Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of the British Isles and  Ireland
"the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."

[Acts 11:26] 

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continued ... All About Antioch -5

Antioch in Captivity

The city of Antioch, and the Patriarchate which was centered there, continued its unhappy decline as the administrative centre of Eastern Christianity when it suffered a series of earthquakes, attacks and occupations by hostile cultural and religious elements. The city was captured and ravaged by the Persians in 538-540 and again in 611. After the Byzantine recovery of the area and the defeat of the Persians under Emperor Heraclius, Islam arose as a long range religiously motivated threat to the Christian Byzantine Empire. Antioch was one of the first victories of the advancing wave of Islam, falling in 638. Other famous Christian cities soon followed - Jerusalem, Gaza and Alexandria. The Moslem advance, and the various heresies precipitated a drastic decrease in the number of Orthodox faithful in the Patriarchate of Antioch, and impoverished the See materially. In 742, the occupying Caliphate made an attempt to further weaken Byzantine influence among its Christian subjects, when, it was forbidden to either speak or celebrate the liturgical services in any language other than Arabic; up until that time the Greek linguistic influence had been predominant as the common language of the Byzantine Empire.

With the capture of three of the four Eastern Patriarchates - Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria - the ecclesiastical role of the Patriarchate of Constantinople increased. This was quite understandable since it was, in a sense, the only free Orthodox See, existing as it did in the remnant of the Byzantine Empire. Many Antiochian patriarchs were appointed from Constantinople and even attempted to rule the See as absentees, resident in the Imperial Capital. The local Christian population of the Antiochian Patriarchate often remained virtually leaderless. After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, this tendency became more pronounced as the Turks recognized the Patriarch of Constantinople as the head of all Christians within the Ottoman Empire. This fact combined with the greatly reduced number of Orthodox in the Ancient Sees of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria reduced them to a position of virtual idleness and total dependence.

In the tenth century Antioch was recovered by the Byzantines under the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas and some semblance of religious normality returned. The Turks captured the city in 1086, but their occupation was cut short by the invading armies from the West, the Crusades, which occupied the area in 1099. For the next 150 years the See of Antioch was reduced to imposed Roman Catholic submission. Under the guise of saving the Holy Land and its Christian inhabitants from the Turks, the Latin Crusaders forcefully replaced the Orthodox patriarch and hierarchy with those subject to the Roman Church. In 1154 Antioch was retaken from its Western occupiers by the Byzantine Emperor Emmanuel Comnenus who, allowing Latin occupation to continue under his overlordship, insisted that an Orthodox patriarch be returned to the Throne. This agreement to have the Antiochian Patriarch appointed from Constantinople did not last long and many subsequent Orthodox patriarchs of Antioch, such as the famous twelfth century canonist Theodore IV, (Balsamon), were unable to live under the hostile Latin occupation and remained either in Constantinople or in some other congenial location. Between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries the patriarchs of Antioch were again elected and consecrated by the Antiochian Synod of local Syrian hierarchs.

When the Mameluk Sultans of Egypt came to power circa 1260-1269, the Orthodox hierarchs were reinstated to the See of Antioch, but they were refused permission to return to the city of Antioch itself, and the centre of the ecclesiastical administration was permanently transferred in the sixteenth century to the civil capital of Syria, Damascus. By this move the Patriarchate of Antioch became more and more specifically indentified with the Christian Arab population, while maintaining its Byzantine Orthodox traditions and rites. The city of Antioch was greatly reduced in size by both natural disasters and foreign occupations, and its Christian population was reduced to only a slight fraction of its former size.

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