Syrian Churches

Syrian Churches a general name for that portion of the Oriental Church which had its seat in Syria, and which was anciently comprehended in the patriarchate of Antioch and (after that of Jerusalem obtained a distinct jurisdiction) in the :patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Syrian Church of the early centuries was exceedingly flourishing. Before the end of the 4th century it numbered 119 distinct sees, with a Christian population of several millions. The first blow to the prosperity of the Syrian Church was the fatal division which arose from the controversies on the incarnation. SEE EUTYCEES; SEE JACOBITES; SEE MONOPHYSITE; SEE NESTORIANS. The Eutychian heresy, in one or other of its forms, obtained wide extension in Syria; and the usual results of division ensued in the corruption and decay of true religion. The Moslem conquest accelerated the ruin thus begun; and from the 7th century downwards, this once flourishing Church declined into a weak and spiritless community, whose chief seat was in the mountains, and whose best security from oppression lay in the belief on the part of the conquerors of their utterly fallen and contemptible condition. Under the head MARONITES SEE MARONITES has been detailed the most remarkable incident in the later history of the Syrian Church. This branch of the Eastern Christianity, although for the most part divided from the orthodox Greek Church by the profession of Monophysitism, took part with the Greeks in their separation from the West, under Michael Cerularius; and the reunion of the Maronites to Rome had the remarkable result of establishing side by side, within the narrow limits occupied by the Christians under the Moslem rule in Syria, two distinct communities, speaking the same language, using the same liturgy, and following the same rites, and yet subject to two different patriarchs, and mutually regarding each other as heretics and apostates from the ancient creed of their country. The chief peculiarity of the Syrian rite, as contradistinguished from the Greek, consists in its liturgy, and the language of that liturgy, which is Syriac, and with which the people, aid, in many cases, the priests, are entirely unacquainted. The liturgy is known as the Liturgy of St. James. The Syrians agree with the Greeks in the use of unleavened bread, in administering communion under both heads, in permitting the marriage of priests (provided they marry before ordination), and in administering the unction of confirmation at the same time with baptism, even to infants.

The Christian community of Syria may at present be divided into four classes: the Maronites, the Greeks (who are also called Melchites), the Monophysites, who are called Jacobites, and the primitive Syrian Christians (not Maronites) whi'o are in communion with Rome. This last-named community-forms-the small-remnant of the ancient Syrian Church which remained orthodox during the controversy on the incarnation, at the time of the general lapse into Monophysitism. To these are to be added the Christians of the Latin rite. The Maronites number about 150,000; the Greeks are said to be about 50,000; the Jacobites of Syria and of Armenia Proper are said to reckon together about 40,000 families, of whom, however, but a small proportion (probably scarcely 10,000 in all) can be set down to the account of the Syrian Church. The non-Maronite Syrians who follow their national rite, but are in communion with Rome, are supposed to amount to about 4000. The resident Latins are chiefly members of the religious orders 4who from immemorial time have possessed convents in the Holy Land, and European Catholics who have settled permanently or for a time at Jerusalem, Beirut, and Damascus. None of these can in any way be regarded as belonging to the Syrian Church. It may be well to add that the belief, and, in most particulars the disciplinary practice, of these several classes coincide substantially with those respectively of the same communities in the other churches of the East. All (with the exception of the Maronites and the few United Syrians) reject the supremacy of the Roman see. The Syrians of the Greek communion reject the double procession of the Holy Ghost; and the Jacobites firmly maintain their old tenet of Eutychianism. Among them all are to be found monks and religious females. All enforce celibacy on their bishops, and refuse to priests the privilege of contracting a second marriage, or of marrying after ordination. The practice of fasting prevails among all alike. They receive and practice the invocation of saints and prayers for the dead, and the use of painted, although not of graven, images. Many particulars regarding them are to be gleaned from the memoirs of recent missionaries of the several denominations, among which the letters published from time to time by the French Society for the Propagation of the Faith, although naturally tinged with some sectarian coloring, are particularly full and interesting. — Chambers's Encyclop. s.v. See Etheridge, Hist., Liturgy, etc., of Syrian Churches (Lond. 1846); Benin, Traditions of Syr. Churches (ibid. 1871).

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