Jacobite Church (jăk´əbīt´), officially Syrian Orthodox Church, Christian church of Syria, Iraq, and India, recognizing the Syrian Orthodox patriarch of Antioch as its spiritual head, regarded by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as heretical. It was founded (6th cent.) as a Monophysite church in Syria by Jacob Baradaeus, greatly helped by Empress Theodora. It is thus analogous in position to the Coptic Church, the Monophysite church of Egypt (see Copts). For many centuries the Jacobites were under Muslim dominion. Most Jacobites live in Iraq, while their patriarch resides at Damascus. They resemble other Eastern Christians in custom; their rite is the Antiochene or West Syrian; the liturgical language is Syriac.
Since the 17th cent. there has been constant contact with Rome; as a result there is a community in communion with the pope having practices and rite in common with the Jacobites. These Syrian Catholics number about as many as the Jacobites; their head, another patriarch of Antioch, lives at Beirut. They have a separate church organization from the Melchites, Maronites, and Chaldaean Catholics, which are other communities of Syria and Iraq in communion with Rome.
In SW India there are Christian churches of Malabar Jacobites; this group came into existence in the 17th cent., when many Syrian Malabar Christians left the Roman communion and established relations with the Jacobite patriarch. They now use the Antiochene rite, with some differences. They are divided into disputing jurisdictional churches, including the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, which isindependent of the Jacobite patriarch, as well as several churches of Reformed or Independent Jacobites. In the 20th cent. a large number of Malabar Jacobites entered into communion with the pope, retaining their liturgy and practices. These Syro-Malankara Catholics are ecclesiastically separate from both the Syrian Catholics, whose rite they share, and from the Syro-Malabar Catholics (Chaldaean rite), who represent the Malabar Christians who did not leave the Roman communion when the Malabar Jacobites did.
See D. Attwater, The Christian Churches of the East (1947–48).