gregorios III.
Renowned for his efforts to restore church unity, Patriarch Maximos believed that the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of Antioch should be in communion with the Orthodox Church of Antioch as well as with the Church of Rome.
With this goal in mind, Patriarch Maximos initiated a renewal of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Latin traditions introduced over the years such as First Communion, Stations of the Cross and Benediction were replaced with the ancient traditions shared by the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches. During a 1990 visit to CNEWA, the Patriarch noted that this renewal was proceeding slowly so as not to disturb the faithful, who were accustomed to the familiar Latin elements introduced into the Eastern tradition, but the way [was] for de-Latinization, with the help of the Holy Father himself.
I remember, the Patriarch recalled, with great emotion when the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I, met with Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem.
Athenagoras stated that he would like to drink out of the same chalice as the Holy Father . This is the thing for which we are very sorry: not to be able to drink of the same chalice.
Patriarch Maximos led the synod of his church in promoting what came to be called the Antiochian initiative. In July 1996, under his aegis, the Melkite Greek Catholic Synod issued a statement, Reunification of the Antiochian Patriarchate, which declared that the Fathers of the Holy Synod will remain in full communion with the Apostolic Church of Rome and at the same time will work out with her precisely what is required for them to enter into communion with the Antiochian Orthodox Church.
Born George Hakim in Tanta, Egypt, on 8 May 1908, the future patriarch was the son of Syrian parents. He studied at the Melkite Greek Catholic Seminary of St. Anne in Jerusalem and was ordained a priest in 1930. Consecrated Eparch of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and All the Galilee in 1943, he participated in Vatican II and helped open the council to women observers.
For more than 40 years, Patriarch Maximos was a good friend of CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission. In the late 40s and early 50s, he worked closely with Msgr. Thomas J. McMahon, National Secretary of CNEWA and first President of the Pontifical Mission, to bring relief to Palestinians devastated by the first Arab-Israeli war.
May this great priest, bishop and patriarch now rest in peace.