Read below a historical view of the Melkite Greek Church and its creation, development and expansion to the East. The second part describes the arrival of the Melkite church in Brazil between the ends of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
In the beginning of Christianity, when the apostles met in Jerusalem, there was no specific rite. The rituals in the synagogues were then transformed into Christian liturgy. When the Christian communities began to grow in the large cities, certain uniformity was observed in the liturgical celebrations.
Documents show that in the 4th century there were already rituals that were part of the liturgy. In the East, four rituals arose:
1) The Asian ritual in Asia Minor.
2) The Rituals of Pontus in the area of Anatolia (currently Turkey) near the Black Sea; in the area of Neocesarea (currently the north of Turkey), Nazienze, Cesarea of Cappadocia (currently the north of Turkey) later included in the rite of Constantinople or Byzantine rite.
3) The Syriac rituals in the area of East, Antioch and Jerusalem, which later dominated other rituals.
4) Egyptian or Copt rituals in the area of Egypt.
From the 5th century, the four major Eastern Patriarchies were formed: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. When the Patriarchies arose, many minor and specific rituals disappeared.
Therefore, the rite of Constantinople or the Byzantine rite predominated in Asia Minor and in Pontus. The Melkite rite arose from this rite and the Maronite rite arose from the ancient rite of Antioch.
In the end of the 7th century, in East there were three major Christian rites: the Byzantine, the Egyptian and the Syriac, and three derived rites: the Armenian, the Chaldean and the Maronite.
Therefore, we have the following:
Byzantine rite: Greeks, Melkites, Slavs, Ukrainians and followers in Eastern Europe.
Antioch rite: Antiochian Syriac, Maronite Syriac and Malankar Syriac (India).
Due to the political and ecclesiastic significance of Byzantium-Constantinople, the Byzantine Church has developed its own independent patriarchy and its own liturgy.
Due to the importance of Byzantium, the Councils had given it the prominence in the East, and the rite of the capital spread to all provinces in the Christian East, Europe and Asia.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Melkite patriarchies from Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem progressively abandoned their former rite and adopted the Byzantine rite, which became the rite of orthodoxy to the West and the Eastern minorities.
The rite uses five different languages according to the place, including the Arabic (the Melkites sometimes also use the Greek). Notice that the Byzantine rite always uses the language from the area where the rituals take place (in Brazil, for example, it uses Portuguese, Arabic and Greek, depending on the participants).
The Origin of the Melkite Church
The Catholic Church values the institutions, the liturgical rites, the traditions and the discipline related to the Christian life of the Eastern Churches.
The Melkite Church is likely to be the world’s most ancient church and directly related to the apostles. The Patriarch has the title of “Patriarch of Antioch and of all East, Alexandria and Jerusalem”.
Jerusalem is the Holy City where Peter gave his first speeches and led the first Council of the Church.
Antioch is the “City of God” where the Melkites were called Christians for the first time. There, Peter established the first see before settling in Rome.
The Melkites of today descend from those first centers of Christianity. For twenty centuries, the Melkites were witnesses of the faith of Peter and the apostles.
The name Melkite arose quite late after the 4th Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in the year of 451. The Christian and Dogmatic definitions of the Council were approved by the representatives of Pope Leo I.
Rather for political than for theological reasons, the countries that could no longer bear the Byzantine colonization (Syriacs, Copts, Armenians) and that wanted to separate from the Byzantine Empire did not accept the definitions of the Council. Those who accepted the definitions of the Council of Pope Leo I received the name of Melkites (from the Semitic base “melek”, which means king, emperor). The pope was named “Chief of the Melkites”.
When the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Byzantium (modern Istanbul), the official language of the Empire Capital gradually became the Greek. For that reason, Eastern Roman Christians spoke Greek. When the Muslims invaded the Empire, they started to call them both Romans and Greeks.
In the East, to indicate other Eastern Catholic Churches, the name of the church comes with an ethnical designation: Armenian, Syriac, Copt… Catholic. When the word “Katulik” comes alone, it designates the Melkite Greek Church.
Today, the word “Catholic” means “in communion with the Pope or with the Church of Rome”.
In spite of the difficulties created by the Patriarchs of Constantinople, who were supported by the Ottoman sultans, in the 18th century the Christians succeeded in reviving the faith in their church with the support of Europeans missionaries, such as Jesuits, Franciscans, Capuchins and Carmelites. A movement of Christian “awakening” arose and allowed them to return to the rules of Rome and of the Catholic Church, recovering the Ottoman confidence in the Catholic Church. It gave to the Patriarchs of Constantinople power over all Christians in the Empire that they controlled.
This support also stimulated a great number of Melkites to free from the authority of Constantinople and to officially declare its union with Rome.
The association between churches was legalized with the election of the Melkite Patriarch Cyrill Tanas, pro-Rome, that replaced Athanasius III Dabbas, deceased in 1724. From this date, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church regained strength and started a new stage of growth after a long period of inactivity due to the pressure of Constantinople.
In the second stage of the church’s growth, some religious orders and seminars were founded. Some of them are: the Seminary of Ain Traz - Lebanon (1811), Seminary of Saint Anne of Jerusalem (1882) also known as “Salahich”, as well as many other schools in Damascus and Aleppo in Syria, and in Beirut in Lebanon.
Melkites in Brazil
The Melkite Greek followers are mostly inhabitants from the Middle East that, due to the frequent crises originated by wars, migrated to Brazil from around 1869 to 1890. As the Diaspora increased, the Melkite Greek Church started to worry about these members of the church that left Lebanon. At the Patriarch’s request, the Holy See sent Eastern priests to the countries of immigration. Therefore, in 1939 arrived in Brazil the first Melkite priest, the Archimandrite Elias Couéter, to replace the priest Archimandrite Georges Haddad, who returned to Lebanon.
The Archimandrite Couéter received permission from the Metropolitan Curia of Rio de Janeiro to celebrate the Holy Liturgy in the Churches of the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro while a church was being built to the followers of the Melkite rite in a land purchased by the Archimandrite Georges Haddad. In 1940, the Melkite temple was ended and was named after Saint Basil.
The religious life during the migration was very difficult due to the great number of followers that lived in many different places and to the lack of priests and a solid organization of the Melkite Church.
Only in 1945, with the designation of Dom Maximos Sayegh as Patriarchal Representative for the Catholic Melkites that migrated, that the Melkite Church was organized. Later, Dom Maximos Sayegh became the Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh (1947-1967) in Lebanon.
In 1946, Dom Jaime de Barros Câmara, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, declared the Church of Saint Basil a parish and designated the Archimandrite Elias Couéter its first priest. The Church of Saint Basil was the first Melkite Greek Church in Brazil.
In his first visit to São Paulo, the Archimandrite Elias Couéter met the Archimandrite Dimitri Alouche who, with the aid of the Melkite Council of São Paulo, which at that time was led by Jorge Bey Maluf, started to build the Church of Nossa Senhora do Paraíso that would later become the Brazilian Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral. The church’s cornerstone was put in place on August 23rd, 1951. The architect Benedito Calixto de Jesus Neto designed the church.
On December 17th, 1960, the Archimandrite Elias Couéter was designated Assistant Bishop of Dom Jaime de Barros Câmara for the Melkite Greek Catholic Community in Brazil. After that, he started to live in São Paulo in the Parish of Nossa Senhora do Paraíso.
On January 2nd, 1972, Pope Paul VI designated Dom Couéter the first Eparch of the New Melkite Eparchy. The document gave him the title of “First Eparch of Nossa Senhora do Paraíso for all the followers of the Melkite Byzantine Rite in Brazil”.
The Melkites became independent of the religious authorities in Brazil. However, they remained members of the National Conference of the Bishops of Brazil (C.N.B.B.).
In 1993, the Melkite Church under the Patriarch Maximos V Hakim had approximately the following members:
34 Metropolitan Bishops, Archbishops and Bishops.
450 Priests (half religious and half secular clergies)
1,755,000 followers as bellow: