Tiny Syriac Orthodox Mission Parish in Dallas TX “Blooms Where It’s Planted” Despite Minority Status, War in Syria

 Fr. Joseph

Fr. Joseph

Presvytera Seraphima with Fr Joseph and Church leaders

Presvytera Seraphima with Fr Joseph and Church leaders

By Presvytera Seraphima Shagoury (OCP Delegate – Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)
OCP News Service- Exclusive – 12/11/16

#Interview with Fr Joseph on the tragic situation in Aleppo 

Visit the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate web portal here

On Sunday November 6, 2016 I visited the faithful at my neighboring St. Mary’s Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church Of Dallas, TX (http://www.stmarysjsochurchdallas.com/)  to determine the current state of affairs of Syriac Orthodox Christians in our local area, in the USA in general, and most of all those the faithful know that are isolated in Syria, unable in many cases to leave the yoke of death and Martyrdom imposed upon their home country.


This summer I had made contact with Deacon Gabriel and paid a visit when a Malankara Syriac Orthodox Priest was serving the Liturgy, but today was indeed a different and blessed day, as I was about to be introduced to Fr. Joseph Shabo, direct from the Archdiocese of Aleppo…  (https://www.facebook.com/frjoseph.shabo)

Abducted Metropolitan's of Aleppo

Abducted Metropolitan’s of Aleppo

I walked into the Church to find its volunteers hurriedly cleaning the narthex and preparing the coffee hour reception in advance for after Holy Qurbana. Within the glowing red and regal gold gilt framework of the Holy Altar, Fr. Shabo performed the Liturgy in the Syriac language, and for the first time in my life, I heard the native tongue of my husband’s Damascene family, the Shagourys. I had no downloadable translation, so listened carefully to the form of the Liturgy which seemed relatively easy to follow along, compared to Greek and Antiochian style Liturgies.

The Parish Community

The Parish Community

Here, I must also take some time to explain that, since November is Native American Heritage month, I began to recognize the fluidity and compatibility of Syriac and its chanting as similar to the expression and tone of Texas’ Native American neighbors – The Pawnee – who live north of Dallas in Lawton, Oklahoma. The rhythm,drone, pronunciation and meditation in the Syria Liturgy present a unique and viable interface for Native Americans to  encounter organic Orthodox Christian worship when exposed to our Faith.It is certainly worth looking into if our Native American neighbors are in turn, receptive to us!….

Divine Liturgy

Divine Liturgy

After a group photo at the Altar with the loving and supportive congregation, Fr. Joseph, Parish Council President Dr. Joseph Bashir, and parishioner Mr. Abijar Chmoun sat down with me, happy to see a still new-ish visitor, and very eager to gain exposure her in our local area. Here is the following interview with them:

Interview with Fr Joseph 

S: So – tell us, when did your mission parish first start?

Dr: The parish started 2015, May 10th, so – almost 2 years ago.

S: And how often does Fr. Joseph get to come here?

Dr: Not often! We have a different Priest every time, sent to us by the Archdiocese. Now he is here for 2 weeks and in New Jersey. 

S:  Father Shabo, do you anticipate more orthodox immigrants coming to the Dallas-Fort Worh area fleeing from Syria?

Fr: (shaking his head) No – they don’t come here ….I don’t know why,  but they go to California or Detriot or to New Jersey instead.

S:So, you are still a minority here in the Dallas area?

Dr: All our people are scattered to other churches…. because they don’t know we are here!  Protestant, Catholic, Melkite, even Greek Orthodox. We face this question all the time, “which came first the chicken or the egg?” (smiling) They belong to our Patriarchate, and we want them to come.We are lucky – we get to use this Church (St Mary’s) and we rent the space for  – peanuts, really –  from the Malankara Orthodox.

S: So – you’re a Mission Parish, and in a tough situation?

Dr: Yes!. if someone was particularly wealthy we could do more but it’s not that kind of situation.its just 15 families right now.

S: So you just keep working at it….

Dr.: Yes.

S: I am not that familiar with the Syrian Patriarchate, but how often do we have people from Aleppo, Damascus, for example… Clergy coming to the USA regularly?

Mr.. C: Usually only the Patriarch himself comes now and again because our headquarters in Damascus. This morning he made a service in Sao Pauolo Brazil,
Tuesday he will see the Armenian Patriarch,  then go back to Lebanon and Damaascus.

S: I see. Any other Clergy that may have family here in America, or are they trying to stay as close to Syria as possible during the conflict?

Dr: Our head, Sayedna, but his Chair is in California.So, not very often

S: Does the Archdiocese have an eye towards Pan – Orthodox activities with the other Oriental Orthodox Churches – does it participate?

Mr.. C: They do….and here I can be a help on this. I know we are trying to achieve one goal with the Armenians in sweden; making the calendar the same with them who in turn are working with the Russian Orthodox and their calendar…..

Dr. B:  but the most important thing is to keep our strength for those in Syria, because people are leaving Churches, Monasteries and they are getting destroyed – that is why he is going there  – to keep the strength of those left behind.

S:  Father Joseph, is there anything you want us to know about Aleppo? 

FR: It’s the most dangerous city in the world right now – like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but WORSE…..

DR:  My 2 cousins lost their lives there….

S:  (nodding sadly.)

S: But for your Mission Parish here,  do you have a group for men, women, and any actitivites?

Dr: Not yet, but women’s group will take care of the choir right now – most important part, that’s the first, the second is  – and i try very hard but we are all busy — we need more people! Right now we have 15 families. We are increasing slowly and gradually  – that’s why we like to grab onto people that come here (like you) as soon as we see them!

(At this point Father was asked for a picture by other visitors, and then sat down again. )

Dr: You have quite a few questions! The one I couldn’t answer specifically was about our Bishop; we have one in the East, and one in the West.

S: If your parish could have one workshop sponsored by any other Orthodox Parish coming here to visit you …..what would it be?

Dr: Well we do have a Monastery in Paramus, New Jersey where the monks are. They do a workshop 4 times a year

S: Is that something you want to see your Mission be able to attend?

Dr: I have dreams.

S: What do you think your Mission families need here?

Dr: We need Sunday School and a lot of social activities…..but 1st dream is to get a full time Priest, second is get our own Church building.

S: My last question: Father  – how would you like to see other Orthodox Christians help the people in Aleppo and in Syria?

(Father answered the question in Syrian)

Dr: The only thing they ask him there is to send money and to pray for them

Fr: Money — now because even the United Nations cannot drop food for them….. they need the money…..they need donations……

S: (shaking head sadly) Do people go underground? To hide?

Fr: They are trying to do whatever is possible, There is no hospitals, no medicines…. Damascus gets everything because of the Government,so those who do have money people can still get medical care there. But Aleppo is starting to annoy the government and they are working on that next. It’s a very sad situation!

S: i know that we have International Orthodox Christian Charities that contributes here in the USA, but what’s the MOST effective way to give a donation to Syria?

FR: Through our Patriarch or our Bishops. I try to ask everybody i know for a donation for the Church. 

Dr: And I as well. In fact, if you give me a donation now, I will hold it for you, to give to the Patriarch……(whispers: I am just teasing you.) (smiling.)

(Father gave me his business card)

S: Do  you know Sister Hatune Dogan?

FR: Yes, she’s in Germany now! (looking surprised)

S: I read her site – to me shes like a Deaconess!  A good example for those Orthodox churches that don’t have deaconesses yet! (big smile)

Holy Bread

Holy Bread

(For a look at this bright star of the Orthodox Church, the courageous Sister Hatune Dogan,  her recent journey to Syria to aid Orthodox and non-Orthodox fleeing persecution, and relief for starving and dying Syrian children living in underground basements with their families…. CLICK HERE: http://hatunefoundation.com/international/my-attempt-to-bring-help-to-aleppo/)

Fr: I have so many people in my parish from Aleppo – they have no bread…. no food….remember me, sister, remember me.  God bless you! If you can help us that will be very good…….

(We took our group picture together, and we bid Father adieu.)

As the parishioners cleaned the hall and left along Father for the commute home, I was filled with an indescribable blessing count them as my new neighbors in Christ, and you can too…..especially if you are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, or planning to visit!

To contact the Jacobite Syriac Orthodox  Church in Dallas, please use the link at the top of this article; make sure to call ahead of time for their schedule of Liturgies. Deacon Gabriel will be happy to return your call personally.

To assist our starving and persecuted brothers and sisters in Syria please see the Archdiocese of Aleppo web page at http://soc-wus.org/ourchurch/Archd%20Aleppo.htm.

LIVES ARE COUNTING ON US — please give generously to the best of your ability,and pray for Syria!

OCP News Service