Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East and the Supreme Head of the Syrian Orthodox Church, died Friday in Germany aged 81 after a long battle with illness.
The Patriarch was under medication for a long time due to fragile health conditions. A massive heart attack was the cause for his death.
Iwas was born 21 April 1933 in Mosul, Iraq. On 17 November 1957, Patriarch Yaqub III ordained Iwas a priest. On 17 November 1963, he was ordained as metropolitan bishop of Mosul.
Following the death of Patriarch Yaqub III on 25 June 1980, Iwas was elected by the Synod of the Church to be the 122nd Syriac Patriarch of Antioch. He was enthroned 14 September 1980.
Patriarch Iwas had been residing in Lebanon since the beginning of the civil war in Syria.
He was a longtime contemporary, friend to Egypt's Pope Shenouda III. Though ill, he attended the funeral of Pope Shenouda in March 2012 and was present for the enthronement of Pope Tawadros II in November 2012.
On Friday night, the general secretariat of the Holy Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch issued a statement saying:
“In this time of mourning and grief, the general secretariat of the Holy Synod declares that the time of the funeral will be appointed later when the procedures of transfer of his saintly body from Germany to Lebanon and then to Syria, are completed. We commend that this coming Sunday, 23 March 2014, be consecrated to offer prayers and celebrate the Divine Liturgy for the peaceful rest of his pure soul and we will announce the procedures and dates of the funeral, burial and condolences when ready.”
The Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the first Christian communities established by the Apostle Saint Peter. It uses Syriac as its official and liturgical language and has members throughout the world. It is estimated that the Syriac Church has about 7,800,000 members globally, including around 5,600,000 members in India.
It belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family of churches with the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church since the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451.
The Syriac Orthodox Church is very active in ecumenical dialogues. It has been a member church of World Council of Churches since 1960 and Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas was a past president of the same body. It is also involved in ecumenical dialogues with the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches.