Melchites (MELKITES). I. ORIGIN AND NAME.—Melchites are the people in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt who remained faithful to the Council of Chalcedon (451) when the greater part turned Monophysite. The original meaning of the name therefore is an opposition to Monophysism. The Nestorians had their communities in eastern Syria till the Emperor Zeno (474-491) closed their school at Edessa in 489, and drove them over the frontier into Persia. The people of western Syria, Palestine, and Egypt were either Melchites who accepted Chalcedon, or Monophysites (called also Jacobites in Syria and Palestine, Copts in Egypt) who rejected it, till the Monothelete heresy in the seventh century further complicated the situation. But Melchite remained the name for those who were faithful to the great Church, Catholic and Orthodox, till the Schism of Photius (867) and Cerularius (1054) again divided them. From that time there have been two kinds of Melchites in these countries, the Catholic Melchites who kept the communion of Rome, and schismatical (“Orthodox”) Melchites who followed Constantinople and the great mass of eastern Christians into schism. Although the name has been and still is occasionally used for both these groups, it is now commonly applied only to the Catholic Uniates. For the sake of clearness it is better to keep to this use; the name “Orthodox” is sufficient for the others, whereas among the many groups of Catholics, Latin and Uniate, of various rites, we need a special name for this group. It would be, indeed, still more convenient if we could call all Uniates of the Byzantine rite Melchites. But such a use of the word has never obtained. One could not with any propriety call Ruthenians, the Uniates of southern Italy or Rumania, Melchites. One must therefore keep the name for those of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, all of whom speak Arabic.
We define a Melchite then as any Christian of these lands in communion with Rome, Constantinople, and the great Church of the Empire before the Photian schism, or as a Christian of the Byzantine Rite in communion with Rome since. As the word implied opposition to the Monophysites originally, so it now marks the distinction between these people and all schismatics on the one hand, between them and Latins or Uniates of other rites (Maronites, Armenians, Syrians, etc.) on the other. The name is easily explained philologically. It is a Semitic (presumably Syriac) root with a Greek ending, meaning imperialist. Melk is Syriac for king (Heb. melek, Arab. malik). The word is used in all the Semitic languages for the Roman Emperor, like the Greek basileus. By adding the Greek ending-ites we have the form melkites, equal to basilikos. It should be noted that the third radical of the Semitic root is kaf: there is no guttural. Therefore the correct form of the word is Melkite, rather than the usual form Melchite. The pure Syriac word is malkoyo (Arab. malakiyyu; vulgar, milkiyyu).
II. HISTORY BEFORE THE SCHISM.—The decrees of the Fourth General Council (Chalcedon, 451) were unpopular in Syria and still more in Egypt. Monophysism began as an exaggeration of the teaching of St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), the Egyptian national hero, against Nestorius. In the Council of Chalcedon the Egyptians and their friends in Syria saw a betrayal of Cyril, a concession to Nestorianism. Still more did national, anti-imperial feeling cause opposition to it. The Emperor Marcian (450-457) made the Faith of Chalcedon the law of the empire. Laws passed on February 27 and again on March 13, 452, enforced the decrees of the council and threatened heavy penalties against dissenters. From that time Dyophysism was the religion of the court, identified with loyalty to the emperor. In spite of the compromising concessions of later emperors, the Faith of Chalcedon was always looked upon as the religion of the state, demanded and enforced on all subjects of Caesar. So the long-smouldering disloyalty of these two provinces broke out in the form of rebellion against Chalcedon. For centuries (till the Arab conquest) Monophysism was the symbol of national Egyptian and Syrian patriotism. The root of the matter was always political. The people of Egypt and Syria, keeping their own languages and their consciousness of being separate races, had never been really amalgamated with the Empire, originally Latin, now fast becoming Greek. They had no chance of political independence, their hatred of Rome found a vent in this theological question. The cry of the faith of Cyril, “one nature in Christ,” no betrayal of Ephesus, meant really no submission to the foreign tyrant on the Bosphorus. So the great majority of the population in these lands turned Monophysite, rose in continual rebellion against the creed of the Empire, committed savage atrocities against the Chalcedonian bishops and officials, and in return were fiercely persecuted.
The beginning of these troubles in Egypt was the deposition of the Monophysite Patriarch Dioscur, and the election by the government party of Proterius as his successor, immediately after the council. The people, especially the lower classes and the great crowd of Egyptian monks, refused to acknowledge Proterius, and began to make tumults and riots that 2000 soldiers sent from Constantinople could hardly put down. When Dioscur died in 454 a certain Timothy, called the Cat or Weasel (ailouros), was ordained by the Monophysites as his successor. In 457 Proterius was murdered; Timothy drove out the Chalcedonian clergy and so began the organized Coptic (Monophysite) Church of Egypt. In Syria and Palestine there was the same opposition to the council and the government. The people and monks drove out the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Martyrius, and set up one Peter the Dyer (lnapheus, fullo), a Monophysite, as his successor. Juvenal of Jerusalem, once a friend of Dioscur, gave up his heresy at Chalcedon. When he came back to his new patriarchate he found the whole country in rebellion against him. He too was driven out and a Monophysite monk Theodosius was set up in his place. So began the Monophysite national churches of these provinces. Their opposition to the court and rebellion lasted two centuries, till the Arab conquest (Syria, 637; Egypt, 641). During this time the government, realizing the danger of the disaffection of the frontier provinces, alternated fierce persecution of the heretics with vain attempts to conciliate them by compromises (Zeno’s Henotikon in 482, the Acacian Schism, 484-519, etc.). It should be realized that Egypt was much more consistently Monophysite than Syria or Palestine. Egypt was much closer knit as one land than the other provinces, and so stood more uniformly on the side of the national party. (For all this see Monophysites and Monophysitism.)
Meanwhile against the nationalist party stood the minority on the side of the government and the council. These are the Melchites. Why they were so-called is obvious: they were the loyal Imperialists, the emperor’s party. The name occurs first in a pure Greek form basilikos. Evagrius says of Timothy Sakophakiolos (the Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria set up by the government when Timothy the Cat was driven out in 460) that “some called him the Imperialist (on oi men ekaloun basilikon)” (H. E., II, 11). These Melchites were naturally for the most part the government officials, in Egypt almost entirely so, while in Syria and Palestine a certain part of the native population was Melchite too. Small in numbers, they were until the Arab conquest strong through the support of the government and the army, The contrast between Monophysites and Melchites (Nationalists and Imperialists) was expressed in their language. The Monophysites spoke the national language of the country (Coptic in Egypt, Syriac in Syria and Palestine), Melchites for the most part were foreigners sent out from Constantinople who spoke Greek. For a long time the history of these countries is that of a continual feud between Melchites and Monophysites; sometimes the government is strong, the heretics are persecuted, the patriarchate is occupied by a Melchite; then again the people get the upper hand, drive out the Melchite bishops, set up Monophysites in their place and murder the Greeks. By the time of the Arab conquest the two Churches exist as rivals with rival lines of bishops. But the Monophysites are much the larger party, especially in Egypt, and form the national religion of the country. The difference by now expresses itself to a great extent in liturgical language. Both parties used the same liturgies (St. Mark in Egypt, St. James in Syria and Palestine), but while the Monophysites made a point of using the national language in church (Coptic and Syriac), the Melchites generally used Greek. It seems, however, that this was less the case than has been thought; the Melchites, too, used the vulgar tongue to a considerable extent (Charon, “Le Rite byzantin”, 26-29).
When the Arabs came in the seventh century, the Monophysites, true to their anti-imperial policy, rather helped than hindered the invaders. But they gained little by their treason; both churches received the usual terms granted to Christians; they became two sects of Rayas under the Moslem Khalifa, both were equally persecuted during the repeated outbursts of Moslem fanaticism, of which the reign of Al-Hakim in Egypt (996-1021) is the best known instance. In the tenth century part of Syria was conquered back by the empire (Antioch reconquered in 968-969, lost again to the Seljuk Turks in 1078-1081). This caused for a time a revival of the Melchites and an increase of enthusiasm for Constantinople and everything Greek among them. Under the Moslems the characteristic notes of both churches became, if possible, stronger. The Monophysites (Copts and Jacobites) sank into isolated local sects. On the other hand, the Melchite minorities clung all the more to their union with the great church that reigned free and dominant in the empire. This expressed itself chiefly in loyalty to Constantinople. Rome and the West were far off; the immediate object of their devotion was the emperor’s court and the emperor’s patriarch. The Melchite patriarchs under Moslem rule became insignificant people, while the power of the Patriarch of Constantinople grew steadily. So, looking always to the capital for guidance, they gradually accepted the position of being his dependents, almost suffragans. When the Bishop of Constantinople assumed the title of “Oecumenical Patriarch” it was not his Melchite brothers who protested. This attitude explains their share in his schism. The quarrels between Photius and Pope Nicholas I, between Michael Cerularius and Leo IX were not their affair; they hardly understood what was happening. But naturally, almost inevitably, when the schism broke out, in spite of some protests [Peter III of Antioch (1053-1076?) protested vehemently against Cerularius’s schism; see Fortescue, “Orthodox Eastern Church“, 189-192], the Melchites followed their leader, and when orders came from Constantinople to strike the pope’s name from their diptychs they quietly obeyed.
III. FROM THE SCHISM TO THE BEGINNING OF THE UNION.—So all the Melchites in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt broke with Rome and went into schism at the command of Constantinople. Here, too, they justified their name of Imperialist. From this time to almost our own day there is little to chronicle of their history. They existed as a “nation” (millet) under the Khalifa;when the Turks took Constantinople (1453) they made the patriarch of that city head of this “nation” (Rum millet, i.e., the Orthodox Church) for civil affairs. Other bishops, or even patriarchs, could only approach the government through him. This further increased his authority and influence over all the Orthodox in the Turkish Empire. During the dark ages that follow, the Ecumenical Patriarch continually strove (and generally managed) to assert ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the Melchites (Orth. Eastern Ch., 240, 285-289, 310, etc.). Meanwhile the three patriarchs (of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem), finding little to do among their diminished flocks, for long periods came to live at Constantinople, idle ornaments of the Phanar. The lists of these patriarchs will be found in Le Quien (loc. cit. below). Gradually all the people of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine since the Arab conquest forgot their original languages and spoke only Arabic, as they do still. This further affected their liturgies. Little by little Arabic began to be used in church. Since the seventeenth century at the latest, the native Orthodox of these countries use Arabic for all services, though the great number of Greeks among them keep their own language.
But already a much more important change in the liturgy of the Melchites had taken place. We have seen that the most characteristic note of these communities was their dependence on Constantinople. That was the difference between them and their old rivals the Monophysites, long after the quarrel about the nature of Christ had practically been forgotten. The Monophysites, isolated from the rest of Christendom, kept the old rites of Alexandria and Antioch–Jerusalem pure. They still use these rites in the old languages (Coptic and Syriac). The Melchites on the other hand submitted to Byzantine influence in their liturgies. The Byzantine litanies (Synaptai), the service of the Ptoskomide and other elements were introduced into the Greek Alexandrine Rite before the twelfth or thirteenth centuries; so also in Syria and Palestine the Melchites admitted a number of Byzantine elements into their services (Charon, op. cit., 9-25).
Then in the thirteenth century came the final change. The Melchites gave up their old rites altogether and adopted that of Constantinople. Theodore IV (Balsamon) of Antioch (1185-1214?) marks the date of this change. The crusaders held Antioch in his time, so he retired to Constantinople and lived there under the shadow of the Ecumenical Patriarch. While he was there he adopted the Byzantine Rite. In 1203 Mark II of Alexandria (1195-c. 1210) wrote to Theodore asking various questions about the liturgy. Theodore in his answer insists on the use of Constantinople as the only right one for all the Orthodox, and Mark undertook to adopt it (P.G., CXXXVIII, 953 sq.). When Theodosius IV of Antioch (1269-1276) was able to set up his throne again in his own city he imposed the Byzantine Rite on all his clergy. At Jerusalem the old liturgy disappeared at about the same time (Charon, op. cit., 11-12, 21, 23).
We have then for the liturgies of the Melchites these periods: first the old national rites in Greek, but also in the languages of the country, especially in Syria and Palestine, gradually Byzantinized till the thirteenth century. Then the Byzantine Rite alone in Greek in Egypt, in Greek and Syriac in Syria and Palestine, with gradually increasing use of Arabic to the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Lastly the same rite in Arabic only by the natives, in Greek by the foreign (Greek) patriarchs and bishops.
The last development we notice is the steady increase of this foreign (Greek) element in all the higher places of the clergy. As the Phanar at Constantinople grew more and more powerful over the Melchites, so did it more and more, in ruthless defiance of the feeling of the people, send them Greek patriarchs, metropolitans, and archimandrites from its own body. For centuries the lower married clergy and simple monks have been natives, speaking Arabic and using Arabic in the liturgy, while all the prelates have been Greeks, who often do not even know the language of the country. At last, in our own time, the native Orthodox have rebelled against this state of things. At Antioch they have now succeeded in the recognition of their native Patriarch, Gregory IV (Hadad) after a schism with Constantinople. The troubles caused by the same movement at Jerusalem are still fresh in every-one’s mind. It is certain that as soon as the present Greek patriarchs of Jerusalem (Damianos V) and Alexandria (Photios) die, there will be a determined effort to appoint natives as their successors. But these quarrels affect the modern Orthodox of these lands who do not come within the limit of this article, inasmuch as they are no longer Melchites.
IV. UNIATES.—We have said that in modern times since the foundation of Uniate Byzantine churches in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, only these Uniates should be called Melchites. Why the old name is now reserved for them it is impossible to say. It is, however, a fact that it is so. One still occasionally in a western book finds all Christians of the Byzantine Rite in these countries called Melchites, with a further distinction between Catholic and Orthodox Melchites; but the present writer’s experience is that this is never the case among themselves. The man in union with the great Eastern Church in those parts never now calls himself or allows himself to be called a Melchite. He is simply “Orthodox” in Greek or any Western language, Rumi in Arabic. Everyone there understands by Melchite a Uniate. It is true that even for them the word is not very commonly used. They are more likely to speak of themselves as rumi kathuliki or in French Grecs catholiques; but the name Melchite, if used at all, always means to Eastern people these Uniates. It is convenient for us too to have a definite name for them less entirely wrong than “Greek Catholic“—for they are Greeks in no sense at all. A question that has often been raised is whether there is any continuity of these Byzantine Uniates since before the great schism, whether there are any communities that have never lost communion with Rome. There are such communities certainly in the south of Italy, Sicily, and Corsica. In the case of the Melchite lands there are none. It is true that there have been approaches to reunion continually since the eleventh century, individual bishops have made their submission at various times, the short-lived unions of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1439) included the Orthodox of these countries too. But there is no continuous line; when the union of Florence was broken all the Byzantine Christians in the East fell away. The present Melchite Church dates from the eighteenth century.
Already in the seventeenth century tentative efforts at reunion were made by some of the Orthodox bishops of Syria. A certain Euthymius, Metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon, then the Antiochene Patriarchs Athanasius IV (1700-1728) and the famous Cyril of Bernoea (d. 1724, the rival of Cyril Lukaris of Constantinople, who for a time was rival Patriarch of Antioch) approached the Holy See and hoped to receive the pallium. But the professions of faith which they submitted were considered insufficient at Rome. The latinizing tendency in Syria was so well known that in 1722 a synod was held at Constantinople which drew up and sent to the Antiochene bishops a warning letter with a list of Latin heresies (in Assemani, “Bibl. Orient.”, III, 639). However, in 1724 Seraphim Tanas, who had studied at the Roman Propaganda, was elected Patriarch of Antioch by the latinizing party. He at once made his submission to Rome and sent a Catholic profession of faith. He took the name Cyril (Cyril VI, 1724-1759); with him begins the line of Melchite patriarchs in the new sense (Uniates). In 1728 the schismatics elected Sylvester, a Greek monk from Athos. He was recognized by the Phanar and the other Orthodox churches; through him the Orthodox line continues. Cyril VI suffered considerable persecution from the Orthodox, and for a time had to flee to the Lebanon. He received the pallium from Benedict XIV in 1744. In 1760, wearied by the continual struggle against the Orthodox majority, he resigned his office. Ignatius Jauhar was appointed by Cyril to succeed him, but the appointment was rejected at Rome and Clement XIII appointed Maximus Hakim, Metropolitan of Baalbek, as patriarch (Maximus II, 1760-1761). Athanasius Dahan of Beirut succeeded by regular election and confirmation after Maximus’s death and became Theodosius VI (1761-1788). But in 1764 Ignatius Jauhar succeeded in being reelected patriarch. The pope excommunicated him, and persuaded the Turkish authorities to drive him out. In 1773 Clement XIV united the few scattered Melchites of Alexandria and Jerusalem to the jurisdiction of the Melchite patriarch of Antioch. When Theodosius VI died, Ignatius Jauhar was again elected, this time lawfully, and took the name Athanasius V (1788-1794).
Then followed Cyril VII (Siage, 1794-1796), Agapius III (Matar, formerly Metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon, patriarch 1796-1812). During his time there was a movement of Josephinism and Jansenism in the sense of the synod of Pistoia (1786) among the Melchites, led by Germanus Adam, Metropolitan of Baalbek. This movement for a time invaded nearly all the Melchite Church. In 1806 they held a synod at Qargafe which approved many of the Pistoian decrees. The acts of the synod were published without authority from Rome in Arabic in 1810; in 1835 they were censured at Rome. Pius VII had already condemned a catechism and other works written by Germanus of Baalbek. Among his errors was the Orthodox theory that consecration is not effected by the words of institution in the liturgy. Eventually the patriarch (Agapius) and the other Melchite bishops were persuaded to renounce these ideas. In 1812 another synod established a seminary at ‘Ain-Traz for the Melchite “nation”. The next patriarchs were Ignatius IV (Sarruf, February—November, 1812, murdered), Athanasius VI (Matar, 1813), Macarius IV (Tawil, 1813-1815), Ignatius V (Qattan, 1816-1833). He was followed by the famous Maximus III (Mazlum, 1833-1855). His former name was Michael. He had been infected with the ideas of Germanus of Baalbek, and had been elected Metropolitan of Aleppo, but his election had not been confirmed at Rome. Then he renounced these ideas and became titular Metropolitan of Myra, and procurator of his patriarch at Rome. During this time he founded the Melchite church at Marseilles (St. Nicholas), and took steps at the courts of Vienna and Paris to protect the Melchites from their Orthodox rivals.
Hitherto the Turkish government had not recognized the Uniates as a separate millet; so all their communications with the State, the berat given to their bishops and so on, had to be made through the Orthodox. They were still officially, in the eyes of the law, members of the rum millet, that is of the Orthodox community under the Patriarch of Constantinople. This naturally gave the Orthodox endless opportunities of annoying them, which were not lost. In 1831 Mazlum went back to Syria, in 1833 after the death of Ignatius V he was elected patriarch, and was confirmed at Rome after many difficulties in 1836. His reign was full of disputes. In 1835 he held a national synod at ‘Ain-Traz, which laid down twenty-five canons for the regulation of the affairs of the Melchite Church; the synod was approved at Rome and is published in the Collectio Lacensis (II, 579-592). During his reign at last the Melchites obtained recognition as a separate millet from the Porte. Maximus III obtained from Rome for himself and his successors the additional titles of Alexandria and Jerusalem, which sees his predecessors had administered since Theodosius VI. In 1849 he held a synod at Jerusalem in which he renewed many of the errors of Germanus Adam. Thus he got into new difficulties with Rome as well as with his own people. But these difficulties were gradually composed and the old patriarch died in peace in 1855. He is the most famous of the line of Melchite patriarchs. He was succeeded by Clement I (Bahus, 1856-1864), Gregory II (Yussef, 1865-1897), Peter IV (Jeraijiri, 1897-1902), and Cyril
VIII (Jeha, the reigning patriarch, who was elected June 27, 1903, confirmed at once by telegram from Rome, enthroned in the patriarchal church at Damascus, August 8, 1903).
V. CONSTITUTION OF THE MELCHITE CHURCH.,—The head of the Melchite Church, under the supreme authority of the pope, is the patriarch. His title is Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and all the East”. “Antioch and all the East” is the old title used by all patriarchs of Antioch. It is less arrogant than it sounds; the “East” means the original Roman Prefecture of the East (Praefectura Orientis) which corresponded exactly to the patriarchate before the rise of Constantinople (Fortescue,”Orth. Eastern Church“, 21). Alexandria and Jerusalem were added to the title under Maximus III. It should be noted that these come after Antioch, although normally Alexandria has precedence over it. This is because the patriarch is fundamentally of Antioch only; he traces his succession through Cyril VI to the old line of Antioch. He is in some sort only the administrator of Alexandria and Jerusalem until the number of Melchites in Egypt and Palestine shall justify the erection of separate patriarchates for them. Meanwhile he rules equally over his nation in the three provinces. There is also a grander title used in Polychronia and for specially solemn occasions in which he is acclaimed as “Father of Fathers, Shepherd of Shepherds, High Priest of High Priests and Thirteenth Apostle”.
The patriarch is elected by the bishops, and is nearly always chosen from their number. The election is submitted to the Congregation for Eastern Rites joined to Propaganda; if it is canonical the patriarch-elect sends a profession of faith and a petition for confirmation and for the pallium to the pope. He must also take an oath of obedience to the pope. If the election is invalid, nomination devolves on the pope. The patriarch may not resign without the pope’s consent. He must make his visit ad limina, personally or by deputy, every ten years. The patriarch has ordinary jurisdiction over all his church. He confirms the election of and consecrates all bishops; he can translate or depose them, according to the canons. He founds parishes and (with consent of Rome) dioceses, and has considerable rights of the nature of dispensation from fasting and so on. The patriarch resides at the house next to the patriarchal church at Damascus (near the Eastern Gate). He has also residences at Alexandria and Jerusalem, where he spends at least some weeks each year; he is often at the seminary at ‘Ain-Traz, not far from Beirut, in the Lebanon.
The bishops are chosen according to the bull “Reversurus”, July 12, 1867. All the other bishops in synod with the patriarch choose three names, of which the pope selects one. All bishops must be celibate, but they are by no means necessarily monks. Priests who are not monks may keep wives married before ordination, but as in all uniate churches celibacy is very common, and the married clergy are looked upon rather askance. There are seminaries at ‘Ain-Traz, Jerusalem (the College of St. Ann under Cardinal Lavigerie’s White Fathers), Beirut, etc. Many students go to the Jesuits at Beirut, the Greek College at Rome, or St. Sulpice at Paris. The monks follow the Rule of St. Basil. They are divided into two great congregations, that of St. John the Baptist at Shuweir in the Lebanon and that of St, Savior, near Sidon. Both have numerous daughter-houses. The Shuweirites have a further distinction, i.e. between those of Aleppo and the Baladites. There are also convents of Basilian nuns.
Practically all Melchites are natives of the country, Arabs in tongue. Their rite is that of Constantinople, almost always celebrated in Arabic with a few versicles and exclamations (proschomen sophia orthoi, etc.) in Greek. But on certain solemn occasions the liturgy is celebrated entirely in Greek.
The sees of the patriarchate are: the patriarchate itself, to which is joined Damascus, administered by a vicar; then two metropolitan dioceses, Tyre and Aleppo; two archdioceses, Bosra with Hauran, and Horus with Hama; seven bishoprics, Sidon, Beirut (with Jebail), Tripolis, Acre, Furzul (with Zahle), and the Beqaa, Paneas, and Baalbek. The patriarchates of Jerusalem and Alexandria are administered for the patriarch by vicars. The total number of Melchites is estimated at 130,000 (Silbernagl) or 114,080 (Werner).