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 More Complete History of the Church of Antioch

This article was written about 1993 for display with the Historical Notes in connexion with a Jubilee.


    The Church of Antioch was founded, as we read in Acts 11, vv 19-30, by the believers who were scattered from Jerusalem by the persecution after the death of S. Stephen the Deacon. They came to Antioch, and preached, and "a great number believed". (v.21). So the Apostle Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem, and after settling the Church, fetched the Apostle Paul, and spent a year there with him, until they were sent on by the Holy Spirit on their missionary journeys (ch.13,1-3). Later, the Apostles Peter and Paul were together in Antioch. About the year 67, Ignatius became the third Bishop, and it is to his letters, written to the Church of Rome and others around the Mediterranean as he was taken in chains from Antioch to Rome, that we owe much information about the earliest age of the Christian Church. He was martyred about 117 AD.

 Because of its Apostolic foundation and its closeness to the source of Christianity, Antioch was accepted as one of the five Apostolic sees or Patriarchates by the Councils of the early Church. These were: Rome and Antioch (because of SS.Peter and Paul), Alexandria (S.Mark) and later, Constantinople (Constantine's New Rome) and Jerusalem (after the Christians rebuilt it).

  The Patriarch of Antioch "and All the East" presides over Christians in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and has a Diocese in Saudi Arabia. It is not generally known in the West that throughout the Arab world there is a Christian minority, 20% more or less according to the country; and that this Christian minority is so well respected by the Muslim majority that traditionally Christians have formed the main part of the government administration in most Arab countries. Of course the rise of anti-western Muslim fanaticism in recent years has had its effect on this relationship.

 Until the first World War, Syria and Lebanon were part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The position of Christians under the Turks was always insecure, and often dangerous. Conditions late last century caused large Christian emigrations, to North and South America, to Australia and New Zealand. Those who came to New Zealand went first to Dunedin, where the first Orthodox Church was built in 1911; but many moved on to Christchurch, and especially to Auckland, where the Corban family became well-known as vintners.


People in the West are used to hundreds of "denominations" differing widely in style of service, and in doctrine. In understanding the christian East it is first of all necessary to realize that this western phenonenon is foreign to the East, just as it is to the New Testament. The East has known heresies and schisms, but they were dealt with and died out, except the heresy of Nestorius, which still has a few million followers in Iraq, and the schism between the "Eastern" and "Oriental" Orthodox, which over the last 30 years has been resolved, and communion is being restored. Any other "denominations" present in the East have been imported by western missions, both Catholic and Protestant.

 It is therefore understandable that the Eastern Christians see the Church, which they call "Orthodox" (=true in doctrine) as the focus of unity in society. It is no accident that at present in Moscow the Orthodox Patriarch is playing a reconciling rôle between President and Parliament; the Church is the soul of the nation.

 Members of all Orthodox nations have now emigrated to western countries, and so the Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Zealand is one of four * Orthodox Churches with membership in the "Conferences of Churches in Aotearoa-New Zealand"; the others are the Greek (with some 10,000 members) the Romanian and the Serbian. The Russian Church Abroad has Churches here but  does not belong to the Conference. There are also Bulgarians and Macedonians who have no Church of their own, but attend one of the other Orthodox Churches. Apart from the Greeks, the other Churches have a few hundred members here. However, in the whole world, Orthodoxy is second in size only to the Roman Catholic Church, with which it has much doctrine and other tradition in common. The Orthodox are said to be over 200,000,000 today.

  In New Zealand as in other countries English- speaking people have joined Orthodoxy, and services in English are becoming available.

Fr Jack
 * this has changed: "Oriental" Churches have joined; and the Serbs have withdrawn.

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