"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Monastic Life in the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch

H. H. Mor Ignatius Zakka I. Iwas
Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East
Als Gastvortrag gehalten am 07.02.1996
 an der Universität Heidelberg


1. Introduction We call the monastic life a philosophy of Christian law and character. It is a way of abadoning worldly life. It is filled with yearning to attain the life hereafter. In the monastic life, acts coun-tenanced and proscribed in the world are to be avoided, the desires of the flesh are to be disciplined; all wanton impulses are to be checked, everything that cannot be brought into harmony with the true Christian faith is to be avoided.
2. The Eremitic Life
Monastic life began with individuals seeking reclusion for the purpose of praying to God.
It was individual self denial. Each asectic sought a life seperated from society. Where possible he took his abode far from human settlements where he could come closer to God through prayer and fasting in his quest for eternal life.
3. Coenobitism
The eremitic setting developed into a spiritual community life as groups of ascetics came together under the leadership of a spiritually experienced leader or father in order to be initiated into the practice of the true ascetic life. At a later date monas-teries were built to house the monastic community. They were headed by a father or abbot with a great deal of experience in monastic and ascetic living. This type of monastic life was called coenobitism.
Rules were set and internal orders for the monasteries were elaborated to regulate the spiritual life of the community among monks and their relationship with the abbot of the monastery. These rules also governed relations between his represen-tatives and assistants, the wise and venerable scholars who initiated the novices to monastic living, instructing and watching over them.
Despite the existence of these monasteries, the anchoretic way of life persisted. Ascetics and hermits took their abode in caves and in hermitages. Many of them spent the weekdays in reclusion. On Sunday mornings they gathered in monasteries to celebrate the Mass with their brothers and the abbot, to participate with them in the agape meal, then return to their habitations.
4. Monasticism in the old religions
In the pre-chritian religions, there was no lack of practices resembling Christian asceticism and monastic life, such as fasting, prayer, and exhausting of the body through hard physical labour to discipline bodily desires and to check wanton impulses in an effort to attain enlightenment of the spirit.
However, these practices are far removed from the spirit of penance in which the Christian monk strives to live a perfect life in accordance with the Gospel. For if the monk subjects his body to such hardships, he does so not for the sake of tor-ment but in order to master his body, to give the spirit room to develop, to practise a virtuous life and to acquire good character. It is therefore erroneous to see the origins of Christian monastic in pre-christian religions such as that of ancient Egypt, in Buddhism or even in Judaism.
5. Asceticism in the Old Testament
However, it cannot be denied that the prophet Elijah mentioned in the Old Testa-ment was a model for the anchorites who withdrew from the world with all its temptations.
We read how God commanded him:" Leave this place and turn eastward; and go into hiding in the river of Kerith east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the river, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.' He did as the Lord had told him; he went and stayed on bank of the river of Kerith east of Jordan, and the ravens brought him bread and meat morning and evening, and he drank from the stream." (1 Kings 17,2-6)
John the Baptist, too, lived the life of an ascetic. He grew up in the desert: "John was dressed in a rough coat of camel's hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he fed on locusts and wild honey." (Mark 1,6)
6. The Origins of Christian Monasticis Life
The fundamental tenets of Christian monasticism are based on the imitation of the life of Christ on Earth and on obedience to his sublime teachings. Our Lord Jesus withdrew into the solitude of the desert and fasted there for forty days and forty nights. We are told: "He went about doing good and healing all who were op-pressed by the devil, for God was with him." (Acts 10,38). And he chose to live in poverty. The Apostle Paul writes: "For you know how generous our Lord Jesus Christ has been; he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8,9). And he had no abode.
On one occasion a scribe came to Jesus and said: "'Master, I will follow you wher-ever you go.' Jesus replied, 'Foxes have their holes, the birds their roosts; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.'" (Matthew 8,19-20). And his disciples gathered alms to satisfy his and their own material needs. When he sent them out to preach the Gospel, he commanded them: "Go and proclaim the message: The Kingdom of Heaven is upon you. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out devils. You received without cost; give without charge. Provide no gold, sil-ver, or copper to fill your purse, no pack for the road, no second coat, no shoes, no stick; the worker earns his keep." (Matthew 10,7-10).
This divine command constitutes the basis for the vow of voluntary poverty which the monk takes. Celibacy, however, has its origin in the teaching of Christ: "... For while some are incapable of marriage because they were born so, or were made so by men, there are others who have themselves renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let those accept it who can." (Matthew 19,12). The Apostles thus recognized the true meaning of chastity and the advantages it has over marriage. On this subject the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "To those who are unmarried and to the widows among you I say It is good if you re-main like me: I want you to be free from anxious care. The unmarried man cares for the Lord's business; his aim is to please the Lord. But the married man cares for worldly things; his aim is to please his wife; and he has a divided mind. The un-married or celibate woman cares for the Lord's business; her aim is to be dedicated to him in body as in spirit; but the married woman cares for worldly things; her aim is to please her husband." (1 Corinthians 7,32-34).
In Christianity, monastic life arose as a necessary consequence of following the teachings of Christ. The goal was to attain Christian perfection through self-denial and self-abnegation. In the imitation of Christ one sought to come closer to God and to keep to this path, devoting one's entire being to this aim. The Holy Cross was borne, and strict obedience was to be given to the divine command which He gave to the man who came to Jesus and asked what good works he could do to attain eternal life. Jesus answered him, saying: "If you wish to go the whole way, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and then you will have riches in heaven; and come, follow me." (Matthew 19,21). The monastic life was to be guided in all things by the words Jesus Christ spoke to His disciples: "If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, he must leave self behind; he must take up his cross and come with me. Whoever cares for his own safety is lost; but if a man will let himself be lost for my sake, he will find his true self. What will a man gain by winning the whole world, at the cost of his true self? Or what can he give that will buy that self back? For the Son of Man is to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will give each man the due reward for what he has done." (Matthew 16,24-27). Jesus also said: "I tell you this: there is no one who has given up home, brothers or sisters, mother, father or children, or land, for my sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much - houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and land - and persecutions besides; and in the age to come eternal life." (Mark 10,29-30)
7. The Real Motives for Those Who Seek Monastic Life
In the first chapter of his book "The Book of the Dove", (Jauno) Bar Hebraeus († 1286) stated the reasons for a human being to seek a life in seclusion from the world:
"A man withdraws from the world and its temptations for two reasons: the first and principal of these is Divine inspiration that arises in a person's thinking, which arouses him from slumber to confront him day and night with the suffering that awaits sinners in the hereafter and with the eternal life that is promised to the just in the Kingdom of Heaven. This happens but seldom and is granted only to a few at different places and at different times.
The second reason, by contrast, is unreal and worthy of reproach, arising from the desire of human beings for futile glory, a desire that comes upon a man, urging him to attain his goal through the arduous practice of asceticism. Some wealthy people, however, have sought to attain glory by spending large amounts of money. This has occurred everywhere and with great frequency. Although such conduct is to be rejected, it ought not to be dismissed outright, for there are many seeds that fall to the ground by chance and which bring forth good fruit, and others that are sown with great effort and which bear no fruit."
8. Monastic Vows
True monastic life is obedience to a hidden call from God. The monk gives proof of his devout purpose in his quest for Christian perfection in the endeavour to bring his will into unison with the will of God.
Through penance he attains the state of grace, of righteousness, of sanctification, and of community with God by acting in accordance with the will of God and not according to his own will. He withdraws from the world.
The pius monk seeks to achieve this by observing three vows, which he makes publicly by his own free will.
These vows are the following:
8.1 Absolute obedience to his spiritual superior.
8.2 Voluntary poverty, signifying that he may take nothing from the world as his personal property.
8.3 Chastity, enjoining him never to marry and to remain chaste.
These vows are faithful promises that the monk must keep to the end of his life. Moreover, the sum of his vows and promises constitutes a covenant between God and the monk which binds him for his entire life, and the breach of which places him in danger of eternal damnation.
Besides these three vows there are Christian duties enjoined on the monk, like prayer, fasting, and the giving of alms. He must give alms from the little money he saves from the sale of wares made to earn his living. The monk must keep long vigil at night, be reserved, and indulge in no idle talk.
As we have mentioned above, a person might devote himself to the monastic life for a mundane and not divine reason, for the sake of transitory glory. The spiritual scholars advise that this ought not to be rejected out of hand, since a person may set out with such an aim and nevertheless attain the love of God. They include those who withdraw into the desert to escape a martyr's death and human tyranny. But they continue their ascetic practices like fasting, prayer, and nocturnal vigils. Some of them thus attain the perfection of a true Christian and are a good example to others.
9. Factors Contributing to the Flowering and Spread of Monasticism
The decree issued by the Emperor Constantine the Great in Milan in 313 contrib-uted to the flowering of monastic life in the 4th century, which is also referred to as the century of monastic life . Through this decree Christianity for the first time in history was recognized as a religion enjoying the same legal rights as other relig-ions.
Emperor Constantine's next step was to free unmarried people and childless mar-ried couples from the heavy poll taxes that had been imposed on them. It was said that many people abandoned their families and fled into the desert to avoid paying this tax. In addition, monks could no longer be conscripted for military service. Such measures encouraged thousands of young men to don the monk's habit, to submit to the duties and rules of the monastic life, and thus to lead a simple life in complete reclusion from the world.
In their cells many of them brought forth rich spiritual fruits thanks to those who instructed them in the spiritual life.
They distanced themselves from material, everyday life, achieving greater inde-pendence from bodily needs and worldly-intellectual influences.
Neoplatonic philosophy, which influenced some of the ascetic Church Fathers helped to bring monasticism to fruition.
10. Who is the true monk?
The monastic life is a state of constant penance. That a monk acquires the qualities of loving kindness and of resisting evil is the best evidence of his devout resolve to take his place in the blessed life of a monastic order.
He might come to have doubts about the step he has taken and to consider return-ing to society. But if he resists this temptation and submits to the duties of monas-ticism by living in obedience to his spiritual mentors he will overcome this chal-lenge. Even if his vocation is not from God, his constant prayer and the fulfilment of his duties will make it a divine one.
The tenacious struggle of the monk against the demon and his snares is a constant and relentless one. But the love of the monk for God is mightier than life and death. For with Christ he has crucified the temptations of the flesh, he has taken upon himself the cross of Christ, which is the sign of departure from this world. He accepts abuse and revilement for Christ's sake in order to live with Christ in the words of Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ: the life I now live is not my life, but the life which Christ lives in me." (Galatian 2,19-20).
Therefore nothing can separate the monk from the love of Jesus: "For I am con-vinced that there is nothing in death or life, in the realm of spirits or superhuman powers, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, in heights or depths - nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8,38-39).
And the monk heeds the counsel of the wise Solomon, through whom God said: "My son, mark my words, and accept my guidance with a will." (Proverbs 23,26). And on this subject Mor Musche Bar Kipho advises the monk:
"My son, if you have devoted yourself entirely to the love and fear of God, hesitate no longer, fight with great courage and be a great warrior who enters the arena to destroy his enemies."
11. The spiritual struggle of the monk
Mor Aphrem († 373) describes the philosophy of the monastic way in a precious Syriac poem in which he portrays how he trained his soul through privation and the hardships of life and prepared it for the struggle against the temptations of the flesh:
11.1 Many times have I suffered hunger and my body has called for nourishment, I have abstained to become worthy of the blessedness that those who fast attain.
11.2 My body, made of dust, sought to still its thirst, but I spurned it in wrath that it might become worthy to savour the dew of the Kingdom of God.
11.3 And when in my youth and in my old age my body sought to tempt me, I chastened it day after day to the end.
11.4 On the morning of each day I thought that I would die in the evening. And like a man who cannot escape death I attended to the labours of the day without trepidation or tedium.
11.5 Each evening I imagined that next morning I would no longer be alive. So I arose and prayed to God and worshipped him until the rising of the sun.
11.6 When my body pleaded for the sleep I sorely needed, I lured it with the blessedness that God bestows on those who keep vigil.
11.7 I have built a church in my soul, and I have offered up to the Lord the tra-vail of my body as incense and fragrance.
11.8 My spirit became the altar, my will the priest, and like a lamb without blemish I sacrificed myself.
11.9 Lord, I have borne Thy yoke from youth to old age, and I have worshipped Thee constantly to the end of my days, I have spared no pain nor suffered tedium.
11.10 I have borne the sufferings of hunger and overcome them, for I have seen Thee taste bitterness between the two bandits for the sake of my redemp-tion.
11.11 I have ignored the torments of thirst because I have seen my Lord drink vinegar from the sponge for my sins.
11.12 Food was of no significance for me; I disdained wine, for my eyes were upon the banquet of Thy kingdom, O heavenly bridegroom!
In this manner monks vanquished the passions of the flesh so as to be able to bear the hardship of life, the bitterness of asceticism and the severity of the rules. They kept vigil by night fasting and praying, they performed heavy manual labour in their quest for the pure life. The divine light was cast upon them from on high; some among them who attained perfection in their asceticism even achieved the stage of union with His glory.
Mor Antonios (Saint Anthony) (†356) – the Father of Monks – summed up his philosophy of asceticism in the phrase: "The soul is whole when the sensual pleas-ures of the flesh are abated." And this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote: "... for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12,10).
Saint Athanasius (†373) wrote of Saint Anthony: "He kept watch long into the night, so that often he spent the whole night in prayer without sleeping. This hap-pened not on only one occasion but frequently, so that the other monks wondered at it. He wore a robe of hair and in his entire ascetic life bathed not once in water.
During the day he ate only once, but often only every second or fourth day.
He ate only bread with salt and drank water. He was satisfied with a hard mat to sleep on, but usually slept on the bare ground."
12. The Institution of Coenobitism and its Organization
Monastic life was known in Christianity from the 2nd century AD, as mentioned by Bar Hebraeus.  In the 3rd century AD many ascetics, worshippers, and hermits appeared in many places subject to the see of Antioch.
Saint Anthony (251-356) is regarded as the founder of monastic life. He was called the "father of monastic life" and "star of the desert". And Amba Paula (Saint Paul of Thebes) was considered the first anchorite.
Before he died, Anthony was inspired by God to visit him and he told him the story of his life.
Amba Paula also told him that the hour of his death was nigh, and that God had sent him to bury him. Amba Paula lived to the age of about 113 years, 90 of which he spent in the eastern desert of Egypt, which he had chosen to be his abode. His daily meal consisted of half a loaf of bread which was brought to him, like to the great prophet Elijah, by a raven.
With the flowering of monasticism and the spread of monasteries in Egypt, Saint Pachomius wrote the rules for coenobitic life, regulating all the spiritual, bodily, and social needs of the monks.
13. The Syrian Monasteries
From the beginning of the 4th century, many famous monasteries were founded throughout the lands under the jurisdiction of the Antiochian see, that is to say in Syria, Mesopotamia, on the southern coast of Palestine, in the Syrian desert, in Gozarto (Mount Edessa), at Mount Izala, which surveys Nisibis and Tur-Abdin, and in Qardu and Al-Faf close to Mosul.
They became centres of learning and of the virtuous life; thousands of monks and nuns withdrew into them from the worldly life in their quest for the Kingdom of God.
The fragrance of their virtue wafted gloriously from their monasteries, caves, hermitages, and cells.
Sozomen, the Egyptian chronicler (423 AD), reports of 30 ascetics inhabiting the steppes of northern and central Syria, who, he maintains, had surpassed the Egyp-tian ascetics in ascetic practices.  The figure given by Sozomen represents only the chosen few who attained fame through their ascetic life. There were thousands of other monks and nuns living in the monasteries of these regions.
14. Monastic Ordination is not Priestly Ordination
On this subject Bar Hebraeus writes: "Monastic ordination does not bestow the rank of a priest, since the monk ranks below a deacon".  He continues: "The monk is not permitted to approach the altar nor to touch the sacraments. The monk Di-mathilius was strongly rebuked by Dionysios the Great because he had dared to do so".
Although monasticism arose outside the Church it is a force that supports the Church; for monks and nuns live not for the redemption of their own souls alone, which is their mission; the pastoral and spiritual well-being of the population is also their concern.
They have prayed day and night for the Church and the world, so that the light of faith has been shed upon all humanity.
They have borne the light of the Gospel to many regions of the Earth.
As the bearers of knowledge they have led humanity from the darkness of igno-rance to the light of knowledge, thereby doing them a great service.
15. Monasticism in the Service of the Church
In hard times the anchorites and ascetics abandoned their cells and monasteries and went into the cities to aid the faithful and to confirm them in their religion, to help them bear oppression with patience and in steadfast faith. When heresy arose, they departed to preach to the faithful and to preserve them from the mistaken beliefs of the heretics and to give them a firm hold in the orthodox faith that was entrusted to them by the holy apostles and the Church.
Saint Anthony – the father of monasticism and the star of the desert – acted thus, determined not to abandon his connections with the Church. His cooperation with the Church was a good example for monks to emulate. During the wave of op-pression that was instigated by Maximinus (305-318), he left his cell and went to Alexandria in the intention of suffering a martyr's death for the sake of Christ. There he visited confessing prisoners, comforting them and encouraging them to remain firm in their faith unto death. When the followers of Arius killed the Church Fathers and believers in a great wave of persecution, Saint Anthony visited Alex-andria a second time in 355 to defend the true faith, to comfort the confessors, to visit the prisoners, and to exhort them to remain firm in their faith. This brought him much suffering.
Mor Aphrem (Saint Ephraem Syrus) for his part founded a church choir composed of young girls from Edessa, which sang works that he had both written and put to music, and which served to strengthen Christian doctrine and refute heresy. The beginnings of orderly liturgical life in the Syrian Church is regarded as being his work.
It should also be mentioned that when famine broke out in Edessa in the winter of 372/373, when many of the inhabitants died of hunger, Mor Aphrem visited wealthy citizens of the city, collected alms from them and distributed them among the poor. Furthermore, he established houses in which he set up 1300 beds. They served as hostels for the old and infirm under his personal care.
When the plague broke out, Mor Aphrem undertook the care and comfort of the patients himself until he, too, fell victim to the plague, dying on 9th June 373.
16. The Worthy Status of Monasticism in the Church
Although monasticism arose outside the Church, it became a significant force to-gether with the Church and within the Church. It is more than prayer, fasting, the practice of asceticism, and keeping vigil. It is more than knowledge and learning. It is an important element of the Church that combines the spirit of asceticism with Sufism. In the eyes of society, the monk is thus the bearer of sublime tidings – the teachings of the Gospel – which he lives in truth, practises in perfection, and offers in example to humanity.
For this reason the faithful have had confidence in the monks. And monasticism has accordingly occupied a privileged and special position in the Church. The Church has recognized monastic life and has chosen its bishop and sometimes the patriarchs from among the monks.
It is thus still a tradition in the Syrian Orthodox Church to select bishops from among the ranks of the monks, while patriarchs are chosen from among metropoli-tans. In exceptional cases, however, a monk may be chosen. After election as spiritual fathers they continue to lead an ascetic and arduous life as if still living in their hermitages. Mor Jacob, Bishop of Nisibis, the teacher of Mor Aphrem is said to have worn a goatskin robe, and to have prayed, fasted, and kept vigil by night.
Thus monastic life has performed an invaluable service for the Church. Moreover, the development of the Church is bound up with the flowering of monasticism, as Saint Athanasius wrote: "If monasticism and the priestly ministry grow weak, the entire Church weakens."
The monasteries have been beacons of religion, learning, and knowledge and a lasting token of culture and civilization. Monks and nuns have offered a good ex-ample for all mankind. The daily life of the monastics has been a clear demonstra-tion of the true promise of Christ to all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy, for he will give them relief if they follow him and bend their necks to his yoke and learn from him to be gentle and humble-hearted, for his yoke is good to bear, his load is light (Matthew 11.30). His divine instructions, which are the instructions of perfection in the Christian life have been put into practice by monks and nuns, and they were happy on Earth and have entered the Kingdom of Heaven, for they have worshipped God in spirit and in truth, and they have deepened knowledge of relig-ion and of the world, doing humanity a great service.
The monasteries were established in the mountains and on the banks of rivers. They resembled institutions of higher learning, usually possessing a library. There were also a number of schools headed by monks. These schools, like those in Nisibis and Edessa, were attended by monks from monasteries and hermitages. In the 4th century, the school of Nisibis was famed, retaining its importance up to the 7th century. It produced Mor Jacob (†338), who was succeeded by his genial pupil Mor Aphrem (†373). People came to this school in search of knowledge from southern Mesopotamia, then under Persian rule, and when in 363 Nisibis fell to the Persians, Mor Aphrem, accompanied by a number of teachers, also left the school. They went to Edessa, where Mor Aphrem took over the directorship of the school there. It had been founded as long ago as the 2nd century by the kings of the Abgar dynasty. When Mor Aphrem took over the school, its importance grew still further. There were innumerable monasteries at Edessa housing many monks and offering many cells for their abode. Mor Aphrem occupied a cell there, practising the as-cetic life, interpreting Holy Scripture, composing poetry and hymns and teaching in the school, as well as instructing young girls in church music. In 373 he was called to the Lord.
In his book Berule Bdire (History of Syriac Learning and Literature) the great scholar Aphrem I Barsaum (†1957) writes: "83 monasteries have been counted that were important centres of higher learning since the advent of Christianity. Only ruins remain of some of them, others are now only a shadow of their former selves. But despite the campaigns of destruction and persecution their inhabitants have suffered, others have remained steadfast."
These monasteries have given the Church and the world outstanding scholars who have produced great works. Their pens have given birth to famous works in the fields of theology, philosophy, languages, and other disciplines and branches of knowledge. Although many of their valuable works have been lost, many renowned libraries are proud of what they possess in the way of Syriac manuscripts.
We will mention some examples of these famous monasteries, taking reference to a number of sources, the most important of which is Berule Bdireh (History of Syriac Learning and Literature) by the scholar and patriarch Aphrem I Barsaum:
1. The Qenneschrin Monastery was dedicated to the Apostle Thomas. It was situ-ated on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, opposite the city of Hierapolis (Garablus). Founded in about 530, it was able to devote itself to scholarly pur-suits more than all the other places of learning. Its fame spread across all bor-ders, and until the early 9th century it was the largest school of theology and science. At that time it had more than 300 monks. It produced 7 patriarchs – one of whom was Patriarch Athanasius Al-Gmal (†631) – and 15 bishops. It was inhabited until the early 13th century. One of the famous scholars to study there was Severus Sebocht (†667), a great philosopher, who has bequeathed outstanding works of philosophy and astronomy to us. Through his mediation Indian numerals were transmitted to the Arabs.
2. The Qarqaphto monastery was founded by Mor Schemu'n. It was situated between Rischa'ino and Hassake close to the village of Al Magdal on the banks of the river Chabur. It was famous in the early 8th century for its activities in the field of linguistics. The monks of this monastery gained fame in the field of the vocalisation of Holy Scripture. It produced 6 bishops and was occupied until the early 10th century.
3. The Mor Barsaum Monastery was first mentioned in the 8th century. It was built on the mountain close to Melitene /Turkey. It was the residence of the Patriarch from the 11th to the end of the 13th century. It produced 5 patriarchs and 34 bishops. It was inhabited until the 17th century. Among the famous sons of this monastery were Dionysius Jacob Bar-Salibi (†1171), Metropolitan of Amida (Diyarbakir), Mor Michael the Great (†1199), and Mor Grigorios Abu Al-Faraj (†1286), known as Bar Hebraeus. It possessed a well-stocked library containing numerous manuscripts in the Syriac script Estrangelo.
4. The Mor Zakai Monastery near Qaloniqi (Ar-Raqqah) in Syria. Mor Johanon of Talo (†538) was ordained monk here in 508. It also produced the Patriarch Johanon IV and 20 bishops. It once gave shelter to the caliph Harun ar-Rashid, who liked it very much there and consequently honoured its inhabitants.
5. The Barid Monastery was in the district of Melitene and Hanzit. It was founded in the 10th century by the Patriarch Johanon VII. It produced one patriarch, one maphrian, and 18 bishops and metropolitans. It served as a place of learning until 1243. In that year Turkmen killed 15 of its monks, most of whom were scholars.
17. Monasteries Still Inhabited and Active Today
1. The Mor Hananjo Monastery (Dayr az-Zafaran) is situated to the East of the city of Mardin in Turkey, and was built in the early 6th century on the founda-tions of a citadel. It became well-known from the end of the 8th century. From 1293 it was the residence of the patriarch for more than 600 years. It produced 21 patriarchs, nine maphrians, and 110 bishops. It is still inhabited, and houses a religious primary school under the supervision of a number of monks.
2. The Mor Gabriel or Qartomin Monastery lies east of Midiat and is the most famous monastery in Tur-Abdin. The two ascetics Mor Samuel and Mor Schemu'n built it in 397. It became the principal residence of the bishops from 615 to 1049. Mor Gabriel (†667) resided here in the 7th century and the monas-tery was later named after him. It produced four patriarchs as well as one maphrian and 81 bishops. Among them was the Patriarch Theodosius (887-895) who had a distinguished reputation in the field of medicine and wrote a book bearing his name. The monks of this monastery were well-known for manufac-turing parchment. They also distinguished themselves in the copying of manu-scripts and the renaissance of the Estrangelo script under the leadership of Metropolitan Johanon in 988. To this day, the monastery houses monks and nuns and runs an important school.
3. The Monastery of Mark the Evangelist is also referred to as the Monastery of the Mother of God in Jerusalem. According to a Syriac manuscript found in the church in 1940, the institution was founded in the 5th or 6th century. It is the upper room in which the Lord partook of the Last Supper with his disciples. It is now the see of our Metropolitan and since 1472 has been the residence of our monks in Jerusalem. It has produced 9 metropolitans.
4. St. Matthew's Monastery is east of Mosul at the foot of Mount Faf. It is a large monastery, founded in the late 4th century and the residence of a metropolitan since that time. In its first period it housed a large population of monks. It has suffered many vicissitudes. In 1845 it was renovated and restored. It has pro-duced three patriarchs, six maphrians and 24 bishops. It is still inhabited and, as we have mentioned, is the seat of a metropolitan.
5. The Syrian Monastery in Egypt is located in the Egyptian countryside in Asquit. It was probably built in the 5th century. Morutho of Tagrith, a Syrian merchant, bought it in the mid 6th century and left it to the Syrian monks. In 1084 there were 70 monks living in the monastery. It was occupied until the mid-17th century and is now inhabited by Coptic monks.
18. Monasticism in Our Syrian Church Today
The Syrian Church has experienced various forms of oppression, especially since the beginning of the present millennium. The internal schisms caused by changing currents within tribes and clans have also weakened it. Furthermore, first the Ro-man Catholic Church and later the Protestant Church have sought to reduce the stronghold of the oriental churches, of which our Syrian Church is one. They iso-lated sections of the faithful, bringing them under their influence by exploiting the political influence of foreign countries and the ignorance of local rulers. This has led in particular to a weakening of the influence exercised by our clergy. Our Church has nowhere sought the protection of a foreign power, for it believes that God alone is its protector. These compelling factors have weakened monasticism, and, as the Fathers wrote, when monasticism is weakened, the Church will also be weak.
Today the Church is aware that renewal and awakening is imperative, and for this reason it has encouraged its children to dedicate themselves to the Church and to takes orders, to join the communities of the remaining monasteries.
The Church has devoted particular care to the Mor Aphrem Seminary, which was founded in Zahle/Lebanon in the thirties of this century by the scholar Mor Aphrem I Barsaum. It was later moved to Mosul in Iraq, then returning to Lebanon. It sub-sequently closed down for a period until we reopened it in Damascus. It has pro-duced and will continue to produce monks who are aware of their responsibilities and who are willing to make sacrifices in the effort to revive the Church.
We endeavour to send some of the graduates to theological colleges abroad to complete their university education.
At present we have ten monks studying at the University of Athens, six in Rome, and others at various higher educational institutions in Europe and the United States.
We have also renewed the monasticism of Jacob Baradaeus for nuns and have sent two of them to Thessaloníki to continue their studies.
Through the grace of God we have had a new building constructed for the Mor Aphrem Seminary in Ma'rat Saidnaja, 25 kilometres away from Damascus. We have given this building the name St. Aphrem Clerical Monastery. It will also be a centre for Syriac studies, a centre for the Syrian youth of the world and an ecumenical centre. We encourage our spiritual sons of the Syrian clergy to seek cooperation with all Christian churches to attain, God willing, unity among Chris-tians.
We thus endeavour through the grace of God to foster spiritual leadership in the church by strengthening monastic life. We are prepared for the coming of the third millennium in the ambition of following the example of our forefathers, who de-spite persecution and many hardship have borne the light of the Holy Gospel through-out the world.
It should also be mentioned that we have two schools in the Mor Gabriel Monas-tery and in the Dayr az-Zafaran Monastery as well as a theological school in Mo-sul/Iraq and a theological faculty in India. And because Syrians love the monastic way, they have, through the efforts of their honoured Metropolitan Julius Cicek, founded a Mor Aphrem Monastery in the Netherlands. They have acquired a mon-astery here in Germany and another in Switzerland. It is our hope that Syrian mo-nastic life will flower everywhere in the world where Syrians live.
In conclusion I would like to thank you for your kind attention and I would espe-cially like to thank the Theological Seminar of the University of Heidelberg for inviting us to give this lecture. God be with you all.

His Holiness Ignatius Zakka I Iywas
The Prince Patriarch of Antioch & all the East
Supreme head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church

A Brief History of   The Universal Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch & all the East

    The Syrians are the Arameans themselves, the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent region (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Southeastern Turkey). They came from the Syrian desert in the 14th century B.C, and settled in the urban centers founding many kingdoms. The strongest of these Aramean kingdoms were the kingdoms of Damascus, Nahreen (Mesopotamia), Sobah and Padan-Aram. They imposed their language on the whole region and became the masters of the land for about 5 consecutive centuries. Their sovereignty ended in 732 B.C. with the fall of Damascus in the hands of the Assyrians. Even though their political sovereignty vanished, they continued to constitute the majority among the population of the region, playing a major role in the events.
    Their Aramaic language remained reigning unchallenged over the entire Middle East in all aspects of civilization, particularly in the many fields of learning, and was to remain so until long after the Arab Islamic invasion in the 7th century. Aramaic still survives in the names of hundreds of cities and villages in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The use of the terms: "Syria" and "Syrians", to denote the land of Aram and Arameans, began before the birth of Christ, in the Seleucid era, precisely, after the completion of Septuagint version of the Old Testament in the year 280 B.C., where the word "Aram" was translated as Syria, a synonym to "Aram". From here, the name "Syrian" began to replace Aramean, gradually. After the birth of Christ, this new name began to spread until it nearly eliminated the Aramean name in the entire geographical Syria. Because the Arameans, who now became Christians, were very much devoted and firmly adhered to their new religion, and proud of their forefathers the Apostles, they abandoned their old name "Arameans" and adopted the new name "Syrians" in order to detach themselves from their kindreds, the pagan Arameans.
    Nevertheless, a group of writers continued to use the term "Aramean" instead of "Syrian" treating them as synonyms. They would say for instance, He was an "Aramean Syrian writer", and "the Aramaic Syriac language". However, it is never said "The Aramean Church" but rather "the Syrian Church"; the term "Suryani" or "Syrian" in Syriac Aramaic is "Suryoyo" and its exact translation is "Syrian", i.e, a national of Syria (the geographic Syria). Universally, however, the term "Syrian Church" means all the Churches whose Liturgical language is or was Syriac, and were or are under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch.
    The Syrian Church started in Jerusalem consisting of the Apostles, Evangelists and converted Jews. It was later grafted in Antioch, and then Urhoy, (Edessa) with converted Arameans and other gentiles. It was established in Antioch by St. Peter the head of the Apostles, who is considered the first Patriarch of the Holy and Apostolic see of Antioch. St. Peter himself ordained St. Ephodius and St. Ignatius the Luminous as successors. They did succeeded him after he fell martyr in Rome. Antioch, thus, became not only the first, oldest and most famous Christian Church, but the base of Christendom too. It was in Antioch where the Apostles were first called Christians.
    St.Mark's Syrian Orthodox Monastery ('Sehion Malika'-'Sion Mansion') of Jerusalem
    The faith of the Syrian Orthodox Church can be summarized as follows: The Church believes in one composite person of the Lord Jesus, and one composite nature that consists of two natures: divine and human, which cannot be mixed, separated or transformed. In other words, the two natures are united into one nature with no mixing, no blending no changing no transformation, and no confusion. This applies to all divine and human attributes. Based on this definition, divinity was united with humanity, or the body, when Jesus was nailed on the cross, and never departed the body, not even for a moment. Therefore, it is wrong, and a departure from the universal Christian faith to say that: "Christ was crucified in flesh". It must rather be said: "God the Incarnate the Lord of glory was crucified"; however, we do say "He suffered and died in flesh", because divinity is never subject to suffering or death. As a consequence, Mary is "the mother of God", and the phrase "Thou who was crucified for us" stands true in the Trisageon which is directed to the second person, i.e., Christ. To this faith adhered the Antiochian Syrians and the Alexandrian Copts who rejected the council of Chalcedony and the document of Leo of Rome (The tome of Letter of Pope Leo) adhering to the faith defined in the three holy ecumenical councils of Nicea 325 A.D., Constantinople 381 A.D., and Ephesus 431 A.D. From here, the name "Orthodox" was coined to mean "True faith" which is common to Syrians, Copts, Armenians and Ethiopians. These Churches are called "sister Churches". They endured together severe sufferings and violent persecutions waged against them by the Chalcedonian Byzantine Empire.
    It is an established fact that the language spoken by Jesus and by many generations B.C. and early Christianity, and until the 5th century A.D. was Aramaic. Furthermore, Jews Wrote some of their holy books in Aramaic or in Aramaic characters, as evidenced by the dead sea scrolls discovered in 1974 by His Eminence Mar Athanasius Yeshu Samuel, then Archbishop of Jerusalem (Archbishop of the United States and Canada at present). Thus, it becomes evident that the disciples and their early successors spoke Syriac. Therefore, it is only common sense that their worship be conducted in Syriac. Since the evangelists who preached the Gospel in Antioch came from Jerusalem where worship was in Syriac, it would only be natural that Syriac be the Liturgical language of the church of Antioch, and that she uses the Syriac liturgy of St. James the brother of the Lord and first bishop of Jerusalem. It is well known that the church of Jerusalem used St. James's Liturgy until the days of the last of the first fifteen Syrian bishops. However, when envoys from Constantinople started assuming its leadership, they replaced, St. James's Liturgy with that of Baselios of Caesaria 379 A.D. and St. John the Chrysostom 407 A.D. translated into Syriac. St. James's Liturgy, nevertheless, remained in the church of Antioch. That is why the Syriac Liturgy is called the Liturgy of Antioch. To this Liturgy are traced all church Liturgies. The church of Antioch, therefore, is proud that her Liturgy is in Syriac, the language made holy by the Lord's divine tongue, and honored by the tongue of His mother Mary and his Apostles. In this language, St. Mathew wrote his Gospel, and in this language evangelical events were proclaimed first in Judea, Syria and neighboring regions.
    Mor Mathai Dayro, Mosul (Iraq)
    The Syrian Church played an important role in the field of Bible literature. Her scholars dived deep in its vast ocean and uncovered its mysteries. They first translated it to their own Syriac language. Then, they conducted in-depth studies and enriched the libraries in the East and West with countless large volumes of commentaries and interpretations despite catastrophes and misfortunes that struck their homeland, grave losses caused by World War I, and the deliberate destruction of thousands of invaluable manuscripts by her adversaries. After they studied the Bible in their own Syriac language, they exerted endless efforts to translate it into other living languages. Thus, around the year 404 A.D. the Malphan Daniel the Syrian, and Mesrope the Armenian worked together translating it into the Armenian language. Syriac scholars of Arabian origin of Bani Tay, Tanookh and Aqoola (Al Koofa) translated the Gospel into Arabic according to the order of the Syrian Patriarch St. John II in response to the wishes of Omaiyr Ibn Saad Ibn Abi Waqqass Al Ansari, prince of the Jazirah. Yohanna Bar Yawsef, a Syrian priest from Taphliss (southern Russia), translated the Bible into the Persian language in 1221 A.D. In the first decade of the l9th century, Raban Philipos the Syrian from Malabar, India, translated it to Mallealem, the language of Southern India. In the present 20th century, Chorepiscopus Mathai Konat the Syrian from Malabar, translated the whole of the new Testament except the book of Revelation, into this language.
    A good number of manuscripts of this invaluable heritage still survive. They constitute the oldest manuscripts in the world, especially those removed from the treasury of the Syrian Monastery in Egypt and taken to the libraries of Vatican, London, Milan, Berlin, Paris, Oxford, Cambridge and others. Some of these manuscripts were scribed in the fifth and sixth centuries. Furthermore, the oldest version of the holy Gospel is a Syriac manuscript written by the Edessan (of Urhoy i.e Urfa) scribe, Yacub, in Urhoy in the year 411 A.D. It is kept in the British Museum. In this regard, Father Martin enumerated 55 Syriac Gospel manuscripts written in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries, compared to 22 Latin manuscripts and only 10 Greek manuscripts. The Syrians were so ardent in their love to the Bible that they sought perfection in scribing and decorating it. They were meticulous, elegant and skillful in doing so. Their works can only be described as dazzling. They used both calligraphic styles, the Strangelo and the Western Serto. Among the best known manuscripts is the Gospel of Raboola of Urhoy (Edessa or Urfa) completed in 586 A.D.
    The Syrians carried the torch of the Gospel first to all the regions of the East. They guided with its light, to Christianity thousands of thousands of peoples and nationalities, i.e., Arabs in their different tribes, Persians, Afghans, Indians and Chinese. They took part in the evangelization of Armenians. In the 6th century, the Syrians guided to the sheepfold of Christ huge crowds of Ethiopians and Nubians through the efforts of Father Julian, and 70-80 thousand people from Asia Minor, Qarya, Phrygia and Lydia through the efforts of Mar Yohanna of Amed, the famous bishop of Ephesus. Syriac was the liturgical language of all the churches of the East despite the diversity of their people's origin. The Armenian church, for example, in addition to the fact that it was using Syriac, in which some Armenian bishops excelled, it wrote its spoken Armenian language in Syriac characters, until Mesrope, one of its scholars working with Malfan Daniel the Syrian, invented the Armenian Alphabet.
    The Syrian church of Antioch endured, as a price for her adherence to her doctrine of faith, unbearable atrocities and sufferings with content and exceptional determination. From the moment of her birth, she was subject to Jewish and then to pagan persecution. This was followed by Nestorian persecution in the 5th century. At the end of the Chalcedonian council that convened in 451 A.D, she faced severe persecution from the Chalcedonian Byzantine Caesars. In addition, she suffered grave atrocities and afflictions by the Crusaders in the 11th and 12th centuries. The Jewish persecution lasted until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Among the martyrs of this Jewish persecution were: St. Stephany the head of Deacons 37 A.D, apostle James the son the Zebadee-one of the 12 disciples and St. James the brother of the Lord and the first bishop of Jerusalem in 62 A.D. Other apostles were imprisoned tortured and insulted. Persecutions were waged against Christians by Pagan Roman Caesars. Among the most severe were 10 persecutions covering the whole Roman Empire remaining in effect throughout the first three centuries, the first two decades of the 4th century and throughout the whole of the 5th century. Among the martyrs of these long lasting persecutions were St. Peter 67 A.D., St. Ignatius the Luminous, the 3rd Patriarch of Antioch, Babola the Patriarch 250 AD, Sts. Sargis and Bakhos 279 A.D., St. George 303 A.D, St. Barbara 303 A.D., St. Ciryacus the infant and his mother Juliette 304 A.D., and the 40 martyrs in Sebastia. Persian kings inflicted on Christians bitter atrocities. The longest and the worst was the persecution instigated by Shabour, from 339-379 A.D. During those 40 years, more than quarter a million Syrians, were massacred.
    This was followed by the persecution instigated by Behram II from 420-438, in which Simon, the son of Sabbagheen the bishop 329 A.D., Bar Baashameen the bishop, Mar Behnam and his sister Sarah and the 40 cavalries, Yahanna son of Najjareen, St. James Muqatta and Mar Ahodemeh were killed. The Persian rulers took advantage of the theological disputes among the Syrians and started a persecution campaigns against the Orthodox Syrians supported by Nestorian Syrians and Magians. In these campaigns hundreds of Bishops and priests and thousands of Syrian lay people were massacred, including the Catholicos Babaweih 480 A.D. Because of their rejection of the faith defined by the council of Chalcedony, the Syrians were the victims of a long and agonizing persecution instigated against them by Chalcedonians. This persecution lasted more than 200 years, from 452 A.D. until early seventh century A.D. when Arab Moslems conquered Syrian land with the help and cooperation of Syrians. The Byzantine persecution against the Syrians, thus came to an end with the end of Byzantine hegemony over Syrian land. During this long persecution, thousands of bishops, monks, priests and lay believers fell martyrs. As of the year 512 A.D. when St. Severus the Great was installed as Patriarch of Antioch, the Chalcedonian persecution became fiercer. In that period, great men of struggle and makers of history rose to defend the true faith. They were known in Christian circles by their strong faith, righteousness and being thoroughly versed in Theology. They were: St. Simon of Arshem 450 A.D., Mar Phelloxenos of Mabug 523, Mar Severus of Antioch 538, Mar Yacub Baradeus 578, and Theodora, the Syrian Queen .
Mor Gabriel Monastery, Mardin, Turkey - Founded in 359 AD
    The Syrian Church laid great emphasis on Monasticism. Since early Christianity, she founded hundreds of Monasteries in which thousands of men and women exercised righteousness, virginity, abstinence, virtuousness, silence, voluntary poverty, fasting and prayers. They excelled in all branches of learning including Arts and Sciences. They engaged in good works, leadership and eduction. The best sign of eminence of Monasticism in the Syrian church is its wide spreading throughout the Syrian land. In the 5th century, there were 300 monasteries in the mountain of Urhoy (Edessa) alone, housing 90,000 monks. In St. Mathew's monastery east of Mosul, there were 12,000 monks. In the next century, the number of monks in Mar Basos Monastery near Homs, Syria reached 6,300. One hundred and thirty five heads of monasteries from southern Syria signed the document of faith. It is well established that the number of Syrian monks and nuns in their golden age reached 600,000. Among the most famous Syrian monks and hermits were: St. Mathew the hermit, Mar Yacub of Nisibin, Mar Barsoum and St. Simon the Stylite.
    Misfortunes, however, and painful historical events have inflicted destructions and heavy losses to these monasteries. Some have completely disappeared. Some are deserted and survive only in ruins, and some others survive only in history books. The Syrian Catholics have seized some unlawfully with the help of the French, e.g., the monastery of Mar Behnam in Mousul, Iraq, St. Julian Monastery in Qaryateyn, near-Homs, and the monastery of St. Moses Habashi in Nabik, Syria. The surviving inhabited monasteries of today are: St. Mark's -monastery in Jerusalem, which is beyond any doubt, the greatest monastery in Christendom. It was the house of Mary the mother of John (Yohanna) who was called "Mark", and who is mentioned in the book of Acts of Apostles. In this house, most of the sacraments of Christianity were completed and its most important events took place. The Lord ate the Passover meal with His disciples, and washed their feet. He entrusted them the mystery of His body and blood. In this house He appeared to them after His resurrection. In it, the apostles kept praying, breaking the bread, chose Mathias, received the Holy Spirit and consecrated it a church in the name of Mary the mother of God. In it, the first council in Christendom was convened in the year 51 A.D. These facts are supported by a precious Syriac estrangelo inscription from the 5th and 6th centuries uncovered in 1940 during renovation works. Thus, this Monterey is the very first church in Christendom . Therefore, the Syrian Orthodox Church is proud to possess such a unique Christian historical monument. - Mar Gabriel's Monastery (the Monastery of Qartmeen). This is the principal Monastery in Tur'Abdeen. It was founded in 359 A.D.   The Monastery of Zaafaran or St. Hananyo's Monastery - Located 6 km southeast of Mardin, turkey, it is the most famous Monastery in Mesopotamia. It became the seat of the Holy See of Antioch as of the 12th century until the third decade of the 2Oth century.
    Monastery of Mor Hananyo (Kurkumo Dayro)
    This Dayro also known as KURKUMO DAYRO in Syriac and Deir ez-Za`faran  in Arabic meaning the "Saffron Monastery", so named for the yellowish rock from which it is built. Founded in 493 AD, it was, from 1160 until 1932 the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch
    The Syrian Orthodox Church has in her possession some Holy relics in memory of which she conducts splendid ceremonies. Remarkable processions are held inside as well as outside churches in these celebrations. This include the belt of our Lady the virgin kept in our church in Homs, Syria and the relics of St. Thomas the Apostle in St. Thomas church in Mosul, Iraq.
    Soonoro of the Mother of God
     kept here in the Syrian Orthodox Church at Homs
    {Source: Sharjah Church web site}
    Relics of Apostle Thomas is kept
      here in the St.Thomas Church at Mosul
    Syriac culture is a glittering facet of the civilization of the East, and a true measure of the dimensions of intellectual activities of the Syrians. It is , further, a clear indicator of the role of the Syrian Aramean nation in pushing forward the vehicle of civilization. The Syrians engaged in Theology, Music, Philosophy, Medicine, Linguistics, History, Astronomy etc. They found numerous excellent schools and colleges that left distinct prints in the history of culture. This church produced from its schools an army of genius thinkers and intellectuals who became so well known that the Arabs had them teachers and instructor for themselves.
    They sought their proficiency in translating the works of Greek scholars into Arabic, in addition to their own brilliant Syriac works. The works translated and authored by them became a rich source of learning for Arab scholars and philosopher in the generations to follow and, through them, to the western world. A quick glance at kindy's philosophical treaties, for example, would suffice to provide irrefutable evidence as to what technical terms had the first Arab philosopher borrowed from Syriac sources. Furthermore, Arabs adopted many Syriac melodies, tunes and poetry measures, particularly those invented by Bar Daysan, Mar Ephraim, Mar Balay and Mar Yacub of Sarug. Furthermore, we find in the works of some brilliant Syrian scholars some theories that Westerners hailed to when put forward by their scholars. Among them are the theory of Herder that " man is a small world".
    This theory was dealt with by Mar Ahodemeh the famous Syrian Catholicos and Martyr of the 6th century in his book entitled "man is a small world". Also, Galileo's ideas in Astronomy described in the book entitled "cause of all causes" written by a Syrian bishop from Urhoy (Edessa). Among the most famous Syrian schools were : 1. The school of Urhoy which was a pilgrimage place for students of classic Syriac language. In this school taught St. Ephraim. It lived 126 years. 2. School of Nisibin: survived for more than 250 years and, 3. School of Qen-Neshreen on the banks of Euphrates river, which lived 350 years (530-915 A.D). Here are some of the great Syrian scholars from both clergy and laity: Bar Daysan of Urhoy 222, Aphrahat 346, St. Ephraim the Syrian 373, Marootha of Miafarqin 431, Raboola of Urhoy 435, Phillixenos of Mabug 523, Mar Balay 550, Mar Ahodemeh 575, Severus of Antioch 538, Zakaria the Rhetor, Touma of Herqel 627, Severus Saboukht 667, Yacub of Urhoy 708, Antoun of Tekrit 850, Dionysius of Tel mahr 845, Iyawannes of Dara 860, Mar Moshe Bar Keefa 903, Yacub Bar Salibi 1171, Yacub of Bartella 1241, Michael the Great 1199, Bar Hebreaus 1286, Behnam of Hadal 1454, Ephraim I of Mosul 1957, Yacub III of Bartella, 1980, Boulos Behnam 1969.
    In the first four centuries A.D, there prevailed among the four Christian Churches i.e.. the Syrian Church of Antioch, the Latin Church of Rome, the Coptic Church of Alexandria and the Byzantine Church of Constantinople, cordial relations and one faith, the faith of the universal church, despite the emergence of some teachings foreign to the evangelical truth. These teachings included those of Simon the conjuror, Kyrinthos, Kirdon, Marcion, Hermogenos, Bar Daysan, Titianos, Mani, Arius, Macedonius, and Ewnomius. These heretics were confronted by the apostles and fathers of the church and pontiffs of Antioch, Alexandria and Rome.
    Their false teachings were rejected, and later disaDoeared with no traces left. In early 5th century, a certain Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestor, came up with a new teaching that contradicted the faith of the holy Universal Church. He claimed that "there are two natures and two persons in Christ, therefore, He is two Christs, one is son of God, and the other is son of man; and that Mary did not give birth to an incarnate God, but to a pure human who is Jesus Christ, on whom, the word of God dwelled later. This teaching of Nestor was accepted by some Syrians in areas under Persian rule, and in some parts in Syria, Palestine and Cyprus. They split from the Syrian church of Antioch and established themselves a center of leadership in Madaen, Iraq, and then moved it, later on, to Baghdad in 762 A.D. Until recently, their church was known by the name "the Syrian church of the East", or the "Syrian Nestorian Church". However, they changed their name in the turn of the 2Oth century and called themselves "the Assyrian church". From this Church branched off the Chaldean Catholics in 1553 A.D.
    Their Patriarch took the name " Patriarch of Babylon 1713 A.D. Lately, they called themselves the "Assyrian - Chaldean Catholic church". When the council of Chalcedony ended in 451 A.D. the four major Christian churches split into two groups: the first embraced the Syrian Church of Antioch and the Coptic church of Egypt which believed in one nature in Christ after the union of the two natures, i.e.; the non-Chalceonians. The second group embraced the Latin Church of Rome and the Byzantine Church of Constantinople, who believed in two natures in Jesus Christ even after the union of the two natures, i.e, the Chalcedonian faith. A group of Antiochian Syrians split from the mother Church and followed the Byzantine Chalcedonians.
    Their Orthodox Syrian brethren called them in the second half of the 5th century in their Syriac mother tongue Malkoye, i.e., Melkites which means the followers of the king, as they abandoned the faith of their Syrian ancestors and adopted the faith of the Byzantine king Marcion. They also called them "Roum" after the Eastern Roman State which had adopted the Chalcedonian faith as the official faith of the state. They further called them Greeks, as inhabitants of Constantinopole, the capital of the Byzantine Empire spoke the Greek language. The name Melkite however, prevailed. Today they are called "Greek Orthodox". It is this Church from which the Maronites branched off in the seventh century due to a dispute about the one will and the two wills of Christ.
    The Maronite church remained independent until the 12th century when she joined the Roman Catholic Church and started calling its Patriarch "Patriarch of Antioch". From the Greek Orthodox church branched off the Greek Catholics. Another painful schism took place in the body of the Syrian Orthodox church of Antioch in the middle of 17th century when the Syrian Catholics split from the mother church and joined Rome through the destructive efforts of the Kapouchian monks and with the help of the French consul of Aleppo. Thus, the Syrian Church today embraces seven separate Churches:
    1- The Syrian Orthodox Church, the mother church.
    2- The Syrian Church of the East (The Nestorian or the Assyrian Church, as the new name stands).
    3- The Syrian Chaldean Church (The Assyrian Chaldean Catholic Church, according to the new name).
    4- The Syrian Maronite Church
    5- The Syrian Catholic Church
    6- The Greek Orthodox Church of Antiochian Origin (in the Arab Countries) or the Melkite Syrians
    7- The Greek Catholic Church (The Syrian Melkite Catholic Church).
    The Liturgy of all these Churches was the Syrian Liturgy of Antioch, and the Liturgical language was one: The Syriac Aramaic language. The first five churches still use Syriac language in their rituals. The Syrian Orthodox, the Syrian Catholics and the Maronites use the Western Syriac dialect of Urhoy (Edessa), while the Assyrian and Chaldean Churches use the Eastern Syriac dialect. The difference between the two dialects is only in pronunciation. The other two churches i.e., the Greek Orthodox and the Greek Catholics, kept using the Liturgy of Antioch for a long time. The Syriac language survived in these two Churches until the 17th century. However, as of the 10th century, they had already replaced their Antiochian Liturgy with the Byzantine Liturgy after they translated it into Syriac.
    The Syrian Orthodox Church keeps cordial relations with her sister churches in faith, i.e., the Coptic, the Armenian and the Ethiopian churches. These relations grew stronger since the time of His Holiness the Late Patriarch Mar Ignatius Yakoob III. The relationship is also strong and cordial with the Greek Orthodox Church. As to Catholic Churches, after a long break in relations that lasted 1600 years: from the year 451 A.D, when the council of Chalcedony convened, and until the 20th century, the relations were restored on good grounds through the joint efforts of His Holiness Patriarch Yacub III and His Holiness Pope Paul VI. The relationship was further strengthened when a joint communiqué was issued by His Holiness Patriarch Zakay I and His Holiness Pope John Paul II. This communiqué is looked at as being an important achievement in the road to Christian unity. Friendly relations have also developed between the Syrian Church and the Protestant Churches, when the Syrian Church joined World Council of Churches in 1960 through the efforts of the Late Patriarch Yakoob III. Her representative in the Council today is His Eminence Archbishop Mar Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim, Metropolitan of Allepo. The Syrian Church today is an active member in the ecumenical circles. She is an important member in the Middle East Council of Churches, and participates in ecumenical Theologic dialogues on an official and private basis.
    The relationship between the Syrians and Arabs started with the conquest of Syrian lands by Arab Moslems. The relationship grew stronger in the days of Khalifa Omar Ibn AL-Khattab known as "Farouq". Farouq is a Syriac word. It means "Saviour" or "Liberator". The Syrians gave the Khalifa this name because he saved them from Byzantine oppression. Arab conquest to Syrian land would not have been accomplished without the help of native Syrians. The relations between Syrians and Arabs reached their highest point in Abbasite era, as is known. The relationship was built on ethnic grounds. Syrians and Arabs are two Semite peoples. They had in the distant past a common origin. Their languages, Syriac and Arabic, are sisters. Mustafa Shahabi, an Arab scholar says: " Syrians have had cordial relations with Arabs in the course of history.
    These relations fluctuated, being quite strong at times and weaker at others, depending on who the ruler was, and prevalence of ignorance, but they were never severed. There were among the Syrians from earlier times, great scholars who mastered Arabic, wrote books in this language, and translated celebrated works. Also, there were Arabs who became Christians and followed the Syrian faith, particularly before Islam. They so intimately mingled with them that they were considered of them. Arabic language in our present days needs people who master both Arabic and Syriac, so that they can show what glorious Syrian marks are left on Arabic language, and what valuable services to this language the Syrians rendered in various Islamic ages".
    The famous historian Philip Hitti wrote "The credit for Arab's general awakening and their intellectual renaissance in Baghdad at the Abbasite period goes to Syrians. That renaissance which became and still is the pride of the ancient Islamic period". William Wright, a western scholar says: "the Syrians carried the Greek light of thinking to Arabs, and later it was transferred to Europe in the mediaeval times". Linguistically, the Arabs came in contact with Syrians since the Jahiliya times, i.e, before Islam. the contact became stronger after Islamic conquest of Syrian lands. Many Arabs knew Syriac. We find Mohammed urging his followers to learn Syriac. In a book called "the Pen and the Inkwell" written by Mohammed Ibn Omar Al Madaini, we find Mohammed asking Zeid Ibn Thabet: "Do you know Syriac?". No, says Zeid. "Learn it" Mohammed orders him. Zeid leaned Syriac in 17 days
    Arabic language borrowed so heavily from Syriac dictionaries became full of Syriac words. Arabs also borrowed the Indian numbers as well as Calligraphy, especially the Koufi style from Syrians. Arabic grammar was influenced by Syriac grammar to a large extent. Aba Al Aswad Al-Du'ali (688 A.D.), who is considered the founder of Arabic grammar, went to Koufa, and there he learned classic Syriac, and contacted Syriac scholars using their help in creating Arabic grammar. He depended heavily on Syriac grammar and grammarians following the same order of organization, classification and rules as those of Syriac language. Most importantly, he borrowed the dot system in distinguishing the words and short vowels which the great Syriac scholar Mar Yacub of Urhoy had already invented them. In the realm of intellect, some Arab philosophers, such as Ibn Sina, learned wisdom and acquired knowledge from Greek origins via Syrian sources. Kindy wrote in one of his theses: "They (the Syrians) were to us a way and means to a lot of knowledge. Without them, these pioneer authentic works would not have been made available to us". Another Arab scholar writes: "We can say that it was the Syrians who first taught Moslems philosophy . It is them who translated to us, secondly; therefore, Moslems were influenced by the philosophy of the Syrians".
    The children of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch are spread, today, all over the world. They exist in significant numbers in the countries of the Middle East, (Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, and the Gulf States), Turkey, Europe (mainly in Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands), North and South America, Australia and India. The church has about three million followers, half of which are in India In all these regions, the Syrian Orthodox people enjoy a respectful status, and occupy good positions, for they adhere to their faith, and Christian virtues. they are examples of good, loyal, and sincere citizens. They are hard workers enjoying high social standers. A western researcher and historian wrote: "It is not difficult for divine providence to make the roots of these people take hold deep into the ground once again, so that they produce abundant fruit; for they have been liberated from the hegemony of foreign doctrine and foreign power as well as from injustice, atrocities and severe persecutions that they endured for a long time. At present, with all their weakness, they represent ancient churches that were at one time blooming all over the land. The head of the church today is His Holiness Mar Ignatius Zakay I Iywas. His title is "Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, and the Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church". He is the heir of St. Peter's throne. There are 28 Archdioceses in the church today eight of which are in India, and the rest is scattered over the countries where Syrians exist.
    St.Peter's & St.Paul's Patriarchal Cathedral in Ma`arat Sayyidnaya, Damascus

This is a true, probably incomplete, picture of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Church of the East of noble origin. The Church of complete spiritual personality as to faith, doctrine, liturgy, service and evangelization. The Church whose body has been so torn apart by divisions and schisms that she has had many names and directions. Perhaps with prayer and dialogue her wounds can be treated and her scattered parts can be brought together so that communion in faith can be restored, excommunications can be removed and replaced by blessings, its unity can be fulfilled as it was in the dawn of Christianity according to the spirit of the Gospel where the Lord says " So that all become

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