Chapter Thirteen


Eastern Non-Chalcedonian








Several splits occurred within the one Church in the early Christian centuries, producing independent Churches within the four Eastern Patriarchates, namely, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem. The most important of the splits was in 431, when the Council of Ephesus was held which culminated in the Nestorian split. The product was the Nestorian Church in Mesopotamia and Persia. In 451, the Council of Chalcedon was held and it produced the Monophysite split. The products were the rise of the Syrians in Syria, the Copts in Egypt, and the Armenians in Asia Minor and Armenia. These Churches were called the Monophysite or Jacobite Churches.

The background of these splits was not purely theological and doctrinal, but national and linguistic, because of the failure of these Churches to reach a common understanding on doctrine in view of the difficulty of accurately expressing the theological ideas and meanings in their national languages. These Churches had old ties with Palestine. Some of these ties dated back to the apostolic era. Their rights in the Holy Places at present are peripheral, with the exception of the Armenian Orthodox Church, which is the third party in the Ottoman-charted Status Quo on the Holy Places. The first two are the Latins and the Greek Orthodox.

Some of these Churches, such as the Nestorian and Syrian Churches, had an eventful history and a cardinal role in Palestine. However, this role retreated during the Ottoman era. We had to refer to this role in order to draw up a complete picture of the Eastern non-Chalcedonian Churches in Palestine throughout the ages. The non-Chalcedonians included several ethnic groups, such as the Syrians, Copts, Armenians, and Ethiopians. Terminologies that had ethnic, doctrinal and liturgical connotations were interlocked, thereby confusing the researcher. An example of this is the Syrians as a nation and Church, and Syriac as a language.

The Syrians were a people who lived in present-day Syria and in Mesopotamia. “Since the 8th century B.C., Aramaic had been the Semitic language that served as the instrument of communication for the tribes of the Tigris and Euphrates basin. In spite of the competition offered by Greek under the Seleucids, it became the main vehicle of the Gospel in these vast regions. Around the year 150, if not sooner, northern Mesopotamia was reached by Christian propaganda. The eastern Aramaic dialect of Edessa, capital of the principality of Osrhoene, already possessed a literary character; as it developed, it became, under the name of Syriac, the liturgical and literary language of Oriental Churches from the Mediterranean coast to Babylonia, and from the borders of Armenia to those of the Arabian peninsula.”[1]

Speakers of the Syriac language were dispersed as parties, Churches and peoples. On the linguistic level, the Christians of Mesopotamia spoke the Eastern Syriac, and the Christians of the Syria spoke Western Syriac. “The possibilities of a linguistic evolution of Syriac, illustrated by modern neo-Syriac dialects, were forestalled by the consequences of the Arab conquest. In the 9th century, Syriac began to be supplanted by Arabic in popular speech, its role was gradually reduced to merely that of a liturgical language and scholarly language.”[2] On the ecclesiastical dogmatic level, there were the Melchite, Nestorian and Jacobite Churches, who had a Syrian background. The Syrian extended family included the Maronites, Chaldeans, and Assyrians. Each of these names had a certain historic connotation, or it may indicate a historic-religious event or era. We will briefly review the history of each group or Church of the Syrian family and other non-Chalcedonian Churches and its relationships with Palestine.

1-The Nestorians:

Nestorianism[3] is attributed to Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who opposed the teachings of the Council of Ephesus held in 431 on Christology. Nestorius refused to call the Virgin Mary Mother of God and preferred to call her Mother of Christ. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, who headed the Council of Ephesus as representative of Pope Celestine I, excommunicated Nestorius, who was first exiled to a monastery near Antioch, but that did not silence his teachings. One tradition reported that he was a gifted orator. He was then banished to Petra in Jordan and finally to the Kharga Oasis in Egypt. Each move took him to deeper isolation. Nestorius died probably in 450 or 451. We had access to some of the teachings of Nestorius from his speeches and writings, which were protected by history. The teachings of Nestorius were mentioned in the decisions of the Council of Ephesus and the writings of Cyril of Alexandria. The most important Nestorian doctrine in Christology was about the relation between nature (ousia) and person (hypostasis) in Christ.

“Remarking that wherever the Scriptures mention the economy [of salvation in the Incarnation] of the Lord, they attribute His birth and Passion not to the divinity but to humanity, Nestorius refused to attribute to the divine nature the human acts and sufferings of Jesus. This statement represents the crux of disagreement between Cyril and Nestorius; it makes it probable that if their ideas and vocabulary could have been neatly clarified and defined, the argument as well as the schism could have been avoided. Nestorius refused to call Mary the Theotokos (God bearer), which proved to be the starting point for the whole quarrel. He held that to call Mary the Mother of God would be in effect to say that the divine nature had been born of a woman, Mary had begotten only a man, to whom the Word of God was united. Nestorius would agree to say Theotokos (Mother of God) only on the condition that one said at the same time anthropotokos (mother of man), for him the right word was christotokos (mother of Christ). While distinguishing between the natures, Nestorius still affirmed their union. He would not consent to speak of “two sons”; but he spoke of a conjunction, a voluntary union, or one of accommodation, and gave the impression of believing in a union in the psychological or moral order that of the metaphysical nature.”[4]

After the Council of Ephesus and the ban on the Nestorian doctrine, Nestorianism found fertile soil among the Eastern Syrians (Chaldo-Assyrians) residing on the borders of the Byzantine and Persian empires. This was an important factor that helped produce the split among the faithful of the Universal Church:

“A strong Nestorian party existed in eastern Syria around the theological school of Ibas of Edessa, who was apparently a convinced Nestorian. After the theological peace achieved in the agreement of 433 between Cyril of Alexandria and John of Antioch, a number of bishops who rejected that agreement drew closer of the Syrian Church of Persia, which officially adopted Nestorianism at the Synod of Seleucia in 486. The Nestorians were expelled from Edessa in 489 by Emperor Zeno and emigrated to Persia. It was thus that the Nestorian Church broke away from the faith of the Church of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. The Nestorianism of the Persian Church was greatly strengthened at the synod of 612 when it adopted the heterodox principles of Catholicos Badai the Great: two natures, two hypostaseis, one sole prosopon; the term theotokos was formally excluded. This Church continued to flourish in spite of periods of persecution under the Sassanids, and even after the invasions of Turks and Mongols. Its strength is witnessed by the theological schools at Seleucia and Nisibis; its monasticism; and missionary expansion in Arabia, India (Malabar), Turkistan, Tibet, and even in China, where the bilingual inscription (in Syrian and Chinese) of Si-ngan-fu attests its presence in 781. The invasion and bloody persecution by Tamerlane (1380) almost destroyed the Nestorian Church, which today is greatly reduced in size in Iraq, Iran, and Syria and has a number of congregations in the U.S.”[5]

        Nestorian ecclesiastics and faithful paid abundant attention to the holy shrines in Palestine, particularly in Jerusalem.

“In the 5th century many Nestorian monks traveled across the Fertile Crescent in order to visit the Coptic monks of the Desert of Scetis. As important as this monastic school was for the Nestorian Fathers, yet, in many ways, Jerusalem with its Holy Places surpassed in spiritual significance the Egyptian Desert, and we may be justified in assuming that those monks, who entered the Desert of Scetis also visited the Holy Land in general, and Jerusalem in particular. About several of the Nestorian Fathers it is explicitly stated that they went to Jerusalem. At the same time, however, there must have been many anonymous monks, whose supreme hope and expectation was fulfilled, when, after long wanderings across the desert, they could behold the sacred sites of the Holy City.”[6]

        Pilgrims coming to Jerusalem and some followers of the Nestorianism of the residents of the country formed a Nestorian community in Jerusalem from the mid seventh century.

“The Nestorians seem to have held a privileged position among the Christian nations during the first few centuries after the Arab Conquest. Some fifteen years after the capture of Damascus, we find a Nestorian bishop writing: ‘These Arabs, to whom God has given in our time the dominion fight not against the Christian religion, nay, rather they defend our faith, they revere our priests and saints, and they make gifts to our churches and monasteries.’ In the beginning of the 9th century, the Catholicos Timothy (778-819 A.D.) established in Jerusalem a Nestorian Episcopal See, which was within the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Damascus. It was during this time, that Nestorian monks lived in the Jordan Valley. This site must have been occupied by Nestorian monks about the 9th century, as can be tentatively deduced from the inscription of the mosaic. Owing to its size and secluded situation, it could not have been more than a hermitage”[7]

        The title of the Nestorian Bishop of Damascus was the Metropolitan of Damascus, Jerusalem and the coast. In the mid-eleventh century, a resident Metropolitan was staying in Jerusalem. His title in 1283 was the Metropolitan of Tripoli and Jerusalem.[8] There were four bishops affiliated with the Metropolitan of Jerusalem. The Nestorians owned a convent on the Mount of Olives and part of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They also had a convent in the Jordan Valley, somewhere between Jericho and the Jordan River. They had four monasteries in Jerusalem: Saint Anthony the Coptic, the Apostles, Pentecost and St. Mary.

At the peak of their prosperity, there were 8,200 Nestorian families in Jerusalem, or a total of 42,000 people. However, Fiey casts doubt on the figures contained in the Nestorian sources. He estimated the correct figure at some few hundreds.[9] The Nestorian Church received a harsh blow from the Tatars. “The invasion of Palestine by Tamerlane in 1280 and his persecution left the worst impact on the Nestorian Church and almost destroyed it.”[10] The number of the followers of the Nestorian in Jerusalem continued to drop as time went on. The Nestorians lost much of their property to other denominations. Meinardus believes that Rabban Joseph was the last Nestorian monk who resided in Jerusalem. He died in 1614 and was followed by some monks who made intermittent visits to Jerusalem to handle the affairs of the remaining Nestorians. The last Nestorian priest visited Jerusalem in the eighteenth century.[11]

        Perhaps the most exciting thing in the history of the Nestorians in Jerusalem was their pilgrimage from their distant country to the Holy Land.[12] Palestine became throughout the ages the converging point of the pilgrims coming from various countries. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem was neither easy nor smooth. The Nestorian pilgrim residing in Persia or Mesopotamia had to travel some 1,200 kilometers to reach Palestine via Aleppo. Civil authorities were not always satisfied with the pious activities of the Nestorian Christians. Two empires, namely, the Byzantine and the Persian empires, shared the East. Each of these empires was hostile to the other. After the region was united under Islam, part of it came under the rule of the Crusaders. Travel from one area to another constituted an imminent danger. The traveler had to pay taxes and was forced to pay high protection fees. He could be accused of espionage in favor of one of the states of the region. Despite the dangers posed on the pilgrimage road, the pilgrims did not stop flocking to Jerusalem.

        Jerusalem in the hearts of Eastern Christian left an irresistible magic. They valued their visit to Jerusalem in light of the history of salvation, which is contained in the Scriptures. In Jerusalem, the signs of salvation appeared through the redemption, the death of Christ and his resurrection. Jerusalem will also be, according to tradition, the spot of the final Day of Judgment. Therefore, the churches of Eastern and Western Syrians were built in light of their understanding of the history of salvation. The altar, which was known in the eastern liturgy as the Holy of Holies, was the symbol of Heaven. The naves of the church were a symbol of the earth. The pulpit in the middle of the church was the symbol of Jerusalem as the center of the earth. On the pulpit, there was a cross as a reminder of Golgotha where Adam was buried according to the old traditions and the blood of Christ, which poured on him, redeemed him from his sin. So, whoever wants to reach heaven, with the Holy of Holies as its symbol, should pass through Jerusalem, which is symbolized by the pulpit, provided that he believes in the Scriptures. Through Christ, the sins of faithful will be forgiven. Jerusalem has always been one of the pillars of Syrian piety and liturgy with its Nestorian and Jacobite parts. 

The idea of pilgrimage to Jerusalem was a popular one. Intellectuals and clerics assessed and criticized these successive long visits, pointing out their negative and positive aspects. Among the negative aspects of pilgrimage to Jerusalem were the departures of the monks from their homelands, heading to Jerusalem, and the transfer of local funds to foreign countries. Moreover, Christ told the Samaritan woman that God should be worshipped in spirit and truth and not necessarily in Jerusalem (see John 4:21-24). The common people justified the principle of pilgrimage to Jerusalem as an honor to the pilgrims because the Holy Sepulcher, where Christ was buried, would bless them and there they would see every place that was linked with the life of Christ and the Apostles. Many faithful visited the holy shrines to fulfill a vow which they had pledged, or to thank God for his blessings and favors. The best wish of the pilgrim was to wash his clothes in the Jordan River and to rub them on the Holy Sepulcher. Concerning the spiritual preparations of the pilgrimage, the pilgrim will have to abandon worldly lust and the love of family and to devote himself to worship and focus on prayer. Gregory Bar Hebraeus summed up the preparatory conditions for the pilgrims in the thirteenth century as follows:[13]

- The pilgrim should repent for his sins, return what he stole, return the trusts deposited with him to their owners, and purify himself of every evil.

- The money spentt on the pilgrimage journey should be have been earned lawfully, not illegally.

- The pilgrim shoould exercise no commercial business during his journey to the Holy Land.

- If the pilgrim is wealthy, he can use his money to spend on himself and on poor pilgrims. As for the poor pilgrim, he should trust in God and should not disturb other pilgrims with his pleadings, but should be content with whatever is offered to him. Bar Hebraeus does not specify a certain dress for the pilgrims to wear. He advises that the pilgrims should carry the Bible with them. The time of travel is unspecified, however, it is preferable to reach Jerusalem during the holy week before Easter celebrations. Jacobite Syrians used to hold travel prayers in the church for the benefit of the pilgrim before his departure, imploring God to protect him.

As for the good conduct of the pilgrim traveling to Jerusalem, according to Bar Hebraeus[14], the most important these is that he should be warned against swearing and using abusive language. He should be kind and peaceful. He should walk on his feet, if possible, not riding his animal. He should wear simple clothes and not boast by wearing expensive clothes which lead to pride. For each phase of travel and visits to the holy shrines, there are specific Psalms, which the pilgrim should read. When the pilgrim arrives in Jerusalem on Easter day, Bar Hebraeus prefers that the pilgrim should wear white clothes, because white is the symbol of grace and salvation while black is the symbol of sin and death.

        The most important sites which the pilgrims used to visit were the Jordan River, Golgotha, the Holy Sepulcher, Mount Sion (site of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost), and the Mount of Olives. On the Holy Sepulcher, pilgrims placed commemorative gifts such as crosses and candles to be blessed and distributed to their friends when they went back to their countries. The pilgrims also visited the Church of Gethsemane and the Church of the Nativity. The journey of the pilgrims reached its climax on the night of Holy Saturday at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. 

There were pilgrims who opted to reside permanently in Jerusalem and did not go back home. Bar Hebraeus voices the views of those who oppose residence in Jerusalem.[15] Those who have chosen Jerusalem as their residence should have the qualities of sainthood. Jerusalem is a holy city and a sin committed there would account for double the sin committed somewhere else. On the other hand, Jesus described the people of Jerusalem as the killers of Prophets, the city that stoned the men that God sent to it (Matthew 23: 37-39). Why then rush to reside in it?

A pilgrim to Jerusalem was called a Jerusalemite or a visitor of Jerusalem. Legendary stories, fables and adventures, totally unconnected to reality, were made up about the pilgrimage. If this meant anything, it was a sign of the popularity of the pilgrimage among Nestorians and the impact of the pilgrimage on the imagination of the people. When pilgrims went back home, they were accorded a reception and prayer at the parish church. The pilgrims offered the gifts to the church and to friends during the celebration. It seemed that Syrians offered on the Church level a warmer and more magnificent reception to the pilgrims than the Nestorians did. When a pilgrim died, he was wrapped in the shroud he brought with him from Jerusalem, all the more so because the shroud was blessed when the pilgrim laid it on the Holy Sepulcher. Funeral prayers then pointed out that the pilgrim had visited the Holy Land as a sign of his piety and social standing.

A few monk pilgrims continued their journey from Palestine to Egypt to visit the Coptic convents in the desert. Nestorian and Jacobite monks viewed Egypt as the country of the anchoritic and monastic life which rose in its deserts. Thus Jerusalem was the convergence point of cultures, nations and Christian Churches throughout the ages and a crossing point for spiritual thought among the faithful.

The majority of the Nestorians joined the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. They were then called the Chaldeans. Chaldean is an old ethnic name, which Rome gave to the Nestorians united with it while the Nestorians who were not united with Rome were called Orthodox or Assyrians. There are some 80,000 Nestorians presently living in Iraq, Iran and Syria, 5,000 in India, and 25,000 Nestorians living in the two Americas.[16] 

2-The Syrian Orthodox:

Christianity spread in Syria through the Apostles themselves. “The early 2d-century Ignatius of Antioch, spoke of the Church in Syria, indicating that from the beginning Christianity had quickly spread through this region. Early tradition connected the founding of the See of Antioch with Peter; and SS. Paul and Barnabas were sent on the mission to the Gentiles from Antioch. It appears that Christianity spread from Syria to Edessa and Asia Minor.”[17] Antioch is so important in early Christian history because “It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.” (Acts 11:26). Antioch became a famous theological school of Christian thought in Syria alongside Alexandria. The Syrian Church did not escape sedition and it split following the Council of Chalcedon held in 451. On the religious level, the Council of Ephesus held in 431 did not settle the differences caused by Nestorius. Disputes were renewed between the followers of the Alexandrian and Antiochene schools. The person who caused the sedition to erupt once again was Eutyches (380-456), who first came to notice in 431 at the council of Ephesus, where, as a zealous adherent of Cyril of Alexandria, he vehemently opposed the doctrine of the Nestorians. “Eutyches was head of a monastery in Constantinople known for his extreme admiration of Cyril of Alexandria and insistence on his verbatim teachings without fully understanding these teachings. Instead of complying with the interpretation of the famous idea by Cyril that Christ had only one nature incarnated in the Logos, or Word, Eutyches argued that before the incarnation, Christ had two natures. However, after the incarnation, there was only one nature left, which is the divine nature. He explained this by saying that the divine nature remained as it was while the human nature melted into it as seawater melts the drop of the honey that falls into it.”[18]

The imprudence of Eutyches in asserting his opinions led to his being accused of heresy by Domnus of Antioch and Eusebius, bishop of Dorylaeum, at a synod presided over by Flavian, bishop of Constantinople, at Constantinople in 448. As explanations of  Eutyches were not considered satisfactory, the synod deposed him from his priestly office and excommunicated him. Eutyches replied by arranging a local council at Ephesus in 449 to support his views and to discredit Flavian. Eutyches did not heed the advice of the representative of Pope Leo of Rome. Thus the pope ordered the convening in 451 of the Council of Chalcedon. There the synod of Ephesus was annulled, and in accordance with the rule of Leo, contrary to the doctrines of Eutyches, it was declared that the two natures were united in Christ, but without any alteration, absorption or confusion. The Monphysite teaching of Eutyches was considerd a heresy and anathematized by the Universal Church.

The majority of the Syrians, Armenians and Copts adopted the Eutychian Monophysite teachings. They found in this an opportunity to declare their rejection and anger against their Byzantine rulers by refusing the theological teaching which says that Christ had two natures, calling it a Byzantine teaching.  “Syrian hatred of Byzantine rule helps to explain the fanatical opposition to the Council of Chalcedon.”[19]

The Syrians were called Jacobites after Monophysite Bishop Jacob Baradaeus, bishop of Edessa who consecrated many bishops and priests to carry on the Monophysite faith, to strengthen the current opposing the Council of Chalcedon and to resist the Byzantine influence. Syrians and other Monophysites refused to be called Jacobites, but preferred to be called Orthodox. Jacobites were called so by the people faithful to the Byzantine emperor and the Council of Chalcedon. Christians who remained faithful to the Byzantine emperors and in contact with Rome by accepting the Chalcedonian doctrine, were called by the Jacobites as Melchites, or the king’s men. In other words historically every party was considering itself as Orthodox and the opposite party as heterodox. When the Syrian Jacobites are asked today about their Monophysite beliefs, they deal with the issue of the two natures in a different way than the Chalcedonians, and explain that the two natures were united in Christ in a fashion that is different from the official Universal Church teaching. They claim to be Orthodox and they denounce the Council of Chalcedon as heterodox. In historic terms, Nestorianism and Monophysism were not just a heresy in the real sense of the word or a schism in the Universal Church as much as a split of the one Church on national, political and linguistic basis. The Monophysites assessed the Arab conquest as liberation for them from the domination of the Byzantines who ruled the country and the people religiously and secularly. 

“The schism was definitive between the Syrians called Monophysites and the Syrians called Melchites. None of the efforts of Justin or his successors to patch up the schism met with any success. Thenceforth there were at the head of the immense diocese of the Orient two rival hierarchies, who kept anathematizing one another. They governed two separate Churches, which although conserving for a time the same traditions, the same discipline, the same liturgy, came into contact only in efforts to tear one another apart. The Syrian Orthodox Church, better known as Jacobite Church, comprised about 75 per cent of the population; the Syrian Melchite Church embraced the Greek-speaking minority, and some isolated Syriac-speaking groups of monks and serfs living around the convent of St. Maron in Syria Secunda who later called themselves Maronites.”[20] 

The Jacobite Syrians had close relations with Palestine because of its proximity to their sites and gatherings. They came to Palestine as pilgrims and tourists like the Nestorians and settled around the holy sites in large numbers. The Syrians had two monasteries in Jerusalem. One was St. Mary Magdalene monastery, which became the residence of the Syrian bishop in the year 1000; some 70 monks lived in there 1235. Four monks of the Magdalene monastery were consecrated bishops for Jerusalem. The Syrians deserted their monastery in the thirteenth or fourteenth century and continued to live in the St. Thomas monastery. The second was the St. Mark monastery. According to old tradition, it was the home of St. Mark. The monastery was built in the fifth or sixth century. Syrians have inhabited the monastery since 1472 to-date. In the monastery, there is an old valuable library containing hundreds of historic documents, which can be regarded as an important source of the history of Palestine. History recorded the names of seven Syrian bishops who were monks in that monastery.[21]

Syrians viewed the 52 bishops after St. James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, as their bishops also. Other Churches held the same view. This was the first phase of Syrian bishops in the series of their bishops in Jerusalem. The second phase began in 575 on the eve of the Chalcedonian split, as there were in Jerusalem two bishops. One was a Monophysite and the other was a Diophysite, or a Chalcedonian believing in the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human. According to the Syriac chronicles, Theodosius was the first Syrian Monophysite bishop who was martyred at the hands of the Diophysites around 575. It was difficult to determine the identity of the bishop, i.e. whether it was Monophysite or Chalcedonian because the Jerusalem bishops were swinging between the two. Kyrillos III was the first Syrian bishop of Jerusalem after the Arab conquest in 750. The Syrian bishop in Jerusalem followed the Syrian Antiochian Patriarch. One can safely say that the succession of the Monophysite bishops after the Chalcedonian split started in the sixth and seventh centuries.[22]                  

There was no continuous succession of Syrian bishops until the seventeenth century. There were periods of vacancy. In their sources, the Crusaders gave the title of Syrian to all the Monophysites, because they did not distinguish between ethnic and doctrinal terminologies, this was a sign of the prevalence of the Syrian element over all the Monophysite Churches. Thus the part was called a whole. In fact, the Syrian bishop remained the only bishop for all the Monophysites in Jerusalem until the mid-thirteenth century when the Copts appointed their own bishop, and Armenians  followed them.[23]

During the Ottoman rule in the seventeenth century, the Syrians, like other Monophysite denominations, lost many of their rights and monasteries, such as the Deir al-Adas Convent. It seemed that the Syrians also lost their rights in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in favor of the Armenians, who became the stronger Monophysite denomination in the Ottoman age. At the peak of its prosperity, the Antioch Syrian Patriarch, who was assisted by 20 metropolitans and 13 bishops, ran the Syrian Orthodox Church. At the end of the sixteenth century, the number retreated to seven Metropolitans and two bishops.[24] By the nineteenth century, the followers of the Syrian Church decreased because it faced misfortunes and disasters that scattered its followers and destroyed its bishopric centers. Betts described this Church as a “A tiny but vigorous remnant of the once-powerful Monophysite Church of Syria which even as late as the 13th century constituted a near majority of the rural population in the Antiochene Patriarchate. A rapid decline set in, however, following the collapse of the Crusading Kingdoms, and by the 19th century they had been reduced to some 200,000 souls concentrated in the very north of Syria around their patriarchal seat of Dayr Za’faran (the Saffron Monastery) near the city of Mardin, since 1920 a part of Turkey.”[25] 

George Williams described the Syrian Church in Jerusalem as a very limited community in the 19th century: “the community is very small, one priest and one deacon forming the staff of the bishop; as the number and condition of the pilgrims affords them but a limited establishment, and several houses which they formerly possessed in the city, the revenues of which maintained them in comfort, have been taken out of their hands by their Armenian protectors. They occupy a very ancient Church and monastery on Mount Sion, known as the house of St. Mark, the only one remaining to them of several which they formerly owned, the remainder having been confiscated by the Turks, by the law of the might.”[26] According to the statistics published by Dr. Schultz, there were only 20 Syrians in Jerusalem in 1845.[27] A number of Syrians settled down in Bethlehem at the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century following waves of immigration from their country in northern Syria and Turkey. The Status Quo of the Holy Land guarantees secondary rights for the Syrians alongside the Armenians, Greek Orthodox and Latins in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of the Nativity and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary.[28]

3-The Armenian Orthodox:

The Armenians were among the first of the peoples who embraced Christianity. The time of their settlement in Palestine is not certain. “According to Armenian sources, the Armenians resided in Jerusalem from the fourth century during the Byzantine era. Many of them resided on Mount Sion. A road there, Ruga Armeniorum was named after them.”[29] Following the Council of Chalcedon the Armenians followed the Syrian Monophysite bishop of Jerusalem.

The monks of St. James convent, who refused the reforms declared by the Council of Cilicia in 1307, formed the Jerusalem Armenian Patriarchate in 1311. Thus the Jerusalem monks installed their bishop as their patriarch.[30] His name was Sarkis.[31] With the beginning of the Ottoman era, the Ottomans appointed the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as patriarch for all the Chalcedonian Christians, and the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople as patriarch of all the non-Chalcedonians. The difference between the two patriarchs was that the power of the first was temporal-spiritual over all his millet while the power of the second, the Armenian, was temporal, because the spiritual powers continued to be restricted to the Armenian Catholicos of Etchmiadzin, Armenia. Within this hierarchy, the Armenian Jerusalem Patriarch was not completely independent in the sixteenth century. He was attached to the patriarch of Constantinople in temporal matters and to the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin in spiritual matters.

The regulations governing the Armenian Patriarchate were issued in Istanbul on 24 May 1860, and were amended on 17 March 1863. They were amended for a second time in 1888. According to these regulations, the monks of the Armenian Order of St. James should submit the names of seven candidates to Istanbul, and the Armenian Millet Council should select three names out of the seven names. One of them was elected by lot, and the Ottomans granted him the edict of appointment, the high Berat. The Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem was not a post that was concerned with the Armenians of Palestine. He was an official figure who was responsible before the Armenian nation for guarding the holy shrines. The Armenians had rights in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity. They owned the St. James convent and other holy shrines. The synod or council of the monks of the St. James convent assisted the Patriarch in his mission. However, the rank of the Armenian Patriarch in Jerusalem remained a low rank, because from the spiritual standpoint, he was attached to the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin, the head of the Armenian Church, although the Ottomans had always refused to accredit him as such. On the ecclesiastical level, one could say that the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem was an archbishop or metropolitan attached from the spiritual, not the civil standpoint, to the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin.[32]

In the mid nineteenth century, there were 350 Armenians in Jerusalem[33], at the end of the century; there were 500.[34] The nineteenth century for the Armenian Patriarchate was the beginning of a new era. Most Armenian educational institutions were established in that time.[35] The Armenians launched their printing press in 1833. Since 1866, they have been publishing the bimonthly magazine, Zion, which is the official magazine of the Armenian Patriarchate. This printing press alone supplied the Armenian Churches in all parts of the world with Armenian liturgical books.[36]

In 1843, the Armenian Patriarch inaugurated the Armenian theological seminary, which graduated monks and priests as well as intellectuals and leaders. Thus the Jerusalem Patriarchate became the second in rank in terms of ecclesiastical and cultural importance after the Armenian mother Church in Etchmiadzin.[37] Next to the Patriarchate, there were two schools, one for boys and the other for girls. The first was opened in 1863 and the second in 1929.[38] The 100-bed Armenian hospital was built in 1856.[39]

4- The Coptic Orthodox:

The relationship between Egypt and Palestine are certainly very old. Anchoritic life spread in Palestine at the hands of St. Hilarion, disciple of St. Anthony, founder of the anchoritic life in Egypt. As for Alexandria, it was one of the five Patriarchates. It prides itself that St. Mark spread Christianity there. The Patriarchate of Alexandria split from the Universal Church after the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

In Palestine, the Copts shared the Monophysite churches and monasteries and were affiliated with the Syriac Monophysite bishop. The history of the Coptic Bishopric in Palestine could be traced back to the mid-thirteenth century when they had a bishop in Jerusalem in the era of the Coptic Patriarch Kirillos Ibn Laqlaq (1235-1242).[40] The position of the Copts in Jerusalem improved after the Crusades. Among the soldiers of Saladin, there were a number of Coptic soldiers and employees. The Copts owned three churches in Jerusalem and part of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The history of the Deir es-Sultan convent, which is their main premises in Jerusalem, could be traced back to the to the thirteenth century. The Copts and Ethiopians were neighbors in the convent.

“The domination of the Mamluk dynasty appears to have been more favourable to them than to other Christians; and they have an interesting but very vague tradition relative to the Convent, which I heard from the Superior. A Coptic secretary to one of these sultans was offered any reward he chose to ask for his long and faithful services; he refused to accept any remuneration for himself, but humbly prayed that his master would repair this ruined convent at Jerusalem, and grant it to his brethren. The sultan consented, and the memory of the event is still preserved not only in the name of the Convent, Deir es-Sultan (the Convent of the Sultan), but in a heavy iron chain fastened in the wall by the door as a perpetual memorial of the sultan’s bounty, and a witness to all that the convent was under his special protection; and the significant token has hitherto preserved to them the possession of this important building.”[41]  

In the nineteenth century, Coptic bishop Abraham built a hostel for the Copts in Jerusalem. Bishop Basilios built St. Anthony Church and the convent attached to it near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Moreover, the Copts have some endowment property in Palestine. There were 100 Copts in Jerusalem at the end of the nineteenth Century.[42]  They prospered in the nineteenth century during the Egyptian rule. An archbishop attached to the Patriarch of the Coptic See of St. Mark headed the Coptic Church in Palestine. The first Coptic archbishop of Jerusalem was Basilios I (1236-1260).[43] The Copts had a small shrine in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher behind the Holy Sepulcher.[44] 

5-The Ethiopian Orthodox:

Ethiopian ties with Palestine were as old as Christianity itself (Acts 8:27-28). Historians mentioned the Ethiopians as monks and pilgrims in Palestine in the early Christian centuries[45] The most famous person to mention them was St. Jerome, who lived in Palestine in the fourth century.[46] The Ethiopians were mentioned during the age of the Crusades as groups of monks without a bishop.[47] They hold liturgical service alongside other Christian denominations and Churches in the holy shrines, particularly in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.[48] Ethiopian emperors had close relations with their monks in Palestine, who played the role of mediators between their country and Europe in view of the fact that they were stationed in Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, an Ethiopian mission traveled to attend the Council of Florence in 1438.[49] The Ethiopians reached the peak of their prosperity in Palestine in the fourteenth century. In the Ottoman period, the Ethiopians lost their property in the Holy Land because they could not offer money and bribes to the Turkish rulers.[50] Historian Pedersen said that in 1678, the Ethiopians completely disappeared from the Holy Land and the Ethiopian government did not come to their support. Relations between the Ethiopians and the Ottomans were not good. The Turks supported the Armenians and Greeks in the Holy Land at the expense of the Ethiopians.[51]

Williams estimated their number in the nineteenth century at 20 monks.[52] The Ethiopians tried to ask for the help of the Russian consulate at one time and the British consulate at another. However, the mediation of the two consulates did not help the Ethiopians whose millet and ecclesiastical presence in Palestine were peripheral. The mediation and care did not improve their difficult conditions with the other denominations and the Ottoman authorities.[53] However, Ethiopian conditions improved at the end of the nineteenth century when the kings of Ethiopia extended a helping hand to their monks. So they owned some endowment property in Jerusalem[54] and Jericho. The Ethiopian consulate was opened in Jerusalem in 1920 and took over the affairs of the denomination. The Armenian convent undertook to pay for the livelihood of the Ethiopian monks. It provided them with financial aid and foodstuffs. The number of Ethiopian monks in Palestine at the present time is no more than 50 persons.[55]


The Eastern Churches maintained a foothold in Palestine despite the enormous difficulties they encountered and the high price they paid to protect their rights, particularly during the Ottoman era.

In the world, there are power centers for the Christian Churches. In Rome, there is the heart of Catholicism. In Constantinople and later in Athens and Moscow, there is the center of Orthodoxy. Germany is the cradle of Lutheran Protestantism. In London, there is the leadership of the Anglican Church. As for Jerusalem, it is the sweet home for all these Churches.

Around its holy sites, Palestine attracted the sentiments of the Christians, their theological differences and historic splits. The Eastern non-Chalcedonian Churches had a share in Palestine. They competed with the major Churches to gain a foothold in Palestine and to keep their presence through the ages. Syrians, Nestorians, Copts, Armenians and Ethiopians were geographically closer to Palestine and were linked with old spiritual and ethnic ties to that country. Some of these ties could be traced back to the age of the Apostles. Thus while we could call Rome Catholic, Athens Orthodox and London Anglican, Jerusalem has embraced all Christians under its wings. Denominational names could be overlooked and Jerusalem remained the city of Jesus Christ and of Christianity. Islam and Judaism share with Christianity this outlook to the Holy City. Jerusalem is the Holy of Holies for Muslims and Jews. Perhaps Jerusalem will embrace all of them in the paradise of peace, and would not be the city that will divide the Children of Abraham and lead them to the hell and misfortunes of war. Maybe the Holy Places of the three monotheistic religions will become a highly cherished human and spiritual heritage in which all men would heed the One God, the Lord of all the peoples, a place where pure and pious hearts would become free from evil and hatred and would make peace above the Holy Sepulcher, the Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall, and Jerusalem would become once again the city of peace.