When Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of Antioch and All The East was once asked, “Who is Ignatius IV?” he replied: “He is a human being who wants to be very simple and clear, and above all wants to be in the service of his church and humanity without any reservation.”
The head of the Orthodox Church, who hailed from the Syrian town of Mharda, embodied these concepts throughout the 33 years he spent at the helm of the patriarchate. His simplicity surpassed his position, and his clarity scared those around him, especially in times of crisis.
He had a unique outlook on things that stemmed from his own philosophy in life which called for “man to come first.” What Patriarch Hazim saw in politics no one else did, and what he dared to say many avoided saying.
Thus, he made media appearances on specific occasions. It was very hard to obtain statements from him, which were seen as “scoops.” But they did not contain direct [information], but rather implicit and scathing messages which he always loved to direct to sides concerned with regional issues, namely the central and ever present issue of Palestine, his birthplace Syria, and Lebanon, the country of confessions.
Hazim had called for security and stability [in Lebanon] and for justice for the Orthodox [community], which, in his opinion, has paid and is paying the price for being non-sectarian.
Hazim shared [characteristics] of his real name, which only a few know. He was “Habib” [“loved one” in Arabic]. He flooded everyone around him with love no matter where he went. In all the religious positions he assumed leading to the Patriarchate, he was a “Al-Mahboub [beloved]” who, with good words, founded many Orthodox institutions. He created them, was their engine, inspired their management and developed their performance.
“His Eminence” did not settle for half-solutions on man, whom “God created in his image and likeness.” He always advised his large parish: “Be the image of God. He did not create you alone, but created with you the other. You have to accept this other and cooperate, compliment and talk with [the other] so life would be complete.”
Hazim left a mark on the Eastern Orthodox community that will not be erased from history; of the 165 patriarchs who have reigned over Antioch, he was the first to found a university.
In the summer of 1962, Bishop Hazim moved to the patriarchal monastery of Our Lady of Balamand [in north Lebanon]. It was a small and neglected monastery. He worked actively to change its condition, and quickly revived the School of Balamand which had been founded by an Ottoman decree. He turned it into a secondary school and encouraged the people of Koura to enroll their children. He worked on forming an administrative and educational staff that befitted the Lady of Balamand, which he held as an icon over his chest.
When he was still bishop, Hazim founded the seminary which is credited with the graduation of most bishops of the Antioch Orthodox Church.
Before founding the seminary, he met with the deans of faculties of theology in Europe and established an academic program that grants a Bachelor’s Degree in theology. It happened with support from the Bishop of Metropolitan North America Anthony Bashir, who stipulated that the institute be managed by Bishop Hazim, who sponsored the students and worked on securing all requirements of the institute in the most difficult circumstances.
After his election as patriarch in 1979, Hazim adopted the name Ignatius IV. His eyes remained focused on Balamand Hill, where he laid the cornerstone for Balamand University in 1988. He toured the world to secure the necessary funds for expansion, equipment and development.
The result was the village of Balamand, which covers an area of 50,000 square meters, includes nine colleges with more than 4,000 students from various confessions and sects and 35 buildings of a beautiful architectural style.
He also sought to popularize its utility by expanding the university from Balamand Hill to Beirut. He also opened new branches in Akkar with the support of [former Vice] President Issam Fares, whose love for the patriarch prompted him to allocate big amounts to the Balamand village. There is also the Souq al-Gharb, which was built on a land granted by MP Walid Jumblatt.
This is not all. As he worked on achieving his main dream of developing the university, the Levantine patriarch worked on building many Orthodox educational, social and pastoral institutions.
Hazim has departed, not afraid for the Christians of the Levant, “because the Christians are the owners of the land, not nationals, thus no one can push them to emigrate or leave their land and churches that date back to Christianity in the East.”
Hazim departed while calling for the well-being of Syria, and asking God to grant its people wisdom to do what is right and in their real interest — not what is being plotted for them from the outside.
He left before feeling reassured about the Orthodox [community] in Lebanon, for whom he formed a special advisory committee to investigate the sect’s rights in the job market and to enhance its presence in the state. He explained to all critics that “the body is not a framework within the community, but aims to obtain the rights [of the sect].
In his final interview last Friday evening with As-Safir, which he openly professed his love for after a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Samir al-Muqbil at his home in Balamand, Patriarch Hazim was like someone writing his own will.
He addressed the Orthodox community by saying: “Not one of you needs permission to serve his community. The community needs everyone's efforts and welcomes everyone who works for it, and we do not want anyone to work within the political framework, but for obtaining the rights of the community.”
At the same meeting, Hazim advised Orthodox politicians: “Apply the policies that you want, but unite over the right that was given to us in the constitution like all other communities. You should not neglect the matter and direct all attention in this regard. We wish good luck to all the political bodies in the community.”
Hazim said he hoped that the Syrian people would accept the efforts being made for it rather than the interests of other countries. He called on Lebanon not to divide and to be one and united.