The next stop on our church tour of Scranton is St. Joseph Melkite Church, which is a 7 minute drive from the University. Founded by Lebanese immigrants, the church has existed in Scranton for over 100 years.
The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern (or Byzantine) extension of the Catholic Church, with its own history, tradition, theology, and liturgy. Although the Melkite Church is governed by a Patriarch (currently, Gregory III Laham), it is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope. The Melkites are not a part of the Orthodox Church, which is separated from the Catholic Church.
The church service I attended was a communion distribution service rather than a full mass with consecration. This was the case because the pastor of St. Joseph passed away this year, and the parish has not yet received another pastor to hold traditional services. The consecrated bread and wine were brought in from another generous nearby Melkite parish.
Even though I did not get to experience the full mass, I was still awed and inspired by many novel parts of the communion service. For example, the presider processed the blessed sacrament around the Church in an act of praise and victory, and members of the congregation blessed themselves when the blessed sacrament passed them. This procession happened several times throughout the service. In addition, it seemed that members of the congregation made the sign of the cross whenever the name of the holy Trinity was invoked.
The music at the service was the most interested aspect for me. Although there was no instrumental accompaniment, the congregation sang words of praise in a very non-Western harmony that was strange to my ears at first. The tonality was Middle Eastern, and it reminded me of the Muslim call to worship. Also, because some of the liturgy was in Arabic, it was not uncommon to hear God referred to as “Allah.” (I’m not going to lie: Once or twice during the service, I found myself wondering, Is this my religion?)
After the service, members of the Church got to share and take home pieces of blessed bread. The bread was a yellow, dense square that contained hints of rose water and some other unusual spice. It was delicious! I’m so excited to return to St. Joseph’s when a new pastor is appointed to them.
Up next on the Church Tour: St. Ann Maronite Church.