The East Syrian Anaphora of Mar Theodore of Mopsuestia



The East Syrian Anaphora

of Mar Theodore of Mopsuestia

Dr.  Joseph Vellamattam

1.Theodore of Mopsuestia

Bishop, leading exponent of the Antiochene School of exegesis and theology. Born in Antioch, c. 350. While studying rhetoric under the pagan sophist Libanius of Antioch, John Chrysostom was his fellow student. Entered the monastic school conducted by Diodore, later bishop of Tarsus. In 381 he was ordained a priest of the Church of Antioch and 11 years later was named bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia. There is good reason to believe that throughout his long episcopate he enjoyed an excellent reputation for eloquence, learning, and orthodoxy. He died in 428, the year in which another representative of the Antiochene School, Nestorius, became bishop of Constantinople.

During the decade following the condemnation of Nestorius by the Council of Ephesus (431), charges of heterodoxy were raised against Theodore’s teaching by several prominent bishops, the most important of whom was Cyril of Alexandria, who wrote a work titled Contra Diodorum et Theodorum. Cyril accused Theodore of having taught the same “impiety” for which Nestorius had been condemned (Patrologia Graeca 77:340). However, at the Council of Chalcedon (451) the Fathers listened without protest to the letter of Ibas of Edessa that  praised Theodore as a “herald of truth and doctor of the Church” (Acta conciliorum oecumenicorum 2)

2. Studies made on AT

Scientific studies of the AT were made by F. E. Brightman, G. Wagner and W. F. Macomber. Brightman concludes that AT basically emanates from Theodore himself, by pointing out thirteen typical Theodorian expressions existing in the anaphora confirmed in the authentic writings of Theodore. Wagner, after comparing the AT with the Commentary of Theodore on the Eucharist, concludes that the anaphora witnesses to the same theology and thought of Theodore. Macomber remarks that though the anaphora attributed to Theodore is not written by him, his theology is obviously present in it. From the Syro-Malabar Church, Fr. Jacob Vadakkel prepared a critical edition and an English translation. He made a structural analysis and an exposition of the main theological themes of the AT. A comparative study of the anaphora with some of the Byzantine, West Syrian and East Syrian anaphoras were made by him.

3. AT is an East Syrian composition

Despite the probable theological influence of the Byzantine and West Syrian anaphoras and theology of Theodore, AT is an East Syrian composition because of the inherent East Syrian features in it. The use of the word name rather than pronouncing the name of God is typical to OT and the Jewish berakoth[1]. So also the essential element of praise and thanksgiving with the anemnesis of the gratuitous gifts of God despite the infidelity of the worshippers. The g’hanta prayers of AT contains these Semitic features.

The coherent and appropriate presence of the prayers of the ‘ordo communis’ of the East Syrian anaphoras in the AT and the realization of the fundamental East Syrian structure of the anaphoras are further evidence indicating its East Syrian origin.

AT presents a genuine Syriac style without the uneasiness or vagueness of a translation. The constant use of and without splitting different ideas into different sentences, the omission of the verb ‘to be’ in some cases and the verbal changes from third person to second person – a feature common to Semitic languages- indicate its East Syrian origin.

The close similarity of the Phil. 2, 5-7 used in the third g’hanta with the Pschitta version also marks its Syriac composition than Greek translation.[2]

This anaphora is specially remarkable for its Semitic character, biblical thoughts and developed theological insights.

4. The Anaphora of Theodore in the Church of the East

The manuscript tradition relates the East Syrian Patriarch Mar Aba (540-552) to the AT and the history of East Syrian liturgy shows that it was he who introduced it for the celebration[3]. Some of the manuscripts of the AT entitle the anaphora as follows:

“Again by the strength of our Lord Jesus Christ, we begin to write the Liturgy of Mar Theodore, the Interpreter of Divine Writings and the bishop of Mopsuestia; that was translated and interpreted from Greek to Syriac by Mar Aba Catholicos, when he visited the Roman empire[4]; and he translated it by the assistance of Mar Thoma doctor of Edessa”[5]

Though the anaphora is known under the name of Mar Theodore of Mopsuestia, he may not be the author. According to the manuscript tradition, Mar Aba ‘translated and explained’ the AT from Greek to Syriac. The word ‘explained’ or ‘interpreted’ may also indicate that his work was not a mere translation but a rational assimilation from the source. The fervent disciple of Theodore, made use of the works of Theodore written in Greek to assimilate his theology in to his work and dedicated it to the honour of his beloved master. Thus Mar Aba the great is the most probable author of AT.[6]

However, it is believed that Mar Iso’yahb III (650-659) who fixed the season of its use, from the first Sunday of Annunciation to the Sunday of Hosanna. The Latinized Chaldean Patriarch Mar Joseph II (1696-1712) suppressed the anaphoras of Theodore and Nestorius from the Chaldean liturgy. But they were restored again by Patriarch Khayyath with the printing of the Missal in 1901, omitting the names of Theodore and Nestorius and entitling them as the second and third anaphors.

5. Attributed to Mar Theodore

The definite influence of Theodorian theology in AT is evident from the explicit similarities between the AT and the Commentary of Theodore on the Eucharist. The constant Theodorian expressions present in the AT such as ‘the grace of the Holy Spirit’, his Christology insisting on the distinct human and divine natures in the person of Christ, the role of the Holy Spirit in the divine dispensation of Christ etc. manifest the influence of the Theodorian theology in the AT. But it is noteworthy that the author has not made a literal translation from Greek to Syriac but has incorporated the Theodorian theology in East Syrian terms[7]. The AT can be rightly attributed to Theodore of Mopsuestia.

6. Date of origin

The date of Origin of the AT can not be earlier than the fourth century A. D.  Because of internal evidences such as the influence of Niceno-Constantinopolitan symbols of faith in such expressions as, ‘God the author of all things, ‘for us men and for our salvation’[8] etc. It can not be later than the sixth century A. D. Since it was already being introduced in the East Syrian Church at the time of Patriarch Mar Aba I (540-552).[9] Most probably it was written at the beginning or the middle of the sixth century A. D.

7. The orthodoxy of the AT

Cardinal Mar Joseph Parecattil, in his posthumous book, The Liturgy in my Vision, states that the liturgies of Theodore and Nestorius are heretical and thus explains the difficulty in restoring them to the Syro-Malabar liturgy[10]. There has been a lot of discussion about the orthodoxy of this anaphora in the past. The main accusation was of Nestorianism[11]. Now everybody accepts that it was a mere confusion regarding the terminologies. The East Syrians explain Christology with the terminology of kyana (nature in abstract), qnoma (concrete nature by which it is known) and parsopa (the sum total of all the accidents). They confess the existence of two kyane and two qnome (divine and human individual nature) in one parsopa (person) of Christ. This is fully in agreement with the Catholic doctrine. But if qnoma is taken as hypostasis or persona it will lead to Nestorianism.[12] Today nobody points out any dogmatic error in the AT or in the Christology of the East Syrian Church. Studies have eradicated the groundless fear of Nestorianism in AT.

8. AT in the Syro-Malabar Church

The AT was in use in the liturgical celebrations of the Syro-Malabar Church until its suppression in the Synod of Diamper in 1599. The synodal decree itself is the authentic proof for the pre-sixteenth century existence of the anaphora in the Malabar Church:

“Particularly the liturgies of Nestorius and Theodore written in some of the Taksas of Qurbana are to be removed. They are not to be celebrated under the penalty of excommunication”.[13]

After the Synod of Diamper, the Portughese archbishop Menesis, in his crusade against the Nestorians of Malabar, not content with the suppressing and burning of the anaphoras of Theodore and Nestorius, introduced several changes in AM.[14]

On June 26, 1957 Pope Pius XII appoved the restoration of AT and AN into the Syro Malabar liturgy. The same recommendation was repeatedly given by the Congregation for the Oriental Churches through her decrees. In spite of controversial views the Syro Malabar Bishops Conference decided on August 13, 1983 to make translations of AT and AN. Finally the Major Archbishop Mar George Cardinal Alencherry promulgated the restored Anaphora of Mar Theodore on 24 July 2013.

9. The structure and content of the AT

9.1. Basic structure

            The basic distinguishing structural element of the East Syrian Anaphoras from the other Anaphoras is the presence of the prayer of intercession before the prayer of epiclesis. The AT too maintains this structure.

Like the AM, the AT also has four cycles of prayers. Each cycle consists chiefly of kusapa, pray brothers, g’hanta and qanona. This basic structure embodys also the ‘the ordo communis’ – the prayers common to the three anaphoras, such as the instructions of the deacons, the exchange of peace, the diptychs etc.

9.2. The Content of the AT

First g’hanta: This g’hanta begins with an anamnesis of the great things such as the divine dispensation accomplished by Christ, the restoration to new life, the pledge of the Holy Spirit and the knowledge of the glorious mysteries granted by God, so that we may not only approach and perform them, but also receive and take part in them. Then it proceeds to a supplication not to look on the weakness and defects of the celebrant and the community and to bestow the grace of the Holy Spirit so that they may offer the Qurbana worthly.

Second g’hanta: This g’hanta is a praise, thanksgiving and worship of the Trinity, commemorating the creation of visible and invisible beings by the Father through the Son and the sanctifying role of the Holy Spirit. It affirms that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. All rational natures, visible and invisible are strengthend, sanctified and made worthy to lift up praise to God, by the Spirit. Traditionally the second g’hanta has a theme of praising the Lord commemorating the creation by the Father as seen in the Jewish berakoth and the early anaphoras. But in AT it is remarkably Trinitarian as it speaks of the economy of the three persons of the Trinity. The glorious Trinity is confessed in three qnome co-equal and undivided. The earthly community joins the heavenly beings in the worship.

Third g’hanta: The third g’hanta starts with the confession of the eternal holiness of the Trinity, which is also praised, honoured, confessed and worshipped for the unspeakable graces of creation, freedom, consciousness and providence. Then it proceeds to the narration of the redemptive mystery of Christ: incarnation from the virgin, passion, death and resurrection for the justification of the humanity. The remembrance of the redemptive mysteries of Christ leads to the account of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

Anamnesis: AT has the anamnesis joined with the institution narrative.

Qusapa of the fourth g’hanta cycle: The priests makes supplication for the acceptance of the sacrifice for the Church, martyrs, confessors, the sick, the needy etc. and for the congregation of the participants and the celebrant himself so that through the holy body of Christ all may be made worthy of the pardon of their debts and the forgiveness of their sins.

Fourth g’hanta: Thematically, this g’hanta includes three parts. The first part is a praise and thanksgiving for the grace of salvation. The second part is a supplication for the acceptance of the sacrifice. The third part is an intercession in the strict sense. The intercession consists of supplication for the Church, the celebrant, the fruits of the earth and favourable weather and the whole of mankind and the departed.

Epiclesis: The grace of the Holy Spirit is invoked upon the community and the mysteries. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is called upon the bread and the cup to bless, consecrate and seal them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The celebrant continues: “By the power of your name, may this bread become the holy body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this cup the precious blood of our Lord Jesus”. [15]   

10. Principal theological themes of AT

Fr. Jacob Vadakkel organizes the theological themes of AT under the titles (1) praise, thanksgiving and supplication, (2) m´dabbranuta – the divine economy of salvation and (3) raze – the mysteries.[16]

10. 1.  Praise and thanksgiving:

AT is using msabhin to specify praising and mauden to denote thanksgiving.

AT says that it is suitable, right and fitting for man to praise and give thanks to God all days, every time and every hour.

Very often the AT shows that praise, thanksgiving, honour and adoration are offered to the Trinitarian God.

Praise and thanks are offered often to the Holy name.

Earthly beings join heavenly beings in praising God

The motives for praise and adoration are the unspeakable and incomprehensible graces, creation, providence, salvation, making us worthy to offer sacrifice

Supplication: Apart from the intercessory prayers, supplication appears in the AT in the kusape, first gigla prayers, first g’hanta, prayer at the exchange of peace, the diptychs, prayer at the winding of soseppa, prayer at the incensing and epiclesis. It is noteworthy that the second and third g’hanta have no supplication at all. They are concentrated on praise and thanksgiving and on the narration and anamnesis of the divine economy of salvation.

Grace is asked for the worthy celebration of the Eucharist

Some of the prayers are directed towards the personal benefit of the celebrant, while others are meant for the good of the Church in general and of the Eucharistic assembly in particular. Personal requests mainly ask for the mercy of God not to regard the sins and weaknesses of the celebrant.

Pneumatological and eschatological dimensions are clear in some of the prayers.

The forth g’hantha is a prayer of intercession. Here the prayers are different from the ordinary supplications since the requests and petitions are offered to the Lord through the Eucharist and through Christ. Christ and the Eucharistic sacrifice are interceding before the Lord for the good of the Church.

10.2. M´dabbranuta – the divine economy:

It is the plan and work of the Trinity for the salvation of man.  

The Father has the role of creation, sustenance and rewarding. He is working through the whole dispensation through the Son and the Holy Spirit.

God the Word emptied himself taking the form of a servant and put on our humanity from the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. The dispensation of Christ has brought us the restoration to new life, the pledge of the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist.

The role of the Holy Spirit in the divine dispensation is clear in the mystery of Incarnation (third g’hanta) death (third g’hanta)[17] and in the resurrection of Christ (fourth g’hanta).

The primary effect of divine dispensation is our salvation. It has given humanity restoration to new life, the pledge of the Holy Spirit in human hearts and the worthiness to share the innumerable gifts of the Eucharist such as pardon of debts, remission of sins and great hope in the resurrection from the dead, salvation of the body and soul, eternal life and glory in the kingdom of heaven.

Christology: The Christological titles used in AT are biblical and they denote and affirm the divine and human natures of Christ. He is the only begotten Son, God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ, Image of the Father.

The AT throws light on the economy of Christ. It speaks of the Incarnation, the institution of the Eucharist, the passion, death resurrection and the second coming of Christ.

10.3. Raze – the mysteries                                                                                

Eucharist: AT makes use of the term raze or raza primarily to denote the Eucharist itself and also to express the divine, holy and incomprehensible nature of the Eucharist.

AT uses two distinct words to specify the Eucharist as a sacrifice. They are Qurbana (Offering, Oblation) and Debhata (Sacrifice).  

Ecclesiology: Christ is present in the Church as the head of the Church. He is interceding for the Church as the mediator between God and men. Christ gave the Church the mystery of the Eucharist to be celebrated as his memorial for the salvation of mankind. Holy Spirit is working in the Church and in the Eucharistic celebration.   The ultimate goal of the celebration of the Eucharist by the Church is her salvation. The Church celebrating the Eucharist is joining with the blessed and the heavenly beings.

The prayer of intercession in the AT shows that the Eucharist is a celebration of the Church for the whole Church. Theodore expresses it as follows in his commentary:

“Indeed all of us offer the gift with the priest, and although the latter stands up alone to offer it he nevertheless offers it, like the tongue, for all the body”[18]

The commentators speak of the deacons as standing in the place of the heavenly angels who are serving God. The prayer of the deacons in the AT reveals that the role of the deacons in the Eucharistic assembly is to assist the priest and to take the assembly attentive to the functions and to create in them proper dispositions of devotion and respect for the mysteries being celebrated.[19]

Eschatology: The Church celebrates the Qurbana within a heavenly atmosphere, joining with the heavenly beings and their worship.

The expectation of the second coming of Christ, the last judgement and the conferring of the rewards are also expressed in the AT. It is in the context of the epiclesis and in reference to the communion in the body and blood of Christ that the concept of eschatological life is well expressed in this Anaphora.

11. The AT and the Anaphora of Addai and Mari

There are many similarities especially in the prayers before the Altar, ante- sanctus, anamnesis, intercession and epiclesis. The AT shares the same fundamental structure and the ‘ordo communis’ of the AM. Moreover, the constant use of the word ‘name’ and the recurring themes of praise and thanksgiving – seen in OT and Jewish prayers- of AT are congenial to the Semitic features reflected in the AM. At the same time we find a more developed Theology like the Trinitarian Theology, Christology and liturgical theology presented in the AT.[20]

Ordo Communis: The AT and AM share with each other some prayers in common and maintain the same essential structure. They are the first gigla prayer, all the kusape, the qanone with slight variations, the salutation and exchange of peace, the diptychs, the admonitions of the deacons, the winding of the soseppa and its accompanying prayers, the prayers at the incensing, and the prayers at the preface dialogue. The AT has some additional prayers for the incensing and preface dialogue in addition to the Ordo Communis.  

First g’hanta: Despite the similarities in essential points there is a noticeable theological development and richness in the AT by contrast with the simplicity and sobriety of the AM.[21] While the AM addresses as ‘God our Lord’, the AT makes use of more attributes. The AT uses apophatic terms like incomprehensible, unspeakable etc. to describe the great works of the Lord. While the AM mentions the abundant graces of the Lord, the AT describes it as the dispensation of Christ, restoration to new life, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the knowledge of the mysteries and the gift of the Eucharist. Also, the AT has a reference to the Trinitarian Persons in this prayer.

Second g’hanta: The AT uses more flowery and theological language than the AM.[22] While the AM generally mentions the need of giving praise and thanksgiving to the Trinity by the whole creation, the AT mentions that it is right and fitting in all days, at every time and in every hour to give praise and thanks to the name of the Trinity. The AT describes the work of each person of the Trinity: the Father is the author and Lord of all things, visible and invisible. He created everything through his only begotten Son, God the Word, the image his being. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who is from the Father strengthened, sanctified and made worthy all rational natures, visible and invisible, to lift up praise to his adorable Godhead.

Third g’hanta: In AM the prayer is more Christ-centred. It concentrates on the gifts of Christ to humanity. AT addresses this prayer to the Father and confesses the holiness of each person of the Trinity. AT is more elaborate in describing the economy of Christ. It depicts the incarnation of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection.

Institution Narrative: The AT and the present use of the AM have some differences for the Institution Narrative. As an addition the AT has: ‘he celebrated this great, respectful, holy and divine mystery’. AT describes the hands of Jesus as ‘holy’. Over the bread, the AT adds that it is given ‘for the life of the world’ (Jn 6/51).

Fourth g’hanta: In its detailed intercession the AT includes different categories of intentions such as for the Church, the hierarchy, the children of the Church, the celebrant himse lf, good weather and fruits. While the offering of the Eucharist in the AM is to the Father, the AT has a clear supplication to the Trinity for the acceptance of the sacrifice.

Epiclesis: When the AM prays ‘may your Holy Spirit come’, the AT beseeches ‘may the grace of the Holy Spirit come’[23]. Unlike the AM the AT makes use of the name of the Trinity for the blessing and sanctification of the oblation. In the AM the coming of the Spirit is requested not in order to transform the offerings to the body of Christ, but simply in order to bless and sanctify the offerings and promote the spiritual good of the Church. In AT it explicitly asks for the change of the oblation into the body and blood of Christ by the power of ‘the name’. While the AM invokes the Spirit only on the oblation, the AT has it also on the assembly. Among the fruits of communion the AT includes ‘the salvation of body and soul’.

Doxology: In the AM we have praise and thanks commemorating the whole divine dispensation.  The AT gives honour and glory to the Trinity.

12. From Sunday of Annunciation to the Sunday of Hosanne

In the beginning of the Syriac manuscripts of AT it is notified: “this (anaphora) is used for hallowing (consecration) from the first Sunday of Annunciation to the Sunday of Hosanne.” From this let us conclude that this is the ancient custom of the Church of the East. The first three seasons in the liturgical year deal with the incarnation, public life, passion and death of Christ. In the AT we have a developed theology of the divine dispensation accomplished in Christ. However the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church allows the use of this anaphora in other liturgical seasons also.

(Paper presented at the Theological Forum, Eparchy of Kanjirapally on 8th December 2014)


[1] Berakah,  (Hebrew: “blessing”), plural Berakoth, Berakot, Berachoth, or Berachot,  in Judaism, a benediction (expression of praise or thanks directed to God) that is recited at specific points of the synagogue liturgy, during private prayer, or on other occasions. Berakoth for food and wine are customarily recited in many Jewish homes as a grace before meals.

[2] Vadakkel, East Syrian Anaphora, 247-48; Gk text reads: “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Syriac: “who, when he was in the form of Aloha, considered this not to be robbery, that he was the co-equal of Aloha” or “who, as he was in the likeness of God, deemed no trespass to be the coequal of God”.

[3] Macomber, W. F., “History of the Chaldean Mass”, Worship 51 (1977), 117

[4] Bizantium at that time

[5] Vadakkel, East Syrian Anaphora, XLVI

[6] Ibid., 248-49

[7] Ibid., 249

[8] Nicene Creed, 3; Constantinopolitan Creed, 163 as cited in Vadakkel, Ibid., 250

[9] Macomber, Ibid., 111

[10] Parecattil J., Liturgy Ente Drushtyil, 34.

[11]The heresy wrongly attributed to Nestorius, a monk from Antioch who became patriarch of Constantinople. It was condemned in 431 at the Council of Ephesus. According to it in Christ there are two different persons, one human and the other divine, who are separate subjects linked by a manifest union.

[12] For a study on these terminologies, see Abdiso, The Book of Marganitha, 32-43; Podipara, Mariology of the East, 12-15.   There is a variety of meanings for the tern qnoma as nature, substance, person etc.

[13] Session 5, decree 2 of the Acts of the Synod of Udayamperoor in 1599

[14] Etheridge J. W., The Syrian Churches: Their Early History, Liturgies and Literature, 217-218

[15] Vadakkel, East Syrian Anaphora, 90-91.

[16] See Vadakkel, East Syrian Anaphora, 133-171.

[17] Referring to Heb 9/14, AT says that “he who through the eternal Spirit offered himself to God without spot”. It denotes the sublime nature of Christ’s self offering which is happening in the realm of the Spirit. See Alpha Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p.183.

[18] Mingana. A. (ed.), Commentay of Theodore of Mopsuestia on the Lord’s Prayer and on the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, Cambridge 1933, p. 93.

[19] Vadakkel, East Syrian Anaphora, 168

[20] Vadakkel, East Syrian Anaphora, 221

[21] Vadakkel, East Syrian Anaphora, 21

[22] Vadakkel, East Syrian Anaphora, 214

[23] “The grace of the Holy Spirit” is a favourite and recurrent expression in the writings of Theodore. Brightman F. E., ‘The Anaphora of Theodore, JTS 31(1930) 161, See Vadakkel, East Syrian Anaphora, 220.

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