The Syriac Churches Early Liturgical Traditions

At one time scholars were of the opinion that the Syriac liturgies were branches of a common Antiochene liturgical tradition, with two forks, East and West Syrian. The Maronite rite was seen as a variant of the West Syrian rite. However, more recent scholarship has emphasized that the East Syrian rite was centred on Edessa, not Antioch, and that the Maronite liturgical tradition seems to have blended some elements from the Edessan tradition with elements from the Antiochene tradition. (Macomber 19 73).

Furthermore, there was a distinct difference of culture between Greek-speaking Antioch and the surrounding Syriac-speaking hinterland. It seems that the majority of the later adherents of the Syrian Orthodox church came from the hinterlands, and for its liturgical use that church seems to have drawn upon a possible Aramaic/Syriac version of the Jerusalem or Palestinian liturgy.

Several early documents give us some idea of the liturgical diversity of the third and fourth centuries. These include the Apocryphal Acts of Thomas, around the early third century; the Didascalia, from North Syria, early third century; the Apostolic Constitutions from the region of Antioch, c. 3 60-80; and the Gospel of Philip. The Acts of Thomas gives accounts of a number of baptisms and celebrations of the Eucharist. It exists in Greek and Syriac, but it is thought that, although Syriac was the original language, the present Syriac recension is a later version, and that the Greek may preserve earlier readings. In two accounts in the Greek version, initiation seems to be by anointing only.

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