Former head of Antiochian Archdiocese defrocked by Holy Synod

Balamand, Lebanon, March 15, 2024

Joseph Zehlaoui, defrocked former Metropolitan and head of Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Photo: Joseph Zehlaoui, defrocked former Metropolitan and head of Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Photo:     

The former head of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, Joseph Zehlaoui, was defrocked by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch during its session in Balamand, Lebanon, this week.

Late last month, it was announced that a Synodal committee was investigating his “ecclesiastical transgressions.”

The committee having found that the former Metropolitan committed actions improper to a clergyman, including initiating legal proceedings against the Church, the Holy Synod ruled to defrock him and return him to the rank of layman, the Antiochian Patriarchate reports.

The relevant section of the Synodal report reads:

The Holy Synod was informed of the results of the Synodal Committee formed by the Patriarch regarding the events surrounding the resignation of Metropolitan Joseph Zehlaoui, formerly Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of North America.

To the dismay of the Synod Fathers, following his retirement, retired Metropolitan Joseph Zehlaoui wrongfully claimed rights over Archdiocesan property; through his attorneys, he demanded from the Archdiocese a large sum of money and threatened legal action and public conflict with the Church, reflecting through his demands an improper attitude as a bishop with regard to monetary matters; and he ultimately filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese in U.S. civil court. These actions contravene Holy Scripture and the Holy Canons. Therefore, the Holy Synod found retired Metropolitan Joseph Zehlaoui guilty of canonical violations related to:

- Improper actions as clergyman (retired Metropolitan) with respect to church property and monetary matters, and

- Initiating a legal proceeding against the Church in a civil court.

Consequently, the Holy Synod defrocked the retired Metropolitan Joseph Zehlaoui from the holy episcopacy and returned him to the rank of layman. He is no longer entitled to the privileges and benefits associated with a bishop of the Orthodox Church. The Synod prays that he will spend the remainder of his life in peace and repentance.

The Synod also directs the Archdiocese of North America to take the necessary measures to preserve all the rights, interests, and property of the Archdiocese.


Former Metropolitan Joseph was enthroned as head of the Archdiocese in December 2014, having already served as a bishop for more than two decades in Syria and the U.S.

In 2022, Helena Ditko revealed to Archdiocesan officials that she had been romantically involved with him from 2001 to 2017 (she was divorced in 2004), and that she could no longer remain silent. The accusations and investigation were leaked and published online, and the resulting scandal led to the former hierarch’s retirement last September.

Then, in October of last year, Zehlaoui brought a lawsuit against the Archdiocese and several board members, arguing that he has not been given the severance package he was promised.

In addition to a number of other benefits he says he was promised, Zehlaoui hoped to continue living at the Los Angeles chancery, though he also owns a home in Post Falls, Idaho, that is valued at nearly $1.7 million.

The former Metropolitan is seeking at least $5 million in compensatory damages, as well punitive damages and declaratory and injunctive relief.

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