What’s In a Name?
The official title of our Church is the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Our Patriarch Gregory III is the 181st direct successor of St. Peter over the See of Antioch. His title is Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. “Of Alexandria and Jerusalem”, is added as a personal title.
The word Greek in our name, in Arabic “Room”, that is the Eastern Roman or Byzantine, refers to the Greek language and culture brought to the Middle East by Alexander the Great. The New Testament was all written in Greek, with the exception of the original Gospel of Matthew. Greek was spoken mainly in the cities, while local languages were preserved in the countryside. Other churches are designated by countries: Greek Orthodox in or from Greece, Coptic in or from Egypt, Chaldean or Assyrian in or from Iraq, Armenian in or from Armenia, Maronite in or from Lebanon; but Melkite is universal, catholic. Greek, in our name thus, refers to a general culture, and not a country.
The word Melkite was a nickname given in the sixth and seventh century to the Catholic Orthodox Christians who followed the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, mainly the Council of Chalcedony convened in 451 A.D. The Emperor of Constantinople, eager to keep unity in his Empire, defended the decrees of the Ecumenical Council and persecuted those who opposed it. These were called heretics, while the followers of the Council were called Orthodox. The opponents of the Council of Chalcedony nicknamed the followers of the Council “Melkites”: from the Semitic root “Melko” which means king. The word implied that the Melkites were royalist, followers of the foreign king, instead of siding with their own compatriots. The Melkites didn’t mind the name. They were proud to stand with the King, for the sake of unity in the Empire and universality throughout the whole world.
This has been one distinctive trait of the Melkites: standing for unity and understanding among the churches striving for universality. In the Middle Ages, the Emperor was the symbol of that unity. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Pope in Rome remained alone as the symbol of unity and universality. So, when the Church of Antioch separated into two branches in 1724, the word “Melkite” was appropriated exclusively by the Catholic branch. The word Melkite became synonymous with Catholic.
The word Catholic in our name as distinguished from Orthodox, indicates that we belong to the Catholic universal Church, headed by the Supreme Pontiff, the Bishop of Rome