DAMASCUS, Syria – The Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church Ignatius Zakka Iwas, the leader of one of world's oldest Christian sects, has died. He was 80.
Syrian state news agency SANA said Iwas was admitted into a German hospital for treatment Feb. 20. He died on Friday in Germany after a long illness, the official news service said.
Iwas' official title was the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. His church, known as the Syrian Orthodox Church, was founded in the year 452 after a schism with the bulk of the world's Christians. There are more than 4 million members, living in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq although there are also significant communities in Germany, Sweden and in the United States, where immigrants from the Near East introduced the faith in the late 19th century.
Iwas was born in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. He was enthroned as patriarch in 1980 in St. George's Patriarchal Cathedral in Damascus.
Before that he served as metropolitan bishop of Mosul. He was the archbishop of Baghdad and Basra when he became patriarch. Since then, he has lived and worked in Damascus, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Church. He also spent two years in the early 1960s in New York city, studying at the Episcopal Church's General Theological Seminary in downtown Manhattan.
When he conducted services at St. George Cathedral, located in the walled section of Damascus, Iwas had spoken in Syriac, a modern version of Aramaic — the language Jesus Christ is believed to have spoken.
Church officials said Friday his remains will be brought from Germany to Lebanon. From there they will transferred to Syria by land for burial.