Title THE SYRIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF ANTHIOCH (PART TWO)
BY REV. FR. DR. JOSEPH TARZI
8- MONASTICISM AND MONASTERIES
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 Syraic strangelo 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 Tour Abdeen. It was founded in 359 A.D. - The Monastery of Zaafaran or St. Hanania's Monastery. 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.
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.
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 Constantinopole, 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 Constantinopole, 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 Constantinopole, 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 Yacub III. The relationship is also strong and cordial with the Greek OrthodoxChurch. 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 communique was issued by His Holiness Patriarch Zakay I and His Holiness Pope John Paul II. This communique 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 Yacub 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 Iwas. His title is "Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, and the Supreme Head of the universal Syrian Orthodox Church in the whole world". 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.
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".