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Christianity / Orientations / Roman Catholic Church /
Eastern Rite Churches



Eastern rite churches
2nd column: Adherents in North Africa/Middle East
3rd column: Adherents in in other countries
Armenian 92,000 400,000
Chaldean 460,000 ?
Coptic 210,000 10,000
Maronite 850,000 650,000
Melkite 700,000 800,000
Syrian 150,000 30,000
TOTAL 2.4 mill. 2 mill.
Catholics by country
These figures include the Roman Catholic Church, which is not part of the Eastern Rite.
Last column: % of the population of Christians in each country
Algeria 3,000 70.0%
Bahrain 100 <0,1%
Egypt 230,000 0.4%
Iran 13,500 8.0%
Iraq 520,000 45.0%
Israel 170,000 45.0%
Jordan 30,000 55.0%
Kuwait 150,000 80.0%
Lebanon 1,280,000 90.0%
Libya 50,000 95.0%
Morocco 65,000 90.0%
Mauritania 300 90.0%
Palestine 150,000 95.0%
Saudi Arabia 500,000 60.0%
Spanish North Africa 94,000 99.0%
Sudan 800,000 60.0%
Syria 290,000 45.0%
Tunisia 20,000 95.0%
Turkey 30,000 4.0%
United Arab Emirates 400,000 90,0%
Western Sahara 160 90.0%
TOTAL 4,800,000 30%

*) Calculated for the total Christian population of North Africa and the Middle East, approx. 15,000,000.

Christian churches based in the Middle East in communion with the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope in Rome. These churches have retained their identity, and can be classified according to which of 5 rites to which they belong: Byzantine, Alexandrian, Antiochene (from which the Maronites and Syrians stem), Chaldean and Armenian.
Estimates about the number of adherents of the Eastern Rite Churches vary between 4 and 12 million throughout the world. The first is probably more correct. About half live outside the Middle East, mainly in Europe and the Americas. 2.4 million live in North Africa and the Middle East.
The Eastern Rite Churches are also called Eastern Rite Church (note the singular) and Eastern Catholic Church or Uniate Church.
The main churches include: Armenian Catholic Church; Chaldean Catholic Church (part of the Nestorian tradition); Maronite Church; Melkite Greek Catholic Church; Coptic Catholic Church (a small part of the total Coptic Church); Syrian Catholic Church.
By its affiliation with the Catholic Church, they differ from other churches in the same region, the so-called Orthodox (see treatment on the term "orthodox") and the Independent churches.
By maintaining their unique rituals and heritage, the Eastern Rite Churches have retained a certain degree of independence. But they have had to accept the core of the Catholic faith: The 7 sacraments (baptism; confirmation; Eucharist; penance; anointing or extreme unction; holy orders or ordination; matrimony) and the pope as the supreme head of the church.
But the liturgy, sacred art, organization and canon law are specific to each church. One of the most notable differences is that the clergy is allowed to marry. Another difference is that baptized infants are admitted to the Eucharist and confirmation. In most churches, the local language or the founding language is used in the liturgy, not Latin, as in the Catholic Church.



Eastern Rite Churches are organized by the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, the pope serving as prefect, and a cardinal pro-prefect as chairman. The churches are headed by a patriarch, who has the right to appoint bishops and create dioceses.
There are now 6 Eastern Catholic patriarchs: 1 in Alexandria for the Copts; 3 in Antioch (1 for the Maronites (based in Jounieh, Lebanon), 1 for the Syrians, 1 for the Melkites (based in Damascus, Syria)); 1 in Babylonia (for the Chaldeans); 1 in Sis (for the Armenians). The 2 latter patriarchs are also called katholikos. Below the patriarchs, there are archbishops, bishops and priests.

History
1182: The Maronite Church is partially affiliated with the Catholic church, but is allowed to preserve its liturgy and keep the organization with a Patriarch located in Lebanon.
1439: The Council of Ferrara-Florence fails to unite East and West in the Christian world. Because of this, a campaign in the Middle East is begun in order to bring churches back to the supremacy of the pope in Rome.
1551: Many Nestorian congregations rejoin the Roman Catholic Church, and are called Chaldean, as it would be unacceptable to keep references to the heretic (in the eyes of the pope), Nestorius.
1596: Two Ukrainian Orthodox bishops acknowledged the primacy of the pope. This becomes the founding moment for the idea of "Eastern Rite Churches."
1667: One of the two opposing patriarchs of the Syrian church joins the Catholic Church.
1724: The Melkite Church joins.
1741: A congregation of the Coptic church joins in.
1742: Part of the Armenian Church joins the Eastern Rite.
1964 November 21: In the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, the 2nd Vatican Council decides to preserve and protect the Eastern rites.




By Tore Kjeilen