Patriarch John X

Speech at the First Memorial of lgnatius lV of Thrice Blessed Memory

Our Lady of Balamand Monastery

'The Human beings of this region are dear to us. We spring from this land and rise to heaven. We go back to the roots of its history and we stretch into its future upon a vessel of hope. We are not a religious sect of limited significance. We are an epoch, a pulsation, and a yeast until all is bright and all is calm. We hold firm, lest a single one of us bend under his cross. We have love, theological vision, and a practical experience of this county that makes us feel we belong to all its communities."

(Nomination sermon of His Beatitude, Mariamite Cathedral, Damascus, 8th August, 1979)

Those were your words your Beatitude lgnatius at the Mariamite Church, the day you were handed the care and parenting staff in the late seventies of last century. Those words have echoed in the hearts of the faithful gathered here, as the walls of this church have witnessed the long history and authenticity of Antiochian faith.

We did not gather to mourn or lament lgnatius lV, but to reminisce through his life what pleases our hearts with hope, and inspires our souls with zeal and enthusiasm. When one speaks of lgnatius lV, words desert and fail us as we remember that child, young man, and dignified senior, who fed, since childhood, from the love of the Lord and in turn from his good parents and neighbourhood. Permeated with humble yeast and baked in the oven of the Lord's love, his goodness spread across the world.

When one speaks of lgnatius lV, of the fiery name - as his name means in Latin - of his fiery words and actions arising from the divine ardour which enflamed his heart. Remembering that child - Habib - who was embraced by Mharde Church as a chanter taught by his father. This ardour and fire burns him into our imagination, leaving his hometown in 1936 when he was 15 years old and heading to Tripoli and from there to Beirut where saw what the books of that era referred to as "Modernity". ln Beirut, the young adolescent knew how to behave like a wise bee, which St. Basil the Great, talked about; the bee that sees everything and surveys all the meadows, but does not get involved in everything but rather chooses the prettiest of flowers, absorbing their essence and spreading it around filled with love of the Lord and His holy Church.

The young man studied in Beirut, embraced by its guardian in those times. The American University of Beirut knew the young man who was never embarrassed by his priestly gown on campus, who worked hard to acquire the human sciences. One might question the purpose of caring about those sciences when the highest knowledge is through prayer and praying alone. lt is true, but the answer comes from the Fathers such as John the Golden Mouthed, who pursued various "earthly" educations in order to deliver the name of the Lord to all people and fill their hearts with His love and glory.

From Beirut the young man who became Deacon lgnatius preferred to pursue his theological education in France at St. Sergios lnstitute. He studied there and earned the highest degrees coming back to his Metropolitan to manage Al-Beshara School.

He was ordained a priest, archimandrite and then bishop in the year 1962. ln the same year, the Patriarch designated him as an abbot, upon his request, to Our Lady of Balamand Monastery. Back then, the Balamandian hill did not expect to prosper with the presence of Palmyra Bishop, who shook off the dust of time, displaying its sparkling spirit. ln Balamand, the young Bishop watered the Church of Christ church with his hard work. He oversaw the construction of the School and his name was bequeathed to the lnstitute of Theology. From Balamand, the Holy Synod appointed him as Metropolitan of Lattakia where he raised and embraced us, the young men of that place, guiding our steps towards the house of the Lord. ln July 1979, the Divine will chose him as a successor to Elias lV of thrice blessed memory as a spouse of the Apostles' throne.

I will mention in particular an incident during the patriarchal period of lgnatius lV which most clearly reflects the man to the present day. ln 1988, and in the midst of Lebanese hurtful events, His Beatitude initiated the project of the University of Balamand. Back then, he was asked: "Do you believe that the situation and the circumstances we are going through are suitable for building institutions and universities?" he replied saying: "lf their fate is to destroy, our fate is to build and remain." This indeed summarises our situation in the whole East; not all the scenes of death and destruction will take us, the Christians, off our land, because in the land of Antioch Christians have their own being. The bells of our churches that have rung out since ancient times will continue to ring in strength and pride and will spread the voice of love and goodwill to the ends of the earth. The bells of Antioch are bells of love and unity; they will not be silenced by the troubles of history nor the obstacles of the present; those will only strengthen our attachment to our land and increase the hope that will erase the ashes of these experiences.

I ask you, sir, from this platform, from Balamand that you watered with the elixir of your love, which grew to know you as a father and a preacher and a mastermind of the Bride of Christ; remember this East and the whole world in your prayers. I ask you with the words of St. lgnatius of Antioch, your intercessor: "Pray for the church of Syria, where Christ is her guardian' (St. tgnatius of Antioch letter to the Romans). Ask the Saviour to send his Divine peace upon our beloved Syria; ask him for the clemency of all in these countries, and mercy upon those who have sinned.