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Melkite Greek Catholic Church/The Church in modern times

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The Church in modern times

Conflicts over Latin and Melkite traditions in the Church

Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh took part in the Second Vatican Council where he championed the Eastern tradition of Christianity, and won a great deal of respect from Eastern Orthodox observers at the council as well as the approbation of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I.

Following the Second Vatican Council the Melkites moved to restoring traditional worship. This involved both the restoration of Melkite practices such as administering the Eucharist to infants following post-baptismal chrismation as well as removal of Latin-rite elements such as communion rails and confessionals. In the pre-conciliar days, the leaders of this trend were members of "The Cairo Circle", a group of young priests centered around the Patriarchal College in Cairo. This group included Fathers George Selim Hakim, Joseph Tawil, Elias Zoghby and former Jesuit Oreste Kerame; they later became bishops and participated in the Second Vatican Council, and saw their efforts vindicated.

These reforms led to protests by some Melkite churches that the de-latinisation had gone too far. During the Patriarchate of Maximos IV (Sayegh), some Melkites in the United States objected to the use of the vernacular in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, a movement that was spearheaded by the future archbishop of Nazareth, Father Joseph Raya of Birmingham, Alabama. The issue garnered national news coverage after Bishop Fulton Sheen celebrated a Pontifical Divine Liturgy in English at the Melkite National convention in Birmingham in 1958, parts of which were televised on the national news.

In 1960, the issue was resolved by Pope John XXIII at the request of Patriarch Maximos IV in favour of the use of vernacular languages in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Pope John also consecrated a Melkite priest, Father Gabriel Acacius Coussa, as a bishop, using the Byzantine Rite and the papal tiara as a crown. Bishop Coussa was almost immediately elevated to the cardinalate, but died two years later. His cause for canonization was introduced by his religious order, the Basilians of Aleppo.

Further protests against the de-latinisation of the church occurred during the patriarchate of Maximos V Hakim (1967–2000) when some church officials who supported Latin traditions protested against allowing the ordination of married men as priests. Today the church sees itself as an authentic Orthodox church in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. As such it has a role as a voice of the east within the western church, a bridge between faiths and peoples.[1]

Attempts to unite the Melkite diaspora

Due to heavy emigration from the Middle East, which began with the Damascus massacres of 1860, in which most of the Christian communities were attacked, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church today is found throughout the world and no longer made up exclusively of faithful of Middle Eastern origin.

The Patriarchate of Maximos V saw many advances in the worldwide presence of the Melkite Church, called "the Diaspora":[2] Eparchies (the Eastern equivalent of a diocese) were established in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Argentina and Mexico in response to the continued emptying of the Middle East of her native Christian peoples. Some historians state that after the revolution in Egypt in 1952, many Melkites left Egypt due to the renewed Islamic, nativist and socialist policies of the Nasser regime. In 1950, the richest Melkite community in the world was in Egypt. In 1945 the most populous single diocese was Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee; by 1955 that was no longer the case due to Israeli anti-Arab measures, equally targeting Christian Arabs as well as Muslim.

In 1967, a native Egyptian of Syrian-Aleppin descent, George Selim Hakim, was elected the successor of Maximos IV, and took the name Maximos V. He was to reign until he retired at the age of 92 in the Jubilee Year of 2000. He reposed on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, 2001.

Nobel Peace Prize nominations

One American Melkite priest and two successors of Patriarch Maximos V in the See of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize: Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy for his work on non-violence. The second archbishop, Joseph Raya (1968–1974) and the fifth and present incumbent, Archbishop Elias Michael Chacour, who is the first Palestinian to hold the See and is also the founder of the Mar Elias Educational Institutions in Ibillin, Galilee. He was ordained to the episcopacy in his own church in Ibillin and enthroned in the cathedral of Haifa in 2006.

  1. Joffe, Lawrence (July 28, 2001). "Obituaries: Maximos V: Spiritual leader of a million Christians". The Guardian (London): pp. 22. 
  2. The History of the Melkite Byzantine Church

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