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Patriarch of Antioch is a traditional title held by the Bishop of Antioch. As the traditional "overseer" (επισκοπος, episkopos, from which the word 'bishop' is derived) of the first gentile Christian community, the position has been of prime importance in the church from its earliest period. This diocese is one of the few for which the names of its bishops from the apostolic beginnings have been preserved.

According to church tradition, this ancient Patriarchate was founded by the Apostle Saint Peter. The patriarchal succession was not disputed until the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Today five Churches claim to be the true heir of the ancient Antiochian Church. These are the non-Chalcedonian Syriac Orthodox Church and Syriac Catholic Church , and the Chalcedonian Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, Melkite Greek Catholic Church and the Maronite Church.

The Antiochian Orthodox Church in Australia and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America are under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch.


First Christians

In Roman times, Antioch was the principal city of Syria, and the third largest city of the Roman Empire, after Rome and Alexandria.

It was in the city of Antioch (modern day Antakya in southeast Turkey) that Christians were first so called (Acts 11:26). According to church tradition, Saint Peter established the church in Antioch, and was the city's first bishop, before going to Rome to found the Church there. Ignatius of Antioch (martyred c.107), counted as the third bishop of the city, was a prominent apostolic father. By the 4th century, the bishop of Antioch had become the most senior bishop in a region covering modern-day eastern Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran. His hierarchy served the largest number of Christians in the known world at that time.

Despite being overshadowed in ecclesiastical authority by the Patriarch of Constantinople in the later years of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Antiochene Patriarch remained the most independent, powerful, and trusted of the Eastern Patriarchs. The Antiochene church was a centre of Christian learning, second only to Alexandria. In contrast to the Hellenistic-influenced Christology of Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople, Antiochene theology was greatly influenced by Rabbinic Judaism and other modes of Semitic thought — emphasizing the single, transcendent divine οὐσια (substance), which in turn led to adoptionism in certain extremes, and to the clear distinction of Christ of δύο φύσεις (two natures: dyophysitism): one participating in humanity, the other in divinity. Lastly, compared to the Patriarchates in Constantinople, Rome, and Alexandria which for various reasons became mired in the theology of imperial state religion, many of its Patriarchs managed to straddle the divide between the controversies of Christology and imperial unity through its piety and straightforward grasp of early Christian thought which was rooted in its primitive Church beginnings.

Chalcedonian split

The Christological controversies that followed the Council of Chalcedon in 451 resulted in a long struggle for the Patriarchate between those who accepted and those who rejected the Council. The issue came to a head in 512, when a synod was convened in Sidon by the non-Chalcedonians, which resulted in Flavian II (a Chalcedonian) being replaced as Patriarch by Severus (a non-Chalcedonian). The Chalcedonians refused to recognise the dismissal and continued to recognise Flavian as Patriarch. The non-Chalcedonians under Severus ultimately established a rival church, which eventually came to be called the Syriac Orthodox Church (which is a part of the Oriental Orthodox Church), which has continued to appoint its own Syriac Patriarchs of Antioch. From 518, on the death of Flavian and the appointment of his successor, the Chalcedonian church became known as the Greek Church of Antioch. In the Middle Ages, as the Greek Church of Antioch became more and more dependent on Costantinople, it began to use the Byzantine rite.[1]

The internal schisms such as that over Monophysitism was followed by the Islamic conquests which began in the late 7th century, resulting in the Patriarch's ecclesiastical authority becaming entangled in the politics of imperial authority and later Islamic hegemony. Being considered independent of both Byzantine Imperial and Arab Moslem power but in essence occupied by both, the de facto power of the Antiochene patriarchs faded. Additionally, the city suffered several natural disasters including major earthquakes throughout the 4th and 6th centuries and anti-Christian conquests beginning with the Zoroastrian Persians in the 6th century, then the Muslim Arabs in the 7th century, then the Muslim Seljuks in the 11th century.

Great schism

When the Great Schism took place in 1054, the four Eastern Patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople and Alexandria formed the Eastern Orthodox Church, while the Patriarch of Rome (i.e. the Pope) formed the Roman Catholic Church.

The ecclesiastical schisms between Rome and Constantinople and between Constantinople and Alexandria and Antioch left the Patriarch's authority isolated, fractured and debased, a situation which further increased when the Franks took the city in 1099 and installed a Latin Patriarch of Antioch. The Western influence in the area was final obliteration by the victories of the Muslim Mamluks over the Crusader States in the 13th century. The Latin Patriarch went into exile in 1268, and the office became titular only. The office fell vacant in 1953 and finally abolished in 1964.

Melkite split of 1724

In 1724, Cyril VI was elected Greek Patriarch of Antioch. He was considered to be pro-Rome by the Patriarch of Constantinople, who refused to recognize the election, and appointed another Patriarch in his stead. Many Melkites continued to acknowledge Cyril's claim to the patriarchate. Thus from 1724 the Greek Church of Antioch split up in the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. In 1729, Pope Benedict XIII recognized Cyril as the legitimate Patriarch of Antioch and welcomed him and his followers into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.[2]

Current patriarchs

Today, five churches claim the title of Patriarch of Antioch; three of these are autonomous Eastern Catholic particular churches in full communion with the Pope of Rome. All five see themselves as part of the Antiochene heritage and claim a right to the Antiochene See through apostolic succession, although none are actually based in the city of Antakya. This multiplicity of Patriarchs of Antioch as well as their lack of location in Antioch, reflects the troubled history of Christianity in the region, which has been marked by internecine struggles and persecution, particularly since the Islamic conquest. Indeed, the Christian population in the original territories of the Antiochene patriarchs has been all but eliminated by assimilation and expulsion, with the region's current Christians forming a small minority.

The current Patriarchs of Antioch are:

  1. Ignatius IV (Hazim), Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. Ignatius IV is the leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, and thus is one of the four hierarchs in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His see is based in Damascus and uses the Byzantine liturgy.
  2. Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. Ignatius Zakka I is the Supreme Head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, which is part of the Oriental Orthodox communion and uses the Antiochene liturgy. His see is based in Damascus.
  3. Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and the Whole Levant. Nasrallah Sfeir is the leader of the Maronite Church, an Eastern Catholic Church that is in full communion with the Catholic Church and uses the Maronite liturgy. His see is based in Bkerké, Lebanon.
  4. Gregory III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Alexandria, and Jerusalem of the Greek Melkites. Gregory III is the leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church that is in full communion with the Catholic Church and uses the Byzantine liturgy. His see is based in Damascus.
  5. Ignace Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East of the Syrians. Ignace Joseph III is the leader of the Syrian Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church that is in full communion with Catholic Church's Holy See at the Vatican and uses the Antiochene liturgy. The see is based in Beirut.

At one point, there was at least nominally a sixth claimant to the Patriarchate. When the Western European Crusaders established the Principality of Antioch, they established a Latin Rite church in the city, whose head took the title of Patriarch. After the Crusaders were expelled by the Mamelukes in 1268, the Pope continued to appoint a titular Latin Patriarch of Antioch, whose actual seat was the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The last holder of this office was Roberto Vicentini, who died without a successor in 1953. The post itself was abolished in 1964.

Claims to legitimacy

The claim of each Patriarch to be the legitimate successor to original See of Antioch is based on differing interpretions of history and Church canons, as follows:

1. If Flavian II was Patriarch until his death in 518, then -

  • the Melkite, Greek Orthodox or Maronite Patriarchs are the successors of the See, and
  • Severus (who died before Falvian) was not Patriarch at any time and thus the Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs are not the successors of the See.

2. If Flavian II was legally deposed and Severus was the legal successor, then -

  • the Syriac Catholic or Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs are the successors of the See.
  • the Melkite, Greek Orthodox and Maronite Patriarchs are not the successors of the See.

3. Further, if John Maron was legally elected Patriarch in 685 and the actions of the Byzantine Emperor to depose him were illegal then the current legal successor of the Patriarchate is the Maronite Patriarch.
4. The Melkite versus the Greek Orthodox Patriarchs - The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches both recognize that Cyril VI was legally elected Patriarch in 1724 and that that current Greek Orthodox church of Antioch was a later creation to serve the faithful that did not choose to enter full communion with Rome. As such, the Melkite Patriarch has the legal claim to the Patriarchate.
5. The Syriac Orthodox and the Syriac Catholic both recognize that Andrew Akhidjan was legally elected Patriarch in 1662 who re-entered communion with Rome but later Patriarchs severed that Communion.[3] Later Michael Jarweh was elected Patriarch in 1782 and he again re-entered communion with Rome which caused those that opposed union to separate and form a new ecclesial body that today is called the Syriac Orthodox Church. As such, the Syriac Catholic Patriarch has the legal status as the continuation of the original See of Antioch over the Syriac Orthodox Church provided of course that Severus was indeed legally elected Patriarch which the Catholic Church does not accept.

See also


External links

The Pentarchy
Rome (42-present) | Constantinople (330-1453) | Alexandria (43-692) |
Antioch (37-546) | Jerusalem (33-70)

bg:Антиохийски патриарх ka:ანტიოქიის საპატრიარქო pt:Patriarca de Antioquia ru:Патриарх Антиохийский и всего Востока sv:Patriark av Antiochia zh:安提阿东正教会