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The Eastern Catholic Churches / The Melkite Greek Catholic Church

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Number of faithfulapprox. 1.6 million
Title of First HierarchPatriarch of Antioch and All the Orient, of Alexandria and Jerusalem of the Greek Melkites
See of the First HierarchDamascus (Syria)
Current incumbentPatriarch Joseph Absi, born 1946, in office since 2017
Bishops and dioceses36 bishops; 19 dioceses and 6 exarchates
Liturgical languageArabic
CalendarMixed calendar (Gregorian/Julian)
Presence in Austriaapprox. 120 faithful; 1 parish, 1 priest
Presence in Germanyapprox. 2,000 faithful; 8 parishes, 1 priest

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is a Byzantine-rite church that arose out of clashes between two rival currents within the ↗ Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch during the first half of the 18th century. Due to the influence of Latin religious orders, especially the Capuchins, Carmelites, and Jesuits, who had been active in the territory of the Patriarchate of Antioch since the 17th century, several bishops of the Antiochene Patriarchate were open to a union with Rome. In 1724, these bishops elected Cyril VI (Tanas), a clear supporter of the Union plans, as the new patriarch. At the same time, the anti-Roman bishops in Aleppo elected the Cypriot monk Sylvester as patriarch. The latter was consecrated as the new Greek Patriarch of Antioch by the Patriarch of Constantinople and recognized by the Ottoman rulers as the rightful successor of his predecessor. Cyril VI was expelled from the country and established his patriarchal seat in a monastery in Lebanon. In 1729, Cyril VI was recognized by Pope Benedict XIII as the rightful patriarch. In 1744, Pope Benedict XIV awarded him the pallium as a sign of unity with Rome.

During the 18th century, the number of Greek Catholics in the Near and Middle East grew rapidly, as many faithful accused the Orthodox patriarchs of being too close to the Ottoman rulers. In 1772, all Catholics of the Byzantine rite in the area of the three old patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem were placed under the Greek-Catholic patriarch, who around this time also adopted the term "Melkite", which had been customary for the Orthodox faithful to Chalcedon. After an initial resistance, the Ottomans officially recognized the Melkite Church in 1848. Since then, the patriarch of the Melkites has resided in Damascus.

At the First Vatican Council (1869/70), the Melkite Patriarch Gregorios II was one of the sharpest opponents of the constitution "Pastor aeternus", which defined the infallibility and the primacy of jurisdiction of the pope. He left Rome before the decree was passed and later accepted it only with the addition that all the rights and privileges of the Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches were preserved.

At the Second Vatican Council, the Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV was the spokesman for those who were against further Latinization of the Eastern Catholics and pronounced a stronger orientation towards the Eastern Church traditions, not only in regard to the liturgy but also in terms of ecclesiology. The Melkite Catholics today maintain good contacts with the Orthodox Patriarchates in the Near and Middle East and are actively engaged in promoting reconciliation between Orthodox and Catholics.


  • M. Kopp, Die griechisch-katholische Kirche der Melkiten im Wandel, in: Stimmen der Zeit 235 (2017) 705-707.
  • M. Schneider (Hg.), „Wachsam in Liebe“. Eine Festgabe zum 75. Geburtstag Seiner Seligkeit Patriarch Gregorios III., Kisslegg 2008 (Koinonia-Oriens, Bd. 54).
  • E. Chr. Suttner, Wann und wie kam es zur Union von Melkiten mit der Kirche von Rom?, in: Der Christliche Osten 63 (2008) 226-233.
  • W. Hage, Die Melkitisch-Katholische Kirche, in: ders., Das orientalische Christentum, Stuttgart 2007, 411-424.
  • J. Chammas, Die Melkitische Kirche, Köln 1991.