Monday, June 08, 2015

Sui Juris Churches XIX: The Syriac Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Antiochene

Primary Liturgical Language: Syriac (Christian Aramaic)

Juridical Status: Patriarchal

Approximate Population (to Nearest 10,000): 160,000

Brief History: A broadly pro-Rome party had existed in the Syrian Orthodox Church since the Crusades; in the seventeenth century a significant number began entering communion with Rome, in part due to the influence of Jesuit and Carmelite missionaries and in part due to the influence of the Maronites. In 1656 they decided to elect their own Patriarch, Andrew Akijan. Akijan himself, interestingly, seems to have been somewhat ambivalent about his election, and worried about whether the rites used by the Syrian Orthodox were acceptable; he was also bothered by the fact that he only had the faculties for the Maronite rite. He also seems to have been bothered by the sheer amount of opposition he faced. Rome supplied the authority to use a rite different from that of the Maronites, but it could not resolve the opposition. Akijan fled to Lebanon and was only reluctantly persuaded to return. However, his doing so led to a slow increase in the number of bishops and priests received into communion with Rome.

On its own this might not have done much, but in 1662, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate fell vacant, and the Synod elected Akijan as Patriarch in Aleppo. Even the Ottoman government, always wary of Western influence among churches in its territory, recognized him as such. Ironically, Rome had already opposed any such maneuver and was slower to give its own recognition; it only did so because the things was already accomplished and there was little to be done about it. Likewise, the anti-union party could do very little about the matter; Akijan was backed by both the Ottomans and the French, so active opposition, while it occasionally occurred, was politically perilous.

Akijan died, however, in 1677, and after his death Abdul Masih was elected, in part with support of the pro-Catholic party. However, Abdul Masih broke communion with Rome immediately, and thus the pro-Catholic party elected Gregory Peter Shahbaddin, his nephew. The Ottomans played each side against the other as it suited them politically; Shahbaddin was deposed and then re-installed several times. A few months after he was recognized for the fifth time by the Turks, Shahbaddin and quite a few others in the Catholic party were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. Shahbaddin died in prison in 1702; the exact circumstances are not clear, but it is commonly thought that he was poisoned. The bishops elected a new Patriarch, who was confirmed by Rome, but he refused the title. The church continued, but without a Patriarch until the 1780s.

In 1781, several bishops of the pro-Catholic party got together to elect a Patriarch, and they chose Michael Jarweh. Jarweh was closely tied with the Melkites, and had attempted to convince both of his predecessors to unite with Rome. This had resulted in an imprisonment and then a series of flights to escape his opponents. Rome eventually confirmed this in 1783, and the Syriac Catholic Church again had a Patriarch. This did not go well in Aleppo, though, and Jarweh had to flee to Lebanon, where, helped by Maronites, he eventually located his See at the monastery of Al-Sharfah.

Times would not be easy. The French government had done an extraordinary amount to alleviate the persecution of Catholics in the Ottoman Empire, but this all came to an end with the French Revolution, and persecution picked up again in a massive way. In the 1830s, however, Ottoman government found itself in a weak position, and the French began pressing the cause of Catholics again. Rome was able to negotiate the official recognition of the Armenian Catholics. The advantages were mutual: official recognition would alleviate the persecution, and it would also mean that Catholics in Ottoman territory would no longer be attending Latin churches, a constant worry for the Ottomans, who constantly attempted to reduce foreign influence on those residing in their territory. Other Catholics pressed for similar recognition, and the Syriac Catholic Church received it in 1843. This made it possible for the Patriarchal See to shift to Mardin.

The church began to grow and expand. But dark days were around the corner. After World War I, the Turks began a massive persecution of Christians through their territory. The most brutal of these persecutions is what is usually known as the Armenian Genocide, but the Armenians were not the only group to be targeted; Christians of all kinds were attacked, and while the Syriac Catholic Church did not undergo quite the decimation that the Armenian Catholic Church did, it was a brutal time. The Patriarchal See was moved to Beirut. It has since been slowly growing.

Notable Saints: There are a number of victims of the Assyrian Genocide, like Blessed Flavianus Michael Malki, who have a good chance of being raised to the universal calendar.

Notable Monuments: The Cathedral of Our Lady of Annunciation in Beirut; the Monastery of Al-Sharfeh (or Al-Charfet); the church of Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Patriarchal See in Beirut; two metropolitan archeparchies in Syria; four archeparchies in Syria and Iraq; three eparchies in Lebanon, Egypt, and North America; an apostolic exarchate in Venezuela; three patriarchal exarchates and a patriarchal territory. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church.)

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