million members world-wide, the Melkite Church is another significant sui iuris church in communion with Rome. However, Melkites are geographically very much spread out due to
persecution and consequent emigration from the Middle East. Most recently Melkites have suffered greatly in the Syrian conflict.
In a recent
interview (March, 2014) with Aid to the Church in Need, Melkite
Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdon Arbach of Homs said 20,000 Christians now
live in Homs itself and altogether 200,000 in the region. He said that 600
families from outside Homs were now living there and that the area was home to
many thousands of Catholics.
|Christian churches are destroyed in Syria by jihadists.|
|Mother and baby light a candle in a |
Melkite church in Damascus.
The report continued: Speaking
during a visit to ACN’s international headquarters near Frankfurt, Germany, the
archbishop, a 61-year-old native Syrian, said: “The situation in and around
Homs is calm. Government troops have almost complete control over the
region and the rebels control four or five districts. The main fighting is
taking place in the cities of Yabroud and Hama.”
Abdon Arbach stressed that he and other Church leaders were determined to stay
with their people. He said: “For the faithful, it is important that their
priests and their bishop bear the suffering and persevere like anyone else.” He went on to
warn of trouble ahead for Christians in northern Syria forced to comply with
Shari‘a Islamic law rigorously enforced by extremists. He said: “Firstly,
Islamic law is to be applied. Secondly, all Christian symbols, which are
publicly visible, are to be destroyed and thirdly, Christians who wish to
remain will in future have to pay a special tax.”
These are the
terms spelled out by organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham
(Isis), which have required Christians and other minorities living under their
rule to pay up to £435 per year in Jizya tax.
Abdon Arbach’s comments came as fellow Melkite Greek Catholic Damascus-based
Patriarch Gregorios III led calls for the release of bishops and other clergy,
many of them kidnapped in rebel-held territories in Aleppo and elsewhere in
|Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa visited with Meliktes recently.|
statement released following the recent Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs
(Bishops) in Syria, Patriarch Gregorios singled out for special mention
kidnapped Aleppo Archbishops Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yizigi as well as
Fathers Michael Kayyal and Ishaq Mahfouz.
100 Syrian churches now lie damaged or destroyed, Patriarch Gregorios stated:
“We declare our rejection of all forms of extremism, murder and extortion and
all attacks on people and buildings.”
In making his
comments, the Patriarch was reflecting renewed hopes following the release on
Sunday (9 March) of 13 Sisters kidnapped last December from their monastery in
the mainly Christian town of Maaloula, 40 miles north of Damascus.
HISTORY OF THE MELKITE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Melkite is from the Syriac word malkā meaning "King". Originally it Melkite was a pejorative term
for Middle-Eastern Christians who accepted the authority of the Council of
Chalcedon (A.D. 451) and the Byzantine Emperor. This was the name given to them
|Melkite Catholics celebrate Mass in Augusta, Georgia USA|
element signifies the Byzantine Rite heritage of the church, the liturgy used
by many of the Eastern Churches. The
Melkites are Catholic by acknowledgment of the authority of the Pope and
participate in the worldwide church.
The Melkite Church of Antioch claims to be
the "oldest continuous Christian community in the world" dating to
the time of St. Peter’s ministry. The first chair of Peter, before his move to
Rome, is claimed by the Melikite community.
|A Melkite Catholic Wedding in the USA|
the official language of the church, it is called ar-Rūm al-Kathūlīk. The
Arabic word "Rūm" means “Greek” from the word in Greek "Romioi"
by which the Byzantine Greeks identified themselves. "Romania" comes from the same
root (Greek: Ρωμανία) or New Rome, (Latin: Nova Roma Greek: Νέα Ρώμη). The term refers to the Byzantine Greek heritage and the city of "New
Rome", i.e. Constantinople. There is also the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, a sui iuris Eastern Rite Church not to be confused with the Romainian Orthodox or the Latin Rite Catholics in Romania.
attribute the writing of the Gospels in Koine Greek (the popular Greek language of commerce of the day) to the Hellenized (Greek) Christian
people of Antioch. These included authors St. Peter, St. Luke and others. By the 2nd
century, Christianity was widespread in Antioch and throughout Syria. Growth of
the church did not stop during periods of persecution. At the end of the
4th century Christianity became the official state religion.
Byzantine Catholic Church traces its origins to the Christian communities of
the Levant (including Lebanon, Isreael, Syria and eastern Turkey) and Egypt. Until persecution drove them out, one of the largest Melkite Catholic communities was in Egypt where fully 20% of the population including Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholics were Christians (more about Coptic Catholics). The church's leadership was vested in the three Apostolic Patriarchates of the
ancient patriarchates: Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.
In 1847, Pope
Pius IX (1846–1878), reinstituted the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Patriarch
Gregory II Youssef (1864–1897) focused on improving church institutions. During
his reign Gregory founded both the Patriarchal College in Beirut in 1865 and
the Patriarchal College in Damascus in 1875 and re-opened the Melkite seminary
of Ain Traz in 1866. He also promoted the establishment of Saint Ann's
Seminary, Jerusalem, in 1882 by the White Fathers for the training of the
Hatt-ı Hümayun of 1856, decreed by Sultan Abdülmecid I, the situation of
Christians in the Near East improved. This allowed Gregory to successfully
encourage greater participation by the Melkite laity in both church
administration as well as public affairs. Gregory also took an interest in
ministering to the growing number of Melkites who had emigrated to the
MELKITE CATHOLICS AND THE DOCTRINE OF INFALLIBILITY
In 1889 Patriarch Gregory II dispatched Father Ibrahim Beshawate of the Basilian Salvatorian Order in Saida,
Lebanon to New York in order to minister to the growing Syrian community there.
Gregory was also a prominent proponent of Eastern ecclesiology at the First
In the two discourses he gave at the Council on May 19 and
June 14, 1870 he insisted on the importance of conforming to the decisions of
the Council of Florence, of not creating innovations such as papal
infallibility, but accepting what had been decided by common agreement between
the Greeks and the Latins at the Council of Florence, especially with regard to
the issue of papal primacy.
defended the rights and privileges of the patriarchs according to the canons
promulgated by earlier ecumenical councils. Speaking at the Council on May 19,
1870, Patriarch Gregory asserted:
The Eastern Church attributes to the pope
the most complete and highest power, however in a manner where the fullness and
primacy are in harmony with the rights of the patriarchal sees. This is why, in
virtue of an ancient right founded on customs, the Roman Pontiffs did not,
except in very significant cases, exercise over these sees the ordinary and
immediate jurisdiction that we are asked now to define without any exception.
This definition would completely destroy the constitution of the entire Greek
church. That is why my conscience as a pastor refuses to accept this
constitution. (C. Patelos, Vatican 1st et les eveques uniates, Louvain:
Nauwelaerts, 1981, 482-283)
|Pope Pius XII met with the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch.|
Gregory refused to sign the Vatican I Council dogmatic declaration on papal infallibility.
He and the seven other Melkite bishops present voted non placet at the general congregation and left Rome prior to the
adoption of the dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus on papal infallibility.
Other members of the anti-infallibilist
minority, both from the Latin church and from other Eastern Catholic churches,
also left the city. Fr. John H. (later Cardinal) Newman, though not at the
Council, was very sympathetic to those who did not think it wise to define
“infallibility” at the Council.
First Vatican Council concluded an emissary of the Roman Curia was dispatched
to again seek the signatures of the patriarch and the Melkite delegation.
After further prayer and consideration Patriarch
Gregory II and the Melkite bishops subscribed to it, but with the qualifying
clause used at the Council of Florence attached: "except the rights
and privileges of Eastern patriarchs."
Gregory and the Melkite Catholic Church remained committed to their union with
the Church of Rome. Relationships with the Vatican improved following the death
of Pius IX and the subsequent election of Leo XIII as pontiff.
Orientalium Dignitas addressed some
of the Eastern Catholic Churches' concerns on latinization and the ultramontane centralizing
tendencies. Pope Leo also formally recognized an expansion of Patriarch Gregory's
jurisdiction to include all Melkites throughout the Ottoman Empire.
DEVELOPMENT OF MELKITE LITURGY
Maximos IV Sayegh took part in the Second Vatican Council where he championed
the Eastern traditions of Christianity, and won a great deal of respect from
Orthodox observers at the council as well as the approbation of the Ecumenical
Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I.
Second Vatican Council the Melkites moved to restoring traditional worship.
This involved both the restoration of Melkite practices such as administering
the Eucharist to infants following post-baptismal chrismation as well as
removal of Latin-rite elements such as communion rails and confessionals.
A movement to
celebrate the Melkite liturgy in the language of the local people wherever Melkites
settled was spearheaded by the future archbishop of Nazareth, Father Joseph
Raya of Birmingham, Alabama (later a member of Madonna House, Combermere, CANADA where
he is buried.)
The issue garnered national news coverage after Bishop Fulton
Sheen celebrated a Melkite Pontifical Divine Liturgy in English at the Melkite
National convention in Birmingham in 1958, parts of which were televised.
In 1960, the
issue was resolved by Pope John XXIII, at the request of Patriarch Maximos IV, in
favour of the use of vernacular languages in the celebration of the Divine
Pope John also consecrated a Melkite priest, Father Gabriel Acacius
Coussa, as a bishop, using the Byzantine Rite and the papal tiara as a crown.
Bishop Coussa was almost immediately elevated to the cardinalate, but died two
years later. His cause for canonization was introduced by his religious order,
the Basilian Alepian Order.
Today the Melkite Catholic Church is an Orthodox church in full communion with the Holy See of Rome and so an important part of the Catholic Church. Melkites have an authentic voice from the East for the worldwide Church. They are a bridge between peoples and traditions and as such an example for Ordinariate Catholics.