St. Aphrem the Syrian, Theological Seminary and the Patriarchate
at Ma`arat Sayyidnaya, Damascus, Syria
The spiritual care of the Church of Antioch was vested in the Bishop of Antioch from the earliest years of Christianity. The first among the Bishops of Antioch was St. Peter who is believed to have established a church at Antioch in AD 33. Given the antiquity of the bishopric of Antioch and the importance of the Church in the city of Antioch which was a commercially significant city in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire, the Synod of Nicaea (AD 325) recognized the bishopric as a Patriarchate along with the bishoprics of Rome, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, bestowing authority for the Church in Antioch and All of the East on the Patriarch. (The Synod of Constantinople in AD 381 recognized the See of Constantinople also as a Patriarchate).
Even though the Synod of Nicaea was convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine, the authority of the ecumenical synod was also accepted by the Church in the Persian Empire which was politically isolated from the Churches in the Roman Empire. Until AD 498, this Church accepted the spiritual authority of the Patriarch of Antioch.
Founded in 493 AD, the Monastery of Mor Hananyo (Kurkumo Dayro, S.E. Turkey), was the seat
of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch & All the East, from 1160 until 1933
The Christological controversies that followed the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 resulted in a long struggle for the Patriarchate between those who accepted and those who rejected the Council. In AD 518, Patriarch Mor Severius was exiled from the city of Antioch and took refuge in Alexandria. On account of many historical upheavals and consequent hardships which the church had to undergo, the Patriarchate was transferred to different monasteries in Mesopotamia for centuries. In the 13th century it was transferred in the Monastery of Mor Hananyo (Deir al-Za`faran), near Mardin, Turkey, where it remained until 1933. Due to adverse political situation, it was transferred to Homs, Syria and in 1959 was transferred again to Damascus, Syria.
The Patriarchate office is now situated in Bab Touma, in the city of Damascus, capital of Syria. But the Patriarch resides at the Mor Aphrem Monastery in Ma`arat Sayyidnaya located about twenty five kilometers north of Damascus.
HISTORICAL GLANCE AT THE DEVELOPMENT OF ST. APHREM'S SEMINARY
Patriarch Aphrem I Barsoum (+1957) established St. Aphrem's Clerical School in 1934 in Zahle, Lebanon. In 1946 it was moved to Mosul, Iraq, where it provided the Church with a good selection of graduates, the first among them being His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas and many other of the Church's eminences.
In 1962 Patriarch Yakub III moved it back to Zahle, Lebanon.
In the year 1968 Patriarch Yakub III put up a building for the seminary in 'Atshanneh, Bekfeyah, Lebanon, where it remained until just before 1976 when its doors were closed because of the war clouds breaking over Lebanon.
In the year 1980 His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas was installed as Patriarch and one of the most important matters on His Holiness' mind was the issue of the seminary. The Holy Synod decided that Damascus should be the site of the seminary. His Holiness opened the institute in an old building in Haret al-Zeitoun in Bab Sharqi.
His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas' dream came true in 1996 with the construction of a beautiful new structure which became the location of St. Aphrem's Clerical Seminary. The building was dedicated on the 14th of September, 1996. The new building is located in the municipality of Ma`arat Sayyidnaya, about twenty five kilometers north of Damascus.
The building has five floors: the first floor (basement) has a kitchen and a large dining hall as well as rooms for services and storage; the second floor (ground floor) contains classrooms for the four years of study at the seminary, the students' library, administrative and reception offices, a lecture hall, a reception hall, a computer room, and two clinics, dental and general; the third floor has rooms for bishops, priests and seminarians. On the fourth floor is a small church named after St. Aphrem the Syrian that hold about 200 people. There is also the patriarchal wing, which included the patriarchal library, a reception hall and special wing for visiting patriarchs. The monks live in small rooms or cells on the fifth floor. The monastery and the church have a number of icons of our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Mary and St. Aphrem. Nuns from the Demyana Coptic Orthodox Convent in Egypt painted these icons.
St. Peter and St. Paul's Cathedral and the Crypts for the Patriarchs of Antioch
An important tradition in the Syrian Orthodox Church is keeping the crypts of the Antiochian Patriarchs in a special place in the monasteries that served as their seat. Thus, the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul was built to house the crypts of the patriarchs. The area of the church is 250 square meters, and the basement area is 85 square meters, with an area specially designated for the crypts of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch. Entrance to the crypts is possible from inside the church or from the outside. the cathedral was built in the shape of a cross and seats around 800 people. The cathedral contain icons of our Lord Jesus, St. Mary, St. Peter and St. Paul and of the baptism of the Lord Jesus by his servant John the Baptist. The icons are the work of the nuns from the St. Demyana Coptic Orthodox Convent in Egypt. The church has a bell tower with a cross and bells, built at an height of 22 meters. It is worth noting that the Greek Orthodox Synod under the headship of His Grace Archbishop Seraphim gave the monastery three bells as a token of their appreciation for His Holiness Patriarch Zakka I Iwas and the Syrian Orthodox Church.
International Christian Education Centre and St. Jacob of Baradaeus' Convent, 1998
His Holiness the Patriarch erected this building to become the Universal Syrian Youth headquarters as well as a centre for religious education, knowing that youth play a vital role in the Church's future. The centre has two floors and a basement. There are two dorms with a total capacity for sixty people. The centre also has rooms for the youth leaders in addition to a meeting hall, a dining hall, and all the basic facilities like restrooms, heating, etc.
In the year 1990 His Holiness established the Order of St. Jacob Baradaeus for nuns and renovated St. Aphrem's Clerical building in Atshanneh, Lebanon for the new order. Then he built a branch for the nuns at St. Aphrem's in Ma`arat Sayyidnaya. The convent contains rooms for the nuns, a reception hall and a hall for meetings. It is worth mentioning that in the year 2002 the third branch of this order was opened in Baghdad, Iraq.
It is also noteworthy that theological courses are held every summer at St. Aphrem's. The nuns of the Order of St. Jacob Baradaeus oversee these courses, which are held for those in charge of the centres for religious education.
St. Aphrem's Patriarchal Halls
St. Aphrem's Patriarchal Halls lie to the west of the theological seminary in the complex of St. Aphrem's in Ma`arat Sayyidnaya. The Halls, along with St. Peter and St. Paul's Cathedral in front of them to the east, bookend the monastery's open yard.
The building's total area is 1850 square meters, including the halls with their specialized facilities for conferences and meetings. The main hall can seat 800 people and the stage has room for about 60 to 80 singers. The hall is completely furnished with modern services like stage lights, a sound system, equipment for direct translation and for television projection etc..
The ground floor contains an information and reception desk, as well as administrative and communication services. it has a large reception room for receiving official guests. the ground floor also has two adjacent halls for meetings. The first can hold around 130 listeners and the second about 115. The two halls can open to make one large hall for around 300 people.
House of Agape for Elderly Syrian Orthodox Clerics
The House of Agape is located half a kilometer north of St. Aphrem's Monastery and consists of two buildings with 21 apartments. All the apartments have a large reception room. Some have only one bedroom, while others have more than one, in addition to a kitchen, utilities and a balcony. An elevator has been provided in the building.
A small church named St. Matthew the Ascetic is on the last floor of one of the buildings. The church can hold around 180 worshipers. The total area of the House of Agape is about 4650 square meters including the church, utilities and basements.
Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
P.O. Box 22260, Bab Touma
Tel: +963 11 5951870
+963 11 5951585
Fax: +963 11 5951880
St. Aphrem Syrian Orthodox Theological Seminary at
Ma`arat Sayyidnaya, Damascus, Syria
1. Syriac Orthodox Resources (http://sor.cua.edu)
2. Brochure-Patriarchal Jubilee, September 2005