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The Syriac Orthodox Church (Classical Syriac: ܥܺܕܬܳܐ ܣܽܘ̣ܪܝܳܝܬܳܐ ܬܪܺܝܨܰܬ ܫܽܘ̣ܒ̣ܚܳܐ‎, romanized: ʿIto Suryoyto Triṣaṯ Šuḇḥo; Arabic: الكنيسة السريانية الأرثوذكسية‎), or Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, is an autocephalous Oriental Orthodox church established by Severus of Antioch in Antioch in 518 A.D., organised by Jacob Baradaeus (c. 500-578),[8] while tracing its history to Antioch by Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the 1st century, according to its tradition.[9][10][11] The Church uses the Divine Liturgy of Saint James, associated with Saint James, the "brother" of Jesus and patriarch among the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem.[12] Syriac is the official and liturgical language of the Church based on Syriac Christianity. The primate of the church is the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch currently Ignatius Aphrem II since 2014, seated in the Cathedral of Saint George, Bab Tuma, Damascus, Syria.[13][14][15]

Syriac Orthodox Church
Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East
Classical Syriac: ܥܺܕܬܳܐ ܣܽܘ̣ܪܝܳܝܬܳܐ ܬܪܺܝܨܰܬ ܫܽܘ̣ܒ̣ܚܳܐ
Cathedral of Saint George
ClassificationOriental Orthodoxy
OrientationEastern Christianity
PatriarchIgnatius Aphrem II Patriarch
First autocephalous
Severus of Antioch in 518 AD
Catholicate of IndiaJacobite Syrian Christian Church
RegionMiddle East, India, and diaspora
LanguageClassical Syriac
LiturgyWest Syriac: Liturgy of Saint James
HeadquartersCathedral of Saint George, Damascus, Syria (since 1959)
Origin1st century[1][2][3]
Antioch, Roman Empire[4][5]
Branched fromChurch of Antioch[6]
Aid organizationEPDC St. Ephrem Patriarchal Development Committee [7]
Official websiteSyriac Orthodox Patriarchate

Name and identityEdit

Syriac-speaking Christians have historically referred to themselves as Suraye/Suryaye, literally "Syriac", leading to most members favoring the term "Syriac Orthodox". Since the Church has never been the officially adopted religion of a modern-day country, a unique name has 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 in Arabic to identify the Syriac language and people. Being the lone exception until the year 2000, English identified the Church mainly 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 Nestorian/Jacobite split in the 5th century. The name "Syrian" Orthodox Church failed to distinguish the Church in English which uses "Syrian" to designate all things generally related to Syria. The term Assyrian Orthodox Church also led to confusion with the Assyrian Church of the East, which itself was renamed in 1976 from the 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, and this name has not changed historically, nor has it changed in any language other than English.[16] The church is often referred to as Jacobite (after Jacob Baradaeus), but it rejects this name due to its Apostolic origin.

The ethnic identification of Syriac Orthodox as "Assyrians" is contested by the community itself.[17] In the diaspora, the Syriac Orthodox identify with the term Suryoye.[18] In Arabic and Kurdish, they were identified as Suryani, and in Turkish as Süryaniler.[18] In Tur Abdin (Turkey), the community did not consider converts to Protestantism (Prut) and Catholicism (Katholik, Kaldoye) as Suryoye, thus, in Tur Abdin the identification as Syriac only applied to the Syriac Orthodox, who share a collective identity and consciousness.[19]

Late 19th- and early 20th-century Syriac Orthodox intellectuals predominantly used the "Assyrian" identification.[20] Despite this "Assyrian" intellectual trend, the identity of Syriac Orthodoxy in the Ottoman Empire in the 1910s was principally religious and linguistic.[21]

The Syriac Orthodox identity was not only religious, although this was dominant, but also included cultural traditions of the pagan Assyrian and Aramean kingdoms.[22] Syriac Orthodox traditions crystallized into ethnogenesis through their preservation of their stories and customs, the Syriac Orthodox being aware of their core identity already by the 12th century.[22]


The Syriac Orthodox Church theology is based on the Nicene Creed. The Syriac Orthodox Church teaches that it is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ in his Great Commission,[25] that its Metropolitans are the successors of Christ's Apostles, and that the Patriarch is the successor to Saint Peter upon whom Primacy was conferred by Jesus Christ.[26]

The Church claims Apostolic Succession through the pre-Chalcedonian Patriarchate of Antioch to the Early Christian communities established by Saint Peter in Antioch, in the Roman Empire, during the Apostolic era, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (New Testament, Acts 11:26). Saint Evodius was Bishop of Antioch until 66 AD, and was succeeded by Saint Ignatius of Antioch.[27] In A.D 169, Theophilus of Antioch wrote his sole surviving work, consisting of three apologetic tracts to Autolycus.[28] Patriarch Babylas of Antioch was considered the first saint recorded as having had his remains moved or "translated" for religious purposes - a practice that was to become extremely common in later centuries.[29] Eustathius of Antioch supported Athanasius of Alexandria who opposed the followers of the condemned doctrine of Arius (Arian controversy) at the First Council of Nicaea.[30] During the time of Meletius of Antioch the Church split due to his being deposed for Homoiousian leanings - which became known as the Meletian Schism and saw several groups and several claimants to the See of Antioch.[31][32][33][34]

The Patriarchate was forced to move from Antioch in A.D. 518 by Byzantine Emperor Justin I, who enforced a uniform Chalcedonian Christian orthodoxy throughout the empire.[35][36][37] In circa 518, the Syriac Orthodox Church continued to recognize Patriarch Severus of Antioch as the legitimate Patriarch despite his deposition by the Byzantine Empire. Those who sought communion with Rome accepted the Council of Chalcedon and the formula of Pope Hormisdas, and recognized the new Chalcedonian Patriarch of Antioch Paul the Jew. Patriarch Severus of Antioch was a significant bishop in the organization of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, in the Byzantine Empire, after he was expelled from Antioch in 518. Bishop Jacob Baradaeus (died 578) is credited for ordaining the majority of the miaphysite hierarchy while facing heavy persecution in the 6th century. Around 1665, many Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala, India, committed themselves in allegiance to the Syriac Orthodox Church, which established the Malankara Syrian Church, reuniting with the See of Antioch for the first time since the schism of the Church of the East from the jurisdiction of Antioch in 484 after the execution of Babowai. In the Fertile Crescent, there was controversy in 1783 when a few members of its hierarchy entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, establishing the Syriac Catholic Church as part of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Despite this, the Syriac Orthodox Church remained significantly larger in members and clergy than the Syriac Catholic Church.

Although originally established in Antioch, due to persecution - first by the Chalcedonian Romans followed by the Muslim Arabs - the Church's Patriarchate was subsequently seated in Mor Hananyo Monastery, Mardin, in the Ottoman Empire (1160-1933); thereafter Homs (1933-1959); and Damascus, Syria, since 1959. A diaspora has also spread from the Levant, Iraq, and Turkey throughout the world, notably in Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Austria, France, United States, Canada, Guatemala, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand.

The Church's members are divided into 26 Archdioceses, and 11 Patriarchal Vicariates. Its original area is present-day Syria, Turkey, and Iraq.[38]

The Syriac Orthodox Church is part of Oriental Orthodoxy, a distinct communion of Churches claiming to continue the Patristic and Apostolic Christology before the schism following the Council of Chalcedon in 451.[39]

Primacy of Saint PeterEdit

A 6th-century encaustic icon from Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai, Egypt.

The Fathers of the Syriac Orthodox Church tried to give a theological interpretation to the Primacy of Saint Peter.[40] They were fully convinced of the unique office of Peter in the early Christian community. Ephrem, Aphrahat and Maruthas who were supposed to be the best exponents of the early Syriac tradition unequivocally acknowledged the Office of Peter.

Both Aphrahat and Ephrem the Syrian represent the authentic tradition of the Syriac church. The different orders of liturgies used for sanctification of church buildings, marriages, ordinations etc., reveal that the Primacy of Peter is a part of living faith of the Syriac Orthodox Church.However, Syriac Orthodox don't believe that Saint Peter is indicative of the Papal Primacy as understood by the Roman See, rather, "Petrine Primacy" according to the ancient Syriac tradition.[41]

Apostolic successionEdit

The Syriac Orthodox Church claims the status as the most ancient Christian Church in the world by Apostolic Succession from the Patriarchate of Antioch. According to Saint Luke, "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (New Testament, Acts 11:26). Saint Peter and Saint Paul are regarded as the co-founders of the Patriarchate of Antioch in AD 37, with Saint Peter serving as its first bishop and considered the first Patriarch of and by the Syriac Orthodox Church, having been selected by the founder of the Church Jesus Christ.[42][43] When Saint Peter left Antioch, Evodios and Ignatius presided over the Patriarchate of Antioch. Because of the significance attributed to Saint Ignatius in the Syriac Orthodox Church, almost all of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs since 1293 have used the name of Ignatius in the title of the Patriarch preceding their own Patriarchal name.[44]

Patriarchate of AntiochEdit

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) recognised the Bishopric as a Primacy (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.[45][46] 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 of the East which was politically isolated from the Churches in the Roman Empire.[47] Until Synod of Beth Lapat, this Church accepted the spiritual authority of the Patriarch of Antioch.[48] The Church also maintained a smaller non-Chalcedonian Church under a Catholicos, known by the title Maphryānā, until the 1860s. This Catholicate was canonically transferred to India in 1964, as Catholicos of India and continues today as the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, 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.[49] In 518, Patriarch Severus of Antioch was exiled from the city of Antioch and took refuge in Alexandria. The non-Chalcedonian community was divided between "Severians", followers of Severus, and aphthartodocetae, and divisions remained unresolved until 527.[50] Severians continued to recognize Severus as the legitimate Patriarch even after his exile in 518 until his death in 538. In 544, Jacob Baradeus ordained Sergius of Tella continuing the Non-Chalcedonian succession of Patriarchs of the Church of Antioch.[51] That was done in opposition to the government-backed Patriarchate of Antioch held by the pro-Chalcedonian believers - today known as the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch - 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 Catholic Church). Because of many historical upheavals and consequent hardships which the Syriac Orthodox Church had to undergo, the seat its Patriarchate was transferred to different monasteries in Mesopotamia for centuries.

In about 1160[52] its seat was transferred from Antioch to the Mor Hananyo Monastery (Deir al-Za`faran), in southeastern Anatolia near Mardin, where it remained until 1933, then in contemporary Turkey. They reestablished themselves in Homs, Syria, due to the adverse political situation in Turkey. In 1959, it was transferred to Damascus, where it has been located since. The mother church and official seat of the Syriac Orthodox Church is now situated in Bab Tuma, Damascus, capital of Syria.

Middle AgesEdit

Dioceses of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch during the Middle Ages

The 8th-century hagiography Life of Jacob Baradaeus is evidence of a definite social and religious differentiation between the Chalcedonians and Miaphysites (Syriac Orthodox).[53] The longer hagiography shows that the Syriac Orthodox (called "Jacobites" in the work, suryoye yaquboye) self-identified with Jacob's story more than those of other saints.[54] Coptic Bishop Severus ibn al-Muqaffa (ca. 897), of Miaphysite (Syriac Orthodox) ancestry, speaks of Jacobite origins, on the veneration of Jacob Baradaeus. He explained that the Chalcedonian "Melkites" were labelled as such because the Miaphysite Jacobites never traded their Orthodoxy to win the favour of the king as the Melkites had done (malko is derived from "king, ruler").[55][56]

It has been assumed that in the Principality of Antioch (1098–1268), the Syriac Orthodox made up the civilian population, their elite consisting of clergy who did not participate in the military nor administration.[57] In Antioch, after the 11th-century persecutions, the Syriac Orthodox population was almost extinguished.[57] 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.[57] Dorothea Weltecke thus concludes that the Syriac Orthodox populace was very low in this period in Antioch and its surroundings.[57] In Adana, an anonymous 1137 report speaks of the entire population consisting of Syriac Orthodox.[57] In the 12th century, several Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs visited Antioch and some established temporary residences.[58] In the 13th century, the Syriac Orthodox hierarchy in Antioch was prepared to accept Latin supervision; however, for the whole Church, this was of little consequence.[59] The Syriac Orthodox were the most numerous non-Latin sect in Jerusalem and Bethlehem prior to 1187.[60] Before the advent of the Crusades, the Jacobites were probably the majority of the hill country of Jazirah (northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey).[61]

Book of the Dove by Bar Hebraeus, 1226-1286

16th centuryEdit

Moses of Mardin (fl. 1549–d. 1592) was a diplomat of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Rome in the 16th century.[62] The Malankara Church consolidated under Mar Thoma I welcomed Gregorios Abdal Jaleel, who regularized the canonical ordination of Mar Thoma I as a native democratically elected Bishop of the Malabar Syrian Christians.[63]

17th centuryEdit

By the early 1660s, 75% of the 5,000 Syriac Orthodox of Aleppo had converted to Catholicism following the arrival of mendicant missionaries.[64] 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.[64] 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.[65] Despite the warning and gifts to priests, frequent conflicts and violent arguments continued between the Catholic and Orthodox Syriacs.[65]

19th centuryEdit

In the 19th century, the various Syriac Christian denominations did not view themselves as part of one ethnic group.[66] During the Tanzimat reforms (1839–78), the Syriac Orthodox were granted independent status by gaining recognition as their own millet in 1873, separate from Armenians and Greeks.[67]

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.[68] Later, in Worcester, the first Syriac Orthodox Church in the United States was built, where it was originally called the Assyrian Apostolic Church of Antioch.[69]

The 1895–96 massacres in Turkey affected the Armenian and Syriac Orthodox communities when an estimated 105,000 Christians were killed.[70] By the end of the 19th century, 200,000 Syriac Orthodox Christians remained in the Middle East, most concentrated around Deir el-Zaferan, the Patriarchal Seat.[71]

In 1870, there were 22 Syriac Orthodox settlements in the vicinity of Diyarbakır.[72] In the 1870–71 Diyarbakır salnames, there were 1,434 Orthodox Syriacs in that city.[73] In the 1881/82–93 census, the kaza of Diyarbakır had 4,046 "monophysites" (Syriac Orthodox), while the sanjak of Diyarbakır had 5,909 Syriac Orthodox.[74] The results of these records shows that the Syriac Orthodox were rural, as opposed to the Catholics who were less so but more urbanized.[75] The 1894–95 salname of Diyarbakır records 4,096 Syriac Orthodox in the kaza.[75] In the 1897–98 salname the vilayet (province) of Diyarbakır had 20,082 Syriac Orthodox, out of 84,906 non-Muslims.[75]

Rivalry within the Syriac Orthodox Church in Tur Abdin resulted in many conversions to the Syriac Catholic Church (the Uniate branch).[76]

20th centuryEdit

Genocide (1914–18)Edit

1915 Genocide Monument at St Peters & St Pauls Syrian Orthodox Church in Botkyrka

The Ottoman authorities killed and deported Orthodox Syriacs, then looted and appropriated their properties.[77] During 1915–16, the number of Orthodox Syriacs in the Diyarbakır province was reduced by 72%, and in the Mardin province by 58%.[78]

Inter-war periodEdit

In 1924, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Church was transferred to Homs in Syria.[79] This happened after Kemal Atatürk expelled the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch, who took the library of Deir el-Zaferan and settled in Damascus.[71] 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.[80]

Church Destroyed during War

In early 1920s, the city of Qamishli was built mainly by Syriac Orthodox refugees, escaping the Assyrian genocide.


In 1959, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Church was transferred to Damascus in Syria.[79]

In the mid-1970s, it was estimated that 82,000 Syriac Orthodox lived in Syria.[81]

In 1977, the number of Syriac Orthodox followers in diaspora dioceses were: 9,700 in the Diocese of Middle Europe; 10,750 in the Diocese of Sweden and surrounding countries.[82]

On 20 October 1987, Geevarghese Mar Gregorios of Parumala was declared a saint by the then Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Zakka I Iwas permitting additions to the diptychs.[83][84]


Holy Sacraments of the churchEdit

The seven Holy Sacraments are:

Bible in the Syriac traditionEdit

Syriac Orthodox Churches use the Peshitta (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.[87] 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.


Liturgy being celebrated at St. John's Church, Stuttgart, Germany.

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 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 preserved in the book known as Beth Gazo.[88] It is the key reference to Syriac Orthodox church music.


Syriac Orthodox clergy and some devout laity follow a regimen of seven prayers a day, in accordance with Psalm 119.[89] According to the Syriac tradition, an ecclesiastical day starts at sunset and the Canonical hours are based on West Syriac Rite:

  • Evening or Ramsho prayer (Vespers)[90]
  • Night prayer or Sootoro prayer (Compline)[91]
  • 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.)



Ignatius Aphrem II, current Syriac Patriarch of Antioch, headquartered in Cathedral of Saint George, Damascus, Syria.


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 early Eastern Christianity. Considered the "father of fathers", he must be an ordained bishop.


The Bishop title comes from Episcopos, a word that means "the one who oversees". In the Syriac Orthodox Church, a bishop is a spiritual ruler of the church. Bishops too have different ranks. The highest is the Patriarch. Next to him is the Catholicos of India, also known as Maphrian, who is the head of the integral Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church in India. Then there are Metropolitan bishops or Archbishops, and under them there are bishops. Historically, in the Malankara Church, the Archbishop was called as Archdeacon, who was the local chief and/or ecclesiastical authority of the Saint Thomas Christians in the Malabar region of India.[100]


The priest is the seventh rank and is the one duly appointed to administer the sacraments. Unlike in the Roman Catholic Church, Syriac deacons may marry before ordained as priests; however they may not marry after ordained as priests. There is an honorary rank among the priests that is Corepiscopos who has the privileges of "first among the priests" and are given a chain with cross and specific vestment decorations. Corepiscopos is the highest rank a married man can be elevated to in the Syriac Orthodox Church. Any 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 diaconate are:

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

Only a full deacon or Masamsono can take the censer during the Divine Liturgy to assist the priest; however, in Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church, because of the lack of deacons, altar assistants who do not have any rank of deaconhood may assist the priest. The deacons in Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church can wear a phiro, a cap. Historically the Malankara Church were administered by a local chief called Archdeacon ("Arkadiyokon").


Liturgical Vestments of a bishop, chorbishops, priest and deacons

The clergy of the Syriac Orthodox Church has unique liturgical vestments from other Christian denominations. The vestments worn by the clergy vary with their order in the priesthood: the deacons, the priests, the chorbishops, the bishops, and the patriarch each have different vestments.[101]

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. Corepiscopos wear a black or a purple robe with a purple belt.

A priest also wears 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. Without wearing these shoes, a priest cannot distribute Eucharist to the faithful. Then there is a white robe called kutino symbolising 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.[102] An important aspect is that bishops and corepiscopos have hand-held crosses while ordinary priests have none. The priest's usual dress is a black robe. However, 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.

Ecumenical relationsEdit

Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church in Lebanon at Oriental Orthodox communion.

The Bishops 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 the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodoxy, reconciling declarations emerged in the common statement of the Oriental Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Jacob III and Pope Paul VI in 1971, and then the common statement of the Oriental Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas and Pope John Paul II in 1984.

Archbishop of Aleppo Yohanna Ibrahim (left) with Austrian politician Reinhold Lopatka in 2012

The Syriac Orthodox Church is active in ecumenical dialogues. It has been a member church of World Council of Churches since 1960 and Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas was one of the former presidents of World Council of Churches. The Syriac Orthodox Church is also 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. The precise differences in theology that caused the Chalcedonian controversy is said to have arisen "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 common declaration statement between Patriarch Ignatius Jacob III of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch and Pope Paul VI of the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday 27 October 1971 and again in the common declaration statement between Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch and Pope John Paul II of the Roman Catholic Church on Saturday 23 June 1984. Since 1998, the heads of the three Oriental Orthodox churches in the Eastern Mediterranean i.e. the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church meet regularly each year.[44]

Global presenceEdit


It is estimated that the church has 500,000 Assyrian adherents[39][104] in addition to 1.2 million members of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church in India.[105] Historically, the followers of the church are mainly ethnic Assyrians who comprise the indigenous pre-Arab populations of modern Syria, Iraq and south eastern Turkey.[106] Additionally, there is also a large Syriac community among Mayan converts in Guatemala. In addition, there are a few other autocephalous (independent) Syriac Orthodox Churches following the same or similar liturgy and the same West Syriac rite Christianity including the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Malankara Catholic Church, Marthoma Church and Malabar Independent Syrian Church, both based in India and followed by ethnic Indian St Thomas Christians.

According to 2001 estimates, around 260,000 ethnic Assyrians live in the Middle East. A similar number live in Western Europe and North America, most notably in Sweden and Germany (100,000), and the Americas (50,000).[107] In terms of specifics, There are 170,000 Syriac Orthodox members in Syria, 50,000 in Iraq and 15,000 in Turkey.[107][108] However, The number of Assyrians in Turkey is rising, due to refugees from Syria and Iraq fleeing ISIS, as well as Assyrians from the Diaspora who fled the region during the Turkey-PKK conflict (which occurred from the late seventies until the late 90s) returning and rebuilding their homes. A specific instance of this occurred in Elbegendi, where a German Syriac returned to his village with a few other families and rebuilt the town together with money earned abroad. In addition to those larger populations of Assyrians, 5,000 live in Palestine (500 in Jerusalem and 5,000 Bethlehem), and around 50,000 are estimated to live in Lebanon.

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 and a large number living in Central America, which is mainly made up of indigenous Mayan converts in Guatemala, in addition to the 1.5 million adherents of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and their own ethnic diaspora.[109]


Seminaries and schoolsEdit

The church has various seminaries and numerous colleges and other institutions.[110] Patriarch Aphrem I Barsoum 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 selection of graduates, the first among them being Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas and many other church leaders. In 1990 he established the Order of St. Jacob Baradaeus for nuns and renovated St. Aphrem's clerical building in Atchaneh, Lebanon, for the new order.[111] Seminaries have been instituted in Sweden and in Salzburg, Austria for the study of the Syriac Church, Syriac theology, Syriac history and Syriac language and culture.

International educationEdit

The church has an international Christian education center for religious education.[112] The Antioch Syrian University was established on 8 September 2018 in Maaret Sidnaya, Damascus.[113] The university is offering engineering, management and economics courses.[114]

Jurisdiction of the patriarchateEdit

The Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch originally covered the whole region of the Middle East and India. However, in recent centuries, its parishioners started to emigrate to other countries all over the world. Today, the Syriac Orthodox Church has several archdioceses and patriarchal vicariates (exarchates) in many countries covering six continents.


Middle East regionsEdit

St. Thomas Church Ras al-Ayn
St. Sharbel Church Midyat
St. Mary's Church, Bethlehem
St. Behnam Church Mardin

Syriac Orthodox Christians in the Middle East, known simply as Syriacs (Suryoye), are an ethnic [115] subgroup who follow the West Syrian Rite Syriac Orthodox Church in the Middle East and the diaspora, numbering between 150,000 and 200,000 people in their indigenous area of habitation in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey according to estimations.[116]

The community formed and developed in the Middle Ages. The Syriac Orthodox Christians of the Middle East speak Aramaic.

Archbishoprics in Middle East

Patriarchal Vicariates in Middle East


Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian ChurchEdit

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 (Kerala) is Baselios Thomas I, ordained by Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas 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. Simhasana Churches and Honavar Mission is under direct control of Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II. The Indian or Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, is not affiliated with the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church. Unlike most other patriarchal churches abroad, the language of the Syriac Orthodox Divine Liturgy in India is mostly in Malayalam along with Syriac. This is because almost all Syriac Christians in India hail from the State of Kerala, where Malayalam is the native language of the people.

St.Mary's Knanaya Church Kottayam [121]
Head Office Of E.A.E
St. Mark's Syrian Orthodox Cathedral Paramus, New Jersey
Knanaya Arch DioceseEdit

The Knanaya Syriac Orthodox Church is an archdiocese under the guidance and direction of Archbishop Severious Kuriakose with the patriarch as its spiritual head. They are the followers of the Syrian merchant Knāy Thoma (Thomas of Cana) in the 4th or 8th century, while another legend traces their origin to Jews in the Middle East.[122][123][122][124]

Evangelistic Association Of The EastEdit

E.A.E Arch Diocese is the missionary association of Syriac Orthodox Church founded in 1924 by Malphono Naseeho Geevarghese Athunkal Cor-Episcopa at Perumbavoor.[125] This archdiocese is under the direct control of the patriarch under the guidance of Chrysostomos Markose, It is an organization with several churches, educational institutions, orphanages, old age homes, dayara, convents, publications, mission centers, gospel teams, care missions and a missionary training institute. It is registered in 1949 under Indian Societies Registration Act. XXI of 1860.(Reg. No. S.8/1949ESTD 1924)[126][127][128]


The presence of Syrian Orthodox faithful in America dates back to the late 19th century.[129][130]

North AmericaEdit

United StatesEdit

Patriarchal Vicariate of Canada.[134][135]

Central AmericaEdit

In the Guatemala region, a Charismatic movement emerged in 2003 was excommunicated in 2006 by the Roman Catholic Church later joined the church in 2013. Members of this archdiocese are Mayan in origin and live in rural areas, and display charismatic-type practices.[136]


South AmericaEdit


Earlier in 20th century many Syrian Orthodox immigrated to Western Europe diaspora, located in the Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland for economic and political reasons.[144] Dayro d-Mor Ephrem in Netherlands is the first Syriac Orthodox monastery in Europe established in 1981.[145] Dayro d-Mor Awgen, Arth, Switzerland,Dayro d-Mor Ya`qub d-Sarug, Warburg, Germany are the other monasteries located in Europe.

Diaspora of EuropeEdit

Patriarchal Vicariates:




Australia and New Zealand

See alsoEdit



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Further readingEdit

  • Armbruster, Heidi (2002), Homes in crisis: Syrian orthodox Christians in Turkey and Germany, pp. 17–33
  • Atto, Naures (2011), Hostages in the homeland, orphans in the diaspora: identity discourses among the Assyrian/Syriac elites in the European diaspora, Leiden University Press
  • Millar, Fergus (2013), "The Evolution of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the Pre-Islamic Period: From Greek to Syriac?", Journal of Early Christian Studies, 21 (1): 43–92
  • O'Mahony, Anthony; Loosley, Emma (16 December 2009). Eastern Christianity in the Modern Middle East. Routledge. pp. 22–. ISBN 978-1-135-19371-3.
  • Öktem, Kerem (2004), "Incorporating the time and space of the ethnic 'other': nationalism and space in Southeast Turkey in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries", Nations and Nationalism, 10 (4): 559–578
  • Palmer, Andrew (1991), "The History of the Syrian Orthodox in Jerusalem", Oriens Christianus (75): 16–43
  • Sato, Noriko (2005), "Selective Amnesia: Memory and History of the Urfalli Syrian Orthodox Christians", Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 12.3: 315–333
  • Snelders, Bas (2010), Identity and Christian-Muslim interaction: medieval art of the Syrian Orthodox from the Mosul area, Leiden Institute for Religious Studies, Faculty of the Humanities
  • Thomas, David Richard, ed. (2001), Syrian Christians under Islam: the first thousand years, BrillCS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Tozman, Markus K., and Andrea Tyndall (2012), The slow disappearance of the Syriacs from Turkey and of the Grounds of the Mor Gabriel Monastery, III, LIT Verlag MünsterCS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Van Ginkel, Jan J. (2006), "The perception and presentation of the Arab conquest in Syriac Historiography: How did the changing social position of the Syrian orthodox community influence the account of their historiographers?", The Encounter of Eastern Christianity with Early Islam, Brill, pp. 171–184
  • Weltecke, Dorothea (2003), Contacts between Syriac Orthodox and Latin Military Orders
  • Weltecke, Dorothea (2006), The Syriac Orthodox in the principality of Antioch during the Crusader period
  • Wozniak, Marta (2015). "From religious to ethno-religious: Identity change among Assyrians/Syriacs in Sweden" (PDF). Joint Sessions of Workshops organised by the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR). ECPR.

Ecumenical relations with the Catholic ChurchEdit


Relating to Syriac Orthodox ChurchEdit

Relating to Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox ChurchEdit

External linksEdit