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Paul Zaim was born around 1627 in Aleppo, a Syrian city ruled by the Ottoman Turks. He is generally known as Paul of Aleppo because of his birthplace, which was also his base of Christian service. His father was named Yussuf and became patriarch of Antioch, taking the name Macarius.

Educational standards were low in the region, but Paul made the most of his sparse opportunities, mastering colloquial Arabic, church Greek, and Turkish (the language of the Ottoman Empire). Later he also acquired some Russian. His linguistic abilities stood him in good stead in his later travels as his father’s adjunct. Meanwhile, he was appointed reader, a useful church function in those days when literacy was limited. He read Scripture during the liturgy. Like his father, he rose in the Syrian Melkite church. On this day, 21 November 1647, Paul of Aleppo was ordained as an Archdeacon—just nine days after the election of his father to serve as patriarch of Antioch. 

The Turks cruelly taxed Christians who consequently had little to give for the support of their churches. Patriarch Macarius decided to visit Orthodox Christians in neighboring countries to plead for funds. Paul traveled with his father, recording their journeys in The Travels of Macarius, Patriarch of Antioch. The book is full of memorable morsels like this one:

Having heard the praises of this book [a rare exposition of the Psalms of David], I exerted myself to the utmost; and by the aid of my father, I got it home to our lodgings, and having found a priest, Papa Yani from Scio, a fine writer of Greek, we engaged him to make a copy. As the love of wine is an innate propensity of every Greek, I did not cease to steal away his senses till we had carried him up to this convent of Kozia, where we forced him to stay and write. Each day we sent him an allowance of two okas of wine for his dinner and supper; his senses were sobered and his powers of mind shone forth in all their brightness, and he completed his copy of the book.

The Christians also discussed such interesting questions as When was Jesus born?“At length we ascertained afterwards, by reference to the ancient Greek books, that the incarnation of Christ took place in the year [since Adam’s creation] of five thousand five hundred and eight.”

The Travels also provides useful information about a number of historical events, such as Moscow’s conquest of Minsk, Poland, as well as of descriptions of the artwork in Christian churches the Syrians visited. Paul also wrote a History of the Patriarchs of Antioch.

The fundraising trip was a complete success, especially in Moscow. Macarius was able to pay off his church’s debts and apply leftover funds toward a building project in Antioch.

Macarius stayed a long while in Moscow, acquiring friends and influence. Later, when the Russian church was considering deposing its Patriarch Nikon, its leaders invited Macarius back to the city. Macarius seems to have even been given a vote when Nikon was stripped of his authority. As usual Paul traveled with his father. However, on the way home, he died in Georgia. His father would outlive him by three years.

Dan Graves


For more about Eastern Orthodox history and beliefs, watch The History Of Orthodox Christianity

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