Date of Death:
February 16, 1966
Date of Consecration:
April 19, 1936
Date of Ordination to the Diaconate:
April 16, 1916
Date of Birth:
March 15, 1898
BIOGRAPHY: The Life of the Thrice Blessed Metropolitan Antony Bashir 1898~1966
by V. Rev. Constantine Nasr
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19-20).
In 1961, on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the Most Reverend Metropolitan Antony Bashir as the Archbishop of the Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of New York and All North America, His Beatitude Patriarch Theodosius of Antioch and All the East wrote:
“Most Reverend and Beloved Brother in Christ:
We are certain that these Divine Words of Christ, conveyed to us by the Apostle Matthew, have been your motto for the past quarter century of your Apostolic struggle in the New World. For since your consecration as Archbishop by the laying of our hand on your head and the descent of the Holy Spirit, you have guided the Archdiocese of New York and All North America with diligence of a most devoted shepherd. Truly you have followed the teaching of the prophet: ‘So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands’, (Psalms 78:72).”
Antony Bashir was born on March 15, 1898, in Douma, Lebanon, the son of Joseph and Zaina Bashir, a family whose roots in the Orthodox Church go as far back as anyone has been able to trace. He was raised in the mountain country of Greater Syria, where most of the Orthodox people owe their allegiance to the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. This Holy See, with its almost 2000 years of unbroken history, is recognized by all people as the oldest in Christendom, having a triple Apostolic foundation, Saints Peter, Paul and Barnabas. “It was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians,” (Acts 11:26).
Douma, Lebanon, is a predominantly Orthodox village. It has three churches: the Church of the Dormition, the Church of St. George, and the Church of St. Elias. It also has the monastery of St. John the Baptist. The name Bashir means “annunciation” or “good news” and the family traces its roots to the 6th century, to the original family name of “Shalhoub”. Bashir was one of seven brothers (Jacob, Ayoub, Bashir, Issa, Abdenour, Elias and Saad), whose roots began in Douma. The Bashir family was small, but it was known through Antony’s father who was a gun smith by trade. Though he was not considered a rich man, the family home was used as the village hotel for people who came to visit from outside regions. Thus the young child Antony was in contact with people from all faiths and religions. The immediate family consisted of three boys, Joseph, Sabah and Antony and two girls, Adele and Najela. The family lost three children at birth, which brought deep sadness to Zaina. But being a devout Christian, she never gave up her faith. She trusted in God and gave constant homage to the churches and shrines in Douma and the surrounding villages. It was a custom to give homage and offer thanks to God for the blessings in time of joy or sadness. After the birth of Joseph, she made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Antony the Great, a Monastery in the town of Tannoureen, a small village near Douma. Zaina vowed to St. Antony that if God would bless her with a male child, she would name him Antony. A year later the child was born and Antony was taken to St. Antony’s Monastery, named after this patron saint, and baptized at the Church of the Dormition by his great uncle, Father Elias Khoury.
Antony as a child was described by his sister Adele as “an unusually intelligent and active boy, an old man when he was perhaps sixteen years old”. His mind and interests were extremely advanced for his age and he was always the leader in childhood games. Antony was enrolled in the Mascobia Elementary School in Douma, a school sponsored by the Imperial Russian Orthodox Church. In 1911, at the age of 13, his parents enrolled him in Our Lady of Balamand Monastery in Koura, Lebanon to prepare him for the ministry. He entered the school in the seventh grade and continued his education until his ordination to the diaconate on April 16, 1916. Among his classmates were the late Archbishop Samuel David (+1958), and one of his teachers was the late Archimandrite Ananias Kassab who died in 1971. Antony was a bright student who was always searching for knowledge. He was very inquisitive and continued his education at the University of Beirut and the famous Law School of Baabda. It is said that Antony’s love for the Church came from the devotion of his parents, Joseph and Zaina. His immediate relatives and laity, also contributed to his spiritual development, and his uncle Elias Ayoub, a chantor in the church of the Dormition, played a key role in his early religious education. The love of God and obedience to His Will was exhibited by the Bashir family, and when Antony decided to be ordained a celibate, his parents did not stop him or try to persuade him to marry, but gave him the freedom of choice. As we read in the Scriptures, “bring up a child in the way he should go and when he is grown, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Throughout his early years, Antony matured in wisdom, befriended many notable people and was aggressive in character, which helped him to be recognized among his peers. When he came to the United States, he brought his diary. His notes detect that he was a frugal man and his writings portray his neatness, passion, and continuity of thought. His notes reveal his interest in political economy, history, religion, philosophy, geography, and evolution. His love for learning the English language and mastering it is self evident in a long list of English vocabulary and definitions found in his notebooks. All this was indicative of his love and yearning for education. When the founding president of the American University of Beirut surveyed the whole campus of his school he stated, “Let men come from their mountains … to this mountain of learning”. Such a man as Deacon Antony came and in time grew in stature, both in the Old World and the New World, and indeed he became a man to match the mountains. By 1920, this brilliant young clergyman had become known throughout the Arab world. He had distinguished himself as secretary to the Archbishop of Lebanon, Metropolitan Gerasimos Messera. As a young man he became an instructor at the American University and the Zahrat-el-ehson High School in Beirut. Furthermore, he practiced civil law under such great men as Najeeb Khalaf, Raji Abou Hyder and Wakim Iz-el-deen. At this time he was also editing and contributing to leading publications such as The New Woman (Al-Mara-Aljadida). This magazine was published by a prominent Moslem, Julia Tomeh, who attempted to improve the position of women in the Islamic world. Antony became the chief editor of this national magazine, however because he was the private secretary of Metropolitan Gerasimos from 1915 to 1920, the Church demanded most of his time. It was during this time that he collaborated with two leading scholars, Archbishop Paul Abou-Adal and Najeeb Khalaf, in compiling the New Testament in Arabic in the most accurate translation, using texts from the Bible in the original Greek, Russian, English and the then existing Arabic edition. In 1956 Metropolitan Antony on his visit to Lebanon, attempted to persuade Mrs. Khalaf to give him the translation that it might be published, but she vowed to keep the treasure as a memorial to her husband. The Arabic New Testament translation was never printed and the manuscript remained in the Khalaf residence.
With the fall of Byzantium in 1453 and the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the Orthodox Churches in the Middle East suffered persecution, isolation, degradation, and a great decline due to the Protestant missionaries who came from Europe. The Russian Orthodox Church came to the aid of Her Sister Church, the Church of Antioch, spiritually and financially. She was able to open schools and monasteries, build churches and educate clergy. Their aid continued through the rise of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 but by the end of World War I, the Church of Antioch desperately needed financial assistance. During this period, when many of its faithful migrated to Europe and North and South America, Patriarch Gregory IV turned to the West for help. Following World War I, the Church of Antioch desperately needed financial assistance. During this period, when many of its faithful migrated to Europe and North and South America. Patriarch Gregory IV turned to the West for help. Following World War I, a delegation headed by Mr. Charles Emhardt, from the Episcopal Church in the United States, was sent to investigate the status of its Episcopal mission in Syria. It was while in Syria that His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregory, made contact with Emhardt. Arrangements were made to have a private meeting with Emhardt in the Orthodox Archdiocese Chancery in Beirut with Metropolitan Gerasimos, and Deacon Antony Bashir acted as a private interpreter. Emhardt proposed to assist the Church of Antioch on the condition that the Patriarch would recognize the validity of the Episcopal Church and its orders. Through this act of recognition, the Episcopal Church would do its best to ease the financial burden and lift the Church of Antioch from her fiscal needs.
Obviously this condition was rejected by the Patriarch. However, during the conversation, Emhardt mentioned that in September 1922, there would be a general convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Portland, Oregon. The Patriarch considered the possibility of sending a delegation to this convention to plead the cause of the Antiochian Church. He was encouraged and so decided to send a delegation headed by Metropolitan Gerasimos and Deacon Antony, along with Archimandrite Victor Abo-Assaley, for the reason of visiting his relatives in the United States. In the book, The New Herodus, a quote from a Beirut newspaper stated,
“There will be held in Portland, Oregon, a National Council of Churches to discuss the unity of the Christian denominations. The See of Antioch is sending Metropolitan Messera as a special representative of Patriarch Gregory. Accompanying him will be Archdeacon Antony Bashir and Archimandrite Victor Abo-Assaley.”
The unknown author indicated that these delegates kept their meeting with Mr. Emhardt private. Even the Syrian Mission in North America. which was functioning under the Russian Archdiocese did not know about this delegation, until the brother of the Metropolitan of Zahle met them in France as they journeyed to the United States. He informed his relatives by telegram that this Eminence and a delegation would be coming to the United States. Upon their arrival, the delegates were welcomed by Metropolitan Germanos Shahadi, who then resided in Brooklyn. They were also visited by Archpriest Basil Kerbawy, the official representative of Archbishop Aftimios of Brooklyn, under the Russian Archdiocese. During their visitation, the delegation was exposed to the internal division within the Archdiocese and the Syrian Church in North America. After a short stay in New York, Metropolitan Gerasimos and Deacon Antony began their journey across the United States to Portland to attend the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. As recorded in the Journal of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States in 1922:
The Chairman of the House of Deputies remarked to Metropolitan Gerasimos:
“(And to Your Grace, turning to His Eminence Gerasimos)
“We extend a cordial welcome, representing as you do, the Patriarch of Antioch, in which city the Disciples were first called Christians, reminding us as it does that it was in Antioch that first the Gospel was preached, not only to Jews and proselytes, but to the Gentiles, beginning of that worldwide missionary movement of the Apostolic Church of which we are the beneficiaries, and we assure him that we are mindful of his request for the fuller co-operation of our own communion in ministering to the Syrians in the United States.”
Following the meeting, Metropolitan Gerasimos and Archdeacon Antony began to tour the United States, Mexico and Cuba, extending their hand for financial assistance for the Hospital of St. George and the School of Peace in Beirut.
Upon their return to New York, Archdeacon Antony was ordained to the Holy Priesthood and elevated to the rank of Archimandrite at the hand of Metropolitan Gerasimos in Atlantic City in 1922, for the purpose of visiting and establishing churches among the Syrian-Americans who resided in the United States and Canada, especially those communities who had no residing clergy. In 1923, he requested a leave of absence to join his mother and several members of his family in Chihuahua, Mexico, to write and translate predominantly the works of Khalil Gibran, the most noted Lebanese poet and artist of this century. Gibran wrote about Antony: “Only you could have tailored such a beautiful Arabic garment for my prophet”. After two years of independent work, Archimandrite Antony was called from Chihuahua to return and assist the newly consecrated Archbishop Victor AboAssaley of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese in North America. In 1924 he was assigned to his first parish of St. George in Vicksburg, Mississippi and after a short period was given the responsibility of visiting and serving communities in the Midwest. In 1927, he assumed the pastoral tasks at St. George in Terre Haute, Indiana. Fr. George M. Rados wrote in 1967 during the 40th Anniversary of St. George: “It was through his constant effort and example to others that the parish was organized. With his encouragement, a pledge system for all parishioners was established in order to provide a steady income, other financial aid was drawn from many church social functions such as dinners, dances, auctions and raffles. He was well respected and loved by his people for his sincere devotion and commitment to the Orthodox Faith and the care of our people”. In 1930 he was transferred to the Church of St. George, Detroit, MI. Mr. Mose Nassar, the oldest member and a chantor of St. George, remembers Father Antony during an interview in 1972, “as a shining star of his time”.
After the falling asleep of Archbishop Victor Abo-Assaley on April 19, 1934, Antony Bashir was appointed Vicar of the Archdiocese awaiting the Patriarchal legate Metropolitan Theodosius of Tyre and Sidon, who was sent from Damascus to supervise the convention for the nomination of a bishop for the vacant Archdiocese. Among the candidates for the election were: Archimandrite Antony Bashir of Douma, Archimandrite Samuel David of Aitha and Archimandrite Agapios Golam of Beirut (all living in the USA). Following the intense dialogue and negotiations for the unity of the faithful in the United States and Canada, it was agreed that Archimandrite Antony Bashir would be consecrated Archbishop for New York and All North America, and later Archimandrite Samuel David would be consecrated as the Auxiliary Bishop of Toledo, Ohio. But this agreement was never consummated. On April 19, 1936, the day Archimandrite Antony was being consecrated Bishop, then elevated to Archbishop by Metropolitan Theodosius of Tyre and Sidon and Archbishop Vitaly of the Russian Church, at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn, New York, Archimandrite Samuel was being consecrated bishop, then elevated Archbishop on the same day during the Divine Liturgy in Toledo, Ohio, by Archbishop Adam, Bishop Arseny and Bishop Leonty of the Russian Orthodox Church. This caused confusion and division among the fruitful in the United States and Canada, and for the ensuing years friction and mistrust continued, although attempts were often made for reconciliation. in 1939, Archbishop Antony was given the title Metropolitan of New York and All North America.
Metropolitan Antony headed the Archdiocese in 1936, which consisted of approximately 30 churches scattered throughout the United States and Canada. By the time of his death in 1966, the Archdiocese had grown to approximately 75 churches and missions. He had molded the archdiocese into an efficient, tightly knit, and democratically organized entity on both the regional and national levels. He was successful in encouraging the English language in the Divine services, and had translated more than 30 books on Orthodox history, doctrine, dogmas, traditions, prayers and music. He had a great vision for missions and encouraged American born young men to enter the seminary to study for the Holy priesthood. He also recruited young men from the Mother Church of Antioch, who spoke the native language of Arabic to serve communities in the United States and Canada. Most seminarians were enrolled at Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, and later St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary in New York. He not only paid for tuition, room and board for the seminarians but also supported the seminaries morally and financially. Metropolitan Antony never forgot his Mother Church of Antioch or the school of his youth at the Balamand, and realized that the spiritual leaders of the Church must study theology in their own country and a greater emphasis must be placed in preserving the historic mission of Antioch. Thus he pledged $250,000 to the Balamand Theological School in Lebanon to cultivate a spiritual renaissance in the Middle East (paid after his death by Metropolitan PHILIP).
Metropolitan Antony was concerned about the youth of the Archdiocese and with the assistance of Charles T. Hyder, of Lawrence, Massachusetts and many faithful from the communities in New England, an Orthodox youth organization was born in 1938 and named “The Federation of Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Youth”. In 1939, this organization took a new name, “The Orthodox Catholic Frontier”. In order to establish unity on the national level, theSyrian Orthodox Youth Organization (S.O.Y.O.) was formed in 1951. The future of the Church in North America was dependent on this organization, and under the leadership of Metropolitan Antony, it became the first religious organization primarily concerned with the spiritual growth and unity of the young people in the Archdiocese. Through this movement, Sunday Schools were established, choir festivals held, liturgical music was translated into English, and financial assistance for philanthropic causes and missions were formed. “S.O.Y.O. promoted the highest ideals of the Orthodox youth”, and it was during this time the Orthodox American, the first youth magazine, was introduced to our young people on this continent. Through activities they have given expressions to their charitable, social and religious life.
Through tireless efforts the Orthodox Church was recognized as the fourth major faith in this country and Metropolitan Antony worked untiringly toward this goal in co-operating with other Orthodox Hierarchs. He was instrumental in the movement which led to the stamping of Eastern Orthodox (E.O.) on the identification tags of men and women in the armed services. He was the first Metropolitan of his Faith to open a session of the United States House of Representatives with a prayer, and he became a close friend to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was the first to call for Orthodox unity and in 1942, a federation of the Primary Jurisdictions of the Orthodox Churches in North America was established, in March of 1960, he spearheaded the re-organization of the Federation into a much stronger Conference of Orthodox Bishops of the Americas (SCOBA). In one of his messages, Metropolitan Antony said,
“Once the bishops better know each other, experience the joy of working together as brothers and gain the vision of a united American Orthodoxy … the time will be at hand when we shall have one great Church in this Nation such a Church would bring resources in people, money, personal talents and prestige and would permit Orthodoxy to begin missionary work.”
Metropolitan Antony believed that Orthodoxy would find many converts in North America among those who find Roman Catholicism “too rigid” and Protestantism “spiritually unsatisfying”. “Orthodoxy is democratic,” he said, “which Americans like, and we have apostolicity, the liturgy and the tradition of the Fathers”. He also thought Latin America was ripe for Orthodox proselytizing. He was the first to propose a new movement whereby churches who wished to become Orthodox might become Orthodox in every respect, while still being permitted to retain all Western liturgical rites, devotional practices and customs not contrary to the Orthodox Faith, and which were derived from Western usage conceived before the papal schism of the eleventh century. This movement today is known as the “Western Rite”.
Metropolitan Antony was a well known figure in the world circle. He represented the Patriarchate of Antioch to the United Christian Conference of Life and Work at Edinburgh, Scotland in 1938. In the same year he was a delegate at the World Conference on Faith and Order at Oxford, England, and was a delegate to many international Christian conferences during his life. He did not believe in isolating himself nor his flock. The shepherd and his flock made themselves known to the world for the sole purpose of promoting Orthodoxy and unity for all mankind. He was the first Orthodox bishop to join the National Council of Churches and in 1960 he served as Vice President to this organization. He was sympathetic toward the Vatican Council called by Pope John XXIII. He said, “I think Pope John XXIII has been sent by God to bring unity to Christians and I pledge my support to this development of Christian fellowship”. This unity was his vision and his relations with non-Orthodox bodies earned him the world-wide respect among Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders.
The passing of Metropolitan Antony marked the end of a most important era in the history of the Orthodox Church in North America. He was responsible for the tremendous growth and achievements of the Archdiocese and his spiritual leadership as Metropolitan lasted for thirty years. An expression of the great love and respect for Metropolitan Antony was conveyed in a statement at his Twenty-Fifth (Silver) Jubilee, held in Pittsburgh, PA, on August 14, 1961.
“Those who have worked for Metropolitan Antony in the Church, which was his whole life, and who have shared his enthusiasm, his trials and triumphs, are perhaps best able to assess the character of this man. He was a man of patience, tolerance, humility, integrity, and warmth; without a doubt, he has left a rich, unending glory, the warmth of radiance, and a shining peace that is forever bright.”
During November of 1965, Metropolitan Antony underwent constant treatments at the New York Memorial hospital for a disease of the lymphatic system; yet, this did not prevent him from fulfilling his spiritual duties. His last public service was celebrating the Divine Liturgy at St. Mary’s Church in Brooklyn, NY on January 30, 1966. February 7th, he was so uncomfortable he decided to seek additional treatment. He flew to Boston the next day, accompanied by Fr. Paul Schneirla, and was admitted to The New England Baptist Hospital of Boston. On February 15th he received the sacraments of Holy Communion and Unction from the local Antiochian pastor, surrounded by his sister Adele and members of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees. On February 16, 1966, he fell asleep in the Lord due to complications resulting from lympho-sarcoma.
The passing of Metropolitan Antony was felt in the hearts of all those who knew and served him to the greater glory of God. Many tributes and messages of sympathy were received from all Orthodox hierarchs, civil authorities, and many other Christian communions and representatives of other societies. Metropolitan Antony’s body lay in state at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn from February 18th, until February 23rd, the day of his funeral. The Cathedral was visited by thousands of mourners, and prayer services for the repose of the departed Metropolitan were conducted by Orthodox hierarchs. On Wednesday, February 23, 1966, at St. Nicholas Cathedral, the funeral service began with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, celebrated by Fr. Alexander Schmemann and sung by the choir of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. The funeral was conducted by the Patriarchal representative, Metropolitan Ilyas Kurban of Tripoli, together with many other hierarchs and clergy. Eulogies were delivered by then Father Philip Saliba, on behalf of the Archdiocesan clergy, Metropolitan Ilyas Kurban, and Archbishop Iakovas, on behalf of SCOBA. His body was laid to rest at Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.
His sister Adele remembered well the discipline that he created for himself. “He never cared to hire a full time secretary because he was used to getting help whenever he needed it, and besides he wanted to do the work himself. His daily routine went from 8 A.M. to 7 P.M. during which hours he worked either in his office or in the basement of his house”, she said. In the daytime he did not talk to me and I hardly talked to him … each of us knew what we had to do. At times, he used the chapel upstairs to pray, and sometimes people came to visit him at night. He welcomed everyone, yet, treated them in a business-like manner. He did not care too much about food, but his favorite food was laham mishwee (shish kabob). He loved to smoke his cigar after his meal, though he used to smoke in the sun porch, he never permitted anyone to smoke in his office”.
A few years before his death, Metropolitan Antony became seriously concerned about the future leadership for the archdiocese. “Antony used to mention Archimandrite Gregory Abboud and Father Philip Saliba at the breakfast table. As you already know, he was grooming Philip for the future, but he never thought that he would die soon”, stated his sister. Supporting this statement, Mr. Monsour Laham, remembered well the days of Metropolitan Antony’s concern for a successor, as he said, “That is why Father Philip took a leave of absence to further his education at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.” It was apparent Metropolitan Antony highly respected these clergy.
Metropolitan Antony, everyone knew, can best be described in the following terms.
“He was like a prophet, way ahead of his time; he was well respected by all in the Church, by other denominations, and even by the government, which had grown to know him. He had very high regards for the Mother Church, in spite of the heartbreaking things done to him. His own person meant nothing to him; this is how I can describe him”, said Monsour Laham of Boston.
In an interview in 1971, Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, the Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, firmly stated: “In the kind of spiritual iconostasis of the American Church, he (Metropolitan Antony) certainly would be the founding father of the American Orthodox Church … really he was one of the fathers. He had no illusion about the possibility of the Church here being governed from abroad, no illusion what-so-ever. He knew it was impossible; he gave up diplomacy long ago. He maintained those relations on a charitable level but not on the level of any dependencies. I think that when history is finally written, and we see him in his true perspective, against that of the bishops of his own particular era, we will see his true greatness. He was more than others, great in his vision and, therefore, a real father of American Orthodoxy. He inspired many people with that vision … He was honest and had a great sense of humility, very peculiar, original, in many ways a unique man; but I think, that deeply speaking, his real term of reference was very Christian; he was not at all a man of selfishness, self-centeredness. Even though he profited by the Church, he also belonged to it without reservations. He had no other life, and I think that is the essence of episcopacy; he had no other life but the Church. One cannot deny the fact that he was greedy with his money, but he gathered it and invested it and used it when it was necessary for the benefit of the Archdiocese. In terms of leadership, Antony was a charismatic leader, an appealing, forceful personality. He made an impression not only upon members of our Archdiocese, but those outside. He was very blunt and direct. He had very little use for theology as such. He was principally an administrator. He had a direct way of thinking … liked to go to the heart of the matter, avoid the gradual approach … he was not quite Oriental in that way … he was much more like an American business man in many respects. He was much too blunt and direct for the Middle Eastern ways, simplified everything and worked without a secretary most of the time”.
As written in the January 1967 issue of The Word magazine, the publication of the Archdiocese of New York and All North America, His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba) wrote:
“The Metropolitan is not dead. He will never die because the Christian destiny is eternal fellowship with the Father Almighty, and no Apostle through the centuries more faithfully served the Master than did Metropolitan Antony. He is not dead. He will never die because he is enshrined in the memories of those he fed with the bread of life. The priests who were inspired to serve at the Altar because of that High Priest and who shared his vision of a living Orthodoxy adaptable to an ever-changing world, carry his spirit in them … Metropolitan Antony will never die so long as American Orthodoxy lives”.
Father Constantine Nasr is pastor of Sts. Elijah Church in Oklahoma City, OK. He wrote his seminary thesis on the life of Metropolitan Antony, of blessed memory.
Biography from Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America