Answers to some questions
- Who are the Syriac Orthodox?
The Syriac Orthodox are the faithful of one of the oldest apostolic Churches, the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. The Church is a universal one in the sense that its faithful are from a diversity of backgrounds (mainly Middle Eastern and Indian). It grew in the ancient land of Syria (hence the name) which covers modern Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, but spread all over the East as far as India. (See the Overview for more information.)
- Where are the headquarters of the Church?
The seat of the patriarchate moved from Antioch ca. AD 518, after a period of turbulent history, to various locations in the Near East until it settled in Deyrul-Zafaran monastery in Mardin, Turkey, during the 13th century. After another period of heinous violence during and after World War I, which took the lives of a quarter million faithful, the patriarchate was transferred to Homs, Syria, in 1933, and later to Damascus in 1957. (Go to the Patriarchate for more information.)
- What is the language of the Church?
The official language of the church is Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic - the language spoken by Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples. All of its liturgy originates from Syriac sources. The church, however, allows the faithful to use local languages along with Syriac. Many liturgical works have been translated into Arabic, Malayalam, English and Turkish.
- How does the Syriac Orthodox faith differ from other Christian faiths?
The Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 resulted in the schism of Christendom into two groups. The Catholic (Rome) and Greek (Byzantine) Churches accepted the Council, while the Syrian (Antioch) and Coptic (Alexandria) Churches rejected it. The former group adopted the doctrine that Christ is in two natures, human and divine, while the latter adopted the doctrine that Christ has one incarnate nature from two natures. It is worth noting that the drafts of the Council were according to the position of the Syrian and Coptic Churches. The final resolution, however, was according to the doctrine of the Western Churches. The difference lies in one preposition as explained. One word split the Church for centuries and the schism continues to this day.
- Is the Syriac Orthodox Church a monophysite church?
No. The monophysite dogma is an extreme version of the one nature Christological doctrine put forth by Eutyches. It claims that Christ has one nature only and that the divine nature subsumed the human nature. Adversaries have accused the Syriac Orthodox Church of the monophysite position. However this dogma has always been rejected by the Syriac Orthodox Church. It is unfortunate that this term is still used by some scholars. Prof. Sebastian Brock of Oxford University has correctly suggested using the term miaphysite which more accurately describes the Syriac Orthodox position.
- Is the Syriac Orthodox Church also called the Jacobite Church?
No. This is a name used by the adversaries of the church who attempt to belittle the church by suggesting that the church was founded by St. Jacob Baradaeus. During the sixth century, the Syriac Orthodox Church endured persecution under the Byzantian Empire because it upheld its faith. It was at this time that Jacob Baradeus emerged on the scene. He journeyed all over the East ordaining priests and deacons thus reviving the church from the brink of extinction. Jacob is considered a great Saint of the Syriac Orthodox Church, but not its founder. Hence, the Church rejects the name Jacobite. It should however be noted that Syriac Orthodox Christians in Malankara (India) innocently refer to themselves as Jacobites. For several centuries Christians in Malankara were referred to by the term Nazarani. The term Jacobite was introduced into Malankara in the nineteenth century by Anglicans. Christians who remained in the mother church following schisms influenced by the Anglicans adopted the term without realizing its negative connotations.
- Is the Syriac Orthodox Church the only church that traces its origins to the Church of Antioch?
No. There are other Patriarchates of Antioch. Following the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Seat of the Patriarchate was intermittently occupied by adherents of two groups: the one which rejected and the other which accepted the council. By the sixth century, two distinct lines of patriarchs emerged. The Syriac Orthodox line rejected the Greek Orthodox (called Rum Orthodox in the Middle East) who accepted the council.
Around the seventh century, after another dispute in the Syriac Orthodox church, followers of St. Maron in Lebanon formed the Maronite Church whose patriarch also took the title, Patriarch of Antioch. This church later became a uniate Roman Catholic church. In the 18th century, a group split from the Rum Orthodox, joined the Roman Catholic Church and formed the Greek Catholic Church (Rum Catholics). Their patriarch also took the title, Patriarch of Antioch. In the second quarter of the same century, a group split from the Syriac Orthodox Church and established the Syrian Catholic Church, which is in communion with Rome.
- What is the relation between the Syriac Orthodox Church in Antioch and the Syriac Orthodox Church in India?
The Church in Malankara (Kerala, India) is an integral part of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Apostle Thomas is believed to have set out from Edessa, the cradle of Syriac Christianity, to India to preach the Gospel in India. He is believed to have arrived in India in AD 52 and was martyred at Mylapore in Chennai (formerly Madras) in AD 72. Christianity in India since its earliest days adhered exclusively to the Syriac tradition until the Portugese introduced the Latin tradition in the 16th century. The spiritual head of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church is the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. However, the Church enjoys a considerable degree of autonomy, particularly in its temporal affairs. Its local head is the Catholicos of the East, a position that is currently vacant.