The Eastern Christian Churches by Ronald Roberson

The Patriarchate of Antioch

Antioch was a very important urban center in the ancient world, and it was there, according to the Book of Acts, that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Antioch eventually became the seat of a Patriarchate that included all the Christians in the vast Eastern Province of the Roman Empire and beyond.

Reactions to the Council of Chalcedon triggered a schism in the Patriarchate. This church is descended from those who accepted Chalcedon, mostly Greeks and hellenized sections of the indigenous population. A larger group, which repudiated the council, eventually formed the Syrian Orthodox Church.

Such was the situation when Antioch fell to the Arab invaders in August 638. The local Chalcedonian Orthodox now suffered sporadic persecutions, and the patriarchal throne was often vacant or occupied by a non-resident during the 7th and first half of the 8th centuries.

The Byzantines regained possession of the city in 969. The Greek patriarchate would flourish under Byzantine rule until Antioch fell to the Seljuk Turks in 1085. During this period, the West Syrian liturgy was gradually replaced by the Byzantine liturgy, a process that would be complete by the 12th century.

In 1098, the Crusaders took Antioch and set up Latin kingdoms along the coast of Syria that would endure for nearly two centuries. A Latin Patriarchate of Antioch was established, while a line of Greek Patriarchs continued in exile.

After Antioch was taken by the Egyptian Mameluks in 1268, the Greek Patriarch was able to return to the area. Because Antioch itself had long ago been reduced to a small town, the Patriarchate was permanently transferred to Damascus in the 14th century. The area was taken from the Mameluks by the Ottoman Turks in 1517 and remained under Turkish control until the end of World War I. The church was greatly weakened by a schism in 1724, when many of its faithful became Catholic and formed what would become the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

The great majority of the faithful of this Patriarchate had long since been Arabs or arabized. In 1898 the last Greek Patriarch was deposed, and an Arab successor was elected in 1899. Thus the Patriarchate became fully Arab in character. A strong renewal movement, involving Orthodox youth in particular, has been under way since the 1940s.

The St. John of Damascus Academy of Theology, located near Tripoli, Lebanon, was established by the Patriarchate in 1970. In 1988 it was officially incorporated into Balamand University.

The Holy Synod of the Antioch Patriarchate is composed of the Patriarch and all the active Metropolitans. It meets at least yearly and has the function of electing the Patriarch and other bishops, preserving the faith and taking measures against certain violations of ecclesiastical order. In addition, a general community council is made up of the Holy Synod and lay representatives. Meeting twice a year, this body is responsible for financial, educational, judicial and administrative matters. When a new Patriarch needs to be chosen, it selects three candidates, one of which is then elected by the Holy Synod.

Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim was very active in the ecumenical movement and promoted efforts to reestablish the unity of all those whose roots can be traced back to the ancient undivided Antioch Patriarchate. With this in mind he met on July 22, 1991, with the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, Ignatius Zakka I Iwas. They signed a document that called for “complete and mutual respect between the two churches.” It also forbade the passing of faithful from one church to the other, envisaged joint meetings of the two Holy Synods when appropriate, and provided guidelines for intercommunion of the faithful and even Eucharistic concelebration by the clergy of the two churches.

The Patriarchate has participated in a special bilateral theological commission for dialogue with the Melkite Greek Catholic Church to explore ways of healing the schism of 1724. The Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch, Maximos V, addressed a meeting of the Antiochian Orthodox Holy Synod for the first time in October 1996. The Antiochian Patriarch has vigorously supported the international dialogue with the Catholic Church.

Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim, who had served as primate of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch since 1979, passed away at the age of 92 in a Beirut hospital on December 5, 2012. An extraordinary session of the Holy Synod of the Holy See of Antioch was held on December 17. It elected Metropolitan John (Yazigi) of Europe (based in Paris) as the new patriarch. Born in Syria, the new Antiochian primate pledged to work for harmonious relations between Muslims and other religious groups in that country. Metropolitan John had also been serving as Orthodox co-chairman of the Saint Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group, sponsored by the Johann-Adam-Möller Ecumenical Institute in Paderborn, Germany.

There has been extensive emigration of Antiochian Orthodox out of the Middle East since the late 19th century. In North America the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese (358 Mountain Road, Englewood, New Jersey 07631) is under the supervision of Metropolitan Joseph (born 1950, elected 2014). In 2020 the Archdiocese had 277 parishes and missions throughout the United States and Canada. This jurisdiction includes a Western Rite Vicariate composed mostly of former Episcopalians (Anglicans) with 24 parishes in North America. In addition, a number of Evangelical Christians originating in the Campus Crusade for Christ were received into the Antiochian Archdiocese in 1987. They eventually formed 20 parishes, all of the Byzantine rite. Known at that time as the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission, it was disbanded in 1995 and its parishes integrated into the regular structure of the Archdiocese.

The Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand (2 Bampton Avenue, Illawong, NSW 2234, Australia) is headed by Metropolitan Basilios Kodseie (elected 2017). It has 26 parishes and missions in Australia and eight in New Zealand, which is a separate deanery. The Archdiocese also includes eight worshipping communities in the Philippines.

In 2013 the Antiochian Holy Synod created a new Archdiocese of the British Isles and Ireland. In 2015 the Holy Synod elected Bishop Silouan Oner (born 1970) as its first Metropoltan. In 2016 the Archdiocese had 18 parishes and one monastery. St. George’s Cathedral in London (1a Redhill Street London NW1 4BG) is the mother parish of the Archdiocese. The great majority of its clergy are converts from the Church of England.

Location: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, the Americas, Australia, Europe
Head: Patriarch John X (born 1955, elected 2012)
Title: Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Residence: Damascus, Syria
Membership: 4,320,000

Last Modified: 23 January 2021

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