BEIRUT: Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim passed away Wednesday morning at a Beirut hospital after suffering a stroke a day earlier. He was 92.
Hazim, who served as the head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of the Levant and Antioch for 33 years, was admitted to Saint George hospital in Ashrafieh Tuesday after suffering a stroke, sources told The Daily Star.
Following news of his death, churches in the northern region of Koura tolled their bells as Lebanese officials arrived at St. Nicolas Church in Beirut to offer condolences.
Hazim's funeral will be held Sunday at 12 p.m. at St. Nicolas Church while an acting patriarch will be nominated Thursday.
Lebanese leaders described Hazim’s passing as a loss for Lebanon and the region and praised his role as a religious leader who believed in the principle of coexistence.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that the day of Hazim’s funeral would be a national day for mourning and praised the late patriarch for the role he played in the region.
“The absence of Hazim represents a great loss not only for the Orthodox Church and the sects in Lebanon and the world but also for the Lebanese, the Arabs and the Eastern churches,” Mikati said in a statement.
He also described Hazim as a role model for “spiritual, humanitarian and social work.”
“With the passing of Hazim, Lebanon and the Arab world loses a man of moderation and consensus who believed in inter-faith and inter-sect dialogue as well as coexistence rather than extremism and isolation,” Mikati said.
The prime minister, who is currently in Italy, also praised Hazim's role in defending the Palestinian cause and their right for an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, saying that his struggle for such an issue made him deserve the title of "the patriarch of the Arabs."
During a ceremony at St. Nicolas Church, a group of priests carried Hazim’s coffin and lowered it near the alter at around 3:30 p.m. Beirut Metropolitan Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi took part in the ceremony where the prelates paid their respect.
President Michel Sleiman, in a statement, offered his condolences to the Orthodox Church in Lebanon and Syria.
“[Hazim] is a loss not only for his sect but also for Lebanon and the Arabs given his wisdom, courage and repeated calls for dialogue,” he said, according to the president’s press office.
Born in the village of Mhardey near Hama in Syria in 1920, Hazim was the son of an Arab Orthodox family and was attracted to Church service from an early age.
After finishing school in Hama, Syria, Hazim moved to Beirut where he studied literature and started serving the Orthodox Church in Lebanon.
Hazim helped found the global Society of Orthodox Youth Organizations and he became a member of the Sacred Convention of Orthodox Patriarchs in 1961 and in 1971 he was appointed Orthodox Metropolitan of the Syrian city of Lattakia.
Deputy Parliament Speaker Farid Makari described Hazim Wednesday as a historic figure who led the Orthodox community through a difficult time in the region.
“The Orthodox community has lost a great, historic man who led his people with great wisdom in a difficult phase of the region’s history,” Makari said in a statement.
“We assure him that his community will be fine ...and its role will remain one that is primarily aimed at building a new, democratic Syria and in strengthening stability in Lebanon and nation-building,” he added.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the passing of Hazim represented the loss of a national and spiritual pillar of Lebanon.
"Lebanese, with the loss of Patriarch Hazim, have lost a great, national and spiritual pillar as they look forward for the Greek Orthodox Church to remain a source of giving and love and which can remain loyal to its heritage in the Arab world,” Hariri said in a statement.
Hariri, the head of the Future Movement, added that Hazim confronted several challenges in the region with a solid stance aimed at preserving the principles of coexistence, moderation and openness.