The Patriarch of this Jurisdiction is His Holiness, The Supreme Pontiff Moran Mor Ignatius Karim Aphraim II, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East and the Supreme head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church.
This was the first uniquely American jurisdiction to be formed with the blessing of His Holiness Ignatius Peter III of Antioch. It is a canonical autocephalous jurisdiction that adheres to the Rudder (Canon Law) of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church, the Teachings of Christ God, the Early Church Fathers, the three Ecumenical and Local Councils, and the ancient customs of the Oriental Orthodox Christian Church. It also possesses a valid priesthood and episcopacy coming from the Syrian and Russian Orthodox Successions. It uses the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom for the Eastern Rite and Divine Liturgy of Saint Hyppolitus for the Western Rite Parishes.
This Jurisdiction is registered in Africa as Byzantine Orthodox Church, Syriac Greek Antiochian Succession under the Syrian Patriachate of Antioch His Holiness Moran More Ignatius Aphraim II.
The Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient Christian Churches tracing its roots to the Church of Antioch. The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts of the Apostles 11:26). Apostle Peter is believed to have established a church in Antioch in AD 37, the remnants of which are still in Antakya (the modern name of Antioch), Turkey. After the martyrdom of Apostle Peter, he was succeeded by St. Euodius and St. Ignatius Noorono as shepherds of the flock in Antioch and in the writings of St. Ignatius we find the evolution of the ecclesiastical order of bishops—ordained successors of the Apostles in whom continued the spiritual authorities vested by our Lord in the Apostles. The bishophric of Antioch was recognized in the ecumenical Synod of Nicea (AD 325) as one of the Patriarchates of Christendom (along with that of Alexandria and Rome). It produced a line of succession beginning with Apostle Peter which continues to this day in the Syriac Orthodox Church.
Antioch was at the time of Christ the capital of the Roman province of Syria and an important center of commerce. As a city imbued in the hellenistic culture, Greek was the common language. But the majority of the people in the region, especially outside the cities spoke Syriac, the Edessene dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by our Lord.
The disciples Addai, Mari, Aggai and Apostle Thomas, are believed to have spread the Gospel in the regions north east of Antioch, of Edessa (Urhoy) and Nisibis and further to upper northern Mesopotamian plains between Rivers Tigris and Euphrates. The Syriac Doctrine of Addai recounts how Christ send Addai, one of the Seventy Disciples, to King Abgar of Edessa. It is believed that Apostle Thomas went further east arriving in what is today India in AD 52. Many important and influential centers of Syriac speaking Christians emerged in the cities such as Edessa (Urhoy), Adiabene (Hadyab), and Nisibis (Nsibin). While Antioch was the seat of the bishophric, Edessa is often considered the cradle of Syriac Christianity.
The Church of Antioch played a significant role in the early history of Christianity. It played a prominent role in the first three Synods held at Nicea (325) , Constantinople (381), and Ephesus (431), shaping the formulation and early interpretation of Christian doctrines. In AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon and its Christological position resulted in a schism that divided the faithful under the Apostolic See of Antioch into two—one today known as the `idto suryoyto treeysath shubho (Syrian or Syriac Orthodox Church) and the other the Eastern Orthodox (or Rum Orthodox) Church of Antioch. The latter had the support of the Byzantinian Emperor Justinian who convened the Council of Chalcedon. The years that followed resulted in a struggle over the Apostolic See, with bishops of both persuasions assuming the position of Patriarch of Antioch. In 518, Patriarch St. Severus was exiled from Antioch. The seat of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch moved to different monasteries including Qartmin, Qenneshrin (Chalkis, near Aleppo), Malatya, and Amid (Diyarbakir), and finally settled in 1293 in Dayro d-Mor Hananyo (also known as Kurkmo Dayro in Syriac and Deir Zafaran in Arabic) in Mardin. It remained at this monastery until 1933 when the political circumstances forced its migration to Homs, Syria, and later to Damascus in 1959.
Another center of the Syriac Orthodox emerged in former Persian territory, that of the so-called Easterners (Syr. Madnehoyo). The Syriac Orthodox community there was partly a result of the Persian abduction of the Syrian population during the wars with Byzantium and forced settlement on Persian territory and partly of Christians in Persia who reacted against political imposition of the doctrines of the Church of the East. In the period of the Sassanids, the Easterners for practical reasons, established an ecclesiastical organization of their own, recognizing the metropolitan of Tagrit on the River Tigris as their head in 629. Later in the eleventh century, the title came to be known as the Maphryono (literally “one who bears fruit” or “consecrator”). He was elected by the eastern bishops, just as the Patriarch was elected by those of the west, but was ordained by the Patriarch. Later, this office gained such importance that Maphryonos ordained the Patriarchs, but at the same time, the Maphryonos ceased to be elected and from 793 (with the Maphryono Sarbelios) they were nominated by the Patriarchs. Among the Maphryonos, was the illustrious author Mor Gregorius Bar `Ebroyo (1226-186). Dayro d-Mor Mattay in Mosul served as the seat of the Maphryono in many periods of history. Later, the Maphryono took residence at the Patriarchate in Mardin. The last of the Maphryonos passed away in 1848 and the position became defunct.
The history of the Syriac Orthodox Church is characterized by adversity. Byzantinian oppression in the sixth and seventh centuries was followed by the atrocities of the Crusaders in the 11th and 12th centuries, then decimation at the hands of the Mongolians lead by Tamerlane (1336-1405) in about 1400, and severe restrictions under the Ottoman Sultanate. The growth of nationalism in the waning years of the Ottoman Sultanate lead to the massacre of about 25,000 in what is today South East Turkey in 1895-96. An even greater calamity occurred in 1915, etched in the memory of the Syriac Orthodox community as the Sayfo (Year of the Sword), wiping out 90314 people (including 154 priests) in 13350 families in 346 villages representing about a third of the Syriac Orthodox population in the area (according to the records compiled by Patriarch Aphrem I). Further misery came with the Kurdish rebellion in 1925-26, when the Kurds used the monasteries of Mor Malke and Dayro da-Slibo and the churches in Basibrin and near Hbob as bases. The immense suffering and destruction from 1895 onwards resulted in the alteration of the demographics of the community and mass emigration to other areas in the Middle East, notably Syria, to the North and South Americas, to different parts of Europe, and to Australia.
Amidst all the adversity, the Church produced several illustrious saints whose lives and works had such immense influence not only on the Syriac tradition but much of Christendom. The rich liturgical heritage of the Syriac Orthodox Church is but one of their legacies. Scholars of the Church such as Mor Ya`qub of Edessa, George, the Bishop of the Arabians, and Moses Bar Kepha played an important role in transmitting Greek knowledge to the Arab world. Numerous Syriac Orthodox authors have also recorded historiographical accounts. Among them are such works as the Ecclesiastical History of John of Ephesus, the Chronicle of Jacob of Edessa, the Chronicle of Zuqnin (erroneously attributed to Patriarch Dionysius of Tel-Mahre), the Chronicle of Patriarch Mikhayel Rabo, the Chronography and Ecclesiastical History of Maphryono Gregorius Bar `Ebroyo.
Many of the historical accounts recorded in English have been written by authors affiliated with the Catholic Church and Church of England. While many of these works provide a great deal of information accessible to the English readers, denominational bias is evident in these works.
Orthodoxy was the state religion of Russia until the Revolution in 1917 when many churches were closed and many priests and laity suffered martyrdom. Atheism was promoted by the goverment throughout the land. Today most churches have been returned to the Russian Orthodox Church and it flourishes once again throughout Russia. In addition to Russian Orthodox, there are many other jurisdictions which belong to the Orthodox Christian (Catholic) Church. However, not all are “patriarchal” as many are autocephalous, autonomous, and there also exist the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Among the Eastern Orthodox groups are the Greek, Serbian, Italo-Albano, Ukrainian, Polish, Finnish, Japenese, Syrian-Antiochian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Byelorussian, Romanian, Albanian, Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic, Korean, and the Eastern Orthodox, and others who fall under the collective term “Eastern Orthodox”; and the Armenian, Ethiopian, Malankarese, Syrian, and Coptic (Copts) who are referred to as “Oriental Orthodox” i.e., those who have rejected the Council of Chalcedon, and those following, mostly over the semantics dealing with the two natures of Christ God. Although united in faith, not all jurisdictions are in communion with one another because of political or administrative differences. There are many other jurisdictions not mentioned above which also are part of the Holy Orthodox Church. One must be aware that there are also some imposters who use the words “Orthodox and Catholic” and misrepresent their particular religious bodies which are not part of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church. Such charlatans have added other words, e.g., Ecumenical, Apostolic, Old Catholic, or Reformed to “Orthodox” to name a few. They are in some cases heretics who are “Orthodox” in name only – but not in faith, and are mostly schismatic groups from the Roman Church. Many of these also claim succession from Old Catholic hierarchy which are, in many cases, not recognized by Rome, the Union of Utrecht, or the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Moran Mor Ignatius Peter IV 1798 during his Pontificate in December 1891 issued a Patriarchal Bull that established the Church in America, the American Jurisdiction passed through a lot of Challenges that led to the modification of the name of the Church in America to be known as Syriac Greek Antiochian Orthodox Church. It’s orders originate from the Syrian and Russian (Greek) Churches. It’s beginning as an Orthodox jurisdiction in America began on May 29, 1892, when Father Joseph (Vilathi), a priest who served the Belgian congregations of Little Sturgeon and Green Bay Wisconsin, was summoned to Ceylon to be consecrated the first Bishop for the Church in America. The consecration took place at the Church of Our Lady of Good Death, Colombo Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and was done canonically resulting from a Bull issued by His Holiness Ignatius Peter III, Patriarch of the Orthodox Syrian Church of Antioch. He was consecrated by Archbishop Julius Alvarez I, Archbishop Paul Athanasius (Bishop of Kottayam), and Archbishop George Gregorius (Bishop of Niranam) who was later canonized a saint of the Indian (Malankara) Church. The Bull authorizing the consecration was issued on December 29, 1891 and he was given the name “Timotheos”. The American Church eventually separated from the Orthodox Syrian Church over politics and a difference of opinion regarding the Council of Chalcedon, which the American Church accepted along with all seven Ecumenical Councls. So, Archbishop Timotheos was appointed Archbishop for the Americas by Moran Mor Ignatius Peter IV 1798 – 8 October 1894) was the Patriarch of Antioch, and head of the Syriac Orthodox Church from 1872 until his death in 1894. Archbishop Timotheos returned to the United States and continued to establish parishes in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and New York. Many of these parishes still stand today, although some have been sold or taken over by other denominations during some trying times experienced after the death of Archbishop Timotheos on July 8, 1929.
Although the Apostolic Succession of the Syriac Greek Antiochian Orthodox Church dates back to His Eminence Archbishop Timotheos (Vilathi), Proto-Metropolitan Archbishop of the Church in the United States, who brought the Syrian Succession to the American Church, it also possesses succession from the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church from Archbishop Konstantin (Wendland). The Russian Succession comes into the Church through Archbishop John (Skureth) who was born on January 8, 1933, and after years of education and priestly formation and eventual ordination to priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Church of America under Metropolitan Archbishop Michael (Shaheen), he was later consecrated by Bishop William Henry Francis Brothers, a Bishop in the Vilathi Succession. Father Skureth immediately began establishing missions and promoting the Church throughout Northern Indiana where he established Holy Martyrs of Port Royal Cathedral. After a time of dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, it was decided that he be regularized by them and made a Bishop. On April 17, 1966, he was consecrated a Bishop by Archbishop Konstantin Nikolaevich (Wendland) of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America, assisted by Archbishop Dosifej (Ivanchenko) in New York. Archbishop John served the Church for several years as pastor of Holy Martyrs of Port Royal Cathedral, Gary Indiana, which was a beautiful structure that was sold and razed in the 1970’s becoming a parking lot for Mercy Hospital. Holy Martyrs Church, Hobart Indiana, later became the new parish founded by Archbishop John. He also, before this in Michigan City Indiana, served St. George Syrian Orthodox Church (Antiochian Archdiocese). It was Archbishop John who later consecrated Joseph Gabriel Sokolowski who eventually became the fifth Metropolitan Archbishop of the Church.
Archbishop Joseph was born on October 27, 1903, in Kracow Poland, and came to the United States in 1913. He first studied with the Roman Catholic Franciscans of Pulaski Wisconsin, and although he loved the old traditions of Roman Catholicism, he entered Orthodox Catholicism in the 1950’s. After joining the Orthodox Church, he founded St. Paul the Apostle Monastery (Rolling Prairie Indiana) around 1955, and was ordained deacon on February 13, 1957 by Most Reverend Stephan (Siniotis), and on May 22, 1961 he was ordained priest by Most Reverend Francis Resch of the Diocese of Kankakee Illinois. Father Sokolowski labored day after day for nearly thirty-five years building shrines and chapels on the over six acres of land that was owned by St. Paul’s Orthodox Monastery in Rolling Prairie Indiana. He toiled effortlessly to create gardens of beauty that attracted many thousands of people annually from all faiths. The monastery was listed in the “Guide to Indiana Attractions”. To support the monastery, he collected and sold antiques for many years until his death. On December 16, 1964, he was named Abbot General of the Oblates of St. Benedict and on March 16, 1970, he was consecrated Bishop by Archbishop John, who was assisted by Bishop Francis. Bishop Joseph continued to work the monastery grounds and celebrate liturgies each Sunday. Because of the various ethnic groups that visited St Paul’s he would often celebrate Liturgy in English, Polish, and even Latin. Eventually, St. Mary’s Chapel was erected on the same grounds which was adorned with many antique icons and other religious artifacts, and attracted people from Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and many other states and foreign countries to see the beauty he created. Although robbed several times by those he took in and gave comfort to, he continued to keep the grounds open and available to all who wished to visit. In the early 1980’s, arthritis captured the health of Archbishop Joseph, but he continued to work and celebrate the Holy Mysteries although assisted by other clergy in the last two years of his life until his death on April 2, 1989. Archbishop Joseph consecrated three Bishops: Stanislaus Bullock, Tage Howes, and Stephen Thomas, the latter of which was elected and enthroned as sixth Metropolitan Archbishop and Protohierarch by Metropolitan Archbishop Joseph in 1987, just before his death.
On October 18, 1987, Bishop-elect Stephen was consecrated by Archbishop Joseph, assisted by Archbishop George of Chicago Illinois and Bishop Norman of Indiana, at St. Mary’s Chapel in Rolling Prairie Indiana. Bishop Stephen was previously ordained deacon and priest in the Greek Orthodox Church (Ecumenical Patriarchate) at Holy Cross-St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Church, Chicago Illinois in January 1976. However, after the death of his ordaining prelate, Bishop Timotheos of Rodostolon of Blessed Memory, the jealousy of another local priest and politics and unwarranted demands of a new administration soon caused him to leave the Greek Orthodox Church and incardinate temporarily under Archbishop Pangratios who made him an Archimandrite, but a few years later he joined with Archbishop Joseph. Archbishop Stephen consecrated Bishops Douglas (O’Connor) of Blessed Memory, Anthony (DeLuca) now schismatic and deposed, George (Singleton) now schismatic and deposed, John (Sowrimuthu), John (Utz), and Timothy (Kjera). In August of 2007 His Beatitude will consecrate Archimandrite Cyril (Cranshaw) to the Holy Episcopacy and will become the first Bishop of Central and South America. He will serve the Metroplia as an Auxiliary Bishop. The Coadjutor of the Metropolia, Bishop Timothy, in October 2006, consecrated Bishop Simeon of Cleveland OH assisted by Romanian Bishop Stefan and Byelorussian Archbishop Jovan. There are over 25,000 faithful represented in the Church in the Archdiocese of the Americas & Diaspora that includes the Diocese of Cuba, Diocese of India, Archdiocese of Nigeria, and the Vicariates of Pakistan, Kenya, Congo, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Spain, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. The Syriac Greek Antiochian Orthodox Church Synod of Bishops oversees seminaries and schools in various countries, e.g., St Athanasius Seminary in Nigeria, Holy Trinity Seminary in Pakistan, St Mark – Romano Byzantine College (USA), St Mark-Romano Byzantine College Extension of Canada (Ontario), St. Basil Seminary (Cuba), St Vasilios Seminary and University (Greece), St Nicholas-Romano Byzantine Institute of Tanzania, and Hellenic Orthodox University and St. Dionyssios Seminary both of Greece. The Dean of Academic Affairs is Dr Basil Gikas. In addition, the Synod oversees the work of the Commission on Religious Counseling & Healing, the Metropolia Canon Law Society, and the Christ the Pantocrator Sovereign Order of Chivalry, under the current administration of Father Eric Demetrios Wruch DC.
Customs and Beliefs – The Syriac Greek Orthodox Church is an Oriental Rite jurisdiction, i.e., it uses the Eastern Orthodox rituals and the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. It does allow the Liturgy of St. Hippolytus of Rome to be used by parishes that were originally formed as Western Rite. The Liturgy of Saint Basil is celebrated ten times a year as with all other Orthodox Christian Churches. The Syriac Greek Antiochian Orthodox Church differs from some other Eastern Rites in liturgical dress. Priests wear a white alb, stole (epitrachelion), and chasuble (phelonion) as do all jurisdictions, and has always allowed the wearing of a zone or a cincture, and cuffs are optional but have become more endorsed by the Metropolia since January 2007. As with some other jurisdictions, and according to ancient Byzantine custom, bishops and priests wear the same liturgical vestments with the exception that bishops also wear the Pectoral Cross, Panaghia, Omophorion, Eepigonation, and Zzucchetto (Bishop’s Scufa). The Mitre is worn by bishops, and the Saccos is worn by the bishops, replacing the phelon (chasuble), for ordination and certain religious events. The Church follows Byzantine tradition in the administration of the Sacraments (Holy Mysteries), and Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion are given together, to both infants and adults being baptized. Married men may be ordained to the Order of Deacon and Order of Priest, but are no longer free to marry once ordained to the diaconate. Holy Unction is administered to the sick and dying by priests. Only monastic (celibate or unmarried) priests may be ordained (consecrated) bishops of the Church. Priests whose wife’s pass on must remain celibate and then also become eligible for the Holy Episcopacy. As with all Churches of Orthodox Faith women are allowed to be ordained to the Diaconate following the tradition and the decrees of the early Church Fathers.
It is a teaching of the Church (based on biblical facts) that prayer, fasting, good nutrition, and herbs are necessary for good health and wellness. The first Protohierarch of the United States, Metropolitan Archbishop Timotheos (Vilathi), was himself a skilled doctor of Chiropractic. So theocentric healing has always been part of the healing ministry of the jurisdiction. Hyper-veneration is given to icons, and statues are not allowed. It is a scriptural Church which teaches that both faith and good works are necessary for salvation. The Church believes that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Theotokos, was the birth-giver of our Lord Jesus Christ and remained ever-virgin. Although her conception was immaculate and of the Holy Spirit. Communion is given to the faithful under both species, Body (Bread) and Blood (Wine), and the Real Presence is believed. The Church has religious communities of monks and nuns, The Monastic Community of Saint Basil, which is headquartered at St John’s Monastery in Nicaragua. Nuns of the Monastic Community are referred to as the Sisters of the Community of St Basil and are headquartered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Africa) at St Mary Mother of God Convent. There is a community of “lay religious” known as the Companions of St Basil open to married or single men and women. The Church follows the Julian Calendar for ecclesiastical matters and does not regard the Gregorian Calendar as sinful. The Church strongly believes in the Separation of Church and State, and owes its total existence and obedience to Almighty God.
The Metropolia is in communion with the Byelorussian Orthodox Autocephalous Church in Exile (ArchbBishop Jovan), and the Belarusan Autocephalous Orthodox Church (Archbishop Jovan), and some others. Through the Council of Canonical Autocephalous Orthodox Bishops it enjoys dialogue with the American Orthodox Catholic Church (Archbishop Samuel); Christian Orthodox Church (Bishop Ignatius); Holy Orthodox Church – Former Exarchate of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria (Archbishop Anthony); and Norhteastern Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Catholic Church (Archbishop Paul). It is also in dialogue with several other jurisdictions.
Apostolic Succession and Traditions – The Syriac Greek Antiochian Orthodox Church first traces its Apostolic Succession back to St Peter the Apostle through the Syrian Orthodox Church and Catholicate and His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Peter IV of Antioch. This was brought to America in the person of Archbishop Timotheos (Vilathi) who was our first Archbishop Metropolitan. Secondly, but equally as important, comes Apostolic Succession from the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, as it was called in the 1960’s, through Archbishop Constantin and Archbishop Dosifej both of the Russian Orthodox Succession from St Andrew. This succession came into our Church through Archbishop John (Skureth) who was consecrated through Archbishops Konstantin and Dosifej in 1966. It is because of these two historic facts that both the Syrian and Russian Successions are contained in our Church.
Although our Succession comes from the Syrian Church, and later the Russian Church, we have always been the first to allow the vernacular in all liturgical and paraliturgical services dating back to before 1892. The Church in America has always used English but permitted ethnic parishes to use their native languages as well. The Church itself uses liturgical customs from the Syrian, Russian, and Greek Churches, and has also allowed some Western customs that date back to when the jurisdiction had many Western Rite parishes. The Syriac Greek Antiochain Orthodox Church differs slightly from some others in tradition, e.g., priests and bishops may wear the phelon (chasuble) when celebrating the Divne Liturgy (St John Chrysostom) as was the practice in the early Byzantine Church. Bishops do wear the “Saccos” when performing the Rite of Ordination and at certain other religious events. More recently, the Metropolia authorized the use of the zone which may be worn to replace the wearing of the cincture at Liturgy, and cuffs may also be worn.
While “clerics are bound to observe their own rite faithfully,” priests are occasionally given permission to celebrate the liturgy of a rite other than the priest’s own rite, by what is known as a grant of “biritual faculties”. The reason for this permission is usually the service of Catholics who have no priest of their own rite.
Thus priests working as missionaries in areas in which there are no structures of their own Church, are authorized to use the Roman Rite in those areas, and Latin-Rite priests are, after due preparation, given permission to use an Eastern rite for the service of members of an Eastern Catholic Church living in a country in which there are no priests of their own particular Church. Popes are permitted to celebrate a Mass or Divine Liturgy of any rite in testament to the Catholic Church’s universal nature. John Paul II celebrated the Divine Liturgy in Ukraine during his pontificate.
For a just cause, and with the permission of the local bishop, priests of different autonomous ritual Churches may concelebrate; however, the rite of the principal celebrant is used whilst each priest wears the vestments of his own rite. No indult of bi-ritualism is required for this.
Biritual faculties may concern not only clergy but also religious, enabling them to become members of an institute of an autonomous Church other than their own.
The laity should foster an appreciation of their own rite, and should observe that rite unless there is good reason e.g. a Latin-Rite Catholic living in an exclusively Ethiopian Rite country. This does not forbid occasional or even, for a just cause, habitual participation in the liturgy of a different autonomous Church, Western or Eastern. The obligation of assisting at the Eucharist or, for members of some Eastern Churches, at Vespers, is satisfied wherever the liturgy is celebrated in a Catholic rite.
The Syriac Orthodox Church has been a member of the World Council of Churches since 1960, and is one of the founding members of the Middle East Council of Churches. The Church takes part in ecumenical and theological dialogues with other churches. As a result of these dialogues, the Church has issued two joint declarations with the Roman Catholic Church and another with the Eastern Orthodox churches.
The Syriac Greek ANtiochian Orthodox established several parishes and dioceses across America and Africa. The Exarchate of Africa is presided over by Exarch +Macfonse Mar Anthony registered as Byzantine Orthodox Church of Antioch is part of this Jurisdiction.