Counting Patriarchs of the See of Antioch
By Fr. Dale Johnson
Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas is the 122nd Patriarch in the line of Patriarchs descending from Antioch. But when we compare the spiral list of names, presently located at Deir Za'faran Monastery in Mardin, Turkey, to the list on the Syrian Orthodox Resources site we find major differences. Without disputing dates and spellings of names, there remain significant differences in the length of the lists. Counting only the names with dates we observe 150 names on the spiral list. There are clearly extra names and a number of overlaps in the dates of patriarchal reigns.
By carefully reviewing the lists we come to the same number of official Patriarchs. Nevertheless there are some important notations that should be included. I have added notes from the spiral list to the middle column. The variations are cause for further study. But first let us look briefly at the foundation of the See of Antioch in light of Syrian Orthodox history.
Authority of the See of Antioch
In general, the Churches in the "East gave obeisance towards the Church of Antioch, whose bishop from remote antiquity exercised authority over them. This custom was sanctioned by the Council of Nicæa (325). The Fathers of this assembly decreed in the sixth canon that the privileges of the Church of Antioch should be maintained. According to the second canon of the Council of Constantinople (381) the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Antioch comprised all the eastern-most provinces of the Roman Empire. The patriarchate of Antioch lost much of its importance after the middle of the fifth century due to the rise of new centers of authority. The Bishops of Constantinople and Jerusalem aspired to usurp the first rank in the Eastern Church and gradually acquired and attempted to maintain a controlling influence over the Church of Antioch.
But in the latter part of the fifth century, in an attempt to restore the true line of Antioch, Peter Fuller took possession of the patriarchal see of Antioch. After the death of Severus (538) the ancient and authentic line of Antiochian Patriarchs, later to be known as the Syrian Orthodox, were consecrated and elected once again.
In the 13th century the Crusades dramatically impacted and damaged Syrian Orthodox authority both in Antioch and throughout the East. Multiple rival patriarchs fought for control in the turmoil of war and social chaos. The Patriarchal See retreated to the safety of Mardin and the famed Deir Za'faran Monastery where the spiral list of patriarchal names was placed on the chair of the patriarchs. In the following century, stability returned to the patriarchate and patriarchs, and beginning with Yousef bar Wehebin 1293, they began to use the name Ignatius. Upon this chair in Mardin patriarchs ruled for nearly 700 years until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Old Math or New Math
At first it seems according to the spiral list of Patriarchs, Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas should be the 150th Patriarch. But close inspection reveals that there are 28 illegal or rival Patriarchs in the list. These include seven Arian patriarchs from 331 CE to 360 CE, and five in the next century in the bitter struggle to take back the patriarchal see around the time of Peter the Fuller. Then, in the 6th century there were seven rivals mentioned during the turbulent period that followed and Jacob Bardaeus and Queen Theodora initiated the rightful Syrian control of Antioch.
Political interference by the Caliph during the 9th century imposed two more illegal patriarchs followed by three more who served less than a year and are discounted. These include David (763), Abraham (846), and John in the 11th century. Finally, there are four more rival patriarchs in the rebellious 13th to 14th centuries.
In both lists there were attempts to take control away from the Antiochian line of patriarchs leading to Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas, even by some of the very partriarchs in the line who tried to break succession and divert control to others. These include Maximos II in 449 and Paul the Black of Alexandria a hundred years later. Those who followed the claims of the Council of Chalcedon even tried to take the throne of Antioch by force by deposing Severius in 518, and mounted other challenges to the See over the centuries. But the strength of the legitimate See of Antioch rested upon a power greater than men, that no human being or institution could destroy.
Today the list of illegal or rival patriarchs reduces the list to an official 122 patriarchs, Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas being the 122nd. He carries the glory of the traditional name that infers stability and rightful claim to the See of Antioch, the most ancient and honored place of authority. May we be blessed by his rule and the authority of Christ present in the See of Antioch.The List of the Patriarchs of Antioch