Melkites - Origin of the word "melkite"

The Greeks-Melkites Catholics are, originally, in the three great Eastern Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem. The word "melkite" comes from the Syriac "malko" and means "royal" or "imperial"; it is a nickname given for the first time in 460, in Egypt, by the monophysites, to the orthodoxes who had taken sides for the legitimate patriarch, Timothée II, supported by the Roman (Byzantine) emperor Leon 1st. It was therefore, at the time, a synonym of political-religious loyalty. From Egypt, this nickname quickly passed into Syria. Currently, the common usage reserves this name to the Catholics of the Byzantine (Greek) rite of Arabic language in the three patriarchates mentioned above and in emigration. As for the non-Catholics of these same three patriarchates, they are called, in Arabic, "Roum", that is to say Eastern Greeks, while the Melkite Catholics are also called "Roum katholik". Catholicism is so characteristic of Greek Melkite Catholics that, for a commoner, especially in Syria, the term "katholik", without further specification, always refers to Greek Melkite Catholics. Today, all the Melkites are of Arabic language. In the past, notably from the 5th to the 12th centuries, there were Melkites of Byzantine origin who still spoke Greek, others of native race who spoke Syriac, and finally others of Arab ethnicity, converted to Christianity from the 5th century, well before Islam, who spoke Arabic. This ethnic and linguistic plurality also existed among the monophysites of the time, but with a predominance of the Syriac language. The Melkites of today, both Catholic and Orthodox, therefore represent the trunk of the two large trees formed by the two great ecclesiastical districts already recognized at the Council of Nicea (325) and which had their centers respectively in Alexandria (for the territories corresponding to the Roman civil "diocese" of Egypt) and to Antioch (for the "diocese" of the East).

Melkites from the 5th to the 17th centuries

The Patriarchate of Alexandria, recognized as such, in confirmation of what had been decided at Nicea, by the second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 381), was divided by the schism consecutive to the spread of monophysism into two branches: one Orthodox or Melkite, the other Copt (the Copts, for partly political reasons, had adhered to monophysism). It was not until modern times, in the 18th century, that each of these two branches was, in turn, split in two. We have thus, currently, for Alexandria, an Orthodox Patriarchate of the Byzantine rite, with faithful who, in Egypt, are for the most part Greeks more or less recently immigrants, and an Arabic-speaking minority (there has also been, for quite a while recent, faithful of this Patriarchate in various French-speaking and English-speaking countries of Africa), a Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate (of the same rite, but entirely Arabic-speaking, with faithful originating in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, and linked to the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch), a Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate (monophysite) and a Coptic Catholic Patriarchate. The other Eastern Catholic Churches all have communities in Egypt, whose ecclesiastical organization depends on their respective patriarchs, who reside in Lebanon (Armenian, Maronite and Syrian) or in Iraq (Chaldean).

The successive divisions of the Patriarchate of Antioch

The Patriarchate of Antioch, as it was in 416, has given rise, since that time, to several other Churches, which are its "emancipated" daughters.
1. - In 416, the island of Cyprus, already politically independent, received from Pope Innocent I (401-417) a conditioned autonomy from his Church; this autonomy became autocephaly at the Council of Ephesus (431), practically established in 488 under the reign of the emperor Zeno. Trained in the schism of Michel Cérulaire (1054), the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, at present, is still autocephalous; there are some 10,000 Catholics on the island, mainly Maronites, with a Latin minority.
2. - The Church of Persia has its origins in the metropolis of Edessa, which depended on Antioch, although it never had a very solid hierarchical link with the capital of the Eastern Orient; it proclaimed its independence in 424 (it is from there that comes the current Chaldean Church, catholic since the XVth century).
3. - In 451, at the ecumenical council of Chalcedon, Juvenal, bishop of Jerusalem, obtained the amplification of the honorary prerogatives granted at his seat by the council of Nicea, that is to say the patriarchal title, with jurisdiction over three provinces of Palestine. The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem was governed, from 1543, by an exclusively Greek hierarchy (with rare exceptions), with patriarchs and metropolites belonging to the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher and originating in Greece or Cyprus, while the faithful are overwhelmingly Arab. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, created at the time of the Crusades, in 1099, became purely titular from 1191, then became residential again in 1847, with jurisdiction over the Latin faithful of Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus, partly recent immigrants, partly indigenous, Catholics of old date or converted in the 19th century (at a time when the Greek-Melkite Catholic clergy, too few in these territories, were unable to welcome them into the Church that should have been theirs).
4. - From the Patriarchate of Jerusalem stood out, in 1575, the small archbishopric of Sinai, whose jurisdiction is limited to the famous Greek monastery of Saint Catherine (whose archbishop is Higoumene) and to some Arab villages in the surroundings. He is autonomous, but his archbishop still receives the episcopal chirotony of the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem.
5. - Around 470, Georgia, converted to Christianity, especially by missionaries from the Patriarchates of Antioch and Constantinople, formed a Catholicossate which, towards the middle of the eighth century, obtained almost complete autonomy, with which the Patriarchate 'Antioch communicated through the Melkite metropolitan headquarters of Theodosiopolis (Erzeroum), in Armenia; these relationships continued, albeit sporadically until the 18th century. In 1736 a Greek-Melkite Catholic archbishop of Tiflis was appointed, who then had to go into exile and had no successor.
6. - The most important schism in 543-544, was that due to monophysism; and created, in opposition to the Orthodox hierarchy, another Patriarchate of Antioch (whose patriarch almost never resided in Antioch). Of the four million inhabitants in Syria at the time, some two million adhered to monophysism, under the jurisdiction of this new Patriarchate.
7. - The (Orthodox) Patriarchate of Antioch having been vacant from 701 to 742, because of a wave of persecutions, the monks of the great monastery of Saint-Maron, in Syria, near the sources of the Orontes, which shared with the Melkites the defense of the Chalcedonian faith against the monophysites, took advantage of the long vacancy of the patriarchal siege to give themselves their own patriarch, in circumstances which are not very clear. In 742, the caliph Hicham allowed the election of the Melkite patriarch Etienne III, but the successor of this one, Théophylacte Bar Qambara, protected by the caliph Marouan II, resorted to violence to put an end to this double jurisdiction, following what the monks of Saint-Maron and their patriarch, supported by a certain number of faithful and priests linked to their community, resisted on the spot, then took refuge in Lebanon, almost independent at the time, where they formed a new Church , first bringing together a small number of the faithful, who then progressed due to a fertile demography and today form the Maronite Church. Weakened by all these losses, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch could count, at the time of the crusades, about half a million faithful. The Byzantines had taken over Antioch in 969 and kept the city until the arrival of the crusaders in 1098: Prince Bohemond, despite the promises made to the Byzantine emperor Alexis Comnene, kept it for himself and obliged the Melkite patriarch Jean V to abandon the city. It was at this time that the Melkite patriarchs of Antioch (all Greeks during this period) went to reside in Constantinople, and this until the reconquest of Antioch in 1268 by the Mamluk sultan of Egypt Baibars.


The domination of the Byzantines had a first consequence, of a liturgical order: until then, the Patriarchate of Antioch, even in its Orthodox (Chalcedonian) branch, had observed the Antiochian rite, very influenced by that of Jerusalem, and which is still now followed by the Syrian Orthodox Church and (with various modifications) by the Syrian Catholic Church and the Maronite Church. Gradually, there was interaction between the Antiochian liturgy and that of Constantinople, until the end of the 13th century; it was the same in Jerusalem and Alexandria. As a good part of the population spoke Syriac, the Byzantine liturgical books were translated into this language (the libraries of Europe have more than two hundred Melkite manuscripts in Syriac, of this time, the most recent dating from the middle of the XVIIth century) . But the progression of Arabic as a language spoken by the majority of the population resulted in the introduction of Arabic into the liturgy. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Metropolitan of Aleppo Meletios Karmé revised the Arabic translations of the liturgical texts and gave them the form which has been preserved until today, with some improvements. The second consequence of the stay of the Melkite patriarchs of Antioch in Constantinople, from 1098 to 1268, was the introduction of the schism of Michel Cérulaire, despite the well-known resistance of the patriarch of Antioch Peter III. The installation of a Latin patriarch in Antioch after the departure of John V, the antagonism of Bohemond and the Byzantine emperor, the forced subordination of the Eastern hierarchy to the Latin hierarchy, were all elements which pushed the Melkites to the opposition. As for the precise moment of separation, which was more political than religious, it is not possible to date it exactly. From 1268, the patriarchs were again almost all indigenous; but relations with the West were severely prohibited by the sultans of Egypt, to whom Syria was then subject; moreover, the Melkite πatriarch was much more watched than the Maronite πatriarch, more independent in its mountains of Lebanon. One notes nevertheless the union with Rome in 1098, in 1242 and during the years which followed and from 1274 to 1283; the union was reestablished at the Council of Florence (1439) and lasted until around 1443; was again restored in 1457 by the Patriarchate of Antioch and in 1460 by the Patriarchate of Alexandria and Jerusalem by means of a delegation of Moses Giblet who went to Pope Pius II in Siena. This union seems to have lasted until the conquest of Syria by the Ottomans in 1517. From 1517, relations with Rome again became practically impossible; the influence of the Greeks of Constantinople increased and the Union fell into oblivion. In the other two Patriarchates, the Cerular schism was not immediately accepted. In the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, without a resident holder since the city was taken by the crusaders (1098), the Greco-Melkite hierarchy was subordinated to the Latin Patriarchate according to a modus vivendi which gradually established itself. After Saladin's conquest of the Holy City in 1187, the Greek patriarch returned to his seat, and relations with the Latins ceased, if only for political necessity. In the Patriarchate of Alexandria, it was very difficult to know the name of the reigning Pope of Rome. The historian Yahya ibn Saïd (11th century), who was a Melkite from Antioch, reports, at the beginning of his work, how, from 685 to the year 1000, in Egypt, people always remembered Pope Benedict II (684- 685) because the names of his successors were unknown, and this until John XVIII (l003-1009), and the author apologizes for not giving the names of the popes who were missing for this reason. However, still in the first half of the 14th century, the official diploma given by the Fatimid caliphs of Cairo to the Melkite patriarch of Alexandria made explicit mention of his submission to the Pope of Rome, while forbidding him any relationship whatsoever with the West. After its destruction by Baibars in 1268, Antioch lost its importance, and the patriarch Pacôme I transferred his residence to Damascus between 1375 and 1386. Consequently, little by little, Damascus ceased to have its own metropolitan and became a patriarchal eparchy .

Melkites since the 18th century

Sent to the East by Pope Gregory XIII, the titular (Latin) bishop of Sidon, Leonardo Abel, Maltese, between 1583 and 1587 won to the Catholic faith the old patriarch emeritus of Antioch, Michael VII, who resigned in 1582 and retired to Aleppo. It is very likely that this mission of the Maltese bishop dates back to the constitution in Aleppo of a small Catholic nucleus, which gradually grew in number when the Jesuits and Capuchins (1625), then the Carmelites (1626) opened. residences in Aleppo. In 1634, the patriarch Euthyme II (Karmé) sent his profession of Catholic faith to Rome, but died before receiving papal confirmation. In 1653, there were some 7,000 Catholics in Damascus. In 1664, Macaire III (Zaim), patriarch of Antioch from 1637 to 1672, imitated the example of Euthyme II, but without declaring himself publicly, and without interrupting his relations with the other Orthodox patriarchs. In 1687, Athanase III (Dabbas), competitor of Cyrille V (Zaim), did the same, then retired in 1694 to Aleppo, city become the citadel of Catholicism in Syria. In 1701, the metropolitan of Beirut and the bishop of Baalbek formally adhered to the Catholic faith. Those who were in communion with Rome had become numerous enough for the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (from Propaganda Fide) to openly name, in 1684, the metropolitan of Tire and Saida, Euthyme Saïfi (disciple of the Jesuits and Catholic at heart for a long time), as apostolic administrator of the Melkite Catholics scattered throughout the Patriarchate of Antioch; this metropolitan, founder of the Basilian order of the Holy Savior, was a great propagator of Catholicism in Syria outside Damascus and Aleppo. In 1716, the patriarch Cyrille V, hitherto opposed to Rome, having been won by his friend Poullard, consul of France in Saïda, sent his profession of Catholic faith to Rome, at the same time as the bishop of Seidnaya, Gerasimos, then died in 1720, leaving the Patriarchate to Athanasius III. The latter, although he had shown himself favorable to Catholics when he retired to Aleppo, then behaved differently. When he died in 1724, the Catholic party, which had become quite powerful, quickly chose as patriarch, failing the metropolitan Euthyme Saïfi (died in 1723), his nephew Seraphim Tanas, who took the name of Cyrille VI. The Greeks of Constantinople immediately opposed the Cypriot Sylvester to him, and a bitter struggle ignited for the possession of the Patriarchate. Expelled from Damascus, Cyrille VI found asylum in Lebanon, then semi-independent. The union with Rome could easily spread to Lebanon and always remained solid in Aleppo and Damascus, despite the sometimes violent persecutions; in the rest of Syria, the opposition of the orthodox hierarchy paralyzed the efforts, while the successors of Cyrille VI were all native Melkites, those of the Greek Sylvester were all Greeks until 1899, year during which the party native, supported by Russia, managed to exclude the Greeks. In the Patriarchates of Alexandria and Jerusalem, the Melkite Catholics, dispersed and in small numbers, were entrusted to the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land. On May 19, 1772, at the request of the clergy and the faithful, Rome entrusted them, as apostolic administrator, to the Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, then residing in Lebanon. In 1832, the Egyptians seized Damascus and all Syria, which they kept until 1841. Taking advantage of this, the patriarch Maximos III (Mazloum), elected in 1833, returned to Damascus in 1834; until his death in 1855, he spent a good part of his patriarchy preparing and then applying, not without vigorous struggles, the civil emancipation he obtained from the Sublime Porte for his Church in 1848. In 1838, he had obtained from Pope Gregory XVI the personal privilege of carrying, in addition to that of patriarch of Antioch, the titles of patriarch of Alexandria and Jerusalem. In 1894, Pope Leo XIII extended the jurisdiction of the Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch, beyond the limits of the three Patriarchates, to his followers living throughout the rest of the Ottoman Empire. The too hasty introduction of the Gregorian calendar by the patriarch Clement I (Bahouth), in 1857, was the pretext of a small schism caused in reality by other reasons, and quickly absorbed by the wise administration (1864-1897) , cautious and energetic of the patriarch Gregorios II (Youssef-Sayyour), under whom the Greek-Melkite Catholic community made great progress, especially in the Tripoli regions of Lebanon and Jdeidet Marjeyoun; under his successors, from Pierre IV (Géraigiry) to Cyrille IX (Moghabghab), this progress extended in particular to Galilee, Transjordan and in the region of Homs, in compensation for the serious losses caused by the famine during the first world war and consequent emigrations. At the same time, these patriarchs had to face the consequences throughout the Near East of the decomposition of the Ottoman Empire and the two world wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. Maximos IV (Saïgh), patriarch from 1947 to 1967, is especially remembered for the eminent role he had, with the support of the entire Greek-Melkite Catholic episcopate, at Vatican Council II, a role recognized and appreciated by all, in particular by popes John XXIII and Paul VI; he was the forerunner of several initiatives and developments contained in the documents of the council, notably on collegiality, on the place of the Eastern Churches in the Catholic Church, on ecumenism, on the liturgy, etc. His successor Maximos V (Hakim), from 1967 to 2000, great builder, set out to respond to the new challenges posed to the Greek Melkite Catholic Church, particularly in terms of pastoral assistance to the faithful in the diaspora, now more numerous than those of the Near East, and of dialogue with the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. Finally, the patriarch Gregorios III (Laham), elected on November 29, 2000, wants to be a continuation of his predecessors. with special emphasis on the place of Christians in Arab society and the need to stem emigration, dialogue with Islam, ecumenism, hard work in liturgy (chairman of the patriarchal liturgical commission from the epoch when he was patriarchal vicar in Jerusalem: renewal and publication of liturgical books, texts and psaltic annotation), as well as the clarification of the relations of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church with the Apostolic Holy See in Rome. Currently, five patriarchs bear the title of Antioch; these are, in addition to the patriarch of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church: that of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch (His Beatitude Ignatius IV Hazim), that of the Syrian-Orthodox Church (His Holiness Ignatius Zakka I Iwas) of the Maronite Church (His Eminent Beatitude Cardinal Boutros Nasrallah Sfeir) and that of the Syrian-Catholic Church (His Beatitude Ignatius Joseph III Younan).