The liturgy of the Indian Orthodox church belongs to the Antiochean family of liturgies. The Byzantine, East Syrian (Persian), Armenian, Georgian, and the Maronite liturgies also belong to the same group. In the first half of the fifth century, the Antiochean Church adopted Saint James Liturgy as the official Anaphora of jerusalem.
The Syrian Orthodox Church, nicknamed as ‘Jacobite’(after Jacob Baradaeus, the sixth century organizer of it ). Or “Monophysite”(as it opposed the Diophysite Chalcedonian Christology), inherited the Antiochean liturgy in its fifth century form. Since they opposed the Council of Chalcedon (451) they were expelled from Antioch and the Eastern Syrian speaking areas of Mesopotamia on to the border of the Persian and Roman Empires. There they translated the liturgy into Syriac. Thus the Jerusalem Anaphora of St. James became the official liturgy of the Syriac-speaking Church of Mesopotamia. In the seventh century, Jacob of Edessa (+ 708) revised the existing Syriac version of the St. James. He made a more accurate Syriac translation on the basis of the Greek text. Jacob is also credited with the Syriac translation of the Baptismal liturgy, of which the Greek original has been attributed to Severus, Patriarch of Antioch (512-518). Most of the Syrian Orthodox liturgical celebrations have been believed to be compilation of Jacob of Edessa. (876 AD)
In the middle of the 17th century, following the arrival of Mar Gregorios of Jerusalem, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church began to use the West Syrian liturgy, which gradually replaced the Persian liturgy which the St. Thomas Christians were using for centuries.
The Eucharistic liturgy has the following structure:
I. Preparation rites.
2. Pre-anaphora (introductory rites, liturgy of Word, Censing and the Creed).
3. Kiss of Peace.
4. Trinitarian blessing and dialogue.
1I. Lord’s Prayer.
12. Holy things to the holy.
15. Post communion.
The structure of the Anaphora ( Nos 3-13) was fixed as early as the time of Jacob of Edessa. The preparation rites and the post-communion, as well as the prayers to be said by the people and the deacon were added later. The present form belongs to the 15th century.
The most characteristic trait of the Syrian Orthodox Liturgy is the large number of anaphora. More than seventy are known, and about a dozen are still in use. All the Anaphoras follow the structure of Saint James, though the wording differs considerably.
Baptismal rite also has about a dozen liturgies; most of them are not in use. Almost all the liturgical celebrations, including the daily offices and the lectionary have several versions. Most of them still exist in manuscripts. It was in fact the invention of printing that contributed to the fixation of the liturgical texts, and the disuse of different versions.
The Breviary exists at least in two versions: “The common Prayer” (Shhimo) for the weekly cycle and the” The Festal Breviary” (Penkito or Hudro) for annual cycle. Daily offices are divided into seven canonical hours (Cfr. Ps. 1 19: 164), beginning with Ramso (Vespers) and followed by Sutoro (Compline), Liliyo (Night), Sapro (Morning),
Third, Sixth, and Ninth hours. Each day and hour has fixed or dominant themes. For example, the ninth hour and the office of Saturday have the “Departed” for theme. The theme of Sunday is always ‘the Resurrection’, and that •of Wednesday is the ‘Mother of God’ and that of Friday is ‘the Cross and the martyrs’. The balanced arrangement of the themes and the rich hymnody (Most of the themes are the compositions of the poet-theologians likes St. Ephrem and St. Jacob of Sarug), and prayers of biblical inspiration illustrate the Syriac liturgical genius. The most characteristic Syrian orthodox prayer is the Sedro ( a row, order or series). Sedro is a long prayer in the form of a series of expositions or meditations, usually preceded by a Promiun (Introduction). Often, Sedro summarizes the Syrian Orthodox theology. The Sedro of the office of the Pentecost is an example of it.
A large number of commentaries (most of them in unpublished manuscripts) exist on the Eucharist, Baptism and consecration of Holy Myron. Most important among them are those by Jacob of Eddessa (708), Moses bar Kepha (+903) and Dionysius Bar Salibi (+ 1 171)
The liturgical year begins with the ‘Sunday of the Consecration of the Church’ (First Sunday of November or 30/31 October if it falls on a Sunday), followed by the ‘Sunday of renewal of the Church’, and the Sundays of the Advent. Generally speaking, the liturgical year could be divided into a cycle of seven periods, each approximately consisting of seven weeks. The following are the seven periods.
I. Consecration of the Church to Nativity:
Church and the events and persons associated with the birth of Jesus are the themes.
2. Nativity to the great lent: Epiphany Jan 6) and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Feb. 2) are the important events commemorated. The Nineveh Fast also falls in this period. The two Sundays that precede the Great Lent are dedicated for the memory of the departed priests and the faithful. Lent is the preparation for Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and the living and the departed together prepare themselves for the great feast of our hope.
3. Great lent: Great Lent is a period of repentance, and thus it begins and ends with the service of reconciliation (shubkono), symbolizing that Lent is a time for reconciliation with God and with one another. The Gospel readings of the Lent are on the healing miracles of Christ, which suggest that healing-that is the restoration of humanity to its original state was the goal of the Incarnation, and that Lent is the means to attain the blessed life of paradise. Abstinence, not indulgence, is the method to attain happiness is the carnal message here.
4. Easter to Pentecost: The week that follows Easter is called “White (Hevoro) days, as those who are baptized in the Easter night, continued to wear white garments for a week. During the fifty days between Easter and the Pentecost, the events of the appearances of the risen Christ are commemorated.
5. Pentecost to the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul June 29): The theme of this period is the coming of the Holy Spirit and the growth of the Church.
6. Feast of the Apostles to the Feast of the Holy Cross-. (Sept 14): the feast of the Transfiguration (Aug. 6) and the feast of the Assumption of the mother of God (Aug. 15) fall in this period.
7. Feast of the H. Cross to the Sunday of the Consecration of the Church: The Second Coming of Christ and its signs and the life in the coming world are the themes.
The theme of the day or the Season is expressed in the Bible reading, Prumiun-Sedra and the hymns.
In the Church Music, the Syrian Orthodox Church follows the Octoechos, a modal system in eight modes or tunes, analogous to the Octoechos of the Byzantine Church and the eight-mode Gregorian system. The Syrian Orthodox modal system has been attributed to Severus of Antioch. The chants are organized in an eight-weekly modal cycle in the following order: 1-5; 2-6; 3-7;4-8; 5-1; 6-2; 7-3; 8-4.
Canonical fasts are an important part of the Syrian orthodox liturgical tradition. In addition to the weekly fasts of Wednesday and Friday, the Syrians have the following canonical fasts.
I. Advent fast: Dee. 1-25, (Formerly Nov. 15Dec. 15);
2. Nineveh fast: 3 days (three weeks before the Great Lent);
3. Great Lent for 50 days;
4. Apostles’ fast (June 16-29);
5. Ascension fast (Aug 1-: 5).
A fast is a preparation for a ‘feast’. It is fasting that gives spiritual significance for the ‘feasting’, symbol of the great feasting in the kingdom of God. Fasting is a season for repentance and preparation, a means of transfiguration to the state of angels, who never sleep or eat. Vigil was a part of fasting and festivals, which unfortunately lost its importance in the Syriac tradition.
Meaning of liturgy
The word ‘Liturgy’ mainly refers to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the ‘Anamnesis’ of the salvific acts of God accomplished in Christ. In a larger sense, liturgy includes all the celebrations in the Church, such as sacraments, daily offices, various consecrations, blessings, canonical fasts, festivals, processions and pilgrimages. However, the Eastern Tradition ascribes the central place to the Holy Eucharist, “the Sacrament of Sacraments”. All the Sacraments are rooted in the Holy Eucharist. Thus Baptism, Ordination and Marriage are celebrated in the Eucharistic context. Daily offices are in fact a preparation for the Holy Eucharist. The weekly cycle is centered on Sunday. the weekly
Eucharist was the central liturgical act since the apostolic times (cf. Acts 20:7)
Worship in its various forms, is communion with God, the goal of life. Since we enter into communion with God, who is the source of all virtues and holiness, true worship transforms us and helps us to grow into the likeness of God, and to “become partaker of divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).