Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchs of Antioch

Gregory III Laham (2000–2017)


Gregory III (Laham) (Arabic,غريغوريوس الثالث لحام) (b. December 15, 1933), Patriarch of the Church of Antioch, is the spiritual leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. He was elected patriarch on November 29, 2000, succeeding Maximos V Hakim. He took the name Gregory after Patriarch Gregory II Youssef, the last member of his order to be elected patriarch. Patriarch Gregory, who studied in Europe and is multilingual, is author of several books on eastern theology and spirituality.

 

Life

Early years and education

Patriarch Gregory was born Lutfy Laham in Darayya, Syria in 1933. He entered the Seminary of the Holy Savior of the Basilian Salvatorian Order near Saida, Lebanon in 1943. He took his simple religious vows in 1949 and his solemn religious vows in 1954. He received his religious and philosophical education at the Holy Savior Seminary, Joun, Lebanon. He continued his theological studies in Rome where he was ordained priest on February 15, 1959 in the Church of the Abbey of Grottaferrata in Italy.

 

Priesthood

The future patriarch received a doctoral degree in Oriental Theology from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome following his ordination . He then served as superior of the Holy Savior Major Seminary from 1961 until 1964. In 1962 he founded the magazine Al-Wahdah - Unity in Faith, the first ecumenical magazine to be published in the Arabic language. He also founded several orphanages and trade schools in Lebanon.

He was appointed administrator of the Patriarchal Vicariate of Jerusalem in 1974, in the wake of the Israeli arrest of the Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem, Archbishop Hilarion Capucci of the Aleppin Salvatorian order. Laham founded the Student Fund in Jerusalem to help needy students and in 1978 the Family Assistance Fund to help needy families in the troubled areas of his diocese. In 1967 he founded at the Patriarchate the Oriental Library to promulgate the knowledge of Eastern traditions. He initiated a variety of social projects such as repairing churches, opening clinics and building public housing, including a guest house for pilgrims at the Patriarchal Center in Jerusalem.

Following an old tradition of the more than 900-years old Order of Knighthood, founded in Jerusalem to take care of lepers in the Hospital of St. Lazarus, he is the Spiritual Protector of the international ecumenical Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem as were his predecessors Maximos IV and Maximos V.

 

Episcopate

On August 30, 1981 he was named archbishop by Patriarch Maximos V Hakim and continued his work as Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem as successor to Archbishop Hilarion Capucci. On November 27, 1981 he was enthroned as the titular archbishop of Tarsus and consecrated bishop by patriarch Maximos V Hakim.

Appointed by Patriarch Maximos V as president of the Patriarchal Liturgical Commission, he edited the Anthologion, the prayer book or breviary of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and The Book of the Liturgies, an updated compendium of the Divine Liturgy. As secretary of the Ecumenical Commission of the Melkite Patriarchate, he led the dialogue between the Melkite Greek Catholic and the Antiochian Orthodox Churches.

Patriarch Maximos resigned in 2000 at age 92 due to failing health. The episcopal synod of the Melkite Church, met at the patriarchal residence in Raboueh on November 22, 2000 to select a new leader. On November 29 the synod elected Laham patriarch. He chose the name Gregory after the Patriarch Gregory II Youssef, the last member of the Basilian Salvatorian Order to serve as head of the Melkite Church.

The patriarch is an advocate of the Christian communities of the Near and Middle East. speaking at a 2010 synod, he asserted that "among the most dangerous effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" is the phenomenon of Christian emigration, "which will make Arab society a society with only one color, a society purely Muslim." Viewing the Near East as Muslim and the West as Christian could mean that "any occasion would be propitious for a new clash of cultures, of civilizations and even of religions -- a destructive clash between the Muslim Arab East and the Christian West," he said. The patriarch called for Christian-Islam dialogue which describes to Muslims "what our fears are," including concern about a lack of separation between religion and government, lack of equality and about a legal system that is based on Islamic law.

In December 2010, Laham was quoted by the Lebanon Daily Star as claiming that attacks against Levantine Christians, such as the attack the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad were part of a “Zionist conspiracy against Islam.” Lahham reportedly stated that "All this behavior has nothing to do with Islam... But it is actually a conspiracy planned by Zionism and some Christians with Zionist orientations and it aims at undermining and giving a bad image of Islam.” He further added that "it is also a conspiracy against Arabs and the pre-dominantly Muslim Arab world that aims at depicting Arabs and Muslims in Arab countries as terrorist and fundamentalist murderers in order to deny them their rights and especially those of the Palestinians.”

In March 2011 Patriarch Gregory said “we Christians risk demographic extinction and face huge challenges,” calling on league members to “formulate ideas” on how to address the phenomenon. The Palestine-Israel conflict, Lahham said, was the “sole” reason for emigration.

 

Books

Patriarch Gregory III is author of several books, including:

  • Introduction to the Liturgical Services and their Symbols in the Eastern Church
  • The Voice of the Shepherd - Eastern Liturgical Spirituality
  • Life of Archbishop Germanos Adam
  • Translations of History of the Melkite Church (English and German)
  • The Melkite Greek Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council