Syriac Orthodox (Church at Antioch)

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Syriac Orthodox - Church at Antioch

Founded by the Apostle Peter at Antioch in 37 A.D. – Mentioned in Acts 11:26

The Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient Christian Churches tracing its roots to the Church of Antioch. The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). The remnants of this very early church are still in Antakya (the modern name of Antioch), Turkey. St. Euodius and St. Ignatius Noorono followed Peter as overseers of the church in Antioch and in the writings of Ignatius we find the evolution of the ecclesiastical order of bishops – of which, the bishophric of Antioch was recognized in the Council of Nicea (AD 325) as one of the Patriarchates of Christendom establishing Antioch as one of three important centres of authority in the early church along with Alexandria and Rome.

The Apostle Thomas, is also believed to have spread the Gospel in the regions north east of Antioch, of Edessa (Urhoy) and Nisibis and further to upper northern Mesopotamian plains between Rivers Tigris and Euphrates. It is believed that Apostle Thomas went further east arriving in what is today India in AD 52.

The Church of Antioch played a significant role in the early history of Christianity. It played a prominent role in the first three Synods held at Nicea (325) , Constantinople (381), and Ephesus (431), shaping the formulation and early interpretation of Christian doctrines. In AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon and its Christological position resulted in a schism that divided the faithful under the Apostolic See of Antioch into two—one today known as the `idto suryoyto treeysath shubho (Syrian or Syriac Orthodox Church) and the other the Eastern Orthodox (or Rum Orthodox) Church of Antioch. The latter had the support of the Byzantinian Emperor Justinian who convened the Council of Chalcedon. The years that followed resulted in a struggle over the Apostolic See, with bishops of both persuasions assuming the position of Patriarch of Antioch. In 518, Patriarch St. Severus was exiled from Antioch.

Another center of the Syriac Orthodox emerged in former Persian territory, that of the so-called Easterners (Syr. Madnehoyo). The Syriac Orthodox community there was partly a result of the Persian abduction of the Syrian population during the wars with Byzantium and forced settlement on Persian territory and partly of Christians in Persia who reacted against political imposition of the doctrines of the Church of the East.

The history of the Syriac Orthodox Church is characterized by adversity. Byzantinian oppression in the sixth and seventh centuries was followed by the atrocities of the Crusaders in the 11th and 12th centuries, then decimation at the hands of the Mongolians lead by Tamerlane (1336-1405) in about 1400, and severe restrictions under the Ottoman Sultanate. The growth of nationalism in the waning years of the Ottoman Sultanate lead to the massacre of about 25,000 in what is today South East Turkey in 1895-96. An even greater calamity occurred in 1915, etched in the memory of the Syriac Orthodox community as the Sayfo (Year of the Sword), wiping out 90314 people (including 154 priests) in 13350 families in 346 villages representing about a third of the Syriac Orthodox population in the area (according to the records compiled by Patriarch Aphrem I).

Many of the historical accounts recorded in English have been written by authors affiliated with the Catholic Church and Church of England. While many of these works provide a great deal of information accessible to the English readers, denominational bias is evident in these works.

Eastern Orthodox denominations – the Oriental Orthodox churches broke off in the earliest of schisms in Church history. Some were Nestorians, others were “monophysites” (a complex understanding of Christology unfairly declared heretical). This family still has a representation of denominations dating back to the third century – Coptic Christians in Egypt (heavily persecuted by Muslims), Church of India (established by the Apostle Thomas), Armenian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (possibly dating as far back as the Biblical encounter between the Apostle Philip and the influential Ethiopian eunich in Acts 8)

References:

  • Brock, Sebastian and David G.K. Taylor (ed.s), The Hidden Pearl: The Syrian Orthodox Church and Its Aramaic Heritage. (Rome: Trans World Film Italia, 2001).
  • Patriarch Ignatius Aphram I Barsoum, The History of Syriac Literature and Sciences. tr. Matti Mousa. (Pueblo, CO: Passeggiata Press, 2000).
  • Mor Clemis E. Kaplan, The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch: A Brief Introduction. (Unpublished manuscript, 1996).
  • Witowski, Witold, The Syriac Chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre. (Uppsala: Studia Semitica Upsaliensia, 1987).

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