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Syriac Orthodox

Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East

Emblem of the Church
Recognition Oriental Orthodox
Primate Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
Headquarters Historically Antioch, Offically Damascus, Presently Beirut
Territory Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Iran, southeastern Turkey, and India
Possessions Eastern Mediterranean, United States, Canada, Great Britain, Western Europe, South America and Australia
Language Syriac, Aramaic (liturgical), and local languages: Turoyo-Aramaic, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, English, Malayalam, Dutch, Swedish and German
Adherents 5.6 million Syrian Malabar Nasrani,[1] 1,000,000 around the World,[2][3][4] with ca. 300,000 in diaspora (80,000 in the USA[5] 80,000 in Sweden,[6] 70,000 in Germany.)
Website Official website of the Syriac Orthodox Church

The Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch (Template:Script/Serto) is an Apostle St. Peter.

The Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family of churches, which has been a distinct church body since the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. The precise differences in theology that caused the split, "arose only because of differences in terminology and culture and in the various formulae adopted by different theological schools to express the same matter", according to a joint declaration by the current head of the Syriac Orthodox church, Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, and Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II in 1984 (see: History of Oriental Orthodoxy). The Syriac Orthodox Church continues to lead ecumenical discussions through its membership in the World Council of Churches since 1960, where Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas serves as a president, and in the Middle East Council of Churches since 1974.

The Church has twenty-six archdioceses and eleven patriarchal vicariates. In 1959, the Patriarchate was moved to Damascus, modern-day Syria. Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas was enthroned head of the church on 14 September 1980, on the Feast of the Cross. Syriac Orthodox faithful around the world took part in the silver jubilee celebrations of his patriarchate in 2005.[7]


Apostolic Succession

The Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch is the most ancient Christian church in the world. According to Paul the Apostle are regarded as the cofounders of the Patriarchate of Antioch, with the former serving as its first bishop.

As Jewish Christianity originated at Jerusalem, so Gentile Christianity started at Antioch, then the leading center of the Hellenistic East, with Peter and Paul as its apostles. From Antioch it spread to the various cities and provinces of Syria, among the Hellenistic Syrians as well as among the Hellenistic Jews who, as a result of the great rebellions against the Romans in A.D. 70 and 130, were driven out from Jerusalem and Palestine into Syria.[8]

When St. Peter left Antioch, Evodios and Ignatius presided over the Patriarchate. Because of the prominence of St. Ignatius in the church's history, almost all of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs since 1293 were named Ignatius.[9]

Patriarchate of Antioch

The spiritual care of the Church was vested in the Bishop of Antioch from the earliest years of Christianity. Given the antiquity of the bishopric of Antioch and the importance of the Church in the city of Antioch which was a commercially significant city in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire, the First Council of Nicaea (325) recognized the bishopric as a Patriarchate along with the bishoprics of Rome, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, bestowing authority for the Church of Antioch and All of the East on the Patriarch.

Even though the Synod of Nicaea was convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine, the authority of the ecumenical synod was also accepted by the Church in the Persian Empire which was politically isolated from the Churches in the Roman Empire. Until 498, this Church accepted the spiritual authority of the Patriarch of Antioch. The Church also maintained a smaller non-Chalcedonian church under a Catholicos (Katholikos), known by the title Maphryono, until the 1860s. This Catholicate was canonically transferred to India in 1964 and continues today as an integral part of the Syriac Orthodox Church with the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch as its head.

The Christological controversies that followed the Council of Chalcedon in 451 resulted in a long struggle for the Patriarchate between those who accepted and those who rejected the Council. In 518, Patriarch Mar Severius was exiled from the city of Antioch and took refuge in Alexandria. On account of many historical upheavals and consequent hardships which the church had to undergo, the Patriarchate was transferred to different monasteries in Mesopotamia for centuries. In the 13th century it was transferred in the Mor Hananyo Monastery (Deir al-Za`faran), in southeastern Turkey near Mardin, where it remained until 1933. Due to an adverse political situation, it was transferred to Homs, Syria and in 1959 was transferred again to Damascus.

The Patriarchate office is now in Bab Tuma, in Damascus, capital of Syria; but the Patriarch resides at the Mar Aphrem Monastery in Ma`arat Sayyidnaya located about twenty five kilometers north of Damascus.

Ecumenical Relations

The Church of Antioch played a prominent role in the first three Synods held at Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), and Ephesus (431), shaping the formulation and early interpretation of Christian doctrines.

In terms of Christology, the Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonian) understanding is that Christ is "One Nature—the Logos Incarnate, of the full humanity and full divinity". Just as humans are of their mothers and fathers and not in their mothers and fathers, so too is the nature of Christ according to Oriental Orthodoxy. The Chalcedonian understanding is that Christ is "in two natures, full humanity and full divinity". This is the doctrinal difference which separated the Oriental Orthodox from the rest of Christendom.

By the 20th century the Chalcedonian schism was not seen with the same relevance, and from several meetings between the authorities of Roman Catholicism and the Oriental Orthodoxy, reconciling declarations emerged in the common statement of the Oriental Patriarch (Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas) and the Pope (John Paul II) in 1984.


The Syriac Orthodox Church is very active in ecumenical dialogues. It has been a member church of World Council of Churches since 1960 and the Patriarch, Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas is one of the presidents of World Council of Churches. The Syriac Orthodox Church is also actively involved in ecumenical dialogues with the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches. There are common Christological and pastoral agreements with the Catholic Church. It has also been involved in the Middle East Council of Churches since 1974.

Since 1998, the heads of the three Oriental Churches in the Eastern Mediterranean i.e. the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicate of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon) meet regularly each year.[9]



Syriac Orthodox clergy and some devout laity follow a regimen of seven prayers a day, in accordance with Psalm 119.[10] According to the Syriac Tradition, an ecclesiastical day starts at sunset:

  • Evening or Ramsho prayer (Vespers)
  • Night prayer or Sootoro prayer (Compline)
  • Midnight or Lilyo prayer (Matins)
  • Morning or Saphro prayer (Prime or Lauds, 6 a.m.)
  • Third Hour or tloth sho`in prayer (Terce, 9 a.m.)
  • Sixth Hour or sheth sho`in prayer (Sext, noon)
  • Ninth Hour or tsha` sho'in prayer (None, 3 p.m.)


The liturgical service, which is called Holy Qurbono in Syriac Aramaic and means 'Eucharist', is celebrated on Sundays and special occasions. The Holy Eucharist consists of Gospel Reading, Bible Readings, Prayers, and Songs. During the celebration of the Eucharist, priests and deacons put on elaborate vestments which are unique to the Syriac Orthodox Church. Whether in the Eastern Mediterranean, India, Europe, the Americas or Australia, the same vestments are worn by all clergy.

Apart from certain readings, all prayers are sung in the form of chants and melodies. Hundreds of melodies remain and these are preserved in the book known as Beth Gazo. It is the key reference to Syriac Orthodox church music.[11]

Bible in Syriac tradition

Syriac Orthodox Churches use the Peshitta (Syriac: simple, common) as its Bible. The Old Testament books of this Bible were translated from Greek to Syriac between the late 1st century to the early 3rd century AD.[12]

The Old Testament of the Peshitta was translated from the 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.



In the Syriac Orthodox tradition, different ranks among the deacons are specifically assigned with particular duties. The six ranks of deaconate are:

  1. ‘Ulmoyo (Faithful)
  2. Mawdyono (Confessor of Faith)
  3. Mzamrono (Singer)
  4. Quroyo (Reader)
  5. Afudyaqno (Sub-deacon)
  6. Mshamshono (Full Deacon)

Only a full deacon or Masamsono can take the censer during the Divine Liturgy to assist the priest. However, in Malankara Church, because of the lack of deacons, altar assistants who do not have any rank of deaconhood assist the priest. The deacons in Malankara Church are allowed to wear a phiro, or a cap.


The priest is the seventh rank and is the duly one appointed to administer the sacraments. Unlike in the Roman Catholic church, Syriac deacons can marry before ordained as a full priest; however he cannot marry after ordained as priest.There is another honorary rank among the priests that is Corepiscopos who has the privileges of "first among the priests" and are give a chain with cross and specific vestment decorations. Corepiscopos is the highest rank a married man can be elevated in the Syriac Orthodox Church. Any ranks above the Corepiscopos are unmarried.


Episcopos is a word that means "the one who oversees". In the Syriac Orthodox Church, an episcopos is a spiritual ruler of the church. In episcopos too there are different ranks. The highest and the supreme is the Patriarch, who is the "father of fathers". Next to him is the Maphriyono or Catholicos of India who is the head of a division of the Church. Then there are Metropolitans or Archbishops and under them there are Episcopos or Bishops.[13]


The clergy of the Syriac Orthodox Church have unique vestments that are quite different from other Christian denominations. The vestments worn by the clergy vary with their order in the priesthood. The deacons, the priests, the bishops, and the patriarch each have different vestments.

The priest's usual dress is a black robe, but in India, due to the harsh weather, priests usually wear a white robe. Bishops usually wear a black or a red robe with a red belt. They do not, however, 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. Priests also wear phiro, or a cap, which he must wear for all the public prayers. Monks also wear eskimo, a hood. Priests also have ceremonial shoes which are called msone. Then there is a white robe called kutino symbolizing purity. Hamniko or Stole is wore over this white robe. Then he wears girdle called zenoro and zende meaning sleeves. If the celebrant is a bishop, he wears a masnapto, or turban (Very different from turban worn by Sikh men). A cope called phayno is worn over these vestments. Batrashil, or Pallium, is worn over Phayno by Bishops (Very similar to Hamnikho worn by priests).[14]

Primacy of Saint Peter

The Fathers of the Syriac Orthodox Church tried to give a theological interpretation to the primacy of Saint Peter. They were fully convinced of the unique office of Peter in the primitive Christian community. Ephrem, Aphrahat and Maruthas who were supposed to be the best exponents of the early Syriac tradition unequivocally acknowledge the office of Peter.

The Syriac Fathers following the rabbinic tradition call Jesus “Kepha” for they see “rock” in the Old Testament as a messianic Symbol. When Christ gave his own name “Kepha” to Simon he was giving him participation in the person and office of Christ. Christ who is the Kepha and shepherd made Simon the chief shepherd in his place and gave him the very name Kepha and said that on Kepha he would build the Church. Aphrahat shared the common Syriac tradition. For him Kepha is in fact another name of Jesus, and Simon was given the right to share the name. The person who receives somebody else’s name also obtains the rights of the person who bestows the name. Aphrahat makes the stone taken from Jordan a type of Peter. He says Jesus son of Nun set up the stones for a witness in Israel; Jesus our Saviour called Simon Kepha Sarirto and set him as the faithful witness among nations.

Again he says in his commentary on Deuteronomy that Moses brought forth water from “rock” (Kepha) for the people and Jesus sent Simon Kepha to carry his teachings among nations. Our Lord accepted him and made him the foundation of the Church and called him Kepha. When he speaks about transfiguration of Christ he calls him Simon Peter, the foundation of the Church. Ephrem also shared the same view. The Armenian version of De Virginitate records that Peter the rock shunned honour Who was the head of the Apostles. In a mimro of Efrem found in Holy Week Liturgy points to the importance of Peter.

Both Aphrahat and Ephrem the Syrian represent the authentic tradition of the Syrian Church. The different orders of liturgies used for sanctification of Church building, marriage, ordination etc. reveal that the primacy of Peter is a part of living faith of the Church.[15]

Global Presence


It is estimated that the church has about 7,800,000 members globally including around 5,600,000 members in India.[16] However the article on the Syrian Jacobite Church lists 1.2 million and the article on St. Thomas Christians fives 1,750,000. There are 680,000 Syriac Orthodox members in Syria and 5,000 in Turkey, 2,000 in Israel (500 in Jerusalem and 1,500 Bethlehem) (numbers in Iraq is unknown). In Lebanon they number up to 50,000. In the diaspora, there are approximately 80,000 members in the United States, 80,000 in Sweden, 50,000 in Germany, 15,000 in the Netherlands, thousands of members in Brazil, Switzerland, and Austria and around 800,000 in Central America.[17]

Official Name

Since the church has never been the officially-adopted religion of a modern-day country (as was the case with the Armenian Church), a unique name had long been used to distinguish the church from the polity of Syria in most languages besides English. This includes Arabic (the official language of Syria), where the Church has always been known as the "Syriani" church; the term "Syriani" being the same word used to identify the Syriac language in Arabic. The meaning of this term is entirely unique from the term for "Syrian" in Arabic, which is translated as, literally, "Syrian". Being the lone exception up until the year 2000, English identified the church as the "Syrian Orthodox Church"; with "Syrian" being derived from the term "Syrian church" used by English-speaking historians to describe the community in ancient Syria prior to the ecumenical divisions (see: Christianity in Syria). The confusion between "Syrian" and "Syriac" in English led to some nationalists favoring the term "Syrian Orthodox" and some Assyrians favoring the term "Assyrian Orthodox". However, the term "Syrian Orthodox" failed to distinguish the church as in other languages and the term "Assyrian Orthodox" led to confusion with the Assyrian Church of the East. Hence, in 2000, a Holy Synod ruled that the church should be named after its official liturgical language of Syriac (i.e. Syriac Orthodox Church), as it is in most other languages. The official name of the church in Syriac is pronounced ʿĒdtō Suryōytō Triṣaṯ Šuḇḥō; this name has not changed, nor has it changed in any language other than English.[18] The church is often referred to as Jacobite (after Jacob Baradaeus), but it rejects this name.


The church today has two seminaries, and numerous colleges and other institutions. Among those there are several religious institutions which are noteworthy. Patriarch Aphrem I Barsoum (†1957) established St. Aphrem's Clerical School in 1934 in Zahlé, Lebanon. In 1946 it was moved to Mosul, Iraq, where it provided the Church with a good selection of graduates, the first among them being Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas and many other Church leaders. Also the church has an international Christian education centre which is a centre for religious education. In the year 1990 he established the Order of St. Jacob Baradaeus for nuns and renovated St. Aphrem's Clerical building in Atshanneh, Lebanon for the new order.[19]

Jurisdiction of the Patriarchate

Church in India

The Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, one of the various Saint Thomas Christian churches in India, is an integral part of the Syriac Orthodox Church, with the Patriarch of Antioch as its supreme head. The local head of the church in Malankara (India) is the Catholicos of India also called Catholicos of the East, currently Baselios Thomas I, ordained by the Patriarch in 2002 and accountable to the Patriarch of Antioch. The headquarters of the church in India is at Puthencruz near Ernakulam in the state of Kerala in South India. Another church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, which declared themselves as an independent orthodox church by avoiding the supremacy of the Patriarch, also maintains some ties with the Syriac Orthodox Church. Knanaya Syrian Orthodox Church is an archdiocese under the Syriac orthodox patriarchate. The language of the Syriac Orthodox Divine Liturgy in India is mostly in Malayalam along with Syriac.

Middle East

The Syrian Orthodox Church in Middle East has several Archdioceses in; Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel.


  1. Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of Mor Eustathius Matta Roham.
  2. Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim.
  3. Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of Mor Selwanos Petros AL-nemeh.
  4. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of Damascus under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Ivanios Paulose Al-Souky.


  1. Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of Mor Theophilos George Saliba.
  2. Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of Mor Yostinos Boulos Safar.
  3. Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of Mor Clemis Daniel Malak Kourieh.
  4. Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of Patriarchal Institutions in Mor Chrysostoms Michael Shimon.

Israel and Jordan

  1. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of Mor Severios Malke Mourad.

North and South America

The Syriac Orthodox Church has Archdioceses and dioceses all over the globe. In North America, there are three archdioceses in the USA and one in Canada. In Central America, there is one Archdiocese for Mexico, Central America, Caribbean Islands and Venezuela. In South America, there are two Archdioceses: one in Argentina, and the other one in Brazil.


In the USA there are three archdioceses, namely the Eastern United States, and the Western United States, and the Malankara Archdiocese of the U.S.

  1. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of Western U.S. under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Clemis Eugene Kaplan.
  2. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of Eastern U.S. under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim.
  3. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Malankara Archdiocese in North America under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Titus Yeldho Pathickal.


  1. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of Canada under the spiritual guidance and direction Eminence Mor Athanasius Elia Bahi.

South America

  1. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of Argentina
  2. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of Brazil under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Theethose Paul Toza.
  3. Central America - Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of Central America under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Yaqub Eduardo Aguirre Oestmann


The Syriac Orthodox Church in Europe has seven Archdioceses. In the north of Europe there are two Archdioceses, while Central Europe and the Benelux Countries have five Archdioceses.


  1. Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of Sweden & Scandinavia under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Julius Abdulahad Gallo Shabo.
  2. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of Sweden under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Dioskoros Benyamen Atas.

Central Europe

  1. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of the Netherlands under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Polycarpus Augin (Eugene) Aydın.
  2. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of Switzerlands & Austria under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Dionysius Isa Gürbüz.
  3. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of Belgium, Luxembourg & France under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Severios Hazail Soumi.
  4. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of Germany under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Philoxenus Mattias Nayis and Mor Julius Hanna Aydın.
  5. Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicarate for the Archdiocese of the United Kingdom under the spiritual guidance and direction of Mor Athanasius Touma Dakkama.


There is a Patriarchal Vicarate of Australia and New Zealand under the spiritual guidance and direction of: Mor Malatius Malki Malki.[7]

See also



External links

  • Official Site of Syriac Orthodox Church
  • Website of Syriac Orthodox Church In India Jacobite Syrian Church
  • Syriac Orthodox Church in Canada
  • Mor Aphrem Monastery
  • Malankara Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in North America
  • Syriac Orthodox Church in Ireland
  • Margonitho: Syriac Orthodox Resources
  • Article on Syrian Orthodox Church on CNEWA website
Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church / Jacobite Syrian Church, AD 52
  • Jacobite Online: Online Community of Jacobite Syrian Church
  • Malankara Syriac Christian Resources
  • News Site Of Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church
  • Malankara Vision: TV Of Jacobite Syrian Church
  • Malankarese Giacobita siriano Chiesa
  • Radio Malankara: Radio of Jacobite Syrian Church
  • Shroro: The Syriac Christian Digest
  • Syriac Music Online
  • Noohro "The Light" Weekly Bulletin
  • Syrian Liturgy description and photos
  • Documentary film about Syriac Christians

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