Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Orthodoxy and Modernity

The TikTok “Bishop” The Stabbing of Mar Mari Emmanuel in Sydney, Australia

Published on: April 18, 2024
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On April 16, “Bishop” Mar Mari Emmanuel survived a stabbing in his church by a 15-year-old in a “terrorist attack,” according to New South Wales Police. Mar Mari is a charismatic Christian apologist and social media influencer who is anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown and who has attacked Islam, LGBTQ people, and governments and churches that protect LGBTQ rights. Many news outlets have called Mar Mari Orthodox, which is far from accurate. Many don’t know that Mar Mari does not belong to any church body or hierarchy. The late Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Addai II defrocked him from the Ancient Assyrian Church of the East, citing financial, dogmatic, and legal misconduct with women. Mar Mari didn’t follow the defrocking order and made himself and his congregation an independent Assyrian Church.

However, many right-wing Christians from different denominations are not deterred by the fact that Mar Mari is defrocked. They are united behind him against what they describe as the suppression of Christians’ freedom of speech. Many have felt that because Mar Mari represents them, and they can ignore his heresies and denominational differences. Mar Mari and his stabbing thus illustrate the complex and multi-layered realities of Middle Eastern Christians in the West and the urgency of understanding the complex realities of faith-based Middle Easterners.

With his appearances in a Syriac head covering—the same head covering that monastic Coptic Orthodox clergy wear—Mar Mari is often confused for a Coptic Orthodox clergyman. The European Conservative mistakenly reported on the incident with the title “Coptic Bishop Stabbed in Australian Church.” He also uses a photo of the late Coptic Orthodox Pope Cyril VI inside the altar, which appears in the background of his social media content and has shared exorcism videos from the Coptic Orthodox exorcist father, Makary Younan. 

Mar Mari Emmanuel
Image: Mar Mari wearing a Syriac head covering, holding the Iota Coptic cross, with Coptic Pope Cyril VI photo in the background

Following the attack, some extended support by sharing Mar Mari singing Arabic spiritual songs known to many Arabic speakers after the attack.

These are not the first times Mar Mari has employed such methods to adapt to rapid changes in immigrant communities. His mission started attracting people when he launched the Good Shepherd Youth Group to appeal to English-speaking Assyrians, which led to his establishing Christ the Good Shepherd Church as an independent congregation that is mainly English-based, moving away from using Assyrian as the primary language of the congregation. This name was also easier to market amongst Australians and mixed families than the Assyrian congregation of the same church, Mar Shimun Bar Sabbae & Saint Mary Cathedral. This Assyrian name of the same community appeals to the older generation of Assyrian speakers and first-generation immigrants.

Mar Mari and his congregation have been using social media actively since 2013, starting with a page called “We Love You Mar Mari,” followed by the Christ the Good Shepherd Church page in 2014. A year before the pandemic, he transitioned to posting sermons on his church YouTube channel, now at over nine million views. Since the rise of short social media videos (Reels and TikToks), many have reproduced Mar Mari’s content, so it’s fair to say the actual number of views across social media platforms is actually many times greater.

In his online presence, Mar Mari is known for circulating conspiracies about the World Economic Forum and COVID-19, even criticizing lockdowns as “slavery practices.” Although such videos were taken down for going against public health authorities and YouTube policies, they can be found on the far-right YouTube alternative Rumble.

After the stabbing, parishioners from Mar Mari’s church clashed with the police. That the congregants directed their rage at the police was no surprise given Mar Mari’s long history of attacking Australian authorities during COVID-19 lockdowns. Even right-wing internet personality Andrew Tate praised the congregants and called it “Christian anger” against authorities.

Mar Mari also frequently attacked churches and church leaders who are affirming of the rights of queer and trans people. He’s targeted these comments specifically against the Anglican (Episcopal) Church for celebrating queer people and allowing them to hold leadership positions within the church. In a sermon published on YouTube, he said of the Anglican Church that he “will never ever call you a church.” He has even criticized Pope Francis for his letter about the non-liturgical blessing of gay civil unions.

Conservative American right-wing social media influencers have frequently hosted Mar Mari. His most trending interview on YouTube was on the PBD Podcast by Patrick Bet-David, which often features discussions with a conservative perspective on various political, economic, and social issues. Bet-David celebrated his Assyrian heritage by hosting Mar Mari and two other Assyrians. During the show, Mar Mari criticized Islam, saying, “Your prophet failed those laws.”  When the host asked him who he was referring to, he clarified: “Muhammad.” He continued: “I can assure you when you go to the heaven, Muhammad, Buddha or Krishna will not greet you…because they will be not {there}”.  Some segments of his interview on the PBD Podcast were picked up by many Muslim social media apologists, who used the interview and repurposed Mar Mari’s content against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Some produced content using the Muslim apologist Zakir Naik in response to Mar Mari’s claims.

The stabbing attack on Mar Mari sparked various reactions from Middle Easterners, heightening divisions between different groups. Some Islamists shared posts accusing him of spreading hate against Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad, while other Muslims have condemned such hateful posts against Mar Mari, calling them “harmful to Islam.”

Social media videos combined footage of the attack with a popular segment of Mari’s sermon about his visit to Gaza in an earlier pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he mentioned how he intentionally took his group on a detour through Gaza to visit a holy Christian site despite warnings against it. Such posts called Mar Mari an anti-zionist, which is not a position that Mar Mari adopts. He has repeatedly invited Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews to “become Christian,” yet rarely discussed the presence of Christians in Palestine and Israel. He has warned Israel that “peace is not going to be accomplished unless Israel becomes Christian.”

Some popular posts jumped to assuming that the suspect was an asylum seeker of Palestinian origin, which is connected to the environment of hate created because of the current war in Gaza. Ramy Kamel, who himself was imprisoned for speaking up for the rights of Christians in Egypt, spread such assumptions on Facebook.

The Syriac Orthodox Patriarch tweeted to support Mar Mari’s recovery, which some consider a reconciliatory act, especially given the tension between the Assyrian and Syriac Orthodox Churches. The patriarch, though, did not call Mar Mari a bishop. The patriarch might know that Mar Mari is defrocked. However, some think the patriarch does not consider him a bishop on doctrinal grounds tracing back to the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, which divided Assyrian Christians between Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and the Assyrian Church of the East.

The historical tension between Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and the Assyrian Church of the East can be seen in some “Ortho-bros” picking up on the fact that Mar Mari is not Orthodox. They have pointed out how Mar Mari, like many Assyrian Christians, considers Nestorius a saint, , calling Mar Mari a heretic and even posting videos of him singing a praise song to Nestorius in Assyrian. The leader of the notorious Coptic Orthodox Ortho-bro group, Faith Defenders, warned followers against Mar Mari because of his Nestorianism, some even reviving the book by the late Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan Bishoy of Damietta about the Assyrian Ancient Church of the East.

Gone are the days when many faith leaders condemned the use of social media. We now see how communities, including diasporic communities, are being built around social media figures and how many of them now are faith leaders themselves. We also see how information, especially video content, is reproduced to advance certain messages, including those of hate, misinformation, and religious or denominational supremacy. This needs to be challenged, and we need to build diasporic communities for hope, not hate.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • Marcus Zacharia

    Executive Director of Informed Immigrants and Founder of Progressive Copts

    Marcus Zacharia is an indigenous Egyptian Copt. He is a trained pharmacist and community health worker based in Ottawa, Canada. He has many years of experience working with Middle Eastern newcomers and immigrants to Canada and the US. He researches hate and misinformation in faith-based diaspora com...

    Read author's full bio and see articles by this author

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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