Melkites Caught in the Middle

The regional and religious ties that Melkite Catholics have to the Middle East make the Israeli-Palestinian war even more difficult to process than it already is.

Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since the Islamic militant group Hamas invaded Israel and murdered nearly 1,200 defenseless Israeli civilians and captured nearly 250 hostages. Israel retaliated in self-defense and retaliates to this day, with blockades, air attacks, ground assaults, and widespread (and allegedly indiscriminate) death-doling, with the stated intention of obliterating Hamas and taking control of the highly contested Gaza Strip.

Melkite Catholics claim close connection to this war-torn region. The Melkites (or “King’s Men,” derived from the Aramaic word for king, “melek”) are a Middle Eastern Byzantine Church in full communion with the Holy See and among the most ancient Catholics, arising largely from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine. Naturally, many Melkites are personally, or even spiritually, conflicted about the dreadful Israeli-Palestinian war, witnessing unholy, political horrors raging in their ancestral homeland and their religion’s Holy Land.

Striking from Palestine, Hamas represents the longstanding outrage of most Arabic states over Israel’s sovereign presence east of the Jordan River. These largely regard Israelis with contempt as alien occupiers from Europe who were given a home 75 years ago that was not theirs by the U.N. and the British Empire, following more of a political project rather than a religious purpose. This violent tension has only been exacerbated over the decades by Israel’s similar refusal to recognize the independence of Palestine. 

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But for the Melkites, there is devotion, dedication, and heritage connected with the Holy Land and the ancestral home of the Palestinians. So, how should the conscientious Melkite reconcile these alliances and oppositions and come to terms with such rampant casualties and the turmoil exploding from contested land?

This quandary flies immediately to the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian war is a tremendously complex crisis on humanitarian, political, and historical levels. Hamas is a terrorist organization that lashed out in jihadist ideology against its perceived invading enemy, the unwelcome Jewish people. Israel has lashed right back, taking advantage of the opportunity presented by Hamas’ escalated hostility to claim Palestine once and for all as the last piece of territory that they perceive as their ancient, biblical right. The so-called “two-state solution” has never found traction and seems even more impossible with the current single state of war.

But when it comes to finding a Catholic position regarding such rancor of religions and regions, there are certain clear lines that must never be crossed: lines like terrorism, genocide, political ambition, and false beliefs regarding the Lord God. The war in Israel and Palestine is, from one perspective, largely a result of terrorism—various Zionist terrorisms perpetrated ever since the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, when they forcibly removed nearly a million Muslims and Christians from their nation; and various Islamic terrorisms, most recently on October 7, 2023, perpetrated in the name of Palestine’s sovereignty and Islamic freedom. 

Again, the histories leading up to this war are deep and convoluted, and it is misguided to leap to any purely emotional or purely national or purely political conclusion, crying for ceasefire or homeland or alliance. This war is a long one that only found a certain escalation and international attention with the horrendous attacks on Israel by Hamas and then the relentless reprisal by Israel, with tensions exploding to answer the question of who will be the last people standing to claim Gaza and the inheritance of blood and faith that that blood-soaked, faith-stamped strip stands for.

Where should the Melkites stand in all of this? Simplistic though it may sound, Melkites are Catholic and Catholics must remain on the side of love, life, and peace—though not at the sake of the righteous defense of one’s nation and the true Faith—and realize that the war being fought in the Holy Land is not a holy war from a Catholic point of view. While there is truth in the reminders that Hamas is not Palestine and the Jewish people are not Israel, the mentality dominating this war of extermination in the name of religion is not a true religious perspective—and Catholics should renounce it on the most fundamental level. 

Therefore, Catholics, especially Melkite Catholics, who may feel caught in the middle of Arabic sympathy and Catholic history and morality, cannot take a side with terrorism under any banner. Further complication lies in the religions championed on both sides which are not the true religion. And finally, there is no Catholic position where annihilation of a people is being pursued, which is an end that is not divorced from either side.

Whether militants of Hamas or Hezbollah, or citizens or politicians of Palestine or Israel, all men are made in the image and likeness of God and were made to secure salvation in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. The mindset of Christians should be to establish and promote conversion to Christianity, and not champion either of these sides fighting for a faith that is false. With the ways and the wrongs of the world today, the only true path to peace on anything approaching a global scale lies in conversion. Conversion is the only answer, and wild and wayward though it may seem as a goal, it should be the solid and stated Catholic position through prayer and promotion. Whether militants of Hamas or Hezbollah, or citizens or politicians of Palestine or Israel, all men are made in the image and likeness of God and were made to secure salvation in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.Tweet This

In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, we pray for the “union of all,” taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which means we pray for the spiritual unity of all the people of God—or the Churches of God—that all people may be Christians, Catholics, and united within the Mystical Body of Christ. In this unity we pray for a correctness in the lives of all, for unity in true faith, true charity, and true adherence to the will of God. The Catholic mission is to pray and pursue a way of faith and life and love that is shared and embraced by all. Conversion and a single state of faith is the only solution.

But the war rages for religious reasons as well as political. Israel was promised a kingdom which is interpreted as all of Palestine, the Promised Land of the Chosen People and the fulfillment of the arduous journey of Judaism. On the other side, it is an Islamic tenet to seek Muslim dominion across the world and eliminate false worship. To capitulate and make way for infidels is sacrilege against their holy Dar al-Islam, their worldwide house of peace. Though Christian culture has abandoned the union of Church and State, its unity remains strong in other cultures. Religious fervors aside, Israel has a right to defend its borders, though its position on the map is disputed by natives with good reason. But that is a matter of political intrigue and not pious attitude, though the two are painfully intertwined in this case.

Melkite Catholics should conclude that taking a side with Palestine shouldn’t mean taking a side against Israel. Furthermore, the surest and most sacred place for Melkites to place their prayers and their opinions is that the grace of God must effect the miracle required to bring about the union of all beneath the one true Faith. It may seem like an impossible position to hope for or propose, but we believe that with God nothing is impossible. Pray, then, for the Melkites who are suffering in this moment in history, pray for the conversion of all Muslims and all Jews while loving their nations as lost sheep until all may be united in the peace of Christ.

[Photo: Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Youssef Absi sprinkles holy water on members of the congregation during the Good Friday service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Dormition (Olive Church) in Syria’s capital Damascus on April 15, 2022. (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA/AFP via Getty Images)]

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