DAMASCUS — The Greek Orthodox patriarch of Syria, Ignatius IV Hazim, died on Wednesday in neighbouring Lebanon at the age of 92 after a stroke, the patriarchate said.
Hazim, who was born on April 4, 1920, “died [on Wednesday morning] at Saint George Hospital in Beirut after a stroke,” the Damascus-based patriarchate confirmed to AFP.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East is one of 14 autocephalous churches under the Orthodox communion. It counts around a million members, the majority of them Christians in Syria.
The country’s 1.8-million-strong Christian community has stayed on the sidelines of the nearly 21-month conflict against the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Lebanon, which has a large Greek Orthodox community, has declared the patriarch’s funeral a national day of mourning, though the date has not yet been specified.
Hazim graduated in philosophy from the American University of Beirut in 1945, and went on to study liturgy in France in 1949.
On returning to Lebanon, he founded the University of Balamand in the north of the Mediterranean country.
He was consecrated as a bishop in 1962, and chosen to become Antioch’s 157th patriarch on July 2, 1979.
In March 2012, a year on from the outbreak of a popular revolt against Assad, Hazim was quoted by pro-regime Syrian daily Al Watan as warning against any foreign intervention in Syria, saying it would be bad for “both Christians and Muslims”.
The Syrian National Council, one of the country’s main opposition coalitions, issued a statement on Wednesday, offering its condolences over the death of Patriarch Hazim.
“He played an exceptional role in national and public life, in Syria and in all countries of the East,” said the SNC.
“All Syrians boast that this church has always been one of the key supporters of public action in Syria... making efforts to consolidate values of freedom, sovereignty and the national unity of the Syrian people,” SNC chief George Sabra, himself a Christian, said in the statement.
Hazim died “at a time when the country is steeped in terrible suffering because of the regime’s criminal practices, acts of destruction... and the death of tens of thousands” of Syrians, the SNC added.
More than 41,000 people have been killed in violence in Syria since the outbreak of a revolt against Assad in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.