Holy Synod’s welcome Speech at the Episcopal Golden Jubilee of the Holy Father Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka-I Iwas at Holy Spirit University, Kaslik, Lebanon on 17 November 2013.
Your Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East and Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church,
Your Holiness, Beatitudes, Eminences, Graces and Reverends,
Your Excellencies ambassadors and officials,
Reverend Fathers, monks and nuns,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to welcome you all, in the name of my brethren the metropolitans, members of the holy synod of our Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and in my name. We would like to thank you for meeting this humble invitation to gather together in this great hall to honor a great personality, unique in history which was not generous with a kin for humanity.
We do not say this as a form of a son’s recognition of his father; if we abridge of describing him, strangers and insiders alike, history and time will not abridge in praising the father of the fathers, the teacher of the generations, the deacon, monk, priest, bishop and patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas.
He is the dean of the patriarchs in the entire world and the leader of the journey of the glorious Syriac nation since 33 years. He walks before us courageously and calmly, full of wisdom and cautiousness. He knows where he will go because the hand of God pastors him and the Spirit of God hovers on his head. We accompany him in his blessed journey, with trust, love and hope, because we know beforehand that he will lead us to peace and fertile pastures. We look at him and find the great ancestors in his person, and the image of a bright future in his eyes.
The Lord has chosen him from the womb and blessed him from his youth. He granted him virtues and graces, garnished him with talents of the Spirit. His love overflowed in the church, one, universal, holy and apostolic church, especially to his Syrian Orthodox Church and its eternal heritage. This love grew with him as he attained one church office after the other. What made this love more beautiful and active is the knowledge and education along with culture and zeal.
Since his childhood, his holiness is passionate about education; he took the books as companions and started exploring their contents especially when he was a student in the seminary in Mosul. Upon his graduation from there, he became a monk and was summoned to be a secretary in the patriarchate. He was a disciple of two great patriarchs, Patriarch Aphrem I Barsoum and Jacob III. He made good use of the wisdom and education, learning from their leadership and administration. When he was elected to the Episcopal rank for the diocese of Mosul, his birthplace, and became its metropolitan on the 17th of November 1963 on the Sunday of the annunciation of the conception of John the Baptist. He was transferred then to the diocese of Baghdad in 1969. He declared his intended working program upon his enthronement in Al-Tahrah Church in Mosul while relying on the Lord for support and on the love of the people. He said: “I am for the diocese with my whole and heart. No one challenges my love to it. My time and power will be entirely for the diocese I was entrusted. The responsibility is great, I know this and assess it right, but the burden will be light in the Lord Christ Jesus who carries the troubles of this world. I have come to serve not to preside, this is my motto and way.”
During his patriarchate, he cared to build great edifices, monasteries, seminary, churches and others. In a short time, he prepared hundreds of monks, nuns, priests, deacons and deaconesses after supply them with his special character. Here they follow his footsteps. Blessed are we to have graduated from the university of the patriarch Zakka I Iwas.
What is undisputed is that his holiness is the first and elite in the domain of ecumenical action for the unity of the church of Christ – East and West. He attended Vatican II as an observer when he was a monk and bishop. He worked in the Central Committee for the WCC. He was elected co-president of the WCC and MECC, let alone his permanent encouragement of the Ecumenical Movement sharing its troubles and vision.
If we ask anyone who met his holiness about this personality, we see them describing the light that shines from his face, the human spirit that he enjoys. This spirit became clear when he took over the administration of the church, no one can deny his helping the poor and needy. He opened the gates of his heart to all those who seek him, especially those who were forced to emigrate from their homelands. His holiness supported them financially and morally. He sent priests, monks and bishops to serve our churches in the Diaspora which became a source of pride for us all.
We should allude here on the national stands of his holiness and his constant support for the rights of the weakened people. He always calls for equality and common cohabitation within national unity regardless of religious affiliation. He stood against the great powers who envy the wealth of our nations, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. He assures that he is from Antioch and Syria where the disciples were first called Christians. Here is where the Christian message was spread to the entire world. From the East, the Syrian fathers constructed churches and universities. They translated books and sciences. This is why his holiness Patriarch Zakka concentrated his efforts to enroot man in his land and attach him to his Syriac roots that go back thousands of years to the dawn of history. He refuses to waste the efforts of his predecessors and ancestors and calls for the attachment to our land that contains the relics of our saints and martyrs.
It is true that we are happy and celebrating this joyful and special occasion; but our joy is mixed with worry, sorrow and fear.
How not to worry when 207 days have passed and we still ignore the fate of the two abducted bishops: Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi. We know for sure that your holiness’ heart is in great pain over your student, servant and bishop Mor Gregorius Youhanna Ibrahim, Metropolitan of Aleppo and Environs. Since the first hours of the kidnapping, you were praying and beseeching the Lord God for his sake. You sought the men of power and good will in the world, the members of the Holy Synod and all the Syrian faithful to work seriously to the release of the two bishops and their return along with all the abductees.
How not to have sorrow when Syria, our beloved country, the residence of your Antiochian see, your holiness, is sad and in pain. It is wounded by the enemies of God and humanity. Its people are suffering from massacres, murders, kidnapping, looting, hunger, thirst, immigration and all criminal actions that reach its citizens. All this after a time when Syria was a role model for common cohabitation, fraternity and national unity.
How not to fear when we ignore the fate of the Christians in the East and ignore what is hidden in the ugly plans to drain the region from its Christians and hide their history and civilization. What happened with the Christians in the East and especially in Egypt, Mosul, Baghdad, Nineveh, Al-Jazeerah, Aleppo, Homs, Wadi el Nasara, Damascus, Maaloula, Sadad, etc… is but a confirmation of our doubts and a certainty for our fears. However, we will always repeat you words that you taught us, your holiness: “we are not guests in this east, the cradle of Christianity, we are its essence. All the persecutions and wars over the centuries were not able to uproot us from our land, we will remain as our Holy Christ ordered us and as the holy books teach us, callers for peace and apostles of love. We will work for the good of all humanity to uplift injustice, enduring all suffering with divine patience.
With all the sufferings of our troubled East, we still have our dear country Lebanon where you were honored with the supreme ‘National Cedar’ decoration. This esteemed country is overwhelmed with assassinations, bombings, clashes and endless political and religious conflicts. We hope that the consequences are not weighty because we, the Syriacs, are unfairly treated in Lebanon. You know our situation, your holiness: in the years of your reign on the Church, how many times did you have official and private visits to officials? How many times did you write and seek to lift unfairness from the faithful of your Church? However, no one gives an ear. How many times were you promised, but did not meet their promises? We are still out of the political game and the distribution of offices and ranks though we are the true historical inheritors of the land of the Syriacs and we continuously struggle in Lebanon whose soil has been mixed with the bloods of our martyrs as well as other honored martyrs. Despite the existence of many able people from our confession, our rights remain marginalized and forgotten on the national level like in the government, parliament and public offices. Where is the conscience and heart of the Lebanese leaders who claim justice and democracy in word but work on a confessional basis belonging to their parties first instead of sowing love, fraternity, peace and harmony?
Your Holiness and Father,
50 years of Episcopal consecration: this needs more than 50 volumes to talk of a pastor and good teacher, a courageous leader and wise administrator, original ecclesial architect and tender spiritual father, like your holiness.
50 years in the prelacy whereby you serve the holy church with great sacrifice and devotion for the sake of its progress with love, humility and self-denial.
50 years of raising leaders and servants for the church with your guidance, advice and experience,
50 years of administration and leadership and you are enduring the cross of responsibility with patience, trust and kindness,
50 years of ambition in the Lord’s vineyard and graces,
50 years of generous and happy giving,
50 years of aspiring complete church unity with faith and hope,
50 years of calling for national unity and common cohabitation, creating peace among countrymen in the East.
We congratulate your holiness from the depth of our heart and pray the Lord to grant you long life and good health with patience to endure the cross of your bodily suffering and the pains of your old age. You are our pride and the crown of our heads.
Holy Father, we will walk in your footsteps and live by your teachings; we will not leave our land, our past, our present and our future. We promise you to be ambassadors of the church of Christ and the Syriacs and you all over the world to spread knowledge, civilization, love and peace so that the world would know who the Syriacs are.
Thank you for your presence and attention,
Long live His Holiness Patriarch Zakka and long live our dear Orient and the Syriacs everywhere, Barekhmor.
(Translation by Father Joseph Bali)