BEIRUT: Lebanese political and religious leaders Wednesday lamented the death of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim as a great loss for Lebanon and the Arab world, praising him as “a man of moderation, dialogue and reconciliation” who defended Muslim-Christian coexistence.
Hazim died at a Beirut hospital Wednesday morning, a day after suffering a stroke. 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 with a cerebral failure.
Soon after news of Hazim’s death spread, churches in the northern region of Koura tolled their bells as Lebanese officials, including President Michel Sleiman, visited St. Nicolas Church in Beirut to offer condolences. An acting Greek Orthodox patriarch will be nominated Thursday.
Funeral services for Hazim will be held at noon Sunday at St. Nicolas Church in Ashrafieh before the casket is transported to the Mariamite Cathedral in Damascus.
Hazim’s funeral will be held at the Mariamite Cathedral at 2 p.m. Monday after which he will be laid to rest at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate’s cemetery in Damascus, according to a statement released by the institution.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati issued instructions declaring the day of the funeral as a national day of mourning.
Sleiman said in a statement that Hazim’s death was “a loss not only for his sect, but also for Lebanon and the Arabs given his wisdom, courage and repeated calls for dialogue.”
He later visited St. Nicolas Church to offer condolences. With Hazim’s death, “a glorious page of the life of a man of faith, dialogue and knowledge has been turned,” Sleiman wrote in the golden condolences book.
Mikati said Hazim’s death was “a great loss” not only for the Greek Orthodox Church, but also for all of the Lebanese, the Arabs and the Eastern churches.
Describing Hazim as an example to be followed in spiritual, humanitarian and social work, Mikati said in a statement released by his office: “With the passing of Patriarch Hazim, Lebanon and the Arab world have lost a man of moderation and reconciliation, who had always believed in dialogue among all sects, religions and civilizations as well as in [sectarian] coexistence away from fanaticism and isolation.”
Mikati, who is currently in Italy, also praised Hazim’s role in defending the Arab causes, particularly the cause of the Palestinians and their right to 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.”
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri lauded Hazim as a man who called for an inter-Lebanese dialogue, safeguarding unity and renouncing violence.
“With the loss of Patriarch Hazim, the Lebanese have lost a great, national and spiritual pillar. They look forward to the Greek Orthodox Church to remain a source of giving and love and faithful to its heritage in this Arab East,” Hariri said in a statement released by his office.
The head of the Future Movement said Hazim confronted several challenges in Lebanon and the region with “solid stances that safeguarded the values of [sectarian] coexistence, moderation and openness.” Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the Future parliamentary bloc, said with Hazim’s death, Lebanon and the Arab world have lost “a major pillar of moderation and wisdom.”
“Patriarch Hazim was a keystone of openness and coexistence in Lebanon and the Arab world,” Siniora said in a statement. “He was also a fundamental sponsor and guarantor of [inter-Lebanese] reconciliation. His stances were based on reason, sought calm and stability and were committed to the Arab and Lebanese interest.”
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai offered condolences over Hazim’s death, saying in a telegram that the late patriarch had led his church with “much enthusiasm, dedication and wisdom.”
Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani expressed deep regret over Hazim’s death, saying the late patriarch was “one of the great religious and Arab symbols in Lebanon and the world.”
He described Hazim as “a man of moderation, openness, dialogue, love and coexistence between Muslims and Christians.” Qabbani called Beirut Metropolitan Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi to offer condolences.
Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, deputy head of the Higher Shiite Council, and Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Naim Hasan also called Audi to offer condolences over Hazim’s death.
Deputy Parliament Speaker Farid Makari described Hazim as “a great man” who led the Greek Orthodox community through a difficult time in the region. He said Hazim had always called for unity and dialogue and was the “resounding voice of freedom.”
Born in the village of Mhardeh near Hama in Syria in 1920, Hazim was the son of an Arab Orthodox family.
After finishing school in Hama, Syria, Hazim moved to Beirut where he studied literature and started serving the Orthodox Church in Lebanon. Hazim founded the University of Balamand in Lebanon which he then served for many years as dean.
In 1971 he was appointed Orthodox Metropolitan of the Syrian city of Latakia. He was appointed Greek Orthodox Patriarch of the Levant and Antioch in 1979. – With additional reporting by Dana Khraiche