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This lack of clarity weakened the patriarchate and the Antiochene Theme (as Byzantine provinces were known), as various parties competed to elect patriarchs sympathetic to their cause or depose those who were not. After the Melkites toppled Patriarch Severus in 518, the Patriarchate of Antioch was split between rival claimants, no longer in full communion, whose followers formed the nucleus of two churches, Melkite and Syriac. Today, theologians agree this schism reflected cultural, linguistic and philosophical differences rather than any fundamental differences in faith.

Antioch’s role as an economic and political center had begun to decline long before the Arab conquest. Repeated earthquakes in the sixth century devastated the city, killing many and driving others to settle elsewhere. After the Arabs took the city, the non-Chalcedonian Syriac Christian community prospered, particularly as it spread east. Meanwhile, the Melkites, closely identified with Byzantium, lost all influence, their patriarchs exiled to Constantinople.

After more than three centuries of stability under the Arabs, war, occupation and natural disaster nearly finished Antioch. The Byzantines retook the city in 969 but lost it to the Seljuk Turks in 1085. Thirteen years later, the Crusaders slayed much of the population. In 1258, the Latin principality of Antioch fell to the Sunni Muslim Mamluks, a class of professional soldiers. And in 1517 the Ottoman Turks took Antioch.

By the 18th century, Antioch had declined to a modest Turkish town of 5,000 inhabitants, almost all of whom were Muslim. Christians, active tradesmen, had long since left. In 1034, for example, Dionysios IV, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, settled in a monastery in southeastern Asia Minor. In the late 14th century, Melkite Patriarch Ignatius II transferred the residence of the see to Damascus. Both patriarchates, though no longer centered in Antioch, remained of Antioch; both retained the name of the ancient city as the name of their respective sees.

Further schisms. In 1054, when the heads of the churches of Constantinople and Rome excommunicated each other – the definitive rupture separating what we now call the Orthodox and Catholic churches – the Melkite patriarch of Antioch, choosing no side in the dispute, tried to reconcile the two.

Eventually, however, the Antiochene Church sided with Constantinople: Soon after seizing Antioch in 1098, the Crusaders appointed a Latin patriarch, exiling the Melkite incumbent to Constantinople. It was during this period of exile in Constantinople that the indigenous Antiochene rites once utilized by the Melkites, which remain in use even today by the Western Syriac family of churches (Maronite, Syriac Catholic and Orthodox and Syro-Malankara Catholic), were replaced by the Byzantine rites of the Church of Constantinople.

Although for centuries the Melkite patriarchs of Antioch (particularly its Arabic or Syriac-speaking patriarchs) remained open to the overtures of the Church of Rome, full communion, though never formally severed, no longer existed between the two churches.

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