Rumis, Orthodox, Catholics: Terminology Issues.

The different appellations of “Eastern” religious sects is another problem that I would like to address in this post. As if the “Orient” were not complicated enough…

Did you know that the Catholic Church considers itself Orthodox and that the Orthodox Church considers itself Catholic? In Greek, orthodoxia means “the true faith” (from orthos “right”, “true” or “straight”, and doxa “common belief”) and katholikos means “universal”. Naturally, each Church believes to embody the one true universal faith.

Did you know that the Arabic appellations Rûm Orthodox and Rûm Malakiyyîn Kâthûlîk are total abominations? To begin with, the “Rûm” part is an Islamic vocabulary which was incorporated by the “Orthodox” Church. In the Muslims’ eyes, Christians were all Rûmîs, “Romans”. To them, Rome symbolized Christianity, and in that respect, Byzantium was a surrogate Rome. The “Eastern Greek-Orthodox” Church nonetheless adopted this appellation in spite of its hostility towards Rome. There is no logical explanation for this, but there is an explanation: Acculturation.

As for Rûm Malakiyyîn Kâthûlîk, well, non-sense too. Al-Malakiyyûn = “Melkites”, the followers of the Byzantine Emperor (see my previous post, § 13, 14, 15). Beside the fact that the term “Melkite” was used as an insult against the Imperial Church from the 7th through the 11th century, the question is: Why do we use the word “Melkite” to describe the “Greek-Catholic” Church and not the “Greek-Orthodox” Church? The “Greek-Catholics” officially exist since the 18th century (1724 to be precise) only. This time, there is no explanation at all. Sometimes, history is random.

Etymologically, the word malakiyyîn is not the equivalent for “Melkites”. “Melkite” is a transliteration of the Syriac word Melkî or Melkhî (from Melekh “King”). The arabicized word became Malkî, then Malakî (from Malak “King”). Therefore, Malakiyyîn would be “Malekites”.

Anyway, the Western terminology is not any better: Greek-Orthodox and Greek-Catholics are not Greeks; their Church is. (Hence the hyphen’s importance.) Actually, their Church is Byzantine, not really Greek. It would be fair enough to say it is of Hellenic heritage.

Terminology issues can also be found in other sects. The label “orthodox” is oftentimes used as a synonym for “non-Catholic” (not affiliated to the Vatican). For instance, the Armenian “Orthodox” community is not really “Orthodox”, it is self-designated as the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Again, all Churches believe they are Orthodox (holding the true faith) and Catholic (universal). In my humble opinion, Jesus should have warned Peter about terminology issues.

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