CATHOLIC GREEK-MELKITE CHURCH
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 centuriesThe 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 AntiochThe 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.