Patriarch of Antioch and all the East and head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, part of which is Kerala’s two-million-strong Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Ignatius Zakka Iwas I, passed away of cardiac problems in a Berlin hospital on Friday.
The Patriarch, 81, was in Berlin for medical treatment and Bishop Mathews Mar Themethios, India secretary of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, was among those with him at the time of his death, about 3 p. m. Indian time. The head of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church Catholicos Baselios Thomas I convened an emergency Synod of the church late on Friday to discuss action, including sending of a delegation to the funeral, in the wake of what a Church spokesman said was the unexpected death of the Patriarch.
The death of the Patriarch has cast a spell of gloom over the Malankara church as he had a close link with the Church in Kerala. His first Episcopal visit was to Kerala in 1982 after he was consecrated as the head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church in 1980.
The Patriarch had paid four visits to Kerala, the last of which was in September 2008, said Thampu George Thukalan, lay trustee of the Jacobite Church. He said that there were no details yet of the place and time of the funeral of the Patriarch. Spokesman for the Jacobite Church Varghese Kallappara said that the synod of the Universal Syrian Church would convene immediately to decide on the funeral. There is no certainty on the place of the funeral as there are serious internal disturbances in Syria, the seat of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church. The late Patriarch had shifted his base temporarily to Lebanon on account of the disturbances in Damascus.
The Patriarch was born near Mosul, near Baghdad, in April 1933 and completed his theological studies in Baghdad, Europe and the United States of America. He was consecrated Bishop of Baghdad in 1963.
During his tenure as the Patriarch of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, the longest period for a Patriarch so far, he forged strong relations with the Catholic Church and was an agent of friendship with sister churches, said Fr. Kallappara. He was also the president of the World Council of Churches and keenly wanted to have close sacramental and Episcopal relationship with the Catholic Church.
The Patriarch had consecrated 24 metropolitans for the Malankara church, the last of who was Mathews Mar Athanasios in 2012, Fr. Kallappara said.