BEIRUT: Greek Orthodox Patriarch of the Levant and Antioch Ignatius IV Hazim’s body was taken to Damascus Sunday, after a Mass at Beirut’s St. Nicolas Cathedral.
In the Syrian capital, hundreds of faithful flocked to the Mariamite Cathedral to bid farewell to the man who served as patriarch for 33 years.
Hazim, who was born in the Hama village of Mhardeh, will be buried in Damascus Monday.
He died last week after suffering a stroke at the age of 92.
In a Mass attended by President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, archbishops and representatives of Orthodox churches from around the world said prayers for Hazim in the crowded Beirut church.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and a number of other religious figures also took part in Sunday’s Mass.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced Sunday as an official day of mourning for the patriarch.
During the ceremony at St. Nicolas Cathedral, Sleiman, who has praised Hazim for his moderation and wisdom, awarded the patriarch the National Medal of the Cedar.
Many officials, who offered their condolences to Lebanon’s Greek Orthodox community and to Hazim’s family, also described the patriarch as a man of moderation.
“Lebanon bids you farewell with pain,” Sleiman said in his speech. “There is pain because the sources of faith in this country will miss your wisdom and valuable love.
“On this day of farewell, I place this national symbol on your coffin. You will remain deeply rooted in our hearts and minds forever,” he added, placing the medal on Hazim’s casket.
Kirill I, Russian Orthodox patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus’, praised Hazim, saying that he was one of the most influential Christian leaders of the world.
“Today we pay our respect and honor to the oldest among us in the Orthodox Church,” Kirill said.
“Patriarch Hazim had a big role in the church given his deep understanding of philosophy and theology, and his work in spreading the word of the Bible,” Kirill added.
Kirill added that Patriarch Hazim always stood by the principle of coexistence during his service in the church.
“The patriarch always defended the principle of peaceful coexistence between different religions and cultures and greatly contributed to peace in the Middle East when countries were falling into a cycle of violence,” Kirill said.
Hazim, a student of philosophy, graduated from the American University of Beirut in 1945.
In 1971, Hazim was appointed Orthodox metropolitan of the Syrian city of Latakia. In 1979, at the height of Lebanon’s devastating Civil War, Hazim was appointed patriarch of the Levant and the Antioch.
The Greek Orthodox Church Friday elected Metropolitan Saba Esper as a temporary successor to Hazim.