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 churches that comprised what is now the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church before the Great Schism. 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 Syrian Patriarch of Antioch. The church is often referred to as Jacobite 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 Syria. The official name of the church in Syriac is `Idto Suryoyto Trisuth Shuvho, this name has not changed, nor has the name changed in any other language.
The Syriac Orthodox Church is held to be the first church of Christianity established by the Apostle St. Peter.
The foundation of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch goes back to early Apostolic days. This event in the history of Christianity is recorded in the Book of Acts 11:26 . Apostle Peter Himself established his See 37 AD. He is, therefore, rightly considered the founder and first Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch.
The history and name of our Church is also intimately associated with the Arameans or Syrians, the inhabitants of the land of Aram or Syria where Antioch is located. The dialect of the Arameans (Aramaic) became the common language of that area. Still later, just before and after the opening of the Christian era, Aramaic underwent a particularly rich evolution. This evolved new form of Aramaic known as “Syriac”, the language of the amalgamated or unified Syrian People.
The current head of the Syriac Orthodox Church is the Patriarch H.H. Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, who resides in Damascus, the capital of Syria. The Church has about 26 archdioceses and 11 Patriarchal Vicariates.
The church in Malankara, Malankara Jacobite 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 Catholicose of India, currently His Beatitude Baselios Thomas I, ordained by and accountable to the Patriarch of Antioch.
The Syrian orthodox divine liturgy is performed in Syriac.
Both it and the Chalcedonian Antiochian Orthodox Church claim to be the sole legitimate church of Antioch and successor of the Apostle St. Peter. There are also three uniate churces headed by Patriarchs of Antiocha: The Syrian Catholic Church, the Maronites and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. There is also an unrelated (so- called Nestorian) Assyrian Church of the East.
CATHOLICATE OF THE SYRIAN ORTHODOX (JACOBITE) CHURCH OF ANTIOCH AND ALL THE EAST
In the early centuries the Christians in the Persian and the Roman Empires were subject to religious persecutions, so the Church spread its wings without the help of any of the imperial authorities. After the Roman Emperor adorned Christianity in 315, the church in Rome was spared from atrocities, but from then onwards the Persian Kings became much more hostile towards those Christians in Persia as they were considered as agents of the former. It was during this period the office of the Great Metropolitan, which later came to be known as the Catholicate of East, was established in Persia. As the enmity between the empires increased; the leaders of the Church in Persia found it nearly impossible to continue ecclesiastical commune with the universal church. Meanwhile some in the Catholicate of Persia found it more convenient to adopt the Nestorian Christology which was earlier officially dejected by the universal Christian councils for its remarks on the Mother of God; thus they tried to convince the Persian rulers that they distance themselves from the mother Church and the Roman (Byzantine) Empire. By this act, the Christians in Persia who accepted Nestorian Christology could easily win the favour of the Persian rulers while those of non-Nestorian faith suffered severe persecution. As the office of the Catholicate fell into heresy, the Orthodox faithful were wandering in wilderness. The Catholicose of Seleucia meanwhile took over the title ‘Patriarch’, thus trying to be equal in status with the Patriarch of Antioch.
Even though the Church in Persia had officially accepted Nestorius as a Church father, a substantial group of Christians in Mosul, Niniveh and Tigris (Tagrit) continued to keep their loyalty to the old faith. A few decades later the Orthodox wing of the Church in Persia that continued to be under the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch & all the East, got reorganized under St. Ya`qub Burdono and installed St. Ahudemmeh as ‘The Great Metropolitan of the East’, but he too experienced it difficult to discharge his ecclesiastical duties smoothly. However by the 7th century the situation changed for better which finally led to the formation of an office of the ‘Maphrianate of the East’ at Tigrit (Tagrit).
In AD 629, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East elevated St. Marutha (Marooso) as the first MAPHRIYONO OF THE EAST for the rejuvenated Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) Church in Persia. Later the centre of the Maphrianate was shifted to St.Mathew’s Dayro in the city of Mosul in Iraq and continued there till the middle of 19th century. In 1860 the office of Maphrianate was abolished as per the decision of the Syrian Orthodox Church Synod held at Deyrul’alZafran Monastery (Kurkumo Dayro) under Patriarch Ignatius Ya`qub II. The same was re-established in India in 1964 by the Universal Synod held at Kottayam, presided by Patriarch Mor Ignatius Ya`qub III. From the days of the establishment of this Maphrianate in India, the Church started to officially use the title ‘Catholicos of the East’, with his jurisdiction limited to India in the East. In 2002 the office of the Maphrianate was renamed as ‘Catholicose of India’ in accordance with its actual jurisdiction. Present headquarters of this ancient Maphrianate/Catholicate of the Syrian Orthodox Church is at Puthencuriz, Cochin, with Catholicose Mor Baselios Thomas I as the Chief of the Church in India.
In Episcopal dignity the Catholicos rank second to the Patriarch and, as His Holiness’s deputy, presides over the provincial Holy Synod. He and all the clergy of the faithful in India pledge loyalty to the Patriarch of Antioch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, the supreme authority of the Syriac Orthodox Church throughout the world. There are many instances when a Maphrian (Catholicos) was elevated to the position of the patriarch in the Syrian Orthodox Church.