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Dioceses of the Syrian Orthodox Church

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In the period of its greatest expansion, in the tenth century, the Syrian Orthodox Church had around 20 metropolitan dioceses and a little over a hundred suffragan dioceses. By the seventeenth century only 20 dioceses remained, reduced in the twentieth century to 10. The seat of Syrian Orthodox Patriarch was at Mardin before the First World War, and thereafter in Deir Zaʿfaran, Mosul, from 1932 in Homs, and finally from 1959 in Damascus.

The Syrian Orthodox Church before the Arab Invasions

When the monophysite movement began in the sixth century, the Christian world was organised into five patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem. The monophysite movement was initially confined to the eastern provinces of the Roman empire, in the territory of the patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem. The West Syrians envisaged their church as the legitimate patriarchate of Antioch, and appear to have tried to duplicate the hierarchy already existing.

The Syrian Orthodox Church under the Caliphate

Over a hundred West Syrian dioceses and around a thousand West Syrian bishops are attested between the sixth and thirteenth centuries. The main source for these dioceses and bishops are the lists of Michael the Syrian, compiled in the twelfth century. Many other dioceses and bishops are mentioned in other literary sources, particularly the works of Bar Hebraeus, written in the second half of the thirteenth century. Several bishops not known either to Michael the Syrian or Bar Hebraeus are mentioned in the colophons of surviving West Syrian manuscripts.

Palestine

Palestine had dioceses for Baniyas (seventh and eighth century),[1] Jerusalem (from the eighth century onwards)[2] and Tiberias (late eighth to eleventh centuries).[3] Tiberias was the seat of a metropolitan from the end of the ninth century onwards. During the Crusader period there were also dioceses for Akko (Acre)[4] and Tripolis. Both these dioceses probably came to an end after the fall of Acre, the last Crusader foothold, in 1291. Only the diocese of Jerusalem, whose bishops may have resided in Tripolis for several decades after the recapture of Jerusalem by the Moslems, definitely persisted into the fourteenth century.

Lebanon

Lebanon had dioceses for Hama and Hardin,[5] ʿEden and Tripoli.[6]

Cilicia

Eleven separate West Syrian dioceses are attested at various periods in Cilicia, the most important of which seem to have been Tarsus, Adana and Anazarbus. Tarsus, the metropolis of the Chalcedonian province of Cilicia Prima, is first mentioned as a West Syrian diocese in the seventh century, and survived as the seat of a West Syrian bishop or metropolitan until the end of the thirteenth century, the only Cilician diocese which appears to have persisted for so long.[7] West Syrian bishops, and later metropolitans, of both Adana and Anazarbus are attested between the seventh and twelfth centuries.[8] Other West Syrian dioceses attested between the seventh and tenth centuries include Citidiopolis (seventh century), Hamam (ninth to twelfth centuries),[9] Hanzit (ninth century),[10] Kinisa (ninth century)[11] and Irenopolis (ninth and tenth centuries).[12]

As a frontier province of the Roman empire, Cilicia was affected by the varying fortunes of war, and three later dioceses reflected Christian successes against the Arabs. Part of Cilicia was settled by West Syrian Christians in the tenth century, and a diocese of Jihan and Barid, created at this period, persisted into the twelfth century. A West Syrian diocese of Kalinag, in eastern Cilicia, is attested in the eleventh century. A West Syrian diocese for Sis, then under Armenian rule, was established in the second half of the thirteenth century. One of its bishops claimed the title of patriarch around the end of the thirteenth century and founded a line of patriarchs which persisted into the fifteenth century.

Syria

Six West Syrian dioceses are known to have existed at various periods before the fourteenth century in southern Syria, in the areas covered by the Chalcedonian province of Phoenicia Libanesia and the southern part of the province of Euphratensis. There was a West Syrian diocese for Damascus, first attested in the seventh century. The diocese persisted into the fourteenth century and appears to have been one of the few West Syrian dioceses which continued undisturbed into the fifteenth century and beyond. Emesa (Hims) and Palmyra (Tadmor) also had West Syrian dioceses.

There was also a West Syrian diocese for Heliopolis (Baʿalbeq), attested between the seventh and eleventh centuries, and a diocese for Kfar Tab near Hims. No record has survived of West Syrian bishops in the other towns in Phoenicia Libanesia with known Chalcedonian dioceses (Salamias, Evaria, Iabruda, Abila and Chonochora), though Iabruda certainly had a West Syrian community. As far as the southern part of the Chalcedonian province of Euphratensis is concerned, a West Syrian diocese is attested for Sergiopolis (Rusafa).

Seven West Syrian dioceses are known to have existed at various periods before the fourteenth century in northern Syria. The diocese of Apamea, which was the seat of a metropolitan by the eighth century, is attested between the seventh and tenth centuries;[13] Seleucia in the eighth century only;[14] Berrhoea (Aleppo) between the seventh and late-thirteenth centuries;[15] Qenneshrin between the eighth and tenth centuries;[16] Mambeg between the ninth and twelfth centuries;[17] Gishra between the eighth and tenth centuries;[18] and Karshena (Gudpaï) in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.[19]

The diocese of Gishra was incorporated into the diocese of Mambeg during the reign of Athanasius IV (987/1003), and Mambeg in turn was incorporated into the diocese of Marʿash in the Commagene district in 1155. It is unlikely that any of these dioceses, with the possible exception of Aleppo, persisted beyond the early years of the fourteenth century. Although an almost unbroken succession of bishops of Aleppo is attested from the early years of the sixteenth century onwards, no fourteenth- or fifteenth-century bishops of Aleppo are known. It seems likely that the diocese of Aleppo lapsed after the death of its bishop Mikha'il, attested in 1298, and was only revived at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

Commagene

Seven West Syrian dioceses are known to have existed before the fourteenth century in the Commagene district. The diocese of Samosata, which appears to have been the seat of a metropolitan from the late eighth century onwards, is attested between the sixth and twelfth centuries;[20] Germanicia (Marʿash) between the seventh and twelfth centuries;[21] Urim between the eighth and ninth centuries;[22] Kaysum between the eighth and twelfth centuries;[23] Zeugma between the ninth and twelfth centuries;[24] Raʿban between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries;[25] and Tel Bshir (an ephemeral diocese in Crusader territory) in the twelfth century.[26] It is doubtful whether any of these dioceses persisted into the fourteenth century.

Oshroene

Six West Syrian dioceses are known to have existed in Osrhoene before the fourteenth century: the metropolitan diocese of Edessa, attested between the seventh and fourteenth centuries; Callinicus (Raqqa), which also became the seat of a metropolitan in the ninth century, between the eighth and thirteenth centuries; Sarugh (Batna) between the eighth and twelfth centuries, Harran between the seventh and thirteenth centuries; Severek in the twelfth century; and Khabur between the eighth and thirteenth centuries. None of these dioceses seem to have survived into the fourteenth century.

Cappadocia

Sixteen West Syrian dioceses are known to have existed at various periods before the fourteenth century in Cappadocia. The diocese of Melitene, which seems to have been the seat of a metropolitan from the late ninth century onwards, is attested between the seventh and thirteenth centuries; Symnada (also the seat of a metropolitan) between the tenth and twelfth centuries; Zipatra between the eighth and twelfth centuries; Gubos and Qlisura between the ninth and thirteenth centuries; ʿArqa, Gargar, Laqabin and Qlawdiya between the tenth and thirteenth centuries; Tel Bitriq in the eleventh and twelfth centuries; Hisn Mansur, Hisn Ziyad (Harput) and Semha between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries; Caesarea in Cappadocia in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; and Guma in the thirteenth century. A single bishop is also attested for Arabissus around the end of the tenth century. It is doubtful whether any of these dioceses, with the possible exceptions of Gargar and Hisn Ziyad, persisted into the fourteenth century. The dioceses of Gargar and Hisn Ziyad are again attested from the late fourteenth and mid-fifteenth century respectively, but may have been revived, as no bishops of either diocese are known for more than a century before they are again mentioned.

Amid

Three substantial West Syrian dioceses are known to have existed before the fourteenth century in the Amid region: the dioceses of Amid and Maiperqat, attested between the seventh and thirteenth centuries; and Hattakh, first mentioned towards the end of the thirteenth century. Bar Hebraeus also mentions a bishop of Aspharin, an ephemeral diocese which existed for only a few years in the middle of the eighth century. The dioceses of Amid and Maiperqat persisted into the fourteenth century. The diocese of Hattakh, first mentioned in 1293, is not again mentioned until 1479, and it is not clear whether it survived into the fourteenth century or was later revived.

Arzun

In the Arzun region there were five dioceses at different periods: Arzun, Maʿdan, Bidlis, Zargel and al-Bashiriya, and Hesna d’Kifa.

Mardin

In the Mardin region there were seven dioceses at different periods: Mardin, Kfartutha, Tel Besme, Natfa, Baghdashiya and Rish ʿAïna. According to Assemani, a number of nearby dioceses were grouped under the diocese of Mardin around 1130, owing to the steep decline in the number of Christians in the region. The dioceses concerned were Dara, Nisibis, Harran, Khabur, Kfartutha and Tel-Besme.

Nisibis

In the Nisibis region, there were dioceses for Nisibis, Dara and Maʿarre.

Tur Abdin

Despite its later central importance in the history of the West Syrian church, only two West Syrian dioceses are known to have existed before the thirteenth century in the Tur ʿAbdin. The diocese of Qartmin, whose bishops sat in the celebrated monastery of Mar Gabriel (Qartmin Abbey), is attested from the sixth century onwards; and the diocese of Tur ʿAbdin, whose bishops sat in the monastery of the Cross near the village of Hah, from the eleventh century. Confusingly, bishops of both these dioceses often bore the title 'Tur ʿAbdin'. By the end of the thirteenth century there was a third diocese, whose bishops sat in the monastery of Mar Yaʿqob the Recluse near the village of Salah, and possibly a fourth, whose bishops sat in the monastery of Mar Abai near the village of Sawro. The dioceses of Salah and Sawro, both of which persisted for several centuries, are first reliably attested in 1283 and 1312 respectively, and references in hagiographies to sixth- and seventh-century bishops of these dioceses cannot be trusted.

Iraq

Two West Syrian dioceses, Beth Nuhadra and Gomel, were established in the ʿAmadiya region before the end of the sixth century, and were among the dioceses placed under the jurisdiction of the maphrians. The diocese of Beth Nuhadra, whose bishops sat initially in the monastery of Nardos near Deir Jundi and later in the town of Maʿaltha near Dohuk, is attested between the sixth and thirteenth centuries, usually under the name Beth Nuhadra but occasionally under the name Maʿaltha. The diocese of Gomel, which seems to have covered the Marga district, is attested between the sixth and tenth centuries. The last-known bishop of Beth Nuhadra was consecrated in 1284, and is unlikely to have had a successor.

A diocese was established for the Mosul region, whose bishops sat in the Mar Mattai Monastery, in the seventh century. This diocese seems to have persisted without a break up to the present day.

Two West Syrian dioceses are known to have existed in the Beth ʿArabaye region between the sixth and fourteenth centuries, centred on Balad and Sinjar respectively. They were among the West Syrian dioceses placed under the jurisdiction of the maphrians towards the end of the sixth century. Several bishops of Beth ʿArabaye are attested between the sixth and ninth centuries, and again between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. They were variously styled bishops of 'Beth ʿArabaye', 'Balad' or 'the monastery of Mar Sargis', and probably resided in the monastery of Mar Sargis near Balad. Several bishops of Sinjar are attested between 630 and 818, but the diocese is not again mentioned until 1277. It is possible that for much of the intervening period Sinjar was under the jurisdiction of the bishops of Beth ʿArabaye. The dioceses of Balad and Sinjar both survived into the fourteenth century.

In the Erbil region there were dioceses for Beth Ramman and Beth Waziq (seventh to thirteenth centuries) and for Shahrzur. In the second half of the thirteenth century an ad hoc diocese was created for West Syrian refugees from the Mosul region who settled in and around the Erbil village of Beth Sayyade, with the title of Beth Takshur (a West Syrian village near Mosul).

In central Iraq there were dioceses for Baghdad, Tagrit, Karma (seventh to thirteenth centuries), Bahrin, Piroz Shabur, Karsabak, ʿAqula, and the Bani Taghlib Arabs (seventh to tenth centuries).

Iran and Central Asia

In western Iran there were dioceses for Adarbaigan and Tabriz.

Four substantial West Syrian dioceses are known to have existed before the fourteenth century in eastern Iran and Central Asia: Zarang (or Segestan), attested between the seventh and twelfth centuries; Gurgan (later renamed Abaskun) to the south of the Caspian Sea between the eighth and tenth centuries; Aprah in Segestan between the eighth and eleventh centuries; and Herat, also between the eighth and eleventh centuries.

Three other dioceses are mentioned only once, and may have been ephemeral: the unlocalised dioceses of Khorasan (apparently to be distinguished from both Aprah and Herat) and Beth Parsaye in the first half of the ninth century, and Haditha-in-Segestan around the middle of the twelfth century. None of these dioceses seems to have survived into the fourteenth century.

Ephemeral and unlocalised dioceses

Several other West Syrian dioceses appear to have been ephemeral, including Ibidinge in the seventh century, Aspharin in the eighth century, Junia (Lebanon), Gulia, Kfar Bat and Kfar Kila in the ninth century, Halys and Hassassa in the tenth century, Gudpaï, Hauran and Hezza in the eleventh century, and Hisn Jaʿbar in the twelfth century.

Several West Syrian dioceses mentioned in the lists of Michael the Syrian cannot be even approximately localised, including Harara (attested in 685),[27] Dirig (end of the eighth century),[28] Deboraitha (ninth century)[29] and Dula (ninth and tenth century).[30]

The Syrian Orthodox Church in the Mongol and Post-Mongol Period

It is clear that the late thirteenth century was a period of disruption for the West Syrian church. According to a famous passage of Bar Hebraeus, several West Syrian dioceses were depopulated in the 1270s, and some (though not all) may never have recovered:

Even if I wanted to be patriarch, as many others do, what is there to covet in the appointment, since so many dioceses of the East have been devastated? Should I set my heart on Antioch, where sighs and groans will meet me? Or the holy diocese of Gumal, where nobody is left to piss against a wall? Or Aleppo, or Mambeg, or Callinicus, or Edessa, or Harran, all deserted? Or Laqabin, ʿArqa, Qlisura, Semha, Gubos, Qlawdiya and Gargar—the seven dioceses around Malatya—where not a soul remains?[31]

As with the Church of the East, it seems likely that a number of West Syrian dioceses in Mesopotamia came to an end in the fourteenth century. Only six West Syrian dioceses which existed at the end of the thirteenth century definitely persisted into the sixteenth century: Amid, Damascus, Gazarta, Hah, Mardin and Qartmin. Other dioceses, such as Hims, Jerusalem, Aleppo (for which no bishops are known for the whole of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), the monastery of Mar Mattai (for which no bishops are known for the whole of the thirteenth century), Gargar (for which no bishops are known for the whole of the thirteenth century), Hisn Ziyad (for which no bishops are known for the whole of the fourteenth century), and Maiperqat, may also have persisted undisturbed, but at present there is insufficient evidence to be certain, and they may all have been revived after lapsing for long periods. The diocese of Edessa seems to have come to an end after the city’s depopulation in 1283, and by the beginning of the sixteenth century Edessa was included in the title of the metropolitans of Gargar.

Several dioceses in Iraq came to an end during the fourteenth century, some possibly during the terrible campaigns of Timur Leng. In 1330 the dioceses of Beth ʿArabaye and Sinjar were combined, with the consecration of a bishop 'of the monastery of Mar Sargis and Sinjar', who probably resided in the monastery of Mar Sargis near Balad. This diocese is not mentioned again, and by the sixteenth century the small West Syrian communities remaining in the Beth ʿArabaye region came under the authority of the bishops of Tur ʿAbdin, who occasionally included Sinjar in their titles.

Several new West Syrian dioceses were created or revived between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, particularly in the Tur ʿAbdin region, which increasingly became the heartland of the West Syrian church. In northern Mesopotamia new dioceses were created for Maʿdan towards the end of the fourteenth century, and for Zargel (whose bishops sat in the monastery of Mar Quriaqos) by the middle of the fifteenth century. The monastery of Mar Mushe the Ethiopian near Nebek was restored in 1556 and became the seat of a bishop shortly afterwards.

Four dioceses were created in the Tur ʿAbdin region during the Mongol and post-Mongol period. The diocese of Salah, whose bishops sat in the monastery of Mar Yaʿqob the Recluse, is first mentioned in 1283, and was probably created in the second half of the thirteenth century.[32] The diocese of Sawro, whose bishops sat in the monastery of Mar Abai, is first mentioned in 1312.[33] A third diocese, Beth Rishe, whose bishops sat in the monastery of Mar Malke near the village of Hbab, is attested before the end of the fourteenth century.[34] At around the same time, a new diocese seems to have been created for Midyat.[35] The title of the diocese also included Hesna d'Kifa, whose West Syrian diocese lapsed in the eleventh century, and it is not clear whether its bishops sat in the monastery of Mar Abraham near Midyat or in the monastery of the Cross near Hesna d'Kifa. By the end of the sixteenth century the diocese was divided, and thereafter both Midyat and Hesna d'Kifa had their own bishops, with the bishops of Hesna d’Kifa sitting in the monastery of the Cross at al-ʿItafiya.[36]

In the Mosul region, which had long had only the single diocese of the monastery of Mar Mattai, a new diocese was created in the middle of the sixteenth century, whose bishops sat in the monastery of Mar Behnam near Beth Khudaida (Qaraqosh).[37]

By the sixteenth century certain names had become relatively firmly associated with particular dioceses, and were almost invariably taken by their bishops. The name Yohannan, for example, was associated with the diocese of Qartmin, and Dionysius with Aleppo.

The Syrian Orthodox Church in the Nineteenth Century

In 1792 or 1793 a separate Syrian Orthodox diocese was created for Mosul, hitherto under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Mar Mattai, in response to the consecration of a Syrian Catholic bishop for Mosul in 1790.[38]

In the 1840s, shortly after it recovered the ancient monastery of Mar Awgin from the East Syrians, the Syrian Orthodox church revived the old diocese of Nisibis. Four Syrian Orthodox bishops of Nisibis sat in the monastery of Mar Awgin up to the outbreak of the First World War.[39]

The Syrian Orthodox Church in the Twentieth Century

The Syrian Orthodox dioceses of Amid, Mardin and Gazarta were ruined in the First World War (Dioscorus Bar Sawma, the Syrian Orthodox bishop of Gazarta, was among the members of the West Syrian hierarchy murdered by the Turks and their Kurdish auxiliaries in 1915), and were not revived after the war.

In 1921 there was a large migration of West Syrian refugees from Turkey into the new French mandate of Syria. As a result the Syrian refugee population of the districts around Hassakeh, ʿAmuda and Ra's al-ʿAïn was placed in 1929 under the jurisdiction of the bishop Athanasius Thomas Qsir of Aleppo, who took the title Aleppo, Jazira and Khabur. In 1933 these districts were detached and organised into a separate diocese of Jazira and Khabur (renamed Jazira and Euphrates in 1943), whose bishops sat in the town of Hassakeh.[40]

Since the Second World War the Syrian Orthodox Church has established a number of dioceses and patriarchal vicariates for its diaspora in America and Europe. In America the church established a diocese for North America and Canada in 1957, and patriarchal vicariates for Brazil and Argentina in 1982. In Europe the church established a diocese of Central Europe and Benelux in 1977 and a diocese for Sweden and Scandinavia in 1978. In 1987 a separate diocese was created for the United Kingdom, previously part of the diocese of Sweden. The church also has a 'diocese of patriarchal institutions', whose bishop sits at ʿAtshaneh in Lebanon.[41]

According to a Catholic statistic of 1962, the Syrian Orthodox Church at that time had a total of 130,000 members, of whom 115,000 members lived in the Middle East.

Notes

  1. Fiey, POCN, 176
  2. Fiey, POCN, 218–22
  3. Fiey, POCN, 274
  4. Fiey, POCN, 157–8
  5. Fiey, POCN, 206
  6. Fiey, POCN, 275
  7. Fiey, POCN, 271
  8. Fiey, POCN, 158 and 166
  9. Fiey, POCN, 206–7
  10. Fiey, POCN, 207
  11. Fiey, POCN, 226
  12. Fiey, POCN, 217–18
  13. Fiey, POCN, 167
  14. Fiey, POCN, 265–6
  15. Fiey, POCN, 159–60
  16. Fiey, POCN, 256
  17. Fiey, POCN, 229–30
  18. Fiey, POCN, 201–2
  19. Fiey, POCN, 225
  20. Fiey, POCN, 263
  21. Fiey, POCN, 232–3
  22. Fiey, POCN, 279
  23. Fiey, POCN, 225
  24. Fiey, POCN, 282–3
  25. Fiey, POCN, 258
  26. Fiey, POCN, 272
  27. Fiey, POCN, 207
  28. Fiey, POCN, 191
  29. Fiey, POCN, 190–1
  30. Fiey, POCN, 194
  31. Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, iii. page number to be supplied
  32. Fiey, POCN, 262
  33. Fiey, POCN, 264–5
  34. Fiey, POCN, 231–2
  35. Fiey, POCN, 243–4
  36. Fiey, POCN, 214–15 and 243–4
  37. Fiey, POCN, 177
  38. Fiey, POCN, 245–6
  39. Fiey, POCN, 250
  40. Fiey, POCN, 193
  41. Fiey, POCN, 284

References

  • Abbeloos, Jean Baptiste; Lamy, Thomas Joseph, eds (1877). Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum (3 vols). Paris. 
  • Fiey, J.M. (1962). Assyrie chrétienne (3 vols). Beirut. 
  • Fiey, J.M. (1979). Communautés syriaques en Iran et en Irak, des origines à 1552. London. ISBN 0860780511. 
  • Fiey, J.M. (1993). Pour un Oriens Christianus novus; répertoire des diocèses Syriaques orientaux et occidentaux. Beirut. ISBN 3515057188. 


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