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Friday, January 30, 2009

Who are the Melkites?

Since the Rosemary Tree is called "An American Melkite Catholic blog for everybody" it occurred to me that some people out there must wonder just who the Melkites are. Many Catholics know that there is a Catholic "Rite" (autonomous-ritual Church) by that name, but nothing else. For those with inquiring minds, then, here is a very brief overview of the Melkite Church.

The name Melkite is derived from the common semitic root MELEK meaning King. A Melkite is a follower of the King.

Originally it was used as a term of derision and scorn by Syrian and Coptic Monophysites who rejected the dogmatic decisions of the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451. The Monophysites (believers in "one nature" of Christ) hurled the epithet "Melkites" at those who accepted the council because it's decisions were enforced by the Roman Emperor (Ha Melek) at Constantinople. The taunt was, "You are not followers of the true faith, but of the King - you are Melkites!" To this day you will hear Syrian and Coptic Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic apologists declare that the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon were politically directed and therefore not binding.

Although meant as a reproach, the name Melkite became a badge of honor for Orthodox (Chalcedonian) Catholics in Syria and Egypt. It was taken as designating their loyalty to the King of Heaven in his two chief representatives on earth: The Holy Father in Rome and the Emperor in New Rome (Constantinople).

For various reasons the liturgical rite of the Church of Constantinople, which we now call the Byzantine Rite, was gradually adopted by the Melkites of Egypt and Syria in place of the Alexandrine and Antiochian Rites, especially after the Islamic invasions of the seventh century.

After the schism of Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople in 1054, the Syrians subject to the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch (where the disciples of our Lord were first called Christians) remained in communion with both Rome and Constantinople. At times the patriarch was more in agreement with Rome, sometimes in greater sympathy with Constantinople. This situation continued until 1724, when Cyril Tanas was elected as the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch. Cyril was a strong Catholic, thoroughly loyal to the Pope of Rome. Unfortunately, not all the clergy and people shared his views. The following year they convened a synod which elected Sylvester of Cyprus as a rival patriarch. From this sad event springs the separation of the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch, Alexandria, and All the East from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.

The name Melkite, however, was kept by the Catholics. Hence when speaking of the Melkite Church, one need not use the designation Catholic or Greek Catholic; it is understood from the word Melkite.

1 comment:

Deb Yost said...

The term Melkite is still a badge of honor to this very day. To the East a stumbling block (due to obesience to the Pope of Rome), to the West a conundrum because we are not under their rite and we cover our heads and look like happy gypsies rather than sad androgynous clones. (Sorry but all Novus Ordo parishoners, male and female, look identical to me in their matching blue jeans and sweatshirts and short hairdos.)