Ignatius Zakka Iwas: Leader of one of the oldest Christian sects who was noted for his contributions to ecumenical dialogue

 

The Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Ignatius Zakka Iwas, was the leader of one of world’s oldest Christian sects. He was noted for his involvement in ecumenical dialogue – he was a president of the World Council of Churches and was also a prolific author. He had acted as an observer at the Second Vatican Council.

His official title was the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East; his church, known as the Syrian Orthodox Church, was founded in 452 after a schism with the bulk of the world’s Christians. The sect has more than 4 million members, living in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, although there are also significant communities in Germany, Sweden and the US, where immigrants introduced the faith in the late 19th century.

Iwas was born in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. He was enthroned as patriarch in 1980 in St George’s Patriarchal Cathedral in Damascus. Before that he served as metropolitan bishop of Mosul; he was the archbishop of Baghdad and Basra when he became patriarch. Since then he lived and worked in Damascus, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

He also spent two years in the early 1960s in New York, studying at the Episcopal Church’s General Theological Seminary in downtown Manhattan. When he conducted services at St George Cathedral in the walled section of Damascus, Iwas spoke in Syriac, a modern version of Aramaic, the language Christ is believed to have spoken.

In February Iwas, who had been suffering a long illness, was admitted into a German hospital, where he died.

Sanharib Iwas (Ignatius Zakka Iwas), Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East: born Mosul, Iraq 21 April 1933; died Kiel, Germany 21 March 2014.

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