Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East - Scenes from Commemorative Mass for Leaders of Poland

In the late afternoon of Saturday, April 10, 2010, we visited Ignatius IV, the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch of All the East at his residence in Damascus.

He received us most graciously. Besides a couple of photos, here is a backgrounder on this prelate intensely committed to the re-unification of Christ's Church:

The Patriarchate of Antioch by Fr. Ronald G. Roberson

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.

The present Patriarch has been active in the ecumenical movement and has been involved in 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.

Being received by the Ignatius IV Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East at his residence in Damascus

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.

There has been extensive emigration of Antiochian Orthodox out of the Middle East since the late 19th century, and dioceses have been established in North America, Argentina, Brazil, and Australia. In North America the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese is under the supervision of Metropolitan Philip Saliba (358 Mountain Road, Englewood, New Jersey 07631). In 2005 the Archdiocese had 245 parishes and missions in the USA and 16 in Canada.

This jurisdiction includes a Western Rite Vicariate composed mostly of former Episcopalians (Anglicans) with about 10,000 members. 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 and its parishes integrated into the regular structure of the Archdiocese in 1995.

Location: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, the Americas, Australia, Europe; Head: Patriarch Ignatius IV (born 1920, elected 1979). Title: Patriarch of Antioch and All the East; residence: Damascus, Syria; membership: 750,000

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Remembering Polish President and other Victims of Plane Crash

The assembly was large and reverent on Tuesday evening at Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica as prayers and song were offered in suffrage of Polish President, First Lady and other leaders who lost their lives on April 10 en route to a ceremony commemorating the Katyn Massacre.

Photos courtesy of Frank Scheme; the complete album may be viewed at:

The following photos courtesy Deborah Gyapong, CCN:

Condolences to the Polish Ambassador

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