The Syriac Orthodox Church, also known as the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, is an autocephalous Oriental Orthodox church based in theEastern Mediterranean, with a diaspora spread throughout the world, notably in Sweden, India, Germany and the United Kingdom. It employs some of the oldest surviving liturgy in Christianity, the Liturgy of St Jamesthe Apostle, with Syriac as its official and liturgical language. The church has been led by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Aphrem IIsince 2014.
The Syriac Orthodox Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodoxy, which has been a distinct church body since the schism following the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, although it claims its roots to the first Christian communities in Antioch in AD 37, described in the Acts of the Apostles (New Testament, Acts 11:26) and established by St. Peter the Apostle.
The Syriac Orthodox Church participates in ecumenical discussions, being a member of the World Council of Churches since 1960, where Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas served as a president, and is a member of the Middle East Council of Churches since 1974. The precise differences in theology that caused the schism in AD 451 is said to have arosed "only because of differences in terminology and culture and in the various formulae adopted by different theological schools to express the same matter", according to a joint declaration in 1984 by the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, and the Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II. However, this view is not universally held by the Eastern Orthodox Church, one of the participants in the Council of Chalcedon. For more information, see: History of Oriental Orthodoxy.
The church presently has about 5 million members divided in 26archdioceses and 11 patriarchal vicariates. Most of its followers have origins from either present-day Turkey, Syria or Iraq. A massive amount also live inIndia, in Kerala. They are known as St Thomas Christians, and as a whole(including other denominations) add up to around 10 million people worldwide. In 1959 the seat of the Patriarchate of the church was moved toDamascus, modern-day Syria. Prior to that it was located in Southern Turkey, and at other points in Antioch.