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The term Melkite, also written Melchite, refers to various Byzantine Rite Christian churches and their members originating in the Middle East. The word comes from the Syriac word malkoyo (ܡܠܟܝܐ‎), and the Arabic word Malakī (Arabic: ملكي‎, meaning "royal", and by extension, "imperial").[1] When used in an ecclesiastical sense, it refers specifically to the Eastern Rite Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch.[2]

Melkites view themselves as the first Christian community, dating the Melkite Church back to the time of the Apostles.[3] This first community is said to have been a mixed one made up of individuals who were originally Greek, Roman, Syriac, and Jewish. After the Islamic conquests of the Levant in the 7th century, the Melkite community started incorporating Arabic language in the liturgical traditions as the Middle East became gradually Arabized.[3]

Melchite Hirmologion written in Syriac Sertâ book script (11th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai.

The term Melkite was originally used as a pejorative term after the acrimonious division that occurred in Eastern Christianity after the Council of Chalcedon (451). It was used by non-Chalcedonians to refer to those who backed the council and the Byzantine Emperor (malko and its cognates are Semitic words for "king"). "It was only towards the end of the fifth century that it took the name of Melkite".[4] The Melkites were generally Greek-speaking city-dwellers living in the west of the Levant and in Egypt, as opposed to the more provincial Syriac- and Coptic-speaking non-Chalcedonians. The Melkite Church was organised into three historic patriarchatesAlexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem — in union with the Patriarch of Constantinople. The non-Chalcedonians set up their own patriarchs in Alexandria (Coptic Orthodox Church) and Antioch (Syriac Orthodox Church). The Nubian kingdom of Makuria (in modern Sudan) in contrast to their Non-Chalcedonian Ethiopian Orthodox neighbours, also practiced the Melkite faith, from c. 575 until ca. 710 and still had a large Melkite minority until in the 1400s.

From 1342, Roman Catholic clergy were based in Damascus and other areas, and worked toward a union between Rome and the Orthodox. At that time, the nature of the East-West Schism, normally dated to 1054, was undefined, and many of those who continued to worship and work within the Melkite Church became identified as a pro-Western party. In 1724, Cyril VI (Seraphim Tanas) was elected in Damascus by the Synod as Patriarch of Antioch. Considering this to be a Catholic takeover attempt, Jeremias III of Constantinople imposed a deacon, the Greek monk Sylvester to rule the patriarchate instead of Cyril. After being ordained a priest, then bishop he was given Turkish protection to overthrow Cyril. Sylvester's heavy-handed leadership of the church encouraged many to re-examine the validity of Cyril's claim to the patriarchal throne.

The newly elected Pope Benedict XIII (1724–1730) also recognised the legitimacy of Cyril's claim and recognized him and his followers as being in communion with Rome. From that point onwards, the Melkite Church was divided between the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, who continued to be appointed by the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople until the late nineteenth century, and the Catholics, who recognize the authority of the Pope of Rome. However, it is now only the Catholic group who continue to use the title Melkite; thus, in modern usage, the term applies almost exclusively to the Arabic-speaking Greek Catholics from the Middle East.

Some typically Grecian "Ancient Synagogal" priestly rites and hymns have survived partially to the present, notably in the distinct church services of the Melkite and Greek Orthodox communities of the Hatay Province of Southern Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. Members of theses communities still call themselves Rûm which literally means "Roman" or "Asian Greek" in Turkish, Persian and Arabic (that is, those of the (Eastern) Roman Empire, what English speakers often call "Byzantine"). The term "Rûm" is used in preference to "Ionani" or "Yāvāni" which means "European-Greek" or Ionian in Classical Arabic and Biblical Hebrew.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dick (2004), p. 9
  2. ^ Sebastian P. Brock (2006). An introduction to Syriac studies (2, revised, illustrated ed.). Gorgias Press LLC. ISBN 1-59333-349-8, 9781593333492 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  3. ^ a b David Little, Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. Peacemakers in action: profiles of religion in conflict resolution (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-521-85358-3, 9780521853583 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  4. ^ History of the Melkite Church from its Origins to the Present Day, by Mgr. Joseph Nasrallah, Melkite Exarque in Paris. http://phoenicia.org/melkites.html


  • Dick, Iganatios (2004). Melkites: Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholics of the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem. Boston: Sophia Press. 

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201 news items

Catholic Culture
Tue, 15 Apr 2014 05:26:22 -0700

The head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church has welcomed the Syrian government's victory over rebel forces in the historic Christian town of Ma'loula. Rebel forces seized the town in December and kidnapped 13 Orthodox nuns, who were released in ...
Tue, 15 Apr 2014 07:44:51 -0700

The comment of the Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Gregory III Laham regarding the Syrian army taking Maaloula on April 14 was noteworthy; he greeted the Syrian army and said that Maaloula will raise its crosses again. On the ...
Patheos (blog)
Fri, 04 Apr 2014 03:07:30 -0700

The Melkite Archeparchy of Furzol, Zahle and the Bekaa, on Lebanon's border with Syria, runs its own refugee assistance program – many of the Christians fleeing Syria fear to register with the U.N. for fear of identification and reprisal. Because of ...
Independent Catholic News
Sat, 12 Apr 2014 03:07:30 -0700

... ambition, pride and arrogance are hallmarks of 'success'. At the end of this Gospel this question is asked: are we prepared to take on the real demands of following him? Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Chaplain for the Melkite Greek Catholics ...
Scranton Times-Tribune
Fri, 11 Apr 2014 20:56:15 -0700

JOSEPH MELKITE GREEK-CATHOLIC CHURCH WOMEN'S SOCIETY ANNUAL ST. JOSEPH BREAKFAST: April 27, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., 130 N. St. Francis Cabrini Ave., $4/$7.50/free for children 5 and younger, email melkite.scranton@gmail.com. 570-343-6092 ...

National Catholic Register

National Catholic Register
Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:12:53 -0700

Eastern Catholic bishops of the Ukrainian, Ruthenian and Melkite traditions have been cautiously ordaining married men to the priesthood in the United States since Blessed John Paul II relaxed decades-old rules and opened the door to them on a ...
Catholic Herald Online (blog)
Thu, 10 Apr 2014 03:07:30 -0700

At the end of last year Damascus-based Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch remarked: “How can somebody do such inhumane and bestial things to an elderly couple and their family?” The Patriarch explained that thousands fled Sadad and initially ...
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thu, 10 Apr 2014 07:15:00 -0700

St. George Melkite Greek Catholic Church: Palm Sunday Breakfast, noon-2 p.m. April 13, 1617 W. State St., (414) 342-1543. St. Mary's Visitation School: Monte Carlo Night benefit, 7-11 p.m. April 12, 13000 Juneau Blvd., Elm Grove, $25, (262) 796-0425.

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