The labels "Syrian" or "Greek" in the context of Eastern Churches can
be understood in different ways--as distinguishing the Christian
traditions that emerged in the Syriac speaking Orient as opposed to
the Byzantine, the language used in the liturgy and by the people,
and the ethnic roots of the majority of the church members. There is
no compelling factual basis to characterize the West Syriac Church
(the Syriac Orthodox Church) as both "Syriac and Greek" as opposed to
the East Syriac Church (the Church of the East or opprobiously called
the Nestorian Church) which is purportedly "pure" Syriac.
The argument appears to be that the West Syriac Church had both
Syriac and Greek Fathers as opposed to the East Syriac Church which
only had Syriac Fathers. The Church accepts fathers of multiple
traditions--Greek, Latin, Coptic, etc., in addition to the Syriac
fathers. Historical evidence tells us that the East Syriac Church
also honored many fathers who were not of Syriac origin, especially
the fathers who influenced the Christological doctrines of this
church. This includes Nestorius, who was a Patriarch of
Constantinople and educated in Antioch, and Theodore of Mopsuestia,
among others. In fact it is in the area of Christology that fathers
of Greek origin, most prominent of whom is Patriarch Severius,
influenced the West Syrian Church.
In terms of liturgical language, both the West and East Syrian
Churches have always used Syriac as the chief liturgical language.
Syriac was the language of the masses in the eastern parts of Roman
empire as well as for Christians in Persian empire. Antioch as the
center of commerce in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire had a
large Greek speaking population. But outside the bounds of the city,
there were hardly any Greek speaking people; Syriac was the
vernacular. Antioch being the seat of the Patriarchate, many early
Patriarchs of Antioch used Greek. However, the overwhelming majority
of people under the See of Antioch were always Syriac speaking. After
518, when Patriarch Severius was exiled from Antioch and the Syriac
Orthodox line of Patriarchs of Antioch continued elsewhere, hardly
any Greek speaking Patriarch adorned the See of Antioch.
Ethnically, the majority of the Syriac Orthodox Christians in
Mesopotamia are Aramean in origin. In the East, many Syriac Orthodox
have Assyrian origin. (Arameans and Assyrians were ancient
inhabitants of Mesopotamia). There have also been Arab converts to
the Church (one of the earliest commentaries on the Holy Qurbono was
written by George, the bishop of the Arabs). The majority of the
faithful in the Church of the East are of Assyrian origin. Neither
Church had any significant group of people who were of Greek origin.
Thus, both churches can be said to have had an overwhelming Syriac
background although influenced in many ways by Greek speaking Fathers
as well as doctrines that emerged in the Greek mileu. Facts do not
support the claim that one is "Syriac and Greek" while the other
is "pure" Syriac.
Thomas Joseph, Ph.D.
Web Master, SOR (http://sor.cua.edu)
Technical Editor, Hugoye (http://syrcom.cua.edu/Hugoye/)
--- In SOCM-FORUM@y..., "thomas_pa1" wrote:
> Dear Paul Pothen, Traditionally "Church of the East" was pure
> in nature. But Church of Anthioc always had Greek fathers.
> tradition is a combination of Greek and Syriac tradition. There is
> nothing wrong in using "Orthodox Syrian Church". Church of the East
> has a pure Syriac tradition compared with Anthioc. This is a fact.
> Dont consider this as a criticism of Anthioc. Greek tradition is
> great. For many years the language of CHurch of Anthioc was Greek.
> It is only after Chalcedon that non-Chalcedonian section of Anthioc
> developed in to a Syrian Church, when the Greek section almost
> entirely joined the Chalcedonian side.