Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the churches belongs to the Oriental Orthodox Church. The faith of the Syriac Orthodox Church is in accordance with the Nicene Creed. It believes in the Trinity that is one God, subsisting in three separate persons called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three being of one Essence, of one Godhead, have one Will, one Work and one Lordship. The special aspect of the First Person is His Fatherhood, that of the Second Person His Sonship, and that of the Third Person His Procession.
The Syriac Orthodox Church believes in the mystery of Incarnation. That is, the Only Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, took to Himself a body and became man. It further believes that at the time of Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit came upon her and cleansed her of all natural impurity, filling her with His grace. Then the Only Son of God came down and entered her immaculate womb, and took to Himself a body through her, thus becoming a perfect Man with a perfect Soul. After nine months, He was born of her and her virginity was maintained contrary to the laws of nature. It further believes that His true Godhead and His true Manhood were in Him essentially united, He being one Lord and one Son, and that after the union took place in Him, He had but one Nature Incarnate, was one Person, had one Will and one Work. This union is marked by being a natural union of persons, free of all separateness, intermixture, confusion, mingling, change and transformation.
The Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Spirit of Truth, proceeding from the Father. The Holy Spirit is equal with the Father and the Son.
The Syriac Orthodox Church conforms to the teachings of the Three Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381) and Ephesus (A.D. 431). It rejects the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451).
The Syriac Orthodox Church calls Mary yoldath aloho, ‘Bearer of God’, because she gave birth to Christ, God truly incarnate. St. Mary is the perpetual virgin and mother of God who is esteemed as the first among the saints. Intercessory prayers are offered in the names of the Saints, Churches are built in their blessed memory and their relics are honored and their memories are celebrated.
The Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the death of Christ was the separation of His soul from His body, but His deity did not at any time leave either His body or His soul. It further believes that by His death for us, He conferred upon us salvation from eternal death and reconciliation with His Heavenly Father.
Concerning the Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church believes the Church is the body of true believers in Christ, and that the Head of the Church is Our Lord God Jesus Christ. The Syrian orthodox church teach its members that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic enshrined with all elements of full-fledged Church and it paves way for salvation and that it is the duty of each member to obey the directions of the Church. The Chief Bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church is the Patriarch of Antioch.
The Holy Bible is revered as the word of God. The traditions of the church that have been handed down by the early Church Fathers are revered fervently and observed strictly as that of Bible. The Holy Bible and the traditions of the Church are esteemed as the criteria of the Church’s faith.
With regards to Sacraments, the Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Sacraments are tangible signs designated by the Lord Christ to proclaim divine grace, which He gave for our sanctification. Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Repentance, the Priesthood, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, etc. are the sacraments of the Church. Holy Sacraments are offered by the Bishops and the Priests. Only believers can receive the Sacraments. All but four of the Sacraments are essential for salvation: Baptism, Confirmation, Repentance and Eucharist. Of the sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation and the Priesthood may be received only once. The Syrian Church believes also in infant baptism.
The Sick are anointed with sacred oil for healing and atonement of sins. Basically this sacrament has been conceived for the healing of the sick, but it is now generally misunderstood and observed as the last sacrament.
The ecclesiastical year begins with Kudosh itho (Consecration of the Church) which may occurs on 30th or 31st of October if it is a Sunday, or in the first Sunday of November. And ends in the Sunday before 30 or 31st of October.
The church expects its members to observe Sunday and sacred days as holy and to refrain from routine engagements.
The Church celebrates many feasts. These feasts are divided into two classes, i.e., feasts of the Lord (moronoye) and feasts that commemorate the Virgin Mary and Saints. Some of these feasts are celebrated in fixed dates while some are movable ones, which varies accordance with Easter, which is changeable.
The Church has five canonical fasts or Lents, that includes fast of Nativity of our Lord, Nineveh Fast, Great Lent, Apostles Fast and Fast of Assumption. Besides Wednesdays and Fridays are Lenten days except the days between Easter and Pentecost and Wednesdays and Fridays on which a feasts of our Lord and that of Virgin Mary.
The church believes that it receives Apostolic Benediction and succession through the Patriarchs seated on the throne of St. Peter at Antioch and the Patriarchs are the successors of St. Peter. The Apostolic laying on the hands is regarded to be absolutely essential for the Order of Priesthood. Those priest who have received such ordination only have the authority to perform liturgy and give sacraments. The church teaches the priest to be the designate of Christ and as such he is empowered to forgive sins. The believers make secret confession before the priest forgives the sins in the name of Christ. The Church asserts the need for marriage to those priests who are Vicars of Parishes. But the bishops are unmarried and must adhere to celibacy. The Priests are not allowed to remarry.
The Church do not worship idols but venerate the icons of Jesus, St. Mary and other Saints are displayed in the Churches and houses. The Holy Cross is given due reverence and is considered as holy. The church also believes in the second coming of Jesus and in the last judgment.
In accordance with Psalm 119, verse 164, Seven times in the day have I praised thee for thy judgments, O Righteous One, the Syriac Orthodox Church set the times for prayer to seven: Evening or ramsho prayer (Vespers), Drawing of the Veil or Sootoro prayer (Compline), Midnight or lilyo prayer, Morning or saphro prayer (Matins), the Third Hour or tloth sho`in prayer (9 am), the Sixth Hour or sheth sho`in prayer (12 noon) and the Ninth Hour or tsha` sho`in prayer (3 pm). The Midnight prayer consists of three qawme watches (literarily standing).
The ecclesiastical day begins in the evening at sunset. For example, Monday starts at sunset on Sunday evening. Hence, Monday’s evening (ramsho) and compline (sootoro) prayers, are actually performed on Sunday in our modern reckoning. Today, even in monasteries, the evening and compline prayers are said together, as also the Midnight and Morning prayers, and the Three, Six and Nine O’Clock prayers, reducing the times of prayer to three. But, now adays, these prayers are done twice a day, i.e. in Evening (Nine O’clock Prayer, Vespers and Compline) and Morning (Midnight, Morning, Six and Nine O’clock Prayer).
During prayers, the worshipper stands facing the East, holding his hands stretched out. (For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man - Matthew 24:27.)
The sign of the cross is made with the right hand. The thumb, first finger and second finger are brought together and the first finger is extended further than the thumb and second finger, indicating that Christ is the One and Only Savior. The sign of the cross is drawn starting from the forehead, down to the breast and then from the left to the right shoulder. This tradition symbolizes that the Lord Christ, came down to earth from the heights, and redeemed our earthly body from the gloomy paths of darkness (left), to the paths of truth and light (right).
Public prayer is important in Syriac Christianity. Traditionally, the Holy Qurbono, i.e. Eucharist, is celebrated every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Presently, only monasteries observe the Wednesday and Friday Holy Qurbono. Monasteries, and some churches, observe daily prayers known as shhimo (simple) prayers.
Apart from sermons, all prayers are sung in the form of chants and melodies. Thousands of tunes and melodies existed, most of which are unfortunately lost. Still hundreds of melodies remain and these are preserved in the Treasury of Tunes known in Syriac as Beth Gazo. Since a musical notation system was not developed, the tunes were transmitted down the ages as oral tradition. As a result a few schools of music emerged, most notably Mardin, Edessa, Tur ’Abdin, and Kharput, to name a few.
During the celebration of the Eucharist, priests and deacons put on elaborate vestments which are unique to the Syriac Orthodox Church. Whether in the Middle East, India, Europe, the Americas or Australia, the same vestments are worn by all clergy
The supreme head of the Syriac Orthodox Church is the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. He also presides over the Holy Synod, the assembly of all bishops.
The local head of the church in Malankara (India) is the Catholicos of the East. The Catholicos is under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch and is accountable to the Holy Synod and the local Malankara Synod. He is consecrated by the Patriarch and presides over the local Holy Synod.
The local head of every archdiocese is an archbishop. He is under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch and is accountable to the Holy Synod. The archbishop is ordained by the Patriarch and at least two bishops. Some archdioceses are patriarchal vicarates; the patriarchal vicar, regardless of ecclesiastical office, is accountable directly to the Patriarch.
Each parish is assigned a vicar. He is under the direct jurisdiction of his archbishop and is directly accountable to him. The parish is run by a board of trustees (or a committee) which is elected by the parishioners and approved by the archbishop.
Deacons assist the priest in the administration of the liturgy. Each archdiocese may have one archdeacon who is called the right hand of the bishop. Only qualified and learned deacons are elevated to this office.
There are three ranks of priesthood in the Syriac Orthodox Church:
Episcopate: Within it there are the ranks of Patriarch, Catholicos, archbishop, and bishop.
Vicarate: Within it there are the ranks of chor-episcopos and priest or qasheesho.
Deaconate: Within it there are the ranks of archdeacon, evangelical-deacon, subdeacon, lector or qoruyo and singer or mzamrono.