top of page
History of our
MELKITE CATHOLIC CHURCH
10 November 1963, Pope Paul VI to the Melkite hierarchy assembled in Rome:
"Your Melkite Greek Catholic Church represents the most direct succession of the Apostolic Eastern tradition. The love I bear for you causes me to pray for you to the Lord that I may not only show you my love with words, but also with deeds.”
After a long period of persecution, in 313AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine 1 issued the Edict of Milan legalising Christian worship. In the lands where Christianity flourished, local customs and traditions influenced how the Christian faith evolved, matured and importantly how it was expressed―giving each local church a distinct way of celebrating their faith.
In the western part of the Roman Empire, the Latin Rite of the Holy See prevailed. In the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the Rite of the Church of Constantinople prevailed. As well, in the east, the Rite of the Church of Antioch and the Rite of the Church of Alexandria were also significant.
Antioch is the centre of influence for all Christendom. It was at Antioch that St Peter began his apostolate before going to Rome. The term Christian was first used in Antioch (Acts 11:26).
Alexandria was referred to as the ’home of monasteries and the glory of Egypt’. At one time the Patriarchate of Alexandria was comprised of 11 archdiocese and over 100 dioceses. Patriarch Alexander and his successor St Athanasius were among the leading Fathers of the first ecumenical council held in Nicaea in 325AD. Over the following centuries, this ancient stronghold of the Christian faith, was destroyed.
The doctrines of the Catholic Church were established over a period of seven Ecumenical Councils. These councils were Nicaea (325AD), Constantinople I (381AD), Ephesus (431AD), Chalcedon (451AD), Constantinople II (553AD), Constantinople (680AD) and Nicaea II (787AD).
Many churches’ denominations were formed over these years because not all Christians agreed on points of doctrine, theology, and church structure. Further down, we briefly cover the East-West Schism of 1054 between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
Christians who accepted the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon (451AD)―that Jesus was both human and divine―were called Melkites. The name Melkite is derived from the Syriac word melek, which means king. Marcian, the Byzantine Emperor of the new Roman Empire accepted that Jesus was both human and divine.
Those who accepted that Jesus had one nature, the Monophysites, rejected the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon. The Monophysites first used the name Melkite, to deride and stigmatise the Christians who shared the beliefs of Marcian, the Byzantine Emperor. Eventually, the name Melkite lost its derogatory inference and was adopted by the Christians who accepted the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon―that Jesus was both human and divine.
The Melkites originally formed the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. They spoke Greek, as this was the main language of the Middle East at the time. The Melkites had strong ties with Rome and Constantinople and for almost 200 years used the Antiochian Rite of worship. Eventually, the Copts formed the Patriarchate of Alexandria. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem remained Melkite.
From the 7th century, Antioch was subject to Islamic oppression and persecution. The Melkites were targeted because of their Christian faith and their loyalty to Marcian, the Byzantine Emperor―this forced many Melkites into exile. For years the Patriarchate of Antioch was battered, but not lost. However due to the Melkites' presence in Constantinople―which used the Byzantine Rite of worship―and because of repeated attempts between 960 and 1085 by the Patriarchate of Constantinople to ‘Byzantinise’ Antioch, the Melkites eventually adopted the Byzantine Rite in their Liturgy.
The persecution, oppression and massacre of the Melkites continued throughout the Mamluk period (1250 to 1516) and the Ottoman period (1516-1918), the Sultan ruled over all the Middle East. At this point, the language and culture of Melkites become Arabic.
The Melkites had no political power or legal rights. All Christians were subject to the authority of their Patriarch. The Ottoman empire did not consider the Melkites to be members of the Patriarchate of Antioch and made them subject to the Patriarch of Constantinople. During the Ottoman rule the Melkites became involved in medicine and other professions. Many also translated into Arabic, volumes of the philosophical, medical, and scientific works of ancient Greece.
OUR UNION WITH ROME
The relationship between Antioch and Rome strengthened from the 17th century. In 1625 Latin missionaries came to the Middle East, under the patronage of the French consulates.
Efthimios Al Saifi, the Melkite Archbishop of Tyre and Sidon from 1682 to 1723, favoured unity with Rome. With the help of his followers and the Latin missionaries he established a Melkite community. They followed the rule of St Basil, who founded eastern monasticism and established the Monastery of the Holy Saviour, which housed many Basilian Salvatorian monks―the largest Melkite community at the time. Other Melkite monks who also favoured union with Rome established the Monastery of St John the Baptist.
In the 18th century, the Melkites were divided. In 1724, the Patriarch of Antioch, Athanasius III, died. He had recommended that his former deacon, a 28–year-old Greek monk named Sylvester, succeed him, with the name, Patriarch Kyrillos VI. Some of the clergy and people of Antioch were not pleased and instead elected Efthimios Al Saifi's, nephew, Seraphim Tanas, as the new Patriarch. However, the Turks upheld the decision of the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople, who also favoured, Sylvester as the Patriarch of Antioch and he was installed as Patriarch Kyrillos VI.
Kyrillos VI was a Melkite Catholic who studied in Rome, and he maintained unity with the Pope. That is why, there are two branches of Melkites―The Melkite Greek Catholics and the Orthodox Melkites.
For many years the Melkite Greek Catholics, conflicted with the Turks and the Orthodox Melkites. In 1848, Patriarch Maximos III Mazloum led the Melkite Greek Catholics to independence. The Sultan granted the Melkite Greek Catholic Church civil and ecclesiastical rights and identity of their Patriarchate.
Other pioneers of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church are Patriarch Gregorios II Youssef and Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh. They shepherded our church with wisdom and care, to ensure the fruition of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church’s mission and aims, especially that of understanding between East and West.
The Melkite Greek Catholic Archeparchy is headquartered in Damascus, Syria where the seat is held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Dormition. It has ancient origins, dating from the 3rd century. Today our Church has many bishops, priests, monks, nuns, and deacons around the world. It is estimated that there are 3.5 million Melkite Catholics worldwide. These include Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Sudanese, and others of Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern origin.
In 1054, political motivations and interference led to a schism (division) between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Rome, that still exists.
There have been many attempts at reunion. The earliest attempts were at the 1274 Ecumenical Council of Lyons and the 1439 Ecumenical Council of Florence. Both councils resolved to undertake a Decree of Reunion, but the reunions were short-lived. Then in 1453, the city of Constantinople, the final stronghold and fortress of eastern Christendom fell to the Turks, as Islam swept across Northern Africa, the Holy Land and Spain. The pendulum of the Church now swung west to the Roman Empire and the Holy See.
The separated eastern Churches, who followed the Patriarch of Constantinople are known as Orthodox Churches. They retain all the sacraments and doctrine, but they do not acknowledge the Pope of Rome as the infallible head of the Christian Church.
During, The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, 1962–1965 (Vatican II) under the leadership of both Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, another attempt was made to restore full union between the separated eastern Orthodox and western Catholic Churches (Decree on Ecumenism, No 14), again a reunion was not achieved.
The Melkites did not follow the Patriarchate of Constantinople into division with the Holy See. The Melkites maintained unity with the Holy See. Thus, we are Eastern Catholics, of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, or simply Melkite Catholics.
bottom of page