Condolences on death of Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas
21 March 2014
Your Eminences and Graces,
Respected members of the Holy Synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, faithful of the Syrian Orthodox Church worldwide,
It is with deep sorrow and compassion for the Syrian Orthodox Church that the World Council of Churches (WCC) has received the news of the passing away to eternal life of Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas I, supreme spiritual head of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East since 1980, a much respected church leader and pastor in the Middle East, and an eminent figure of the ecumenical movement both in Middle East and worldwide.
Patriarch Zakka served the ecumenical movement for many decades. He was elected as one of the WCC Presidents from Harare (1998) to Porto Alegre (2006) in recognition of his longstanding ecumenical commitment. As Metropolitan of his Church he had participated in many meetings and committees of the WCC, including its central committee. He had also represented his church as an observer to the Vatican II. His contribution to the dialogue of his church with Rome resulted in important Christological agreements, helping to overcome theological confusions and misunderstandings which had divided Christians for centuries.
He was also deeply involved in the ecumenical movement in the Middle East, being among the founders and subsequently a supporter and leader of the Middle East Council of Churches. He had developed excellent relationships and channels of collaborations with the heads of the other Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East, and with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.
His Holiness was a significant scholar and author of many works on Syriac language, theology and liturgy, and he cared deeply for his people and for the contribution the Syriac Christian tradition could make to the wider world. His care for the education of his clergy led to his establishment of the major Mor Ephrem Seminary in Ma`arat Sayyidnaya near Damascus. It is particularly sad that during the last decade of his life he witnessed the turmoil and suffering of his people, both in Iraq, where he had been Metropolitan for almost 20 years, and in Syria, where he resided as Patriarch. His wisdom in the context of these extremely difficult situations will be sorely missed.
Many in the leadership of the World Council of Churches had the privilege of working closely with Patriarch Ignatius Zakka Iwas throughout the many years of his association and involvement in the ecumenical movement. Many recall his caring love for all, his genuine hospitality and his kind, encouraging words in all circumstances. We are indebted to him for the contributions he has made over the years and the significant leadership he has demonstrated in the course of his long years of service.
We thank God for the life and witness of Patriarch Ignatius Zakka Iwas; and, we offer our heartfelt condolences to his church and his beloved spiritual sons and daughters.
May his memory remain eternal in our Lord’s mind and in the hearts of all who knew and loved him.
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary