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The Patriarchate of Antioch

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The Patriarchate of Antioch:
Founded by Saints Peter and Paul

Ss. Peter and Paul: Feast Day June 29The most famous scriptural reference concerning Antioch relates that it was in this city that the followers of Christ were first mockingly referred to as "Christians" (Acts 11:26). In the Book of Acts, which offers an account of the first years of the Church, we discover that Antioch is the second most frequently mentioned city. Nicholas, one of the original seven deacons was a convert from Antioch and perhaps the first Christian from that city (Acts 6:5). During the persecution which occasioned the death of Saint Stephen the First Martyr, members of the fledgling Christian community in Jerusalem fled to Antioch for refuge.

Church tradition maintains that the See of Antioch was founded by Saint Peter the Apostle in A.D. 34 . Peter was either followed or joined by the Apostles Paul and Barnabas who preached there to both Gentiles and to Jews, who seem to have been numerous in the city. It was in Antioch that one of the first conflicts within the Church developed between Peter and Paul. This conflict regarded the necessity of circumcision for male Gentile converts to Christianity. It was the resolution of this conflict at the Council of Jerusalem under Saint James the Apostle that determined the direction of the Antiochian mission to the Gentiles, and the dynamic nature of that Christian community in its missionary outreach. It was from Antioch that Paul and Barnabas departed for their great missionary journeys to the Gentile lands (Acts 13:1).

The Apostles directed a truly universal ministry. After spending some seven years in Antioch, Peter left for Rome. To succeed him as bishop of Antioch he appointed Euodius, who is thus counted in early episcopal lists as the first successor to the Antiochian Throne of Peter. The multiple Apostolic foundation of the See of Antioch, the early missions centered there and the active nature of the community, as recorded in the New Testament, have been a unique heritage to all who trace their spiritual and ecclesiastical roots to the Antiochian Patriarchate.

The See of Antioch continued its glorious contributions to the universal Church by the numerous outstanding personalities it nurtured. Saint Ignatius of Antioch for example, is revered as both a victorious martyr during the reign of Emperor Trajan (early second century) and as a reliable historical source for the structure of Church life. Ignatius was the second successor to Peter and may actually have been consecrated by that Apostle or Saint Paul.

The Church of Antioch has maintained a continuous succession in the Apostolic Faith down to the present. The current Bishop/Patriarch of Antioch is His Beatitude Ignatius IV.

 

THE PATRIARCHATE OF ANTIOCH

The city of Antioch on-the-Orontes was the most important city of the Roman Province of Syria, and, as such, served as the capital city of the Empire's civil "Diocese of the East." The Church in Antioch dates back to the days of the foremost apostles, SS. Peter and Paul, as is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Scripture refers to Antioch as the place where the followers of Jesus Christ were first called "Christians" (Acts 11.26), and records that Nicholas, one of the original seven deacons, was from that city -- and may have been its first convert (Acts 6.5). During the persecution of the Church which followed the death of St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr, members of the infant community in Jerusalem sought refuge in Antioch (Acts 11.19), and while St. Peter served as the first bishop of the city, SS. Paul and Barnabas set out on their great missionary journeys to Gentile lands (Acts 13.1) -- establishing a tradition which would last for centuries, as from Antioch missionaries planted churches throughout greater Syria, Asia Minor, the Caucasus Mountains, and Mesopotamia.

At the first Ecumenical Council, convened in the city of Nicaea in the year 325 by Emperor Constantine the Great, the primacy of the bishop of Antioch over all bishops of the civil Diocese of the East was formally sanctioned.

Following the third Ecumenical Council, held in Ephesus in the year 431, the first of several divisions occurred in the Patriarchate of Antioch. The followers of Nestorius disputed the council's definition of the nature of Christ, and formed a separate, parallel hierarchy. Most Nestorians lived outside the Byzantine Empire in Persia, today known as Iran.

At the fourth Ecumenical Council, held in Chalcedon in the year 451, the Bishop of Antioch was "promoted" to the rank of "Patriarch". Thereafter, continuing disputes about the nature of Christ caused another portion of the ancient Patriarchate to separate, forming a hierarchy often referred to as the "Jacobites" after their theological leader, Jacob Baradai. Today they are usually known as the "Syrian Orthodox Church". They are a member of the Oriental Orthodox family of churches. The Orthodox were termed "Melkites" -- meaning followers of the [Byzantine] Emperor.

From the seventh century onward, many Christians living in isolation on Mount Lebanon identified themselves with the Monk Marun, and came to organize another separate hierarchy, the Maronites. In the twelfth century the Maronites became the first part of the Patriarchate to unite with Rome.

The "Great Schism" of 1054 resulted in the separation of Rome, seat of the Patriarchate of the West, from the four Eastern Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. In 1724 a portion of the Orthodox Patriarchate vowed allegiance to Rome and appropriated for themselves exclusively the ancient name "Melkite", joining the family of "Greek-Catholic" or "Uniate" churches. The Orthodox continued to be known as the "Greek-Orthodox" -- or "Rum" in Arabic.

During the reign of the Egyptian Mamelukes, conquerors of Syria in the 13th century, the Patriarchal residence was transferred to the ancient city of Damascus, where a Christian community had flourished since apostolic times (Acts 9), and which had succeeded earthquake-prone Antioch as the civil capital of Syria. The Patriarchate has jurisdiction over all dioceses within its ancient geographic boundaries (Syria and Lebanon) as well as others in the Americas, Australia, and Western Europe. Its headquarters is located in Damascus on the "Street called Straight" (Acts 9.11).

 

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