Athanasius III Dabbas of Antioch

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His Beatitude Athanasius III Dabbas of Antioch was Patriarch of the Church of Antioch for two periods: from 1686 to 1694 and from 1720 to 1724. From 1705 to 1710 he was Archbishop of Cyprus. [1] Patr. Athanasius III was the last patriarch of the Church of Antioch before the split of 1724 when the Church now called the Melkite Greek Catholic Church separated from the Church of Antioch which remained in communion with the Church of Constantinople.

Contents

Life

Paul Dabbas was born in Damascus in 1647. His education included studying under the Jesuits. He entered a monastic life at the Mar Saba monastery near Bethlehem where upon his tonsure he took the name of Procopius before his ordination to the Holy Orders. Later, he was appointed superior of a monastery in Bethlehem. Subsequently, he moved to Syria and attempted to obtain an appointment as bishop of Aleppo, but without success.

Influenced greatly by the Latin presence in the middle east following the crusades, the hierarchy of the Melkite Church of Antioch, as the Orthodox Christians loyal to the Church of Constantinople were known, became unstable for decades during the latter part of the seventeenth century. After the death of Patr. Macarius III Zaim in 1672, the patriarchal throne of Antioch came under dispute. The dispute involved the nephew of Macarius III, Constantine Zaim, who at the age of 20 (or less) was elected patriarch as Cyril III Zaim and Neophytus of Chios, the nephew of the previous patriarch, Euthymius IV of Chios, who was appointed patriarch of Antioch by Patr. Dionysius IV of Constantinople. This and subsequent disputes led to a separation among the Melkite Orthodox into the present day Orthodox and Melkite Churches.

In 1682, Neophytus of Chios, because of his debts, decided to retire, leaving Cyril III Zaim as the only claimant. This situation did not last long. The next contender for the patriarchal throne was Paul Dabbas, who was supported by the Franciscan friars who had opposed Cyril Zaim, charging him with simony, and by his maternal uncle Michael Khayat, who was very influential with the Sublime Porte.

In 1685, Michael Khayat succeeded in getting from the Ottoman Empire a firman that appointed Paul Dabbas as Patriarch of the Melkite Church. Thus, on June 25, 1685, Paul Dabbas was consecrated bishop by Bp. Leonce of Saidnaya and other two bishops. He was enthroned as patriarch with the name of Athanasius III. The next nine years were marked by the conflict between him and Cyril III Zaim who previously had claimed to be patriarch.

On April 10, 1687, Athanasius III Dabbas professed of the Roman Catholic faith, and later, on June 16, 1687, the Roman Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith confirmed his election as Patriarch. The congratulations of Pope Innocent XI followed on August 10 which from this date the Roman Catholic Church considered him the legitimate Patriarch of the Melkite Church.

The two rivals, Cyril III Zaim and Athanasius III, came to an agreement in October 1694 after arbitration by Salmon, an Aleppian Jew, ended the dispute. By the terms of the agreement Athanasius recognized Cyril as Patriarch in exchange for Écu13,000, an appointment to the See of Aleppo, and the right to succession to patriarch at Cyril's death.

In 1698, Rome judged the agreement null and continued to consider Athanasius as Patriarch of Antioch. From 1700 to 1704, Athanasius traveled throughout eastern Europe begging for financial help including visiting Wallachia where he received the support of Prince Constantin Brâncoveanu. In 1705, Gabriel III, Patriarch of Constantinople, appointed him Archbishop of Cyprus, a position he kept until 1709. Returning to Aleppo, he established a printing press with the help of Abdallah Zakher.

In 1716, Patr. Cyril III Zaim also professed the Roman Catholic faith and was received in communion with Rome on May 9, 1718. After Cyril's decision, Athansius declared himself Orthodox and led the Orthodox faithful until his own death.

On January 16, 1720, Cyril III Zaim died. The Patriarch of Constantinople then tried to appoint a bishop as Patriarch of Antioch, but Athanasius was finally proclaimed Patriarch of Antioch, over all other candidates. During his last four years as patriarch, Athanasius preferred to live in Aleppo rather than in Damascus where the Patriarchal See was located. Athanasius died on August 5, 1724 in Aleppo.

The succession of Athanasius laid bare the divisions in the Orthodox Melkite Church, both between the pro-Catholic and pro-Orthodox groups and between the communities of Damascus, that supported Cyril III Zaim, and of Aleppo that was tied to Athanasius. On his deathbed, Athanasius chose his successor, the priest Sylvester who was a strong supporter of the Aleppine Orthodox party. In the meantime, the community in Damascus, that was to carry the name Melkite, proceeded with a formal election of the new Patriarch and elected the pro-Catholic Cyril VI Tanas. Subsequently, Patriarch Jeremias III of Constantinople declared Cyril's election invalid, excommunicated him, and appointed Sylvester to the patriarchal See of Antioch. Sylvester was then consecrated a bishop in Constantinople. These events formally marked the split between the Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

Works

Athanasius Dabbas was a prolific writer and publisher. His masterwork, History of the Patriarchate of Antioch from Saint Peter to 1202 was written in Greek and translated also in Latin. In 1701, he also edited and published liturgical texts, such as a Liturgicon, that was used by Melkite Greek Catholic Church until 1839 and, in 1702, an Horologion.

Reference

  1. He is known as Athanasius III in the patriarchal lists of Korolevski, and Skaff, as Athanasius IV in the list of Costantius.
Succession box:
Athanasius III Dabbas of Antioch
Preceded by:
Neophytus
Patriarch of Antioch
1686-1694
Succeeded by:
Cyril III Zaim
Preceded by:
?
Archbishop of Aleppo
1694-1705
Succeeded by:
?
Preceded by:
Germanos II
Archbishop of Cyprus
1705-1709
Succeeded by:
Iacovos II
Preceded by:
?
Archbishop of Aleppo
1709-1720
Succeeded by:
?
Preceded by:
Cyril III Zaim
Patriarch of Antioch
1720-1724
Succeeded by:
Sylvester
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