The term Melkite was originally used as a pejorative after the acrimonious division that occurred in Eastern Christianity after the Council of Chalcedon (451). It was used by non-Chalcedonians to refer to those who backed the council and the Byzantine Emperor (malik and its cognates are Semitic words for "king"). It is unknown at what period the Melkites began to use the term for themselves. The Melkites were generally Greek-speaking city-dwellers living in the west of the Levant and in Egypt, as opposed to the more provincial Syriac- and Coptic-speaking non-Chalcedonians. The Melkite Church was organised into three historic patriarchates — Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem — in union with the Patriarch of Constantinople. The non-Chalcedonians set up their own patriarchs in Alexandria (Coptic Orthodox Church) and Antioch (Syriac Orthodox Church). The Nubian kingdom of Makuria (in modern Sudan) in contrast to their Non-Chalcedonian Ethiopian Orthodox neighbours, also practiced the Melkite faith, from c. 575 until c. 1300.
From 1342, Roman Catholic clergy were based in Damascus and other areas, and worked to heal the political divisions between Rome and the Orthodox. At that time, the nature of the East-West Schism, normally dated to 1054, was undefined, and many of those who continued to worship and work within the Melkite Church became identified as a pro-Western party. In 1724, Cyril VI was elected as Patriarch of Antioch. Considering this to be a Catholic takeover attempt, Jeremias III of Constantinople imposed the Greek monk Sylvester to rule the patriarchate instead of Cyril. Sylvester's heavy-handed leadership of the church encouraged many to re-examine the validity of Cyril's claim to the patriarchal throne. The newly elected Pope Benedict XIII (1724-1730) also recognised the legitimacy of Cyril's claim and welcomed him and his followers into communion with Rome. From that point onwards, the Melkite Church was divided between the Orthodox, who continued to appointed by the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople until the nineteenth century, and the Catholics, who recognise the authority of the Pope of Rome. However, it is now only the Catholic group who continue to use the title Melkite; thus, in modern usage, the term applies almost exclusively to the Arabic-speaking Greek Catholics from the Middle East.