H.B Mar Meelis Zaia AM (Syriac: ܡܝܠܣ ܙܝܐ), is the Assyrian Church of the East's Metropolitan of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon. A native of Baghdad, he was ordained a priest of the Church in 1982 in California. He is an ethnic Assyrian. He was appointed Bishop of the Church’s diocese of Australia and New Zealand in 1984 and arrived to take up that position in March 1985, which he held until 2009 when he was elevated to Metropolitan of Australia, New Zealand & Lebanon.
H.B is the chairman of the Board of Trustees which controls the financial affairs of the Church. Since his arrival, as Bishop of the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand, he has steadily built up the communities in Australia and New Zealand.
In 1990 he played a central role in obtaining a donation of $1.1 million to build a cathedral in Greenfield Park, and in 1999 assisted in the raising of funds for the construction of a reception hall on the cathedral property. In recent times, he played an important part in raising funds from private and government sources for the construction of classrooms and an administration facility for a primary school.
Mar Meelis Zaia's diocese includes all of Australia, including Sydney and Melbourne, New Zealand and Lebanon. He said that there are about 19,000 registered adult members who contribute financially to the Church, and about 4,500 registered non-paying members under the age of 18 years. Of the adult members there are approximately 13,000 in Sydney/New South Wales, 3,500 in Victoria, and 2,500 in New Zealand. The Assyrian community also includes about 6,000 people who are not members of the diocese.
Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia was awarded an Order of Australia (AM) medal on 26 January 2007 in the Australia Day Honours List by the Queen of Australia, Elizabeth II, for his community service through the Assyrian Church of the East and for his pioneering work in the field of education and the establishment of educational facilities.
On 7 December 2008 he was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon, taking the honorific His Beatitude in place of the earlier His Grace. He was blessed by Mar Dinkha IV who flew from Chicago along with a further five bishops from around the world. The event drew close to 3,700 people at the St Hurmizd Assyrian cathedral, Greenfield Park in Sydney Australia.
Mar Meelis Zaia expanded and contributed to the growth of the church and its activities. He was instrumental in the establishment of the first Assyrian school outside of the Assyrian homeland (Mesopotamia), St. Hurmizd Assyrian Primary School in Sydney. Mar Narsai Assyrain College, a secondary school in Sydney, is now the second school run by the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand, catering to hundreds of students in the Fairfield area and its surrounding suburbs. In 1988 Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia officially established the Assyrian Church Youth Group, teaching and preaching in Assyrian.
In 2004 Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia approved and supported the establishment of the St. Peter and Paul Parish in Sydney; an English-speaking parish created to work for the benefit of Assyrian youth. The fledgling parish grew from 50 members to a 300+ strong congregation in less than two years. Meelis Zaia also initiated a number of programs for troubled youth including drug and alcohol addicts.
Controversies and lawsuits
In 1987, there was a major church split in the Church of the East in Fairfield. The event resulted in legal proceedings over property rights. After the Supreme Court of New South Wales ruled in favour of bishop Mar Meelis Zaia, the Assyrian Church of the East diocese of Australia and New Zealand, to take ownership of St Mary's Church, Assyrians of the Ancient Church of the East sect protested since they found the court's ruling highly objectionable and unjust, as their sect claimed the St Mary's Church beforehand. Richard Carleton from 60 minutes covered the story in a studio that contained around 200 Assyrians who opposed the Bishop. The Bishop described the actions of his raucous opponents as "primitive".
In 2017, a churchgoer, Sargon Eshow, who established a denunciation against Meelis Zaia on Facebook, was ordered to pay $150,000 in damages after the religious leader sued him for calumny in the NSW Supreme Court. Eshow was suspended from the church for two years from April 2015, after making a couple of posts on his Facebook page in Arabic reprimanding the bishop. He was warned and told to cease from this behaviour. Eshow persevered, where he still went on and accused the archbishop of being evil, a hypocrite and being "worse than ISIS". His posts also stated the archbishop was "violent, drunk, dishonest and incompetent and ... [had] made false accusations against the defendant". Justice Lucy McCallum said the defamation was "serious and persistent" and deserved a significant award of restitution.
- It's an Honour - Honours - Search Australian Honours
- The Whites of Their Eyes: Profiles by David Leser, published by Allen & Unwin, 1999
- Parishioner ordered to pay $150,000 to archbishop over defamatory Facebook posts, Sydney Morning Herald, Michaela Whitbourn