Balamand Monastery

Memorial Homily by Very Reverend Great Economos, Michel Najim

Memorial Homily on His Beatitude, Patriarch IGNATIUS IV
Delivered on December 9, 2012 at St Nicholas Cathedral, Los Angeles
By the Very Reverend Great Economos, Michel Najim

This morning, the funeral service of our father in Christ, Patriarch Ignatius IV, of thrice-blessed memory and eternal repose was held at St. Nicholas Church in Beirut with all Orthodox patriarchs or their representatives concelebrating and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople presiding.  Many other hierarchs concelebrated as well, including the hieararchs of our patriarchate, with our Archbishop Joseph representing Metropolitan Philip, the Primate of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.  After the funeral in Beirut, his body was transported to the Mariamieh Cathedral in Damascus.  Tomorrow, the hierarchical funeral service will be held at his Cathedral, after which he will be laid to rest at the Patriarchal cemetery with all the other Patriarchs in Damascus, in accordance with the long standing tradition of our Patriarchate.

Ignatius the IV is the 166th Patriarch and the worthy successor of Ss Peter and Paul, the founders of our Patriarchate, as he followed in the footsteps of these two highest Apostles. He is considered to be the Modern Ignatius, Theophilus, Babylas, and Meletius of Antioch, as the Church enjoyed a spiritual renaissance, due to his leadership and guidance. If you read the biographies of all the Patriarchs, from the seventeenth century on, the life of Ignatius excels them all, and stands out even more than the renowned Patriarch Makarius Ibn Zaiim of the 17th century. For this reason, the French theologian Olivier Clement said: “Antioch now has an Orthodox Patriarch worthy of its history and of its vocation.”
From this long Christian heritage, great Ignatius IV shone forth, as the thirteenth of the Holy and pure Apostles. His brilliance made him emerge as a teacher, a shepherd, and a founder of many churches and institutions. This young man who came from a pious family in Mharde, an Orthodox town near Hama, Syria, embodied the revitalization of our Patriarchate, expanding from the Middle East to Europe, to the Americas and Australia, educating hundreds of clergy, moving myriads of people, and bringing them to the right faith.
Ignatius was not an ordinary patriarch, but a leader of great stature, born of the word of God. He tasted the beauty of the faith from his two devout parents, Assad and Mariam, who cultivated in him the early vocation to the priesthood. At 15 years of age, he left Mharde by car to Homs, Syria. Having no money, he went in a truck to Tripoli, and in another truck laden with furniture to Beirut, where he spent the night in a cheap and dirty hotel. The second day, he found the bishopric of Beirut, where he started his clerical life.
He was a man of suffering and arduous struggle, as he was derided and ill-treated, because of his humble origins, accent, and ignorance of the French language. By his determination, however, he put an end to significant obstacles and barriers, and he learned perfect French in six months. He walked every day several miles to and from school, but he got the highest grades in his class, despite not having money to buy books. Being always on the honor list, he was given free tuition at the American University of Beirut.  In 1945 he graduated from American University of Beirut with a degree in philosophy and literature.
In 1949, he entered St Sergius Orthodox Seminary in Paris, where he learned under outstanding theologians, Georges Florovsky, Nikolai Afanasiev and Sergius Bulgakov. At Saint Sergius, he met and befriended the late Fathers Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff.   
Although he had come into Beirut on a truck, he came back from Paris on a cargo plane as the only passenger. In Beirut, he was appointed as the superintendent of the Annunciation school, (Al-bishara), which became under his leadership an incomparable school in Beirut.
In 1962, he was appointed as the dean of the clerical school at Balamand monastery. When he arrived at Balamand, now bishop Ignatius found the school in a very dire state, and the historical monastery in ruins. In that same month, I myself went to the seminary, where I began my journey to the priesthood, studying at his feet. When I met him, he told me that the school was broke, and that he did not have a bed for me. He said, “Bring your bed and follow me.” I did.
As before, he refused to succumb to frustration in the impossible situation he had been entrusted with. This was the beginning of his long journey, which cost him much blood, sweat and tears. He endured an agony until he transformed the poverty-stricken seminary into a full-fledged university, unparalleled even in California. Our Archdiocese did lend a helping hand to achieve this task.
There are two ways of creating things:
1-From nothingness into being, which is attributed to God alone;
2-From raw material into precious and valuable things.  This process is attributed to creative and God-inspired leaders, such as the newly-departed Patriarch Ignatius.
Patriarch Ignatius brought the see of Antioch through great changes after a long period of deterioration and degeneration during the age of darkness, resulting in a new Antioch. No Patriarch in the last three centuries has achieved such a great accomplishment, by changing not only Antioch itself, but by changing also the Orthodox climate, and the Christian council of churches. In his priestly, intellectual, educational and social journey, he embodied the role of the Orthodox Church in openness and interaction between different communities and religions, as well as in carrying the insignia of Christian authentic and ancient faith in both the East and the West.
Being a theologian and philosopher, steeped also in the knowledge of Christian history, he was able to express himself in profound and erudite as well as in very clear modes of speech and writing.  He was systematic and transparent in his way of talking and teaching.
No one has ever achieved a great thing, until he has determined and believed that God would lead him to achieve these great things.  This is the faith of great men.  As I accompanied him for over twenty years, I came across the many great things achieved by him. If every one of them were written down, it would occupy many articles and books.
After the repose of Patriarch Elias IV, his predecessor, Metropolitan Ignatius was elected on July 2, 1979 as the Patriarch of Antioch.  When the Shepherd’s staff was handed over to him, he declared saying: “on all horizons, the Holy Antiochian See is equal to its spiritual needs. Everywhere we see the same weakness, aspirations, and beginnings of hope. We seek godliness wherever it appears in order to pass it on to other places. If a parish is distinguished in merit, that merit is for the building of the one Body.”
In this same speech, he quoted Athanasius of Alexandria who said, “Among all the churches of the earth, can any be more alive than that of Antioch?” However, the new Patriarch Ignatius went on to underscore the international aspect of the church. He said: “In our renewal, we await much for worldwide Orthodoxy.”
During his tenure of 33 years on the throne of Antioch, Ignatius worked hard to instruct his flock through his many talks, media interviews, and writings. Some of his important books are the following: “The Resurrection and Modern Man” published by Saint Vladimir’s seminary; “Orthodoxy and the Issues of our Time,” and “From Mhardhe to the throne of Antioch,” published by Balamand seminary—this last one is his story written by the president of the Balamand University.
Patriarch Ignatius IV was a man of faith and dialogue, love and wisdom. He was as an example to be followed in spiritual, educational, humanitarian and social work. With his falling asleep, the Orthodox world has lost an international leader, and a man of moderation and reconciliation, who had always believed in dialogue among all Orthodox, as well as among non-Orthodox.
With his death, we have lost a great spiritual pillar, and I personally lost a mentor and a spiritual father.  In this critical time, He will be missed.  But the voice of his faith and reason will not be missed.
To whom he elevated the eminence of Antioch, and poured into it his soul and his virtues;
To the ingenious builder of the Orthodox world who has departed from among us, as his spirit has ascended to the world of eternal bliss, and joined the rank of great Patriarchs, Ignatius, Babylas, and Meletios, and John Chrysostom, as his companions in ministry and service;
To the great teacher who educated clergy and laity throughout the days of his life, leaving to us a rich legacy which will remain as a resource to the Orthodox world, through the establishment of the only Orthodox university in the world;
To my mentor and teacher who instilled in me, and in the hearts of his numerous students, his resourceful knowledge, and the proper clerical discipline and faith;
To this unique historical personality which pleased God and his Church, we raise today our fervent supplication, asking his intercession. May his memory be eternal!

(Posted on December 10, 2012)

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