Chaldean patriarch Louis Sako I has suspended a group of monks and priests who fled Iraq without consulting their superiors, saying a priest’s primary duty is to serve his flock wherever he is asked. “Before his ordination, the ‘Priest’ announces the offering of his whole life to God and the Church. It is an offering grounded in the obedience to his superiors without any conservation,” Patriarch Sako said in his Oct. 22 statement. “For monks, the vows are absolute; chastity, obedience and poverty. Looking for substitutes is considered a grave violation to the vows.” Published on the Chaldean Patriarchate’s website, the statement gives the names of six priests and six monks who, as of Oct. 22, have been suspended from their priestly duties for leaving their eparchies without consulting their superiors, and for refusing to return when asked. The patriarch noted that those who left are currently living in the United States, Canada, Australia and Sweden, and assured that because of this, his decision “is not an act against a certain Eparchy.” He explained that the decision was made in accord with the monastic context after consulting Canon Law and monastic regulations, as well as speaking with the permanent synod and informing the Vatican’s Congregation of the Oriental Churches. Patriarch Sako asked that all bishops adhere to Canon Law in order to ensure order in the midst of the crisis unfolding in the Middle East, and to maintain centralization in the Church and Eparchies. If the decree of suspension is not published, then “confusion will occur and rumors will spread,” the patriarch explained. “Today’s Church, away from compliments, relativity and ambiguity, counts on explicitly revealing the truths to all and not hiding them, so that people may know the truth and have confidence in the Church.” He said that the objective of the degree itself is to end the “illegal exit” of the priests from their eparchies, and said that it had only been issued after numerous “unfortunately unfruitful” ultimatums and attempts were made on the part of the Chaldean Order superior and other Church authorities to get them to return. Among the primary duties of a priest are to keep the faith complete, to build up the Mystical Body of Christ and to enhance the unity of his Church, Patriarchate or Eparchy under the guidance of the local ordinary, Patriarch Sako observed. He explained that a priest is someone who serves “where the Church sends (him) not where he wishes to serve. This is a successive tradition since the Apostolic Age.” In the Byzantine ordination liturgy, the patriarch breaks the consecrated host into four pieces, giving one of them to the newly ordained priest as a symbol of unity and communion, he pointed out, saying that these values “should never fade because of personal interests!” Patriarch Sako then spoke of many contemporary priests who have given “eloquent” examples of shedding their blood for their flocks. He mentioned Hana Qasha from the village of Suria, Ragheed Ganni and Bishop Paulus Faraj Rahho of Mosul, as well as the many priests who have been kidnapped or forced to leave their churches, but have stayed with their flock despite the dangers. “I remind you, brothers, of Jesus’ saying, ‘He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life,’” the patriarch said, quoting the Gospel of John. The Church, he continued, is both a mother “who loves her children but does not spoil them, and a teacher who raises, reminds, guides, and corrects the path of her children with responsibility.” Patriarch Sako then spoke directly to priests serving outside of their eparchies, alluding to the fact that he has documents from the priest’s bishops other than the ones that they have posted online. The patriarch also forgave some of the priests “from the bottom of my heart” for insulting words that they have directed toward him, and asked that “the merciful God” might also forgive them. A separate priest, Fr. Paulus Khuzeran, was personally thanked by Patriarch Sako for deciding to leave where he was staying in the United States, and return to his monestary in obedience to his superiors. Yousif Lazghin, who returned from Australia, was another that the patriarch thanked by name. If the other priests now officially under suspension will return, their status will be reviewed, he said. “We plead to all to pray for the Chaldean Church and her progress for the Glory of God and the good of her children,” he said. The six monks currently under suspension were named as Noel Istepho Gorgis; Andraws Gorgis Toma; Oraha Qardagh Mansour; Patros Solaqa; Ayob Shawkat Adwar, who immigrated recently to Canada; and Fady Isho Hanna, who has already submitted an application the Congregation of the Oriental Churches to be a diocesan priest. He will still be suspended until the potential approval is received. The six priests named in the decree are Fareed Kena and Faris Yaqo Maroghi, from the Eparchy of Alqosh, both of whom were suspended by Msgr. Michael Maqdasi, Bishop of Alqosh, over a year ago; Remon Hameed and Hurmiz Petros Haddad from the Eparchy of Baghdad; Peter (Petros) Lawrance, from the Eparchy of Basrah then Baghdad; and Yousif (Lazgeen) Abdulahad, from the Eparchy of Zakho and Amadiya. Letters for the latter two have already been sent to their patriarchates.