Syriac Orthodox

Saint George Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, Damascus, Syria
Saint George Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, Damascus, Syria. Source: Jan Smith [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Syriac Orthodox Church originates from the Christian community established by the Apostle St Peter in Antioch (capital city of ancient Syria, now in modern day Turkey), in 37 AD.  The Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox group of churches which arose from a schism of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.

Officially known as the 'Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East' since 2000, the Church is also known as the 'Universal Syrian Orthodox Church', 'Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch', or 'West Syrian Church'.  Historically, the Church has also been referred to as the Jacobite Church, due to the role of St Jacob Baradaeus in revitalising the oppressed Church community in the years following the Council of Chalcedon.  However, the Church rejects this name as St Jacob is not the founder of the Church.  

The Syriac Orthodox are descended from the Arameans, people from the biblical countries of Aram (now in central Syria) near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and they celebrate an ancient Christian liturgy in Syriac (also known as Syriac-Aramaic), a dialect of the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus Christ. While the Church's official and liturgical language is Syriac, use of the vernacular is allowed.

Over the centuries, Syriac Orthodox Christians have been persecuted by the Byzantines, the Mongols, the Ottoman Turks, the Kurds, Arab Muslims, and more recently, Islamic fundamentalists such as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

The Syriac Orthodox Church today is estimated at over 2 million members who can be found in countries that include Syria (where their Patriarchate is based), Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, India, Europe (particularly in France, Germany and Sweden), North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. 

Religious Observances

Holy Qurbono (Eucharist) being celebrated at the St Mark's Syriac Orthodox Monastery, Jerusalem
Holy Qurbono (Eucharist) being celebrated at the St Mark's Syriac Orthodox Monastery, Jerusalem. Source: Lijujacobk (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Syriac Orthodox mark major life events, such as birth, marriage, and death, within the traditions of Christianity.  The Church has seven sacraments:

  1. Baptism
  2. Chrismation (anointing with holy oil)
  3. the Holy Eucharist
  4. Repentance (penitance)
  5. Marriage
  6. Holy Orders
  7. Anointing of the Sick

Fasting and abstinence is an important part of Syriac Orthodox life and the liturgical calendar is marked by several periods of fasting that include the Fast of Nineveh, the Fast of the Apostles, the Great Lenten Fast, the Fast of the Virgin Mary, and the Fast of the Nativity.

The Syriac Orthodox Church observes seven liturgical seasons, each with special prayers and scripture readings:

  1. the Annunciation
  2. the Nativity and Epiphany
  3. the Great Lenten Fast and Holy Week
  4. the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost
  5. the Apostles
  6. the Transfiguration
  7. the Cross

With the exception of the Great Lenten Fast and Holy Week, which is determined by the Julian calendar, all the other seasons are based on the Gregorian calendar.  The liturgical year of the Syriac Orthodox Church in India, however, is based entirely on the Gregorian calendar.

Christmas is celebrated on 25 December, except in the Holy Land where it is celebrated on 6 January.  Rituals and traditions practised in the lead up to Christmas and Easter are similar to those of other Christian Churches.  Significant feast days include Baptism of our Lord (6 January), Virgin Mary for the blessing of the sowing (15 January), Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (25 March), Virgin Mary for the blessing of the crops (15 May), Transfiguration of our Lord (6 August), and many other feast days commemorating the life of Jesus Christ, and the Saints.

Presence in Australia

The main migration to Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, began in the 1960s and continued in the 1970s with a small community of Syriac Orthodox in Perth, Western Australia. The first Syrian Orthodox Mass in Australia was celebrated in Sydney in 1978.  With the community continuing to grow, further parishes were established, with the first church in Melbourne, Victoria being St Aphrem Syrian Orthodox Church.

You can locate places of worship through the Directory.

Further Reading & Materials