Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim
Born in Kamishly, Syria on May 3, 1965, the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Issa Karim, His Eminence Metropolitan Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim lost his father at an early age and was raised with the rest of his family by his late and loving mother Khanema. He entered St. Ephrem’s Theological Seminary in Atchaneh, Lebanon in 1977, following his primary schooling in Kamishly. Upon completion of his seminary studies in 1982, His Eminence served the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo, Syria for the next two years. From 1984 to 1988, Archbishop Cyril pursued higher studies at the Coptic Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt, receiving a bachelor of divinity degree upon graduation.
In 1985, Metropolitan Karim made his religious profession as a monk of the Church and was ordained to the diaconate in Egypt. Later the same year, he was elevated to the sacred priesthood in Kamishly. From 1988 to 1989, Mor Cyril served as both the secretary of His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, and as a teacher at St. Ephrem’s Theological Seminary in Damascus, Syria. In 1989, His Eminence entered St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, Ireland from where he was to receive a licentiate of sacred theology degree in 1991 and his doctor of divinity degree in 1994, following the defense of his doctoral thesis on the symbolism of the Cross in early Syriac Christianity.
On Sunday, January 28, 1996, His Eminence was consecrated as Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicar of the Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States by His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Zakka Iwas at St. Mary’s Syrian Orthodox Church in Kamishly. Archbishop Karim arrived in the United States on March 2, 1996, and was officially installed as Archbishop and Patriarchal Vicar of the Archdiocese for the Eastern United States at St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck, New Jersey on March 3, 1996. On December 8, 1996, His Eminence presided over the consecration of the new Archdiocesan Cathedral in Teaneck.
In addition to his many other talents, Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim is fluent in both Classical and Vernacular Syriac (Turoyo) as well as Arabic, English and French.
During his years as hierarch of the Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States, His Eminence Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim has overseen the establishment of several new parishes including: The Mother of God of the Zunoro Church (Jacksonville, Florida), St. Jacob of Urhoy Church (Orlando, Florida), St. Stephen Church (Miami, Florida), St. John Church (Atlanta, Georgia), St. Helen Church (Indianapolis, Indiana), St. Barsawmo Church (Mahwah, New Jersey), St. John Bar Aphtonia Church (Cranbury, New Jersey), St. George Church (Brooklyn, New York) and St. James of Nusibin Church (Corpus Christi, Texas). Archbishop Cyril has also provided for weekly services to be conducted at St. Aphraim Church of the Washington, DC area which recently acquired its own church building.
Throughout the years, His Eminence has visited on a regular basis all the parishes of the Archdiocese, working closely with the parish boards and clergy to see that the spiritual needs of the local faithful are met. Thanks to his fatherly efforts and tireless leadership, the Archdiocese now numbers twenty parishes. In addition, soon after his arrival, His Eminence formed a new Archdiocesan Advisory Council to assist with the administration of the Archdiocese and its various programs.
Mor Cyril has had a special concern for the youth of the Archdiocese. During his first year as archbishop he established the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocesan Youth Organization (SOAYO) which coordinates the ministry of youth organizations of all parishes of the Archdiocese. His commitment to young people was immediately evident when early on he held a number of youth gatherings and conferences. At these sessions, His Eminence shared the Church’s concern for her young members and fielded many questions related to the faith and matters of specific concern to youth. His Eminence has done much to encourage the youth of the Archdiocese to work together as one family for the growth and advancement of the Holy Church. In this regard, Archbishop Mor Cyril was especially instrumental in the establishment of an Archdiocesan scholarship program to benefit young students.
He has likewise helped to organize annual youth retreats throughout the Archdiocese for both younger and older youth. He also was responsible for the creation of a special monthly youth Liturgy to bring together the young people of the various parishes in the New York-New Jersey area and to allow them to more fully participate in the Eucharistic celebration. His Eminence called for the establishment of the Archdiocesan Choral Society. Comprised of musically gifted children from different parishes of the Archdiocese, the group has put on several concerts and performances and has produced two recordings, one of Christmas hymns in the Syriac tradition and the second of the Holy Thursday service. The Syrian Orthodox Scouts of America program has also been very dear to His Eminence’s heart and he has often been with the scouts for their various activities.
In addition to youth, His Eminence has also showed a great concern for the adults and the elderly members of the community. Under his guidance and leadership, a program of premarital counseling has been created in the parishes of the Archdiocese to help young couples prepare for Christian married life. This now includes an opportunity for groups of young couples to meet with His Eminence and local clergy to discuss matters of common concern to help assure lasting and successful marriages. His Eminence has also realized the importance to respect and honor the elderly. In this regard, he has established an annual Liturgy that brings together elderly members of local parishes to share in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and to spend a special time of recognition and appreciation together.
In the field of education, Archbishop Cyril blessed and encouraged the establishment of the Archdiocesan Sunday School Committee, a body composed of Archdiocesan Sunday school principals and teachers who have been working together with His Eminence and local clergy in the creation of a unified Sunday school program for the Archdiocese. As a result of the Committee’s outstanding efforts, a series of unified lesson plans and materials have been prepared that have proven invaluable in helping to introduce Sunday school students to the faith and traditions of the Holy Church. Moreover, His Eminence has been responsible for the publication of a series of excellent articles related to the Church under the title of Essays on Syriac Theology and Spirituality. This series has included English translations of various articles written by His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas as well as articles contributed by local clergy. His Eminence has also approved the publication of several new liturgical books to help the people follow and more actively participate in the Holy Liturgy. Moreover, in 2002, Archbishop Cyril issued an edition of the Church’s evening and morning prayers for the use and convenience of the faithful.
The following year, in 2003, Mor Cyril likewise published the Book of the Order for the Burial of the Clergy, the last of the series of liturgical texts produced under the editorship of the late Mor Athanasius Yeshue Samuel of blessed memory. The volume was published as a special memorial to the remembrance of the late beloved Archbishop. In addition, Mor Cyril has seen to the reprint of such works as the Shorter Catechism of the Syrian Orthodox Churchof Antioch (1999) by the late Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem I Barsoum and the Book of Scripture Readings for Sundays and Feasts Days (2000) originally published by the late Metropolitan Mor Philoxenus Yuhanon Dolabani of Mardin. Especially noteworthy has been His Eminence’s encouragement of the American Foundation for Syriac Studies that has published several issues of a quarterly entitled Syriac Studies and has helped to cosponsor a series of public lectures by outstanding scholars on Syriac culture, history, literature and theology. A scholar himself who has authored Symbols of the Cross in the Writings of the Early Syriac Fathers, published by Gorgias Press in 2004, His Eminence clearly realizes the need for families to better understand and appreciate the richness of their Syriac spirituality and culture.
Over the past decade, Archbishop Cyril has also distinguished himself as an ecumenist very much concerned about Christian unity. He has served on both the Executive and Central Committees of the World Council of Churches, attending the 1991 Canberra, Australia WCC General Assembly, the 1998 WCC General Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe and the 2006 Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil as a member of the Syrian Orthodox delegation. Moreover, he has been an active member of the Executive and Governing Boards of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and serves as a Vice-Chairman of the Standing Conference of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in America. In recent years, His Eminence has been instrumental in the establishment of a new and promising ecumenical body, Christian Churches Together in the USA, of which the Syrian Orthodox Church is a founding member. In all his ecumenical activities, Archbishop Cyril has most capably represented the Holy Church and has won the admiration and respect of his colleagues and confreres.
Among the many accomplishments of His Eminence over recent years perhaps none is greater than the Archdiocesan purchase of a large piece of property in Wantage, New Jersey to serve as the site of a monastic foundation and center to meet the various needs of the Church both now and into the future. It is hoped that this center will especially help with the education of the Church’s youth and as a center of study and spiritual growth for all Archdiocesan faithful. This center, officially to be known as Beth Antioch, will hopefully become a reality in the near future and will help to preserve the faith and spiritual heritage of the Syrian Orthodox Church for years to come.
Syriac Orthodox Church for the Eastern USA
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