Saturday, December 8, 2012

Raymond Rizk Remembers Patriarch Ignatius IV

French original here.

In Memoriam: Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch (1921-2012)

I will leave it to others, and they are many, to talk about the achievments of Patriarch Ignatius over his long career as bishop, then as patriarch of our Church of Antioch. I prefer to limit myself to the man who hid, in shyness and discretion, behind various guises that sometimes gave a false impression of his true personality. I prefer to give a personal testimony about the one whose affection I have never lacked.

The furthest back my memory can take me, I see Father Hazim, as he was called then, playing an important role in initiating a large number of us into Orthodoxy and our engagement in Church activity. One of the oldest members of the Orthodox Youth Movement, at the beginning of the 1960's he had become a must for all those who were concerned with the renewal of the Patriarchate of Antioch. At the time he was director of the Orthodox School of the Anunciation in Beirut which had become, thanks to his dynamism and his efforts, one of the country's best schools. He was overflowing with activity. He could be found everywhere, not only within the local Orthodox church, but also through Syndesmos, the friendships forged at the Institute Saint-Serge in Paris and his participation at various international conferences within the universal Church. Alongside his peers, he represented our church in cultural and ecumenical circles, which at the time were taking their first steps in Lebanon. He played a driving role in the committee in charge of the Saint John of Damascus Orthodox Theological Instititue at Balamand, which he directed for years thereafter. Then no one was talking about an Orthodox university, but I suspect that he already had the idea and was waiting for its hour to come.

Many people who, like me, joined the ranks of the Orthodox Youth Movement at that time, especially in Beirut, had him as their spiritual father, 'team leader', and inspired and inspiring director. Alongside Father Georges (Khodr- now metropolitan of Mount Lebanon), the late Archimandrite Elias (Morcos- founder and abbot of the Monastery of Saint George at Deir el-Harf), Albert Laham, Costy Bandaly and his late brother Father Paul (who became metropolitan of Akkar), Youhanna Mansour (now metropolitan of Lattakia), and Spiro Jabbour (now a deacon and monk at Deir el-Harf), he was one of the most striking living incarnations of the Antiochian revival. His returning to God today and this list that I just cited remind me of all those luminous faces, these 'elders', our 'fathers', whose memory will remain alive in our heart and our Church for many years. With pain in my heart, I realize that soon the Lord will have called all of them to Himself and that we will have to be worthy of the inheritance that they have-- or will have-- left us.

Still at university, we would meet with him every week as a group to meditate on the Gospel, to discuss various issues in society and the Church, or just simply to listen to him. Unaware of the time and forgetting his many other responsibilities, we made these meetings go on, without any objection on his part.

Sundays and every Wednesday during the week, we attended the liturgy he celebrated at the church attached to the Annunciation School, where many faithful from other parishes would come just to hear his sermons. Always concise, clear, insisting on a key idea, they reminded us that the Gospel's message concerned everyone. At that time sermons were rare in our churches. When they did have them, they were packed with ideas and sometimes banalities, as thought if by saying too much, one could say everything.

During the summer, he was the parish priest in a resort town, Sofar, where some of us would spend the summer. This proximity during the long months of vacation and the fact that he took part, in addition to the liturgies and meetings, in our outings and other social activities, brought us and our families even closer to him.

This 'companionship', which lasted many years, allowed us to know that he lived an ascetic life. If we had only seen him eat so little, we might have doubted it. But I would like to share an experience that made a lasting impression on me. I had gone to his home, at the school, to accompany him to some meeting. He was always on time and he always taught us to respect schedules. But, that night, contrary to his habit, he seemed to want to draw things out. Since I was pressing him, telling him that people were waiting for him, he simply admitted to me that he was waiting on his only pair of shoes, that he had sent to get repaired, to be returned to him! Subsequently, I had many occasions to realize that, despite the honors that surrounded him, he knew how to keep the simplicity of life that he experienced in his native village in Syria. Having become bishop, then patriarch, he rubbed shoulders with the 'greatest', but he never lost his humble approach to people and things. Consumer society exasperated him. Through his way of life, he wanted to teach us that one could oppose it and limit its excesses. What more can be said? I believe that this humility and this simplicity of life will be much more important in the eyes of God than the achievements and works that he undertook, without denying their merit.

To conclude, I would like to call attention to some little-known writings of Patriarch Ignatius regarding relations between the Orthodox Churches, the diaspora, and relations with the Church of Rome. I think that they will shed new light on his thought and his activity and will show that certain initiatives, subsequently taken in the Orthodox and Christian world, had their origins with him.

In a letter, addressed to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew September 20, 2001, he writes about the situation of the Church on the American continent:

"If we earnestly and prayerfully desire the day when God will grant us (the mother-churches)  to define together the outlines of a single church on the North American continent, present and future relations between each jurisdiction and its mother-church should not be perceived as simply administrative and jurisdictional relations. They should rather be oriented towards a reinforcement of the profound and vivifying tie that these jurisdictions maintain with apostolic tradition through the intermediary of their mother-churches. We should remember that the path towards Orthodox unity in America lies in going forward with a stricter application of the decisions of the pre-conciliar conference and attempting to developing them by leading SCOBA to create even more platforms for encounter between Orthodox in order to encourage more exchanges between theological institutes, dialog between monasteries, maximum coordination between youth movements, a common English translation of liturgical texts, a systematic creation of sister-parishes, etc. Unity should be made through small steps, certainly around SCOBA but also on the level of all the people of God. These initiatives will have to be accompanied by a deepened reflection on the ties that must be maintained with the mother-churches and the richness that they bring to all the jurisdictions, if they desire to share among themselves. In this domain, we must develop in continuity. Working for unity on American soil does not mean cutting off ties with the mother-churches, but redefining them in a dialog of charity and in communion. All these initiatives will create a true dynamic of unity on American soil, at the same time anchored in apostolic tradition and insuring that the graces acquired in the New World will bear fruit. It is this dynamic that will lead our faithful to welcome with praise and joy that unity at the time when the Lord judges good to give it to us."

In another letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch on November 8, 2001, he admits that, "The situation of discord and lack of real harmony that prevails within each of the Orthodox churches and among them is an object of scandal, not only for their own faithful, but for all Christianity."

He continues, "Before the seriousness of the present situation of our holy Orthodox Church, the countless divisions that tear Christ's garment, and the urgent need to put an end to internal dissentions, I permit myself to 'prostrate myself in spirit before you and supplicate you' to take the necessary initiatives for a general reconciliation of the Orthodox patriarchs and churches, whatever the price. The credibility of our witness in the eyes of our faithful and the world is at stake. We must bear witness in our actions and not only in words to the hope that is in us. Today history is knocking at our doors. Will we turn a deaf ear?"

Regarding relations with Rome, he states in a letter to Cardinal Kasper on November 7, 2001, "Let us join together in listening to the Spirit to dare to go forward more earnestly along the path of our reunion in the Lord... I am convinced that our one and only Lord will continue to 'lend a hand' and that He will know how to guide us along the path of unity."

In a letter to Brother Enzio Bianchi, prior of the monastic community of Bose on October 26, 2001, he reaffirms that we must not "give up, but rather go forward so that God's will may be done in each of us and in each of our churches. May it give us the courage to wait for the day to come-- and we hope that it is near-- when each of us will discover that the Christ who dwells in his heart is the same Christ who dwells in the hearts of others and that we have no other choice but to recognize each other as brothers."

In his November 2001 letter to Patriarch Bartholomew, at a time when the work of the mixed commission with the Catholics was deadlocked, he said, "The current deadlock... should not prevent us from trying to go forward together in elaborating a common witness and tackling the problems that are tearing people apart. And trying to lead our respective faithful to remove from their heart any worldly hate or animosity. In order to do it, it would be necessary to promote a culture of friendship and love. It would be necessary to encourage brotherly relations in actual reality. Our theological statements about that which is common to us-- and it is enormous-- should be translated into life through the recognition of the other as brother in the Lord Jesus, despite differences or mishaps. Prophetic gestures, heavy with symbolism, need to be put into place. The Christian people should be given strong signs of hope. These signs and these gestures should be found together... It is at this price that consciences will be shaken and that hearts of stone will rediscover that they are made of flesh. It is at this price that we will help the churches to escape this status quo that could not distance us any more and make our evangelical witness less credible."

In an address given before Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on October 22, 2001, he spoke of the necessity of condemning terrorism, but continued, "It is also necessary to condemn the violence that some states wield against individuals and against other states, especially violence against the poor. We equally need to sympathize with the oppressed who seek their liberation through resisting the occupier and to work to end the massacre of innocents in countries where children and elderly, as well as other human beings, are dying freely. Justice and not vengeance must be done... This quest for justice must be promoted along with all men and women of good will... rejecting reckless compromises and initial reactions.

Let us preach the conviviality of nations... The current troubles could last and lead to even more afflictions. The churches' witness is called to be more eloquent, more pressing, and more effective. Our most ardent desire is to bring together all those who want to live as Christians, according to the spirit of the Gospel, in prayer and fasting, so that God will have mercy on us and grant us to combat the grip of evil that seems to us to be increasingly dominating humanity."

These eloquent and prophetic words are better than any other testimony about Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch. There is nothing left for me to do but to pray from the heart, "May his memory be eternal."

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