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Early Christianity

The Syrian Orthodox Church

Doctrines The Syrian Orthodox Church is one of the five so-called monophysite churches, characterised by their rejection of the Council of Chalcedon. In contrast to Chalcedon's doctrine that Christ is one person existing in two natures the Syrian Orthodox Church affirms that Christ's humanity cannot be separated from his divinity. After the incarnation the thoughts and actions of Jesus were those of a unitary being. This doctrine has sometimes been described as monophysitism because it ascribes to Christ one nature.

History The church's history dates back to the earliest period of Christianity. It was to Antioch in Syria that the apostles fled in the face of persecution by the Jewish religious authorities. In the 4th and 5th centuries relations between the church in Syria and the Byzantine church deteriorated in the face of growing Byzantine domination. Tensions erupted over the two nature christology promulgated at the Council of Chalcedon (451). The Chalcedonian formula was rejected by the Patriarch of Antioch, leading to the persecution of the non-Chalcedonian Syrian church.
The Arab conquest of Syria provided an environment tolerant towards the church, enabling it to flourish and expand. By the 12th century the church had 103 bishops and millions of adherents in Syria and Mesopotamia.
Recent history, however, has witnessed the serious decline of the church. Confronted with Kurdish persecution in the 19th century, Turkish persecution at the beginning of the 20th century, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the church has had to struggle to survive.

Symbols The Syrian Orthodox Church is very sparing in its use of icons. During church services the priest sprinkles water on the congregation with an olive branch. The olive branch symbolises peace and the water symbolises the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Adherents The Syrian Orthodox Church has an estimated 3 million adherents throughout the world (Europa Publications Limited 1995 2:2940).

Main Centre
 BP 914, Bab Touma, Damascus.