His Eminence, the Most Reverend Joseph, Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, was born in Damascus, Syria, on November 2, 1950, the fifth of six children born to Georgi and Mathilda Al-Zehlaoui. Throughout his life, he has been a loyal son of Antioch, a devoted spiritual father in North America, and a leader on the global stage.
His Eminence oversees almost 300 parishes and missions in the United States and Canada from the archdiocesan headquarters in Englewood, New Jersey. Six auxiliary bishops aid him in his administration of the eight dioceses that comprise the Archdiocese of North America.
Metropolitan Joseph completed his undergraduate studies at the Lebanese University in Beirut and earned his Master of Theology (M.Th.) Degree with special studies in music and languages from Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece. In 1995, His Eminence came to the Archdiocese to serve as an auxiliary bishop based in Los Angeles, California. On July 3, 2014, the Holy Synod of the Church of Antioch and all the East, under the presidency of His Beatitude, Patriarch John X, elected His Eminence as the Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of all North America.
His Eminence is a member of the Holy Synod of Antioch, the mother church of the Antiochian Archdiocese. He leads the Archdiocesan Board of Trustees as its chairman. His Eminence is the vice chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America. He meets regularly with the executive committee as he furthers the cause of unity and cooperation among the various Orthodox Christian jurisdictions, especially in response to critical issues of the day like the Coronavirus. His Eminence also participates in CAMECT (Christian Arab and Middle Eastern Churches Together), a body that ensures the welfare of Middle Eastern Christians domestically and abroad.
Metropolitan Joseph meets with governmental leaders in New York, Washington, D.C. and around the world to provide his unique perspective and expertise on various issues concerning the Orthodox Church in the U.S. and Canada, the mother church, and the peoples of the Middle East. This includes sessions with President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
During his tenure in the holy episcopacy, Metropolitan Joseph has led pilgrimages and participated in official delegations internationally, fostering goodwill in Jesus Christ between his archdiocese and Orthodox Churches around the world. In pilgrimages, Metropolitan Joseph took scores of clergy and laity – including young adults – to holy sites in Lebanon, Syria, Russia, Greece and Serbia to discover their spiritual roots. In his tenure as Metropolitan Archbishop, His Eminence took part in official, irenic meetings with Their Beatitudes Patriarch Ignatius IV and Patriarch John X of Antioch, as well as with Their Holinesses Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Patriarch Irinej of Serbia.
Education in the Orthodox Christian life is of utmost importance to His Eminence. To that end, upon his election as Metropolitan in 2014, he established The Antiochian Orthodox Institute in La Verne, California, having merged into it the well-established Antiochian House of Studies, combing resources and talents to make one strong educational entity. In its commitment to higher learning in Applied Orthodox Theology and Christian Theology in the Eastern Tradition, the Institute trains future generations of clergy and lay leaders. His Eminence serves as chairman of its board of trustees. Metropolitan Joseph is fluent in English, Arabic and Greek and is conversant in other European languages. His patron saint is St. Joseph of Arimathaea, whom the Orthodox Church commemorates on the third Sunday of Pascha.
Metropolitan Joseph completed his basic schooling at the St. John of Damascus and al-Assiyeh schools in Damascus and then at Our Lady of Balamand Monastery and Seminary in Koura, Lebanon. He completed his undergraduate studies at the Lebanese University in Beirut and then earned his Master of Theology (M.Th.) Degree with special studies in music and languages from Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece. He was awarded honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees from St. Tikhon Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania in 2010, and from St. Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary in Tuckahoe, New York in 2015.
With the blessing of His Beatitude, Patriarch Elias IV of Antioch, His Eminence, Metropolitan Panteleimon (Rodopoulos) of Thessaloniki, Greece ordained him to the diaconate on December 4, 1976. His Beatitude, Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch – Metropolitan Joseph’s spiritual father since his days as a student and seminarian at Balamand – ordained him a priest on December 10, 1980 in Damascus, Syria. The Priest Joseph served as dean of the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Damascus (“Al-Mariamieh”) and as overseer of Holy Cross Church and other parishes in the surrounding area. He served as superintendent of al-Assiyeh Three Hierarchs secondary school in Damascus from 1980-83. He then went abroad to pastor the Antiochian Orthodox Church in London, England, from 1983-84 and the Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cyprus from 1986-91. In between these assignments, he ministered in Damascus.
Metropolitan Joseph was elected and consecrated to the Holy Episcopacy on June 30, 1991 at the Cathedral of the Dormition in Damascus with the title of “Bishop of Katana.” He served as the assistant to Patriarch Ignatius and secretary of the Holy Synod. In 1995, Patriarch Ignatius blessed then-Bishop Joseph to serve in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. His predecessor, His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip (Saliba), assigned then-Bishop Joseph to the Diocese of Los Angeles and West, which he continues to shepherd directly, in addition to his duties as Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archdiocese.
On December 11, 2011, at the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos at Balamand, Patriarch Ignatius elevated Bishop Joseph to the rank of Archbishop in honor of his many years of service as a hierarch in both our Archdiocese and our Patriarchate. On July 3, 2014, the Holy Synod of the Church of Antioch, under the presidency of Patriarch John X, elected His Eminence as the Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of all North America.
Metropolitan Joseph’s achievements in apostolic ministry over the course of more than 25 years in North America bear witness to his spiritual, ethical, and personal leadership qualifications. His Eminence has maintained a personal culture of contact with all his clergy. Many of the clergy and laity testify that His Eminence always remembers and acts on any important issue placed before him. This unique combination of traits, sobriety and blameless familiarity form the bedrock for his personal effectiveness with all.
With his own spiritual, ascetical, and intellectual formation in his life in Christ, His Eminence has established enriching and meaningful annual Clergy Seminars in the West. He has deepened the spiritual and educational experience of both clergy and laity at the annual Parish Life Conferences and Archdiocesan Conventions. To that end, he has hosted a multitude of Orthodox leaders, monastics, authors and theologians. This has promoted a strong sense of clergy brotherhood and inter-parochial exchanges, admired by Orthodox jurisdictions everywhere. His Eminence has labored intensely to deepen the spiritual life of his clergy by encouraging frequent confession, personal prayer, continual education, and a heightened sense of the fullness of our Orthodox Christian tradition of interior and ascetical transfiguration in Christ.
Metropolitan Joseph has taken care in establishing a strong, clear, and straightforward liturgical guidance for all his parishes to ensure proper worship of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, and veneration of the Holy Virgin Mary and His Saints. Metropolitan Joseph pioneered the use of the internet in publishing the entire texts of all the Sunday, Lenten and Festal services of the Church throughout the year. His love for the divine services inspires him to improve the liturgical praxis of the clergy, chanters, choir and laity through constant interactions and special teachings. In addition, His Eminence constantly promotes the spiritual climate of the Archdiocese with simple, personal actions as the “Thought for the Day” which appears on Antiochian.org.