East Syrian Liturgy
EAST SYRIAN LITURGY
The liturgical tradition that evolved from the usages of Edessa, the ancient center of the Syriac-speaking Christian Church. It is the liturgical tradition of the assyr-ian church of the east and the chaldean catholic church. In addition, the syro-malabar church in India and in diaspora traces its liturgy directly back to the East Syrian rite. The variety of nomenclature for the churches of the East Syrian or Assyrian Church of the East tradition merits a preliminary comment. As a result of a complex ecclesial climate at the time of the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), the ancient Oriental church was branded "Nestorian," an inaccurate designation that derived from and persisted because of theological misconceptions and regional prejudice (see nestorianism). When some factions of the Church of the East united with Rome in the 15th century, the uniates were designated the Chaldean Church or the Chaldean Catholic Church. The Church of the East now designates itself the Assyrian Church of the East or Church of the East, while the uniate Church prefers the title Chaldean Catholic Church. In November 1994 the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church signed a "Common Christological Declaration," ending centuries of discord and paving the way for fuller unity between the two churches that preserve a common liturgical and spiritual patrimony. Members of the Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church are spread throughout the world, with greatest numbers in Iraq, southern Turkey, Iran, and most recently the United States (especially Illinois, Michigan, and California), France, and Australia. This entry will trace the historical development and particularities of the rite, outline the structure of its Eucharistic liturgy, and give brief comment on the daily office, liturgical cycle, and other liturgical celebrations.
Origins of the East Syrian Liturgical Rite. The strongly biblical East Syrian rite developed in the Persian Empire and is also influenced by the culture of Mesopotamia. Debate surrounds the origins of Christianity in the Mesopotamia and Persia, a region torn by turbulent political battles. The Roman Empire expanded its boundaries to the east, acquiring Syria, which became an imperial province in 27 b.c. Further campaigns extended the boundaries to the Euphrates River, which marked the boundary with the Parthian Empire. There were frequent invasions and regressions through the 2d century. Orshoene, with its capital Edessa, became a client kingdom of Rome c. a.d. 166. Rome took over Mesopotamia and made it a province, seized Nisibis, and went south to Babylon and Seleucia. The roads that the Roman armies traveled were also the trade routes that linked Antioch in the west with Iran and India in the east. It is likely that Christianity came early on via these trade routes, and they facilitated the Church of the East's missionary activity that extended to India and even to China along the silk route. In the early 3d century, Ardahshir I of the Persian Sassanian dynasty conquered the Parthians and reigned as king from 226 to 241, when he was succeeded by his son Shapur I (241–272). The Sassanid dynasty would reign for 500 more years. This development led to a certain marginalization of the Church of the East from the Greek-and Latin-speaking Great Church of the Mediterranean basin.
A thorough and critical history of the East Syrian liturgy is still wanting. Scholars have generally traced two lines of influence on the development of the early Syriac tradition in general, which were then extended to the East Syrian liturgy in particular. The first line of thinking posits a substantial influence of Jewish liturgical traditions on early Syrian Christianity. The second traces the origins of the Syriac-speaking churches to Antioch, a strongly hellenized church. Following the common line of thinking, East Syrian liturgy has its roots in the liturgical tradition of Antioch influenced by Jewish liturgical usages.
In the late 20th century this thesis was challenged by scholars. Following William Macomber, the ordinary assumption that the East Syrian liturgy is a branch of the Antiochene liturgy is false. Rather, careful study of the Eucharistic and baptismal liturgies suggests that the East Syrian liturgy is sui generis. He proposes that around 400, there were three major liturgical centers: Antioch, Jerusalem, and Edessa. While the Antiochene rite was followed by the Greek-speaking region and the Jerusalem rite in Palestine, the Syriac-speaking Christians to the East followed the rite of Edessa. How uniform this rite was, however, is sheer speculation, since the documentary evidence is scarce. The synod held in Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410 intended to organize the Church of the East following a period of persecution. It called for the rite used by the bishops of the major center of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (near Babylon) and Maypriqaṭ (to the north at the source of the Tigris) to replace local variants. Macomber judges that the rite in question is that of Edessa, which came to prevail throughout the region, but there is little empirical evidence to support his assumption. The upheaval after the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon led to further developments. The rise of monophysitism in Edessa resulted in the move of the followers of Theodore of Mopsuestia, subsequently known as "Nestorians" because of Theodore's student, to Nisibis where Edessene usage continued in Persia until the Arab invasions in the 7th century forced restructuring.
Few sources survive for tracing the elements and characteristics of the so-called antique Edessene rite. Extant witnesses allow a few generalizations about this rite. First, the early Syriac-speaking Christian communities of the region had a distinctive euchological pattern. The accounts of missionary Eucharist and baptism in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas and Acts of John are taken by scholars as witnesses for emerging liturgical practice and coalescing oral tradition in the late 3d century. These accounts suggest a developing form of a strongly epicletic and eschatological euchology. To this day, the euchology is also strongly doxological, focused on giving praise and glory to God.
A distinctive euchological pattern also appears in the oldest extant anaphora, the anaphora of Addai and Mari, the core of which dates to the early 3d century and is still used by the Church of the East today. Unlike Antiochene anaphoras whose subgenres are ordered anamnesissupper narrative-epiclesis-intercession, Addai and Mari places the epiclesis as the last element, leading into the doxology. It is a fairly undeveloped epiclesis, compared to the more lengthy epicleses of the Acts. The anaphora had a Sanctus, and most likely its original form lacked a supper narrative, a tradition preserved by the Assyrian Church of the East. The anaphora has been judged to be an original Syriac composition and has certain affinities to Jewish prayer forms.
The second observation about the formative period of the East Syrian liturgy concerns the development of the liturgy of the word. As the house-church and missionary celebrations gave way to larger-scale public celebrations, the East Syrian Christians built churches—the oldest of which date from the 4th century—whose apses were filled with an altar, rather than the seats for clergy that are found in the rest of the East and West. In the middle of the nave is a large walled-in platform known as the bêmâ that contains a throne used for the gospel book and cross and seats for the bishop and clergy and that was the center for the liturgy of the word. Scholars debate the possible influence of the Jewish synagogue on the Christian bêmâ.
With regard to what Scripture was read at the bêmâ, Anton Baumstark argues that the earliest Syriac lectionary reflects the continuation of a synagogal system that was coming to be replaced by new Christian material drawn from a variety of sources of different provenance. Before the 7th century, several lectionary systems coexisted. One witness, dubbed the early Syriac lectionary (MS London, British Library, Additional 14528), shows an exuberance for Old Testament lections. In the 7th century, the liturgical reform of Ishôcyahb III led to a standardization of the lectionary system and fixed the number of reading to four for the East Syrian Church: two Old Testament (one law, one prophets) and two New Testament (one epistle and one Gospel). The revised lectionary reflects the influence of the Jerusalem system and the confluence of cathedral and monastic systems. In addition to psalmody, the singing of madrāshê (narrative songs) sôgyātâ (dialogue poems) and perhaps mêmrê (metrical homilies) complemented the proclamation of Scripture.
The third important and distinctive aspect of the East Syrian rite is its baptismal liturgy. To this day, the baptismal liturgy is dominated by the imagery and theology of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the imagery of divine adoption, messianic configuration, rebirth, and transformation by the Holy Spirit. The original shape of the East Syrian rite is a prebaptismal anointing followed by water bath and Eucharist. In contrast to the Greek rites, the prebaptismal anointing is strongly pneumatic and messianic rather than exorcisitic or apotropaic. The East Syrian rite eventually adopted a postbaptismal chrismation under influence of the West. The early theologies of Eucharist, baptism, and anointing are given classic poetic expression in the hymns of Ephrem (d. 373). Further significant influence on the developing East Syrian liturgy comes from the School of Nisibis and the work of Narsai (d.502). In addition to his commentary on the holy mysteries, Narsai's literary legacy includes a number of liturgical compositions.
Structuration (6th–7th Centuries): Reform of Ishô- c yahb III. In the aftermath of the doctrinal controversies and ecclesiastical division in the 5th century, the diversity and variety of local usages gradually give way to more consolidation and structuring in the 6th century. The following account draws on the work of A. Baumstark, P. Youssif, W. Macomber, S. Jammo, and J. Mateos. Patriarch Abâ I (540–552) played an important role in the introduction of new elements to the East Syrian rite. Abâ I traveled widely before becoming patriarch in 540 and introduced liturgical souvenirs in the form of the Byzantine Trisagion and the "Angel of Peace" litany. He is also reputed to have composed many mêmrê, tûrgāmê, and antiphonal qānônê (psalmody and refrains). According to headings of later manuscripts, he also introduced two new anaphoras to the liturgy, honorifically attrributed to Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius, respectively. The 6th century also marked the end of the catechumenate and its associated rituals. Crucial information on the period comes from the commentary of Gabriel Qaṭrayâ (615).
A powerful influence on liturgical development following the Arab conquest and collapse of the Persian Empire comes from Ishôcyahb III (580–659) at the upper monastery of Mar Gabriel in Mosul. He is credited with an extensive liturgical standardization and reform that involved the liturgical books and the calendar. Ishôcyahb III redacted a liturgical book of continuing importance, the ḥûdrâ ("cycle" or "course"). The ḥûdrâ contains all of the propers texts for the office and Eucharist for the Sundays and feasts of the year, except some more recent feasts. It conformed much of the usage to the liturgy of Mar Gabriel, also known as the Upper Monastery, on the bank of the Tigris River near Mosul. Though late in the manuscript tradition, a number of private prayers of the priest-celebrant, called kûshāconpê, also came to infiltrate the liturgy, including the anaphora.
Further textual reform by Ishôcyahb III fixed the number of anaphoras at three (Addai and Mari, Theodore, and Nestorius) and assigned when they would be used. He is reputed to have drawn up the ordo or euchologion called the ṭaksâ. As he compiled the rites of baptism, pardon, ordination, and consecration of a church/altar, he may well have revised them. Ishôcyahb III is also credited with celebrated liturgical refrains and madrāshê. Finally, he established norms for the liturgy of the hours.
Information about subsequent interpolations and ritual changes in the liturgy comes from liturgical commentaries. The 7th-century commentary of Gabriel Bar Lipāh Qaṭrāyâ (sections relevant to the Eucharist are in Jammo in Latin translation) describes a liturgy much the same as the modern. His relative Abraham Bar Lipāh Qaṭrāyâ produced basically the same commentary in question-and-answer form, though he occasionally offers his own interpretations (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium 72, SS 29). The most detailed commentary describes the liturgy of a bishop probably in a city-church because of the elaborate ceremony. The author is not identified and so is known conventionally as the anonymous commentary (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium 64 and 72); it took on particular weight in the tradition of liturgical commentary in the East Syrian Church. The terminus a quo of this commentary is 780, but its terminus ad quem is uncertain. It is generally dated to the 9th or 10th century.
Composition and Codification. The 10th to 13th centuries mark the end of effervescent composition and the filling out of the monastic offices. Patriarch Elias III (d. 1190), also known as Abu Ḥalim, composed a number of prayers collected in the eponymous liturgical book Abu Ḥalim. George Wardâ crafted poetic refrains, compiled into the eponymous liturgical book, the wardâ (literally, "the rose") along with similar composition by other contemporaries. Baumstark dated it from the 13th century. The gazâ (treasure) also dates from the 13th century and fills out what is missing in the ḥûdrâ for night vigils and later other feasts of the Lord not observed on Sunday and some commemorations of the saints.
After this period of composition and codification of liturgical texts, the East Syrian liturgy underwent further developments as a result of unification with Rome, Latinization, and western missionary influence. Two rival patriarchates fostered two distinct styles of performance. Back-and-forth shifts to unity with Rome affected the liturgical life of the Church of the East. W. Macomber has explored these developments. First, the uniates simplified the ritual of their liturgy, while the original patriarchate lines kept more elaborate ritual actions known as the Alqosh usage. The liturgical texts of the two churches, though, remained the same, apart from some minor variants. Nevertheless, the usage of Alqosh eventually supplanted the simplified liturgy of the first uniate patriarchate. The uniate liturgy underwent further Latinizations when the uniate patriarch was established in Diyarbakir. Patriarch Joseph I's successor also introduced several elements from the Maronite liturgy.
In the following two centuries, the Chaldean Catholic patriarchate of Diyarbakir and the nonuniate patriarchate of Alqosh did attempt liturgical unification, but their rivalry impeded its success. With Abdishoc V (1894–1899) a serious reform began, but the liturgy he submitted drew opposition from Diyarbakir because it set out the usage of Alqosh. Under Emmanuel II Thomas (1900–1947) a compromise was reached that essentially retained the rite of Alqosh. Throughout this period, the Assyrian Church of the East suffered from repeated massacres and forced emigration.
A major development for the standardization of the liturgy came with arrival of missionaries in the 18th through early 20th century. Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Russian Orthodox took great interest in the Church of the East, building schools, welfare centers, and hospitals as well as trying to reclaim the Nestorians. The Lazarist and Anglican missionaries to the East also imported a few Westernisms in the Alqosh liturgy. It was the efforts of these missionaries, however, that led to the printing and publishing of the East Syrian liturgical texts. For the first time in its history, major manuscripts gave way to printed and bound books patterned after the Western breviary and missal.
By the late 20th century, there were nine editions of the missal that, despite the standardization of the printing press, still vary one from the other. Among the missals, the edition of J. Kelaytâ (The Liturgy of the Church of the East [Mosul, 1928]) has been considered the most representative of the manuscript missal traditions. This 'missal' (really a ṭaksâ ) contains the ordinary of the Eucharistic liturgy and several other rites. The propers are found in the ḥûdrâ or its supplement. This edition was reissued in 1959 by Archbishop Darmo. It was published again in 1971 by the Chaldeans who cleared away remaining Latinisms and set Alqosh rubrics as part of liturgical renewal inspired by Vatican II. With regard to the ḥûdrâ, the Chaldean (Catholic) version reflects the desire of the editors to avoid expressions that could be construed as Nestorian. The Church of the East ḥûdrâ has been edited and published by T. Darmo.
Structure of the Current Eucharistic Liturgy. The celebration of the holy mysteries (rāzê qadishê ) in the current East Syrian rite opens with an office of praise that includes the Lord's Prayer with a refrain that emphasizes God's holiness, psalmody, presidential prayers, the proper anthem of the rails, procession to the bêmâ, incensation, the lakûmarâ (To you, O Lord) hymn unique to the East Syrian rite, and veneration of the cross. At the bêmâ the trisagion is intoned and a presidential collect invokes God as glorious and immortal.
The liturgy of the word includes two Old Testament readings, a verse of psalmody, an exhortation, the epistle reading, imposition of incense, gospel procession, the praise verse and alleluia, Gospel, an optional homily, and the diaconal litanic prayers known as the karôzûtâ.
The liturgy of the Eucharist opens with prostration of the ministers and dismissal of the noncommunicants. The transfer of the gifts and procession to the altar are accompanied by the anthem of the mysteries. When the gifts are deposed, the creed with particular variations is intoned. After preparatory prayers of access, the peace is exchanged and the anphora begins after diaconal proclamation. The anaphora itself is interspersed with private prayers of the priest celebrant. Penitential prayers of the priest celebrant follow the conclusion of the anaphora, followed by an incensation and elevation of the elements. The fraction and consignation follow, with a diaconal proclamation, prayer of absolution, and the Lord's prayer. The call to communion is followed by the versicle "Awesome are you," adoring God. The veil is opened and the elements presented to the people. In the Assyrian Church of the East, the clergy take communion after the people; even the clergy do not take communion themselves but receive communion from another minister. Communion is under both forms while the anthem of the bêmâ is sung. The praise, teshbôḥtâ, follows. Concluding prayers and the blessing end the liturgy.
Daily Prayer. The office has been studied in detail by J. Mateos and R. Taft. The liturgy of the hours of the East Syrian rite has retained an essentially cathedral, or popular, character, with monastic influence noted in the lesser hours celebrated only during Great Fast. In the 7th century at the Synod of Darin the laity were enjoined to come to morning and evening prayer in the local church rather than a monastery or at home. The office also reflect the historical developments traced in the periods above. Several types of vigils, known as lelyâ are celebrated depending on the feast day. Morning prayer, ṣaprâ, includes fixed morning psalmody, and on festal days incense, the hymn of light, and the hymn known as the Gloria in the Roman West. Evening prayer, ramshâ, has had the ninth hour office attached to it over time, but its core reflects the fixed vesperal psalmody, litanies, and a stational procession. The daily and festal office is integral to unfolding of the liturgical cycle and a primary expression of the the Church of the East's rich theology.
Liturgical Cycle. In conjunction with the arrangement of the liturgical material, Ishôcyahb III is also reputed to have fixed the liturgical cycle. The East Syrian liturgical cycle is designated shabo c e, which means "seven," derived from the common way Mesopotamian and West Asian cultures marked time in 50-day periods of seven weeks plus a day. The seasons are as follows: Annunciation (4 weeks), Epiphany (7 weeks), Fast (7 weeks), Resurrection (7 weeks), Apostles (7 weeks), Summer (7 weeks), Elias (7 weeks), Moses (7 weeks), and Dedication (4 weeks), which has an eschatological color. Due to the variable date of Pasch and Epiphany, however, the seasons are often shortened. The Season of Moses is rarely more than four weeks, and often just one Sunday. Summer is markedly penitential.
Other Liturgical Celebrations. The East Syrian rites' unique characteristics are also apparent in its other liturgical celebrations. Its initiation liturgy is noted above. The marriage liturgy has preserved a number of usages, including common drinking of a mixture of ash from a martyr or saint's shrine and wine, blessing of the bridal robes, crowning before the lections, rich hymnody, and the making of the bed chamber. The henanâ, a mixture of oil, water, and dust or ash from a saint or martyr's shrine, is given to the sick; unction of the sick has fallen into disuse. Holy Order focuses on the laying on of hands with epicletic prayer, and there are different burial rites for clergy and laity. Penance, though in disuse, retains a public character; in most cases a Rite of Pardon (taksâ dhûsayâ ) is celebrated in preparation for communion. The Chaldeans, however, adopted and adapted Latin rites for many of the sacramental celebrations.
Bibliography: An extensive bibliography through 1990 is available in p. yousif, ed. Classified Bibliography on the East Syrian Liturgy/La bibliographie classifiée de la liturgie syrienne orientale (Rome 1990). s. brock, "The 'Nestorian' Church: A Lamentable Misnomer," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 78 (1996) 23–35. a. baumstark, Nichtevangelische syrische Perikopenordnungen der ersten Jahrtausends (Munster 1921); Geschichte der syrischen Literatur (Bonn 1968). t. darmo, ed. Ktābâ dqdām wdbātar wdḥûdrâ wdkashkôl wdgazâ wqālâ dc ûdrānê c am ktâbâ dmazmôrê, 3 v. (Trichur 1960–61). a. gelston, The Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari (Oxford 1992). s. griffith, "Spirit in the Bread; Fire in the Wine: The Eucharist as 'Living Medicine' in the Thought of Ephraem the Syrian," Modern Theology 15 (1999) 225–246. s. y.h. jammo, La Structure de la Messe Chaldéene du Début jusqu'à l'Anaphore. Étude historique, OCA 207 (Rome 1979). w. f. macomber, "A Theory on the Origins of the Syrian, Maronite and Chaldean Rites," OCP 39 (1973) 235–242; "A History of the Chaldean Mass," Worship 51 (1977) 107–120. j. mateos, Lelya-Ṣapra. Les Offices chaldéens de la nuit et du matin, 2d ed. OCA 156 (Rome 1972). e. renhart, "Encore une Fois: Le Bēmā des Églises de la Syrie du Nord"; Parole de l'Orient 20 (1995) 85–94. g. a. m. rouwhorst, "Jewish Liturgical Traditions in Early Syriac Christianity," Vigiliae Christianae 51 (1997) 77–93. p. yousif, "Appunti sulla preghiera liturgica del rito caldeo e malabarese" (Pontificio Istituto Orientale, Rome 1983, photocopy); "The Divine Liturgy According to the Rite of the Assyro-Chaldean Church," in The Eucharistic Liturgy in the Christian East, ed. j. madey (Kerala and Paderborn 1982) 175–237; "Le Déroulement de la messe chaldéene," in Eucharistie: Célébrations, rites, piétés, BELS 79 (Rome 1995); L'Eucharistie chez saint Éphrem de Nisibe, OCA 224 (Rome 1984). g. winkler, "Zur frühchristlichen Tauftradition in Syrien und Armenien unter Einbezug der Taufe Jesu." Ostkirchliche Studien 27 (1978) 154–172; "Weitere Beobachtungen zur frühen Epiklese (den Doxologie und dem Sanctus). Über die Bedeutung der Apokryphen für die Einforschung der Entwicklung der Riten," Oriens Christianus 80 (1996) 177–200. r. taft, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West: The Origins of the Divine Office and Its Meaning for Today (Collegeville, Minn.1986).
[r. e. mccarron]
"East Syrian Liturgy." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/east-syrian-liturgy
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