Patriarch Ignatius IV: An Incarnational Theologian


“ I learn my theology from looking at the faces of people.”“ I learn my theology from looking at the faces of people.”Delivered at the official memorial for the Patriarch held at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn, NY on December 16, 2012.

Patriarch Ignatius was born in Mouharde, Syria, a village in the Middle East similar to Bethlehem and Nazareth. This is why, when talking about Jesus, he often said, “Jesus was one of us. He talked our language (Aramaic-Syriac); He ate our food, and practiced our traditions.”

Ignatius (Hazim), Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, was born in 1920 and grew up in a pious Orthodox family. At an early age, he traveled to Beirut and lived with the late Metropolitan Elia (Saleeby) at the Archbishopric of Beirut. After he finished his secondary education at the Three Hierarchs Secondary School, he enrolled at the American University of Beirut, from which he earned a degree in Philosophy. In 1942 he and Metropolitan George (Khodr) and Albert Laham established the Orthodox Youth Movement, which is now a powerful spiritual force in the Patriarchate of Antioch. From 1949 to 1953 he studied at the Saint Sergios Theological Institute in Paris. His professors included the late Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemman and Protopresbyter John Myendorff. He was one of the founders of the Syndesmos, the worldwide brotherhood of Orthodox Youth. While in Beirut he served as the Principal of the Annunciation Orthodox School. In 1961, he was ordained Bishop of Palmyra (Tidmor) 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 of St. John of Damascus. I was fortunate to be present as part of a delegation from North America at the dedication of the School of Theology, founded and financed by the Archdiocese of New York and All North America, in 1970. His Beatitude published a series of theological books and many articles. He earned honorary doctorates from the Sorbonne, and from the St. Petersburg and Minsk Theological Academies. In 1966 he was elected by the Holy Synod of Antioch as Metropolitan of Latakia (Laodicea). On July 2, 1979, he was elected by the Holy Synod as Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and enthroned on July 8 of the same year. Of all the Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch he was the only one to establish an Orthodox University. This he did in 1988, during a most difficult time in the history of Lebanon, in order to serve Lebanon, the Arab East, and Arab Orthodox immigrants all over the world.

He had no worldly desires and lived like a monk – not in isolation, but in society to help others and minister to them. He believed that we are the brothers of Christ, and often said, “You are an Orthodox indeed if you love the other and see yourself through them.” As a citizen he never differentiated between Christians and Muslims. He was rooted in his Eastern Christianity, which began with Jesus and His disciples, and spread to Antioch and from Antioch to the whole world. In the Book of Acts, we read, “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). The West, which received its Christianity from us, needs to be re-joined to its Eastern roots, because Jesus taught in Jerusalem, and was buried in Jerusalem and rose from the dead there, and from Jerusalem His glorious Resurrection was proclaimed to the whole world.

Patriarch Ignatius did not own a house, or land, or a vineyard of grapes, nor an orchard of olives; he never carried money in his pocket and never had checking or savings accounts in any bank. He never cared for himself or his family. Everything he received he gave to the Church, to its institutions and schools, and to the University of Balamand, which was the fruit of his labor and his joy.

Patriarch Ignatius IV left at Balamand footprints which the storms of time cannot erase. We hope and pray that the All-Holy Spirit will inspire the fathers of the Holy Synod of Antioch to elect a worthy successor of this man, a successor who will follow not only in the footsteps of Ignatius, but leave his own footprints on the ancient rocks of Balamand.

Our Lord said in John 5:17, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” His Beatitude, Patriarch Ignatius IV, was a working man. He often said, “I learn my theology from looking at the faces of people.” He was not an ivory-tower theologian, but a man who wiped away the tears of the afflicted and instilled hope in the hopeless. May his soul rest in peace and may his memory be eternal.

His Eminence Metropolitan Philip (Saliba)

“ You are an Orthodox indeed if you love the other and see yourself through them.”“ You are an Orthodox indeed if you love the other and see yourself through them.”