Malankara Jacobite

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Frequently Asked Questions


  1. Who are the Syriac Orthodox?

  2. Where are the headquarters of the Church?

  3. What is the language of the Church?

  4. How does the Syriac Orthodox faith differ from other Christian faiths?

  5. Is the Syriac Orthodox Church a monophysite church?

  6. Is the Syriac Orthodox Church also called the Jacobite Church?

  7. Is the Syriac Orthodox Church the only church that traces its origins to the Church of Antioch?

  8. What is the relation between the Syriac Orthodox Church in Antioch and the Syriac Orthodox Church in India?

  9. What is the difference between  Catholicos and Maphriyono (Maphrian) ?

  10. Why can not the "Catholicos" be elected as Patriarch?

  11. Primacy of Saint Peter

  12. Syriac Orthodox clergy names

  13. Is name “Eusebius” acceptable to Syriac Orthodox Church bishops?

  14. Is relaxation and reducing the number of days of fasting in Syriac Orthodox Church acceptable?

  15. The Saints, Relics and their Intercessions

  16. Can Syriac Orthodox Church Permit Cremation?


Who are the Syriac Orthodox?

The Syriac Orthodox are the faithful of one of the oldest apostolic Churches, the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. The Church is  universal in the sense that it transcends differences of nationalities and culture in the true spirit of the Apostle St. Paul’s admonition to the Colossians (3:11) – “there is neither Gentile nor Jew … Barbarian not Scythian.”; its faithful are from a diversity of backgrounds (today, predominantly from the Middle East and India) and spread across the globe. Its origins are in the ancient region of Greater Syria (hence the name) which covers modern Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, but spread all over the East as far as India.  The Church is known as Syriac Orthodox because it has Syriac as its liturgical language.  (The language is only one of the reasons, Please see Patriarch Yacoub III, The Syrian Orthodox  of Antioch, 1985, p 2 and Patriarch Aphrem I, The Syrian Church of Antioch. Its Name and History) 

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Where are the headquarters of the Church?

Antioch on the River Orontes (today Antakya in Turkey) was the city where the earliest Christians fleeing from Palestine after the resurrection of Christ established themselves and it was here that Christians were called by this name (Acts 11:28, 14:28). It is here that St. Peter, the Chief among the Apostles, founded a church in AD 37. Antioch became the seat of a bishopric which administered the early Church in the Syriac speaking Eastern parts of the Roman Empire. At the Synod of Nicea, this bishopric was recognized as one among four Patriarchates with jurisdiction over all the East. The seat of the patriarchate moved from Antioch ca. AD 518, after a period of turbulent history that lead to an unfortunate schism, to various locations in the Near East until it settled in Deyrul-Zafaran monastery in Mardin, Turkey, during the 13th century. After another period of heinous violence during and after World War I, which took the lives of a quarter million faithful, the patriarchate was transferred to Homs, Syria, in 1933, and later to Damascus in 1957.  Since 1996, the Patriarch resides in the Patriarchal monastery in Ma`arat Sayyidnaya, in the outskirts of Damascus, but continues to administer the Church from the Patriarchate in Bab Touma, Damascus

 


What is the language of the Church?

The liturgical language of the church is Syriac, the Edessan dialect of Aramaic - the early Palestinian dialect of which was spoken by Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples. All most all of its liturgy originates from Syriac sources. (The Syriac Church has adopted Greek sources at various times – Patr. Severus for example. It even adopted material from John of Damascus. All Quqalya came from Greek sources) The church, however, allows the faithful to use local languages along with Syriac. Many liturgical works have been translated into Arabic, Malayalam, English and Turkish.


How does the Syriac Orthodox faith differ from other Christian faiths?

The Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 resulted in the schism of Christendom into two groups. The Catholic (Rome) and Greek (Byzantine) Churches accepted the Council, while the Syrian (Antioch) and Coptic (Alexandria) Churches rejected it. The former group adopted the doctrine that Christ is in two natures, human and divine, while the latter adopted the doctrine that Christ has one incarnate nature from two natures. It is worth noting that the drafts of the Council were according to the position of the Syrian and Coptic Churches. The final resolution, however, was according to the doctrine of the Western Churches. The difference lies in one preposition as explained. One word split the Church for centuries and the schism continues to this day.

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Is the Syriac Orthodox Church a monophysite church?

No. The monophysite dogma is an extreme version of the one nature Christological doctrine put forth by Eutyches. It claims that Christ has one nature only and that the divine nature subsumed the human nature with Christ being consubstantial only with God the Father and not with humanity. Adversaries have accused the Syriac Orthodox Church of the monophysite position. However this dogma has always been rejected by the Syriac Orthodox Church. It is unfortunate that this term is still used by some scholars. Prof. Sebastian Brock of Oxford University has suggested using the term miaphysite which more accurately describes the Syriac Orthodox position.

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Is the Syriac Orthodox Church also called the Jacobite Church?

No. This is a name used by the adversaries of the church who attempt to belittle the church by suggesting that the church was founded by St. Jacob Baradaeus. During the sixth century, the Syriac Orthodox Church endured persecution under the Byzantian Empire because it upheld its faith. It was at this time that Jacob Baradeus emerged on the scene. He journeyed all over the East ordaining priests and deacons thus reviving the church from the brink of extinction. Jacob is considered a great Saint of the Syriac Orthodox Church, but not its founder. Hence, the Church rejects the name Jacobite.

 

It should however be noted that Syriac Orthodox Christians in Malankara (India) for circumstantial/historical reasons often refer to themselves as Jacobites. For several centuries Christians in Malankara were referred to by the term Nazarani. After the Portugese imposition of Roman Catholicism and its rejection at Koonan Kurishu in 1599, the Syriac Orthodox Christians came to be known as the Puthenkoor (the new allegiance). The term Jacobite was introduced into Malankara in the nineteenth century by Anglicans. Christians who remained in the mother church following schisms influenced by the Anglicans adopted the term without realizing its negative connotations.

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Is the Syriac Orthodox Church the only church that traces its origins to the Church of Antioch?

No. There are other Patriarchates of Antioch that claim succession to the bishopric of St. Peter at Antioch. Following the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Seat of the Patriarchate was intermittently occupied by adherents of two groups: the one which rejected and the other which accepted the council. By the sixth century, two distinct lines of patriarchs emerged. The Syriac Orthodox line rejected the Greek Orthodox (called Rum Orthodox in the Middle East) who accepted the council.

 

Around the seventh century, followers of St. Maron in Lebanon formed the Maronite Church whose patriarch also took the title, Patriarch of Antioch. This church later became a uniate Roman Catholic church. In the 18th century, a group split from the Rum Orthodox, joined the Roman Catholic Church and formed the Greek Catholic Church (Rum Catholics). Their patriarch also took the title, Patriarch of Antioch. In the second quarter of the same century, a group split from the Syriac Orthodox Church and established the Syrian Catholic Church, which is in communion with Rome.

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What is the relation between the Syriac Orthodox Church in Antioch and the Syriac Orthodox Church in India?

The Church in Malankara (Kerala, India) is an integral part and a Synodal entity in the Syriac Orthodox Church.

 

According to tradition, Christianity in India was established by St. Thomas, who arrived in Malankara (Kerala) from Edessa, the cradle of Syriac Christianity in A.D. 52 and was martyred at Mylapore in Chennai (formerly Madras) in A.D. 72. The Church in Malankara has had close ties with the Church in the Near East ever since. The ties between the Church in Malankara and the Near East were formalized and strengthened, when under the leadership of the merchant Thomas of Cana and 72 families (around 400 odd persons comprising men, women and children led by Bishop Mor Joseph of Edessa) reached Cragananore (Kodungalloor) in A.D. 345 and settled there. The Church in Malankara always accepted the Nicene Synod and the spiritual authority of the Patriarch of Antioch over all the East, even though at certain periods in its history, it accepted the authority of the Catholicate of the Church of the East. Since the seventeenth century, after a tryst with the Portugese who attempted to bring the entire Church in Malankara under the Roman yoke, formal and direct acceptance of the primacy of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch was resumed and this association is enjoyed to this day.

 

 While the spiritual head of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Church is the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, the Church enjoys a considerable degree of autonomy, particularly in its temporal affairs. Since the seventeenth century a succession of bishops known as the Malankara Metropolitans, consecrated by the Patriarch of Antioch or his delegate, administered by the Church. Since 1964, its local head is the Maphriyono / Catholicos.

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What is the difference between  Catholicos and Maphriyono (Maphrian) ?

The term ‘Catholicos’ (Katholikos) is derived from the Greek words ‘Kath-Holikos’, meaning ‘General Primate’ or ‘General Vicar’. Even before the primates of the Church adopted this title, it existed in the Roman Empire where its Government representative who was in charge of a large area was called as ‘Catholicos’. The Government servant, who was in charge of State treasury, too was known in that name. In due course, the secular administrative heads in Persian Empire also adopted this title.    

The Churches (mainly outside the Roman Empire) started to use this term for their chief Bishops much later, probably by 4th or 5th centuries.  Now the primates of the Orthodox Churches in Armenia, Georgia, Iraq and India, use the title ‘Catholicos’.

 

‘Maphriyono’ (Maphrian) is derived from the Syriac word afri, “to make fruitful’, or "one who gives fecundity". This title came to be used exclusively for the head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the East (Persia), after the prelates who occupied the office of the Catholicate since late 5th century adopted Nestorian Christology and separated from the rest of Christendom. From the mid 13th century onwards, a few occupants of the Maphrianate were referred also as ‘Catholicos’, but the title never came into extensive usage. However in the 20th century when this office of the Maphrianate under the Holy See of Antioch was reinstated in India, the chief of the local church assumed the title ‘Catholicos’. It is this title that is being used in India today, while the title ‘Maphriyono’ (Maphrian) has fell out of popular use. To learn more, please visit History of Catholicate of the East

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Why can not the "Catholicos" be elected as Patriarch?

The question on the elevation of the Catholicos to the Patriarchate arises based on the constitution of SOC Article 36, which says:

"The following shall participate in the election of the new Patriarch: His Beatitude the Catholicos, the Metropolitan of the Knanaya Archdiocese, the Metropolitans of the churches of the Antiochian Apostolic See in India, and the Metropolitan of North America of the Malankara Archdiocese. All above shall elect but may not be elected."

This is an article which can be amended at any time depending on the political situations and the decisions of the universal synod under the Patriarch.  However, let us analyze this article in the present context.

The same constitution also says that the (Article 8) "Catholicos is elected only by the Metropolitans under the jurisdiction of the Catholicate See."
 
Patriarch is elected with representation (Universal Episcopal synod) from all over the world, but Catholicos is elected only by bishops under the Catholicate. The Jacobite Syrian Christian Association (electoral body for Catholicos) does not currently entertain electing a bishop who is not part of the Synod under the Catholicate, as the Catholicos. These are well understood and no one from India or from among the Suryoye has questioned it.....

to read more

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Primacy of Saint Peter

The Fathers of the Syriac Orthodox Church tried to give a theological interpretation to the primacy of Saint Peter. They were fully convinced of the unique office of Peter in the primitive Christian community. Ephrem, Aphrahat and Marutha who were supposed to be the best exponents of the early Syriac tradition unequivocally acknowledge the office of Peter.

The Syriac Fathers following the rabbinic tradition call Jesus “Kepha” for they see “rock” in the Old Testament as a messianic Symbol. When Christ gave his own name “Kepha” to Simon he was giving him participation in the person and office of Christ. Christ who is the Kepha and shepherd made Simon the chief shepherd in his place and gave him the very name Kepha and said that on Kepha he would build the Church. Aphrahat shared the common Syriac tradition. For him Kepha is in fact another name of Jesus, and Simon was given the right to share the name. The person who receives somebody else’s name also obtains the rights of the person who bestows the name. Aphrahat makes the stone taken from Jordan a type of Peter. He says Jesus son of Nun set up the stones for a witness in Israel; Jesus our Saviour called Simon Kepha Sarirto and set him as the faithful witness among nations.

Again he says in his commentary on Deuteronomy that Moses brought forth water from “rock” (Kepha) for the people and Jesus sent Simon Kepha to carry his teachings among nations. Our Lord accepted him and made him the foundation of the Church and called him Kepha. When he speaks about transfiguration of Christ he calls him Simon Peter, the foundation of the Church. Ephrem also shared the same view. The Armenian version of De Virginitate records that Peter the Rock shunned honour Who was the head of the Apostles. In a mimro of Efrem found in Holy Week Liturgy points to the importance of Peter. Both Aphrahat and Ephrem represent the authentic tradition of the Syrian Church. The different orders of liturgies used for sanctification of Church building, marriage, ordination etc. reveal that the primacy of Peter is a part of living faith of the Church.

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Syriac Orthodox orders and their English forms of salutation?

1.      Singer (Syr. Mzamrono)

2.      Reader (Syr. Qoruyo)

3.      Sub Deacon (Syr. from Gr. Apodiakno)

4.      Full Deacon (Syr. mshamshono): Reverend Deacon

5.      Priest (Syr. kohno): Reverend Father (the proper Syriac title is Qashisho - Presbyter; informally Abun - Father is also used.)

6.      Monk—novitiate (Syr. sharwoyo)

7.      Monk—not ordained as priest (Syr. Dayroyo): Rev. Dayroyo

8.      Monk Priest (Syr. Rabban, literally 'Great Master' since in the past a Rabban was the principal of exegetical schools associated with monasteries): Very Rev. Rabban (Informally, 'Dayroyo', lit. dweller of a monastery, is also used.)

9.      Corepiscopus (Syr. abbrev. Khoury): Very Rev. Corepiscopos

10.  Bishop (Syr. Hasyo):

§         His Grace Abun Mor ... (preferred in India);

§         His Eminence Abun Mor ... (preferred in the Middle East & Diaspora) -

§          The Syriac form of address is Abun M`alyo - venerable father.  Mor - My Lord. Abun - Our Father  

11.  Catholicos - His Beatitude Abun Mor

12.  Patriarch - His Holiness Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius ... (The Syriac form of address is Kumro Rabo - Great or High Priest).

 

For a bishop, the first name after 'Mor' is the name given upon consecration (e.g. Severus), the second usually the name at baptism and if there is a third name, it is usually the family name.  In India, bishops are often addressed "Baptised (first) Name + Mor + Consecrated Name" as opposed to the Syriac form of "Mor + Consecrated Name + Baptised (first) Name"

 

Since the 13th cent. Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs have assumed the titular name Mor Ignatius. For e.g., Patriarch Zakka was Mor Severus Zakka when he was bishop of Mosul and then Baghdad. The roman numeral indicates the number of the Patriarch with that first name (e.g. Zakka) in the legitimate succession list. (With Patriarchs who have the first name Peter, there is a bit of confusion; earlier the numbering did not start with Apostle St Peter, but in the first part of the 20th cent. lists began to regard him as Peter I; so the last Patriarch Peter who reigned towards the end of 19th cent. referred to himself as Peter III, but now is often designated Peter IV). The last name (e.g. Iwas) is the family name.

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Is name “Eusebius” acceptable to Syriac Orthodox Church bishops?

Indeed, the Church Historian Eusebius who was the Bishop of Caesarea in the fourth century AD shifted to Arian heresy towards the latter period of his life. This does not by itself make the name, 'Eusebios (Eusebius)' a cursed one and something to be avoided.

 

In AD 310 there was a Pope in Rome of the same name who passed away as a true believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, and also another Prelate who was born in Sardinia around AD 283 and was consecrated and appointed as the Bishop of Vercelli by Pope Julius I of Rome on December 15, 340. This latter Eusebius, who passed away in AD 371, is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church and his memory is commemorated on December 16. This St. Eusebius was a supporter of St. Athanasius the Great of Alexandria and also opposed Arian heresy. (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia and the Wikiepedia, Internet)

 

It may be noted that Pope Eusebius of Rome and St. Eusebius of Vercelli were Prelates of the Church in the West when the whole Christendom was one in faith and before it split into two at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). Hence those two persons have to be considered as faithful Prelates of the whole Christian Church, and, so, using their name for one of our Metropolitans is appropriate. In fact, the word 'Eusebios (Greek word: euseves)' means 'pious'.

 

This FAQ is clarified by H.E Geevargis  Mor Athanasios, Patriarchal Vicar for Indian Affairs, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Damascus, Syria

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Is relaxation and reducing the number of days of fasting in Syriac Orthodox Church acceptable?

Fasting is a spiritual practice which is given much importance in Semitic religions. The early Church instituted periods of fasting and abstinence from certain foods following the examples of our Lord as well as those of the Prophets such as Moses and Elijah. While the periods of fasting and Lenten observances are described in early texts such as Didascalia Apostolorum, practices have varied over time.

For instance, the Rogation of the Ninevites was introduced only in the 7th cent. First in the Church of the East and then adopted among the Syriac Orthodox Madenhoyo (Easterners) and later in the entire Syriac Orthodox Church. Through the influence of Syrians, the practice was adopted in other churches such as the Coptic and Armenian Orthodox Churches.

 

We find that the duration of Lenten observances have varied.

 

Bar `Ebroyo in his Ethikon states that: "Some people observe the fast of Nativity forty days from the full moon of Teshri (approx November) the second, others twenty-five days from the beginning of Kanun (approx. December) the first, and still others two weeks from the tenth of Kanun the first." (Teule, H.G.B. (trans.). Ethicon. Louvain: 1993, p. 80)

 

In the Nomocanon, Bar `Ebroyo gives more detailed information about the identity of people who fast 40, 25 or 14 days. The ascetics fast 40 days, lay people in the East (MadenHoye) from Kanun the first (=25 days) and lay people in the west: two weeks from the 10th of Kanun the first. (Teule, 1993, p. 80, fn 44).

 

Regarding the fast of the Apostles, Bar `Ebroyo says in the Ethikon: "The people in the West observe the fast of Apostles from the Monday after the feast of Pentecost till the twenty-ninth of Hziran (approx June), which is the feast of Peter and Paul; the people in the East till the completion of fifty days. About this fast the Holy Jacob (of Edessa in "A Letter to John the Stylite, ed. A. Voobus in Synodicon I, p. 238/219 trans.) said that it is not compulsory; otherwise anyone not keeping this fast would be blameworthy. But perhaps because our Lord said to his Apostles: the sons of the bride-chamber cannot fast as long as the bridegroom is with them. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them and then they shall fast (Mt 9:15), therefore, when our Lord ascended and the Spirit came, the Apostles fasted and this was accepted as a custom, but not prescribed."

 

These are just some examples of varied practices within the Syriac Orthodox Church recorded in the 13th cent. Similarly, the foods prescribed during lent have also varied. For instance, in certain areas, in addition to animal products, oil was avoided during lent. On the other hand, we find in a letter of Mor Philoxenos to the Abu Ya'fur the Lakhmid Phylarch references to Christian Turks being permitted to eat milk and meat--but only dried meat--during lent. (Paul Harb (trans.), Lettre de Philoxene de Mabbug au phylarque Abu Ya'fur... OLM Meltho (1967):183-222).

 

HH Patriarch Aphrem I's of blessed memory relaxation of Lenten observances (No 620; Dec 2, 1952) upon appeal from the bishops in Malankara has to be seen in this context. While the Patriarch's encyclical was promptly ridiculed by then Malankara Orthodox faction Catholicos Geevarghese II (No 210; Dec 8, 1952), Konatt Abraham Malpano (Malankara Malpano of the Malankara Orthodox Church) published an article in Malayala Manorama, praising the wisdom and timeliness of HH Patriarch Aphrem I's decision. In this article the learned Malpano emphatically acknowledges the authority of the Holy Fathers of the Church to set rules for periods of fasting. He welcomes relaxations to keep with the times and changing circumstances. You can read this news clipping from the Manorama at our resource section, which is provided by Mr. T.M. Chacko (Member Id # 0903 of SOCM-FORUM).

 

The observance of Lents (fasts) were indicated by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself [St. Mathew 9:15, St. Mark 9:29 (Syriac Bible)] and hence it is within the general authority vested in the Holy Church by our Lord Jesus Christ to fix the Lents (fasts) and its observances. In this view of the matter, the relaxations made by Patriarch Mor Aphrem I of blessed memory in consultation with the Holy Synod, and which are in force at present, are in keeping with the divine authority given to the Holy Church to preach and to teach for the edification of the believers. As far as those outside the Syriac Orthodox Church are concerned it may do well for them to remember that the Lenten observances in the Syriac Orthodox Church are internal matters of the Syriac Orthodox Church - it does not impose them on others. And those who are members of the Syriac Orthodox Church need not be bothered by outside criticisms of its Lenten observances, since they are matters within the authority of the Holy Church exercised through the Holy Synod and His Holiness the Patriarch the Supreme Head of the Holy Syriac Orthodox Church."

 

This FAQ is clarified by H. E Geevargis  Mor Athanasios, Patriarchal Vicar for Indian Affairs, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Damascus, Syria

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The Saints, Relics and their Intercessions

I read a few postings on this subject in SOCM Forum a few weeks back. I was engaged with other responsibilities and travels during those days. I ask pardon for this belated response. I am sure these types of comments are confronting us all through the life situations in US and other places. I thank all those who responded appropriately to this. Let me share with you my humble thoughts on the issues raised by Mr. Philip..... to read more

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Can Syriac Orthodox Church Permit Cremation?

The Syriac Orthodox Church cannot consider authorizing cremation of the dead without considerable deliberation and re-interpretation of its faith, tradition and liturgy. Our concept of resurrection is not merely one of the soul putting on a mystical body at resurrection. At resurrection, the Church teaches that it indeed is the temporal body that is reunited with the soul and together are clothed in robes of glory.... to read more

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Why can not the "Catholicos" be elected as Patriarch?

The question on the elevation of the Catholicos to the Patriarchate arises based on the constitution of SOC Article 36, which says:

 

"The following shall participate in the election of the new Patriarch: His Beatitude the Catholicos, the Metropolitan of the Knanaya Archdiocese, the Metropolitans of the churches of the Antiochian Apostolic See in India, and the Metropolitan of North America of the Malankara Archdiocese. All above shall elect but may not be elected".

 

It is said that "above all shall elect but 'may' not be elected". However, it does NOT say that "All above shall elect but SHOULD not be elected.

 

Now the same constitution also says that the (Article 8) "Catholicos is elected only by the Metropolitans under the jurisdiction of the Catholicate See".

 

Patriarch is elected with representation (Universal Episcopal synod) from all over the world, but Catholicos is elected only by bishops under the Catholicate. The Jacobite Syrian Christian Association (electoral body for Catholicos) does not currently entertain electing a bishop who is not part of the Synod under the Catholicate, as the Catholicos. These are well understood and no one from India or from among the Suryoye has questioned it....

to read more

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