Christianity in Syria

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Christians in the Syrian Arab Republic
Total population
Approximately 10% of the population
Christianity (denominations like Eastern Orthodoxy; Eastern Catholicism; Oriental Orthodoxy like Syriac Orthodox Church and Armenian Apostolic Church; Assyrian Church of the East; Roman Catholicism; Protestantism)
The Bible (all denominations)

Christians in Syria make up about 10-12% of the population.[1][2] The country's largest Christian denomination is the Eastern Orthodox Church of Antioch (known as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East),[3][4] closely followed by the Melkite Catholic Church, one of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which has a common root with the Eastern Orthodox Church of Antioch,[5] and then by Oriental Orthodox Churches like Syriac Orthodox Church and Armenian Apostolic Church. There are also a minority of Protestants and members of the Assyrian Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church. The city of Aleppo is believed to have the largest number of Christians in Syria the late Ottoman rule, a large percentage of Syrian Christians emigrated from Syria, especially after the bloody chain of events that targeted Christians in particular in 1840, the 1860 massacre, and the Assyrian genocide. According to historian Philip Hitti, approximately 900,000 Syrians arrived in the United States between 1899 and 1919 (more than 90% of them Christians).[6] The Syrians referred include historical Syria or the Levant encompassing Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. Syrian Christians tend to be relatively wealthy and highly educated.[7]


The Christian population of Syria comprise 10% of the population.[1] In Syria today there around 1.2 million among their population in Syria in 2010 before the civil war started. Most Syrians are members of either the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch (700,000), or the Syriac Orthodox Church. The vast majority of Catholics belong to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which was created as a result of a schism within the Greek Orthodox Church, largely over a disputed election to the Patriarchal See of Antioch in 1724. Other Christian Churches in union with Rome include the Maronites, Syriac Catholics, Armenians, Chaldeans and a small number of Latin Rite Catholics. The rest belong to the Eastern communions, which have existed in Syria since the earliest days of Christianity. The main Eastern groups are:

The schisms that brought about the many sects resulted from political and doctrinal disagreements. The doctrine most commonly at issue was the nature of Christ. In 431, the Nestorians were separated from the main body of the Church because of their belief in the dual character of Christ, i.e., that he had two distinct but inseparable "qnoma" (ܩܢܘܡܐ, close in meaning to, but not exactly the same as, hypostasis), the human Jesus and the divine Logos. Therefore, according to Nestorian belief, Mary was not the mother of God but only of the man Jesus. The Council of Chalcedon, representing the mainstream of Christianity, in 451 confirmed the dual nature of Christ in one person; Mary was therefore the mother of a single person, mystically and simultaneously both human and divine. The Miaphysites taught that the Logos took on an instance of humanity as His own in one nature. They were the precursors of the present-day Syrian and Armenian Orthodox churches.

By the thirteenth century, breaks had developed between Eastern or Greek Christianity and Western or Latin Christianity. In the following centuries, however, especially during the Crusades, some of the Eastern churches professed the authority of the pope in Rome and entered into or re-affirmed communion with the Catholic Church. Today called the Eastern Catholic churches, they retain a distinctive language, canon law and liturgy.

Eastern Orthodoxy[edit]

St. George's Cathedral in Hama, Syria

The largest Christian denomination in Syria is the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch (officially named the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East), also known as the Melkite church after the 5th and 6th century Christian schisms, in which its clergy remained loyal to the Eastern Roman Emperor ("melek") of Constantinople.

Adherents of that denomination generally call themselves "al-Rûm" which means "Eastern Roman" or "Asian Greek" in Turkish and Arabic. In that particular context, the term "Rûm" is used in preference to "Yāvāni" or "Ionani" which means "European-Greek" or Ionian in Biblical Hebrew and Classical Arabic. The appellation "Greek" refers to the Koine Greek liturgy used in their traditional prayers and priestly rites.

Members of the community sometimes also call themselves "Melkites", which literally means "supporters of the emperor" in Semitic languages - a reference to their past allegiance to Roman and Byzantine imperial rule. But, in the modern era, this designation tends to be more commonly used by followers of the local Melkite Catholic Church.

Syrians from the Greek Orthodox Community are also present in the Hatay Province of Southern Turkey (bordering Northern Syria), and have been well represented within the Syrian diasporas of Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, the United States, Canada and Australia.

Oriental Orthodoxy[edit]

Archbishop of Aleppo "Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim" (left) of the Syriac Orthodox Church, with Austrian politician Reinhold Lopatka in 2012

Traditional Christianity in Syria is also represented by Oriental Orthodox communities, that primarily belong to the ancient Syriac Orthodox Church, and also to the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Syriac Orthodox Church[edit]

The Syriac Orthodox Church is the largest Oriental Orthodox Christian group in Syria. The Syriac Orthodox or Jacobite Church, whose liturgy is in Syriac, was severed from the favored church of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Orthodoxy), over the Chalcedonian controversy.

Armenian Apostolic Church[edit]

The Armenian Apostolic Church is the second largest Oriental Orthodox Christian group in Syria. It uses an Armenian liturgy and its doctrine is Miaphysite (not monophysite, which is a mistaken term used or was used by the Chalcedonian Catholics and Chalcedonian Orthodox).

Protestant Churches[edit]

In Syria, there is also a minority of Protestants. Protestantism was introduced by European missionaries and a small number of Syrians are members of Protestant denominations. The Gustav-Adolf-Werk (GAW) as the Evangelical Church in Germany Diaspora agency actively supports persecuted Protestant Christians in Syria with aid projects.[8] A 2015 study estimates some 2,000 Muslim converted to Christianity in Syria, most of them belonging to some form of Protestantism.[9]

By one estimate made by Elisabe Granli from University of Oslo, around 1,920 Syrian Druze converted to Christianity,[10] according to the same study Christian of Druze background (Druze converts to Christianity) still regard themselves as Druze,[10] and they claims that there is no contradiction between being Druze and being Christian.[10]

Catholic Church[edit]

The Monastery of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Aleppo.

Of the Eastern Catholic Churches the oldest is the Maronite, with ties to Rome dating at least from the twelfth century. Their status before then is unclear, some claiming it originally held to the Monothelite heresy up until 1215, while the Maronite Church claims it has always been in union with Rome. The liturgy is in Aramaic (Syriac).

Syrian Christians in a church in Damascus 2017

The Patriarchate of Antioch never recognized the mutual excommunications of Rome and Constantinople of 1054, so it was canonically still in union with both. After a disputed patriarchal election in 1724, it divided into two groups, one in union with Rome and the other with Constantinople. Today the term "Melkite" is in use mostly among the Greek Catholics of Syria and Lebanon. Like its sister-church the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch ('Eastern Orthodox'), the Melkite Greek Catholic Church uses both Greek and Arabic in its traditional liturgy. Most of the 375,000 Catholics in Syria belong to the Melkite Rite, the rest are Latin Rite, Maronites (52,000), Armenian or Syriac Rites.

Popes of the Catholic Church[edit]

Seven popes from Syria ascended the papal throne.[11][12] Many of them lived in Italy. Pope Gregory III,[13][14] was the last pope born outside Europe before Francis (elected in 2013).

Numerical order Pontificate Portrait Name
English · Regnal
Personal name Place of birth Notes
1 33 – 64/67 Pope-peter pprubens.jpg St Peter
Simon Peter

Bethsaida, Galilea, Roman Empire Saint Peter was from village of Bethsaida, Gaulanitis, Syria, Roman Empire
11 155 to 166 Papa Aniceto cropped.jpg St Anicetus
Anicitus Emesa, Syria Traditionally martyred; feast day 17 April
82 12 July 685
– 2 August 686
(1 year+)
Johannes V.jpg John V
Papa IOANNES Quintus
  Antioch, Syria  
84 15 December 687
– 8 September 701
(3 year+)
Pope Sergius I.jpg St Sergius I
Papa Sergius
  Sicily, Italy Sergius I was born in Sicily, but he was from Syrian parentage[15]
87 15 January 708
to 4 February 708
(21 days)
Sisinnius.jpg Sisinnius
88 25 March 708
– 9 April 715
(7 years+)
PopeConstantine.jpg Constantine
  Syria Last pope to visit Greece while in office, until John Paul II in 2001
90 18 March 731
to 28 November 741
(10 years+)
Pope Gregory III.jpg St Gregory III
Papa GREGORIUS Tertius
  Syria Third pope to bear the same name as his immediate predecessor.

Status of Christians in Syria[edit]

Damascus was one of the first regions to receive Christianity during the ministry of St Peter. There were more Christians in Damascus than anywhere else. With the military expansion of the Islamic Umayyad empire into Syria and Anatolia, non-Muslims who retained their native faiths were required to pay a tax (jizya) equivalent to the Islamic Zakat, and were permitted to own land; they were, however, not eligible for Islamic social welfare as Muslims were.[16][17]

Damascus still contains a sizeable proportion of Christians, with some churches all over the city, but particularly in the district of Bab Touma (The Gate of Thomas in Aramaic and Arabic). Masses are held every Sunday and civil servants are given Sunday mornings off to allow them to attend church, even though Sunday is a working day in Syria. Schools in Christian-dominated districts have Saturday and Sunday as the weekend, while the official Syrian weekend falls on Friday and Saturday.

During the Syrian civil war, several attacks by ISIS have targeted Syrian Christians, including the 2015 al-Qamishli bombings and the July 2016 Qamishli bombings. In January 2016, YPG militias conducted a surprise attack on Assyrian checkpoints in Qamishli, in a predominantly Assyrian area, killing one Assyrian and wounding three others.[18][19]


The old Christian quarter of Jdeydeh, Aleppo

Christians engage in every aspect of Syrian life and Syrian Christians are relatively wealthy and more highly educated than other Syrian religious groups.[7] Following in the traditions of Paul, who practiced his preaching and ministry in the marketplace, Syrian Christians are participants in the economy, the academic, scientific, engineering, arts, and intellectual life, entertainment, and the Politics of Syria. Many Syrian Christians are public sector and private sector managers and directors, while some are local administrators, members of Parliament, and ministers in the government. A number of Syrian Christians are also officers in the armed forces of Syria. They have preferred to mix in with Muslims rather than form all-Christian units and brigades, and fought alongside their Muslim compatriots against Israeli forces in the various Arab–Israeli conflicts of the 20th century. In addition to their daily work, Syrian Christians also participate in volunteer activities in the less developed areas of Syria. As a result, Syrian Christians are generally viewed by other Syrians as an asset to the larger community. In September 2017, the deputy Hammouda Sabbagh, a Syriac Orthodox Christian and member of the Ba'ath Party, was elected speaker of parliament with 193 votes out of 252.[20]


Syrian Christians are more urbanized than Muslims; many live either in or around Aleppo, Hamah, or Latakia. In the 18th century, Christians were relatively wealthier than Muslims in Aleppo.[21][22] Syrian Christians have their own courts that deal with civil cases like marriage, divorce and inheritance based on Bible teachings. Noteworthy Syrian Christians include the chronicler Paul of Aleppo, the chess player Philip Stamma, the Syrian actor Bassem Yakhour and the Syrian Armenian musician George Tutunjian.

The Constitution of Syria states that the President of Syria has to be a Muslim; this was as a result of popular demand at the time the constitution was written. However, Syria does not profess a state religion.

On 31 January 1973, Hafez al-Assad implemented the new constitution (after reaching power through a military coup in 1970), which led to a national crisis. Unlike previous constitutions, this one did not require that the president of Syria to be of the Islamic faith, leading to fierce demonstrations in Hama, Homs and Aleppo organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and the ulama. They labeled Assad as the "enemy of Allah" and called for a jihad against his rule.[23] Robert D. Kaplan has compared Assad's coming to power to " a Jew becoming tsar in Russia—an unprecedented development shocking to the Sunni majority population which had monopolized power for so many centuries."[24]

The government survived a series of armed revolts by Islamists, mainly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, from 1976 until 1982.

Christian cities/areas[edit]

Significant Christian populations.

Christians spread throughout Syria and have sizable populations in some cities/areas; important cities/areas are:

Syrian Christians during the Syrian Civil War[edit]

Syrian Christians, in line with their fellow citizens, have been badly affected by the Syrian Civil War. According to Syrian law, all Syrian men of adult age with brothers are eligible for military conscription, including Christians.[25] Since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, 300,000 to 900,000 Christians have left the country,[26][needs update] but as the situation began to stabilize in 2017 following recent army gains, return of electricity and water to many areas and stability returning to many government controlled regions, some Christians began returning to Syria, most notably in the city of Homs.[27][additional citation(s) needed]

Notable Christians[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b CIA World Factbook, People and Society: Syria
  2. ^ Gulf/2000 Project (2018). "Syria Religious Composition 2018". Columbia University - School of International and Public Affairs.
  3. ^ Bailey, Betty Jane; Bailey, J. Martin (2003). Who Are the Christians in the Middle East?. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. p. 191. ISBN 0-8028-1020-9.
  4. ^ "Syria". 19 September 2008. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
  5. ^ Syria: US State Department The July–December, 2010 International Religious Freedom Report
  6. ^ Hitti, Philip (2005) [1924]. The Syrians in America. Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-59333-176-2.
  7. ^ a b Why Do So Few Christian Syrian Refugees Register With The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees?, Marwan Kreidie: Adjunct Professor of Political Science, West Chester University.
  8. ^ Lage- und Tätigkeitsbericht des Gustav-Adolf-Werkes für das Jahr 2013/14 Diasporawerk der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland (GAW yearly report, in German)
  9. ^ Johnstone, Patrick; Miller, Duane (2015). "Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census". IJRR. 11: 14. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  10. ^ a b c Granli, Elisabet (2011). "Religious conversion in Syria : Alawite and Druze believers". University of Oslo.
  11. ^ John Platts (1825). A new universal biography, containing interesting accounts. Printed for Sherwood, Jones, and co. p. 479.
  12. ^ Archibald Bower, Samuel Hanson Cox (1845). The History of the Popes: From the Foundation of the See of Rome to A.D. 1758; with an Introd. and a Continuation to the Present Time, Volume 2. p. 14.
  13. ^ John Platts (1825). A New Universal Biography: Forming the first volume of series. p. 483.
  14. ^ Pierre Claude François Daunou (1838). The Power of the Popes. Tims. p. 352.
  15. ^ "Saint Sergius I | pope".
  16. ^ al-Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim (2008). Ahkam Ahl al-Dhimmah. 1. Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm. p. 121.
  17. ^ "Rules of Dhimmitude". Retrieved 2016-05-12..[better source needed]
  18. ^ "Kurdish YPG Forces Attack Assyrians in Syria, 1 Assyrian, 3 Kurds Killed".
  19. ^ "Syria's Christians pressured by forced PYD assimilation".
  20. ^ "Un chrétien élu à la tête du Parlement syrien".
  21. ^ Saint Terzia Church in Aleppo Christians in Aleppo (in Arabic) Archived 2010-11-30 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ BBC News Guide: Christians in the Middle East, last update 15 December 2005.
  23. ^ Alianak, Sonia (2007). Middle Eastern Leaders and Islam: A Precarious Equilibrium. Peter Lang. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-8204-6924-9.
  24. ^ Kaplan, Robert (February 1993). "Syria: Identity Crisis". The Atlantic.
  25. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-06-08. Retrieved 2017-08-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  26. ^
  27. ^ Syria: Homs Christians return to rebuild homes and lives - World Watch Monitor

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]