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Syriac Christianity (as well as with other oriental orthodoxy denominations) today use Arabic as their liturgical language. It is known that they have been using Arabic since the times of Muslim invasions, as early as second half of 8th Century (as suggested here: When did Arabic enter into usage as a liturgical language among Orthodox Christians? , The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque by Sidney Griffith also mentioned the same).

But why did they turn into Arabic instead of keeping Aramaic as their liturgical language?

Is it because:

  • Arabic became the lingua franca and it is easier to reach common people (non-priest) if they use Arabic instead of Aramaic.

    • If it is so, I wonder why? Was the influence of Arabs so strong that they have to use Arabic? Or was the use of Aramaic banned during the Muslims rule? Why can't they maintain the usage of Aramaic, as the Muslims do (until now) with Arabic as their liturgical language?
    • Also, if this was the case, doesn't this mean Syriac Christianity was the first Christianity to "localized" their language to every day man, not Protestant Christianity?
  • Syriac Christian priests were involved in intense theological debates and discussions with the dominationg Muslim theologians. So they use Arabic to make it easier for their Muslim friends to understand their points.

  • Or maybe both? Or are there any other reasons?

I hope I lay out my question/explanation clear, since English is not my mother tounge. Thank you!

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Syriac is still the liturgical language in the Maronite Rite, and they make a point of saying the words of consecration in Aramaic. Most of the non-Maronite Christians in the region are Melchites, who use an Arabic version of the Byzantine liturgy, which was originally in Greek. –  Big Ed May 7 '13 at 21:42
    
Syrian Churches in Kerala, India still use Aramaic as their liturgical language. They also use Malayalam (the language of Kerala in India) for providing proper understanding among people. –  konwayk May 8 '13 at 1:19

1 Answer 1

The Oriental Orthodox churches are somewhat divided on this, many still celebrate the Divine Liturgy in Syriac (which is a later dialect of Middle Aramaic). One of the biggest reasons is that many Oriental Orthodox consider the Syriac Peshitta to be the authoritative scriptures, some even insisting on New Testament Aramaic primacy (such as the Nestorians/Assyrian Orthodox, although many would not consider them to be Oriental Orthodox). Many Orthodox traditions still observe the Divine Liturgy in older languages, even when those languages are no longer spoken (such as Church Slavonic). This is especially true of the Syriac Orthodox who can rightly claim that theirs is the oldest Divine Liturgy text and is therefore closest linguistically to the language spoken by Jesus and the apostles. It is generally accepted that they are the oldest Christian church in existence, which is another motivation for not changing the language and tradition.

At the same time, many Middle Eastern Oriental Orthodox churches have switched to using Arabic in services (such as the Coptic Orthodox). The reality is that most people no longer speak Syriac (just as hardly anyone still speaks Church Slavonic - possibly no one). Services have begun to be in Arabic in the Middle East for the same reasons services have begun to be in English in North America - people understand it. Add to this the fact that most Syriac Christians experience intense persecution and it is no wonder they have begun using the common spoken language in order to preserve the faith.

In regards to the first tradition to localize the language to the people, many Orthodox traditions did this prior to the Protestant Reformation. Study the history of the Eastern church and you will see that it often used the language of the people. Oddly enough, Church Slavonic itself was originally designed to be in the language of the people, which is why it is so ironic that churches are hesitant to change it to use the spoken language of people today.

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