Tendencies towards Acculturation

Particularization of medieval Syriac hagiography was combined with a gradual process of 'Byzantinization' of the West Syrian heritage. The so-called 'Melkite' communities which followed the Chalcedonian Creed in particular show signs of alienation from indigenous traditions. As already mentioned, Greek influence loomed large from the very beginning. During the fifth and sixth centuries, some writings show cultural syncretism at its best. But in the wake of the Christological controversies, the Hellenic influence on the West Syrian Orient took on a new quality, owing to a mixture of religious and political events that undermined the independence and confidence of Syrian theological writers. Gradually the feasts of Greek saints became even more popular with Melkite Christians than most of their indigenous celebrations.

The even greater impact of 'foreign' traditions can be traced in some of those particular churches that were integrated into the Roman Catholic community. In more modern times, Latinization followed upon medieval Byzantinization. In the period between the Council of Trent in 1563 and the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Maronites, Chaldeans, and Syrian Catholics suffered considerable pressure on their indigenous traditions. In some respects, 'acculturation' is a more appropriate term to use than 'influence' or 'reception'. The Indian daughter-church of the Syrian Orthodox Church is a particular case: for those Indian Christians who were unhappy with Latinization under the hegemony of the Syrian Orthodox Church, the union with Rome meant not only a significant change of liturgical traditions, but also the traditional lists of controversial saints and heretics were changed.

However, in no case was there a total loss of the old Syrian heritage. Nor was the development strictly one-sided, since Byzantine Menaia list many oriental saints. The churches that united with Rome brought their own liturgical and spiritual heritage into the Catholic community. Thus hitherto existing saints of the various denominations who had not yet found their way into the Roman calendar entered the Catholic Church 'through the back door', as it were. The evidence suggests some degree of reciprocity between the different communities and Rome. Moreover, there were various formal beatifications and canonizations of Syrian Christians after their communities had united with Rome. The Catholic Church as such was involved, for example, when the pope canonized St Sharbel (19 77) and St Rafqa (2001), and beatified Blessed Hardini (1998), all members of the Lebanese Maronite Order who had lived in the nineteenth century.

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