Melkites mark 130 year milestone in Australia

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Australia’s oldest Eastern Christian community – the Melkite Catholic Church. The name Melkite comes from the Arabic word for ‘King’ since the liturgical traditions of the Melkite community derived from the Liturgy of Constantinople which was celebrated by the Roman Emperor. Now they are found across the world in cosmopolitan centres including Sydney Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Oceania’s oldest Eastern Christian community

In 2021, Oceania’s oldest Eastern Christian community,  the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Saint Michael the Archangel, celebrate their 130th year of ecclesiastic existence in Australia.

Predating all Eastern Rite Catholic – and indeed Eastern Orthodox communities- in Australia, Melkite Greek Catholics formed communities within inner Sydney in the 1880s and prompted the arrival of Fr Sylvanos Mansour in 1889 – the first Eastern Priest in Australia.

“An important event in life of the Melkite community of Australia”

The Melkite community achieved formal ecclesiastic recognition in 1891 with the establishment of the old St Michael’s Church in Waterloo.

To mark the anniversary, Melkite Bishop Robert Rabbat blessed the unveiling of a heritage display within the current St Michael’s Melkite Cathedral in Darlington after Liturgy on Sunday 31 January.

The inheritors of the Byzantine Liturgical tradition

“This year we are marking an important event in life of the Melkite  community of Australia,” said Bishop Rabbat.

“Each of us has reason to pause and consider which stage of the journey we are at; if this is true of individuals it is also true of things in control of individuals such as families, nations and Churches.”

Bishop Robert Rabbat blesses the Melkite heritage display which is now open to the public to view the history of Australia’s oldest Eastern Christian community PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The display, compiled under the perseverance of 16-year-old Melkite Jack Bettar with the direction of Fr Gerges Albutros and Bishop Robert Rabbat, gives honour to those in the community who had paved the way to the present day.

“My project has attempted to distill, in some small part, the legacy of those first arrivals in Sydney’s Waterloo and Redfern area” said Mr Bettar whose family connection with St Michael’s traces back 86 years to the arrival of his great-great uncle Msgr Malatios Chahoud who ministered to the community and sponsored his extended family to seek refuge in Sydney.

“St Michael’s served as a place of worship for Maronites, Copts, Antiochian and Greek Orthodox”

“I was inspired to do this project because coupled with the fact with the fact that my family have a connection with the Cathedral,  I have a deep love for the Melkite liturgy and tradition.”

Young Melkite Jack Bettar – the mastermind behind the heritage display. At only 16 years of age, Jack’s talent for learning arose to give back to the Melkite community in honour of his forebears PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The ecumenical nature of the Melkite community served as a platform for subsequent Eastern Christian communities to establish their base in Australia  before branching out.

“As the first non-Western church in Australia, St Michael’s served as a place of worship for Maronites, Coptics, Antiochian and Greek Orthodox -  among other non-Melkite denominations,” said Jack.

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church are one of the inheritors of the Byzantine Liturgical tradition of which their geographical dispersion mirrors the remnants of the once mighty multiethnic Byzantine Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“While it might seem to outsiders that it is a monolithic culture, it’s language and faith draw together this heterogenous group of people from across such a vast region,” Jack said.

Significant for researchers, theologians and historians

“Melkites are in a unique position as they encompass the Arabic-speaking members of the Byzantine Rite Churches drawn from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, the Sudan, Jordan, Palestine.”

War, political upheaval, revolutions and persecution over the last century, however,  have caused the Melkites to migrate across the world,  including to Australia.

The Melkite Liturgy traces its lineage to the Liturgy of Constantinople – the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and hegemon of the Eastern Mediterranean in Antiquity and the Middle Ages PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The display, significant for researchers, theologians and historians, presents the early history of the Melkite community in Oceania.

It features original sacred vessels, photographs, an ornate priest vestment, iconography, newspaper clippings and precious religious literature and will remain as an archival record for both Melkites and non-Melkites to view and appreciate.

Archival materials were sourced through the Cathedral, the Melkite Eparchy Centre, the City of Sydney Council’s Records and the National Library of Australia as well as a range of generous donors.

If you are interested in visiting St Michael’s Melkite Cathedral in Darlington visit their website www.melkite.org.au