Ecumenical Relations of the Syriac Orthodox Church
“When I had given much thought and pondered on the matter, I became convinced that these quarrels among the different Christian Churches are not a matter of factual substance, but of words and terminology; for they all confess Christ our Lord to be perfect God and perfect human, without any commingling, mixing, or confusion of the natures... Thus I saw all the Christian communities, with their different christological positions, as possessing a single common ground that is without any difference between them.”
The Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 brought about the separation of the Syriac Orthodox Church along with the Coptic Orthodox Church from the Byzantine and Roman Christians. Polemically mislabelled as monophysites, the Oriental Orthodox Christians including the Syriac Christians were considered heretics by other Christians and were subject to political persecution in the Byzantine empire as a result. The advent of Islam in the seventh century and its growing political clout was in fact a respite for the Syriac Church which viewed it as a deviant Christian sect but a liberating force from the oppression of the Byzantines. However the liberties that the Church enjoyed declined over time and were particularly curtailed during the days of the Ottoman Empire and culminated in the massacre of several thousands at the turn of the twentieth century. From the seventeeth century the Church also had adverse encounters with the Western Churches when the Roman Catholics and later the Protestants sought to bring the Syriac Orthodox faithful under the sphere of their influence.
After centuries of isolation, the spirit of ecumenism that emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century enabled the Syriac Orthodox Church to engage in constructive dialogue with sister churches which it continues to do. About seven centuries before modern ecumenical dialogue began, no less a person than Bar `Ebroyo noted this.
Much has been accomplished in the past few decades especially in relationships with the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. In addition to theological dialogue, the Church also actively hosts and participates in dialogue in topics such as inter-church marriages, setting a common date for Easter, etc.
H.H. Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch, speaking at the University of Humboldt, Berlin on May 16, 1995, stated:
"The split of the Christian church is a big mistake, a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and an ignoring of the existence of Christ who promised: "... the gates of hell will not prevail against it." (Mt 16:18) I invite you to stand before history for a moment to see the reason for our divisions. You will see that thousands of innocents have shed blood, righteous men have suffered and been expelled from their countries. We thank God that Christian churches in this generation have begun to feel the necessity of continuing the Christian dialogue and as a result they have drawn closer to each other and planned for continuous meetings at various levels to study different subjects. The unity of Christianity can only happen in and around Christ, who is the head of the Church and we with all our doctrines are only parts of the holy body of Christ.