East Syrian Rite

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The East Syrian Rite is a Christian liturgy, also known as the Thomasine Rite, Assyro-Chaldean Rite,[1] Assyrian or Chaldeo-Indian Rite,[2] and the Persian Rite although it originated in Edessa, Mesopotamia and India. It was used historically in the Church of the East, and remains in use in churches descended from it; namely the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The latter two churches are Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See.

Scope of usage[edit]

Illustration of Mar Elias, a bishop of the Church of the East, from the 18th–19th century

The Syrian and Mesopotamian Catholics are now commonly called Chaldeans (or Assyro-Chaldeans). The term Chaldean, which in Syriac generally meant magician or astrologer, denoted in Latin and other European languages Syrian nationality, and the Syriac or Aramaic language. For Aramaic, it especially refers to that form which is found in certain chapters of Daniel. This usage continued until the Latin missionaries at Mosul in the seventeenth century adopted it to distinguish the Catholics of the East Syrian Rite from those of the West Syrian Rite, whom they call "Syrians". It is also used to distinguish from the Assyrian Church of the East, some of whom call themselves Assyrians, "Syrians" (Surayi), and even "Christians" only, though they do not repudiate the name "Nestorayi"[citation needed]. Modern members of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East distinguish themselves from the rest of Christendom as the "Church of the East" or "Easterns"[citation needed], as opposed to "Westerns", by which they denote Latin Catholic, Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Protestants[citation needed].

In recent times they have been called, chiefly by the Anglicans, the "Assyrian Church", a name which can be defended on archaeological grounds. Brightman, in his "Liturgies Eastern and Western", includes Chaldean and Malabar Catholics and Assyrians under "Persian Rite", and Bishop Arthur Maclean of Moray and Ross (Anglican) who is the best living authority on the existing Assyrian Christians, calls them "East Syrians"[citation needed].

The catalogue of liturgies in the British Museum has adopted the usual Roman Catholic nomenclature:

  • Chaldean Rite: that of the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East
  • Malabar Rite: Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
  • Syrian Rite: Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholics

Most printed liturgies of these rites are Eastern Rite Catholic.[citation needed]

The language of all three forms of the East Syrian Rite is the Eastern dialect of Syriac, a modern form of which is still spoken by the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East (which broke away from the Assyrian Church of the East in the 1960s due to a dispute involving changes to the liturgical calendar, but is now in the process of reunification),[3] and the Chaldean Catholic Church.

History[edit]

The origin of the rite is unknown. The tradition — resting on the legend of Abgar and of his correspondence with Christ, which has been shown to be apocryphal — is to the effect that St. Thomas the Apostle, on his way to India, established Christianity in Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Persia, and left Addai (or Thaddeus), "one of the Seventy", and Mari in charge. To these the normal liturgy is attributed, but it is said to have been revised by the Patriarch Yeshuyab III in about 650. Some, however, consider this liturgy to be a development of the Antiochene.

After the First Council of Ephesus (431), the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, which had hitherto been governed by a catholicos, refused to accept the condemnation of Nestorius. As part of the Nestorian Schism, the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon cut itself off from the Catholic Church. In 498 the Catholicos assumed the title of "Patriarch of the East", and for many centuries this most successful missionary church continued to spread throughout Persia, Tartary, Mongolia, China, and India, developing on lines of its own, very little influenced by the rest of Christendom. The Patriarch Ishoyahb III was credited with several improvements to the liturgy in the seventh century.

At the end of the fourteenth century the conquests of Tamerlane all but destroyed this flourishing Church at one blow, reduced it to a few small communities in Persia, Turkey in Asia, Cyprus, South India, and the Island of Socotra. The Cypriote Church of the East united themselves to Rome in 1445; in the sixteenth century there was a schism in the patriarchate between the rival lines of Mar Shimun and Mar Elia; the Christianity of Socotra, such as it was, died out about the seventeenth century. The Malabarese Church divided into Uniate Catholics and those rejecting Papal authority in 1599; the former community deserted the pure East Syriac rite for a Latinized East Syriac version, while the latter became a part of the Syriac Orthodox Church and adopted the West Syrian Rite about fifty years later. In 1681 the Chaldean Unia, which had been struggling into existence since 1552, was finally established, and in 1778 received a great accession of strength in the adhesion of the whole Mar Elia patriarchate, and all that was left of the original Church of the East consisted of the inhabitants of a district between the Lakes of Van and Urmi and Tigris, and outlying colony in Palestine. These have been further reduced by a great massacre by the Kurds in 1843, and the secession of a large number to the Russian Church within the last few years.

In the late nineteenth century there was an attempt to form an "Independent Catholic Chaldean Church", on the model of the "Old Catholics". This resulted in separating a few from the Eastern Rite Catholics.

The Eucharistic service[edit]

A Syro-Malabar Catholic bishop holding the Mar Thoma Cross which symbolizes the heritage and identity of the Syrian Church of Saint Thomas Christians of India

There are three Anaphorae; those of the Holy Apostles (Saints Addai and Mari), Mar Nestorius, and Mar Theodore the Interpreter. The first is the most popularly and extensively used. The second was traditionally used on the Epiphany and the feasts of St. John the Baptist and of the Greek Doctors, both of which occur in Epiphany-tide on the Wednesday of the Rogation of the Ninevites, and on Maundy Thursday. The third is used (except when the second is ordered) from Advent Sunday to Palm Sunday. The same pro-anaphoral part serves for all three. Three other Anaphorae are mentioned by Ebedyeshu (metropolitan of Nisibis, 1298) in his catalogue, those of Barsuma, Narses, and Diodore of Tarsus; but they are not known now, unless Dr. Wright is correct in calling the fragment in Brit. Mus. Add. 14669, "Diodore of Tarsus".

The Eucharistic Liturgy is preceded by a preparation, or "Office of the Prothesis", which includes the solemn kneading and baking of the loaves. These were traditionally leavened, the flour being mixed with a little oil and the holy leaven (malka), which, according to the legend, "was given and handed down to us by our holy fathers Mar Addai and Mar Mari and Mar Toma", and of which and of the holy oil a very strange story is told. The real leavening, however, is done by means of fermented dough (khmira) from the preparation of the last Eucharistic Liturgy. The Chaldean and Syro-Malabar Catholics now use unleavened bread.

The Liturgy itself is introduced by the first verse of the Gloria in Excelsis and the Lord's prayer, with "farcings" (giyura), consisting of a form of the Sanctus. Then follow:

  • The Introit Psalm (variable), called Marmitha, with a preliminary prayer, varying for Sundays and greater feasts and for "Memorials" and ferias. In the Malabar Rite, Pss. xiv, cl, and cxvi are said in alternate verses by priests and deacons.
  • The "Antiphon of the Sanctuary" (Unitha d' qanki), variable, with a similarly varying prayer.
  • The Lakhumara, an antiphon beginning "To Thee, Lord", which occurs in other services also preceded by a similarly varying prayer.
  • The Trisagion. Incense is used before this. In the Eastern Rite at low Mass the elements are put on the altar before the incensing.

There are four or five Lections: (a) the Law and (b) the Prophecy, from the Old Testament, (c) the Lection from the Acts, (d) the Epistle, always from St. Paul, (e) the Gospel. Some days have all five lections, some four, some only three. All have an Epistle and a Gospel, but, generally, when there is a Lection from Law there is none from the Acts, and vice versa. Sometimes there is none from either Law or Acts. The first three are called Qiryani (Lections), the third Shlikha (Apostle). Before the Epistle and Gospel, hymns called Turgama (interpretation) are, or should be, said; that before the Epistle is invariable, that of the Gospel varies with the day. They answer to the Greek prokeimena. The Turgama of the Epistle is preceded by proper psalm verses called Shuraya (beginning), and that of the Gospel by other proper psalm verses called Zumara (song). The latter includes Alleluia between the verses. The Deacon's Litany, or Eklene, called Karazutha (proclamation), resembles the "Great Synapte" of the Greeks. During it the proper "Antiphon [Unitha] of the Gospel" is sung by the people.

The Offertory.

The deacons proclaim the expulsion of the unbaptized, and set the "hearers" to watch the doors. The priest places the bread and wine on the altar, with words (in the Church of the East, but not in the Chaldean Catholic Rite) which seem as if they were already consecrated. He sets aside a "memorial of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ" (Chaldean; usual Malabar Rite, "Mother of God"; but according to Raulin's Latin of the Malabar Rite, "Mother of God Himself and of the Lord Jesus Christ"), and of the patron of the Church (in the Malabar Rite, "of St.Thomas"). Then follows the proper "Antiphon of the Mysteries" (Unitha d' razi), answering to the offertory.

The Creed.

This is a variant of the Nicene Creed. It is possible that the order or words "and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and was made man, and was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary", may enshrine a Nestorian idea, but the Chaldean Catholics do not seem to have noticed it, their only alteration being the addition of the Filioque. The Malabar Book has an exact translation of Latin. In Neale's translation of the Malabar Rite the Karazutha, the Offertory, and the Expulsion of the Unbaptized come before the Lections and the Creed follows immediately on the Gospel, but in the Propaganda edition of 1774 the Offertory follows the Creed, which follows the Gospel.

The first Lavabo, followed by a Kushapa ("beseeching", i.e., prayer said in kneeling) and a form of the "Orate fratres", with its response. Then the variations of the three Anaphora begin.

The Kiss of Peace, preceded by a G'hantha, i.e., a prayer said with bowed head.

The prayer of Memorial (Dukhrana) of the Living and the Dead, and the Diptychs; the latter is now obsolete in the Church of the East.[citation needed]

The Anaphora.

As in all liturgies this begins with a form of a Sursum corda, but the East Syrian form is more elaborate than any other, especially in the Anaphora of Theodore. Then follows the Preface of the usual type ending with the Sanctus.

The Post-Sanctus (to use the Hispanico-Gallican term. This is an amplification (similar in idea and often in phraseology to those in all liturgies except the Roman) of the idea of the Sanctus into a recital of the work of Redemption, extending to some length and ending, in the Anaphorae of Nestorius and Theodore, with the recital of the Institution. In the Anaphora of the Apostles the recital of the Institution is wanting, though it has been supplied in the Anglican edition of the Church of the East book. Hammond (Liturgies Eastern and Western, p. lix) and most other writers hold that the Words of Institution belong to this Liturgy and should be supplied somewhere; Hammond (loc.cit) suggests many arguments for their former presence. The reason of their absence is uncertain. While some hold that this essential passage dropped out in times of ignorance, others say it never was there at all, being unnecessary, since the consecration was held to be effected by the subsequent Epiklesis alone. Another theory, evidently of Western origin and not quite consistent with the general Eastern theory of consecration by an Epiklesis following Christ's words, is that, being the formula of consecration, it was held too sacred to be written down. It does not seem to be quite certain whether Church of the East priests did or did not insert the Words of Institution in old times, but it seems that many of them do not do so now. The Prayer of the Great Oblation with a second memorial of the Living and the Dead, a Kushapa. The G'hantha of the Epiklesis, or Invocation of Holy Spirit. The Epiklesis itself is called Nithi Mar (May He come, O Lord) from its opening words. The Liturgy of the Apostles is so vague as to the purpose of the Invocation that, when the words of Institution are not said, it would be difficult to imagine this formula to be sufficient on any hypothesis, Eastern or Western. The Anaphorae of Nestorius and Theodore, besides having the Words of Institution, have definite Invocations, evidently copied from Antiochean or Byzantine forms. The older Chaldean and the Malabar Catholic books have inserted the Words of Institution with an Elevation, after the Epiklesis. But the 1901 Mosul edition puts the Words of Institution first.

Here follow a Prayer for Peace, a second Lavabo and a censing.

The Fraction, Consignation, Conjunction, and Commixture.

The Host is broken in two, and the sign of the Cross is made in the Chalice with one half, after which the other with the half that has been dipped in the chalice. The two halves are then reunited on the Paten. Then a cleft is made in the Host "qua parte intincta est in Sanguine" (Renaudot's tr.), and a particle is put in the chalice, after some intricate arranging on the paten.

Communion.

The veil is thrown open, the deacon exhorts the communicants to draw near, the priests breaks up the Host for distribution. Then follows the Lord's Prayer, with Introduction and Embolism, and the Sancta Sanctis, and then the 'Antiphon of the Bema" (Communion) is sung. The Communion is in both species separately, the priest giving the Host and the deacon the Chalice. Then follows a variable antiphon of thanksgiving, a post-communion, and a post-communition, and a dismissal. Afterwards the Mkaprana, an unconsecrated portion of the holy loaf, is distributed to the communicants, but not, as in the case of the Greek antidoron, and as the name of the latter implies, to non-communicants. The Chaldean Catholics are communicated with the Host dipped in the Chalice. They reserve what is left of the Holy Gifts, while the Church of the East priests consume all before leaving the church.

Properly, and according to their own canons, the Church of the East ought to say Mass on every Sunday and Friday, on every festival, and daily during the first, middle, and last week of Lent and the octave of Easter. In practice it is only said on Sundays and greater festivals, at the best, and in many churches not so often, a sort of "dry Mass" being used instead. The Chaldean Catholic priests say Mass daily, and where there are many priests there will be many Masses in the same Church in one day, which is contrary to the Church of the East canons[citation needed]. The Anglican editions of the liturgies omit the names of heretics and call the Anaphorae of Nestorius and Theodore the "Second Hallowing" and "Third Hallowing". Otherwise there are no alterations except the addition of Words of Institution to the first Anaphorae. The recent Catholic edition has made the same alterations and substituted "Mother of God" for "Mother of Christ". In each edition the added Words of Institution follow the form of the rite of the edition. The prayers of the Mass, like those of the Orthodox Eastern Church, are generally long and diffuse. Frequently they end with a sort of doxology called Qanuna which is said aloud, the rest being recited in a low tone. The Qanuna in form and usage resembles the Greek ekphonesis.

The vestments used by the priest at Mass are the Sudhra, a girded alb with three crosses in red or black on the shoulder, the Urara (orarion) or stole worn crossed by priests, but not by bishops (as in the West), and the Ma'apra, a sort of linen cope. The deacon wears the sudhra, with a urara over the left shoulder.

Divine Office[edit]

Chaldean Rite hymn attributed to Maruthas of Martyropolis.

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The nucleus of this is, as it is usual, the recitation of the Psalter. There are only three regular hours of service (Evening, Midnight, and Morning) with a rarely used compline. In practice only Morning and Evening are commonly used, but these are extremely well attended daily by laity as well as clergy. When the Church of the East had monasteries (which is no longer the case) seven hours of prayer were the custom in them, and three hulali of the Psalter were recited at each. This would mean a daily recitation of the whole Psalter. The present arrangement provides for seven hulali at each ferial night service, ten on Sundays, three on "Memorials", and the whole Psalter on feasts of Our Lord.

At the evening service there is a selection of from four to seven psalms, varying with the day of the week, and also a Shuraya, or short psalm, with generally a portion of Ps. cxviii, varying with the day of the fortnight.

At the morning service the invariable psalms are cix, xc, ciii (1–6), cxii, xcii, cxlviii, cl, cxvi. On ferias and "Memorials" Ps. cxlvi is said after Ps. cxlviii, and on ferias Ps. 1, 1–18, comes at the end of the psalms. The rest of the services consist of prayers, antiphons, litanies, and verses (giyura) inserted, like the Greek stichera, but more extensively, between verses of psalms. On Sundays the Gloria in Excelsis and Benedicte are said instead of Ps. cxlvi.

Both morning and evening services end with several prayers, a blessing, (Khuthama, "Sealing" ), the kiss of peace, and the Creed. The variables, besides the psalms, are those of the feast or day, which are very few, and those of the day of the fortnight. These fortnights consist of weeks called "Before" (Qdham) and "After" (Wathar), according to which of the two choirs begins the service. Hence the book of the Divine Office is called Qdham u wathar, or at full length Kthawa daqdham wadhwathar, the "Book of Before and After".

Liturgical calendar[edit]

Amen in East Syriac Aramaic

The year is divided into periods of about seven weeks each, called Shawu'i; these are Advent (called Subara, "Annunciation"), Ephiphany, Lent, Easter, the Apostles, Summer, "Elias and the Cross", "Moses", and the "Dedication" (Qudash idta). "Moses" and the "Dedication" have only four weeks each. The Sundays are generally named after the Shawu'a in which they occur, "Fourth Sunday of Epiphany", "Second Sunday of the Annunciation ", etc., though sometimes the name changes in the middle of a Shawu'a. Most of the "Memorials" (dukhrani), or saints' days, which have special lections, occur on the Fridays between Christmas and Lent, and are therefore movable feasts, but some, such as Christmas, Ephiphany, the Assumption, and about thirty smaller days without proper lections are on fixed days. There are four shorter fasting periods besides the Great Fast (Lent); these are:

  • the Fast of Mar Zaya, the three days after the second Sunday of the Nativity;
  • the Fast of the Virgins, after the first Sunday of the Epiphany;
  • the Rogation of the Ninevites, seventy days before Easter;
  • the Fast of Mart Mariam (Our Lady), from the first to the fourteenth of August.

The Fast of the Ninevites commemorates the repentance of Nineveh at the preaching of Jonas, and is carefully kept. Those of Mar Zaya and the Virgins are nearly obsolete. As compared with the Latin and Greek Calendars, that of the Chaldeans, whether Catholic or Assyrian, is very meagre[citation needed]. The Malabar Rite has largely adopted the Roman Calendar, and several Roman days have been added to that of the Chaldean Catholics. The Chaldean Easter coincides with that of the Roman Catholic Church.

Other sacraments and occasional services[edit]

The other Sacraments in use in the Church of the East are Baptism, with which is always associated an anointing, which as in other eastern rites answers to Confirmation, Holy Order and Matrimony, but not Penance or Unction of the sick. The Chaldean Catholics now have a form not unlike the Byzantine and West Syrian. The nearest approach to Penance among the Nestorians is a form, counted as a sacrament, for the reconciliation of apostates and excommunicated persons, prayers from which are occasionally used in cases of other penitents. Assemani's arguments (ibid., cclxxxvi–viii) for a belief in Penance as a Sacrament among the ancient Nestorians or for the practice of auricular confession among the Malabar Nestorians are not conclusive. The Chaldeans have a similar form to that of the Latin Rite. The Assyrian Church of the East omits Matrimony from the list, and make up the number of the mysteries to seven by including the Holy Leaven and the Sign of the Cross, but they are now rather vague about the definition or numeration.[4]

The only other rite of any interest is the consecration of churches. Oil, but not chrism, plays a considerable part in these rites, being used in Baptism, possibly in Confirmation, in the reconciliation of apostates, etc., in the consecration of churches, and the making of bread for the Eucharist. It is not used in ordination or for the sick. There are two sorts of oil; the one is ordinary olive oil, blessed or not blessed for the occasion, the other is the oil of the Holy Horn. The last, which, though really only plain oil, represents the chrism (or myron) of other rites, is believed to have been handed down from the Apostles with the Holy Leaven. The legend is that the Baptist caught the water which fell from the body of Christ at His baptism and preserved it. He gave it to St. John the Evangelist, who added to it some of the water which fell from the pierced side. At the Last Supper Jesus gave two loaves to St. John, bidding him keep one for the Holy Leaven. With this St. John mingled some of the Blood from the side of Christ. After Pentecost the Apostles mixed oil with the sacred water, and each took a horn of it, and the loaf they ground to pieces and mixed it with flour and salt to be the Holy Leaven. The Holy Horn is constantly renewed by the addition of oil blessed by a bishop on Maundy Thursday.

The baptismal service is modeled on the Eucharistic. The Mass of the Catechumens is almost identical, with of course appropriate Collects, psalms, Litanies, and Lections. After the introductory Gloria, Lord's Prayer, Marmitha (in this case Psalm 88) and its Collect, follow the imposition of hands and the signing with oil, after which follow an Antiphon of the Sanctuary and Ps. xliv, cix, cxxxi, with giyuri, Litanies, and Collects, then the lakhumara, Trisagion, and Lections (Epistle and Gospel ), and the Karazutha, after which the priest says the prayer of the imposition of hands, and the unbaptized are dismissed. An antiphon answering to that "of the mysteries" follows, and then the Creed is said. The bringing forward of the Holy Horn and the blessing of the oil take the place of the Offertory. The Anaphora is paralleled by Sursum corda, Preface, and Sanctus, a Nithi Mar, or Epiklesis, upon the oil, a commixture of the new oil with that of the Holy Horn, and the Lord's Prayer. Then the font is blessed and signed with the holy oil, and in the place of the Communion comes the Baptism itself. The children are signed with the oil on the breast and then anointed all over, and are dipped thrice in the font. The formula is: "N., be thou baptized in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, in the name of the Holy Ghost. Amen." Then follows the post-baptismal thanksgiving. Confirmation follows immediately. There are two prayers of Confirmation and a signing between the eyes with the formula: "N., is baptized and perfected in the name, etc." It is not quite clear whether oil should be used with this signing or not. Then any oil that remains over is poured into the Holy Horn, held over the font, and the water in the font is loosed from its former consecration with rather curious ceremonies. The Chaldean Catholics have added the renunciations, profession of faith, and answers of the sponsors from the Roman Ritual, and anoint with chrism.

The marriage service (Burakha, 'Blessing") has nothing very distinctive about it, and resembles closely the Byzantine, and to some extent the Jewish rite.

The orders of the Church of the East are those of reader (Qaruya), subdeacon (Hiupathiaqna), deacon (Shamasha), priest (Qashisha), archdeacon (Arkidhyaquna) and bishop (Apisqupa). The degree of archdeacon, though has an ordination service of its own, is only counted as a degree of the presbyterate, and is by some held to be the same as that of chorepiscopus (Kurapisqupa), which never involved episcopal ordination in the Church of the East. When a priest is engaged in sacerdotal functions, he is called Kahna (i.e., lereus; sacerdos) and a bishop is similarly Rab kahni (Chief of the Priests, archiereus, pontifex). Quashisha and Apisqupa only denote the degree. Kahnutha, priesthood, is used of the three degrees of deacon, priest, and bishop. The ordination formula is: "N. has been set apart, consecrated, and perfected to the work of the diaconate [or of the presbyterate] to the Levitical and stephanite Office [or for the office of the Aaronic priesthood], in the Name, etc., In the case of a bishop it is : "to the great work of the episcopate of the city of ..." A similar formula is used for archdeacons and metropolitans.

The Consecration of churches (Siamidha or Qudash Madhbkha) consists largely of unctions. The altar is anointed all over, and there are four consecration crosses on the four interior walls of the sanctuary, and these and the lintel of the door and various other places are anointed. The oil is not that of the Holy Horn, but fresh olive oil consecrated by the bishop.

Manuscripts and editions[edit]

Few of the manuscripts, except some lectionaries in the British Museum, were written before the 15th century, and most, whether Chaldean or Nestorian, are of the 17th and 18th. The books in use are:

These last six are excerpts from the Takhsa. Of the above the following have been printed in Syriac:

For the Church of the East:

For the Chaldean Catholics:

For the Syro-Malabar Catholics:

These three, which together form a Takhsa and Lectionary, are commonly found bound together. The Propaganda reprinted the third part in 1845.

The Malabar Rite was revised in a Roman direction by Aleixo de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa, and the revision was authorized by the controversial Synod of Diamper in 1599. So effectively was the original Malabar Rite abolished by the Synod in favour of this revision, and by the schismatics (when in 1649, being cut off from their own patriarch by the Spaniards and Portuguese, they put themselves under the Syriac Orthodox patriarch) in favour of the West Syrian Liturgy, that no copy is known to exist, but it is evident from the revised form that it could not have differed materially from the existing East Syriac Rite.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.