Syriac Orthodox Church
The Syriac Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Oriental Orthodox church based in the Middle East with members spread throughout the world. It is one of the five ecclesiastical bodies that composed the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church before the schism that resulted during the Council of Chalcedon. It is a major inheritor of Syriac Christianity and has Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, as its official language. The church is led by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch.
The church is often referred to as Jacobite (after Jacob Baradaeus) or Monophysite, but these terms are misleading, and not appreciated by the some of the church today. In 2000, a Holy Synod ruled that the name of the church in English should be the "'Syriac Orthodox Church". Before this, it was, and often still is, known as the "Syrian Orthodox Church". The name was changed to disassociate the church from the polity of Syria. The official name of the church in Syriac is ʿIdto Suryoyto Triṣuṯ Šuḇḥo, this name has not changed, nor has the name changed in any other language.
Place in Christianity
The Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the first particular churches of Christianity, established in Antioch by the Apostle St. Peter in 34 AD. The current head of the Syriac Orthodox Church is the Patriarch His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, who resides in Damascus, the capital of Syria. The Church has about 26 archdioceses and 11 patriarchal vicarates. Patriarch Zakka 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.
Patriarchate and other central institutions
The spiritual care of the Church of Antioch was vested in the Bishop of Antioch from the earliest years of Christianity. The first among the Bishops of Antioch was St. Peter who is believed to have established a church at Antioch in AD 33. 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 (AD 325) recognized the bishopric as a Patriarchate along with the bishoprics of Rome, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, bestowing authority for the Church in Antioch and All of the East on the Patriarch. (The Synod of Constantinople in AD 381 recognized the See of Constantinople also as a Patriarchate).
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 AD 498, this Church accepted the spiritual authority of the Patriarch of Antioch.
The Christological controversies that followed the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 resulted in a long struggle for the Patriarchate between those who accepted and those who rejected the Council. In AD 518, Patriarch Mor 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 Touma, in Damascus, capital of Syria; but the Patriarch resides at the Mor Aphrem Monastery in Ma`arat Sayyidnaya located about twenty five kilometers north of Damascus.
St. Aphrem Syrian Orthodox Theological Seminary Patriarch Aphrem I Barsoum (†1957) established St. Aphrem's Clerical School in 1934 in Zahle, 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 His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas and many other of the Church's eminences.
In 1962 Patriarch Yakub III moved it back to Zahle, Lebanon.
In the year 1968 Patriarch Yakub III put up a building for the seminary in 'Atshanneh, Bekfeyah, Lebanon, where it remained until just before 1976 when its doors were closed because of the war clouds breaking over Lebanon.
In the year 1980 His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas was installed as Patriarch and one of the most important matters on His Holiness' mind was the issue of the seminary. The Holy Synod decided that Damascus should be the site of the seminary. His Holiness opened the institute in an old building in Haret al-Zeitoun in Bab Sharqi.
His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas' dream came true in 1996 with the construction of a beautiful new structure which became the location of St. Aphrem's Clerical Seminary. The building was dedicated on the 14th of September, 1996. The new building is located in the municipality of Ma`arat Saidnaya, about twenty five kilometers north of Damascus.
The building has five floors: the first floor (basement) has a kitchen and a large dining hall as well as rooms for services and storage; the second floor (ground floor) contains classrooms for the four years of study at the seminary, the students' library, administrative and reception offices, a lecture hall, a reception hall, a computer room, and two clinics, dental and general; the third floor has rooms for bishops, priests and seminarians. On the fourth floor is a small church named after St. Aphrem the Syrian that hold about 200 people. There is also the patriarchal wing, which included the patriarchal library, a reception hall and special wing for visiting patriarchs. The monks live in small rooms or cells on the fifth floor. The monastery and the church have a number of icons of our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Mary and St. Aphrem. Nuns from the Demyana Coptic Orthodox Convent in Egypt painted these icons.
St. Peter and St. Paul's Cathedral and the Crypts for the Patriarchs of Antioch An important tradition in the Syriac Orthodox Church is keeping the crypts of the Antiochean Patriarchs in a special place in the monasteries that served as their seat. Thus, the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul was built to house the crypts of the patriarchs. The area of the church is 250 square meters, and the basement area is 85 square meters, with an area specially designated for the crypts of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch. Entrance to the crypts is possible from inside the church or from the outside. the cathedral was built in the shape of a cross and seats around 800 people. The cathedral contain icons of our Lord Jesus, St. Mary, St. Peter and St. Paul and of the baptism of the Lord Jesus by his servant John the Baptist. The icons are the work of the nuns from the St. Demyana Coptic Orthodox Convent in Egypt. The church has a bell tower with a cross and bells, built at an height of 22 meters. It is worth noting that the Greek Orthodox Synod under the headship of His Grace Archbishop Seraphim gave the monastery three bells as a token of their appreciation for His Holiness Patriarch Zakka I Iwas and the Syriac Orthodox Church.
Church in India
The church in Malankara, Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church 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 is the Catholicos of India, currently His Beatitude Baselios Thomas I, ordained by and accountable to the Patriarch of Antioch in 2002.
The Syriac Orthodox Divine Liturgy in India is done partly in Syriac and partly in Malayalam.