Over the years, as our Church developed and grew in the Middle East, there has been great fluidity in the use of names. Even today, there is a difference in terminology used in referring to our Church, between the Middle East and Western cultures such as Australia and New Zealand.
Today in the Western world our Church is called Melkite Catholic or Melkite Greek Catholic, whereas in the Middle East we are generally known as Room Katuleck (literally Roman Catholic). Similarly, those whom we call Antiochian or Greek Orthodox here are known as Room Orthodox (Roman Orthodox) in the Middle East. However, the word 'Room (Roman) refers not to the Rome in Italy, but to Constantinople (Byzantium), capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, which the Ancients also called New Rome. Those known as Roman Catholics in the West are called Lateen (Latins) in the Middle East.
Simply put, the proper distinction is between the Latin (Western, Rome) heritage/tradition and the Greek (Eastern, Byzantine, New Rome) heritage/tradition of the Church.
This often causes confusion when immigrants arrive from the Middle East and, with a literal translation, speak of themselves as Roman Catholics when they actually mean Room Katulcek. It is also confusing for others who come to our churches and are confronted with the multitude of names our Church uses. It is to help clarify some of this confusion that the following definitions are offered.
This term comes from the Semetic words for king, (melko, or melek). The king in this case was the Byzantine Emperor who supported the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon, held in AD 451. The opponents of this Council, most of whom were in the Middle East, called its supporters Royalists (rnalakiyeen). So the name, which today refers to the Byzantine Catholics of the Middle East, originally was an insult aimed at all Christians, both Eastern and Western, who supported the Council of Chalcedon.
Greek (‘Room' in Arabic)
This word refers to the spiritual tradition of the Greek Fathers which our Church follows. At the time of Christ, Greek was the spoken language in the major cities of the Middle East. The New Testament and the writings of the most important Church Fathers were composed in Greek. In contrast, people in the rural areas spoke Aramaic or Syriac, the historic language of the Chaldean, Maronite and Syrian Churches. Only after the Muslim conquest of the Middle East did Arabic become the universal language of this area.
This word means universal. When we say that the Church is Catholic we mean that it teaches universally and completely the full Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In contrast, sects stress one doctrine and exclude another.
St. Ignatius of Antioch in the second century AD is credited with being the first to describe the Church as Catholic. Thus the Greek-speaking Christians of the Middle East were the first to be called Catholics. And so to say that we are Melkite Greek Catholics means that we are a Church which:
• Is in harmony with the Chalcedonian teaching (Melkite);
• Follows the traditions of the Greek Fathers (Greek); and
• Is in the fullness of the Gospel (Catholic).
There are a number of other names associated with our heritage, although not part of the official name of our Church. These are:
This word refers to the city of New Rome mentioned above. Originally known as Byzantium, it is chiefly known in history as Constantinople, the city of Constantine. Its present name is Istanbul, the Turkish pronunciation of the Greek words for in the city. Our Church follows the ritual of the Great Church of Constantinople (Byzantine Liturgy) for the Divine Liturgy.
At the time the Christian Church began, Antioch was the capital of the Roman province of the East (Anatolia). It was the principal economic centre of the entire Middle East, as it was at the crossroads of the trade routes connecting Europe and Asia. For this reason it quickly became the centre of Church life in the area as well. Although the city was destroyed by an earthquake in the seventh century, the chief hierarchs of Churches in the Middle East still bear the title Patriarch of Antioch and all the East.
For the first thousand years of Christian history, the Greek Church in the Middle East used the Antiochian ritual, which greatly resembles the liturgy of the Syrian or Maronite Churches of today. The only difference was in language: they prayed in Syriac while we prayed in Greek. During the Middle Ages, especially as a result of the Muslim conquest and the Crusades, the Greek Christians of Antioch were drawn closer to their brethren in Constantinople. For many years the Antiochian patriarchs and bishops actually lived in Constantinople and were influenced by its usages. In time the Byzantine liturgical tradition became the accepted practice among the Antiochian Greeks and it is that worship tradition we follow today.
This word literally means right glorifying. Like the term Melkite, it was first used to describe those who remained faithful to the true faith in the theological controversies of the early centuries. As one of the most ancient and respected ways of describing the Church and its people, it is along with the word Catholic the term generally used in our liturgical texts to refer to the Church.
In modern usage, the term is employed as a specific designation by two major groups of Eastern Christians. In the first group are those Byzantines of various ethnic jurisdictions (e.g. Albanian, Bulgarian, Greek Middle Eastern, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, etc) who accept the Council of Chalcedon and are generally referred to as Eastern Orthodox. The second group includes those non-Byzantines (eg Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians, Syrians) who do not follows Chalcedon and are usually called Orient Orthodox. Since what divides them is precisely the acceptance of the teaching of an Ecumenical Council, it follows that these two groups of Churches are not in communion with one another.