East Syrian Worship

1. Historical

The East Syrian Church known to many as the Nestorian or Chaldean Church) is the Syrian Church of Antioch as it developed east of the frontiers of the Roman - Byzantine empire. Its centre was Nisibis. But its distinctiveness as a tradition could be dated from the Synod of Beth Lapat in AD 484. When this church recognized Theodore of Mopsuestia as its official teacher. i.e. his teachings were to be the standard by which the faith of other churches was to be tested. During the seventh and later centuries this church spread to Lurkestan (now in the Central Asian republics of the USSR) with bishops in Samarkand, Tashkent, Karakoram and also in Tibet as well as in China and India. Today this Church, except a part now in the Roman Catholic communion, is limited to small pockets in USA, Iraq, Iran and India.

2. Liturgical Books

The main eucharistic liturgies are three. Which go by the names of (a) Addai and Mari, (b) Theodore of Mopsuestia and (c) Nestorius. In addition to various lectionaries (one for the gospels, a second for the apostle Paul and the qarvana which contains the first two lessons for the liturgical office, from the OT and the Acts, they have the turgame, which are homilies on the lessons in the form of hymns to be chanted with the aid of the psalter (Dawida), consecration of an altar (without chrism), prayers for ferial days, ........ of marriage, the ordination manual, etc. The offices are chanted with the aid of the psalter (Dawida), the hudra, which contains the propers of the office, antiphons, hymns and prayers, the gazza, which contains the offices for the feasts of our Lord and the saints (except those that fall on Sundays), and other books for the choirs.

3. The eucharistic liturgy

What has astonished many liturgists about the liturgy of Addai and Mari is the absence of the words of institution; this is not unusual in the West Syrian* tradition either (The two other Chaldean anaphorae** do have the words of institution). This is shocking only to those who believe that the recital of the words of institution effect the consecration. There is a form of the Liturgy of the Presanctified (see Presanctified Mass) for use on Good Friday.
The Liturgy of the Catechumens begins with the Trisagion*, which is followed by the lections: One from the OT, and a second from either the ...... or the Acts of the Apostles. These are supposed to be read from the bema, the raised platform in the centre of the church. After the first two lections, as the priest leaves the bema to ascend the altar, the turgama or the homiletic hymn for the day is sung, interpreting the main point of the lection from the Pauline epistles which follows it. The turgama of the gospel comes next, followed by the gospel itself.

The Liturgy of the Faithful begins with a litany of intercession much as in the Byzantine liturgy. The diptychs* after the creed and the lavabo* are also in the form of litanies. Mary is commemorated thus: ‘For the memorial of Lady Mary the holy virgin who bare Christ our Lord and our Saviour.’ The 318 fathers of Nicaea are commemorated, and among the other fathers are mentioned both Theodore and Diodore as well as Nestorius, Flavian, Ambrose and Meletius. Emperor Constantine, his mother Helena, and later Byzantine emperors like Constans and Theodosius are also commemorated.

Even when the words of institution are missing, the epiclesis of the Holy Spirit upon the offering is given in full.

There is a second lavabo before the fraction* and consignation. The priest censes his hands after the lavabo before proceeding to the fraction. The Lord’s Prayer precedes the elevation and communion. The deacon who read the epistle is to administer the body from the paten and the deacon who gave the peace to administer the blood from the chalice.

The eucharist is called the Kudasha or sanctification: the liturgical language is Eastern Syriac, though the vernacular is used in most churches today. Leavened bread is used and communion is generally now in both kinds by intinction.

4. Offices

The canonical offices are mainly three: lelya (nocturns), sapra (matins) and ramsha (vespers) (see Canonical Hours).

5. Other liturgies

The baptismal liturgy is modelled on the eucharistic liturgy, with a pre-anaphora and anaphora for the consecration of the water with the chrism. Confirmation does not exist as a separate rite. Neither penance nor the sacrament of confession is used in this tradition. The anointing of the sick was also unknown until it was borrowed from the West in the sixteenth century. The marriage liturgy includes crowning and common drinking of wine from the same cup, but it is doubtful whether the East Syrians regarded marriage as a sacrament. The ordination practices are similar to those of other Eastern churches.


The text of Addai and Mari is given in ET in F. E. Brightman and C. E. Hammond. Liturgies Eastern and Western, I, 1896. Pp. 247-305; G. P. Badger, The Nestorians and Their Rituals, 2 vols. 1852: H. W. Codrington, Studies of the Syrian Liturgies, 1952.