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Notes on Arab Orthodoxy on The Antioch Centre

Samn! provides an interesting piece on The Antioch Centre, the project of an Oxford-based monk to catalog the manuscripts of the Patriarchate of Antioch. I found this part particularly interesting:

Another important aspect of his work is uncovering more information about how long the Syriac language remained in use Orthodox Christians in Syria and Lebanon– in some regions, the lectionary readings were only translated from Syriac into Arabic in the 17th century! Orthodox Antioch’s Syriac heritage has long been sadly neglected, but this is now starting to change…

So if the lectionary was in Syriac, what liturgy were they using? Archdale King’s The Rites of Eastern Christendom seems to indicate that the Divine Liturgy of St. James has always been the normative Syriac rite — so was the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom a later development for Syriac speakers in Syria and Lebanon?

Funny but true story — somebody at All Saints suggested to me that it might be nice to include a round of “Lord, have mercy” in Aramaic. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but the suggestion was made in a very public forum by somebody who made it clear they didn’t want to be ignored. Syriac being a dialect of Aramaic, I figured, I dutifully added the Syriac translation (“Marya rahem”) to our list. Because there are already five different languages represented (English, Arabic, Greek, Romanian, and Slavonic), it was rare we would ever get to it, but I could go back to the person who suggested it and say, “Look, I heard your request and responded to it.”

Then I found out that in an actual Syriac language liturgy, for the petition responses they just say “Kyrie eleison” (and there’s a good chunk of their liturgy which is in borrowed Greek). As it works out, it looks like the same thing happens in Coptic too. The Syriac rendering was quietly removed from use at All Saints.

Draw your own conclusions about the pitfalls represented here.

(Thanks to Lucas Christensen for bringing this to my attention!)

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9 Responses to “<i>Notes on Arab Orthodoxy</i> on The Antioch Centre”


  1. 1 Samn! 30 October 2009 at 3:25 pm

    If you want to be completely authentic with the Syriac ‘Lord have mercy’, then you’ve got to pronounce it something like ‘kooriye layson’ – ypsilon gets pronounced as a ‘u’ when it passes into Syriac…

    Strangely, at the recent quasi-vespers celebrated by the Ecumenical Patriarch at the UN, they did a round of Syriac Lord have mercy’s, rendered ‘moryo ethrahem 3alayn’, which at any rate is the most accurate way to translate it, ‘moryo rahem’ being rather too literate.

    The long transition from the local type of liturgy in Antioch to the Constantinopolitan type hasn’t been studied nearly enough to really figure out what was going on prior to the 18th century… certainly Fr. Elia’s work is going to go a long way toward making a proper history of the Antiochian liturgy feasible…

    • 2 Richard Barrett 30 October 2009 at 4:07 pm

      So, the imperative of the ethpa’al, plus the preposition for “upon” and the 1st person singular suffix. “Lord, be moved with compassion upon us” or something like that instead of “Lord, have mercy.” Interesting — thank you!

      I’m looking forward to the fruits of Fr. Elia’s labors — thanks for letting us all know.

  2. 3 Samn! 30 October 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Yep, you parsed it… 😉

    According to Payne Smith, rhem has more the meaning ‘to love’ or ‘to desire’, and ethraham specifically means ‘to have mercy’– so far as I know, it always as to appear with an object taking 3ala.

    But yeah, I found my copy of the the Jacobite liturgy, and they do transliterate kyrie eleison as: ܩܘܪܝܐ ܠܠܝܣܘܢ

    • 4 Richard Barrett 30 October 2009 at 10:18 pm

      Right — and Payne Smith also gives the pa’el of rhem as meaning “have mercy”, and that’s the form that’s used at the beginning of Ps. 50, too, so that’s what I used.

      Where did your copy of the Jacobite liturgy come from? I’ve had trouble finding one.

  3. 5 Samn! 30 October 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Jerusalem…….. not sure where to get one here.

  4. 7 Samn! 30 October 2009 at 10:55 pm

    I take that back… Gorgias is about to publish a trilingual version of the liturgy in Syriac, Arabic and English, for the only semi-extortionate price of 46$, which becomes reasonable if their current 40% discount applies…. http://www.gorgiaspress.com/BOOKSHOP/pc-55959-15-anonymous-book-of-the-divine-liturgy-according-to-the-ancient-tradition-of-the-syriac-orthodox-church-of-antioch.aspx

    Otherwise, email me (I assume you can see my email address?) and I’ll scan my own copy for you which is printed in black and red from a handwritten copy, and so has a nice homey manuscript feel.

    • 8 Richard Barrett 30 October 2009 at 11:09 pm

      Yeah, I just linked to Gorgias’ book. It’s been “forthcoming” since at least 2007 when my wife tried ordering it for me as a Christmas present. No idea when it will actually come out. I will e-mail you — thanks!

  5. 9 Fr. Raphael 6 November 2009 at 10:48 am

    I’ll defer to experts, but I don’t believe the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom was ever served in Syriac. When Balsamon imposed it upon Antioch, he (being a good Constantinopolitan) did so in Greek.

    What I want to know is, did the Orthodox who served the liturgy of St. James up to the 12th century use the same liturgy that the Syriac church uses today?


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