2005 Article in The Word

The Antiochian Orthodox Church in Australia and New Zealand.
Five years of Progress under the leadership of His Eminence Metropolitan Archbishop Paul Saliba

The first Antiochian Orthodox faithful reached our southern shores before the start of the twentieth century. The faithful gradually increased in number and the first church was eventually consecrated in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1911. This church is still functioning today.

Over time, as the membership of the faithful increased, the civil authorities were petitioned for permission to build an Antiochian orthodox house of worship. The first site purchased was in Melbourne, in the early 1920's. This was soon followed by another site in Sydney.

Until 1969, with the arrival of the first vicar Bishop (representing the Patriarch of Antioch), there were only two churches in operation. The new bishop, His Grace Bishop Gibran of thrice-blessed memory, established two missions in New Zealand, one church in Melbourne, four churches in Sydney, another two churches in Brisbane and Adelaide, and a mission in Perth. His Grace Bishop Gibran introduced the English language to the services, and the Sunday school and ladies' society to many churches.

In the year 1999, after the falling asleep of Archbishop Gibran, the Holy Synod elevated the Diocese to Archdiocese and elected Archimandrite Paul Saliba the first Hierarch of the new Archdiocese. The new Metropolitan Archbishop arrived in Sydney on 30th November 1999.

Upon his arrival the new Hierarch studied and contemplated the needs of the new Archdiocese and implemented the following:

1) A publication committee was established in order to study all services and establish how the faithful could become more effectively involved. The committee reviewed the bilingual Divine Liturgy book which was then published and distributed throughout the Archdiocese. The Marriage, Baptism, and Funeral services will soon be published in both Arabic and English, in order for the faithful to have books in their hands to follow the services more closely.

2) The Sunday Schools received new methods and materials, where an up-to-date curriculum was obtained and the teachers were trained to increase their understanding of the faith to enable more effective teaching.

3) A Byzantine music school was established and many youth and young adults have enrolled. There have already been a number of graduates who are now leading their own choirs in their respective churches.

4) His Eminence took a particular interest in all the ladies societies, parish councils and youth groups, meeting with all of them on a regular basis. His Eminence always encouraged the parish committees to administer their parish in the most appropriate manner. His Eminence gave most attention and time to the youth group of every church, as he felt the urgent need to start organizing the youth as the most vital part of the Archdiocese. His Eminence established an Archdiocesan youth committee and regular meetings are held, where many spiritual and social activities are organized. In July 2004, subdeacon Jeremy Davis from Wichita, Kansas was sent by His Eminence Archbishop Philip Saliba, the Primate of North America, to work with the youth and Sunday schools of the Archdiocese over the next 12 months.

5) His Eminence felt the need for a bigger headquarters to accommodate the new Archdiocese; therefore he purchased a property in Illawong, Sydney shortly after his arrival. Today, the new headquarters is being extended and is to include a extra rooms for visiting clergy. The old headquarters is used for youth activities, bible studies, theology classes and Arabic classes.

6) His Eminence thought it was important to add more churches in the appropriate places. In the state of New South Wales seven churches and missions were added to the existing four, bringing the total to eleven churches. In the state of Victoria, five churches were added, bringing the total to seven churches. In addition, a monastery, complete with a chapel and an extensive library, was also established and dedicated to St. Anna. Five new churches and missions were established in New Zealand.

7) The Board of Trustees was expanded from a few local church representatives to approximately thirty members from all over Australia and New Zealand. His Eminence established a general assembly that meets every two years to elect the Board of Trustees members. The Board, presided over by His Eminence, meets four times a year, each time in a different state. This governing body is the pulse of the Archdiocese by which all decisions and goals are discussed and set according to the new constitution introduced by His Eminence.

8) A bilingual monthly newsletter is distributed to all churches to keep the faithful informed about what is happening at the Archdiocese and to highlight forthcoming activities and goals, giving the people the opportunity to offer their talents and to participate in the life of their Archdiocese.

9) His Eminence established the Ladies' Society for the Archdiocese that is responsible for most daily activities. The society now has more than sixty members and the ladies use their talents and time to help and support the Archdiocese in its many endeavours. In recognition of the important contribution the ladies are offering the church, His Eminence established the fifth Sunday of Great Lent (Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt) as Ladies' Day in our Archdiocese. In 2004, an evening service was conducted for the health and well-being of the ladies, followed by a meaningful fellowship. Metropolitan Paul talked about the contribution the ladies have made, and concluded by thanking and blessing them all.

10) The month of February has been dedicated to the youth. All parishes prepare for this important month during which the youth get more involved in the practical matters of their parish such as collecting the trays, reading the epistle, delivering sermons, fellowship, visiting homes and many other tasks that uplift the spirit. Furthermore, the English Divine Liturgy that is served every Sunday evening in all of our churches is dedicated to the youth and young adults.

11) His Eminence Metropolitan Paul has established theological schools in Sydney and Melbourne where our Christian Orthodox faith and the way of salvation is taught. Thus far, six semesters have been completed, sufficient for the first class to graduate. Indeed, in July this year we witnessed the fruit of this humble and blessed seed with eleven students graduating. A special function was arranged to mark this historical event. Government officials attended, as well as associate professors from various universities. Among the teachers are His Eminence Paul, Dr. David Frost, his wife, Dr. Christine Frost, Dr. Mark Harding, Dean of the Australian Theological College, and others. The current aim is to expend in order to achieve government accreditation for the course. A governing body will soon be established enabling registration with the department of education. Some students who wish to further their education are given the opportunity to go to Balamand or Saint Vladimir's Seminary. This year, two students went to Balamand and one student will be going to Saint Vladimir's.

12) His Eminence is working on opening two prep schools, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne.

13) Work is underway to open a nursing home in Melbourne.

14) A youth centre is to be established in downtown Melbourne. The centre will be a part of a multicultural endeavour.

15) Last but not least, an annual symposium has been established where all of the Archdiocesan clergy meet for a full week each year to discuss and exchange opinions and ideas on how to serve the Lord with gladness, and to improve the means and ways of shepherding the flock entrusted by the Lord. During the symposium many subjects are discussed and various talks are given. The clergy express their concern about issues that they face during their ministry. Professional guest speakers are invited to give lectures on different spiritual and social issues. The clergy have welcomed this initiative of His Eminence where they can meet annually and have fellowship and exchange experiences. Since the arrival of His Eminence Paul, the Archdiocese has added seventeen priests and six deacons to its clergy.

It is clear that the Holy Spirit has blown His breath upon the Antiochian Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand, inspiring the people to offer their time and talents to the Church, saying gladly: "Yes Lord! I am listening, send me."

The faithful in Australia and New Zealand are very thankful and grateful for the leadership of His Eminence Paul, praying to God to grant our Father and Chief Shepherd Metropolitan Paul many years!

by Dr. John Melki

Dr. John Melki is Secretary to Metropolitan Paul.

From WORD magazine of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, March 2005 Volume 49 No. 3 : pp 10-12 (slightly edited)

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