Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective

Malankara World Journal
Penta Centum Souvenir Edition
Volume 8 No. 500 October 14, 2018


Chapter - 5: Oriental Orthodox Church Family

Difference Between Oriental & Eastern Orthodox Churches

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria

The Syriac Orthodox Churches

The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church

Persecution of Oriental Orthodox Christians

The Persecution of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church

The Armenian Genocide

Sayfo - Suffering of Christians Continues in Middle East After 100 Years

Chapter - 5: Oriental Orthodox Church Family

Difference Between Oriental & Eastern Orthodox Churches

by Jeremy C Bradley, Demand Media

Eastern Christianity is a broad term that encompasses the Christian traditions found in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, Africa, the Middle East and parts of the Far East. All Christian traditions that did not develop in Western Europe are thus considered to be part of Eastern Christianity, however the term does not denote any single tradition or church. Two of the largest Eastern Christian sects are the Oriental Orthodoxy and the Eastern Orthodox Church. While sharing some beliefs, these two churches disagree on fundamental issues of theology.


In the West, the term "oriental" is often used as a synonym for "eastern." When it comes to religious traditions, however, the two words denote different churches.

Oriental Orthodox churches are distinct from those referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Oriental Orthodox can be further subdivided into five organizations:

Coptic Orthodox,
Ethiopian Orthodox,
Syriac Orthodox,
Eritrean Orthodox, and
Armenian Orthodox

These branches are in communion with one another but have distinct hierarchies.

Points of Departure

Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodox Churches disagree on which of the ecumenical councils they recognize. The ecumenical councils were a series of conferences where church leaders and theologists would meet to discuss and settle important matters of Church doctrine. The first seven ecumenical councils date from 325 to 787 and were an attempt to reach a consensus on the establishment of a unified Church throughout the Roman Empire.

Oriental Orthodox churches recognize only the first three ecumenical councils --

the First Council of Nicaea,
the First Council of Constantinople and
the First Council of Ephesus.

They rejected the decisions made at the Council of Chalcedon which followed in 451, so they are sometimes called Old Oriental Churches or Non-Chalcedonians.

The Eastern Orthodox Church -- sometimes called the Orthodox Catholic Church --, on the other hand, considers all seven councils to be important and is therefore not in communion with the Oriental Orthodox churches. Some dialogue, however, has been had between the two branches within the last 50 years.

Christological Terminology

The rift between the Oriental Orthodox churches and the remainder of the Eastern Christian sects, including the Eastern Orthodox Church, was caused by disagreement over Christological terminology, or terms relating to the church's definition of who Christ is.

The First Council of Nicaea in 325 declared Jesus to be "consubstantial" with God, or that they are actually one and the same.

The Council of Constantinople in 381 further solidified and reinforced this belief.

In 431, the First Council of Ephesus held that Jesus, while both divine and human, is only one being or person.

Both the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox accept these three councils.

Twenty years later, however, the Council of Chalcedon declared that Jesus is one person in two complete natures, one divine and the other human. The Oriental Orthodox churches considered this to be heresy and likened it to the beliefs of Nestoria, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431, who said that Christ was two distinct beings, one divine (the Logos) and one human (the man Jesus).

Further Implications

While the terminology caused the main point of contention, the refusal of the Oriental Orthodox churches to accept the declarations at Chalcedon was coupled with political and imperial issues. The patriarchs of Constantinople, for instance, remained in communication with church leaders from Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem even though they disagreed on church doctrine. On the flip side, Rome pulled away from ties with the Eastern churches.

These religious differences were thus also fueled by political territories. Later, in 1518, the Byzantine Emperor Justin I convinced the Western Roman Empire to adopt the Chalcedon decision which led to a communion between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Holy See which exists until this day, although they too are distinct Christian entities.


The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787) -- Their History and Theology; Leo Donald Davis

The Pluralism Project: An Introduction to the Oriental Orthodox Churches

Catholic Library: The 21 Ecumenical Councils

Catholic Encyclopedia: Pope St. Hormisdas


Peninsula Bible Church Cupertino: The Seven Ecumenical Councils

About the Author

Jeremy C Bradley works in the fields of legal philosophy and business administration. He is appointed to lectureships at London School of Business and Finance and at Glion Institute. Bradley holds a Master of Business Administration and is pursuing a Ph.D. in law.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria

H.H. Pope Tawadros II, Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark

His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark


Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt

History in Brief:

The Coptic Orthodox Church was established through the preaching of its first pope, St. Mark the Evangelist, who entered Egypt some time around the year AD 43. St. Mark’s first proselyte was a cobbler named Anianus, who later succeeded him as Pope and Archbishop of Alexandria. Among his other labors in Egypt, accomplished before his martyrdom in the year AD 68, St. Mark established the great Catechetical School of Alexandria, which would lead to the Coptic Orthodox Church becoming a great pillar of erudition and theology in the Christian world, blessing Christendom with such champions of the Orthodox Faith as St. Athanasius I (ca. AD 296-373) and St. Kyrillos I (ca. AD 376-444), the heroes of the Ecumenical Synods of Nicaea (AD 325) and Ephesus (AD 431) respectively.

Another gift of Alexandria to the universal Church was the origination and development of Christian monasticism, which spread from the deserts of Egypt to the steppes of Russia, the islands of Greece, the caves of Palestine, the wastes of Ireland, and the mountain fastnesses of Ethiopia, among other places. St. Anthony the Great (ca. AD 295-373) is credited with establishing the movement, while St. Pachomius (d. 346) pioneered the cenobitic system in the year AD 290.

In spite of intense persecutions beginning with the reign of the pagan Emperor Diocletian (AD 284-305) and lasting through to the present day, the Coptic Orthodox Church has remained faithful to Our Lord Jesus Christ’s injunction to “go and make disciples of all nations” (St. Matthew 28:19), establishing missionary churches in ancient Nubia, Switzerland, and Ireland, as well as playing an instrumental role in the evangelization of Ethiopia. In the modern day the Church continues this trend, working for the establishment of indigenous churches among non-Egyptians in Fiji, England, France, Bolivia, Mexico, Brazil, and 14 sub-Saharan African nations, with 50 churches, two monasteries, and one hospital in Kenya alone.

The Syriac Orthodox Churches
Supreme Primate:

H.H. Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East

His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
Primate of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church


Damascus, Syria and Bairut, Lebanon (present day; historically in Antioch)

1. The Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch

History in Brief:

St. Peter the Apostle established the See of Antioch in the year AD 37, and it was in that city that the followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). From that time onward, the Syrian Church has contributed immeasurably to universal Christianity, producing such luminaries as the prolific hymnographer, poet, and theologian St. Ephrem the Syrian (ca. 306-373), and such champions of the Orthodox Faith as St. Eustathius the Great (r. AD 324–330), who stood firmly against the Arians, and St. Severus of Antioch (ca. AD 465-542), who steadfastly defended Orthodoxy against Nestorianism, and was persecuted for his efforts by the Chalcedonians.

By AD 544, the persecutions inflicted upon the Syrian Church by the Chalcedonians had intensified to the point that only three bishops survived in all of Southwest Asia. It was during this crucial period that St. Jacob Baradaeus (d. AD 578) was consecrated as bishop of Edesssa and invested with ecumenical authority to reinvigorate the beleaguered Orthodox Church wherever it had need of him. Incredibly, this holy father ministered to the faithful throughout Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and even Ethiopia, ordaining countless bishops and priests, all the while pursued by the Byzantine authorities, rescuing, through God’s help, the Orthodox Church in the Middle East from total oblivion.

Today, the Syriac Orthodox Church worships according the oldest surviving Christian Liturgy, that of St. James the Apostle, and conducts its prayers in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

An integral part of Syriac Orthodox Church are two churches from India, viz., The Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church and the Malankara Syriac Knanaya Orthodox Church. They are culturally and historically unique churches who traces the origin to St. Thomas, the disciple of Jesus, but share the same liturgy and the Patriarch of Antioch.

2. The Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church


H.B. Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas I, Maphrian of India

Archbishop (USA):

HE Yeldho Mor Titus, Archbishop of Malankara Archdiocese of Syriac Orthodox Church in North America, NJ


Puthencruz, Kerala, India

Archdiocese HQ, Whippany, NJ

History in Brief:

St. Thomas the Apostle established Christianity in India in AD 52. Landing at the ancient port city of Muziris (near modern day Kodungallur), the saint preached the Gospel and won many converts among both the area’s well-established community of Jewish merchants and the prominent local families of the Brahmin caste. The Christian population of the region was later augmented by a wave of Syriac-speaking immigrants hailing from Mesopotamia in the year AD 345. Further waves of Syrian immigration would follow, and with them the rites and language of the Syrian Church would become prominent features of Indian Christianity. The influx of wealth and culture brought by these immigrants served not only to bolster the prestige of the Christian community in the eyes of the local Hindu rulers, but also to strengthen the ties of the Church of India with the wider world of the Christian East.

For many centuries, the Church in India remained undisturbed, unspoiled, and undivided, nurturing the local faithful and cultivating relationships with other Christian communities in the East, including those of Syria, Persia and Mesopotamia. After 1498, the Portuguese invaded and attempted to force the local churches into a false union with Rome, burning local theological texts and versions of the Bible, murdering local clergy and lay leaders and imposing Latin liturgy and theology upon the local churches. Many Indian Christians persevered, turning to the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch for spiritual support, but others abandoned the Orthodox Faith to join with the invading Roman Catholics. In 1795 the British captured Kerala, and would soon attempt to force Reformation theology upon the St. Thomas Christians, resulting in further fragmentation of the community. Nevertheless, the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church continues to adhere steadfastly to the Orthodox Faith.

3. Malankara Syriac Knanaya Orthodox Church


HE Kuriakose Mor Severios, Chief Metropolitan of Knanaya Arch Diocese

Archbishop in US: H. G. Ayub Mor Silvanos, Arch Bishop of North America, Canada & Europe regions, NJ


Chingavanom, Kerala, India

History of Malankara Syrian Knanaya Church

by Rev. Fr. Dr. Binoy Alexander
Pastor of St. Ephraim Knanaya Church Detroit

When we go through the Bible we can trace out the religious roots of Knananites as the chosen people of God. According to the Gospel of St. Luke Knaneans are a very distinct ethnic and religious group whose ancestry traces back to Abraham, the Patriarch of the Old Testament. The Israelites became slaves in Egypt and God delivered them through Moses. He gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the Holy Commandments so as to administer to the needs of the community to lead a very prosperous, religious and civilized life in the land of Canaan. In celebration for having received the Holy Constitution, Moses built a sacrificial altar out of 12 stones and celebrated Holy Sacrifice in honor of God with an animal sacrifice. In order to preserve the sacred constitution, he appointed 72 elders to memorize the Laws and to ensure its preservation and interpretation on behalf of the entire community. He appointed Judges to enforce the Divine Laws while dealing with issues facing the people. He appointed Aaron as the High Priest and the descendants of Levi (Levites) to assist Aaron in the preservation of the sacred scrolls, vessels and other Holy vestments used during the worship of the Almighty. Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron showed his zeal for the Divine Laws during a period of crisis when the Faith of the Israelites were put to test by Balaam. Pleased with his display of zealousness, the Almighty Lord blessed Phinehas and his descendants with an eternal pledge of High Priesthood, just as he was to later bless David and his descendants with eternal Lordship over the Israelites. The zeal of Phinehas was the inspiration of the later day Zealots (Q'nanaya in Aramaic) beginning with the Maccabean Dynasty in 186 BC.

Knai Thoma, who frequently visited the shores of Kodungallur in search of spices and other Indian wealth to be exported back to the World trade ports of Baghdad and Egypt, noticed on the shores of Kodungallur, local men who carried on their bare trunk, crosses to mark their religious beliefs. But they were not of high disposition as they were subjected to persecution by their chaste brethren in lieu of their belief in an unknown and unseen God. Thomas interviewed them and found that they were the descendants of formerly high ranking brahmin families who had accepted the way of the cross as preached by St. Thomas between 52 – 72 AD. He also learnt that the Saint was martyred at the Corromandel coast and they took him along on their annual pilgrimage to Malayattoor and from there to Mylapore. From them, he learnt that St. Thomas had preached the Word of God in Hebrew and his first converts/disciples were about 500 Jews in Kodungallur, who were well versed in the Semitic language of Aramaic as well as could converse in the local dialect of that period with the natives. But after the martyrdom of the St. Thomas, they became orphaned for want of a spiritual guide who could nourish the fledgling Nazarene community.

Knai Thoma reported the status of the St. Thomas Nazarenes of India to his bishop Mor Eustathius and took his blessings to prepare themselves to migrate to India to serve the cause of the St. Thomas converts of India. In 345 AD, Knai Thoma and Mor Joseph (Aithlaha) left Edessa and Aithlaha was succeeded by Mor Abraham. (This succession has been documented in the Edessene Chronicles, which has been preserved and translated by Scholars today). In 373 AD, Edessa was run over by the Arians and the Eustathians had to leave Edessa because of the persecutions of the Arians. Five years later, the Orthodox Christians reclaimed the Church of Edessa. In 393 AD, the coffin (glossocom) of St. Thomas containing the remaining relics was brought to Edessa from India, and placed in the Church built in his name in the days of Mor Cyrus, the Bishop. In the year 345 A. D Knai Thoma, brought 400 Syrian Christians consisting of 72 families belonging to 7 clans with instructions from the Patriarch of Antioch Mor Eusthathius, to the Malabar coast of India. The group included men, women, children, priests, deacons and their bishop Mor Joseph of Uraha. The names of the seven clans, according to Mr. E M Philip, were: Bagi, Belkuth, Hadai, Kujalik, Koja, Mugmuth, and Thegmuth. The legend is that Mor Joseph had a startling dream (vision) in which he saw the plight of the Christian church in Malabar established by St. Thomas, the Apostle, in the 1st Century. The 72 Knanaya zealot families led by Thomas and Mor Joseph landed in Kodungalloor (Crangannoore). Knai Thoma and his group sailed in three ships. The leading ship called "Babylonia" had three masts. The main mast flew King David's flag, the second mast flew the Roman flag with the cross, and the third flew the Edessene flag. Knai Thoma and his people were heartily welcomed by Cheraman Perumal, the Emperor. Cheraman Perumal sent his brother, Ramavarma, and his minister, Vettathu Mannan, to receive Knai Thoma and his people. Knai Thoma and his people were given permission to settle down in Kodungalloor and to do business. Later Cheraman Perumal bestowed Knai Thoma and his people with 72 princely privileges and thereby elevated them over 17 castes. This proclamation was made on a Saturday in March (Kumbham 29), 345 and it was recorded on copper plates given to Knai Thoma (known later as the 'Knai Thomman Cheppedu'). Knai Thoma and his people built a town in Kodungalloor with a church and 72 houses. The place awarded to the immigrants was at "Mahadevar Pattanam" meaning "Town of Lord Shiva and Parvathi". They were also called Southists (Thekkumbhagar) because they lived on the south side of the Kodungalloor Mahadevar Temple. The St. Thomas Christians (native Christians of Kerala) lived on the northern side of this Syrian settlement and served their Syrian masters. They were liberated from the strictly enforced caste system by payment of money to the caste Brahmins as compensation for their spiritual liberation and they consisted of converted Hindus from various caste levels of the Hindu society. They were unified under the singular label of Vadakkumbhagor and were not permitted to identify with their former religion or caste.

nananites did not intermarry with native Christians and maintained their endogamous Jewish tradition originating from Abraham. To this day, the Knananites continue as an endogamous community. Striking similarities exist between Knanaya Nasranis and the Cochin Jews. Both groups were granted 72 privileges by the ruling Cheraman Perumals. Copper plates given to the Jews (kept in the Mattancherry Synagogue) were handed to Joseph Rabban just as Knai Thoma was given similar copper plates during the fourth century. Both groups are endogamous. The similarities between these two groups were brought out in a research done by Dr. Shalva Weil, an Anthropologist and senior researcher from the NCJW Research Institute for Innovation in Education, Hebrew University in 1982 titled “Symmetry between Christians and Jews in India: the Cnanite Christians and the Cochin Jews of Kerala,” – Contributions to Indian Sociology, Vol. 16, No. 2: 175-196.

The arrival of Knai Thoma and his people (Knananites) re-established the Church founded by St. Thomas the Apostle in India. They helped the disintegrating Malabar Church both spiritually and socially. Furthermore they brought the Syriac (Church of Antioch) traditions and teachings to Malabar that are practiced by millions today.

On January 21 (Makaram 8), 1882, with the blessings of Mor Joseph Pulikkottil, eleven Knanaya priests assembled at St. Stephen's Knanaya Church, Veliyanad, and formed an organization called "Malankara Syrian Knanaya Committee". The meeting unanimously elected Mr. E. M. Philip Edavazhickal as the secretary and Uthuppan Thomma Puthenpurackal (Vazhayil) as the treasurer. The formation of this Knanaya Committee was a significant turning point in the Knanaya history. The Knanaya Committee codified rules and guidelines for the administration of the nine Knanaya churches which existed as of that date. Further, the Knanaya Committee was instrumental in bringing together the Knananites spread from Ramamangalam to Ranny based on their traditions especially the endogamous nature. In 1910, upon the Knanaya Committee's request, Patriarch Ignatius Abdulla created a Knanaya Diocese with personal jurisdiction considering their ethnic and endogamous background. On August 31, 1910, the Patriarch ordained Fr. Geevarghese Edavazhickal (Mar Severious) as the first Knanaya Bishop. The Knananites remain an ethnically distinct, endogamous community and diocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. The Malankara Syrian Knanaya Diocese which started with 9 churches now has more than 150 churches spread all over the world.

The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church
Supreme Primate:

H.H. Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians

His Holiness Karekin II,
Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians


Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia

Catholicos of Cilicia:

H.H. Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia

Headquarters of the Great House of Cilicia:

Antelias, Lebanon

History in Brief:

Tracing its origins to the missionary witness of the Apostles Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew, the Church of Armenia is one of the oldest Christian communities in the entire world. The pair of Apostolic martyrs gave their lives for the spread of the Orthodox Faith in the rugged region, St. Thaddeus in the year AD 66 and St. Bartholomew two years later.

The church they established endured much hardship in its early years, persecuted by a succession of pagan rulers in the years AD 100, 238, and 280. It was during the reign of the last of these that St. Gregory the Illuminator, the first Catholicos of Armenia, through great humility, suffering, and the miraculous assistance of our merciful God, managed to convert his chief tormentor, King Tiridates III (r. AD 287-ca. 330) to the Christian Faith. After receiving direction from Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ Himself in a momentous vision, St. Gregory built Armenia’s first cathedral in the vicinity of Mt. Ararat at the then capital of Vagharshapat in AD 303, calling it Holy Etchmiadzin, meaning “The Place Where the Only-Begotten Descended”.

From that point on, the Armenian people have clung tenaciously to the Orthodox Faith, enduring and even thriving in the face of numerous invasions and persecutions, including the deliberate and systematic genocide carried out against them by the government of Turkey from 1915-1923. Since the establishment of the Republic of Armenia in September of 1991, the See of Holy Etchmiadzin has been engaged in the Herculean task of reorganizing and revitalizing the Armenian Church both in the motherland and throughout the far-flung diasporic community.  

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

H.H. Abune Mathias I, Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Ichege of the See of St. Tekla Haymanot, and Archbishop of Axum

His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Ichege of the See of Saint Tekla Haymanot, and Archbishop of Axum


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

History in Brief:

The origins of Ethiopian Christianity can be traced to the time of Empress Gersamot Hendeke VII (r. ca. AD 42-52). As recorded in the Book of Acts 8:26-39 an Ethiopian treasurer, a government minister in the employ of this monarch, was traveling in Palestine on a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem when he accepted baptism at the hands of St. Philip the Evangelist. This man later returned to his homeland where he won other converts for the Orthodox Christian Faith.

Christianity was enshrined as the national religion in the year AD 328, during the reign of Emperor Ezana (AD 320-356), making Ethiopia the second nation in the world (after Armenia) to declare the Orthodox Faith its official religion of state. It was during Ezana’s reign that St. Frumentius, a Syrian from Tyre, was consecrated as the first Bishop of Axum (capital of the ancient Axumite Empire) by St. Athanasius of Alexandria himself. St. Frumentius is revered in Ethiopia as the “Father of Peace” (Abba Selama) and “Revealer of Light” (Kesate Berhan).

Orthodoxy was later reinforced in the land through the missionary labors of the Nine Saints, Miaphysite clerics who came to Ethiopia from various parts of the Roman Empire during the fifth century, fleeing the persecution of that land’s Diophysite Emperor and Church. During this same period, St. Yared (AD 505-571), the great Ethiopian hymnographer, composed a prolific body of work which continues to characterize Ethiopian ecclesiastical music until this very day.

After lengthy negotiations with the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Church of Ethiopia was granted full autocephaly in 1959 with the installation of H.H. Abune Basilios I as its first patriarch. Since that time, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has been very active in the field of evangelism, establishing mission parishes among non-Ethiopian believers in North America, the UK, Bermuda, and seven West Indian nations.

The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church

H.H. Abune Antonious I, Patriarch of Asmara and all Eritrea

His Holiness Abune Antonios I,
Patriarch of Asmara and all Eritrea


Asmara, Eritrea

History in Brief:

Once a diocese of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church became a fully independent and autocephalous entity only in 1994. Nevertheless, the history of Christianity in the region dates back to the Apostolic Era. Yemeni and Syrian Christians settled in the port cities of Adulis (near Massawa) and Avalites (Assab) along the Red Sea in the first century, making converts among the locals. In the centuries that followed, churches were built and the Gospel was preached throughout the highlands, particularly in Akeleguzai, Hamasien, and Serae.

Christianity became the official religion of the Axumite Empire (an ancient kingdom which encompassed parts of modern Ethiopia and Eritrea) during the reign of Emperor Ezana (AD 320-356). It was during Ezana’s reign that St. Frumentius, a Syrian from Tyre, was consecrated as the first Bishop of Axum by St. Athanasius of Alexandria himself. St. Frumentius is revered in Eritrea and Ethiopia as the “Father of Peace” (Abba Selama) and “Revealer of Light” (Kesate Berhan).

On May 24, 1993 the modern nation of Eritrea was established, and in July of that same year the bishops of the country appealed to H.H. Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa, to obtain full independence and autocephaly. On September 28, 1993, the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church responded favourably to this request, and in the same month, Abune Paulos of Ethiopia and Archbishop Phillipos of Asmara sanctioned the official separation of their churches, while declaring their mutual desire to work together closely. In February of 1994 an agreement was signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that reaffirmed the autocephalous status of both the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches while recognizing the primacy of honor of the Pope of Alexandria within the See of St. Mark.

Persecution of Oriental Orthodox Christians
Tertullian, a second century scholar, wrote, "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”. In our current time we are witnessing the Orthodox Church being watered with the blood of her martyrs.

Within our Oriental Orthodox Family, just in the past century, we have witnessed, the martyrdom of over 1.5 million Armenia Orthodox Christians between 1914 and 1918. We have also witnessed the martyrdom of Bishop Petros and Patriarch Theophlos of Ethiopia who offered their lives during the Italian occupation and the communist regime respectively. We have witnessed periodic persecution of Copts including the burning of at least 30 churches within 24 hours in 2013 and the slaughter of the 21 martyrs in Libya. History will also never forget with what rigor and sacrifice our Indian brethren retained their Orthodoxy during colonialism.

The magnitude of persecution the Syrian Orthodox Church is enduring parallels that of the early Christians. In Iraq and Syria, even children are being martyred, boldly refusing to deny their Orthodoxy. The Eritrean Orthodox Church, although recently autocephalous, is offering many martyrs and confessors including the Patriarch, H.H. Abouna Antonios, who has been under house arrest since 2006.

It is truly an awesome time to witness what we read in our Synaxariums during our own lifetime.

It is with the martyrs in mind, that we welcome you with great joy to the first ever concelebrating of the Divine Liturgy in the Midwest among the local Oriental Orthodox Churches. We gather under the banner of Orthodoxy to raise our voices humbly, on behalf of our persecuted brethren in Syria and Eritrea. We will also commemorate the many martyrs of the Armenia Orthodox Church during World War I.

Most importantly, we are gathering to ask for the intercessions of our new martyrs and confessors. After all, it is us who need their prayers and not the other way. It is them who has “...come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelations 7:14)

May their intercessions be with us all and glory be to God forever. Amen.

The Persecution of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church
The Government of Eritrea, led by President Isaias Afewerki, is a totalitarian regime with a communist ideology. As a consequence, the ruling party’s views on religion have always been hostile. But in in 2005, the government’s hostility towards the Eritrean Orthodox Church reached its worst stage. Abouna Antonios, Patriarch of Eritrea was much concerned and resisted the growing interference of government in religious affairs. His refusal of the government’s order to excommunicate three thousand members of an Orthodox Sunday School movement in Medhane Alem Orthodox (The Savior of the World) Church, as well as his demands that the government should release imprisoned Orthodox priests further exacerbated the situation

In January 2005, the Patriarch was stripped of all his administrative authority. In January 2006, he was put under strict house arrest, where he remains to this day. In the immediate aftermath of His Holiness’ arrest, sixty priests from around Asmara, the capital city were forced out of the church for being suspected of sympathetic to the Pontiff. Many of them were arrested. Ensuing the arrest of the Patriarch the government unleashed a three-pronged attack on the Eritrea Orthodox Church, namely:

1. Appointing a lay administrators and a puppet patriarch to implement the governments anti-church policies

2. Ordering clergies to indefinitely serve in the military, from which the church had been historically enjoyed exemption. This has wreaked havoc in the Church as many parishes and monasteries are being closed for lack of clergies. Hundreds of other priests chose to flee the country and become refugees than serving in the military.

3. Intimidating Orthodox churches in Diaspora and creating parallel uncanonical churches.

Many denounced the action of the government and chose to suffer with their Patriarch rather than compromise their faith. Prominent monastics and scholars, such as Abba Melka Tsadik, Abba Haile Michael, Abba Tekle Haimanot, Merigeta Yetbarek, Abba Amha and his disciples, among whom Deacon Tewodros are only a handful of the multitudes that have been thrown into prisons incommunicado.

Others have chosen to perfect their faith by shading their blood as martyrs. In December 2005, Deacon Hagos, a student in Debre-Merkorios Monastery, was shot dead by soldiers who raided the monastery. This of course is just only one of numerous examples.

More recently, on October 1, 2014, the abbots of Kidus Yohannes, Debre Bizen, Gedam Tsaeda Amba Sellassie, Debre Sina, Debre Tsege Sef’a and Debre Libanos convened a council and excommunicated two individuals, Yof¬tahe Dimet¬ros, the lay government-appointed “General Administrator of the Orthodox Church” and priest Habtom Russom, who have been persecuting the Orthodox Church. Following this bold step, ten monks from the monasteries of Abune Seyfe Michael, Abune Libanos, Abune Abranious, Abune Buruk, and Abune Yonas fled the country, as they were wanted by the government.

In the North Korea of Africa, which is the country Eritrea, information comes in a trickle. The actual level of atrocity that has befallen the Orthodox Church and the population at large is not well documented. As in other eras of persecution in history, this one will give way to resurgence of the Church and many relics will be exhumed and the confessors will share their struggle.

We glorify God for the many confessors and martyrs he has raised during our days. Our church is in perils but we take solace in the words of our Lord “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)

The Armenian Genocide
One hundred years ago, on the night of April 24, 1915, the genocide of more than 1,500,000 Armenians began. The first to be singled out and massacred were the leaders and intellectuals of the Armenian communities in Ottoman Turkey; when it was over, two out of three Armenians living in that country had perished — the victims of a systematic extermination of Turkey’s Armenian population.

In their brutality, the Ottoman Turks set the tone for the 20th century: a dreadful tone, which would be heard again in the Nazi death camps, in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Rwanda and Darfur. And it echoes ominously in our own time, in desperate places where “ethnic cleansing” has become a policy of state, instead of a crime before man and God.

The dark episode that came to be known as the Armenian Genocide continued until 1923, and it shocked world opinion of the time. The Turkish atrocities committed against men, women and children of Armenian descent were extensively documented, in eyewitness accounts, in the official archives of the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, Austria and Germany, and in the world press. The New York Times published over 194 news articles—including the first-hand accounts of American and European diplomats, survivors of the massacres, and other witnesses—on the plight of the Armenian people.

And yet—incredibly—100 years later, the Turkish government is still denying that the Armenian Genocide ever took place. The arguments and tactics they employ in their campaign of denial are disingenuous and intellectually bankrupt; but they are sadly familiar to the serious scholars and historians who, in recent years, have had to wage a battle against deniers of the Holocaust, the Soviet Terror, and other episodes of institutionalized inhumanity.

For those Armenian-Americans who survived the Genocide and found haven in this country, April 24 remains a day of remembrance—of lost loved ones, uprooted lives, and a vicious crime against an entire people. But it is also a day of reflection on the sanctity of life, the blessing of survival, and the obligation we owe to our fellow human beings not to forsake them in their hour of desperation.

The Armenian children who lost their childhood in 1915 are mostly gone now. In life they bore their bitter memories with courage and dignity; but 100 years later, their descendants still await justice, the restless souls of the martyrs still await peace. Their descendants pledge always to remember the Armenian Genocide.

Sayfo - Suffering of Christians Continues in Middle East After 100 Years
Sayfo is the Syriac name of the Genocide of the Syriac Christians during the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the twentieth century. About half a million Syriac speaking people were killed during Sayfo. The Christian villages and towns were ransacked by organized mobs. Tens of thousands lost their homes. About 100,000 victims were forcibly converted to Islam. Their property was seized. Thousands of women and girls were forced into Turkish and Kurdish harems. The barbaric massacres were perpetrated regardless of gender or age. They turned churches into farms or restaurants in order to remove all signs of Christianity in the East.

The genocide occurred in the modern territory of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. The victims were predominately large communities located in the lands near Hakkari Mountains of province of Van, such as the provinces of Diarbekir, Erzerum, Kharberd and Bitlis, also the regions of Urmia in Iran, Mosul - in Iraq, and the north - western regions of Syria.

H.H. Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, opening the year of the centennial commemoration of Sayfo in Damascus, Syria on January 11, 2015 explained that the name Sayfo comes from the Syriac word 'Sayfo' which means 'Sword' and reflects the horrible way with which our people were put to death. He illustrated this with the example of a mother whose legs and arms were amputated and she was forced to feed her baby holding him with her teeth.

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Sayfo and Armenian genocide in 2015, sadly the persecution of Christians in the cradle of Christianity continues.

The Patriarch Aprem II explains: "One hundred years after Sayfo, we are confronting a new genocide. New persecutors have emerged and are killing all those who refuse injustice or to change their religion. It seems they are trying to accomplish what was not completed a hundred years ago. Their tools may have changed a little, but the goal is one, to kill those who refuse to be deprived of their liberties."

Newsweek reported that, as many as 4 million Syrian refugees of all religious backgrounds have fled to neighboring countries of which 700,000 were Syrian Christians. More than 200,000 people have died in Syria's four years of civil war.

In Syria, Christian holy places are being erased from the face of the Earth. Over 60 churches and monasteries have already been destroyed, many of which had a history of almost two thousand years and had been unique monuments of world culture. The unparalleled brutality and violence against Christian communities include crucifixion, beheading, torture and rape.

In Syria, much of the ancient town of Maaloula still lies in ruins after months of fierce fighting in 2013. The Syrian city of Homs, the third in the country in terms of population, has almost completely lost its Christian population. Thousands have been killed and about a million have fled. The situation is similar in Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and other cities. In March 33 Islamic State attacked Khabour River villages in Syria of Christians. The 5,000 defenseless residents were driven into exile, abducted, or killed.

Boulos Yazigi, Archbishop of Greek Orthodox Church, and Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, Archbishop of Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo, were abdicated in Syria in April 2013. They were on a humanitarian mission to secure the release of two priests who had themselves been kidnapped two months earlier. Their driver was murdered in the attack. To-date no one knows what happened to them or whether they are still alive.

The situation in Iraq is even worse. It is estimated that in 1990, there were between 1.2 and 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Today, fewer than 500,000 remain. More than 125,000 Christians have been forced from their homes over the last 10 months alone. In four to five years, many experts feel that very few Christians will be left in Iraq.

In February 2008, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Mar Paulus Faraj Rahho, was abducted and killed. Other priests and religious figures have also been murdered or kidnapped.

In Nineveh Plains in Iraq, the fourth Century monastery of St Matthew had 7,000 monks worshipping there during the times of the Roman Empire. Now there are only six monks remaining in the monastery. Valuable manuscripts, some dating to first century AD, were destroyed or lost. ISIS militants have also destroyed a mosque that was the burial site of the prophet Jonah.

The attacks on Christians are not confined to Iraq and Syria, it is spreading to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. From church burnings in Egypt to pastors sentenced to death in Iran, attacks against Christians and other religious minorities are escalating across the Islamic Middle East. Christians are being persecuted for their religion in numbers exceeding those martyred during the Roman Empire.

LL HH Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and East, Syriac Orthodox Church, expressed the agony and pain experienced by Christians in Iraq and Syria the best:

"We are unable to express the pain in our heart for the innocent victims of terrorism and violence. Pray with humility and confidence that they may find solace in the Living Lord. Also beseech the intercession of all the martyrs and saints especially our Holy mother, who is ever-virgin, pure and spotless.”

Victims of Sayfo Genocide


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