A few days ago I posted on some rather raucous behavior within the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch (see here). I got a few emails asking for more background and some emails providing more details. I've posted more below.
(La Stampa) - It is a “serious internal problem” the one exploded within the Syrian Orthodox Church. Words by Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch Syrian Orthodox, addressing the faithful present on Sunday in St. George’s Cathedral in Bab Tuma, in the old city of Damascus. This “serious problem” concerns himself as Primate of that ancient pre-Chalcedonian Christianity, who is also “the Successor of Peter”, as the Prince of the Apostles before being martyred in Rome, was also head of the Church Antioch. Six Syrian Orthodox metropolitan bishops have publicly accused him of “betrayal of the faith”, unleashing a hail of attacks against the Patriarch also through blogs and social media. I've noted the use of pre-Chalcedonian in recent articles instead of non-Chalcedonian. It's an interesting turn of phrase.
His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II
Patriarch of Antioch
The turmoil between the patriarch and some bishops of his Church has a complicated plot. Officially, the most shocking accusation against Mor Ignatius Aphrem has a doctrinal imprint. The betrayal of faith “attributed to the Patriarch by his detractors is that of having raised the Koran, out of respect, and having used the expression “Prophet Mohammad,” when referring to Muhammad, during inter-religious meetings. “Christ loves everyone, and calls us to be peace-builders with everyone”, replies the Patriarch to his detractors. He reiterates that lifting the Qur’an is only a way of showing respect for hundreds of millions of Muslim believers around the world. It is he who exploits these kind of acts and words to divide the Church, “the body of Christ,” he is actually the one offending and denying the faith of the Apostles, “that reached us through the blood of martyrs.”
The six anti-Patriarch bishops have issued a statement on February 8, in which they argue that the Primate of the Church no longer deserves the title of “defensor fidei”, because according to them he has cast doubt and suspicion in the heart of believers, with statements and actions “contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Holy Gospel.” They also threatened to ordain bishops around the world, if the Patriarch continues to “persist in his errors.” However, the six bishops’ statements against the Patriarch provoked the firm response of the other 30 Syrian Orthodox bishops, who represent the vast majority of the Synod.
In a statement dated February 10, the thirty bishops have labeled as “rebellion against the Church ’ the allegations against the Patriarch of having moved away from the “orthodox Christian dogma.” They preventively declare as invalid all the ordinations and other episcopal acts that they should implement without the consent of the Patriarch. Bishops urge the “rebels” to repent and return to the right path, and confirm their full communion with the “legitimate successor of Peter”, recognizing the paternal aspect of his conduct, “through his constant presence among the people, especially during difficult times.”
Through social media, priests and Syrian Orthodox communities around the world express their solidarity to the Patriarch. Nevertheless, the unfortunate affair occurred at the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate is only the latest among the recent incidents that took place within many ecclesial communities of the Middle East and Arab world. The turmoil caused by the conflicts and sectarian rivalry in the Middle east have revealed the obvious weaknesses and miseries within local churches, catalyzing new divisions. Last June, the Synod of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church was interrupted and postponed due to the no-show of a number of bishops, who failed to reach the quorum and asked for the resignation of Patriarch Gregoire III and the election of a new Patriarch. In addition, Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako the First had to carry on a hard struggle to denounce the exodus of priests and religious who left their homeland and emigrated to the West without the consent of their bishops. While the Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignace Youssif Younan, in December, has suspended a divinis three priests who had sent the Pope a letter asking for the resignation of Yohanna Bedros Mouche, Syrian Catholic Bishop of Mosul.
The conflicts within the clergy of the Churches in the Middle East are also a distressing symptom of many clerics’ distance from the faithful’s sufferings and tribulations experienced in this time. Exchanges of doctrinal accusations often work us cover-ups to “dignify” conflicts moved by far more prosaic reasons. Meanwhile, the number of bishops, priests and religious-turned-financial operators, enrolled full-time in “fundraising” operations under a sign of support to the “suffering Christians” is increasing. Processes that in the long run may prove to be more devastating for the future of the Eastern Churches than jihadist violence.
(SCOOCH) - In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.
The Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches (SCOOCH) was disturbed to learn that on February 8, 2017 six bishops of the Syriac Orthodox Church issued a statement accusing H.H. Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of deviating from the Orthodox Faith. The six bishops further declared that they had intentions not only to administer their dioceses independently of the Patriarchate, but also to cause enduring division by ordaining parallel bishops for all of the existing dioceses of the Syriac Orthodox Church.
For its part, SCOOCH declares its unequivocal support for His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, a learned teacher and a stalwart defender of the Holy Orthodox Faith. During his tenure as Patriarchal Vicar of the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of the Eastern United States from 1996-2014, H.E. Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim – as His Holiness was then known – labored alongside the members of SCOOCH for the growth and development of our shared heritage of Holy Orthodoxy here in the United States.
During that time, His Holiness established himself as a pillar of the Pan-Oriental Orthodox Movement and one of the driving engines behind the reinvigoration of SCOOCH, and cultivated the growth of the faith that is our shared inheritance in the hearts of all around him.
The Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches condemns any action which might create schism within our communion, and urges the six bishops to reconcile themselves to their Patriarch and to the Holy Synod, which supports him. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we come together and not foster division among ourselves. The Standing Conference supports any efforts at reconciliation between the six bishops and His Holiness Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, and will meet personally with His Holiness to declare our support for him when he next visits the United States early next month.
With Love in Our Savior Jesus Christ,
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian
Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (New York)
President, Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches of America