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Patriarchate of Antioch / Syrian Orthodox Church

The main Orthodox churches in Syria are the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which is Arab and uses the Arab liturgy, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate (Oriental), and the Armenian Apostolic Church, also Oriental. There are six Catholic rites: Melkite, Armenian, Syrian, Maronite, Latin and Chaldean. The Ancient Church of the East (Assyrian) is also present.

The Syrian Church has not been steadfast. Rome had here the double advantage that the Arabic language, the national language, was formerly despised by the Greek-speaking hierarchy, and that the "uniate" Maronite Church was close by. She succeeded in winning over 138,200 Arab Greeks, and organized them into a Church with the "Graeco-Melchitic rite." The name "Melchites" (from the Hebrew melek - king) was applied in olden times to the adherents of the imperial State Church in contra-distinction to the independent Monophysitic Churches in the provinces.

The See of Antioch dates back to the days of the Apostles Peter and Paul, founders and patrons of the Church of Antioch, and currently ranks third in honor among the fifteen autocephalous Orthodox Churches. It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The first Bishop of Antioch was St. Peter the Apostle and the third was St. Ignatius of Antioch; it was from Antioch that Saint Peter and Saint Barnabas set out on their great missionary journeys, a tradition that marks the history of the Church of Antioch. When the Turks took the city of Antioch, the offices of the Patriarchate of Antioch was moved to Damascus, the civil capital of Syria, where it remains to this day "on the street called Straight." (Acts 9:11).

In the 4th century the total Christian population of the eastern province of the Roman Empire, of which Antioch was the capital, was under its jurisdiction, and in the 6th century it had more than 150 metropolitans and bishops. Since then, however, the number has gone down because of the division of the church, the heresies of the 4th and 5th centuries, the granting of independence to the churches of Cyprus and Iberia, the Islamic advance in the 7th century and the formation of the Uniate Church in the 18th century. Since the beginning of the 20th century, especially after the second world war, an enormous number of Orthodox people belonging to the Church of Antioch have been emigrating or moving from the countryside to the big towns and to different parts of the world (Europe, Latin and North America, Australia).

Apostles Paul and Barnabas set up the Antioch see in 42 A.D It was then acceded for eight years (43-53 A.D) by Saint Peter as its first prelate who proceeded to establish other churches. However, there are well documented historical views that Saint Peter established the Antioch see with the help of Apostles Paul and Barnabas. He was succeeded on the Antioch office by Aphodius. Small wonder that St. Peter won the title "patriarch" (etymologically meaning "head of tribe") because Christianity spread first among the Jews, and Peter was the chieftain of this tribe. The naming by the Calcedonion Council (451 A.D.) of the title "patriarch" solely to the metropolitan of Antioch apart from other see prelates (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandretta, Jerusalem) is a de facto concretization of this status quo. That is why it can be surely said that St. Peter the Apostle is the first patriarch of Antioch see.

Insomuch as Peter emerged from Antioch in 53 A.D. to establish the see of Rome where he fell martyr during the reign of Nero, Paul and Barnabas among other many apostles emerged from Antioch to all countries worldwide to preach the new religion. This is simply because Antioch, along with Damascus, was the gate of Christendom passage to all inhabited world, especially eastwards where the preachers sowed the seeds of Christianity , thus bestowing them legitimate rights on the new churches in those expanses. That is why we saw the metropolitan (patriarch) of Antioch well to the fore of other Eastern prelates since the first ages of Christianity. It was he who presided the locum councils in the East (Ankara, 351 A.D; Caesarea, 316 A.D). And the first ecumenical council (Nicaea, 325 A.D) recognized Antioch church's presidency over all Orient metropolitans; and the second ecumenical council (Constantinople, 381 A.D) confirmed this presidency. On the other hand, the third ecumenical council (Ephesus, 431 A.D) declared the independence, under an archbishop, of Cyprus church from Antioch.

During the period from the Arab conquest of Antioch and the region in 637 A.D up to the European invasion in 1098 A.D, past the second Byzantium age, the Antioch see preserved its predominance and luster, albeit it suffered considerable calamities brought to bear by the Europeans. The Antioch patriarchs were seated in Constantinople until the Europeans were defeated and Antioch fell in 1268 A.D. But the Antioch see had to leave Antioch since its occupation by the Europeans, moving around in Asia Minor until 1343 A.D when it was decided to transfer it to Damascus, the most important city in Greater Syria, second to Antioch with regard to its metropolitan importance.

The jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East covers all of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, the Arabian peninsula, the whole orient and also certain areas of southern Turkey (Antioch region where there are six Antiochian congregations). It also extends to the Arab-speaking Orthodox who live in Europe, North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. The holy synod is the highest ecclesiastical authority of Antioch and consists of the patriarch as president and the metropolitans who are the diocesan leaders as members. Priests are trained at St John of Damascus theological faculty at Tripoli, Lebanon and the theological seminary at Patriarchal St George Monastery, Syria. Currently there are 100 students.

Nowadays, the Antioch see includes the republics of Syria and Lebanon, as well as Iraq, the Arabian peninsula, parts of turkey, and the expatriate Antioch Orthodox communities in North and Latin America, Australia and Europe. The Patriarchate is greatly concerned about the suffering in the Middle East, the creation of a Palestinian state, and its responsibilities for its people in the midst of a multi-religious society. An authentic witness to the Christian faith, pastoral care of youth, and reorganization of its establishment in order to express more clearly its apostolicity and its unity, are high on its agenda. Particular emphasis is laid on the coherence of the family which is the centre of the church and the source of spiritual formation, as well as on youth who represent the active elements of the church and its future leaders. Besides, the diaconal services and ecumenical activities have a significant place on the agenda of the Patriarchate today.

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East comprises nineteen archdioceses throughout the world, including in the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula), Europe, North and South America and Australia, among them the archdiocese of North America. The Patriarch of Antioch His Beatitude, Ignatius IV (Hazim) is the one hundred and seventieth Patriarch after Saint Peter. On 2 July 1979, under the name of Ignatius IV, he became the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, the third ranking hierarch of the Orthodox Church after the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria.

There are 20,000 Syrian Orthodox in Turkey and about 3 million worldwide. Their spiritual home is the Mor Gabriel monastery in Midyat, in southeast Turkey, which was founded in 397 A.D. The monastery trains monks, priests, and teachers. Boys attend classes in the evening, after attending compulsory state school by day. In 1998, Islamist local authorities attempted to prevent the monastery from teaching religion and the Aramaic language, which is used in Syrian Orthodox rituals, and thereby to inhibit the monastery?s ability to train future clergy. Religious instruction was interrupted, but did not stop. The local governor also ordered the monastery to stop restoration work on its building because it had not obtained the required permits. Government harassment continued despite complaints to the governor from then U.S. Assistant Secretary for Human Rights John Shattuck. Later in 1998, after some adverse international publicity, the government granted permission for the restoration. The survival of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Turkey is made more precarious by a law which allows only Turkish citizens to become priests because immigration to Europe and the United States has depleted the Church?s recruitment pool.

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