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The Oriental Orthodox Churches / Syrian Orthodox Church

Syrian Orthodox Church

Number of faithfulapprox. 3 million, including around 1.5 million in India (autonomous Syrian Orthodox Church of Malankar)
Title of First Hierarch

Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and the whole Orient

See of the First HierarchDamascus (Syria)
Current incumbentIgnatius Aphrem II (Karim), born 1965, in office since 2014
Bishops and dioceses71 bishops (including 32 in India, headed by the "Catholicos of India"); 67 dioceses (including 35 in India)
RiteWest Syriac
Liturgical LanguageAramaic
Calendarmixed calendar (Gregorian/Julian)
Presence in Austria

approx. 8,000 believers; 1 Archbishop (resident in Switzerland); 6 parishes, 4 priests

Presence in Germanyapprox. 100,000 believers; 1 archbishop (responsibility: diocese), 1 bishop (responsibility: ecumenism, state affairs), monastery and seat of the archbishop in Warburg; 60 parishes, 60 priests

The Syrian Orthodox Church goes back to the early Christian Patriarchate of Antioch, which is traditionally considered to be founded by the Apostle Peter, who was active in Antioch according to the Acts of the Apostles. After the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the patriarchate split into the supporters of the Christological creed of Chalcedon (Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch), and the opponents of Chalcedon, who were persecuted by the Byzantine emperors and referred to for centuries as "Monophysites". From the latter group, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch emerged, which, however, firmly rejects the accusation of "Monophysitism". Despite the persecution of their ecclesiastical hierarchy by the Byzantine emperors, Jacob Baradai managed to reorganize this church in the 6th century, which is why the Syriac-Orthodox Christians are also referred to as "Jacobites" in older confessional studies - a foreign term that they themselves reject.

After its heyday in the 12th/13th, and from the 14th century onwards, a long period of decline under Muslim rule followed. During this period, the identity of the Syrian Orthodox Church was preserved primarily through monasticism centered on the monasteries of Tur Abdin (in what is now southeastern Turkey). In the middle of the 17th century, a large part of the Saint Thomas Christians of India, who originally belonged to the East Syriac tradition, joined the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch as a result of the union efforts of the Catholic Portuguese, and adopted the West Syriac rite. Today the Indian dioceses form an autonomous church within the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, which calls itself the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and is headed by the Catholicos of India.

After the destruction of Antioch, the patriarchs of the Syrian Orthodox Church resided for centuries in various monasteries in Mesopotamia, and most recently in Mardin in the south-east of today's Turkey. After the 1915 genocide of Armenian, Syrian and Greek Christians, the patriarchal see was moved to Homs in Syria in 1924 and from there to Damascus in 1959. The tensions between Turks and Kurds in the traditional settlement area of the ​​Syrian Christians in the southeast of Turkey led to a wave of emigration to Europe and America in the 20th century, Nowadays, the majority of the faithful no longer reside in their country of origin, but instead in the western diaspora. The liturgy of the Syriac Orthodox Church is still celebrated in the old Aramaic language and thus, in the language that, according to the belief of the Syriac Orthodox Christians, Jesus himself spoke. Due to Aramaic language and culture, the West Syriac Christians are, therefore, often referred to as Arameans.


  • S. Birol, Syrisch-orthodoxe Christen in Deutschland, in: Orthodoxie in Deutschland, hg. v. Th. Bremer, A.E. Kattan und R. Thöle, Münster 2016, 235-250.
  • Z. Iwas, Die Syrisch-Orthodoxe Kirche durch die Jahrhunderte, Glane-Losser 1995.
  • J. Önder, Die Syrisch-Orthodoxen Christen. Zwischen Orient und Okzident, Glane-Losser 2013.
  • M. Tamcke, Die Christen vom Tur Abdin. Hinführung zur Syrisch-Orthodoxen Kirche, Frankfurt a.M. 2009.
  • S. Brock (Hg.), Die verborgene Perle. Die Syrisch-Orthodoxe Kirche und ihr antikes aramäisches Erbe, 4 Bde., Rom 2001.