We do not fear the experiments, because we seize…
Patriarch John X
Speech at the First Memorial of Ignatius IV 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 Ignatius at the Mariamite Church, the day you were handed the pastoral 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 the Antiochian faith.
We do not gather to mourn or lament Ignatius IV, but to remember incidents from his life, all these things that please our hearts with hope, and inspire our souls with zeal and enthusiasm. When one speaks of Ignatius IV, words desert us and fail us as we remember that young man and dignified senior, who was fed, since childhood, from the love of the Lord and in turn from his good parents and environment. His Humility like a yeast permeated and baked in the oven of the Lord’s love, his goodness spread across the world.
When one speaks of Ignatius IV, of this 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 fervour and fire burns him into our imagination, leaving his hometown in 1936 when he was 16 years old and heading to Tripoli and from there to Beirut where saw what the books of that era referred to as the “modern” time. In 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.
This young man studied in Beirut, and was embraced by its overseer in those times. The American University of Beirut knew this young man who was never embarrassed by wearing his priestly gown on campus. He worked hard to study in humanities. One might question the purpose of caring about those sciences when the highest knowledge is through prayer and praying alone. It is true, but the answer comes from the Fathers such as John Chrysostom, who pursued “earthly” knowledge in order to preach the name of the Lord to all people and fill their hearts with God's love and glory.
From Beirut the young man who became Deacon Ignatius preferred to pursue his theological education in France at St. Sergios' Institute. He studied there and earned the highest degrees, returning to his Metropolitan to manage Al-Bishara School.
He was ordained a priest, an archimandrite and later one a bishop in the year 1962. In the same year, and upon Bishop Ignatius' request, the Patriarch appointed him as the Abbot of Our Lady of Balamand Monastery. Back then, the Balamandian hill did not expect to prosper with the presence of the Bishop of Palmyra, who shook off the dust of time, displaying its sparkling spirit. In Balamand, the young Bishop watered the Church of Christ with his hard work. He oversaw the construction of the School and his name was bequeathed to the Institute of Theology. After Balamand, the Holy Synod appointed him as the Metropolitan of Lattakia where he raised and embraced us, the young men of that place, guiding our steps towards the house of the Lord. In July 1979, the Divine will chose him as the successor of Patriarch Elias IV of Thrice Blessed Memory on the Apostolic See of Antioch.
Iwill mention in particular an incident during the patriarchal period of Ignatius IV which most clearly reflects the personality of this man. In 1988, and in the midst of Lebanese troubling events, His Beatitude initiated the project of building the University of Balamand. Back then, he was asked: “Do you believe that the situation and the circumstances we are going through in Lebanon are suitable for building institutions and universities?” He replied by saying: “If some are destined to destroy, we are made to build and remain.” This indeed summarises our situation in the whole East; not all the scenes of death and destruction will take us, Christians, off our land, because in the land of Antioch Christians have their being. The bells of our churches that have rung out since ancient times will continue to ring with 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 or by the obstacles of the present; those will only strengthen our attachment to our land and increase the hope that will take away the ashes of these experiences.
Iask you, from this platform, from Balamand that you have watered with your love, from the place where people grew to know you as a father and a preacher and an overseer of the Bride of Christ: remember this East and the whole world in your prayers. I ask you with the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, your intercessor: “Pray for the church of Syria, where Christ is Her guardian” (St. Ignatius of Antioch letter to the Romans). Ask the Saviour to send his Divine peace upon our beloved Syria; ask Him to shower his mercies upon all in this land.
Tell Him we do not fear the trials, because we seize strength from His face, but eventually we are humans who fear pain. Tell the Saviour that we miss our brothers the Metropolitans Youhanna and Paul and ask Him to protect them and bring them back safe, along with all abducted people.
Beloved Master, look down from Heaven and protect our precious Lebanon and ask the Saviour to plant His peace in the hearts of its children, so that they all know that they are entrusted with this precious land of the Cedars. Make them learn from the Cedars that spread horizontally across the land and rise high in the mountains, that reaching glory, progress and prosperity in the country and society need stretching their hands horizontally to meet other hands, accepting the other and join forces together to face the burdens of this time.
The Saviour has entrusted you with His church. In your time, the Church healed her wounds and regained her unity that was broken because of prejudice. Pray to the Lord to give us wisdom to keep this church united and undisturbed. Pray for Him to educate your children in Antioch so they may learn that the Church where the Apostles were first called Christians deserves all their efforts that aim at keeping her united and shining with the light of Jesus.
Ask Him to surround our world and countries with His divine power and protect them with His mercy. To thee be the glory unto ages of ages, Amen.
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