Shedding Light on the Syriac Manuscript Collection of the Oriental Institute-Chicago at the 54th Annual Convention of the Syriac Orthodox Church

Submitted by Iskandar Bcheiry, ATLA Metadata Analyst

On July 28, 2018, I had the honor of being one of the keynote speakers at the 54th Annual Convention of the Syriac Orthodox Church in North America held in Tampa, Florida. I delivered a lecture about the Syriac manuscripts collection in the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago, with focus on some unpublished historical fragments and documents which shed light on the history of Syriac Christianity. The Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II with a group of archbishops from North America, Middle East, and Europe was present at the annual convention and in attendance of the lecture.

Syriac Community in North America

The presence of the Syriac Orthodox community in America dates to the late nineteenth century when religious persecution forced immigration from Ottoman Turkey to the United States and Canada. The early immigrants, who were silks weavers by trade, came from Diyarbakir, Turkey, and settled in New Jersey, a major area of the silk industry. Syriac families from Kharput, Turkey, came to Massachusetts while other families came from the region of TurʿAbdin and settled in Rhode Island as workers in the local mills. During the same period, Syriacs came from Mardin, Turkey, and settled in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. Syriac Orthodox families from the city of Homs and the surrounding area in Syria came and settled in Detroit, Michigan.

On May 20, 1907, a Syriac priest was ordained in Jerusalem to serve the Syriac Orthodox community in the United States. Another priest-monk arrived in Quebec for a visit of six months and served the spiritual needs of the local Syriac people. In 1922, a priest named Nahum Gawriye came to join his brother, priest Hanna Gawriye, in America. In April 1927, Archbishop Severus Ephrem Barsoum, then of Syria and Lebanon, consecrated a church in New Jersey in the name of the Virgin Mary. During the same period, two parish churches were built in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Central Falls, Rhode Island.

In 1949, an archbishop named Athanasius Yeshuʿ Samuel came to the United States from Jerusalem and served the Syriac Orthodox community in North America. In 1952, Archbishop Athanasius was appointed Patriarchal Vicar to the United States and Canada by Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem I, and on November 15, 1957, Patriarch Ignatius Yacoub III confirmed officially the establishment of the Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the United States and Canada.

From the 1960’s through the 1980s, new Syrian Orthodox parishes were established in California; Southfield, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; West Roxbury, Massachusetts; Portland, Oregon; and Long Island, New York, as well as in Montreal, Quebec, and Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, together with congregations in the Washington, DC area and in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Following the death of Archbishop Samuel in 1995, the Holy Synod of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch divided the North American Archdiocese into three separate Patriarchal Vicariates: the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese for the Eastern United States, the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Environs, and the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Canada.1

The Annual Convention of the Syriac Orthodox Church in North America

Every year since 1964 an annual convention takes place for the Syriac people in North America that brings together clergy, delegates, and parishioners from different places in the United States and Canada. The Syriac Orthodox convention contains religious, social, and cultural events which strengthen the relationship between the members of the community and their relationship with the Middle East and Europe.

Celebrating 1500th Anniversary of Severus of Antioch Expulsion into Exile in 518

Dr. Iskandar Bcheiry speaking at the 54th Annual Convention of the Syriac Orthodox Church in North America.

Among the historical documents found in the Oriental Institute Museum-Chicago and discussed in my lecture is the historical biography of Severus, Patriarch of Antioch (538), widely known as the “Crown of the Syrians,” who has been hailed as one of the greatest fathers of the early church. Severus of Antioch spent most of his life defending the anti-Chalcedonian doctrine and because of it, he endured difficulties and exile until his death in Egypt in 538.

With the 1500th anniversary of his expulsion in 518, the name of Patriarch Severus of Antioch is remembered by the Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches. At the same time, his life, deeds, and writings are being discussed in several conferences with the aim to draw attention to the significant role Severus played in Syriac Christianity. Severus’s life events were narrated in a collection of biographies composed by different authors which were all edited and translated. I also shed light in this lecture about the life of Severus of Antioch through the biography written by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch, Kyriacos of Tikrit (817), which I have recently translated and edited.

Dr. Iskandar Bcheiry is a Metadata Analyst for ATLA. He is also a historical researcher in the field of Syriac Studies and Christian-Muslim relationship.


  1. The brief historical background of the Syriac community in North America is a modification of the original found in

One Response to Shedding Light on the Syriac Manuscript Collection of the Oriental Institute-Chicago at the 54th Annual Convention of the Syriac Orthodox Church

  1. Nice article, Iskandar! Very interesting and informative!

Leave a Reply