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Christianity / Orientations /
Syrian Orthodox Church



Syrian Orthodox Christmas mass inside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, January 6, 2011.
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Syrian Orthodox Christmas mass inside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, January 6, 2011. Photo: Beautiful Faces of Palestine.

Syrian Orthodox by country
Last column: % Syrian Orthodox of the population
Egypt 1,000 0.1%
Iraq 12,000 0.1%
Jordan 50,000 0.7%
Lebanon 2,000 0.1%
Syria 600,000 0.4%
Turkey 5,000 <0.1%
Total *) 670,000 0.16%
Other countries 2,400,000

*) Calculated for the total population of North Africa and the Middle East, approx. 460,000,000.

Mor Sarbel Syrian Orthodox church, Mardin, Turkey.
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Mor Sarbel Syrian Orthodox church, Mardin, Turkey. Photo: Senol Demir.

St. Jacob monastery. Al-Qara, Syria.
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St. Jacob monastery. Al-Qara, Syria. Photo: Hovic.

Inside the 1,500 year old church at the Syrian Orthodox monastery of Mor Gabriel. Midyat, Turkey.
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Inside the 1,500 year old church at the Syrian Orthodox monastery of Mor Gabriel. Midyat, Turkey. Photo: Charles Roffey.

St. Mary's Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) Church. Cherai Valiyapalli, India.
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St. Mary's Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) Church. Cherai Valiyapalli, India. Photo: Liji Linaraj.

Independent Christian church of the Middle East, also known as Jacobite Church.
The Syrian Orthodox Church (see article on the term 'Orthodox') uses the Antiochene liturgy, and performs it in Syriac, which is a language close to Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.
According to their own traditions, their church was established by the Apostle Peter already in 37 CE (this is recorded in the Acts 11:26). The church traces its first leaders back to Peter. Until today's leader Ignatius Zakka 1 Iwas, they count 122 real patriarchs (and 14 ones elected by wrong religious bodies), with Peter as the first.
The Antiochene church was central in formulating early Christian doctrines, through its active role in the first 3 ecumenical councils (between 325 and 431).

History
Around 40-50 CE: One of the first Jesus-Jewish (early Christianity was not yet defined as distinct from Judaism) congregations outside Israel is formed in Antioch, possibly by the Apostle Peter. Missionary activities start in the region, directed mainly at the non-Jewish population. Even if Antioch was the seat of the bishopric, Edessa (500 km east) soon got the largest congregation, and is often considered the cradle of Syriac Christianity.
325: The bishopric of Antioch is recognized as one of the Patriarchates in Christianity at the First Council of Nicaea.
451: With the divisions of the Christian world after the Council of Chalcedon, the Syrian church joined the Sees of Antioch and Alexandria. Hence the ties between Rome and Antioch were cut for good.
6th century: The present church is organized by Jacob Baradaeus in cooperation with Empress Theodara. The background for this was that many Christians supported the Monophysite idea that Jesus had only one nature, not 2 (divine and human), as the other large group in the region, the Nestorians believed.
1663: The Syrian Church splits, and one group becomes affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, and accepts the pope in Rome as the highest authority. This is known as Syrian Catholic Church.
1895: About 25,000 Syrian Orthodox are killed by Muslims in East Turkey.
1915: About 1/3 of all Syriac Christians, around 90,000, are killed by Turkish Muslim nationalists.
1910's: Most of the Syrian Orthodox living in Turkey leave the country, in protection of their own safety.
1930: The Syrian Orthodox Church of Kerala, India, splits from its main church in Syria, and joins the Roman Catholic Church as The Malankarese Catholic Church.
1933: The Patriarch moves his headquarters to Homs.
1959: The Patriarch moves his headquarters to Damascus.




By Tore Kjeilen