Although it's been in communion with Rome since 1724, the Greek Catholic Church remains greatly concerned about its autonomy and prizes its Eastern traditions.

Melinée Le Priol | October 7, 2017 | international.la-croix.com

When was the Greek Catholic Church, known as the Melkite Church, born?

This church began in 1724 as a result of a split in the Greek Church of Antioch. Some of these Christians, Catholicized by (Jesuit and Franciscan) missionaries then present in the Middle East, opted to enter into communion with the Holy See. 

This is how the Greek Catholic (Melkite) Church started. It followed Byzantine rites and was directly linked to Rome.

The Greek Catholics immediately chose an Arab patriarch, whereas the Antioch seat had until then been reserved for a Greek patriarch and Greek bishops. A double line of patriarchs was thus instituted, one Orthodox, the other Catholic. However, it was only a century later, in 1834, that the Ottoman Empire fully recognized this Church. The patriarch was then installed in Damascus, where he resides to this day.

The current Melkite patriarch of Antioch, Archbishop Joseph Absi, hails from Damascus and was elected in June last. He bears the title of "Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Alexandria and Jerusalem" and has jurisdiction over many dioceses. Archbishop Absi succeeded Patriarch Gregory III Laham, who was opposed by some of his bishops for his authoritarianism and mismanagement.

What does the word "Melkite' mean?

This denomination dates back to the 5th Century. It comes from the Syrian word "malka", meaning "king" or "emperor" and designated Christians from the patriarchies of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch who had accepted the Council of Chalcedon and were thus faithful to the Emperor of Constantinople. 

These Christians consider Christ as both man and God, contrary to the monotheists, who say Christ has only one nature: divine.

“Today, only four Churches are monophysitic,” says Rev. Rafic Greiche, spokesperson of the Conference of Bishops of Egypt. They are the Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Ethiopian Churches. 

“All other Churches are, strictly speaking, Melkite, but the Greek Catholics are the only ones to have taken the name for their Church,” he notes.

How many are they?

The Greek Catholics number about 1.5 million worldwide. They are thus far fewer than the 14 million Greek Orthodox Christians. About half of the Melkites live in the Middle East, mainly in Syria, Lebanon, and the Holy Land. Where nationality is concerned, the Melkite Church defines itself as Arab and asserts its Arab nature, according to Joseph Yacoub, a specialist on the Christians of the Orient and Honorary Professor of the Catholic University of Lyon.

The Melkite diaspora lives mainly in Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela) and North America, to which Middle Eastern Christians fled from persecution by the Ottoman Empire from the end of the 19th Century. France also has a community of 10,000 persons, mainly in Marseille, where their church, built in 1821, is one of the oldest oriental Churches in Europe.

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Teachings of Christ

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35 ESV)

Protection of the Mother of God

Protected by your coming, O Mother of God, * the faithful people celebrate today with splendor, * and, gazing at your most pure image, * we say with compunction: * "Shield us with your precious veil * and deliver us from all evil * imploring your Son, Christ our God, to save our souls.” (Troparion - Tone 4)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Today the Virgin stands forth in the Church, * and with the choirs of saints she invisibly prays to God for us. * The Angels worship with the hierarchs, * and the apostles exult with the prophets, * because, in our behalf, the Mother of God entreats the pre-eternal God. (Kontakion - Tone 3)

The Church celebrates the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God on October 1st.

Exaltation of the Cross

Save Your people, O Lord, and bless Your inheritance; * grant victory to Your Church over her enemies * and protect Your commonwealth by Your Cross. (Troparion - Tone 1)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Willingly lifted up on the Cross, O Christ God, * bestow Your compassions upon the new commonwealth that bears Your name. * By your power grant joy to Your Church, * granting her victory over her enemies. * May she have your Cross as the weapon of peace * and the invincible ensign of victory. (Kontakion - Tone 4)

The Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on September 14th.

Random Proverb

"My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live." (Proverbs 7:1,2 ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

When despondency seizes us, let us not give in to it. Rather, fortified and protected by the light of faith, let us with great courage say to the spirit of evil: "What are you to us, you who are cut off from God, a fugitive for Heaven, and a slave of evil? You dare not do anything to us: Christ, the Son of God, has dominion over us and over all. Leave us, you thing of bane. We are made steadfast by the uprightness of His Cross. Serpent, we trample on your head." 

St. Seraphim of Sarov