Faith and Doctrine
The faith of the Syriac Orthodox Church is in accordance with the Nicene Creed. It believes in the Trinity, that is one God, subsisting in three separate persons called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three being of one Essence, of one Godhead, have one Will, one Work and one Lordship. The special aspect of the First Person is His Fatherhood, that of the Second Person His Sonship, and that of the Third Person His Procession.
The Syriac Orthodox Church believes in the mystery of Incarnation. That is, the Only Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, took to Himself a body and became man. It further believes that at the time of Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit came upon her and cleansed her of all natural impurity, filling her with His grace. Then the Only Son of God came down and entered her immaculate womb, and took to Himself a body through her, thus becoming a perfect Man with a perfect Soul. After nine months, He was born of her and her virginity was maintained contrary to the laws of nature. It further believes that His true Godhead and His true Manhood were in Him essentially united, He being one Lord and one Son, and that after the union took place in Him, He had but one Nature Incarnate, was one Person, had one Will and one Work. This union is marked by being a natural union of persons, free of all separateness, intermixture, confusion, mingling, change and transformation.
The Syriac Orthodox Church calls Mary yoldath aloho, ‘Bearer of God’, because she gave birth to Christ, God truly incarnate.
The Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the death of Christ was the separation of His soul from His body, but His deity did not at any time leave either His body or His soul. It further believes that by His death for us, He conferred upon us salvation from eternal death and reconciliation with His Heavenly Father.
The Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Spirit of Truth, proceeding from the Father. The Holy Spirit is equal with the Father and the Son. (Note. The word for ‘spirit’ in Syriac, ruho (which is also the word for ‘wind’), is grammatically feminine. Holy Spirit is referred to with the feminine pronoun in almost all early Syriac writings, though later writings refer to it in the masculine.)
Concerning the Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church believes the Church is the body of true believers in Christ, and that the Head of the Church is Our Lord God Jesus Christ. The Chief Bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church is the Patriarch of Antioch.
With regards to Sacraments, the Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Sacraments are tangible signs designated by the Lord Christ to proclaim divine grace, which He gave for our sanctification. The Sacraments of the Church are: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Repentance, the Priesthood, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. Holy Sacraments are offered by the Bishops and the Priests. Only believers can receive the Sacraments. All but four of the Sacraments are essential for salvation: Baptism, Confirmation, Repentance and Eucharist. Of the sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation and the Priesthood may be received only once.
The Syriac Orthodox Church conforms to the teachings of the Three Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381) and Ephesus (A.D. 431). It rejects the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451).
Form of Worship
In accordance with Psalm 119, verse 164, “Seven times in the day have I praised thee for thy judgments, O Righteous One,” the Syriac Orthodox Church set the times for prayer to seven: Evening or ramsho prayer (Vespers), Drawing of the Veil or Sootoro prayer (Compline), Midnight or lilyo prayer, Morning or saphro prayer (Matins), the Third Hour or tloth sho`in prayer (Prime, 9 a.m.), the Sixth Hour or sheth sho`in prayer (Sext, noon) and the Ninth Hour or tsha` sho`in prayer (Nones, 3 p.m.). The Midnight prayer consists of three qawme ‘watches’ (literarily ‘standing’).
The ecclesiastical day begins in the evening at sunset. For example, Monday starts at sunset on Sunday evening. Hence, Monday's evening (ramsho) and compline (sootoro) prayers, are actually performed on Sunday in our modern reckoning. Today, even in monasteries, the evening and compline prayers are said together, as also the Midnight and Morning prayers, and the Three, Six and Nine O'Clock prayers, reducing the times of prayer to three.
During prayers, the worshipper stands facing the East, holding his hands stretched out. (For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man - Matthew 24:27.)
The sign of the cross is made with the right hand. The thumb, first finger and second finger are brought together and the first finger is extended further than the thumb and second finger, indicating that Christ is the One and Only Savior. The sign of the cross is drawn starting from the forehead, down to the breast and then from the left to the right shoulder. This tradition symbolizes that the Lord Christ, came down to earth from the heights, and redeemed our earthly body from the gloomy paths of darkness (left), to the paths of truth and light (right).
Public prayer is important in Syriac Christianity. Traditionally, the Holy Qurbono, i.e. Eucharist, is celebrated every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Presently, only monasteries observe the Wednesday and Friday Holy Qurbono. Monasteries, and some churches, observe daily prayers known as shhimo ‘simple [prayers]’.
Apart from sermons, all prayers are sung in the form of chants and melodies. Thousands of tunes and melodies existed, most of which are unfortunately lost. Still hundreds of melodies remain and these are preserved in the Treasury of Tunes known in Syriac as Beth Gazo. Since a musical notation system was not developed, the tunes were transmitted down the ages as oral tradition. As a result a few schools of music emerged, most notably Mardin, Edessa, Tur `Abdin, and Kharput, to name a few.
During the celebration of the Eucharist, priests and deacons put on elaborate vestments which are unique to the Syriac Orthodox Church. Whether in the Middle East, India, Europe, the Americas or Australia, the same vestments are worn by all clergy.