In 2015, Father Josef Togan became the first Swedish-born to be ordained a priest in the Syriac Orthodox Church. As of yesterday however, he is no longer the only one when Father Stefanus Guven was appointed priest in St. Peter and Paul’s Syriac Orthodox Church in Trollhättan.
Usually when a priest is ordained within the Syriac Orthodox Church it is witnessed by a fully seated church, where not only the congregation but also many visitors attend. Due to the pandemic, the number was significantly less yesterday in Trollhättan, but it is of equally large importance for the congregation, where Fr. Abdo Cicek has served his congregation alone for several decades.
Archbishop H.H Dioskoros Benjamin Atas who consecrated Fr. Stefanus now has two Swedish-born priests in his diocese. As one of the world’s oldest churches, the Syriac Orthodox Church has had a strong and widespread presence in the countries of origin of the Aramaeans (Syriacs) since the beginning of Christianity. In this regard the church has existed for a very short time in Sweden and Europe, but since many Arameans have arrived as refugees since the 1960s, the church has established itself well and constitutes a large part of the Aramean diaspora in Sweden.
That the church is seeing more priests who were born and raised in Sweden and the diaspora instead of in the countries of origin is interesting and of great symbolic value for a people and church that for thousands of years had its stability and foundation in the Middle East. When at the same time genocide, war and persecution is a threat to the continued presence of the Aramean people and their churches in the countries where they are indigenous, the congregations are growing in Sweden.
When you see all these congregations all around the country, you understand how important they have been for the establishment of the Aramean group in Sweden. Thus, the phase of establishment is no longer the challenge and the risk of assimilation has taken it’s place. How long are the roots that bind the Arameans of Sweden’s to their ancestors? How do you ensure that these roots have enough nutrients to survive?
From this perspective, the ordinations of Fr. Josef Togan and Fr. Stefanus Guven is not only of great importance as a holy sacrament. These young and Swedish-born priests have graduated from Swedish schools and have been brought up in a free democratic society where they have made an active choice to serve their people and their church, and to continue to nourish the roots that have grown far from home.