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Antiochian Synod to elect interim head Friday

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
          http://en.ria.ru/analysis/20121206/177964814.html Arab Church Leader Remembered for Global Outreach Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch and Patriarch of
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 2012
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      Church Leader Remembered for Global Outreach

      Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
      Kirill in old town of Damascus on November 12, 2011© AFP/
      21:20 06/12/2012

      MOSCOW, December 6 (Andrei Zolotov, Jr., RIA Novosti) - Orthodox clerics this
      week paid tribute to a long-time leader of Christians in the Arab world, who was
      greatly influenced by Russian Orthodoxy and whose vision of an open-minded
      church contributed to dialogue with Islam and greater unity among different
      Orthodox traditions, while his flock gradually migrated from the Middle East to
      other parts of the world.
      The Damascus-based, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch died
      Wednesday in Beirut after suffering a stroke the day before. He was 91 and had
      led the patriarchate – number three on the honorific list of the world’s unruly
      family of Eastern Orthodox sees – since 1979.
      Although his title was Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, the church seat
      was moved to Damascus in the 14th century, after Antioch – one of the greatest
      centers of antiquity in what is now eastern Turkey – fell into total
      Fellow clerics remembered him as a disciple of the Russian theological
      tradition and a sometime ally of Russia. In his message of condolences sent
      Wednesday, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill emphasized his “many years of
      friendship” with the late hierarch and described him as “one of the outstanding
      religious figures of modernity” and a “friend of the Russian Orthodox
      He also recalled his recent visit to Damasus and Beirut in November 2011
      after the outbreak of violence in Syria, whose Christian minority has been
      targeted by insurgents, in part for its long-time support of President Bashar
      The late patriarch, born Habib Hazimin a Syrian village in 1921,
      received his first university degree in Beirut and, in 1945, joined the St.
      Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, which was established by
      Russian émigré theologians and philosophers who attempted to synthesize Eastern
      Christian tradition with the achievements of modern secular and non-Orthodox
      Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s
      Department of External Church Relations, who said he had spent many hours in
      talks with Ignatius over the years, said Thursday that a connection with the
      “spirituality and theological atmosphere” of the St. Sergius Institute had
      always been important for Ignatius.
      “He was a patriarch – a thinker and a theologian,” Balashov said. “To the
      last days of his life, he perceived the lack of unity among the Orthodox
      Churches with a deep and sincere regret and said that the reason behind it is
      that we are still enchanted by the great heritage of Byzantium. He thought that
      the lack of our visible unity is connected with the lack of our openness to the
      realities of the modern world.”
      Several clerics interviewed Thursday emphasized that Ignatius aimed to be
      Orthodox Christianity’s pointman for dialogue with Islam – a position quite
      fitting for a leader of a relatively small, indigenous Christian community in a
      predominantly Muslim region.
      “He witnessed that Muslims and Christians are one family in the Middle East,”
      said Archbishop Nifon of Philppopolis, the long serving representative of the
      Patriarchate of Antioch in Moscow. “During his period as patriarch he tried to
      steer the church into a safe harbor, especially in these very difficult
      Despite the outreach and good relations
      with the ruling regimes, which have come under scrutiny during the current civil
      war in Syria, Patriarch Igantius witnessed an exodus of his flock from the
      Middle East and its consequent growth in other countries.
      “During his life, the number of Orthodox
      Christians in the Middle East, including in Syria and Lebanon, has dramatically
      decreased,” Balashov said. “It was a source of deep suffering for the patriarch.
      On the other hand, the church has done a lot to care about its communities
      around the world.”
      Balashov said that Arab Christians today
      constitute the biggest Orthodox Christian community in South America and one of
      the biggest in North America, where it is also the most “flexible and
      missionary-oriented” among the Orthodox Christian denominations, and attracts
      many converts of non-Arab and non-Orthodox origin.
      This too can be in part traced to the
      “Paris school of theology,” said Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, the ecumenical
      officer of the Orthodox Church in America. He recalled that Patriarch Ignatius
      was a student and friend of the towering figures in 20th-century Orthodox
      theology, protopresbyters Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff – Rusian
      émigrés who taught in Paris before moving to the United States – and even
      babysat for the family of one of them. “The vision of Patriarch Ignatius was
      very helpful for the mission of the Antiochian Archdiocese in America,”
      Kishkovsky said.
      “His was not a selfish inward-looking
      leadership, but it was fully faithful to the mission and heritage of Antioch, in
      the Middle East and globally, but with a lively concern for the witness and
      mission of the Holy Orthodox Church everywhere,” he added. “It was a wonderful
      synergy, in which the one did not exclude or diminish the other.”
      The Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch is
      to elect an interim head Friday, who will appoint the date for the elections of
      the new patriarch, Archbishop Nifon said. Eighteen to 19 bishops from around the
      world will cast their votes, he said.

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