ACOE announces election date for new patriarch

The newly-elected Catholicos-patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East Mar Gewargis Sliwa looks on before he is elected by the Holy Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East during a ceremony at Saint Youhanna church in Erbil. Mar Gewargis Sliwa was elected by a council of Prelates and will succeed to the late Mar Dinkha IV under the ecclesiastical name Mar Gewargis III. (Photo: SAFIN HAMED/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The election of a new patriarch for the Assyrian Church of the East (ACOE) is back on the books, according to a statement Wednesday from the church’s governing body. The proceedings are slated for Sept. 5 in Erbil. 

In a statement from the Bishop of California and Secretary of the Holy Synod Mar Awa Royel, the event will begin with the current patriarch Mar Gewargis III Sliwa stepping down due to health reasons. The church hierarchs will then elect the 122nd Catholicos-Patriarch.

Gewargis was born in Habbaniyah in 1941. He studied from the School of Education at Baghdad in 1964 and then for 13 years taught English across the country. Gewargis was elected patriarch of the ACOE in 2015, succeeding Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV who died that year after a 39-year term. At the time, Gewargis was the only Assyrian metropolitan still living in Iraq. 

The patriarchal seat of the church left the Middle East in 1933 for Chicago. The construction of a new patriarchate in Erbil began in 2006. The seat returned to the Middle East with Gewargis.

In February 2020, the 81-year-old Gewargis announced his intention to resign due to health reasons. A special session of the Holy Synod was convened in April 2020 to organize a new election. But the election was postponed earlier this year due to a surge in coronavirus cases in northern Iraq. 

Earlier this year, Gewargis welcomed Pope Francis to Erbil. It marked the first visit by a pope to the country. Before giving his final blessing during a mass at Erbil stadium, Francis thanked Gewargis for holding his seat in the city and “honoring us with his presence.”

“Together with him, I embrace the Christians of the various denominations, many of whom have shed their blood in this very land,” Francis said. “Yet our martyrs shine together like stars in the same sky. From there they call us to walk together, without hesitation, towards the fullness of unity.”

The consecration and enthronement of the new patriarch is scheduled for Sept. 13  at the cathedral church of St. John the Baptist in Ankawa.

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