Members of St. George Assyrian Church of the East in Ceres were dancing and celebrating last week because a superior court judge in Santa Clara ruled that a former bishop had to hand back church property he had claimed as his own.
In a summary judgment on Oct. 25, the judge ordered that Ashur Bawai Soro must turn over the St. George church property and a plot owned by the church in Empire. He had to do the same for two other Assyrian churches in San Jose and San Francisco.
According to Sargon Dadesho, a member of the Ceres church, Bishop Soro was suspended in November of 2005 for alleged "rebellion of dogma" of the Assyrian Church of the East by its ruling body, or synod.
But Soro filed incorporation documents with the secretary of state and put the three churches in the Western California Diocese under his name, thus forcing a lawsuit to regain control of the properties.
A small minority of people, "no more than 50 to 60 people" out of 300 to 400 in the Ceres congregation, followed Soro, causing a minor church split as well, Dadesho and other church members said.
It was a costly two years.
"It cost us more than $800,000 for court costs. He told his supporters the other day that it cost him more than a million dollars. We have a court date on Dec. 10 to talk about attorney fees and punitive damages," Dadesho said.
As news of the court ruling spread, a two-day celebration broke out at the Bet Nahrain Cultural Center in Ceres.
"We are very happy. More than 1,000 people were there, the whole Assyrian community and others who are not Assyrian who joined us," Dadesho said.
What this means, besides the ownership issue, Dadesho said, is that "for the first time, we'll hold our Mass at the regular time, 10 a.m. Sunday. We're hoping that by next year, a new bishop will be consecrated."
St. George Assyrian Church of the East is at 3900 Brikit Court. Call 537-8238.
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