*) 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 confirmed.
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).
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.