Part I: Early History
The early 2nd-century bishop, ignatius of anti och, spoke of the "Church of Syria," indicating that from the beginning Christianity had quickly spread through this region. Early tradition connected the founding of the See of Antioch with Peter; and Saints Paul and Barnabas were sent on the mission to the Gentiles from Antioch. It appears that Christianity spread from Syria to Edessa and to Asia Minor.
Conquered by Pompey in 64 b.c., the territory (which included Palestine) was made a Roman province; and Septimius Severus divided it into two provinces: Coelesyria or Syria maior in the north with a temporary capital at Laodicea, and Syria Phoenice to the south with Beirut as capital. The city-state of palmyra declared itself independent under Zenobia in 267, but was reconquered by Aurelia (272) and destroyed in 273. Despite the prominence as trade and caravan centers of cities such as Antioch, Damascus, Laodicea, Apamea, Beirut, Edessa, Dura-Europos, and Heliopolis, the land remained an agricultural province under the Romans, and the country people preserved their native tongue and local organizations.
Spread of Christianity. In the cities Christianity was adapted to the Greco-Roman culture and antioch and Damascus became the two chief centers of religious activity and propaganda. There seems to have been a considerable Christianization of the country people as well, and in the 2d century the Jewish tradition of celebrating Easter on the 14 Nisan was still prevalent (quartodecimans). The epitaph of abercius testifies that there were Christian communities between Nisibis and the Euphrates in the 2d century, and bishops from Tyre and Ptolemais attended a synod in Palestine in 190. Antioch, with its outstanding early bishops, including Evodius, Ignatius, Heron, Babylas, Theophilus, and Serapion, took precedence, and in 264 and 268 two councils discussed the teachings of paul of samosata, and finally condemned him for a dissolute life and for his use of the term homoousios in a modalistic sense. The theological school of Antioch was organized under lucian of antioch, to whom the Arians eventually appealed as their teacher, although his doctrines seem to have been developed in reaction to the heretical teaching of Paul of Samosata.
Antioch supplied edessa with its first bishop during the reign of Abgar IX (179–216), but the story of addai and mari is apocryphal. It was from Edessa that Christianity spread into Mesopotamia. At least 22 bishops from Coelesyria attended the Council of nicaea i in 325, including two chorepiscopoi or bishops working in the country regions.
Theological Writers. In the postapostolic age, important writings apparently had their origin in the region of Syria, and presented a Judaic Christianity different from that of Palestine and Asia Minor. They include in all probability: the Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas, didache, the apocryphal Ascension of Isaias and the Apocryphon Joannis, and the Letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, which have points of contact with the Odes of Solomon and the Gospel of Truth. The heretic Menander lived in Syria at the end of the 1st century and spread gnosticism through the West. Here also arose the Gospel of Peter, with the story of Christ's descent into Hades and His elevation over the angels, which became favorite themes in early Syrian theology. The Apocalypse of Peter and the Preaching of Peter, and perhaps the Didascalia, the pseu do-clementine literature, the apostolic constitutions, and the Epistolae ad Virgines seem to be of Syrian origin. After 170, tatian lived in eastern Syria, and shortly later, bardesanes also, who is generally considered to have been a heretic. Syrian theological activity is evident even in the earliest centuries, and a strong influence of the deacons is here apparent.
The greater writers came from the School of anti och, which produced Greek authors such as eustathius of antioch, diodore of tarsus, Saint john chrysostom, theodore of mopsuestia, theodoret of cyr, Polychronius, isidore of pelusium, and nestorius. Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 490–512) was possibly of Syrian origin (see pseudo-dionysius). Three Syrian bishops, acacius of beroea, severian of gabala, and Antiochus of Ptolemais, were bitter opponents of John Chrysostom. The Syrian nemesius, Bishop of Emesa, was an eclectic philosopher of the 5th century, and john of an tioch, a chronicler of the early 7th century, who left historical fragments.
Bishoprics. In addition to Antioch and Damascus, Seleucia Pieria, Emesa, Sidon, Tyre, and Ptolemais were evangelized in postapostolic times; and Hierapolis (Mabbug) under Constantine I became the ecclesiastical metropolis of the provincia Euphratensis. Its bishop, Alexander, defended Nestorius at the Council of ephe sus, and a later bishop, Stephen, was active at the Council of chalcedon. In the 4th century Beroea had an important group of Christians who were converts from paganism, and also some Judeo-Christians. Byblus had a bishopric after the age of Constantine with a flourishing Christianity, and Tripolis also had bishops by the 4th century. The same is true of Beirut, in whose famed law school Saints gregory thaumaturgus and gregory of nazianzus studied. Gerasa, which passed in 106 from the province of Syria to that of Arabia, had a bishop at the Council of Seleucia in 351. Damascus had its bishops at all the great councils before the Arab conquest, and Dura-Europos had a Christian church, erected about 232. Palmyra, the city where Baal was particularly worshiped, became an episcopal see in the Patriarchate of Antioch at an undetermined date. Laodicea is known to have had bishops from the 3d century. It had close contact with Alexandria, whence came its Bishop Eusebius in 260, and his successor Anatolius. Here the heretic Apollinaris became bishop about 360, and here in 481 a synod was held to adjudicate the case of Stephen, Bishop of Antioch. The Patriarchate of Antioch had already been acknowledged in the Council of Nicaea but developed its rights chiefly in the 4th and 5th centuries. It then embraced the churches of the political diocese of Oriens, with about 220 bishoprics.
Monasticism. In the 4th century the monastic life had a rapid spread in the desertlike region near Antioch. Syria and Palestine came immediately after Egypt in the spread of monasticism, and important archaeological remains, including columns of the stylites, testify to the flourishing monastic life here. Saint Hilarion of Gaza popularized the movement, which produced monks and hermits in the first half of the 4th century near Edessa. In Western Syria the mountains near Antioch and the desert of Chalcis (called the Syrian Thebaid) attracted hermits, and both Saint jerome and Saint John Chrysostom spent some time among them.
Syrian Literature. An important national Christian literature developed in Syria during the 4th century, beginning with aphraates. He was followed by Saint ephrem, who headed the school of Edessa. Other Syriac writers are Cyrillonas, Bali, Isaac of Antioch, and rab bula. Heretical writers were Narses, philoxenus of mabbugh, Jacob of Serugh, and stephen bar-sŪdhailĒ. Among historical works the Chronicle of edessa, as well as a martyrology of the 4th century, and the works of Marutas and john of ephesus are of value.
Theological Disputes. In 430, Syrian theologians were generally opposed to the theology of Saint cyril of alexandria due to the differences between the Antiochean school and that from which Cyril sprang. The latter was opposed by Andrew of Samosata and Theodoret of Cyr. Bishop john of antioch and his Syrian suffragans refused to join Cyril at the Council of Ephesus, but both Cyril and John in 433 signed a profession of faith in which nestorianism was condemned.
Syrian Monophysitism. After the Council of Chalcedon the region was divided between those who accepted the Chalcedonian faith and the Monophysites. The Monophysite monk Peter Fuller was enthroned four times and three times deposed as patriarch of Antioch between 463 or 464 and his death in 490, and the orthodox bishop Stephen was murdered here by a mob in 481.
In the countryside monophysitism struck deep roots in the 5th century. One of the most active Monophysite bishops was the Syrian Philoxenus of Mabbugh. Syrian hatred of the Byzantine rule helps to explain the fanatical opposition to the Council of Chalcedon. The Syrian bishops, generally speaking, were too ready to change with every change in the imperial theological opinion, as appeared in their acceptance of the Encyclion of the Byzantine Emperor basiliscus in 475, and their reversal when the great majority signed the henoticon of Zeno a short time later.
Syrian Jacobites. severus of antioch (512–18) taught a modified form of Monophysitism, and adherents of this heresy in Syria were called jacobites, from James (Jacob) Baradai, Bishop of Edessa, who consecrated many bishops and priests to carry on the Monophysite faith despite imperial opposition. Sergius of Antioch was a Monophysite (floruit 540). A good part of the Monophysite population of Syria accepted the monothelite heresy in the 7th century, when hatred for their Greek masters by the indigenous Syrians was marked. Christians who remained faithful to the Byzantine emperors, and in contact with Rome, were called Melkites, or the king's men. The region suffered two earthquakes that in 526 and 528 took about 250,000 lives; and in 540 and 614 Persian invasions helped to alienate the Jacobites further from their Greek masters.
The Melkites were but a weak part of the population when Syria was invaded by the Arabs in 633. The latter took possession of Antioch in 638 and favored the Jacobites against the Melkites. The Melkite patriarchs of Antioch took refuge in Constantinople, and regained their see only in 742, but a number of the Syrians had already defected to Islam, while the remaining Monophysites held stubbornly to their opinions. Syrian Christians seem to have exerted an influence in Mozarabic Spain, where the Ummayad dynasty, based in Damascus, ruled from 755 to 1031.
Bibliography: g. downey, A History of Antioch in Syria from Seleucus to the Arab Conquest (Princeton 1961). h. jedin, Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte, 6 v. (Freiburg 1962–): v.1, k. baus, ed., Von der Urgemeinde zur frühchristlichen Grosskirche, with "Einleitung zur Kirchengeschichte" by h. jedin. j. daniÉlou and h. i. marrou, The First Six Hundred Years, tr. v. cronin, v.1 The Christian Centuries (New York 1964–). a. fliche and v. martin, eds., Histoire de l'église depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours (Paris 1935–) v.1–5. l. duchesne, L'Église au VI e siècle (Paris 1925). r. janin, Les Églises Orientales et les Rites Orientaux (Paris 1955). a. santos hernÁndez, Iglesias de Oriente (Santander 1959).
[j. j. gavigan/eds.]
Part II: Syrian Orthodox Church (Oriental Orthodox)
Also known as the Jacobite Church, after the 6th century bishop Jacob Baradai of the anti-Chalcedonian faction which came to dominate in the Church.
Early History. The Syrian Church was entirely in union with the patriarch of Antioch until 431, when the first break occurred following the Council of Ephesus. The breach affected only a small portion of the population in the Eastern part of patriarchate. Certain bishops who supported nestorius were exiled by order of the Byzantine Emperor or fled the imperial persecutions. They took refuge on the edge of the Roman Empire and Persia, where they were welcomed with open arms by the Sassanids.
Schism after Chalcedon. Of greater importance and scope was the schism that occurred within the Syrian Church in the mid-5th century when the Council of Chalcedon (451) formulated the doctrine of the two natures in Christ and anathematized those who refused to accept this doctrine. The Syrians were not the only ones to separate from the communion with the two Patriarchates of Rome and Constantinople which had upheld the council and sought the full adherence of its christological dogma. Egyptians, Ethiopians, Armenians, and Georgians followed the Syrians in resisting Chalcedon. The Greekspeaking populations in Syria and Egypt, however, remained loyal to the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon. These loyal adherents were concentrated in Alexandria, in Antioch, and in the main cities of the Mediterranean coast in Syria where Greek language and culture had been firmly rooted.
This state of affairs points to the sad reality that the strife between pro-Chalcedonians and anti-Chalcedonians was a struggle between two rival linguistic and cultural traditions rather than between two diametrically opposite theological conceptions. Often, the dispute centered on semantics and accurate translation of dogmatic terminology from ecclesial Greek into the vernacular. The so-called monophysitism of the anti-Chalcedonians actually differed considerably from that attributed to the Byzantine monk eutyches, founder of monophysitism. The Syrians professed almost exactly the faith of Chalcedon, admitting in Christ Jesus "a single nature composed of the divinity and the humanity which remain without admixture and without confusion"; or again: "Christ is perfect God and perfect man."
Between 451 and 518, the Church of Antioch, despite its divisions concerning doctrine, remained united under the patriarch, who was sometimes a Chalcedonian but more often an anti-Chalcedonian. The accession of Emperor Justin I put an end to this confusion. Justin promised Pope Hormisdas that he would restore unity in the East on the basis of the Chalcedonian faith. Accordingly in July 518, the year of his accession to power, he convoked a synod at Constantinople composed of the bishops who resided in the capital and others who were passing through. The synod excommunicated and deposed more than 50 bishops and metropolitans who were anti-Chalcedonians or had monophysite tendencies. The measure was aimed especially at severus, Patriarch of Antioch since 512, a strong adversary of Chalcedon, whose influence had been felt far beyond the limits of his own patriarchate. Anticipating the execution of the imperial ordinance, Severus fled to Egypt.
The majority of the deposed bishops and their faithful adherents considered Severus the true patriarch of Antioch and regarded the Patriarch Paul, installed by Emperor Justin as Severus's successor, as a "Melkite," a collaborationist of imperial diplomacy and a mere politician. The anti-Chalcedonians claimed that Severus had been wrongfully and unjustly condemned and that he was a true Confessor who carried with him the apostolic succession.
The schism was definitive between the pro-and anti-Chalcedonian factions of the Syrian Church. None of the efforts of the Byzantine emperor Justin or his successors to patch up the schism met with any success. Thenceforth there were at the head of the ancient patriarchate of Antioch, two rival patriarchs who kept anathematizing one another. They governed two separate Churches, which although conserving for a time the same traditions, the same discipline, the same liturgy, came into contact only in efforts to tear one another apart. The Syrian Orthodox Church comprised about 75 percent of the population; while the Syrian Melkite Church embraced the Greekspeaking minority, and some isolated Syriac-speaking groups of monks and serfs living around the convent of Saint Maron in Syria Secunda who would later form the Maronite Church.
Arab Domination. The Arab invasion at the beginning of the 7th century, considerably reduced the size of the Syrian Orthodox Church, whose members' faith and piety had been diminished by the Christological controversies. They yielded to the pressure of invasions and bloody persecutions and embraced Islam in great numbers. Moreover, internal dissensions, the personal rivalries between bishops, the often scandalous intrigues, the shameful bargaining for accession to the patriarchal throne, the fact that the throne was simultaneously occupied by two or three patriarchs whose relative legitimacy was an insoluble riddle, all led to the defection of many of the faithful, often of the very best among them.
The periodic persecutions ordered by the Turks and culminating in those of 1916 to 1917 took a daily toll of the faithful of this Church. It was an important Christian body at the beginning of the 13th century when the barbarian hordes from Mongolia swept over Syria, leaving the land in ruins. After the passage of the barbarians, the Syrian Orthodox Church was only a remnant of its former self. The Turkish massacres during and after World War I further decimated a church that was caught in the middle of rival, maurading factions. Many Syrians fled the region, dispersing a close-knit community and diluting its presence in its ancient territoritories.
Historically, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch resided in the ancient patriarchal see of Antioch until 1034. After wandering around the region, displaced by wars and intrigues, the patriarchal see was finally erected at Damascus in 1959. The Syrian Orthodox Patriarch is formally styled: "Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East."
Part III: Syrian Catholic Church (Eastern Catholic)
From the beginning of the 8th century sporadic movements can be detected in the Syrian Orthodox Church toward communion with Rome. In 709 George, Bishop of Myafarqin, made his profession of the Catholic faith. He was followed by Constantine, Bishop of Harran and his successor Leo.
At the beginning of the 11th century, Ignatius, Bishop of Malta; Moses of Hosn Zayed; Isaac of Arqa, secretary of the Patriarch John bar Abdun; and still others, too numerous to mention, also professed the Catholic faith. They were followed in the middle of the 11th century by Peter, Bishop of Aqra, Arun of Segestan (1166), and John of Mardin, called the "Confessor."
In 1237 Patriarch Ignatius Daud (Jacobite) and his Maphrian, John bar Maadani made profession of the Catholic faith; the Patriarch resigned his office and entered the Order of the Friars Preachers in Jerusalem.
In 1340 Benedict XII called for a provincial synod to be held in Cyprus, presided over by Bishop Elias. All the heads of the Christian communities took part without distinction of confession. At the conclusion of this synod, the Syrian Orthodox, Armenian, Georgian, and Assyrian bishops professed the Catholic faith and were followed by the whole of their flocks.
At the Council of florence (1437), the patriarch and many Syrian Orthodox bishops were reconciled with Rome. Among these were Behnam el-Hadly, one of the three patriarchs contending for the See of Antioch, and his emissary to Pope Eugene IV, Abdallah of Edessa.
After the Mongol invasion, the movement for return to unity with Rome gained new momentum. Syrian Catholics became more numerous. Some even claimed to have had, for a short period, a Catholic bishop as leader. Yet no Syrian Catholic hierarchy was constituted until the end of the 18th century. Bishops who came into communion with Rome, even when they had brought some of their faithful with them, could not keep their sees, nor could they remain under the jurisdiction of the Syrian Orthodox patriarch whose camp they had abandoned. Thus they were compelled to place themselves under the jurisdiction of one of the two Catholic hierarchies then in existence in the Near East: the Latin hierarchy in Jerusalem and Palestine, or the Maronite hierarchy on Mount Lebanon. Succeeding generations became Latins or Maronites—mostly the latter—and thus they lost the feeling for their Syrian origins.
Temporary Catholic Patriarchate. Many claim that a Syrian Catholic Church was constituted on the occasion of the accession of Andrew Akhidjan to the Patriarchate of Antioch, in 1662. But a Church sui juris, in order to be truly constituted as such, must have more than a patriarch assisted by one or two bishops; it must enjoy some degree of independence and have some chance of lasting for a reasonable length of time.
Andrew was a knowledgeable young cleric of the Syrian Orthodox Church from Aleppo. He made profession of the Catholic faith to a Carmelite who sent him in 1649 with a letter of recommendation to the Maronite Patriarch Joseph Aquri. Noting his great piety and thirst for knowledge, the Patriarch ordained him and sent him to the Maronite College in Rome, where he remained for three years.
In 1654 Andrew returned to Aleppo and worked zealously for the salvation of souls among the Syrian Orthodox. His zeal came to the attention of François Picquet, the French Consul, who requested the Syrian Orthodox patriarch to confer the episcopacy on his protégé Andrew. The Syrian Orthodox patriarch was evasive and Picquet turned to the Maronite patriarch who, after some hesitation, consecrated Andrew bishop on June 29, 1656. He was given the name Denis and instructed not to interfere among the Maronites of Aleppo.
Fearing the opposition of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Picquet had the Sultan issue an order of investiture to the effect that "Anyone not recognizing Andrew Akhidjan as Bishop will be considered an enemy of the Empire." The Holy See sent the young bishop its official recognition.
On the death of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, the leaders of the Syrian Catholic community of Aleppo thought the ideal moment had come to have their bishop raised to the patriarchal dignity. With the support of M. de Bonté, the French consul, and the intervention of the French ambassador to the Sultan, Mar Denis Akhidjan obtained the order of investiture, recognizing him as the only patriarch of the Syrians. The Holy See again gave its official recognition.
Mar Denis Akhidjan's reign was marked by many tribulations, but many bishops with a considerable portion of their flocks were united with Rome. The patriarch died July 24, 1677.
His successor was the Syrian Orthodox patriarch ’Abdulmassih, who wanted to regain Aleppo although a large number of the Syrians in Aleppo had become Catholic. He pretended union with Rome and anathematized the opponents of Chalcedon. But once safely in power and armed with an order of investiture, he showed himself a zealous partisan of the Jacobite party. The Catholics rejected him and chose as his successor his 37-year-old nephew, Gregory Peter Shahbadine. Five times the young patriarch got an order of investiture from the Sultan and took possession of the cathedral and its dependencies by military force. Five times he was expelled by his uncle or his uncle's successor who got an order of investiture postdating that of Gregory Peter. The Jacobites finally triumphed. Mar Ignatius Peter VI (Shahbadine) and his bishop were first imprisoned and later sent into exile at Adana. The bishop died in the prison of that city, Nov. 20, 1701, on the very day of their arrival; Patriarch Ignatius Peter VI died three months later.
Thus ended the brief period during which the Syrian Church had a Catholic patriarch. The Holy See tried to nominate even a patriarchal vicar to maintain the continuity of the patriarchate, but the court of Constantinople refused to give any nominee the investiture order. Without this official investiture, the Catholic prelates were entirely defenseless before the persecutions of the Jacobites.
The period had been difficult and painful for the Catholics, almost all of whom suffered repeated imprisonments, beatings, arrests, and severe fines to be paid either to the civil authorities or to the patriarch of the moment.
The Establishment of the Syrian Catholic Church. In the ensuing 70 years the Syrian Catholic Church, although deprived of leaders and church buildings, developed considerably, especially at Aleppo and in Syria. The time had come for it at last to take its rightful place, but it had to gain that place in a severe struggle.
On Feb. 23, 1766, the Syrian Orthodox patriarch consecrated the 35-year-old Michael Jarweh, a Catholic at heart, as bishop of Aleppo; the consecration took place at Mardin, the seat of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate since Michael the Great (1167–99). The Aleppan Catholics believed that the new bishop would be able to restore peace between the two rival communities. As a measure of prudence, Mar Michael Jarweh did not make his official profession of faith until Dec. 16, 1774, certain as he was that he and the Catholics would not have to suffer any persecutions as long as the patriarch still harbored any doubts about his private convictions.
Catholic Patriarchs. In July 1780 Patriarch Guewargis III died; the Jacobites convened to the patriarchal see to elect a successor. Under pressure from the leaders of the two assembled communities, Catholics and Jacobites, the bishops unanimously elected Michael Jarweh. The Catholic Jarweh refused to accept. The episcopal college insisted, promising that within a brief period of time all the bishops of the Syrian Orthodox Church would come into union with Rome. Mar Jarweh relented, left his diocese for Mardin, and on Jan. 22, 1782, received patriarchal consecration and enthronization to rule all the Syrians as Ignatius Michael III.
One need only leaf through the biography of Mar Ignatius Michael Jarweh to recognize the inanity of the promises of the bishop electors. Opposition set in almost at once. His reign was one of flights, exiles, imprisonment, and attacks. Twice the Sultan gave a document of investiture to one of Ignatius Michael's opponents, and the opponent hastened to dispossess Mar Michael of his churches, monasteries, and personal goods and chattels.
Finally, Mar Ignatius Michael took refuge in Lebanon among a predominantly Catholic population. He bought a two-room house that became the Patriarchal Seminary of Sharfet, which was to give the Syrian Church many priests and prelates. Mar Ignatius Michael died on Sept. 4, 1800, leaving behind him a young and vital Syrian Church.
The Patriarchate of his successor, Mar Ignatius Michael IV Daher, lasted eight years (1802–10) and was not distinguished. The patriarch resigned for personal reasons. During this brief patriarchate a great number of young Catholics flocked to Sharfet, which had become a spacious monastery; some came to follow the monastic rule and some to train for the diaconate and priesthood. Sharfet acquired a printing press and published liturgical books. The Syrian Church already had bishops governing the most important cities of the Near East—Aleppo, Mosul, Mardin, and Jerusalem—and several patriarchal vicars administering the other Catholic sees.
On Jan. 2, 1811, the college of bishops elected Mar G. Shem’un Zora to the patriarchal see. He accepted unwillingly, his most ardent desire being to live a monastic life. He soon resigned and retired to the monastery of Saint Ephrem in Lebanon.
He was succeeded in February 1820 by G. Peter Jarweh, nephew of the founder of the Syrian hierarchy; he took the name Peter Ignatius VII. He occupied the patriarchal see from 1820 to 1851 and saw the end of the fratricidal struggles between the Syrian Orthodox and Catholics. The Sultan Mahmoud, less venal than his predecessors, was disposed to accord the Syrian Catholics their independence from the Orthodox hierarchy. To obtain this independence, Mar Ignatius Peter VII had to send a bishop to Constantinople to represent him and take the necessary steps to get the decree. While he was looking for the person capable of pursuing the negotiations to a successful conclusion, Mar Antony Semhairy arrived at Sharfet.
Semhairy. Mar Antony Semhairy and Mar ’Issa were both auxiliaries in Mardin of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ibn as-Sayar. In the absence of Ibn as-Sayar, who frequently resided at Diyarbekir, capital of the province, Mar Antony, who had been raised to the rank of maphrian, was discharging the functions of vicar-general. Meanwhile, one Holy Thursday, Mar ’Issa was summoned to assist his patriarch in the ceremony of the consecration of the Holy Chrism and, to his chagrin, noticed that the alleged annual "miracle" of the Holy Chrism, which was supposed to boil over its container during the procession, was a hoax. He would have liked to give vent to his indignation, at least to his colleague and friend, Mar Antony, but did not dare, since both were ardent Syrian Orthodox who considered the Catholics to be heretics.
However, Mar Antony, like a second Paul of Tarsus, was to find his Damascus Road in the archives of the patriarchate. He discovered, duly signed, dated, and sealed with the patriarchal seal, the professions of Catholic faith of four of the patriarchs who had been among the most savage persecutors of the Catholics; one of these professions was that of his own patriarch, Ibn as-Sayar. The discovery profoundly shocked Mar Antony, but he wanted to comprehend entirely before judging and went to Diyarbekir to see the patriarch, whom he entreated to give him a satisfactory explanation. The partiarch admitted frankly that the Syrian Orthodox Church was but a detached branch of the Catholic Church, adding that an open declaration of this would be inopportune.
Mar Antony was staggered to see that the pastors of his Church concealed a fundamental truth of which they were convinced, through fear of losing their rank, privileges, and above all considerable income, and that they were persecuting those whom they knew to be following the true path. He went back to Mardin and told Mar ’Issa in confidence of his conversation with the patriarch. Mar ’Issa in turn told Mar Antony about the hoax he had discovered. Both were determined to return to the Catholic Church but decided to say nothing until they had prepared the faithful of Mardin to follow them. They gave themselves over entirely to this task; and on April 17, 1827, they sought out the Catholic Armenian bishop of Mardin and made their profession of Catholic faith. They were followed by the entire Syrian Orthodox clergy of the city and by more than 150 families. Only two priests refused to follow. A few months later another Syrian Orthodox bishop, Mar Joseph Karrum, joined them in communion with Rome.
Independence. For two years, the two bishops administered the diocese without encountering excessively vigorous persecutions. Then Mar Antony decided to go to Sharfet to confer with Mar Ignatius Peter VII. Mar ’Issa remained in Mardin, where he was subjected to ignominy and physical torture by Patriarch Ibn as-Sayar. The French ambassador to the Sultan had to intervene to deliver him from almost certain death.
Mar Ignatius Peter VII, on being advised of Mar Antony's arrival, rushed to meet him, and informed him of the good dispositions of Sultan Mahmoud. He asked Mar Antony to represent him at the court of Constantinople and not to come back without the imperial decree legitimizing the independence of the Syrian Catholic Church from the Syrian Orthodox Church; Mar Antony was instructed also to bring along a document of investiture for himself as bishop of Mardin. Mar Antony set out at once, and a few months later he obtained the imperial decree in quadruplicate, sending one copy to Aleppo, one to Diyarbekir, the third to Mardin, and the fourth to Mosul, where they were duly registered with the civil authorities.
The Syrian Catholic Church, hierarchically constituted on Jan. 2, 1782, was constituted in civil law in the year 1247 of the Hegira (a.d. 1830); the civil constitution suppressed all authority that the Syrian Orthodox patriarchs might thenceforth claim over the persons and/or goods of the Catholics.
Now that he had nothing more to fear from his rival, Mar Ignatius Peter VII asked the Holy See for permission to transfer the patriarchal see from Sharfet to Aleppo. Permission was given, and he went to Aleppo on Nov. 28, 1830.
The Decree of 1830 opened the way to large-scale reunion of the the Syrian Orthodox Church with Rome. In Damascus, all but about 15 families entered the Roman communion. Their pastor, Mar J. Yaqub Haj Heliani, willingly followed them, and this community still has the archbishopric and the cathedral. The same was true of many other dioceses.
On Oct. 16, 1851, Mar Ignatius Peter VII Jarweh died after a patriarchate that had been most advantageous for the Syrian Catholic Church; he had received into communion with Rome one patriarch and eight bishops, all of whom had previously been Syrian Orthodox.
Growth and Development. The Synod of Syrian Bishops meeting in Sharfet on March 30, 1853, elected to the patriarchal see the man who had been the maphrian of the Jacobite Ibn as-Sayar before becoming the supporter of Mar Ignatius Peter Jarweh; this was Mar Antony Semhairy (1853–64).
Thanks to his skillful negotiations at the court of Constantinople, the Syrian Catholics lived in peace but they lacked churches, schools, priests; the debts they had contracted on all sides to pay the Princely Tribute, the large "gratuities," which had to be paid in order to get anything, were a heavy burden. The new patriarch undertook a tour in Europe, where he was greeted with fervor and sympathy by the peoples and courts. Gifts poured in, and churches and schools were built on a large scale. In his pastoral care for the Catholics, Mar Ignatius Antony did not forget the Syrian Orthodox and started missions that reached out to them.
His admiration for the Roman Church impelled him to some excesses. He wanted to introduce reforms into the very ancient Syrian liturgy to bring it into closer alignment with the liturgy of Rome. The respectful but firm representations of a simple priest, who became a great patriarch, George Shelhot, happily restrained the patriarch.
Mar Ignatius Antony Semhairy was succeeded by Mar Ignatius Philip 'Arkus (1866–74). Almost paralyzed and in frightful pain, he went to Rome with six of his bishops for Vatican Council I and then, feeling himself at the end of his strength, tendered his resignation, which Pius IX refused to accept. His great piety and prudence were needed to keep the peace within his own Church while schisms were erupting in many of the Catholic communities in the Near East: among the Melkites Catholics because of opposition to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar and among the Armenians and Chaldeans Catholics in protest against the encyclical Reversurus.
With the patriarchate of Mar Ignatius George Shelhot (1874–91), the Syrian Catholic Church entered on an era of unprecedented prosperity. Although at Mosul the Syrian Orthodox twice succeeded in plundering the Syrian Catholic churches, Archbishop Behnam Benni managed after a very bitter fight to get justice done and to recover the illustrious monastery of Mar-Behnam (5th century). With the zealous collaboration of one of his priests, Joseph David, he opened many schools, sent young deacons to study in Rome, and encouraged the sciences. His diocese became the most flourishing of the Syrian Catholic Church.
Elsewhere calm reigned, and the Syrian Catholic patriarch Mar Ignatius George Shelhot directed his solicitude toward organizing the Syrian Catholic Church and working assiduously for its growth. Thirteen churches were built in Syria, Cilicia, and Mesopotamia. A monastery was erected in Mardin for the Congregation of Saint Ephrem. A library was opened in Aleppo which collected a great number of ancient manuscripts. The finest work of his patriarchate was without doubt the Synod of Sharfet (1888) for which meticulous preparations were made by Monsignor Joseph David, now Archbishop of Damascus. Its decrees became the charter and canon law of the Syrian Catholic Church.
The liturgical books, carefully prepared and edited for the first time, included the Breviary, the Fanqith, and the Liber Festivus. The liturgical chants were reviewed and standardized.
The successor of Mar Ignatius George Shelhot, Mar Ignatius Behnam Benni (1893–97), initiated his patriarchate by a visit to Rome. He proposed that a synod of the Catholic Oriental patriarchs, presided over by the pope, be held in Rome. Leo XIII greeted this proposal favorably and the synod opened on Oct. 24, 1894. Besides the Oriental patriarchs, five cardinals were present, including the Cardinal Secretary of State, Rampolla, and Cardinal Ludokowsky, Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. The fifth and last session was held on Nov. 8, 1896, and on December 6 the pope promulgated the encyclical Orientalium Dignitas, summarizing the proceedings of this extraordinary Synod.
The patriarchate of the Mar Ignatius Ephrem II Rahmani (1898–1929) is a landmark in the history of the Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch. Despite the many churches already built, he realized that many towns and villages, especially in Upper Mesopotamia, were without adequate facilities, and he undertook appropriate remedies. He was responsible for the church in Jerusalem, the diocese and church of Homs, the church and school in Hama, the Diocese of Mosul, the churches of Diyarbekir, Adana, Zahle, Katana, Yabrud, Sadad, Maskanat, Zeydal, Weyran-Shahr, Deireke, Mansuriet, Kalet-Mara, Kerboran, and two churches in Qaraqosh.
Turkish Massacre. All that had been built up with so much love, patience, and self-sacrifice was suddenly destroyed. Between 1915 and 1917, the Turks massacred in Upper Mesopotamia about 1,500,000 Christians, without distinction of confession: Armenian Oriental Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Assyrians, Chaldean Catholics, and Protestants. Many dioceses were wiped out, the clergy and faithful massacred, the churches pillaged and demolished. The famous city of Edessa had not a single Christian left. Mardin, Diyarbekir, and Nisibin, were scarcely in better state. In the city of Mardin alone, the Syrian lost 96,000, massacred together with their priests and deacons. The Syrian Catholics too were almost depleted. The Catholic bishop, Mar Gabriel Tappouni, was imprisoned.
The Syrian Catholic Patriarch Mar Ignatius Ephrem Rahmani in Beirut learned of these massacres through a note scrawled by the imprisoned bishop: "I am making my 9th week of retreat and am constantly meditating on Matthew 2, 18" (the massacre of the Holy Innocents). When peace returned, Mar Rahmani worked to save what could be saved. He was able to salvage something in the districts of Lebanon and Syria that were now under French mandate, but for the Church in Turkey, all was lost.
Mar Rahmani was a scholar known, respected, and admired by all devotees of Syriac studies in East and West alike. He published an impressive number of works, which are a continuing source of inspiration and are still being translated; he wrote in French, Latin, Syriac, and Arabic. His works include the Testamentum Domini, the four volumes of Studia Syriaca, and The Oriental and Western Liturgies, Studied Separately and Compared.
His successor, Mar Ignatius Gabriel Tappouni, elected by acclamation in 1929, first devoted himself to a judicious reorganization of the dioceses that had devastated by the Turkish massacres, and then endeavored to provide them, as well as the patriarchal see, with what they needed in order to be able to continue the missionary and evangelical work. He has been called the "Cardinal Builder," since vast building campaigns have characterized the whole of his patriarchate. Mention should be made, among others, of the churches and rectories of Beirut, which since the end of World War I has become the official patriarchal seat of the Syrian Catholic Church.
Organization of the Syrian Catholic Church. The patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church is formally styled: "Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians." The patriarchal seat is located in Bierut, Lebanon. All Syrian Catholic Patriarchs always add the name "Ignatius" at their enthronement, recalling the illustrious bishop of the ancient Syrian Church, Saint Ignatius of Antioch.
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