Patriarch of Antioch is a traditional title held by the Bishop of Antioch (founded by Saint Peter) As the traditional "overseer" (, episkopos, from which the word bishop is derived) of the first gentile Christian community, the position has been of prime importance in the church from its earliest period. This diocese is one of the few for which the names of its bishops from the apostolic beginnings have been preserved. Today five churches use the title of Patriarch of Antioch: the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and the Maronite Church. Historically, there has also been a Latin Patriarch of Antioch.
According to church tradition, this ancient Patriarchate was founded by the Apostle Saint Peter. The patriarchal succession was disputed at the time of the Meletian schism in 362 and again after the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when there were rival Melkite and non-Chalcedonian claimants to the see. After a 7th-century succession dispute in the Melkite church, the Maronites began appointing a Maronite Patriarch as well. After the First Crusade, the Catholic Church began appointing a Latin Rite Patriarch of Antioch, though this became strictly titular after the Fall of Antioch in 1268, and was abolished completely in 1964. In the 18th century, succession disputes in the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Churches of Antioch led to factions of those churches entering into communion with Rome under claimants to the patriarchate: the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and the Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, respectively. Their Orthodox counterparts are the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, respectively.
It was in the city of Antioch (modern day Antakya in southeast Turkey) that Christians were first so called (Acts 11:26). According to church tradition, Saint Peter established the church in Antioch, and was the city's first bishop,[self-published source]:92 before going to Rome to found the Church there.:95Ignatius of Antioch (died c. 107), counted as the third bishop of the city, was a prominent apostolic father. By the 4th century, the bishop of Antioch had become the most senior bishop in a region covering modern-day eastern Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran. His hierarchy served the largest number of Christians in the known world at that time. The Synods of Antioch met at a basilica named for Julian the Martyr, whose relics it contained.
Despite being overshadowed in ecclesiastical authority by the Patriarch of Constantinople in the later years of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Antiochene Patriarch remained the most independent, powerful, and trusted of the Eastern Patriarchs. The Antiochene church was a centre of Christian learning, second only to Alexandria. In contrast to the Hellenistic-influenced Christology of Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople, Antiochene theology was greatly influenced by Rabbinic Judaism and other modes of Semitic thought--emphasizing the single, transcendent divine substance (), which in turn led to adoptionism in certain extremes, and to the clear distinction of two natures of Christ ( : dyophysitism): one human, the other divine. Lastly, compared to the Patriarchates in Constantinople, Rome, and Alexandria which for various reasons became mired in the theology of imperial state religion, many of its Patriarchs managed to straddle the divide between the controversies of Christology and imperial unity through its piety and straightforward grasp of early Christian thought which was rooted in its primitive Church beginnings.
The Christological controversies that followed the Council of Chalcedon in 451 resulted in a long struggle for the Patriarchate between those who accepted and those who rejected the Council. The issue came to a head in 512, when a synod was convened in Sidon by the non-Chalcedonians, which resulted in Flavian II (a Chalcedonian) being replaced as Patriarch by Severus (a non-Chalcedonian). The non-Chalcedonians under Severus eventually came to be called the Syriac Orthodox Church (which is a part of the Oriental Orthodox Church), which has continued to appoint its own Syriac Patriarchs of Antioch. The Chalcedonians refused to recognise the dismissal and continued to recognise Flavian as Patriarch forming a rival church. From 518, on the death of Flavian and the appointment of his successor, the Chalcedonian Church became known as the Byzantine (Rûm) Church of Antioch. In the Middle Ages, as the Byzantine Church of Antioch became more and more dependent on Constantinople, it began to use the Byzantine rite.
The internal schisms such as that over Monophysitism were followed by the Islamic conquests which began in the late 7th century, resulting in the Patriarch's ecclesiastical authority becoming entangled in the politics of imperial authority and later Islamic hegemony. Being considered independent of both Byzantine Imperial and Arab Muslim power but in essence occupied by both, the de facto power of the Antiochene patriarchs faded. Additionally, the city suffered several natural disasters including major earthquakes throughout the 4th and 6th centuries and anti-Christian conquests beginning with the Zoroastrian Persians in the 6th century, then the Muslim Arabs in the 7th century, then the Muslim Seljuks in the 11th century.
The Great Schism officially began in 1054, though problems had been encountered for centuries. Cardinal Humbert, legate of the recently deceased Pope Leo IX, entered the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople during the Divine Liturgy and presented Ecumenical Patriarch Michael I Cerularius with a bull of excommunication. The patriarch, in turn, excommunicated the deceased Leo IX and his legate, removing the bishop of Rome from the diptychs. Consequently, two major Christian bodies broke communion and ended ecclesiastical relations with each other. One faction, now identified as the Roman Catholic Church, represented the Latin West under the leadership of the Roman Pope; the other faction, now identified as the Eastern Orthodox Church, represented the Greek East under the collegial authority of the Patriarchs of Antioch (the rival Patriarch), Jerusalem (the rival Patriarch), Constantinople and Alexandria (the rival Patriarch).
The ecclesiastical schisms between Rome and Constantinople and between Constantinople and Alexandria and Antioch left the Patriarch's authority isolated, fractured and debased, a situation which further increased when the Franks took the city in 1099 and installed a Latin Patriarch of Antioch. The Western influence in the area was finally obliterated by the victories of the Muslim Mamluks over the Crusader States in the 13th century. The Latin Patriarch went into exile in 1268, and the office became titular only. The office fell vacant in 1953 and was finally abolished in 1964.
In 1724, Cyril VI was elected Greek Patriarch of Antioch. He was considered to be pro-Rome by the Patriarch of Constantinople, who refused to recognize the election, and appointed another Patriarch in his stead. Many Melkites continued to acknowledge Cyril's claim to the patriarchate. Thus from 1724 the Greek Church of Antioch split up in the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. In 1729, Pope Benedict XIII recognized Cyril as the Eastern Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and welcomed him and his followers into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Today, five churches claim the title of Patriarch of Antioch; three of these are autonomous Eastern Catholic particular churches in full communion with the Pope of Rome. All five see themselves as part of the Antiochene heritage and claim a right to the Antiochene See through apostolic succession, although none are actually based in the city of Antakya. This multiplicity of Patriarchs of Antioch as well as their lack of location in Antioch, reflects the troubled history of Christianity in the region, which has been marked by internecine struggles and persecution, particularly since the Islamic conquest. Indeed, the Christian population in the original territories of the Antiochene patriarchs has been all but eliminated by assimilation and expulsion, with the region's current Christians forming a small minority.
The current Patriarchs of Antioch are listed below in order of their accession to the post, from earliest to most recent.
At one point, there was at least nominally a sixth claimant to the Patriarchate. When the Western European Crusaders established the Principality of Antioch, they established a Latin Rite church in the city, whose head took the title of Patriarch. After the Crusaders were expelled by the Mamelukes in 1268, the Pope continued to appoint a titular Latin Patriarch of Antioch, whose actual seat was the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The last holder of this office was Roberto Vicentini, who died without a successor in 1953. The post itself was abolished in 1964.
One way to understand the historical interrelationships between the various churches to examine their chain of episcopal succession--that is, the sequence of bishops that each church regards as having been the predecessors of each church's current claimant to the patriarchate. There were four points in history where a disputed succession to the patriarchate led to a lasting institutional schism, leading to the five churches that exist today.
Thus, the succession recognized by each church is as follows: