Syrian Antiochean St. George's Orthodox Church v. Ghize

Decision Date14 January 1927
Citation258 Mass. 74,154 N.E. 839
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court


Appeal from Superior Court, Worcester County; G. A. Flynn, Judge.

Suit in equity by the Syrian Antiochean St. George's Orthodox Church against George D Ghize and another to recover a deposit in a savings bank, in which the St. George's Syrian Orthodox Church of Worcester intervened. From a final decree for plaintiff, intervener appeals. Reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

C. E. Tupper, of Worcester, for plaintiff.

M. M. Taylor, of Worcester, for intervener.


[1] This suit in equity is brought to recover a deposit in a savings bank standing in the name of ‘St. George Orthodox Church, Worcester.’ Neither of those named as defendants in the suit claim title to the deposit. They defend simply to protect themselves. The deposit is claimed by the St. George Syrian Orthodox Church, which was permitted to intervene, and the suit became a controversy between the plaintiff and the claimant. The case was referred to a master. His findings of fact are final, because there is no report of the evidence. Glover v. Waltham Laundry Co., 235 Mass. 330, 334, 127 N. E. 420.

The facts, so far as relevant to the grounds of this decision, are these: The savings bank deposit, which alone is the subject of the present suit, was made on September 13, 1913, and was $1,100. The funds represented by this deposit were collected from time to time from contributions made by members of the Syrian religious congregation in Worcester for general church purposes and not for any use otherwise specified. No additions or withdrawals have been made, so that at present the bank holds the amount of the original deposit with accrued dividends. Nothing appears to have been done with this deposit. No record was shown of any meeting of either the plaintiff or intervening corporation respecting this deposit or any claim thereto, and no such meeting was held or vote taken by either corporation. The deposit book at some time not shown by the report came into the possession of the defendant Ghize ‘through his holding the office of treasurer of the St. George Orthodox Church, Worcester.’

These bald facts are supplemented by a brief history of the corporations and persons here involved and their relation to the church and religious worship. Since about 1900 there has been in Worcester an association of Syrian people regularly maintaining a place for religious worship. The St. George Syrian Orthodox Church was incorporated by charter dated in June, 1908, ‘for the purpose of the establishment and maintenance of a place for religious worship’ in Worcester. The proceedings for incorporation appear to have been under R. L. c. 125, now G. L. c. 180, and not under R. L. c. 36, now G. L. c. 67. Conveyance of real estate was made to this corporation in the month of its incorporation, and the building thereon numbered 100 Wall street has since been used continuously to the present as a place of Worship for a Syrian church congregation. In 1911 this corporation made conveyance of its real estate to one Bacela as a trustee to hold for the use and benefit of the ‘Syrian Congregation of the Greek Orthodox Church of Worcester,’ ‘with the special understanding and agreement he the said trustee shall deed the same to whomever and whenever said congregation shall by majority vote so indicate and request in writing.’ If this corporation, hereafter called the first corporation, transacted any other business than here stated, no records thereof were shown or proof made. This corporation held no regular meetings and did not assume to act in any capacity, except as trustee for the congregation and for property held by it for the benefit of the congregation, and it has at all times recognized the authority of the congregation with respect thereto. In 1917, as a result of controversy within the Greek Orthodox Church in America, a new corporation was chartered under the name, Syrian Antiochean St. George Orthodox Church of Worcester. That corporation is the plaintiff. It will be designated herein as the second corporation. On the day following its incorporation Bacela conveyed the real estate, held by him in trust and used for worship by the Syrians, to the second corporation, which since has never done or assumed to do anything other than act as trustee in holding the legal title to property for the use and benefit of the Syrian congregation worshipping therein, the conduct and administration of all church affairs having been managed by the congregation. The controversy within the Greek Orthodox Church was general throughout America. It related to the question whether ecclesiastical allegiance was due to the Synod of Russia or to the patriarch of Antioch. Prior to 1916 the Worcester Greek Church had recognized allegiance to the Synod of Russia, but there was no church discipline, regulation, or law which gave the Snyod of Russia control over the property or business affairs, either of this Syrian congregation or church corporation. The master says:

‘I do not find, however, that there was any exclusive jurisdiction in the United States over the Greek Orthodox Church either in the patriarch of Russia or the patriarch of Antioch, and that there is no canon, law or usage of the church which would prevent any congregation thereof in the United States from transferring its alleginance from one patriarch to the other, if the consent of such patriarch to accept such allegiance was obtained, and I find that the patriarch of Antioch did consent to accept the allegiance of the plaintiff corporation and Syrian congregation connected therewith.’

The Worcester Syrian congregation, shortly before 1917, divided into two parties. The majority in number acknowledged allegiance to the patriarch of Antioch and a large majority of the former members continued to occupy the church edifice used since 1908 and perhaps before. A meeting of the congregation was called for April 29, 1917, at which persons of both factions had an opportunity to attend. A record of this meeting, somewhat informal in nature, was made at a later time, which shows allegiance to the patriarch of Antioch and a vote ‘to complete the name of our church as ought to be in adding the word Antioch and to register the same in the capitol of state in Boston.’ These acts and votes of the congregation were in accordance with its usual practice and common usage. Although a substantial number favored the Russian Synod, a considerable majority were in favor of allegiance to the patriarch of Antioch. It was in consequence of this expression of opinion that the second corporation was formed. As a result of the controversy within the Greek Orthodox Church in America, a substantial minority of those who had previously worshipped in the...

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16 cases
  • Anderson v. Bean
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • September 16, 1930
    ...202, 141 N. E. 872, and cases collected; H. P. Hood & Sons v. Perry, 248 Mass. 350, 142 N. E. 794;Syrian Antiochean St. George Orthodox Church v. Ghize, 258 Mass. 74, 81, 154 N. E. 839. It is not necessary to consider the differencesbetween the two corporations. From the viewpoint of the te......
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    • September 27, 1993 271, and cases cited. Since a corporation is an artificial entity created by the law, Syrian Antiochean St. George Orthodox Church of Worcester v. Ghize, 258 Mass. 74, 80, 154 N.E. 839 (1927), it is incapable of having a relative or a household under even the broadest of That an automobi......
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