Tuesday, October 9, 2007
History Byzantine Empire Crusades Ecumenical council Baptism of Kiev Great Schism By region Eastern Orthodox history Ukraine Christian history Asia Eastern Christian history Traditions Oriental Orthodoxy Coptic Orthodox Church Armenian Apostolic Church Syriac Christianity Assyrian Church of the East Eastern Orthodox Church Eastern Catholic Churches Liturgy and Worship Sign of the cross Divine Liturgy Iconography Asceticism Omophorion Theology Hesychasm - Icon Apophaticism - Filioque clause Miaphysitism - Monophysitism Nestorianism - Theosis - Theoria Phronema - Philokalia Praxis - Theotokos Hypostasis - Ousia Essence-Energies distinction The Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Arabic: كنيسة الروم الكاثوليك, Kanīsät ar-Rūm al-Kāṯūlīk) is an Eastern Rite sui juris particular Church of the Catholic Church in communion with the Pope. The church's origins lie in the Middle East, but, today, Melkite Catholics are spread throughout the world with many in the "diaspora". Arabic is the liturgical language of the church. At present this Church counts a total worldwide membership of approximately 1.5 million. The Melkite Church has a high degree of ethnic homogeneity; its patriarch, its episcopate, its clergy and many of its faithful, are Arabic speaking.
Meaning of church name
The origins of the Melkite Catholic Church goes back to the establishment of Christianity in the Middle East. As Christianity began to spread, the disciples preached the Gospel throughout the region and were for the first time called "Christians" in the city of Antioch (Acts 11:26), the historical See of the Melkite Catholic Patriarchate. Some Melkite families believe that a remote Jewish or pagan ancestor received the Gospel message from an Apostle or even Jesus himself.
Due to heavy emigration from the Middle East, which began with the Damascus massacres of 1860, in which most of the Christian communities were attacked, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church today is found throughout the world and no longer made up exclusively of faithful of Middle Eastern origin. This development is called "The Diaspora". Many in North and South America, Europe, and Australia have now been able to worship in this Church which is so closely connected to the countries where Jesus and his Apostles walked, preached and spread the Good News to the whole world.
The Melkite Greek Catholic Church traces its origins to the Christian communities of the Levant and Egypt. The church's leadership was vested in the three Apostolic Patriarchates of the ancient patriarchates: Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The church's history and its relation to other churches may be summarized in four defining moments.
The first defining moment was the socio-political fallout in the wake of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, the Council of Chalcedon, which took place in AD 451. Fifth-century Middle-Eastern Christian society became sharply divided between those who did and those who did not accept the outcome of the council. Those who accepted the council, the Chalcedonians, were mainly Greek-speaking city-dwellers, and were called Melkites (imperials) by the anti-Chalcedonians. These latter were predominantly Syriac-Arabic or Coptic-speaking provincials.
Fallout from the Fourth Ecumenical Council
The second defining moment is more of a period of change than a sudden movement. The Battle of Yarmuk (636) took the Melkite homeland out of Byzantine control and placed it in the hands of the Muslim Arabs.
Fusion with Arabic language and culture
The third defining moment were the Councils of Reunion in which the Orthodox hierarchs accepted union with the Holy See of Rome after a long period of schism. In 1054, Patriarch Michael Kerularios and Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida had excommunicated each other, thus formalizing the schism. Patriarch Peter III of Antioch rejected the quarrel of the Latin Cardinal and the Constantinopolitan Patriarch. In 1965, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I "consigned these excommunications to oblivion."
However the Crusaders intruded Latin prelates into the apostolic sees of the East, and the IV Crusade saw the sack of the great city of Constantinople and its domination by the "Crusaders" for fifty-seven years. These developments brought the quarrel home to everyone with comprehension but there was no formal declaration of schism. Since there had never been any formal division from East-West Schism these 'converts' of the Latin missionaries simply became a pro-Western, pro-Catholic party within Eastern Orthodoxy. Throughout the 17th century Jesuits, Capuchins and Carmelites established missions with the consent of the local Orthodox bishops in the Ottoman Empire. The Dominicans had been in Iraq since the 1300s and have been there ever since.
The Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439) at which the Patriarch of Constantinople, Joseph II and the Emperor John VIII Palaelogos accepted union with the West hoping for aid to save Constantinople. Neither of these unions lasted, though the last two Emperors of Constantinople were professing Catholics; nor was any significant aid forthcoming from the warring kingdoms of a soon to be rent apart Europe.
From 1342, Roman Catholic friars opened missions in the Middle East, particularly in Damascus. Their teaching had important influence over the Melkite clergy and people, but in the Melkite tradition it was the Jesuits, founded only in 1534, that were really decisive in the formation of the Catholic party in the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. The Jesuits were not friars but more like learned priests of the Patriarchal Chancery. This made them more acceptable than the friars.
Union with Holy See of Rome
The fourth defining moment was the election of Cyril VI, in 1724, by the Melkite bishops of Syria as the new Patriarch of Antioch. As Cyril was a prominent pro-Westerner, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremias III, felt his authority was being questioned. Jeremias declared Cyril's election to be invalid, excommunicated him, and appointed Sylvester, a Greek monk to the patriarchal see of Antioch. Sylvester exacerbated divisions with his heavy-handed rule of the church, and many Melkites chose to acknowledge Cyril VI as Patriarch instead. This Greek, Hellene or Phanariot domination over the Byzantine Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch lasted until 1899.
Five years after the election of Cyril Tanas, in 1729, Pope Benedict XIII recognized Cyril as the legitimate Patriarch of Antioch and welcomed him and his followers into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. From this time onwards, the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church has existed separately from and in parallel to the Eastern Orthodox Church of Antioch in the Middle East. The latter is not usually referred to as Melkite in modern times.
The Melkite Greek Catholic Church has played an important role in the leadership of Arabic Christianity. It has always been led by Arabic-speaking Christians, where the Orthodox counterpart had Greek patriarchs until 1899. Indeed, at the very beginning of her separate existence, around 1725, one of her most illustrious lay leaders, the savant and theologian, Abdallah Zakher of Aleppo (1684-1748) set up the first printing press in the Middle East. In 1835, Maximos III Mazloum, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, was recognised by the Ottoman Empire as the leader of a millet, a distinctive religious community within the Empire. Pope Gregory XVI gave Maximos III Mazloum the triple-patriarchate of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, a title that is still held by the head of the church today.
His successor Pope Pius IX (1846-1878), on July 23rd, 1847, reinstituted the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the person of the young (34 years old) and zealous, Giuseppe Valerga (1813-1847-1872), whom the indigenous hierarchs and nicknamed "The Butcher" because of his fierce opposition to the native Churches of the Holy Land. When he arrived in Jerusalem in 1847, there were 4,200 Latin Catholics in the Holy Land and when he died in 1872, there were 8,400.
Some historians theorize, Yusuf believed that the doctrinizing papal infallibility would place greater strain on relation between the Melkites and other Eastern Christians.
Election of Cyril VI
The Church in modern times
Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh took part in the Second Vatican Council. There he championed the Eastern tradition of Christianity, and won a great deal of respect from Eastern Orthodox observers at the council and the approbation of the great Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I. However, his advocacy of acceptance of artificial birth control was as remarkable as any other thing he advocated at the Council but this was stiffly refused by that same Athenagoras at the time of Pope Paul VI's encyclical "Humanae Vitae" of July 25th, 1968.
Following the Second Vatican Council the Melkite Church moved away from latinization and back to traditional Melkite worship. Delatinization 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. Leading this trend were members of "The Cairo Circle", a group of young priests centered around the Patriarchal College of Cairo on Queen Nazli Street in the 1930s. This group included Father George Selim Hakim, Father Joseph Elias Tawil, Father Elias Zoughby and Father Oreste Kerame. These priests later became bishops and several contributed significantly to the Second Vatican Council.
These reforms led to protests by some Melkite churches that the de-latinization had gone too far. During the Patriarchate of Maximos IV (Sayegh), some Melkite churches in the United States objected to the use of the vernacular language in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, a movement that was spearheaded by the future Archbishop of Nazareth, Father Joseph Raya of Birmingham, Alabama. The issue garnered national news coverage after Bishop Fulton Sheen celebrated a Pontifical Divine Liturgy in English at the Melkite National convention in Birmingham in 1958, parts of which were televised on the national television news.
In 1960, this issue was resolved by Pope John XXIII at the request of Patriarch Maximos IV in favor of the use of vernacular languages in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Pope John also consecrated a Melkite monk, Father Accacios Coussa, as a Bishop in the Sistine Chapel using the Byzantine Rite and the papal tiara as a crown. Bishop Coussa was almost immediately elevated to the Cardinalate, but died within two years of his consecration. His cause for canonization was introduced by his religious Order, the Basilians of Aleppo.
Further protests against the de-latinization of the church occurred during the patriarchate of Maximos V Hakim (1967–2000) when some churches and church officials who supported Latin traditions protested against the allowance of married clergy.
Attempts to unite the Melkite diaspora
Two successors of Patriarch Maximus V in the See of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize: the second Archbishop, Joseph Raya (1968-1974) and the fifth and present encumbent, Archbishop Elias Michael Chaccour, the first Palestinian to hold the See and the founder of the Mar Elias Educational Institutions in Ibillin, Galilee who was consecrated a bishop in his own church in Ibillin and enthroned in the cathedral of Haifa in 2006.
Nobel Peace Prize nominations
The Melkite Catholic Church is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church but fully follows traditions and customs of Byzantine Christianity. The traditional language of worship was Greek and Syrian Aramaic. Today, services are held in a variety of languages depending on the country where the Church is located. In the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Australia; English and French are used in addition to the Arabic of the Middle Eastern immigrants. Portuguese is also used in Brazil and the Spanish speaking South American countries. What is very important to know is that this Church is still following the Byzantine traditions
Modern church dioceses
List of Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchs of Antioch
Patriarch of Antioch
Eastern Catholic Churches
Gregory III Laham, current Patriarch
Cyril Salim Bustros, current Archbishop of the United States
Joseph Raya, late Archbishop
Elias Chacour, current Archbishop of Galilee
Maximos IV Sayegh, late Patriarch
Maximos V Hakim, late Patriarch
The Courage To Be Ourselves, pastoral letter to the Melkite Catholic Church of the United States
Byzantine Discalced Carmelites
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