His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV (Hazim) of Antioch and All the East was born in 1920 in the village of Muharda, near the city of Hama, Syria. In 1936, he moved to Beirut, where he became an altar server. Years later, upon taking monastic vows, he became a hierodeacon. In 1945 he graduated from the American University of Beirut, and from 1949 to 1953 studied at the Saint Sergius Theological Institute in Paris. On his return to Lebanon, the young theologian with a master's degree was ordained hieromonk. In 1942, he became one of the founders of the influential Orthodox Youth Movement in Lebanon and Syria, which has done much to renew youthful participation in Church life. In 1953, His Beatitude became one of the organizers of Syndesmos, the worldwide Brotherhood of Orthodox Youth. In 1961 he was ordained Bishop of Palmyra and Patriarchal Vicar, and in the following year, he was sent to the monastery of Balamand as superior and as dean of the Theological Seminary, which in 1988 was transformed into an Orthodox University—the first in the Middle East. His Beatitude published a series of theological books and numerous articles. He held an honorary doctorate from the Sorbonne, and from the St. Petersburg (1981) and Minsk (2003) Theological Academies. In 1970, the future Patriarch was appointed Metropolitan of Latakia (Laodicea). On 2 July 1979, he was elected Primate of the Church of Antioch and enthroned on 8 July of the same year.
His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch and All the East suffered a stroke and reposed in the Lord on December 5, 2012.
* * *
Orthodoxy and Original Roots
We must know that we are not the offshoot of an institution or tradition coming from outside. We are not the last memory of a historical period that our neighbors regard with antipathy. Certainly, they do not like some things about us, just as we do not like some things about them. As the Antiochene See strives towards its original roots, we shall move towards resolving these matters. To the Orthodox person we say “You are Orthodox because you are here in your faith. You represent no more than an upright, correct faith. You do not represent a nation, people, or state, nor do you represent merely a set of customs. You do not derive your Orthodoxy from anyone, even if sometimes you pray in various languages. Any language may be sanctified if the divine word is translated into it.”
The Antiochene See has a special mission to declare that we are inferior to none in our attachment to our original roots.
We say to the Muslims, “The conquest-period and the conquest-mentality are over.” While telling ourselves, “We are not the remnant of a once-powerful Empire. We are not here to constitute a model of ‘The enemy,’ because we are not the enemy.” This way of thinking greatly helps dialogue, and we are progressing along it. Our character is such that, having accepted that what happened in the past was owing to historical circumstance, we can continue to progress.
We are living in our own home, and the history of this country is our own. This country and its civilization belong to nobody else more than it does to us. We wish our children to be free from any foreign complex. We are renewing Orthodoxy along the lines that others have taken, but we are not a carbon copy.
At Ta’if, I tried to remind our Muslim brothers of our existence. We told them frankly, “You are ignorant if you do not know and feel our presence among you.” In truth, we go too far to speak about this region as if it were entirely Muslim. Muslims may be an overwhelming majority, but there are Christians beside them. This is the true picture of the Middle East.
(Extracts from an interview with Tele-Liban on August 9, 1982)
The Christians of the East
The Beatitudes we are about to hear describe to us the very person of Christ, allowing us to enter into his paradoxical joy, this joy called painful by the Christian east, this affliction that it calls happy, and which resounds in our forms of worship in which Massignon would hear the song of tears.
Our God, the incarnate and crucified God, is the poor one, the one who does not impose himself. He weeps before the horror of the world as he wept before the tomb of his friend Lazarus. He is hungry and thirsty for justice and identities himself with the starving, the homeless, the sick and the prisoners. He came among us to suffer persecution for justice. Out of the violence of our passions, he has made an immense compassion. And his pierced hands permit the sweetness of the father to maintain the earth and prepare its transfiguration.
(Church of Saint-Louis des invalids, Paris, 17th October, 1990)
The East is our point of origin
A strange light, a real world in reverse, one may say. In this light, however, we must speak about the Christians of the East, practically, the Christians who live in the Arab world and who are Arabs for the most part. While also using Greek as universal language, the Church of Antioch, in particular, developed within an Aramaean and late Arab cultural milieu. The Christians of the region played a considerable role in the expansion of the great Arab civilization, both at the time of the Umayyads, and the modern renaissance of Arabism.
To evoke the Christian of the Arab East they need not resort to archaeology and folklore, for their churches are really alive and capable of creative renewal. The Arab East of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch enjoys a true right of seniority throughout the Christian world. Its spiritual, doctrinal, and liturgical wealth served as a ‘launching ramp’ for all Christianity and still constitutes for it a guarantee and verification. The disciples of Jesus were called Christians for the first time in Antioch. At Antioch too, after a celebrated confrontation between Peter and Paul, resolved by the ‘Apostles’ council, the Good News was released from all ethnic limitations and took on a universal character in order to be announced definitively to all peoples.
Eastern Christianity is not, then, a matter of exotic clinging to the past, but of men and women who, for centuries, through the often tragic vicissitudes of history, have been witnesses to Christ with utmost patience and fidelity.
(From the book: Orthodoxy and the issues of our time.)