A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, January 6, 2014

For Eastern Christmas Eve: From the Syrian Tradition

I have already noted some of the Christian traditions of two of the currently beleaguered Christian communities of the Middle East, the Copts and the churches of Iraq. The Syriac or Syrian Christian tradition is particularly threatened today, and deserve a note on Eastern Christmas Eve.

Syrian Christianity in its varying forms embraces most of the Christians of the present states of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and adjacent parts of Turkey and Iraq. The Syriac form of Aramaic is the usual liturgical language. The historical centers are Jerusalem and Antioch; both were among the Pentarchy of early Christian Patriarchates, with Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople. (Only Rome was in the West. Antioch, modern Antakya in Turkey, was a major center fr the spread of Christianity; St. Peter was the first bishop (preceding his move to Rome), and, according to Acts 11:26, "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch."

Today, here are five Patriarchs of Antioch (the Antiochian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Melkite, Syriac Catholic, and Maronite Catholic. There used to be a Latin Catholic as well but three Catholic Patriarchs of Antioch may have been enough, and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem remains.

Not one of the five Patriarchs of Antioch has his seat in Antioch/Antakya today:
  1. The Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch (or Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch) is in the Eastern or "Greek" Orthodox tradition linked to Constantinople; Patriarch John X Yazigi took his throne in 2012 and has his seat in Damascus.
  2. The Syrian Orthodox (the Church today prefers "Syriac Orthodox" in English) Patriarch of Antioch  represents the  Oriental Orthodox ["Jacobite," "Miaphysite,"  or to other denominations, "Monophysite"] tradition, along with the Copts, Armenians, Ethiopians and Eritreans. Ignatius Zakka Iwas has held the post since 1980; his seat is officially Damascus but he resides in Beirut.
  3. The Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch, the analogue of the Antiochian Orthodox but in union with Rome, is Gregorios III Laham since 2000; he is based in Damascus.
  4. The Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch is the Catholic Uniate analogue of the Syriac Orthodox; he is based in Beirut and since 2009 has been Ignatius Joseph III Younan.
  5. The Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch is of course highly influential in Lebanon; his seat is at Bkerke near Beirut. Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Raï was chosen Patriarch in 2011 and made a cardinal by the Pope in 2012.
From several Syrian traditions: a Syriac Orthodox service in Aleppo  a few years ago (though with "Silent Night" in the processional):

An Antiochian hymn:

A Maronite Hymn Medley:


John T. said...

Does residence in Damascus instead of Antioch have anything to do with the Syrian claim that Antioch is Syrian territory?

Michael Collins Dunn said...

I'd have to check but I think it longprecedes Turkish annexation of the Hatay. Just as the sees of Alexandria are located in Cairo, I think those of Antioch moved to the political center long ago.