Christianity Knowledge Base

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Syriac Christianity is a culturally and linguistically distinctive community within Eastern Christianity. It has its roots in the Near East, and is represented by a number of Christian denominations today.


Syriac Christian heritage is transmitted through the Syriac language, a dialect of Aramaic. Unlike the Greek Christian culture, Syriac culture borrowed much from early Rabbinic Judaism and Mesopotamian culture. Whereas Latin and Greek Christian cultures became protected by the Roman and Byzantine Empire, Syriac Christianity often found itself marginalised and persecuted. Antioch was the political capital of this culture, and was the seat of the patriarchs of the church. However, Antioch was heavily Hellenized, and the Mesopotamian cities of Edessa, Nisibis and Ctesiphon became Syriac cultural centres.

The early literature of Syriac Christianity include the Diatessaron of Tatian (most probably), the Peshitta Bible (partly based on a Jewish Targum), the Doctrine of Addai and the writings of Aphrahat and the hymns of Ephrem the Syrian.

The first division between Syriac Christians occurred in the 5th century, when Christians of the Persian Empire were separated from those in the west over the Nestorian Schism. This split owed just as much to the politics of the day as it did to theological orthodoxy. Ctesiphon, the Persian capital, became the capital of the Church of the East.

After the Council of Chalcedon in 451, many Syriac Christians within the Roman Empire rebelled against its decisions. The Patriarchate of Antioch was then divided between a Chalcedonian and a non-Chalcedonian communion. The Chalcedonians were often labelled 'Melkites' (Emperor's Party), while their opponents were labelled as Monophysites (those who believe in the one rather than two natures of Christ) and Jacobites (after Jacob Baradaeus). The Maronite Church found itself caught between the two.

Over time, groups within each of these branches (Eastern Rite churches) have entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

Some Syriac Christian denominations no longer use the Syriac language in their worship. This is particularly true of the Chalcedonian churches.

Churches of the Syriac tradition[]

  • Churches of the East (sometimes called Nestorian):
  • The Anti-Chalcedonian Churches of Antioch:
    • The Syriac Orthodox Church (sometimes called Jacobite).
    • The Syrian Catholic Church, an Eastern Rite Catholic church.
  • The Maronite Church, an Eastern Rite Catholic church.
  • The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, an Eastern Rite Catholic church in Kerala, India.
  • The Chalcedonian Churches of Antioch:

Syriac Christians were involved in the mission to India, and many of the ancient churches of India are in communion with their Syriac cousins. These Indian Christians are known as Saint Thomas Christians.

See also[]

  • East Syrian Rite
  • West Syrian Rite
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