Syriac Catholic Church

Syriac Catholic Church
Founder Traces ultimate origins to Apostle St. Peter. Patriarchs Ignatius Andrew Akijan (1662) and Ignatius Michael III Jarweh (1782)
Independence Apostolic Era
Recognition 1662 with the Catholic Church
Primate Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syrians Ignatius Joseph III Yonan
Headquarters Beirut, Lebanon
Territory Near-East
Possessions Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, United States, Canada, France, Sweden, Venezuela, Brazil and Australia
Language Syriac, Aramaic[1]
Members 158,000[2]
Website (Arabic)

The Syriac Catholic Church (or Syrian Catholic Church) (Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝܬܐ ʿīṯo suryaiṯo qaṯolīqaiṯo) is a Christian church in the Levant and a wide diaspora using the Syrian Rite, which has many practices and rites in common with the Syriac Orthodox Church. Being one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches, the Syriac Catholic Church has full autonomy and is a self-governed sui iuris Church, while in full communion with the Holy See of Rome. Mor Ignatius Joseph III Younan became patriarch in 2009.

The Patriarch of Antioch of this church has the title of Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syrians.[3] and resides in Beirut, Lebanon.

Jesuit and Capuchin missionaries began to work among the Syriac Orthodox in Aleppo in 1626. So many of them were received into communion with Rome that in 1662, when the Patriarchate had fallen vacant, the Catholic party was able to elect one of its own, Andrew Akijan, as Patriarch of the Syriac Church. This provoked a split in the community, and after Akijan’s death in 1677 two opposing patriarchs were elected, one being the uncle of the other, representing the two parties (one pro-Catholic, the other anti-Catholic). But when the Catholic Patriarch died in 1702, this very brief line of Catholic Patriarchs upon the Syriac Church's See of Antioch died out with him.

Later, in 1782, the Syriac Orthodox Holy Synod elected Metropolitan Michael Jarweh of Aleppo as Patriarch. Shortly after he was enthroned, he declared himself Catholic and in unity with the Pope of Rome. Since Jarweh there has been an unbroken succession of Syriac Catholic Patriarchs.


Pre-Crusades period

Seat of the Syriac Catholic Church in Damascus

The Syriac Catholic Church was originally part of the Syriac Orthodox Church, which was originally part of the Catholic Church. It was established by Saint Peter prior to his departure to Rome, and extends it roots back to the origins of Christianity in the Orient; in the Acts of the Apostles we are told that it is in Antioch where the followers of Jesus for the first time were called "Christians" (Acts 11:26).

In the time of the first Ecumenical Councils, the Patriarch of Antioch held the ecclesiastical authority over the Diocese of the Orient, which was to be extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. Its scholarly mission in both languages: the Greek and Syriac was to provide the world and the Universal Church with eminent saints, scholars, hermits, martyrs and pastors. Among these great people are Saint Ephrem (373), Doctor of the Church, and Saint Jacob of Sarug (521).

During the Crusades

During the Crusades Catholicism began to have an influence over the local Christians in the region, and there were many examples of warm relations between Catholic and Syriac Orthodox bishops. Some of these bishops favored union with Rome, but there was no push to unify until a decree of union between the Syriac Orthodox and Rome was signed at the Council of Florence November 30, 1444- but the effects of this decree were rapidly annulled by opponents of it in the Syriac Churches hierarchy.

Split with the Syriac Orthodox Church

In 1626 Jesuit and Capuchin missionaries began to proselytize among the Syriac Orthodox faithful at Aleppo, forming a larger pro-catholic movement within the Syriac Orthodox Church. So in 1667, when the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate had fallen vacant, the Catholic party was able to elect one of its own, Andrew Akijan as Patriarch of the Syriac Church.[4] This provoked a split in the community, and after Akijan’s death in 1677 two opposing patriarchs were elected, with the Pro-Catholic one being the uncle of Andrew Akijan. However, when the Catholic Patriarch died in 1702, this very brief line of Catholic Patriarchs upon the Syriac Church's See of Antioch died out with him. After the death of the Akijan line, The Ottoman government supported the Syriac Orthodoxy's agitation against the Syriac Catholics, and throughout the 18th century the Syriac Catholics underwent suffering and much persecution. Due to this there were long periods when no Syriac Catholic bishops were functioning, so a Patriarch could not be elected, and the community was forced to go entirely underground. However, in 1782, the Syriac Orthodox Holy Synod elected Metropolitan Michael Jarweh of Aleppo as Patriarch. Shortly after he was enthroned, he declared himself Catholic and in unity with the Pope of Rome. After this declaration Jarweh took refuge in Lebanon and built the still-extant monastery of Our Lady at Sharfeh, and by that act became the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church. Since Jarweh there has been an unbroken succession of Syriac Catholic Patriarchs, which is known as the Ignatius Line.

After the split up until modern times

In 1829 the Ottoman government granted legal recognition to the Armenian Catholic Church, and in 1845 the Syriac Catholic Church was also granted its own civil emancipation. Meanwhile, the residence of the Patriarch was shifted to Aleppo in 1831. However, after the Massacre of Aleppo in 1850, the Patriarchal See was shifted to Mardin in 1854.

After becoming officially recognized by the Ottoman Government in 1845 the Syriac Catholic Church expanded rapidly. However, The expansion was ended by the persecutions and massacres that took place during the Assyrian genocide of World War I. After that, the Syriac Catholic Patriarchal See was moved to Beirut away from Mardin, to which many Ottoman Christians had fled the Genocide. In addition to its see in Beirut, The patriarchal seminary and printing house are located at Sharfeh Monastery in Sharfeh, Lebanon.



As of 2013 the Patriarch of Antioch (an Ancient major see, where several Catholic and Orthodox Patriarchates reside, at least nominally) was Moran Mor Ignatius Joseph III Younan, resident in Beirut, Lebanon. The Syriac Catholic Patriarch always takes the name "Ignatius" in addition to another name.

In modern history the leaders of the Syriac Catholic Church have been: Patriarch Michael III Jarweh, Archbishop Clemens Daoud, Patriarch Ephrem Rahmani, Vicomte de Tarrazi, Monsignor Ishac Armaleh, Ignatius Gabriel I Tappuni, Chorbishop Gabriel Khoury-Sarkis, Ignatius Antony II Hayyek, Ignatius Moses I Daoud, Ignatius Peter VIII Abdalahad, and Ignatius Joseph III Yonan. Eminent Syriac saints, scholars, hermits, martyrs and pastors since 1100 also include Dionysius Bar Salibi (1171), Gregorius X Bar Hebraeus (1286) and more recently Bishop Mor Flavianus Michael Malke.

The Syriac Church leadership has produced a variety of scholarly writings in a variety of topics. For example, Patriarch Ephrem Rahmani was widely praised for his work in Syriac and is responsible for Pope Benedict XV recognising Saint Ephrem as a Doctor of the Catholic Church.[5] Likewise Patriarch Ignatius Behnam II Beni is known for imploring eastern theology to defend the Primacy of Rome.[6]

The Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syrians presides upon the Patriarchal Eparchy of Beirut and leads spiritually all the Syriac Catholic Community around the world.

The community includes two archdioceses in Iraq, four in Syria, one in Egypt and Sudan, a Patriarchal Vicariate in Israel, a Patriarchal Vicariate in Turkey and the Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance in the United States and Canada.

Current Jurisdictions

The Syriac Catholic Church was formally and officially united with the Holy See of Rome in 1781.

Middle East diocesan jurisdictions
Old World missionary jurisdictions
Overseas diaspora

Former Jurisdictions

Titular sees

Other suppressed jurisdictions

Current hierarchy

As of 2010 the Church was estimated to have 159,000 faithful, 10 bishoprics, 85 parishes, 106 secular priests, 12 religious-order priests, 102 men and women in religious orders, 11 permanent deacons and 31 seminarians.[7]


The Syriac Rite is rooted in the old tradition of both the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch and has ties with the ancient Jewish Berakah and is usually called the Western Syriac Rite.

The Syriac Catholic Church follows a similar tradition to other Eastern Catholic Churches who use the West Syrian Rite, such as the Maronites and Syro-Malankara Christians. This rite is clearly distinct from the Greek Byzantine rite of Antioch of the Melkite Catholics and their Orthodox counterparts. Syriac Catholic priests were traditionally bound to celibacy by the Syriac Catholic local Synod of Sharfeh in 1888, but there are now a number of married priests.

The Liturgy of the Syriac Catholic church is very similar to their Orthodox Counterparts

Distinction between the Anaphora and the Liturgy

Often when compared with the Latin Church the meaning of Anaphora and Liturgy can be mixed up. However, there is a clear distinction in the Syriac Church. The Liturgy of St James the Just is the skeleton of the whole Qurbono Qadisho with all the prayers before the Anaphora being exactly the same no-matter which anaphora used. The Liturgy of St James the Just comprises:

  1. The First Service
    1. Prosthesis
  2. The Second Service
    1. Reading from the Holy Books
      1. The Trisagion
      2. Antiphon before the Pauline Epistle (Galatians 1:8-9)
      3. The Epistle of Saint Paul
  3. The Third Service
    1. The Husoyo (Liturgy of Absolution)
      1. The Proemion
      2. The Sedro (Main Prayer)
      3. The Etro (Fragrance/incense prayer)
  4. The Anaphora
    1. The Kiss of peace
    2. Veiling and placing of the hands prayer
    3. The Dialogue
    4. Preface
    5. Sanctus (Qadish)
    6. Words of Institution
    7. Anamnesis
    8. Epiclesis
    9. Petitions
    10. Fracturing
    11. Liturgy of Repentance
      1. Lord's Prayer (Abun dbashmayo)
    12. Invitation to Holy Communion
    13. The Procession of the Holy Mysteries
    14. Prayer of Thanksgiving
    15. The Dismissal of the Faithful

In the books of the Patriarchal Sharfet seminary, this order is clearly strict, with the Deacon and Congregation prayer being the same no matter which Anaphora is used. The only prayer that changes when a different Anaphora is used is that of the priest.

Liturgical Paraphernalia


The Syriac Catholic Church uses fans with bells on them and engraved with seraphim during the Qurbono. Usually someone in the minor orders would shake these fans behind a Bishop to symbolise the Seraphim. They are also used during the consecration where two men would shake them over the altar during moments in the epliclesis and words of institution when the priest says "he took and broke" and "this is my body/blood".

The Syriac Catholic Fans look similar to this but with bells on the edges


The thurible of the Syriac Catholic Church consists of 9 bells, representing the 9 levels of angels.

Liturgical Symbols

Liturgical symbols are used when a bishop is not present and used at similar times to when the fans are used.

Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours is exactly the same as in the Syriac Orthodox. There are two versions of this the Phenqitho and the Shhimo. The former is the more complicated 7 volume version. While the latter is the simple version.

Liturgical ranking

Likewise the ranking of clerics in the Syriac Church is extremely similar to that of the Syriac Orthodox Church. The most notable differences are:

Major Orders

Minor Orders


The liturgical language of the Syriac Catholic Church, Syriac, is a dialect of Aramaic. The Qurbono Qadisho (literally: Holy Mass or Holy Offering/Sacrifice) of the Syriac Church uses a variety of Anaphoras, with the Anaphora of the 12 Apostles being the one mostly in use with the Liturgy of St James the Just.

Their ancient semitic language is known as Aramaic (or "Syriac" after the time of Christ since the majority of people who spoke this language belonged to the province of "Syria"). It is the language spoken by Jesus, Mary and the Apostles. Many of the ancient hymns of the Church are still maintained in this native tongue although several have been translated into Arabic, English, French and other languages.

Syriac is still spoken in some few communities in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, but for most Arabic is the vernacular language.[1]


Throughout the History of the Syriac Church there have been many martyrs. A recent example is Flavianus Michael Malke.

Syriac Catholics in Iraq

Further information: 2010 Baghdad church attack

On 31 October 2010, 58 Iraqi Syriac Catholics were killed by Muslim extremists while attending Sunday Mass, 78 others were wounded. The attack by the radical terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq on the congregation of Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Church was the bloodiest single attack on an Iraqi Christian church in recent history.[8]

Two priests, Fathers Saad Abdallah Tha'ir and Waseem Tabeeh, were killed.[9] Another, Father Qatin, was seriously wounded but recovered.[10][11]

See also


  1. 1 2 Kjeilen, Tore. "Syrian Catholic Church - LookLex Encyclopaedia". Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  3. The title of Patriarch of Antioch is also used/claimed by four other churches, two Orthodox and two other Eastern Catholic; in 1964 the Latin titular payriarchate was abolished.
  5. "Principi Apostolorum Petro (October 5, 1920) - BENEDICT XV". Retrieved 5 September 2016. line feed character in |title= at position 9 (help)
  6. Benni, Cyril Benham; Gagliardi, Joseph (1 January 1871). "The tradition of the Syriac Church of Antioch : concerning the primacy and the prerogatives of St. Peter and of his successors the Roman pontiffs". London : Burns, Oates. Retrieved 5 September 2016 via Internet Archive.
  7. Ronald Roberson (source: Annuario Pontificio) (August 22, 2010). "The Eastern Catholic Churches 2010" (PDF). Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
  8. "Muslim Terrorists Murder 58 Iraqi Christians in Church". Retrieved 2010-11-14.
  9. article at, 2010-11-03 (in French), Retrieved on 2010-11-04. "Trois prêtres (Saad Abdallah Tha'ir, Waseem Tabeeh et Raphael Qatin) et des dizaines de chrétiens ont été tués."
  10. "erratum: le père Raphael Qatin n’est pas décédé" 2010-11-05 (in French). Retrieved 8 November 2010.
  11. "Iraqi Christians Hold Mass In Assaulted Church", 2010-11-07. Retrieved 8 November 2010.


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