Syrian churches

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Syrian churches. The churches whose traditional liturgical language is Syriac. The Syriac-speaking area in the ancient world included ‘Syria’, but its earliest and most important ecclesiastical centres were N. Mesopotamia (modern SE Turkey and N. Iraq) and Persia. Recently there has been a movement among these Syrian Christians to call themselves ‘Assyrians’ (but see ASSYRIAN CHURCH). All these churches share the heritage of Syriac literature before the 5th cent., e.g. the Peshitta Bible and works of Ephrem. After Chalcedon their traditions gradually diverged.

The Syrian Orthodox Church descends from the Monophysite movement in the patriarchate of Antioch. The name Jacobites is sometimes used in the West. The doctrinal position of the Syrian Orthodox is the same as that of the other Oriental Orthodox churches.

The Syrian Catholic Church is the Uniat body which came into existence from Roman Catholic conversions among the Syrian Orthodox. The hierarchy dates back to 1738. The present seat of the patriarch is Beirut. Their membership in the Middle East is c.80,000, with further churches in N. and S. America.

The Maronite Church, a Catholic body, has had a separate existence from the Syrian Orthodox since the Middle Ages.

The Syro-Malankara Church is the product of a union with Rome among a group of Syrian Orthodox in India. They number c.200,000, with their own metropolitan of Trivandrum.

The Church of the East is the descendant of the ancient Syriac-speaking church of Persia. It is more commonly known as the Nestorian or Assyrian Church; but none of these names is without its drawbacks. Total membership does not exceed c.50,000.

The Syro-Malabar Church is the largest body of Malabar Christians. They have been Catholic since the time of Portuguese rule in India in the 16th cent. Relations with Rome were, however, often troubled until the church obtained its own hierarchy of native bishops in 1923. The liturgy is a slightly revised form of Addai and Mari, now celebrated in the vernacular Malayalam.

The Chaldean Church is the Uniat body deriving from the Church of the East. Its numbers are also probably less than 50,000.

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