Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II born as Saʿid Karim the 123rd Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch when he was enthroned as patriarch in Damascus on May 29, 2014. Before his election to the patriarchate, His Holiness was Archbishop for the Eastern United States of America, and known as Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim in that post
His Holiness was born in Qamishli, north-eastern Syria, on May 3, 1965, the youngest son of Issa and Khanema Karim.His family are Syriacs who originally came from the village Ëḥwo (Turkish: Güzelsu) in the Tur Abdin region ofMardin Province, Turkey.
After finishing primary schooling in Qamishli in 1977, Karim received his religious secondary education at St. Ephrem’s Theological Seminary in Atchaneh, Bikfaya, Lebanon. After completing school in 1982, he worked in Aleppo, Syria, as an assistant to the Archbishop Mor Gregorios Yuhanna Ibrahim. From 1984 to 1988, he attended the Coptic Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Divinity.
In 1985, Saʿid Karim took the vows of a monk, and changed his name to Aphrem in honor of the 4th-century Syriac poet-theologian Ephrem the Syrian and former patriarch Aphrem I Barsoum. He was ordained deacon, and, later that year, was elevated to the sacred priesthood. From 1988 to 1989, he served as both the secretary to his patriarchal predecessor, Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, and as a teacher at St. Ephrem’s Theological Seminary in Damascus, Syria.
In 1991, he entered St Patrick’s College in Maynooth, Ireland, from where he received a Licentiate of Sacred Theology(1992) and Doctor of Divinity (1994). His doctoral thesis was titled The Symbolism of the Cross in early Syriac Christianity. During that time, he also served as a priest to the Syriac Orthodox Community in the United Kingdom.
In January 28, 1996, Aphrem Karim was consecrated as Metropolitan Archbishop and Patriarchal Vicar of the Archdiocese for the Eastern United States by Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas at St. Mary’s Syriac Orthodox Church in his home town of Qamishli. Taking the episcopal name Cyril, he arrived in the United States on March 2, 1996, and was officially installed at St. Mark’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck, New Jersey, as Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim.
During his time as Metropolitan Archbishop, He created the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocesan Youth Organization to coordinate youth activities across the archdiocese’s parishes, and oversaw a number of youth conferences as he sought to grow the church. He organized a special youth liturgy in the New York/New Jersey area and created a choral society.
He worked for inter-church unity, serving on the World Council of Churches. Cyril Aphrem Karim played a significant role in founding Christian Churches Together.
Patriarch of Antioch
On March 21, 2014, Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas died after a long illness. Following his death, the Holy Synod of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch was convened to elect a successor. The synod was held at St Jacob Baradeus Monastery in Atchaneh, Lebanon, presided over by Mor Baselios Thomas I Catholicos of India and Mor Severius Jamil Hawa Archbishop of Baghdad and Basra and Patriarchal Locum Tenens. The synod elected Cyril Aphrem Karim to be the 123rd successor of St. Peter in the Apostolic See of Antioch. He was enthroned on May 29, 2014, at St Ephrem’s Monastery, Maarat Saidnaya, near Damascus, Syria.Baselios Thomas I oversaw the ceremony.
In 2003, Cyril Aphrem Karim published the Book of the Order for the Burial of the Clergy. He also saw to the reprint of works including the Shorter Catechism of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch (1999) by former Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem I Barsoum, and the Book of Scripture Readings for Sundays and Feasts Days(2000), originally published by Mor Philoxenus Yuhanon Dolabani of Mardin. Cyril Aphrem Karim encouraged the American Foundation for Syriac Studies to publish a quarterly entitled Syriac Studies and helped co-sponsor a series of public lectures by scholars and intellectuals on Syriac culture, history, literature and theology. In 2004, Cyril Aphrem Karim wrote Symbols of the Cross in the Writings of the Early Syriac Fathers. He has also published two children’s books: In The Tree Houseand Animals from the Bible.