The Syrian liturgical rite is basically the ancient liturgical rite of the Antiochene Church of the 4th century. Greek was the liturgical language used especially in the Hellenized cities, but gradually it was changed to the vernacular Syriac. Today, Arabic is universally used, as the ancient Syriac tongue has fallen into general disuse. The two churches using the Syrian Liturgy today are the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Syrian Catholic Church.
Characteristics. There are a number of variable Anaphoras (Eucharistic prayers) in the ancient liturgical books. Historically there were 64 such anaphoras, but only a few are used, of which the Divine Liturgy of St. James is commonly used. According to the Liturgy of St. James, after the priest prays for the grace to celebrate worthily, he lights the candles and begins the prothesis, or ceremony of preparing the bread and wine. He then vests and returns to make a more solemn offering. Then he begins the Divine Liturgy proper, having rudimentary parts in common with the byzantine liturgy: the Trisagion, the scripture readings, usually from the Epistles of St. Paul, and the Gospels. A solemn entrance with the gifts (the "Great Entrance") is made, followed by an elaborate incense ritual, and climaxed by the recitation of the Sedhro, a long prayer in prose or verse begging forgiveness of sins. After the Creed is recited, the priest incenses the whole church and the people, washes his hands, and the Anaphora begins with the concelebrants' giving the kiss of peace by touching one another's hands. A prayer of inclination is followed by a long prayer of thanksgiving (the preface). After the words of consecration are solemnly chanted aloud by the priest and answered with an Amen by the people, the priest addresses the Anamnesis, not to God the Father (as is done in the Greek Liturgy of St. James) but to the Son. The Epiclesis is accomplished by the priest's fluttering his hands three times over the gifts and calling down the Holy Spirit upon them. The Anaphora concludes with the Great Intercession composed of six prayers commemorating the living, the dead, and the saints in heaven. The Communion is prefaced by the Lord's Prayer, a prayer of inclination, and the Elevation. A ritual characteristic of the Syrian Liturgy is the complicated but meaningful Fraction of the Body of Christ under the species of bread. The priest receives Communion with a spoon under both species. The faithful receive by means of a spoon or by intinction, i.e., the priest dips into the chalice a piece of consecrated bread held in his fingers and drops it into the mouth of the communicant. The Liturgy, like that of the Byzantine Liturgy, ends quickly with the prayer of thanksgiving and dismissal.
Church building. The church building is usually divided into three parts: the far east end containing the altar, the sanctuary; the middle section (catastroma ), the choir; and finally, the nave. The altar is usually of wood or stone, quite similar to the altar of the West, about 6 feet long and 1½ feet wide. A baldachino surmounts the altar and a curtain hangs down from the baldachino in front of it. The top (tablitho ) of the altar is of wood or stone with an inscription; this is consecrated with holy chrism by the bishop and is covered by embroidered cloths. There are also two side altars, used in the preparation of the prothesis and in vesting. The nave has sections for men toward the front; women are relegated to galleries or to the rear. Bells are not usually used because of Muslim prohibition; hence the pounding on wooden boards (the Byzantine semandron ) is still used to summon the people to the Liturgy.
Vessels, vestments, and books. These are quite similar to those used in the Byzantine Liturgy: the paten, the chalice, the star, the spoon, the sponge (to cleanse the chalice), the veils (one for the paten, another for the chalice, and a larger one to cover both the paten and the chalice), the censer, and the ripidia (fans fixed on a staff with bells attached). The deaconess is a small finger-bowl of metal into which the wine and water are poured and mixed before being poured into the chalice; it is later used by the priest to wash his hands whenever he is about to touch the Holy Gifts. Cymbals are used at the Sanctus, Consecration, Epiclesis, Elevation, and blessing before the Communion of the laity. The altar bread is round and thick, made of leavened flour with salt added. It is supposed to be freshly baked for each day.
In the sanctuary the priest usually wears a special type of slipper called m’sone. Over the alb he wears the uroro, or large stole that fits around his neck and falls down in front almost to the ground. The girdle holds the stole and alb in place. Long, narrow cuffs hold in the broad sleeves of the priest's cassock. The masnaphtho is a hood of the same material as the outer garment worn by bishops and prelates such as the chorepiscopi. The phaino is like the Greek phelonion but divided up the front, looking more like a Latin cope with no hood. A small cross wrapped in silk is held in the right hand by bishops and used in giving blessings.
Syrians employ many books in celebrating the Liturgy. The first is the Anafoura, which contains the different Anaphoras or Canons. The Evanghelion contains the four Gospels arranged for liturgical reading, and the Epistles are found in the Egartho dachlihe (Epistles of the Apostles). The server follows the Liturgy by means of a small prayer book called the Ktobo.
Bibliography: r. janin, Les Églises Orientales et les Rites Orientaux (Paris 1955) 363–392. a. a. king, The Rites of Eastern Christendom, 2 v. (London 1950) 61–210. d. attwater, The Christian Churches of the East, 2 v. (rev. ed. Milwaukee, Wis. 1961–62) 1:147–157; 2:204–210. a. hÄnggi and i. pahl, Prex Eucharistica (Freibourg 1968).
[g. a. maloney/eds.]