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Melkite Greek Catholic Church

The Melkites arose in 684, as a Greek branch of the Syrian Arabs, the Byzantine Emperor obliging a large part of the latter, against whom he was waging war, to adopt the Rite of the imperial city. Those who did so were called Melkite from the word Malek, a king, in contradistinction to those who continued to follow the national Syrian Rite.

After Chalcedon there was still a great number of people, chiefly in Egypt and Syria, who refused to accept its decrees, who thought Chalcedon had given way to Nestorianism. These are the Monophysites, whom various Emperors vainly tried to conciliate. Out of these attempts to conciliate the Monophysites arose a crowd of minor heresies, compromises and evasive formulas which satisfy no one, which lead to fresh schisms and further confusions. There are subdivisions and all manner of strange new heresies among the Monophysites themselves. The first scene of Monophysite agitation was naturally Egypt.

By 452 there were already clearly two parties in Egypt. The "Imperial" party, the Greek garrison, officials, governors - in short, the foreign ruling class - obeyed the Emperor, accepted Chalcedon and acknowledged Proterius. This party acquired a name which was to become famous in Egypt and Syria, which is still used, though now in a different sense. They are the "Imperialists," in Greek, in Syria the Emperor is always malhd, in Arabic almalih. From this comes the form Melhite, meaning exactly the same. A Melkite, then, is a man, in Syria or Egypt, who accepts Chalcedon, the opposite of a Monophysite - in short, an orthodox Catholic. So the name is used down to the great schism between the "Orthodox" and Catholics in the 11th century. Since then, though it has still sometimes been used for both sides in that schism.

The name Melkite, by a strange accident, is generally restricted to people in these lands who are in union with the Pope and use the Byzantine rite. Now, Byzantine Uniates in Semitic countries are the Melkites. But before the great schism Catholics and "Orthodox" are one, so they may be called indifferently by either name, or Melkites, as opposed to Monophysites and other heretics.

The (Melkite) Greek Catholic Church came into being in 1724, the result of a schism in the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch. (The term "Melkite", literally "royalist", is derived from the Syriac, Western-Aramaic word malko, which means "royal" or "king". Its use dates from the 4th century and refers to those local Christians who accepted the "Definition of Faith" of the Council of Chalcedon and remained in communion with the Imperial See of Constantinople.)

By 1900 the Greek-Melkites numbered 200,000, two-thirds of whom were in the Roman obedience. Their liturgy is according to the Greek Rite, the language being partly Syrian and partly Greek. In the xvn. century a number of the Greek Melkites returned to the Roman obedience. They occupy Syria and the holy land, and the Catholic Melkites have also churches in Europe. Their Patriarch's official residence is Damascus; he has, since the pontificate of Gregory XVI, been styled Patriarch of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria.




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