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The term Melkite in Orthodox Christianity refers to the identity of groups within the Church of Antioch that use the rite of the Orthodox church. The term came into use after the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century and then changed its meaning in the early eighteenth century.

With Constantinople

The term Melkite is of Aramaic heritage, coming from the Syriac word malkāyā and Arabic Malakī: ملكي‎, meaning "royal" and by extension, "imperial", and "melek" its Aramaic cognate for "king". When the term Melkite came into use after the Council of Chalcedon, in 451, it was used as a pejorative by the non-Chalcedonians when they referred to those who backed the fourth council and the Eastern Roman emperor. The differentiation thus bore political as well as theological meaning as the Chalcedonians were generally supported by the Hellenic emperor over the Syriac Christians of the Levant and Egypt. The differences between the two parties grew to a schism with divisions in the three historic patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Those who remained in union with Constantinople were called Melkites.

With Rome

As a fallout of the Latin occupation of the Levant during the crusades, by the fourteenth century Roman Catholic clergy had engaged the Melkite Orthodox and endeavored to heal the division between the East and West. This was at a time when the Great Schism of 1054 remained largely undefined. By the eighteenth century, many in the Melkite church became identified as pro-Western and who sought reconciliation with Rome. In 1724, Patriarch Athanasius III Dabbas of Antioch died naming as his successor Sylvester, his former deacon. In opposition, the faction favoring union with the Roman Catholic Church elected Seraphim Tanas patriarch of Antioch as Cyril VI. Patr. Jeremias III of Constantinople declared Cyril's election invalid and consecrated Sylvester as Patriarch of Antioch. These events formalized a schism within the Church of Antioch, after which the pro-Rome group became known as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church/Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch, adopting the term Melkite to identify themselves, whereas the non-Melkites refer to themselves as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.


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