Patriarch Ignatius IV (Hazim) of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East passed away on 5 December 2012 in Lebanon, at the age of 92.
The World Council of Churches' General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has expressed “deepest sorrow” at the news.
Dr Tveit called his passing away the loss of a “great leader who spent his entire life in reorganising and developing the institutions of his church.”
He went on to say that “Patriarch Ignatius IV has earned the respect of both Christians and Muslims in the Middle East due to his systematic efforts to bring peace and reconciliation in the region.”
Ignatius IV held several significant positions within the WCC, including as an officer of the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism and a member of the Central Committee. He was a featured speaker at the WCC’s 4th Assembly in Uppsala, Sweden in 1968 and was elected as one of the WCC presidents.
Ignatius IV was one of the founding members of the Middle East Council of Churches.
While Ignatius IV mainly served his church in Lebanon and Syria, he was deeply engaged and recognized for his efforts for Christian-Muslim dialogue in the Middle East.
He was one of the founders of the Orthodox Youth Movement of Lebanon and Syria in 1942, through which he helped to organise and lead a renewal of church life in the Patriarchate of Antioch. He also helped to establish Syndesmos, the world fellowship of Orthodox youth and theological schools.
After his studies in France, he founded the University of Balamand in Lebanon which he then served for many years as dean.
Consecrated to the episcopacy in 1961, he was elected metropolitan of Lattakia in Syria in 1970, and elected patriarch of the Greek (Rum) Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East in 1979.
He has actively participated in inter-Orthodox relations, bilateral theological dialogues and, eventually, encounters of the heads of (Eastern) Orthodox churches.
In his tribute to Ignatius IV, the WCC General Secretary said, “All of World Christianity valued his tireless engagement for unity among Christians and for bearing witness regarding our Christian faith to the entire world.”
“We all have lost a great church leader, a spiritual father, a deep theologian, a promoter of inter-religious dialogue, especially among the Abrahamic religions, and an inspiring authority in ecumenical dialogue.”
The World Council of Churches "promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world."
An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.