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Syriac Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodox Church branched from the Church of Antioch
Syriac-speaking Christians have referred to themselves as "?r?m?y?/r?y?/S?ry?y?" in native Aramaic terms based on their ethnic identity. In most languages besides English, a unique name has long been used to distinguish the church from the polity of Syria. In Arabic (the official language of Syria), the church is known as the "Suriania Church" as the term "Suriania" identifies the Syriac language. Chalcedonians referred to the church as "Jacobite" (after Jacob Baradaeus) since the schism that followed the 451 Council of Chalcedon. English-speaking historians identified the church as the "Syrian Church". The English term "Syrian" was used to describe the community of Syriacs in ancient Syria. In the 15th century, the term "Orthodox" (from Greek: "orthodoxía"; "correct opinion") was used to identify churches that practiced the set of doctrines believed by the early Christians. Since 1922, the term "Syrian" started being used for things named after the Syrian Federation. Hence, in 2000, the Holy Synod ruled that the church be named as "Syriac Orthodox Church" after the Syriac language, the official liturgical language of the church.
The church is not ethnically exclusive, but two main ethnic groups in the community contest their ethnic identification as "Assyrians" and "Arameans". "Suryoye" is the term used to identify the Syriacs in the diaspora. The Syriac Orthodox identity included auxiliary cultural traditions of the paganAssyria and Aramean kingdoms. Church traditions crystallized into ethnogenesis through the preservation of their stories and customs by the 12th century. Since the 1910s, the identity of Syriac Orthodoxy in the Ottoman Empire was principally religious and linguistic.
In recent works, Assyrian-American historian Sargon Donabed has pointed out that parishes in the USA were originally using Assyrian designations in their official English names, also noting that in some cases those designations were later changed to Syrian, and then to Syriac, while several other parishes still continue to use Assyrian designations.
Given the antiquity of the Bishopric of Antioch and the importance of the Christian community in the city of Antioch, a commercially significant city in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire, the First Council of Nicaea (325) recognized the Bishopric as one of main regional primacies in Christendom, with jurisdiction over the administrative Diocese of the Orient, thus laying the foundation for the creation of the "Patriarchate of Antioch and All of the East". Because of the significance attributed to Ignatius of Antioch in the church, most of the Syriac Orthodox patriarchs since 1293 have used the name of Ignatius in the title of the Patriarch preceding their own Patriarchal name.
Christological controversies that followed the Council of Chalcedon (451) resulted in a long struggle for the Patriarchate between those who accepted and those who rejected the Council. In 512, pro-Chalcedonian patriarch Flavian II of Antioch was deposed by Emperor Anastasius I (d. 518), and new patriarch Severus of Antioch (d. 538) was chosen to succeed him. On 6 November 512, at the synod of Laodicea in Syria, a prominent miapyhsite theologian Severus the Great was elected, and consecrated on 16 November at the Great Church of Antioch. In 518, he was exiled from Antioch, by new emperor Justin I (d. 527), who tried to enforce a uniform Chalcedonian orthodoxy throughout the empire. Those who belonged to the pro-Chalcedonian party accepted newly appointed patriarch Paul, who took over the see of Antioch. The miaphisite patriarchate was thus forced to move from Antioch with Severus the Great who took refuge in Alexandria. The non-Chalcedonian community was divided between "Severians" (followers of Severus), and aphthartodocetae, and that division remained unresolved until 527. Severians continued to recognize Severus as the legitimate miaphysite Patriarch of Antioch until his death in 538, and then proceeded to follow his successors.
BishopJacob Baradaeus (died 578) is credited for ordaining most of the miaphysite hierarchy while facing heavy persecution in the 6th century. In 544, Jacob Baradeus ordained Sergius of Tella continuing the non-Chalcedonian succession of patriarchs of the Church of Antioch. That was done in opposition to the government-backed Patriarchate of Antioch held by the pro-Chalcedonian believers leading to the Syriac Orthodox Church being known popularly as the "Jacobite" Church, while the Chalcedonian believers were known popularly as Melkites--coming from the Syriac word for king (malka), an implication of the Chalcedonian Church's relationship to the Roman Emperor (later emphasised by the Melkite Greek Catholic Church). Because of many historical upheavals and consequent hardships that the Syriac Orthodox Church had to undergo, the patriarchate was transferred to different monasteries in Mesopotamia for centuries. John III of the Sedre was elected and consecrated Patriarch after the death of Athanasius I Gammolo in 631 A.D., followed by the fall of Roman Syria and the Muslim conquest of the Levant. John and several bishops were summoned before EmirUmayr ibn Sad al-Ansari of Hims to engage in open debate regarding Christianity and represent the entire Christian community, including non-Syriac Orthodox communities, such as Greek Orthodox Syrians. The Emir demanded translations of the Gospels into Arabic to confirm John's beliefs, which according to the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian was the first translation of the Gospels into Arabic.
Transfer to new locations
During 1160, the patriarchate was transferred from Antioch to Mor Hananyo Monastery (Deir al. Za?far?n) in southeastern Anatolia near Mardin, where it remained until 1933 and re-established in Homs, Syria, due to the adverse political situation in Turkey. In 1959, the patriarchate was transferred to Damascus. The mother church and official seat of the Syriac Orthodox Church are now situated in Bab Tuma, Damascus, capital of Syria.
The 8th-century hagiography Life of Jacob Baradaeus is evidence of a definite denominational and social differentiation between the Chalcedonians and Miaphysites (Syriac Orthodox). The longer hagiography shows that the Syriac Orthodox (called "Syriac Jacobites" in the work: suryoye yaquboye) self-identified with Jacob's story more than those of other saints. Coptic historian and miaphysite bishop Severus ibn al-Muqaffa (ca. 897) speaks of Jacobite origins, and on the veneration of Jacob Baradaeus. He explained that unlike the Chalcedonian Christians (who were labeled as "Melkites"), Miaphysite Jacobites never traded their Orthodoxy to win the favor of the Byzantine emperors, as the Melkites had done (malko is derived from "ruler, king, emperor").
In Antioch, after the 11th-century persecutions, the Syriac Orthodox population was almost extinguished. Only one Jacobite church is attested in Antioch in the first half of the 12th century, while a second and third are attested in the second half of the century, perhaps due to refugee influx. Dorothea Weltecke thus concludes that the Syriac Orthodox populace was very low in this period in Antioch and surroundings.
In the 12th century, several Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs visited Antioch and some established temporary residences. In the 13th century, the Syriac Orthodox hierarchy in Antioch was prepared to accept Latin supervision. In Adana, an anonymous 1137 report speaks of the entire population consisting of Syriac Orthodox. Before the advent of the Crusades, the Syriacs occupied most of the hill country of Jazirah (Upper Mesopotamia).
Early modern period
Moses of Mardin (fl. 1549-d. 1592) was a diplomat of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Rome in the 16th century.
By the early 1660s, 75% of the 5,000 Syriac Orthodox of Aleppo had converted to Catholicism following the arrival of mendicant missionaries. The Catholic missionaries had sought to place a Catholic Patriarch among the Jacobites and consecrated Andrew Akhijan as the Patriarch of the newly founded Syriac Catholic Church. The Propaganda Fide and foreign diplomats pushed for Akhijan to be recognized as the Jacobite Patriarch, and the Porte then consented and warned the Syriac Orthodox that they would be considered an enemy if they did not recognize him. Despite the warning and gifts to priests, frequent conflicts and violent arguments continued between the Catholic and Orthodox Syriacs. Around 1665, many Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala, India, committed themselves in allegiance to the Syriac Orthodox Church, which established the Malankara Syrian Church. The Malankara Church consolidated under Mar Thoma I welcomed Gregorios Abdal Jaleel, who regularised the canonical ordination of Mar Thoma I as a native democratically elected Bishop of the Malabar Syrian Christians.
Late modern period
In the 19th century, the various Syriac Christian denominations did not view themselves as part of one ethnic group. During the Tanzimat reforms (1839-78), the Syriac Orthodox was granted independent status by gaining recognition as their own millet in 1873, apart from Armenians and Greeks.
In the late 19th century, the Syriac Orthodox community of the Middle East, primarily from the cities of Adana and Harput, began the process of creating the Syriac diaspora, with the United States being one of their first destinations in the 1890s. Later, in Worcester, the first Syriac Orthodox Church in the United States was built.
The 1895-96 massacres in Turkey affected the Armenian and Syriac Orthodox communities when an estimated 105,000 Christians were killed. By the end of the 19th century, 200,000 Syriac Orthodox Christians remained in the Middle East, most concentrated around Saffron Monastery, the Patriarchal Seat.
The Ottoman authorities killed and deported Orthodox Syriacs, then looted and appropriated their properties. During 1915-16, the number of Orthodox Syriacs in the Diyarbak?r province was reduced by 72%, and in the Mardin province by 58%.
In 1924, the patriarchate of the Church was transferred to Homs after Kemal Atatürk expelled the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch, who took the library of Deir el-Zaferan and settled in Damascus. The Syriac Orthodox villages in Tur Abdin suffered from the 1925-26 Kurdish rebellions and massive flight to Lebanon, northern Iraq and especially Syria ensued.
In 1959, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Church was transferred to Damascus in Syria. In the mid-1970s, the estimate of Syriac Orthodox lived in Syria is 82,000. In 1977, the number of Syriac Orthodox followers in diaspora dioceses was: 9,700 in the Diocese of Middle Europe; 10,750 in the Diocese of Sweden and surrounding countries.
The supreme head of the Syriac Orthodox Church is named Patriarch of Antioch, in reference to his titular pretense to one of the five patriarchates of the Pentarchy of ByzantineChristianity. Considered the "father of fathers", he must be an ordained bishop. He is the general administrator to Holy Synod and supervises the spiritual, administrative, and financial matters of the church. He governs external relations with other churches and signs agreements, treaties, contracts, pastoral encyclicals (bulls), pastoral letters related to the affairs of the church.
The priest is the seventh rank and is the one duly appointed to administer the sacraments. Unlike in the Catholic Church, Syriac deacons may marry before ordained as priests; they cannot marry after ordained as priests. There is an honorary rank among the priests that are Corepiscopos who has the privileges of "first among the priests" and is given a chain with a cross and specific vestment decorations. Corepiscopos is the highest rank a married man can be elevated to in the Syriac Orthodox Church. The ranks above the Corepiscopos are unmarried.
In the Syriac Orthodox tradition, different ranks among the deacons are specifically assigned with particular duties. The six ranks of the diaconate are:
An ordained deaconess is entitled to enter the sanctuary only for cleaning, lighting the lamps and is limited to give Holy Communion to women and the children who are under the age of five. She can read scriptures, Holy Gospel in a public gathering. The name of deaconess can also be given to a choirgirl. Deaconess is not ordained as chanter before reaching fifteen years of age. The ministry of the deaconess assists the priest and deacon outside the altar including in the service of baptizing women and anointing them with holy chrism.
Syriac Orthodox churches use the Peshitto (Syriac: simple, common) as its Bible. The New Testament books of this Bible are estimated to have been translated from Greek to Syriac between the late 1st century to the early 3rd century AD. The Old Testament of the Peshitta was translated from Hebrew, probably in the 2nd century. The New Testament of the Peshitta, which originally excluded certain disputed books, had become the standard by the early 5th century, replacing two early Syriac versions of the gospels.
The Fathers of the Syriac Orthodox Church gave a theological interpretation to the primacy of Saint Peter. They were fully convinced of the unique office of Peter in the early Christian community. Ephrem, Aphrahat, and Maruthas unequivocally acknowledged the office of Peter. The different orders of liturgies used for sanctification of church buildings, marriages, ordinations etc., reveal that the primacy of Peter is a part of faith of the church. The church does not believe in Papal Primacy as understood by the Roman See, rather, Petrine Primacy according to the ancient Syriac tradition. The church uses both Julian calendar and Gregorian calendar based on their regions and traditions they adapted.
Arabic had become the dominant language of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Egypt by the 11th century. Syriac Orthodox clergy wrote in Arabic using Garsh?ni, a Syriac script in the 15th century and later adopted the Arabic script. An English missionary in the 1840s noted that the Arabic speech of the Syriacs was intermixed with Syriac vocabulary. They chose Arabic and Muslim-sounding names, while women had Biblical names.
Greek language was historically used (along with Syriac) in the earliest periods, during and after the separation (5th-6th century), but its use gradually declined.
The clergy of the Syriac Orthodox Church has unique liturgical vestments with their order in the priesthood: the deacons, the priests, the chorbishops, the bishops, and the patriarch each have different vestments.
Bishops usually wear a black or a red robe with a red belt. They should not wear a red robe in the presence of the patriarch, who wears a red robe. Bishops visiting a diocese outside their jurisdiction also wear black robes in deference to the bishop of the diocese, who alone wears red robes. They carry a crosier stylised with serpents representing the staff of Moses during sacraments. Corepiscopos wear a black or a purple robe with a purple belt. Bishops and corepiscopos have hand-held crosses.
A priest also wears a phiro, or a cap, which he must wear for the public prayers. Monks also wear eskimo, a hood. Priests also have ceremonial shoes which are called msone. Without wearing these shoes, a priest cannot distribute Eucharist to the faithful. Then there is a white robe called kutino symbolizing purity. Hamniko or stole is worn over this white robe. Then he wears a girdle called zenoro, and zende, meaning sleeves. If the celebrant is a bishop, he wears a masnapto, or turban (different from the turbans worn by Sikh men). A cope called phayno is worn over these vestments. Batrashil, or pallium, is worn over the phayno by bishops, like hamnikho worn by priests. The priest's usual dress is a black robe. In India, due to the hot weather, priests usually wear white robes except during prayers in the church, when they wear a black robe over the white one. Deacons wear a phiro, white kutino(robe) and of rank Quroyo and higher wear an uroro 'stole' in various shapes according to their rank. The deaconess wears a stole (uroro) hanging down from the shoulder in the manner of an archdeacon.
The number of Syriacs in Turkey is rising, due to refugees from Syria and Iraq fleeing ISIS, as well as Syriacs from the Diaspora who fled the region during the Turkey-PKK conflict (since 1978) returning and rebuilding their homes. The village of Kafro was populated by Syriacs from Germany and Switzerland.
In the Syriac diaspora, there are approximately 80,000 members in the United States, 80,000 in Sweden, 100,000 in Germany, 15,000 in the Netherlands, 200,000 members in Brazil, Switzerland, and Austria.
Jurisdiction of the patriarchate
The Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch originally covered the whole region of the Middle East and India. In recent centuries, its parishioners started to emigrate to other countries over the world. Today, the Syriac Orthodox Church has several archdioceses and patriarchal vicariates (exarchates) in many countries covering six continents.
E.A.E Arch Diocese is the missionary association of Syriac Orthodox Church founded in 1924 by Geevarghese Athunkal Cor-Episcopa at Perumbavoor. This archdiocese is under the direct control of the patriarch under the guidance of Chrysostomos Markose, It is an organization with churches, educational institutions, orphanages, old age homes, convents, publications, mission centers, gospel teams, care missions, and a missionary training institute. It is registered in 1949 under the Indian Societies Registration Act. XXI of 1860 (Reg. No. S.8/1949ESTD 1924).
The church has various seminaries, colleges, and other institutions. Patriarch Aphrem I Barsoum established St. Aphrem's Clerical School in 1934 in Zahlé. In 1946, the school was moved to Mosul, where it provided the church with a selection of graduates, the first among them being Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas and many other church leaders. In 1990, the Order of St. Jacob Baradaeus was established for nuns. Seminaries have been instituted in Sweden and in Salzburg for the study of Syriac theology, history, language, and culture. Happy Child House project started in 2019 provides childcare services in Damascus, Syria.
The church has an international Christian education center for religious education.
The Antioch Syrian University was established on 8 September 2018 in Maarat Saidnaya, near Damascus.
The university is offering engineering, management and economics courses.
The confusions and schisms that occurred between their Churches in the later centuries, they realise today, in no way affect or touch the substance of their faith, since these arose only because of differences in terminology and culture and in the various formulae adopted by different theological schools to express the same matter. Accordingly, we find today no real basis for the sad divisions and schisms that subsequently arose between us concerning the doctrine of Incarnation. In words and life, we confess the true doctrine concerning Christ our Lord, notwithstanding the differences in interpretation of such a doctrine which arose at the time of the Council of Chalcedon.
^Donabed 2015, p. 232: "By the early 1960s, all the Jacobite churches in the United States, previously bearing the official name 'Assyrian Apostolic Church of Antioch', had changed their names to 'Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch'"
^Donabed 2015, p. 3: "the Syrian Orthodox Church (referred to as Jacobite and originally in English as Assyrian Apostolic)"
^Aydin, Mor Polycarpus Augin (3 July 2018). "The Syriac tradition of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church to make it One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic". International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church. Informa UK Limited. 18 (2-3): 124-131. doi:10.1080/1474225x.2018.1516428. ISSN1474-225X. S2CID150675986.
^Richards, William Joseph (1908). The Indian Christians of St. Thomas: Otherwise Called the Syrian Christians of Malabar : a Sketch of Their History and an Account of Their Present Condition as Well as a Discussion of the Legend of St. Thomas. Bemrose. p. 98. We are commanded to pray standing, with faces towards the East, for at the last Messiah is manifested in the East. 2. All Christians, on rising from sleep early in the morning, should wash the face and pray. 3. We are commanded to pray seven times, thus...
Aydin, Mor Polycarpus Augin (3 July 2018). "The Syriac tradition of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church to make it One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic". International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church. Informa UK Limited. 18 (2-3): 124-131. doi:10.1080/1474225x.2018.1516428. ISSN1474-225X. S2CID150675986.