(On sui juris churches in general
Primary Liturgical Languages:
Arabic and Greek
Approximate Population (Rounded to Nearest Million):
The definition of the Council of Chalcedon spread rapidly through the cities of the Roman Empire, consolidating the orthodox position against the monophysite position Chalcedon rejected. However, in many places it was still controversial, and this was especially true in less urban areas of Syria, where the monophysite position was quite strong. In these places, defenders of Chalcedon were often called, usually dismissively, Melkites: Emperor's men. A long history of schism, struggle, and quarrel developed between Melkites and Monophysites, and it still continued when the Muslims invasions took Syrian Christians out of the direct influence of Constantinople. The orthodox of Syria and surrounding areas remained within the larger Byzantine sphere, however, and they, like the rest of the East, increasingly had difficulty relating to Rome and the West.
But it was never the case that opposition to the West was total in the East. During the Crusades, in particular, there were a number of fruitful alliances between Western Christians and Eastern Orthodox Christians, despite mutual suspicion on religious grounds, and this contributed to the existence of a persisting, and always fluctuating, party of Eastern Christians who were sympathetic at least to Western Christians (although their views on what were commonly regarded as Western innovations still ran the entire gamut). Despite pressure from Muslim governments, which did everything they could to encourage estrangement between East and West, and despite the problems that arose with attempts at reunion, and despite opposition from other bishops, bishops who were pro-Western in at least a loose and broad sense continued to exist.
This resulted in a crisis for the See of Antioch in the eighteenth century, when the Melkite bishops of Syria elected Cyril IV Tanas as Patriarch of Antioch. Cyril was widely suspected to have Westward sympathies, and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremias III, interfered, declaring Cyril's election invalid and appointing Sylvester of Antioch in his place. It was a disastrous move. Not all the Melkite bishops were particularly pro-Western, but they did not like Constantinople messing in their affairs, particularly since Cyril's election had been regarded as definitely valid by Syrian bishops. It was made worse by the heavy-handedness of Sylvester; and it was made even worse by the fact that the Ottoman Turks backed Constantinople with troops. In 1729, Pope Benedict XIII affirmed the validity of Cyril's election as patriarch and the Melkites of Syria broke with Constantinople and united with Rome.
This element of the Melkite background is particularly important. From the Melkite perspective, they never ceased being Eastern Orthodox. Their patriarch was the legitimately and justly elected Patriarch of Antioch, and they joined with Rome and broke with Constantinople first and foremost because Rome recognized the justice of their claim and supported them while Constantinople did not (and persecuted them in what they regarded as an obvious usurpation of power). Differences in doctrine did not stand in the way not because the Melkites agreed with everything Rome said, but because there was enough sympathy with the West in Syria to incline them toward interpreting Rome charitably, and toward holding that the doctrinal differences were not an insuperable matter as long as Rome did not too strongly insist that things must be done its way. This sense has varied over time, but the sense of the Melkite Catholic Church is that they are fully Eastern Orthodox in full communion with Rome, and almost everything the Melkite Greek Catholic Church does expresses this sense of their heritage.
The nineteenth century was a century of wild ups and downs for Melkites; Rome did not have a particularly stable or consistent policy toward Eastern Catholics in this period. It did see the rise of one of the greatest of the Melkite patriarchs, Maximos III Mazloum, who became patriarch in 1833. In the next several years, he strengthened the Melkite position in Syria, managed to get the Melkite Catholic Church officially recognized by the Ottoman Turks, thus freeing them from some of the dangers of oppression, and was given full patriarchal recognition by Rome as Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Maximos was followed, however, by Clement Bahouth, who under pressure from the Roman Curia began to latinize Melkite liturgy and practice in a set of reforms that nearly broke the Melkite Catholic Church, creating several minor schisms and an immense amount of resentment among the Melkite faithful.
After Clement came Gregory II Youssef-Sayur, who healed much of the division and attended the First Vatican Council. There Gregory, who was very well respected, became a major voice against the definition of papal infallibility; Gregory's position was that the Council should reaffirm the basic principles of the Council of Florence and that the definition of papal infallibility would likely estrange Catholic and Orthodox further. He left the Council before the definition was passed. Afterward, Rome insisted that the Eastern patriarchs sign the definition. Gregory signed, but insisted that he did so with the explicit understanding that the definition should be understood in such a way as to be consistent with the Council of Florence's protection of the rights and privileges of the Eastern patriarchs. Melkites to this day tend to affirm Gregory's view of the papacy, which is why they tend to be the papal minimalists of the Catholic Church: they accept the definition given at Vatican I, but hold that it should be understood in light of Florence's full affirmation of patriarchal rights, on which they also insist. The Pope, in other words, has full authority and power -- but this authority and power must be understood in such a way as to be in harmony with the traditional rights of the patriarchal sees. It is another contribution to the Melkite Catholic Church's recognition of itself as simultaneously Orthodox and Catholic. Pius IX was not especially impressed by Melkite insistence on this point, but they had some support in it from Leo XIII, who protected the Melkites from latinizing pressures and expanded the recognized jurisdiction of the Melkite.
Considering themselves Eastern Orthodox in communion with Rome, Melkite Catholics are often very critical of whatever they regard as the overreaching of Rome, and will often oppose what they see as the impositions of Catholics from the West. (They make an interesting contrast in this regard with Maronite Catholics, who are often vehement supporters of Rome.) They are papal minimalists, as noted above, and while they accept Catholic dogmatic definitions, they tend to interpret them in whatever way fits best with their conception of common patristic views from the first millenium of Christian history. While Eastern Catholics often tend to maintain dialogue and connection with their Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox counterparts, this is perhaps most true of the Melkites. However, Melkites also tend to be very insistent on maintaining unity despite disagreement, and have consistently worked to maintain communion even at times when they have firmly disagreed with Rome. And they are, of course, recognized in return as fully Catholic by Rome, the full Catholic Church itself in its Melkite form.
The Patriarchal Residence of Raboueh; Ain Traz Seminary.
Notable Religious Institutes:
Basilian Order of the Most Holy Saviour; Basilian Order of St. John Chouérites and Aleppo United; Basilian Order Chouerite; Basilian Order Aleppine; Society of the Missionaries of Saint Paul; Salvatorian Basilian Congregation of the Sisters of the Annunciation; Religious Chouérites and Alépines United; Religious Congregation of Basilian Chouérites; Religious Congregation of Basilian Alépines; Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help; Sisters of Our Lady of Good Service; Monastery of the Resurrection; Monastery of the Nativity; Greek-Melkite Catholic Moniales of Nazareth and Tazert; The Nuns of the Emmanuel Bethlehem
St. Mariam Baouardy (August 26). The Melkite calendar also includes many Orthodox as well as Catholic saints, including St. Gregory Palamas.
Extent of Official Jurisdiction:
Seven Archeparchies in Lebanon, five Archeparchies in Syria, and eparchies and exarchates in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Turkey, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, the United States, and Venezuela. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church.)
Online Sources and Resources: