The following is taken from the book The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam by Sidney Griffith, a professor at the Catholic University of America and a Roman Catholic priest. The book itself is definitelythe best (and nearly the only in English) history of Christianity under Muslim rule in the Middle Ages. Fr. Griffith is a deeply learned man when it comes to Arabic and Syriac Christianity whose career has mostly taken the form of piles and piles of scholarly articles, rather than books that would be more accessible to non-specialists. Some of his most interesting work has been on the development of the monasteries in Palestine after the Muslim conquest and his insights into the Arabic-Islamic milieu that St. John of Damascus was writing in need to be more thoroughly taken into account by those studying the Damascene. The book itself is on the whole quite readable, if you can manage a book that is still thoroughly foot-noted. While certainly not the definitive history of Arab Christians that has still yet to be written, the book does an eccellent job of explaining the cultural identifies of Arab Christians, how they defined themselves relative to each other, to other Christians, and especially to Muslims. In doing so, it gives the non-specialist a good idea of the flavor of Arab Christian discourse in the classical Islamic period. In its view of Muslim-Christian relations during this period, it is neither polemic against Islam nor given to the rosy glasses of, say, María Rosa Menocal. Instead, it problematizes the concept of convivencia and gives a picture of a much more complicated interreligious world of conflict, cooperation, and varying degrees of tolerance.
From pages 137-139, on the self-understanding of what for the purposes of this blog are the Arab Orthodox:
While the Nestorian and Jacobite churches were already in the process of formation prior to the rise of Islam, albeit that they achieved the full expression of their enduring ecclesiastical identities only in the first centuries of the caliphate, the Melkite community as a sociologically distinct community of Christians came into existence only in Islamic times and in the world of Islam. They professed the faith of Byzantine orthodoxy, but very much in the Arabic-speaking milieu of the Islamic challenge to Christian faith. The name Melkite seems first to have been used by Syriac-speaking Jacobites, and perhaps even by Maronites, to designate those Christians in the caliphate who accepted the teachings of the sixth ecumenical council of the Byzantine imperial church, Constantinople III (681). Their more authoritative spokesperson was John of Damascus (d. ca. 749), who wrote in Greek. But they were also the first of the Christian denominations to adopt Arabic as an ecclesiastical language. The process of Arabicization began already in the second half of the eighth century, and the earliest Christian writer regularly to write in Arabic whose name we know was the Melkite Theodore Abu Qurrah (ca. 755-830), who wrote not only to respond to the religious challenge of Islam but also very much to state the claims of the Melkites over against those of the Jacobites and the Nestorians. The Melkites, like the others, argued with both Muslims and their fellow Christians that they were in their own view the only truly orthodox Christians. The see of Jeruslem and the monasteries of the Judean desert, particularly Mar Sabas, would remain the intellectual center of the Melkites, but members of their community were to be found throughout the Arabic-speaking world, from Alexandria in Egypt to Antioch in Syria and even in Baghdad. Spokesmen for the Arabic-speaking Melkites in addition to Abu Qurrah included writers such as the now anonymous ninth-century author of the popular Disputation of the Monk Abraham of Tiberias with an Emir in Jerusalem, Qusta ibn Luqa (ca. 830-912), the historian Sa’id ibn Bitriq (877-933) also known as the patriarch Eutychius of Alexandria, Abu l-Fath ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Fadl al-Antaki (fl. Ca. 1050), and Paul of Antioch (ca. 1180). These major writers, among many others, presented the profile of the Melkite church in what would be its enduring form in the Arabic-speaking world.
But a further word must be said about the epithet Melkite. In its first and most appropriate usage it was not synonymous with the Greek Orthodox denomination; they were often called ar-Rum, that is, the Romans, or the Byzantines, by Arabic-speaking Muslims and Christians alike, meaning the Greek Orthodox church of Byzantium. Rather, by contrast with the Greek Orthodox, the Melkites were Arabic-speaking Christians in the world of Islam who were nevertheless in communion with the Greek Orthodox whose faith they shared. If they were to be designated by an ethnic or linguistic label at all, which historically was never the case, they might well have been called the Arab Orthodox. The Crusaders called the Melkites Syri in Latin, for reasons that need not detain us now, but the fact that they used a distinctive name for them indicates that at that time they were still perceived to be a different community from the Greeks. After the time of the Crusades, and especially in Ottoman times, when the Greek Orthodox Church gained the upper hand over the their coreligionists in the old Oriental Patriarchates, the Melkites were for all practical purposes subsumed into the Greek Orthodox Church. In modern times, adding to the terminological confusion, the old designation Melkite was co-opted after 1729 by the largely Arabic-speaking Melkite Greek Catholic Church, a community that in the eighteenth century came from the Orthodox Church into union with Rome.