Monday, 25 November 2013

Syriac (and Maronite) Romanisations vs Melkite Byzantinisations

We hear all the time the large number of Romanisations (mostly neo-Romanisations) that have occurred and are occurring within Syriac Churches whom are in communion with Rome. It is a very sad phenomenon indeed.

Nevertheless the Byzantinisations that the Melkite (or Roum) Church has experienced far surpasses the Romanisations within any Catholic Syriac Church. The Melkites are a group of Syriac Christians who adopted the liturgy, traditions and spirituality of the Byzantine Emperor. Over time, the name Melkite (A Syriac term for 'Imperials'), was given to them.

The Melkites were a Syro-Antiochene Church that got Byzantanised completely and ceased to use the Syro-Antiochene liturgy by the 13th century. Nevertheless, the Melkites still maintained the use of the Syriac language, what was used by the Melkites was simply a Syriac translation of the Greek-Byzantine liturgy. The Melkites also developed their own script of Syriac, a mixture of Serto and Estrangelo script.

Syriac in the Melkite Church

Eventually by the 16th and 17th centuries, Arabic began to be introduced into the Melkite liturgy. Today, we're left with the modern-day Melkite Church. Devoid of any Syro-Antiochene traditions, spirituality and liturgy. It has simply become an Arabic Byzantine Church.

In saying all this, the Melkite Church is perhaps one of the few Eastern Catholic Churches that has been able to maintain both an Eastern and Catholic identity amongst both laity and clergy. For example: the Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh's participation at the Second Vatican council and the refusal of many Melkite Patriarchs for becoming cardinals (I will blog about the inconsistency of Eastern Prelates becoming Cardinals latter on).

The reason why I say this is because many Melkites seem to look down upon many Maronites and Syriac Catholics because of our Romanisations (hopefully in a spirit of brotherly competition). Nevertheless they fail to realise that the Melkite Church probably experienced one of the greatest liturgical change out of any community in Christendom.

I am not making an excuse here for the Romanisations (especially neo-Romanisations) that are occurring within Catholic Syriac Churches. Infact, I would rather beautiful iconostasis and chants than the neo-Romanisations (with people-facing altars, prayers of the faithful etc) that are occurring within our own Churches. However, the history of the Melkite Church is often not known to many.

So my Maronite and Syriac Catholic friends. If you are ever given a hard time by our beloved Melkite brethren for Romanising (which I hope is in jest :p). Always remind them, that they are Syriac!

Through the Birth-Giver of God Maryam, and Mor Ephrem. God Bless you.


    1. The town of Ma'aloula in Syria, (recently in the news since it was attacked by elements of the3 so-called "rebels"), is the only place where the Byzantine liturgy is done in Aramaic. The dialect used is actually a derivative of Palestinian-Jewish Aramaic.

      1. My understanding was that even in Ma'lula Arabic is used in the Byzantine Liturgy (which is quite sad).

        In this video

        the priest complains about not being able to celebrate the Byzantine Liturgy in Aramaic. This case of using Arabic could possibly be this one Church though.

      2. Personally, I don't think it's sad at all. The bottom line being that most (though not all, particularly in the north) Melkites are indeed ethnic Arabs. But the Aramaic dialect is still spoken in that town and in a few neighboring villages.

    2. My Malankara Church was completely Syrianized in the 1600-1800s, not by force but by being separate in identity from the Latins and the Malabar Chaldeans.

    3. Since you guys now accept the Chalcedonian definitions, wouldn't you guys be considered "Melkite" too? :p

      1. No,

        The term "melkite" was designated to the Melkites organically. It wasn't a simple matter of an instant change to the term.

        The group today known as the Melkites would've probably used the Syro-Antiochene liturgy straight after Chalcedon. The term was given to them due to the use of the King's worship practices not because of theology. Most Christians would not have been aware of the occurrences in Chalcedon.

        Certainly, theological unity with the Patriarch of Constantinople helped in the Byzantinisations which had been used fairly regularly even by the 7th century.