Head of Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, Patriarch Ignatius IV, Dies at 91

(Photo Credit: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America)Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch and All The East presides over a meeting of the Archdiocese Synod of Bishops of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America in Boston, Mass. on October 31, 2008.

The head of the Syria-based, third-most senior church in Eastern Orthdoxy, His Beatitude, Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch and All the East, died on Wednesday.

The 91-year old Patriarch, who led the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East since 1979 from Damascus, had suffered a stroke earlier this week and had been admitted to Saint George Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon. He had reportedly been in the hospital's intensive care unit.

In recent months he had appealed to all Syrians "to accept each other and live as one nation" in the midst of a civil war which continues. He had urged the international community to work together to achieve peace and stability in Syria.

Metropolitan Tikhon, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, expressed his church's "deep sorrow" and said the Patriarch's advocacy for the youth of the Church stands at the heart of the legacy he leaves.

"The encouragement he offered to the Church's youth - touching many souls not only within the Patriarchate, but likewise through his involvement in and support of Syndesmos, the World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth - has been a witness to his concern for the Church's future, as well as her present, well being," Metropolitan Tikhon said.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA's Metropolitan Antony and Bishop Daniel also expressed "deep sorrow," saying the Patriarch had "served our Lord and his people with devotion for many years."

They spoke of the Patriarch's "wisdom and moderation."

"Amid the wave of attacks on the Orthodox Christians recently, he took a strong stand and yet kept the doors for dialogue open. He succeeded in keeping his links with the authorities while holding together his own people. He showed both wisdom and moderation while not appearing to be weak and helpless amidst violence and injustice," they wrote.

The Patriarch was born in 1921 in the village of Mhardey near Hama in Syria. He graduated from the St. Sergius Theological institute in Paris.

He was the founder of the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Balamand, Lebanon, where he once served as Dean.

He became bishop in 1961 and the Metropolitan of Lattakia in Syria in 1970. He became the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch under the name Ignatius IV in 1979.

Antioch, an ancient city that was located in what is today modern day Turkey near the border with Syria, had an important role in early Christianity. The Bible states St. Paul and St. Barnabas preached there and it was there that Jesus' disciples were first called Christians. The city is also mentioned numerous times throughout the Acts of the Apostles.

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