Religions of Lebanon: the Melkites

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The Melkites are the 2nd Catholic confession of Lebanon, with a history that has its origins in the dawn of Christianity


The Melkite Church sees its earliest origins in the Council of Chalcedon of 451, when it separated for the first time from the Syriac Church of Antioch. During this council, in fact, there was a long debate about Monophysitism, a theory conceived by the Eutic archimandrite (the superior of a monastery in the Eastern churches) according to which the human nature of Christ was completely absorbed by the divine one, thus causing in him only the divine one was present. At the end of this meeting, Monophysitism had the worst and the Diophysite nature of Jesus was established on the contrary (in him both divine and human nature are present), thus giving birth to the Byzantine rite, which however suffered resistance especially in Syria and in Egypt. In these two provinces, in fact, Monophysitism remained one of the majority doctrines evolving into Miaphysism (divine and human nature are merged into one perfectly balanced) and during this clash the Melkites were born, whose name derives from an Arabic word and Syriac which means “king”, referring to their choice to adopt the rite of the Byzantine emperor unlike the Syriac Orthodox Church.


In the first half of the 18th century, Kyrillos VI Tanas appeared on the public scene, a character who would form the Melkites as we know them today. At the time, in fact, “Melkites” meant all the Christians of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine who followed the Byzantine rite, but this regardless of whether they considered themselves Catholic or not; it was Cyril himself who gave it the “Catholic” connotation. Once elected Patriarch of Antioch, he immediately undertook to recognize papal authority, while maintaining the Byzantine rite; this led to a very heavy fracture within the Church of Antioch, which since then was divided between Greek Orthodox, opposed to the papal authority, and Melkites. It should be noted that the latter are therefore a Church sui iuris and that they use Arabic as their liturgical language, together with Greek, which makes them different from all Christians. Also for these particularities, in the 19th century the relationship with Rome was particularly tormented, so much so that only with the encyclical Orientalium dignitas of Pope Leo XIII were the two churches able to put aside any divergence and walk peacefully together. Starting from the Damascus Massacre of 1860, the Melkite cult has also spread outside the “Middle East”, also touching Australia and the Americas. In Lebanon they represent the second Catholic confession after the Maronites and the third Christian ever after the Greek Orthodox; according to the National Pact they are entitled to 8 seats in the parliament. Among the most famous Melkites we must absolutely mention: Amin Maalouf, Wael Kfoury and Omar Sharif who was born from a Melkite family of Syrian and Lebanese origin.

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