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Mor Athanasius Yeshu` Samuel (1909-1995)
First Archbishop of USA and Canada

Source: Photograph, 1992

Since Mor Athanasius was born on Christmas morning, his parents, Soumay and Khatoun, named him Yeshu`.

Yeshu` together with his younger brother, Malky, spent his young days in the tiny village of Hilwa, in Turkey. However, their happy childhood was not to last long. Soumay Samuel came down with cholera and passed away. The loss of the father was unbearable, but Soumay's brother, Joseph, took the family under his care.

Trouble soon befell South East Turkey. The final days of the Ottoman empire preceding the first World War dealt a crushing blow to the Syrian Christian community. The Syrian Christians were wedged between the Ottoman Turks and the Kurds. Men, women, children were killed and their homes burnt. When this grave situation threatened their life, the elders of Hilwa decided to abandon their village.

Khatoun sent Yeshu` with his uncle Joseph. She promised to follow them soon. Joseph’s caravan moved through the silence of the night. However, in the morning, they were attacked by their enemies. They managed to get to a nearby monastery. As there were many refugees, the life there was very unpleasant. A feeling of fear gripped them. Shortly after, Yeshu`'s uncle, Joseph, was killed in a guerilla raid. The grief was unbearable for little Yeshu`. The severe cold made him very sick.

When the elders of Hilwa were ready to leave the monastery, Yeshu` contracted jaundice. The kind elders carried him on a stretcher. After a while, it became very difficult for them to carry him and continue the journey. They were certain that his end was near. With that presumption they abandoned him along the roadside. Yeshu` lay under the hot sun unable to walk. He wept in vain. During the night he dragged himself to the nearby pool and drank from it, and crawled back to lay in the shelter of a roadside rock. It was very dangerous for him in the hills as there were many wild animals there at the time. While lying in increasing fear and sorrow, he remembered a question and its answer, "Did God abandon man? No. He showed mercy on him and promised him a Savior that would come." In faith he continuously repeated the answer and slept in tiredness. At that time, Yeshu` was only nine years old.

When Khatoun and Malky prepared to follow Joseph and Yeshu` to the mountain valley, the Turks attacked Hilwa. The frightened people were scattered. Khatoun and a few villagers escaped death. Little Malky was somehow separated from her in the commotion and was soon killed by the soldiers. At that agonizing time, that mother, with tears, prayed to the Lord to unite her with Yeshu` and made a promise.

On the third day, in the morning, a priest, Fr. Demitrious, found Yeshu` lying along the roadside. He took him to his home. There Yeshu` found a new life and a world of love. However, Yeshu` longed for his mother and brother.

Later, God led Khatoun to Fr. Demtrious who united her with Yeshu`. Their joy knew no bounds. After a few days, the mother and son left that home for a distant destination with a strong determination. After five years of hard work and intermittent journey, they reached Jerusalem. The vow was fulfilled there. At that time when Malky was killed, Yeshu`s whereabouts were unknown. Khatoun had promised to God that if she found Yeshu` alive, and if the Savior spared them from the ravages of war, they would go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Yeshu` started his education in St. Mark's monastery at Jerusalem. After a few years, he was sent to the Coptic Theological College in Cairo for higher studies. After two years, Yeshu` returned to Jerusalem. At this time, His Holiness Patriarch Elias III made him his secretary. Yeshu` accompanied His Holiness to India. After a year, while in India, on February 13, 1932, Patriarch Elias passed away. Yeshu` remained there in sorrow. On April 4, 1932, the Apostolic delegate of Antioch to the Syrian Orthodox Church in India, Mor Yulios Elias, ordained him to priesthood. After a few months, Fr. Yeshu` Samuel left India for Jerusalem.

In December, 1946, His Holiness Patriarch Ephrem I consecrated Fr. Yeshu` as the Metropolitan of Palestine and TransJordan at Homs, Syria. In 1947, His Eminence acquired the most ancient Biblical manuscript known, the Dead Sea Scrolls from a Bedouin tribe. In January 1949, amidst turmoil in the Holy Land following the establishment of the Israel, His Eminence arrived in the United States to bring the Scrolls to the attention of the world community. His Eminence organized the Syrian community and established many parishes for them in North America. On November 15, 1957, His Holiness the Patriarch officially proclaimed him the first Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of the United States and Canada.

His Eminence lived a very pious and simple life. He was an able bishop who ministered to the spiritual and temporal needs of his flock. His Eminence translated several manuscripts of the Syrian Orthodox Church from Syriac to English. Even at the dawn of his life, he was engaged in translations. In 1993, H.H. Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I honored His Eminence with the title, ro`yo shariro (True Shepherd) and awarded him the Grand Cross of St. Ignatius Nurono.

On April 16, 1995, the good shepherd was called to eternal rest. His mortal remains are interred in a mausoleum below the sanctuary of the Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral in Glane, Netherlands.

(Adapted from J. Vettam, The Shadow of a Shepherd. Malankara Perspectives, vol. 1, based on the autoPersonageaphy of Mor Athanasius, The Treasure of Qumran)

The tomb of Mor Athanasius Yeshu` Samuel under the sanctuary of the Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral, Glane, Netherlands

Related Links

The following are related articles by Gabriel Rabo in German at the Suryoyo Online site (Published originally in Qolo Suryoyo, 1995):

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Last Update: November 6, 1998