His Holiness Mar Ignatius Zakka Iwas I, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, died in Germany on 21 March 2014 aged 80 years.
Sanharib (a Syriac version of Sennacherib) Iwas was born in Mosul, Iraq, on 21 April 1933. He was educated at St. Thomas Syriac Orthodox School in Mosul before entering St. Ephrem’s seminary, Mosul, in 1946, where he was given the name Zakka. He was ordained a reader in 1948 and subdeacon in 1953. The following year he took his monastic vows and moved to Homs to serve in the secretariat of Patriarch Mar Aphram I Barsoum (1933-1957), himself a native of Mosul. He was ordained a deacon in 1955 and priested on 17 November 1957 by the new Patriarch, Mar Ignatius Yacoub III (1957-1980), who had been one of his teachers at St. Ephrem’s seminary.
His further studies took him to the General Theological Seminary and University in New York 1960-62, where he studied oriental languages and completed Master’s degrees in English at City University and in Pastoral Theology at the GTS. He then became an official observer at the Second Vatican Council 1962-63. On his return to Iraq he was consecrated as Metropolitan of Mosul by Patriarch Mart Yacoub on 17 November 1963 under the episcopal name of Severios. In 1969 he was translated to the Archbishopric of Baghdad & Basra and in 1978 given the additional episcopal oversight of the newly erected diocese of Australia.
When Patriarch Yacoub died on 25 June 1980, the Holy Synod elected Mar Severios Zakka to be his successor and he was enthroned as Mar Ignatius Zakka I on 14 September 1980.
The good relations which existed in Syria between all faiths was fertile ground for developing ecumenical relations with other churches. In 1984 Patriarch Zakka visited Rome and he and Pope John Paul II issued a Common Declaration, declaring:
“Our identity in faith, though not yet complete, entitles us to envisage collaboration between our Churches in pastoral care, in situations which nowadays are frequent both because of the dispersion of our faithful throughout the world and because of the precarious conditions of these difficult times. It is not rare, in fact, for our faithful to find access to a priest of their own Church materially or morally impossible. Anxious to meet their needs and with their spiritual benefit in mind, we authorize them in such cases to ask for the sacraments of Penance, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick from lawful priests of either of our two sister Churches, when they need them.”
Not all Oriental Orthodox churches were happy that this represented the common mind of the Oriental Orthodox family of churches and Patriarch Zakka subsequently conceded that all future dialogue should be as a family and not as individual churches.
Especially fruitful were the very close relations which existed between the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, where a measure of sacramental intercommunion was established which went further than any other co-operation between the two Orthodox families. In November 1991 the two churches authorised bishops and priests to participate at baptisms, weddings and funerals at each other’s churches; refused to receive faithful transferring between churches; and although it stopped short of eucharistic concelebration, allowed priests of each church to administer the sacraments to the faithful of the other when there was no priest of their own tradition available.
The exodus of Syriac Orthodox Christians from their historic homelands in Turkey and Iraq continued to increase during Mar Zakka’s patriarchate and large diaspora communities were founded across Europe, Canada, Australia and the USA. The dwindling population in the Middle East was overshadowed by the thriving daughter church in Kerala among the Malankara Christians. Relations with the expanding but litigious Indian communities, which had been a source of tension since the nineteenth century, were briefly reconciled (1964-1975) under Patriarch Yacoub III, but by the time Patriarch Zakka succeeded there were two rival Catholicoi, one appointed by Antioch and the other independent of it. Patriarch Zakka remained in close touch with the Church in Kerala and visited it in 1982, 2000, 2004 and 2008. When Catholicos Mar Basilius Paulose II died in 1996, there was the possibility of resolving the split and for some six years Patriarch Zakka avoided appointing a successor. However, the intransigents on both sides were not amenable to a resolution and vested interests required the Patriarchal party to have a Catholicos, the pressure for which Patriarch Zakka could not resist.
In 1998 Pope Shenouda III, Catholicos Aram of Cilicia and Patriarch Zakka began meeting regularly as the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East, gathering annually to discuss issues of common interest and establishing a permanent secretariat. These continued until 2007 when the deteriorating health of both Pope Shenouda and Patriarch Zakka led to delays in arranging further meetings. There were some who feared that the mild Patriarch Zakka was heavily influenced by the powerful personality of Pope Shenouda but the close collaboration of the heads of churches was also founded on a warm personal respect and affection. Although unable to walk and in obvious failing health, Patriarch Zakka insisted on attending the funeral of Pope Shenouda in March 2012 and the enthronement of Pope Tawadros II eight months later.
The disastrous fallout following from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Syrian uprising of 2012 were a source of great grief to the ailing Patriarch, whose last years were clouded by the disasters faced by his faithful, not least the kidnapping of his friend and colleague, Mar Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim of Aleppo in April 2013.
Abba Seraphim first met Patriarch Zakka during his visit to Syria in August 2000, when he was received by His Holiness at the Patriarchate in Bab Touma in the old city of Damascus, and lunched a deux with the Patriarch. Having received the news of the death of His Holiness Abba Seraphim wrote to Archbishop Athanasius Touma, Patriarchal Vicar fore Britain of the Syriac Orthodox Church, to offer on behalf of the clergy and people of the British Orthodox Church, sincere condolences on his passing. In the tradition of the Coptic Patriarchate, the Patriarch of Antioch is commemorated at every service when prayers are offered for the Pope & Patriarch of Alexandria, and in recent months those prayers have been offered with deep intent.
In his letter Abba Seraphim wrote, “In all my personal meetings with him – in Damascus, Cairo or in London – I found him kind and gracious. Our hearts were greatly touched by his attendance both at the funeral of the late Pope Shenouda and the Enthronement of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, even though he himself was in frail health. As his body began to fail, the strength and determination of his spirit was symbolised by the power and beauty of his voice, which remained strong.
The clergy and people of the British Orthodox Church are saddened that His Holiness ended his long and distinguished pontificate amidst such trials and tribulations for the Syriac people, especially in Iraq and Syria, as we know his heart was staunch in defending goodness and truth. We pray that he will rest in peace and awake to a joyful resurrection and trust in our Merciful Saviour to raise up a worthy successor to this great high priest”.
On 5 April ecumenical representatives attended a memorial service for the late Patriarch Zakka, held at the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral of St. Thomas in Acton, West London. His Eminence Archbishop Mar Athanasius Toma Dawod, presided, assisted by the priests and deacons of his diocese. Among the speakers were His Grace Bishop Vahan, Primate of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Great Britain & Ireland and President of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches. Abba Seraphim, Father Peter Farrington, Deacon Daniel Malyon and Subdeacon Trevor-James Maskery attended from the British Orthodox clergy in London. Archbishop Athanasius warmly welcomed all those who attended and spoke lovingly of the late Patriarch, like many, recalling with affection, his presence at the Cathedral in Acton when he consecrated it in July 2010.
His Holiness Moran Mar Baselios Marthoma Didymus I, Catholicos Emeritus of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian (Indian Orthodox) Church, died at Paramula, Kerala, on 26 May 2014, aged 94 years.
C.T. Thomas was born in Nedumbram near Thiriuvalla, Kerala, on 29 October 1921. In 1939, at the age of eighteen he joined Mount Tabor Dayara (monastery) in Pathanapuram, as the disciple of Thoma Mar Dionysius, Metropolitan of Niranam. He completed his high school education before entering the C.M.S. at Kottayam in 1945. Further studies earned him his B.A.from National College, Tiruchirap[alli ()1951), his B.Th. from Maston Training College, Chennai (1954) and his M.A. in English Literature from Christ Church College, Kanpur (1961).
He progressed through the orders of the church, being ordained Reader in 1942, deacon in 1947 and priest on 25 January 1950 at Pathanapuram. His academic status fitted him to a teaching career and he served as headmaster of Ponnayya High School, Thiruchirapalli and St. Stephen’s High School at Pathanapuram, where he had previously served as Head of the English Department. He also served as President of the Orthodox Youth Movement.
In 1965 he was made Ramban, a few months before his election to the episcopate. He was consecrated bishop as Thomas Mar Timotheos on 24 August 1966 at the hands of Catholicos Basilius Augen I, serving as assistant Metropolitan to Pathrose Mar Osthathios, Metropolitan of Malabar, at whose death in February 1968, he succeeded him. In 1992 he was elected as Catholicos-designate to the Catholicos, Basilius Marthoma Mathews II, at whose abdication in 2005 he was himself installed as Catholicos by his predecessor on 31 October 2005. He continued to serve as General Superior of Mount Tabor Dayara and Conventr in Pathanapuram. By then he was himself 84 and after a short pontificate of five year he also abdicated.
Abba Seraphim was received by His late Holiness at the Catholicate Palace during his pilgrimage to Malabar in January 2010.
On behalf of the clergy and faithful of the British Orthodox Church, Abba Seraphim sent a message of condolence to His Holiness Mar Basilius Mar Thoma Paulose II, Catholicos of the East, on hearing a report of the death of his predecessor who has been living in retirement since his abdication in 2010. In his message of condolence Abba Seraphim recalled that it was his privilege to be received by His Holiness during his memorable visit to India in 2010, shortly before his retirement. “We pray that Almighty God will grant him repose after his many faithful years of service to the Church and that his memory will be eternal!”
Bridget McConnachie, died at Windsor, on 9 June 2014 aged 72 years.
Bridget McConnachie came to Orthodoxy late in life, initially drawn to the British Orthodox Church through her friendship with Mary Goodchild. Bridget began attending services in 2011 and on her first visit to the Church of Christ the Saviour in Bournemouth was deeply impressed by the sense of peace she encountered immediately on entering the Church grounds. She continued to enjoy this peace throughout her many subsequent visits. She staunchly supported the Southampton mission from its beginnings in late 2011 but always saw the Bournemouth Church as her spiritual home and was baptised and chrismated into the Orthodox Church, at Bournemouth on Lady Day, 25th March, 2012. Bridget attended Bournemouth at least monthly and made sure she was there for the Advent Carol Service and for Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Pascha.
Bridget also supported other British Orthodox missions whenever she could, including Shadwell and Glastonbury. She was touched by the plight of Syrian Christians in their tribulations of these last several years and gave generously for the work of the Barnabas Fund in that area.
Following a fall early this year, hospital investigations revealed cancer and Bridget moved away from Southampton to live with her son and daughter-in-law in Windsor, where she was able to attend the Liturgy and receive Communion at Saint Andrew’s British Orthodox Mission. She was admitted to a hospice in May where Father Simon and Tasony Sheila Smyth were able to visit her and pray for her a few days before she died. Father Simon administered the holy unction. Although physically agitated and restless Bridget opened her eyes during the prayers and after the brief service was still and calm. One of the nurses explained that Bridget had spoken much of her faith and Church and priest. Bridget still wore her cross around her neck and was watched over in her room by a photo of the late Pope Shenouda for whom she had a deep love.
Father Simon conducted the funeral of Bridget McConnachie in Slough on Tuesday 17th June. “The Lord is my shepherd” for the psalm was one of Bridget’s own choices for her funeral service, in the planning of which she had taken an active part. Indeed she had written a poem especially for the occasion, “This is the Time to Say Goodbye” reflecting her love of family and her Orthodox Christian Faith.
This is the time to say goodbye
To everyone I’ve known
Don’t cry or weep or shed a tear
Because I’m going home
My family are so special to me
I’ve loved you throughout the years
You’ve brought me joy and sorrow
And oh so many fears
Looking back over the years I’ve had
To childhood and beyond
The memories come thick and fast
Like ripples in a pond
I have been a daughter, a wife, a mum
A grandmother filled with pride
The love that brings is awesome too
And oh the tears I’ve cried
I loved our church so tucked away
It brings me peace and love
The incense, the icons, the absolute awe
All sent from God above
The lord saw fit in my closing years
To teach me the Orthodox way
To learn much more about fearing God
And telling me how to pray
If it wasn’t for faith I’d be scared to die
But I’m not as it isn’t the end
It’s the beginning of life everlasting
As these days are only on lend
Our time in this life is all too short
Make the most of it while you can
Be happy and show your love to all
Whether woman, child or man.
The British Orthodox Church was also represented by Tasony Sheila Smyth (Bournemouth and Portsmouth) and by Bridget’s close friend Mary Goodchild (Southampton Mission). Bridget’s earthly remains are to be interred in Bournemouth and it is also planned to add, in her memory, an icon of Saint Bridget to the growing number of icons of British saints adorning the Church of Christ the Saviour, Bournemouth, “our church so tucked away” that brought Bridget such “peace and love” and “absolute awe”.