A Large Number Of Syrian Orthodox Families In California Break Away From The Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate Of Antioch And Establish An Independent Syrian Orthodox Church Not Connected With Any Religious Authority

An Open Letter To His Holiness Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas

His Holiness the exalted Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and the Entire East and the Supreme Head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the world.

We solicit your blessing and prayer and say:

            Three and half years passed since the crisis in the Archdiocese of the Western United States erupted.  Ever since it erupted, this crisis has been crushing souls, tearing apart and dismembering the body of the Church, and destroying Syrian families.  Yes, for the period of three and half years, the honest members of the Church, both clergy and laity, have been intervening, one after another, and mediating to find a solution to the crisis but failing miserably.  Their efforts have been of no avail, and chances of resolution of the crisis have been almost completely exhausted.  All this for the sake of keeping, defending, and protecting a bishop who ravaged the entire Syrian Orthodox Church, killed faith in the hearts of its children and made them lose respect for its clergy, and left on its body permanent scars that will never go away. 

            Attempts to resolve the crisis started in a civilized and democratic manner.  Petitions, carrying hundreds or rather thousands of signatures, were submitted but at no avail.  Letters of appeal that befit your exalted position were written and brought before your Holiness, but they all were disregarded.  Episcopal committees were commissioned, and they, too, failed to realize peace.

            Prelates (bishops), commissioned by your holiness, mediated and when they spoke the truth, they were distanced from the arena.  With your approval, an elite group of dignitaries, from the nobility of the Syrian Orthodox community, who have been known by their wisdom, knowledge, impartiality and ecclesiastic zeal, intervened and exerted arduous efforts through a period of months, and when they made a fair and right judgment, they were dismissed.  The problem was discussed in the Holy Synod four times in four separate sessions throughout a period of 3 and half years, although everyone knows that the solution is in your hand only.  The Holy Synod spent days in each session discussing the problem, and when it was on the point of passing wise and just resolutions, the voices of truth were silenced and their opinions and wishes disregarded and marginalized.  So many promises were made only to be broken later.

            When we received the invitation of your Holiness to come to the Patriarchal house in Saydnaya in the later part of the month of May to hold talks for resolving the problem in the presence of the other party, we sensed renewed hopes and regarded it as a good omen.  We traveled thousands of miles to meet with you, with the other side, and with the Secretary of the Holy Synod.  We did this with pure and forgiving hearts and good intentions although the other side demonstrated its bad intentions before their departure when they demanded that His Eminence Mar Severius Hawa be excluded from the reconciliation committee.  The members of the other side further attacked H.E. viciously, just as they attacked His Eminence Archbishop Mar Theophilus George Saliba later.  They wrote saying, “The Archdiocese will be the scapegoat (victim) of the passions of Archbishop George Saliba.”  For them, anyone who made a right judgment was considered biased.  As for us, we never objected to assigning any bishop you chose to partake in the efforts of finding a solution to the crisis, even though we knew that some of them were pro Bishop Kaplan.

            In the Patriarchal house in Saydnaya, Bishop Kaplan revealed his true nature and his ill intentions when he refused to meet with our delegation, despite the fact that he is a spiritual leader at the Episcopal rank who preached love and forgiveness from the altar of the Lord.  Yes, he revealed his spiteful character that overflows with hate and void of any trace of love and forgiveness.  This is evident in all his letters and the letters of his Parish Council to you which were all composed, fabricated, and typed by him.  These letters drip with venomous poison, deep hatred and are devoid of any trace of Christian morals.  Furthermore, Bishop Kaplan proved to you and to the whole world that he is a tool in the hands of a handful of tendentious people and beneficiaries.  He is submissive to and controlled by them.  Those people roistered in the presence of the members of the Secretariat of the Holy Synod and showed the true quality of their manners.  They threatened the Bishop, and are still threatening him, to abandon him, convert to Islam or Catholicism if he accepted the return of the honest Khoury Tarzi to his Church, which he built out of his spirit, faith, and whole-hearted devotion.  The Khouri set an excellent example in integrity and impartiality, and delivered the edifice he built to the Bishop as a present.  Instead of being grateful to him, the Bishop severely punished him.  The Bishop’s delegates were so deceitful that they claimed that no one wanted the Khouri back, and that his followers were no more than 20 families, whereas the supporters of the Bishop, they claimed, surpassed one thousand families!  What a shameless claim!  Everyone knows, including your Holiness, that the opposite is true, and that the total number of families in the Archdiocese does not exceed 1200.  Everyone also knows that Fr. Tarzi is innocent of all the accusations leveled at him by the Bishop, who made him a scapegoat to avert the attention of the faithful to his own crimes.  Despite all this, you have not been willing to resolve the crisis in its entirety; rather you were content with partial solution leaving the second half for time without setting a limit to that time.  Furthermore, you perceived our repentance and regret for our wrongdoing against the local spiritual authority in our letter to your holiness, as you mentioned in your letter, although we never wrote anything to that effect, not out of pride or haughtiness, but rather out of our conviction that we have never done anything wrong that calls for repentance and regret.  The only exception was the disrespect some of us showed to your exalted position and to you personally at the height of their boiling rage by using some inappropriate language that did not befit the honor of the Patriarchal rank, and we have admitted this.  Nevertheless, we accepted what you wrote to us contently for you are our supreme general father. 

With pure hearts and good intentions, we thanked your Holiness sincerely before we left Damascus trusting in your promise to us that you would resolve the crisis very shortly, perhaps immediately after your return from your expected trip to Europe for medical treatment.  In the meantime, the General Secretariat of the Holy Synod represented by His Eminence Archbishop Theophilus George Saliba, asked us to organize a petition demanding the return of Fr. Joseph Tarzi to St. Ephraim Church to refute the claims of the other side, despite the fact that we had already submitted two earlier petitions that clearly showed that the vast majority of St. Ephraim parishioners wanted Fr. Tarzi back to his position.  We, nevertheless, organized the requested petition for the third time, and collected signatures from St. Ephraim Church parishioners and submitted to you inviting all the readers and examiners of the said petition to check and substantiate any signature therein, if they wished so.  The petition carried the signatures of 535 families the number of whose members exceeded 1800 persons.  This represented more than 80% of St. Ephraim parishioners.  Like all previous petitions, this petition, too, was disregarded.  It is worth mentioning here that Bishop Kaplan, after hearing of our petition, instructed his few supporters, after his return from Damascus, to organize a counter petition demanding that Fr. Tarzi be prevented from returning to his Church.  However, their efforts failed miserably despite their repeated attempts over a period of several weeks.  No one was willing to sign their petition except perhaps the organizers and their families.  Their previous attempts before they traveled to Damascus had already failed, and that is why Bishop Kaplan was content with collecting signatures only from his few supporters in the parish councils of some churches in the Archdiocese and coercing some members of the so-called Archdiocese Council into signing, as if these councils had the right to choose priests for St. Ephraim Church!

            Then, your Holiness asked us, after we returned from Damascus, to offer Bishop Kaplan a peace proposal for a comprehensive settlement through the lawyers committing ourselves to drop all lawsuits.  We gladly did so.  The Bishop received the proposal through his lawyers on Friday August 12, 2005.  The proposal stipulated that we were prepared to drop all lawsuits and waive the Bishop’s deposition scheduled for Tuesday August 16, 2005 in return for returning of the Khouri and forming a new Parish Council for the Church.  The Bishop immediately and categorically rejected the offer.  Prior to this, the Bishop always used the lawsuits as an excuse not to respond to calls for peace.  As for us, we did drop the lawsuits unconditionally and irrevocably, indeed, and conveyed our decision to the Bishop via his lawyer.  The judge issued an official order to this effect, but the Bishop, once again, rejected it.  We did this a) out of love for peace and concord, b) for the sake of preservation of the Church unity, c) to block the way before the Bishop to find excuses for rejecting peace offers, d) to respond favorably to the wishes of your Holiness which you expressed in your letter of May 26, 2005, and e) as a good gesture and a present to you on your 25th anniversary of your enthronement.

            Towards the end of November, 2005 after the return of H.E. Bishop George Saliba from Australia and his meeting with you, you told H. E. Bishop Saliba that the problem in Los Angeles had ended and that all parties had come together, whereas nothing like this had happened.  We contacted your Holiness and told you that nothing of this sort had taken place and reminded you of your written promise to send an Episcopal committee to soothe the situation, bring the partied together, and bring the Khouri and the people back to their Church.  Subsequently, you instructed their Eminencies Mar Theophilus George Saliba and Mar Gregorius Saliba Shamoun to travel to Los Angeles for the said purpose.  As they were preparing for departure, Bishop Kaplan’s Parish Council suddenly wrote to you a strongly worded letter threatening blood shedding if the Khouri returned to his Church, whereas our intention was to go back peacefully to our Church to resume our prayer and worship in the house of God.  Consequently, you stopped the mission of the Episcopal committee and decided for the fourth time to bring the matter before the Holy Synod, which was to convene on December 13, 2005 to take up the matter of reorganizing the Archdiocese of Central Europe after the departure of the late Bishop Yeshue Cicek.  This time you assured us that the Synod would pass a decisive resolution ending the crisis once and for all. 

            We came to know that the fathers in this Synod emphasized the necessity of resolving the crisis of the Archdiocese of the Western United States fast and in a decisive way.  They supported almost unanimously the return of the Khouri and his people to the Church.  Further, we came to know that the participating fathers were on the verge of passing an official and decisive resolution on this matter, but surprisingly you stopped them once again promising that you would personally resolve the matter very soon.  We contacted your Holiness after the conclusion of the Synod meetings (December 15, 2005) and asked you if we would possibly go back to our Church by Christmas 2005, you said, “No.”  Then we asked you if we could schedule weddings or baptisms for February or March to be performed in St. Ephraim Church, you answered, “No.”  This indicated to us that you did not see a resolution to the crisis being materialized in the coming months.  We further asked you, “When do you think we could expect to go back to St. Ephraim Church?”  You said you could not tell and that time was not ripe yet, “The mater is not cooked yet,” as you put it.

Five weeks have passed since the assembly of the Holy Synod in December 2005, and yet nothing has been done.  Your Holiness, tell us is there anything left for us to do or give to you?  A)  We have accepted your decision to reinstate the Bishop when his removal was our fundamental condition.  B)  We accepted the two priests who were tyrannically imposed on the people out of revenge, tyranny and defiance, in flagrant violation of the text and the spirit of the Constitution and Bylaws of the Church. C)  We have dropped all lawsuits.  D)  We have stopped all forms of campaigning and closed our internet site.  And last, we have cooperated fully with your Holiness.  What are we left with to offer you, your Holiness?

            Your Holiness, after all this, let the whole world, Syrian or otherwise, give testimony that we have done all that we could to achieve peace, but we never received any real or meaningful response from you.  Not one of your promises was made good or kept.  This could mean only one thing:  you do not want us to stay in the Syrian Orthodox Church, but rather you want to expel us from it.  Yes, you want to get rid of hundreds of faithful, zealous, and honest families who are church builders, for the sake of pleasing a bishop who was caught and is still involved in financial and other scandals; a bishop who raised the holy Cross in his right hand and called down curses on his people from the altar of the Lord before hundreds of worshipers saying, “Let the curse of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit come upon you and upon your children.”  He is the Bishop who intentionally and maliciously harassed and tormented the honest Khouri and made him and his family go through extreme suffering.  He threw him out into the streets and cut off his subsistence mercilessly, unjustly and wrongly.  He is a bishop who excommunicated tens of honest faithful parishioners and expelled them from the church and stopped them from entering into it using police force.  He is a bishop who is a tool in the hands of a handful of people who do not really care for the welfare and unity of the Church, but rather they are after exercising control over the Church, its clergy and the faithful.  In doing so, they are taking advantage of the weakness of the Bishop resulting from his wallowing in scandals.  The Bishop has become a puppet in their hands moving him with their fingers the way they want.  How often we wrote to your Holiness warning that this Bishop, who, to begin with, was weak and a failure, will grow weaker and more failing by his scandals and transgressions, and shall never be able to run the Archdiocese.  His weakness, we warned, will make him a puppet in the hands of beneficiaries.  This is exactly what has happened.

            The absence of decisive decisions to resolve the crisis at its initial stages made it grow and become more complex and aggravated, and reach alarming proportions at a time when its resolution was basically a very simple matter.  One word from you was sufficient to settle things.  The Bishop is a Patriarchal Vicar who was involved in serious scandals.  As such, it was more appropriate for you, soon after he was caught, to do what any superior would do the least to his subordinate in cases like this, that is, remove him and replace him with another bishop.  But you chose to confirm him, consolidate his position, and leave the crisis grow until it reached the present situation.

            Your Holiness, we can see clearly that you have taken us to a dead end.  In doing so, our people have run out of patience.  They can no longer trust in any of your promises.  They are now convinced that procrastination and stalling would never end.  Based on this and all the above mentioned facts, we could only see one path before us, and that is, the path of self-determination.  Accordingly, our people assembled in a general meeting in the afternoon of Sunday 15 January, 2006 and after discussing the current situation at length, they passed a resolution to break away from the Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch and establish an independent Syrian Orthodox Church that is not connected with any religious authority.  You and only you, your Holiness, shall fully bear the consequences of this path that we have taken.  For, you and only you, are the one who has forced us to choose this path.  Just as some of the grave mistakes made by the leadership of the Church in the past centuries were the fundamental reasons for the destruction, disintegration, weakness and backwardness of our church to the extent that it has become the weakest, poorest, smallest and the most backwards church of all churches in this world, similarly this present crisis shall destroy its remaining fragments.  History shall record for you this remarkable deed, and how you did it to please the fancies of the criminal Bishop Kaplan and his corrupt band, to which you clung for reasons that no one knows except God in heaven and you and Bishop Kaplan on earth.

Keep well.  Barekhmor.

Los Angeles, January 18, 2006

 

For the steadfast Syriac People

 

Elias Afram                                                                George Ghrair

 

 

Elias Kantarji                                                             Zafer Mushamel

 

 

CC.: Their Eminencies all members of the Holy Synod