Maphrian Catholicos [Syr. Orth.]

The Syriac word maphryono (mprynʾ) literally signifies ‘one who bears fruit’, metaphorically a ‘consecrator’. The Anglicized term Maphrian derives from the Arabic form mafiryān. The term is synonymous with the term ‘Catholicos’. It is used to designate the prelate who holds the second rank after the patr. in the Syr. Orth. Church. Three Maphrianate lines are known:

1. Maphrianate of Tagrit, also known as the Maphrianate of the East. It was established in the 7th cent. in order to give the Miaphysite Syr. Orth. a hierarchy structure in the Persian empire. The first Maphrian (though the title was fixed at an unknown date later) was Marutha of Tagrit, from 628–49, who was consecrated by Patr. Athanasios Gamolo. The Maphrian, when consecrated by the Patr. of Antioch, had autonomy and was the sole ruler of the Syr. Orth. churches in Persia. He had the right to consecrate and appoint bishops, and to consecrate the chrism, but had to refer to the Patriarch for moving a bp. from one diocese to another. This arrangement continued even after the fall of the Sasanian Empire soon after. In 869 and again during the patriarchate of Yuḥanon X bar Shushan it was decided that just as the patriarch consecrated the Maphrian so the Maphrian consecrates a new patriarch. For the first time in 1222, the incumbent Maphrian Ignatius Dawid became patr. Thirteen Maphrians later became patriarchs at various times. In 1074 Nisibis was added to the Maphrianate, and in 1089, after the destruction of Tagrit by the Muslims, the Maphrianate moved to Mosul during the Maphrianate of Yuḥanon Ṣliba. His successor, Dionysios Mushe, managed to return to Tagrit until 1152 or 1155, after which the Maphrians resided in Dayro d-Mor Matay. Until the 11th cent., the Maphrians were almost exclusively from the East, but later bishops from the West were consecrated and sent to the East. The last Maphrian of this line was Baselius Behnam IV (1839–59). After his death, the Maphrianate, by now titular only, was abolished.

2. Maphrianate of Ṭur ʿAbdin. This Maphrianate was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Ṭur ʿAbdin. The first Maphrian was Baselios Malki of Midyat who was consecrated by Patr. Ignatius Masʿūd II of Zaz in 1495. It is not clear to what extent the Maphrian held jurisdiction within Ṭur ʿAbdin. The last of the Maphrians of this line was Baselios ʿAbd al-Aḥad of Anhil (1821–1844) who was killed by Kurds in March 1844.

3. Maphrianate in India. The establishment of the Maphrianate in Malankara is intermingled with much controversy. The Malankara Metropolitan Dionesios Yawsep requested its formation from Patr. Peṭros IV in 1875–77, and repeated the request from his successor Patr. ʿAbdulmasīḥ II around 1902, but the latter strongly refused. After ʿAbdulmasīḥ II was deposed and replaced by ʿAbdullāh II, the request was made again by the next Malankara Metropolitan Dionysios Giwargis from ʿAbdullāh II. By this time, there existed in India two parties, a patriarchal faction which desired to remain under the jurisdiction of the patr. , and a metropolitan faction which called for an autonomous and sometimes autocephalous church. In 1912, the deposed ʿAbdulmasīḥ II consecrated Baselios Pawlos I of the metropolitan faction as Maphrian. Pawlos I was succeeded by other local Maphrians consecrated by bishops of the same faction. The Patriarch and his faction did not recognize the Maphrianate. In 1958, both parties came together and Patr. Ignatius Yaʿqub III recognized the incumbent Maphrian. In 1964, the patr. himself consecrated the next Maphrian, Baselios Augen I for both parties. The peace was short-lived, and by 1975 the situation deteriorated. Yaʿqub III withdrew recognition of the Maphrian and consecrated in his stead Baselios Paulose II from the patriarchal faction. Since then, two lines of Maphrians exist in India.

4. At least one Syr. Catholic Maphrian is known, Baselios Isḥaq Jbeir who became a Maphrian in 1693. A formal line of the Maphrianate, however, did not exist.

    On the Maphrianate of Tagrit

    • Assemani, BibOr, vol. 1, 175; vol. 2, liv, 209, 214, 215.
    • Abbeloos and Lamy, Gregorii Barhebraei chronicon ecclesiasticum, vol. 2, part i, pref., p. xviii; part iii, epilogue.
    • J.-M. Fiey, ‘Les diocèses du “Maphrianat” syrien, 629–1860’, ParOr 5 (1974), 133–64, 331–93; 8 (1977/8), 347–78.
    • Labourt, Le christianisme dans l’empire perse.
    • B.  Nasri, Kitāb Dhakhīrat al-Adhhān fī Tawārīkh al-Mašāriqah wal-Maghariba al-Suryān (1905), vol. 1, 323–9; vol. 2, 295.
    • I. Saka, Kanīsatī al-Suryāniyya (1985), 187–231.

    On the Maphrianate of Ṭur ʿAbdin

    • I. A.  Barsoum, History of Tur Abdin (1964; repr. 2008).
    • I. Saka, Kanīsatī al-Suryāniyya (1985), 232–3.

    On the Maphrianate of India

    • D.  Daniel, The Orthodox Church of India (New Delhi, 1972; 2nd ed. 1986).
    • C.  Kaniamparampil, The Syrian Orthodox Church in India and its Apostolic Faith (1989).
    • I. Touma, Taʾrīkh al-kanīsa al-suryāniyya al-hindiyya (1951).

How to Cite This Entry

George A. Kiraz , “Maphrian,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

George A. Kiraz , “Maphrian,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Kiraz, George A. “Maphrian.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018.

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