Eastern Rites: A Family Tree
Fr. William Saunders
Given the historical development of the Eastern Rites, we can
quickly survey their present status in the Church.
Today, the various Eastern Rites are organized under the four
eastern patriarchates. (The following information was gleaned from
the Catholic Almanac.) The Alexandrian Rite is officially called
the Liturgy of St. Mark. (St. Mark is traditionally considered the
first bishop of Alexandria.) Their present liturgy contains
elements of the Byzantine Rite of St. Basil and the liturgies of
Sts. Mark, Cyril, and Gregory Nazianzen. This parent rite includes
the Coptic Rite and the Ge'ez Rite. The Coptic Rite, which is
situated primarily in Egypt, reunited with Rome in 1741 and uses
the Coptic and Arabic languages in its liturgies. The Ge'ez Rite,
based primarily in Ethiopia, Jerusalem, and Somalia, reunited with
Rome in 1846 and uses the Ge'ez language in their liturgies.
The Antiochene Rite is the Liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem. This
parent rite includes the following rites: The Malankar Rite is
located in India, (some members of whom) reunited with Rome in 1930,
and uses the Syriac and Malayalam languages in its liturgies.
The Maronite Rite, located primarily in Lebanon, Cyprus, Egypt,
and Syria but with large populations of the faithful also in the
United States, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and Canada, has
remained united with Rome since the time of its founder St. Maron,
and uses the Syriac and Arabic languages in its liturgies.
The Syrian Rite is located primarily in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and
Syria, with healthy communities in Asia, Africa, Australia, and
North and South America, reunited with Rome in 1781 and uses the
Syriac and Arabic languages in its liturgies.
The Armenian Rite, technically a distinct rite, derived from the
Antiochene Rite and is an older form of the Byzantine Rite.
Although it uses a different language, this rite is technically
called the Greek Liturgy of St. Basil. This rite has jurisdictions
primarily in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine,
France, Greece, Romania, Armenia, Argentina, and the United
States. The Armenians reunited with Rome during the Crusades, and
the ritual liturgical language is Classical Armenian.
The Chaldean Rite, also technically a distinct rite, also
originated from the Antiochene Rite. This rite is also divided
into two rites: The Chaldean Rite, located primarily in Iraq,
Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and the United States,
reunited with Rome in 1692, and uses the Syriac and Arabic
languages in the liturgy. The Syro-Malabar Rite, located in India,
claims to have originated with St. Thomas the Apostle, and uses
the Syriac and Malayam languages in the liturgy. Although the
Syro-Malabar Rite was never in formal schism, for centuries no
communication occurred between them and Rome until the time of the
missionaries in the 1500s.
The Byzantine Rite, the largest Eastern Rite, is based on the Rite
of St. James of Jerusalem with the later reforms of St. Basil and
St. John Chrysostom. These rites employ the Liturgy of St. John
Chrysostom. This parent rite comprises many rites, which are
themselves highly ethnic oriented. The Albanian Rite, centered in
Albania, reunited with Rome in 1628 and uses Albanian as its
liturgical language. The Belarussian (formerly titled
Byelorussian) Rite, centered in Belarussia with large populations
in Europe, North and South America and Australia, reunited with
Rome in the 1600s and uses Old Slavonic as their liturgical
language. The Bulgarian Rite, centered in Bulgaria, reunited with
Rome in 1861 and uses the Old Slavonic language in the liturgy.
The Croatian Rite, based primarily in Croatia with a significant
population in the United States, reunited with Rome in 1611 and
employs Old Slavonic as a liturgical language. The Greek Rite,
which is centered in Greece and Turkey with congregations also in
Asia Minor and Europe, reunited with Rome in 1829 and uses the
Greek language in the liturgy. The Hungarian Rite, situated in
Hungary with significant populations throughout Europe and North
and South America, reunited with Rome in 1646 and uses Greek,
Hungarian and English in their liturgies. The Italo-Albanian Rite,
mainly in Italy with congregations in North and South America,
never separated from Rome and uses the Greek and Italo-Albanian
languages in the liturgy. The Romanian Rite, centered in Romania
with a significant population in the United States, reunited with
Rome in 1697 and uses Modern Romanian in their liturgy; in 1948,
they were forced to join the Romanian Orthodox Church in Romania,
but since the fall of communism, the Catholic Romanian Rite has
regained :independence. The Russian Rite, located mainly in Russia
and China with congregations in Europe, Australia, and North and
South America, reunited with Rome in 1905 and uses Old Slavonic as
a liturgical language.
The Georgian Rite, based in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia,
reunited with Rome in 1329, severed ties in 1507, then in 1917
broke with the Russian Orthodox Church and again reunited with
Rome as the Georgian Byzantine Rite. The rite has struggled for
survival ever since, especially during Communist oppression; the
Georgian language is used in their liturgy. The Slovak Rite is
based in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Canada, and uses Old
Slavonic in its liturgy.
The three largest of the Byzantine Rites are the Melkite,
Ruthenian, and Ukrainian. The Melkite Rite has strong
congregations in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, United States,
Brazil, Venezuela, Canada, Australia and Mexico. The Melkites
reunited with Rome during the Crusades but due to impediments
caused by the Moslem occupations more officially reunited in the
early 1700s and use Greek, Arabic, English, Portuguese, and
Spanish in the liturgy.
The Ruthenian or Carpatho-Russian Rite is based in the Ukraine and
the United States with strong congregations in Ukraine, United
States, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Australia, and
North and South America. The Ruthenians reunited with Rome in the
Union of Brest-Litovek in 1596 and the Union of Uzhorod in 1646.
They employ Old Slavonic and English in the liturgy.
Finally, the Ukrainian Rite has large populations in the Ukraine,
Poland, United States, Canada, England, Australia, Germany,
France, Brazil, and Argentina. The Ukrainians reunited with Rome
about 1595. However, Stalin forced the Ukrainian Rite Catholics to
enter the Russian Orthodox Church in 1943, but since the
independence of the Ukraine, they have reunited with Rome. This
rite uses Old Slavonic and Ukrainian.
Fr. Saunders is dean of Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom
College and pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in
This article appeared in the February 13, 1997 issue of "The
Arlington Catholic Herald."
Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of
the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-
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