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A Brief History of  

The Universal Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch & all the East

BY Rev. Fr. Dr. JOSEPH TARZI

1- WHO ARE THE SYRIANS ?

    The Syrians are the Arameans themselves, the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent region (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Southeastern Turkey). They came from the Syrian desert in the 14th century B.C, and settled in the urban centers founding many kingdoms. The strongest of these Aramean kingdoms were the kingdoms of Damascus, Nahreen (Mesopotamia), Sobah and Padan-Aram. They imposed their language on the whole region and became the masters of the land for about 5 consecutive centuries. Their sovereignty ended in 732 B.C. with the fall of Damascus in the hands of the Assyrians. Even though their political sovereignty vanished, they continued to constitute the majority among the population of the region, playing a major role in the events.

    Their Aramaic language remained reigning unchallenged over the entire Middle East in all aspects of civilization, particularly in the many fields of learning, and was to remain so until long after the Arab Islamic invasion in the 7th century. Aramaic still survives in the names of hundreds of cities and villages in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The use of the terms: "Syria" and "Syrians", to denote the land of Aram and Arameans, began before the birth of Christ, in the Seleucid era, precisely, after the completion of Septuagint version of the Old Testament in the year 280 B.C., where the word "Aram" was translated as Syria, a synonym to "Aram". From here, the name "Syrian" began to replace Aramean, gradually. After the birth of Christ, this new name began to spread until it nearly eliminated the Aramean name in the entire geographical Syria. Because the Arameans, who now became Christians, were very much devoted and firmly adhered to their new religion, and proud of their forefathers the Apostles, they abandoned their old name "Arameans" and adopted the new name "Syrians" in order to detach themselves from their kindreds, the pagan Arameans.

    Nevertheless, a group of writers continued to use the term "Aramean" instead of "Syrian" treating them as synonyms. They would say for instance, He was an "Aramean Syrian writer", and "the Aramaic Syriac language". However, it is never said "The Aramean Church" but rather "the Syrian Church"; the term "Suryani" or "Syrian" in Syriac Aramaic is "Suryoyo" and its exact translation is "Syrian", i.e, a national of Syria (the geographic Syria). Universally, however, the term "Syrian Church" means all the Churches whose Liturgical language is or was Syriac, and were or are under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch.

2- THE BIRTH OF THE SYRIAN CHURCH

    The Syrian Church started in Jerusalem consisting of the Apostles, Evangelists and converted Jews. It was later grafted in Antioch, and then Urhoy, (Edessa) with converted Arameans and other gentiles. It was established in Antioch by St. Peter the head of the Apostles, who is considered the first Patriarch of the Holy and Apostolic see of Antioch. St. Peter himself ordained St. Ephodius and St. Ignatius the Luminous as successors. They did succeeded him after he fell martyr in Rome. Antioch, thus, became not only the first, oldest and most famous Christian Church, but the base of Christendom too. It was in Antioch where the Apostles were first called Christians.

    St.Mark's Syrian Orthodox Monastery ('Sehion Malika'-'Sion Mansion') of Jerusalem

     

3- THE DOCTRINE OF THE SYRIAN CHURCH

    The faith of the Syrian Orthodox Church can be summarized as follows: The Church believes in one composite person of the Lord Jesus, and one composite nature that consists of two natures: divine and human, which cannot be mixed, separated or transformed. In other words, the two natures are united into one nature with no mixing, no blending no changing no transformation, and no confusion. This applies to all divine and human attributes. Based on this definition, divinity was united with humanity, or the body, when Jesus was nailed on the cross, and never departed the body, not even for a moment. Therefore, it is wrong, and a departure from the universal Christian faith to say that: "Christ was crucified in flesh". It must rather be said: "God the Incarnate the Lord of glory was crucified"; however, we do say "He suffered and died in flesh", because divinity is never subject to suffering or death. As a consequence, Mary is "the mother of God", and the phrase "Thou who was crucified for us" stands true in the Trisageon which is directed to the second person, i.e., Christ. To this faith adhered the Antiochian Syrians and the Alexandrian Copts who rejected the council of Chalcedony and the document of Leo of Rome (The tome of Letter of Pope Leo) adhering to the faith defined in the three holy ecumenical councils of Nicea 325 A.D., Constantinople 381 A.D., and Ephesus 431 A.D. From here, the name "Orthodox" was coined to mean "True faith" which is common to Syrians, Copts, Armenians and Ethiopians. These Churches are called "sister Churches". They endured together severe sufferings and violent persecutions waged against them by the Chalcedonian Byzantine Empire.

4- THE SYRIAC LITURGY

    It is an established fact that the language spoken by Jesus and by many generations B.C. and early Christianity, and until the 5th century A.D. was Aramaic. Furthermore, Jews Wrote some of their holy books in Aramaic or in Aramaic characters, as evidenced by the dead sea scrolls discovered in 1974 by His Eminence Mar Athanasius Yeshu Samuel, then Archbishop of Jerusalem (Archbishop of the United States and Canada at present). Thus, it becomes evident that the disciples and their early successors spoke Syriac. Therefore, it is only common sense that their worship be conducted in Syriac. Since the evangelists who preached the Gospel in Antioch came from Jerusalem where worship was in Syriac, it would only be natural that Syriac be the Liturgical language of the church of Antioch, and that she uses the Syriac liturgy of St. James the brother of the Lord and first bishop of Jerusalem. It is well known that the church of Jerusalem used St. James's Liturgy until the days of the last of the first fifteen Syrian bishops. However, when envoys from Constantinople started assuming its leadership, they replaced, St. James's Liturgy with that of Baselios of Caesaria 379 A.D. and St. John the Chrysostom 407 A.D. translated into Syriac. St. James's Liturgy, nevertheless, remained in the church of Antioch. That is why the Syriac Liturgy is called the Liturgy of Antioch. To this Liturgy are traced all church Liturgies. The church of Antioch, therefore, is proud that her Liturgy is in Syriac, the language made holy by the Lord's divine tongue, and honored by the tongue of His mother Mary and his Apostles. In this language, St. Mathew wrote his Gospel, and in this language evangelical events were proclaimed first in Judea, Syria and neighboring regions.

    Mor Mathai Dayro, Mosul (Iraq)

     

5- THE SERVICE TO THE GOSPEL

    The Syrian Church played an important role in the field of Bible literature. Her scholars dived deep in its vast ocean and uncovered its mysteries. They first translated it to their own Syriac language. Then, they conducted in-depth studies and enriched the libraries in the East and West with countless large volumes of commentaries and interpretations despite catastrophes and misfortunes that struck their homeland, grave losses caused by World War I, and the deliberate destruction of thousands of invaluable manuscripts by her adversaries. After they studied the Bible in their own Syriac language, they exerted endless efforts to translate it into other living languages. Thus, around the year 404 A.D. the Malphan Daniel the Syrian, and Mesrope the Armenian worked together translating it into the Armenian language. Syriac scholars of Arabian origin of Bani Tay, Tanookh and Aqoola (Al Koofa) translated the Gospel into Arabic according to the order of the Syrian Patriarch St. John II in response to the wishes of Omaiyr Ibn Saad Ibn Abi Waqqass Al Ansari, prince of the Jazirah. Yohanna Bar Yawsef, a Syrian priest from Taphliss (southern Russia), translated the Bible into the Persian language in 1221 A.D. In the first decade of the l9th century, Raban Philipos the Syrian from Malabar, India, translated it to Mallealem, the language of Southern India. In the present 20th century, Chorepiscopus Mathai Konat the Syrian from Malabar, translated the whole of the new Testament except the book of Revelation, into this language.

    A good number of manuscripts of this invaluable heritage still survive. They constitute the oldest manuscripts in the world, especially those removed from the treasury of the Syrian Monastery in Egypt and taken to the libraries of Vatican, London, Milan, Berlin, Paris, Oxford, Cambridge and others. Some of these manuscripts were scribed in the fifth and sixth centuries. Furthermore, the oldest version of the holy Gospel is a Syriac manuscript written by the Edessan (of Urhoy i.e Urfa) scribe, Yacub, in Urhoy in the year 411 A.D. It is kept in the British Museum. In this regard, Father Martin enumerated 55 Syriac Gospel manuscripts written in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries, compared to 22 Latin manuscripts and only 10 Greek manuscripts. The Syrians were so ardent in their love to the Bible that they sought perfection in scribing and decorating it. They were meticulous, elegant and skillful in doing so. Their works can only be described as dazzling. They used both calligraphic styles, the Strangelo and the Western Serto. Among the best known manuscripts is the Gospel of Raboola of Urhoy (Edessa or Urfa) completed in 586 A.D.

6- EVANGELIZATION ACTIVITIES

    The Syrians carried the torch of the Gospel first to all the regions of the East. They guided with its light, to Christianity thousands of thousands of peoples and nationalities, i.e., Arabs in their different tribes, Persians, Afghans, Indians and Chinese. They took part in the evangelization of Armenians. In the 6th century, the Syrians guided to the sheepfold of Christ huge crowds of Ethiopians and Nubians through the efforts of Father Julian, and 70-80 thousand people from Asia Minor, Qarya, Phrygia and Lydia through the efforts of Mar Yohanna of Amed, the famous bishop of Ephesus. Syriac was the liturgical language of all the churches of the East despite the diversity of their people's origin. The Armenian church, for example, in addition to the fact that it was using Syriac, in which some Armenian bishops excelled, it wrote its spoken Armenian language in Syriac characters, until Mesrope, one of its scholars working with Malfan Daniel the Syrian, invented the Armenian Alphabet.

7- THE STRUGGLE OF THE SYRIAN CHURCH

    The Syrian church of Antioch endured, as a price for her adherence to her doctrine of faith, unbearable atrocities and sufferings with content and exceptional determination. From the moment of her birth, she was subject to Jewish and then to pagan persecution. This was followed by Nestorian persecution in the 5th century. At the end of the Chalcedonian council that convened in 451 A.D, she faced severe persecution from the Chalcedonian Byzantine Caesars. In addition, she suffered grave atrocities and afflictions by the Crusaders in the 11th and 12th centuries. The Jewish persecution lasted until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Among the martyrs of this Jewish persecution were: St. Stephany the head of Deacons 37 A.D, apostle James the son the Zebadee-one of the 12 disciples and St. James the brother of the Lord and the first bishop of Jerusalem in 62 A.D. Other apostles were imprisoned tortured and insulted. Persecutions were waged against Christians by Pagan Roman Caesars. Among the most severe were 10 persecutions covering the whole Roman Empire remaining in effect throughout the first three centuries, the first two decades of the 4th century and throughout the whole of the 5th century. Among the martyrs of these long lasting persecutions were St. Peter 67 A.D., St. Ignatius the Luminous, the 3rd Patriarch of Antioch, Babola the Patriarch 250 AD, Sts. Sargis and Bakhos 279 A.D., St. George 303 A.D, St. Barbara 303 A.D., St. Ciryacus the infant and his mother Juliette 304 A.D., and the 40 martyrs in Sebastia. Persian kings inflicted on Christians bitter atrocities. The longest and the worst was the persecution instigated by Shabour, from 339-379 A.D. During those 40 years, more than quarter a million Syrians, were massacred.

    This was followed by the persecution instigated by Behram II from 420-438, in which Simon, the son of Sabbagheen the bishop 329 A.D., Bar Baashameen the bishop, Mar Behnam and his sister Sarah and the 40 cavalries, Yahanna son of Najjareen, St. James Muqatta and Mar Ahodemeh were killed. The Persian rulers took advantage of the theological disputes among the Syrians and started a persecution campaigns against the Orthodox Syrians supported by Nestorian Syrians and Magians. In these campaigns hundreds of Bishops and priests and thousands of Syrian lay people were massacred, including the Catholicos Babaweih 480 A.D. Because of their rejection of the faith defined by the council of Chalcedony, the Syrians were the victims of a long and agonizing persecution instigated against them by Chalcedonians. This persecution lasted more than 200 years, from 452 A.D. until early seventh century A.D. when Arab Moslems conquered Syrian land with the help and cooperation of Syrians. The Byzantine persecution against the Syrians, thus came to an end with the end of Byzantine hegemony over Syrian land. During this long persecution, thousands of bishops, monks, priests and lay believers fell martyrs. As of the year 512 A.D. when St. Severus the Great was installed as Patriarch of Antioch, the Chalcedonian persecution became fiercer. In that period, great men of struggle and makers of history rose to defend the true faith. They were known in Christian circles by their strong faith, righteousness and being thoroughly versed in Theology. They were: St. Simon of Arshem 450 A.D., Mar Phelloxenos of Mabug 523, Mar Severus of Antioch 538, Mar Yacub Baradeus 578, and Theodora, the Syrian Queen .

8- MONASTICISM AND MONASTERIES

Mor Gabriel Monastery, Mardin, Turkey - Founded in 359 AD

    The Syrian Church laid great emphasis on Monasticism. Since early Christianity, she founded hundreds of Monasteries in which thousands of men and women exercised righteousness, virginity, abstinence, virtuousness, silence, voluntary poverty, fasting and prayers. They excelled in all branches of learning including Arts and Sciences. They engaged in good works, leadership and eduction. The best sign of eminence of Monasticism in the Syrian church is its wide spreading throughout the Syrian land. In the 5th century, there were 300 monasteries in the mountain of Urhoy (Edessa) alone, housing 90,000 monks. In St. Mathew's monastery east of Mosul, there were 12,000 monks. In the next century, the number of monks in Mar Basos Monastery near Homs, Syria reached 6,300. One hundred and thirty five heads of monasteries from southern Syria signed the document of faith. It is well established that the number of Syrian monks and nuns in their golden age reached 600,000. Among the most famous Syrian monks and hermits were: St. Mathew the hermit, Mar Yacub of Nisibin, Mar Barsoum and St. Simon the Stylite.

    Misfortunes, however, and painful historical events have inflicted destructions and heavy losses to these monasteries. Some have completely disappeared. Some are deserted and survive only in ruins, and some others survive only in history books. The Syrian Catholics have seized some unlawfully with the help of the French, e.g., the monastery of Mar Behnam in Mousul, Iraq, St. Julian Monastery in Qaryateyn, near-Homs, and the monastery of St. Moses Habashi in Nabik, Syria. The surviving inhabited monasteries of today are: St. Mark's -monastery in Jerusalem, which is beyond any doubt, the greatest monastery in Christendom. It was the house of Mary the mother of John (Yohanna) who was called "Mark", and who is mentioned in the book of Acts of Apostles. In this house, most of the sacraments of Christianity were completed and its most important events took place. The Lord ate the Passover meal with His disciples, and washed their feet. He entrusted them the mystery of His body and blood. In this house He appeared to them after His resurrection. In it, the apostles kept praying, breaking the bread, chose Mathias, received the Holy Spirit and consecrated it a church in the name of Mary the mother of God. In it, the first council in Christendom was convened in the year 51 A.D. These facts are supported by a precious Syriac estrangelo inscription from the 5th and 6th centuries uncovered in 1940 during renovation works. Thus, this Monterey is the very first church in Christendom . Therefore, the Syrian Orthodox Church is proud to possess such a unique Christian historical monument. - Mar Gabriel's Monastery (the Monastery of Qartmeen). This is the principal Monastery in Tur'Abdeen. It was founded in 359 A.D.   The Monastery of Zaafaran or St. Hananyo's Monastery - Located 6 km southeast of Mardin, turkey, it is the most famous Monastery in Mesopotamia. It became the seat of the Holy See of Antioch as of the 12th century until the third decade of the 2Oth century.

    Monastery of Mor Hananyo (Kurkumo Dayro)

     

    This Dayro also known as KURKUMO DAYRO in Syriac and Deir ez-Za`faran  in Arabic meaning the "Saffron Monastery", so named for the yellowish rock from which it is built. Founded in 493 AD, it was, from 1160 until 1932 the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch

9- HOLY RELICS

    The Syrian Orthodox Church has in her possession some Holy relics in memory of which she conducts splendid ceremonies. Remarkable processions are held inside as well as outside churches in these celebrations. This include the belt of our Lady the virgin kept in our church in Homs, Syria and the relics of St. Thomas the Apostle in St. Thomas church in Mosul, Iraq.

    Soonoro of the Mother of God
     kept here in the Syrian Orthodox Church at Homs

    {Source: Sharjah Church web site}

     

    Relics of Apostle Thomas is kept
      here in the St.Thomas Church at Mosul

10- SCHOLARSHIP AND EDUCATION

    Syriac culture is a glittering facet of the civilization of the East, and a true measure of the dimensions of intellectual activities of the Syrians. It is , further, a clear indicator of the role of the Syrian Aramean nation in pushing forward the vehicle of civilization. The Syrians engaged in Theology, Music, Philosophy, Medicine, Linguistics, History, Astronomy etc. They found numerous excellent schools and colleges that left distinct prints in the history of culture. This church produced from its schools an army of genius thinkers and intellectuals who became so well known that the Arabs had them teachers and instructor for themselves.

    They sought their proficiency in translating the works of Greek scholars into Arabic, in addition to their own brilliant Syriac works. The works translated and authored by them became a rich source of learning for Arab scholars and philosopher in the generations to follow and, through them, to the western world. A quick glance at kindy's philosophical treaties, for example, would suffice to provide irrefutable evidence as to what technical terms had the first Arab philosopher borrowed from Syriac sources. Furthermore, Arabs adopted many Syriac melodies, tunes and poetry measures, particularly those invented by Bar Daysan, Mar Ephraim, Mar Balay and Mar Yacub of Sarug. Furthermore, we find in the works of some brilliant Syrian scholars some theories that Westerners hailed to when put forward by their scholars. Among them are the theory of Herder that " man is a small world".

    This theory was dealt with by Mar Ahodemeh the famous Syrian Catholicos and Martyr of the 6th century in his book entitled "man is a small world". Also, Galileo's ideas in Astronomy described in the book entitled "cause of all causes" written by a Syrian bishop from Urhoy (Edessa). Among the most famous Syrian schools were : 1. The school of Urhoy which was a pilgrimage place for students of classic Syriac language. In this school taught St. Ephraim. It lived 126 years. 2. School of Nisibin: survived for more than 250 years and, 3. School of Qen-Neshreen on the banks of Euphrates river, which lived 350 years (530-915 A.D). Here are some of the great Syrian scholars from both clergy and laity: Bar Daysan of Urhoy 222, Aphrahat 346, St. Ephraim the Syrian 373, Marootha of Miafarqin 431, Raboola of Urhoy 435, Phillixenos of Mabug 523, Mar Balay 550, Mar Ahodemeh 575, Severus of Antioch 538, Zakaria the Rhetor, Touma of Herqel 627, Severus Saboukht 667, Yacub of Urhoy 708, Antoun of Tekrit 850, Dionysius of Tel mahr 845, Iyawannes of Dara 860, Mar Moshe Bar Keefa 903, Yacub Bar Salibi 1171, Yacub of Bartella 1241, Michael the Great 1199, Bar Hebreaus 1286, Behnam of Hadal 1454, Ephraim I of Mosul 1957, Yacub III of Bartella, 1980, Boulos Behnam 1969.

11- DIVISIONS IN THE SYRIAN CHIURCH

    In the first four centuries A.D, there prevailed among the four Christian Churches i.e.. the Syrian Church of Antioch, the Latin Church of Rome, the Coptic Church of Alexandria and the Byzantine Church of Constantinople, cordial relations and one faith, the faith of the universal church, despite the emergence of some teachings foreign to the evangelical truth. These teachings included those of Simon the conjuror, Kyrinthos, Kirdon, Marcion, Hermogenos, Bar Daysan, Titianos, Mani, Arius, Macedonius, and Ewnomius. These heretics were confronted by the apostles and fathers of the church and pontiffs of Antioch, Alexandria and Rome.

    Their false teachings were rejected, and later disaDoeared with no traces left. In early 5th century, a certain Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestor, came up with a new teaching that contradicted the faith of the holy Universal Church. He claimed that "there are two natures and two persons in Christ, therefore, He is two Christs, one is son of God, and the other is son of man; and that Mary did not give birth to an incarnate God, but to a pure human who is Jesus Christ, on whom, the word of God dwelled later. This teaching of Nestor was accepted by some Syrians in areas under Persian rule, and in some parts in Syria, Palestine and Cyprus. They split from the Syrian church of Antioch and established themselves a center of leadership in Madaen, Iraq, and then moved it, later on, to Baghdad in 762 A.D. Until recently, their church was known by the name "the Syrian church of the East", or the "Syrian Nestorian Church". However, they changed their name in the turn of the 2Oth century and called themselves "the Assyrian church". From this Church branched off the Chaldean Catholics in 1553 A.D.

    Their Patriarch took the name " Patriarch of Babylon 1713 A.D. Lately, they called themselves the "Assyrian - Chaldean Catholic church". When the council of Chalcedony ended in 451 A.D. the four major Christian churches split into two groups: the first embraced the Syrian Church of Antioch and the Coptic church of Egypt which believed in one nature in Christ after the union of the two natures, i.e.; the non-Chalceonians. The second group embraced the Latin Church of Rome and the Byzantine Church of Constantinople, who believed in two natures in Jesus Christ even after the union of the two natures, i.e, the Chalcedonian faith. A group of Antiochian Syrians split from the mother Church and followed the Byzantine Chalcedonians.

    Their Orthodox Syrian brethren called them in the second half of the 5th century in their Syriac mother tongue Malkoye, i.e., Melkites which means the followers of the king, as they abandoned the faith of their Syrian ancestors and adopted the faith of the Byzantine king Marcion. They also called them "Roum" after the Eastern Roman State which had adopted the Chalcedonian faith as the official faith of the state. They further called them Greeks, as inhabitants of Constantinopole, the capital of the Byzantine Empire spoke the Greek language. The name Melkite however, prevailed. Today they are called "Greek Orthodox". It is this Church from which the Maronites branched off in the seventh century due to a dispute about the one will and the two wills of Christ.

    The Maronite church remained independent until the 12th century when she joined the Roman Catholic Church and started calling its Patriarch "Patriarch of Antioch". From the Greek Orthodox church branched off the Greek Catholics. Another painful schism took place in the body of the Syrian Orthodox church of Antioch in the middle of 17th century when the Syrian Catholics split from the mother church and joined Rome through the destructive efforts of the Kapouchian monks and with the help of the French consul of Aleppo. Thus, the Syrian Church today embraces seven separate Churches:

    1- The Syrian Orthodox Church, the mother church.

    2- The Syrian Church of the East (The Nestorian or the Assyrian Church, as the new name stands).

    3- The Syrian Chaldean Church (The Assyrian Chaldean Catholic Church, according to the new name).

    4- The Syrian Maronite Church

    5- The Syrian Catholic Church

    6- The Greek Orthodox Church of Antiochian Origin (in the Arab Countries) or the Melkite Syrians

    7- The Greek Catholic Church (The Syrian Melkite Catholic Church).

    The Liturgy of all these Churches was the Syrian Liturgy of Antioch, and the Liturgical language was one: The Syriac Aramaic language. The first five churches still use Syriac language in their rituals. The Syrian Orthodox, the Syrian Catholics and the Maronites use the Western Syriac dialect of Urhoy (Edessa), while the Assyrian and Chaldean Churches use the Eastern Syriac dialect. The difference between the two dialects is only in pronunciation. The other two churches i.e., the Greek Orthodox and the Greek Catholics, kept using the Liturgy of Antioch for a long time. The Syriac language survived in these two Churches until the 17th century. However, as of the 10th century, they had already replaced their Antiochian Liturgy with the Byzantine Liturgy after they translated it into Syriac.

12- RELATIONSHIP WlTH OTHER CHURCHES

    The Syrian Orthodox Church keeps cordial relations with her sister churches in faith, i.e., the Coptic, the Armenian and the Ethiopian churches. These relations grew stronger since the time of His Holiness the Late Patriarch Mar Ignatius Yakoob III. The relationship is also strong and cordial with the Greek Orthodox Church. As to Catholic Churches, after a long break in relations that lasted 1600 years: from the year 451 A.D, when the council of Chalcedony convened, and until the 20th century, the relations were restored on good grounds through the joint efforts of His Holiness Patriarch Yacub III and His Holiness Pope Paul VI. The relationship was further strengthened when a joint communiqué was issued by His Holiness Patriarch Zakay I and His Holiness Pope John Paul II. This communiqué is looked at as being an important achievement in the road to Christian unity. Friendly relations have also developed between the Syrian Church and the Protestant Churches, when the Syrian Church joined World Council of Churches in 1960 through the efforts of the Late Patriarch Yakoob III. Her representative in the Council today is His Eminence Archbishop Mar Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim, Metropolitan of Allepo. The Syrian Church today is an active member in the ecumenical circles. She is an important member in the Middle East Council of Churches, and participates in ecumenical Theologic dialogues on an official and private basis.

13-THE SYRIANS AND THE ARABS

    The relationship between the Syrians and Arabs started with the conquest of Syrian lands by Arab Moslems. The relationship grew stronger in the days of Khalifa Omar Ibn AL-Khattab known as "Farouq". Farouq is a Syriac word. It means "Saviour" or "Liberator". The Syrians gave the Khalifa this name because he saved them from Byzantine oppression. Arab conquest to Syrian land would not have been accomplished without the help of native Syrians. The relations between Syrians and Arabs reached their highest point in Abbasite era, as is known. The relationship was built on ethnic grounds. Syrians and Arabs are two Semite peoples. They had in the distant past a common origin. Their languages, Syriac and Arabic, are sisters. Mustafa Shahabi, an Arab scholar says: " Syrians have had cordial relations with Arabs in the course of history.

    These relations fluctuated, being quite strong at times and weaker at others, depending on who the ruler was, and prevalence of ignorance, but they were never severed. There were among the Syrians from earlier times, great scholars who mastered Arabic, wrote books in this language, and translated celebrated works. Also, there were Arabs who became Christians and followed the Syrian faith, particularly before Islam. They so intimately mingled with them that they were considered of them. Arabic language in our present days needs people who master both Arabic and Syriac, so that they can show what glorious Syrian marks are left on Arabic language, and what valuable services to this language the Syrians rendered in various Islamic ages".

    The famous historian Philip Hitti wrote "The credit for Arab's general awakening and their intellectual renaissance in Baghdad at the Abbasite period goes to Syrians. That renaissance which became and still is the pride of the ancient Islamic period". William Wright, a western scholar says: "the Syrians carried the Greek light of thinking to Arabs, and later it was transferred to Europe in the mediaeval times". Linguistically, the Arabs came in contact with Syrians since the Jahiliya times, i.e, before Islam. the contact became stronger after Islamic conquest of Syrian lands. Many Arabs knew Syriac. We find Mohammed urging his followers to learn Syriac. In a book called "the Pen and the Inkwell" written by Mohammed Ibn Omar Al Madaini, we find Mohammed asking Zeid Ibn Thabet: "Do you know Syriac?". No, says Zeid. "Learn it" Mohammed orders him. Zeid leaned Syriac in 17 days

    Arabic language borrowed so heavily from Syriac dictionaries became full of Syriac words. Arabs also borrowed the Indian numbers as well as Calligraphy, especially the Koufi style from Syrians. Arabic grammar was influenced by Syriac grammar to a large extent. Aba Al Aswad Al-Du'ali (688 A.D.), who is considered the founder of Arabic grammar, went to Koufa, and there he learned classic Syriac, and contacted Syriac scholars using their help in creating Arabic grammar. He depended heavily on Syriac grammar and grammarians following the same order of organization, classification and rules as those of Syriac language. Most importantly, he borrowed the dot system in distinguishing the words and short vowels which the great Syriac scholar Mar Yacub of Urhoy had already invented them. In the realm of intellect, some Arab philosophers, such as Ibn Sina, learned wisdom and acquired knowledge from Greek origins via Syrian sources. Kindy wrote in one of his theses: "They (the Syrians) were to us a way and means to a lot of knowledge. Without them, these pioneer authentic works would not have been made available to us". Another Arab scholar writes: "We can say that it was the Syrians who first taught Moslems philosophy . It is them who translated to us, secondly; therefore, Moslems were influenced by the philosophy of the Syrians".

14- THE PRESENT STATUS

    The children of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch are spread, today, all over the world. They exist in significant numbers in the countries of the Middle East, (Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, and the Gulf States), Turkey, Europe (mainly in Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands), North and South America, Australia and India. The church has about three million followers, half of which are in India In all these regions, the Syrian Orthodox people enjoy a respectful status, and occupy good positions, for they adhere to their faith, and Christian virtues. they are examples of good, loyal, and sincere citizens. They are hard workers enjoying high social standers. A western researcher and historian wrote: "It is not difficult for divine providence to make the roots of these people take hold deep into the ground once again, so that they produce abundant fruit; for they have been liberated from the hegemony of foreign doctrine and foreign power as well as from injustice, atrocities and severe persecutions that they endured for a long time. At present, with all their weakness, they represent ancient churches that were at one time blooming all over the land. The head of the church today is His Holiness Mar Ignatius Zakay I Iywas. His title is "Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, and the Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church". He is the heir of St. Peter's throne. There are 28 Archdioceses in the church today eight of which are in India, and the rest is scattered over the countries where Syrians exist.

    St.Peter's & St.Paul's Patriarchal Cathedral in Ma`arat Sayyidnaya, Damascus

 

15- CONCLUSION

    This is a true, probably incomplete, picture of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Church of the East of noble origin. The Church of complete spiritual personality as to faith, doctrine, liturgy, service and evangelization. The Church whose body has been so torn apart by divisions and schisms that she has had many names and directions. Perhaps with prayer and dialogue her wounds can be treated and her scattered parts can be brought together so that communion in faith can be restored, excommunications can be removed and replaced by blessings, its unity can be fulfilled as it was in the dawn of Christianity according to the spirit of the Gospel where the Lord says " So that all become one".

 

History of The Catholic Church What is the Orthodox Church
The Syrian Orthodox Church
Western Rite Orthodox
Catholic Church and Rites
The Great Schism
St. Photios the Great
Pope Leo III and the Filioque
Church Terminology
The Name Orthodox
The Nicene Creed
Orthodoxy & Roman Catholism
Orthodoxy & Roman Dialogue
Orthodox Teaching
Orthodox Doctrine
Orthodox Prayers
Principle of Orthodox Faith
Four Marks of the Church
Apparitions

ORTHODOX LIFE
Fasting in the Orthodox Church
Holy Communion
Confession
Jesus Prayer
Prayer
Sign of the Cross
Rules of Pius Life
The Holy Trinity
Meaning of Christ's Cross
Why do we confess?
Preparation for Confession
History of Rosary
The Blessed Virgin Mary
How to Pray the Rosary
ICONS

   
Syriac-Greek Antiochian Orthodox Catholic Church in Africa