By Fr. Dr. Biji Chirathilattu
Who is a true shepherd? Who is the true leader of a church? Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church says that a true shepherd is the one who loves his sheep even unto the point of giving his own life for them. When our blessed church is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the enthronement of its supreme head, H. H. Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas, the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, my mind is pondering how true this is about our Moran Patriarch.
As one who was blessed to have experienced His Holiness’ proximity for a long period, my mind is getting overfilled with the memories of Moran’s love to his sheep. It is indeed the greatest blessing in my life that I could go to Damascus in 1996 to learn Syriac there. As an young priest having no experience with Moran, I was shivering with awe, when I was called to meet H.H. on my very first day in Damascus itself. When I went to H.H., Moran made me sit close to him and talked to me as a father talks lovingly to his son. Moran enthusiastically asked me all the details about me, including my educational qualifications, working experiences, family etc. It is marvellous how Moran took a clear picture of me on that day itself and remembered all those details later too. From that day till I left Damascus in 1997, I have gone through many incidents where I could experience how much love Moran has for his Indian folk. I would like to share some of them with the readers.
I left India just few days after the birth of my elder daughter and this made me gloomy and sad many times in Damascus. On such occasions I used to go alone to the chapel there and seek solace in prayer. Once when I was coming out of the chapel, Moran called me to his room adjacent to the chapel and asked me “Moon ith Kasheesho?, methul moon karyo aath?" (= Presbyter, what is it? Why are u sad?). Then I explained to H.H. how much I missed my infant daughter. Moran comforted me and asked me whether I have a photo of her. When I brought a photo from my room, Moran looked a while in the photo and asked me what her name is. As I said that she is not yet named, Moran smiled and said that we will call her Thabeetha, because she has beautiful big eyes. Then Moran kindly explained to me that the name Thabeetha means Dorcas, the deer with beautiful eyes ( In Malayalam “Peda man,” see Acts 9.36). H.H. also told that his sister’s name is Thabeetha as well. In 1998 at the Monastery in Germany, I was wonderstruck when I heard Moran calling her Thabeetha on seeing her for the first time and then taking her with him for a small walk in the monastery premises. Yes, our church is indeed blessed to have a shepherd who bears in his heart even the names of the small sheep in his stall.
On another occasion the second secretary of H.H., Dayroyo Eliyo, made a surprise visit to my room. He had an envelop in his hand and he handed it over to me with the words “Moran has asked me to give it to you personally”. When I opened the cover, my eyes were filled with tears to see that it contained many photos where I was standing somewhere near to Moran, either in the church, or at a reception or such. Moran was always specific that I should be given some duty like holding the staff or candle etc, while he was celebrating the Mass. And on many festive occasions H.H.’s official photographer has made plenty of photos of the liturgies and functions of H.H. Now Moran has picked up the ones among them, where I was in the photo with Moran, and sent personally to me!! When I thought how little I am and how great Moran is, I could not stop praising God for giving our church a leader who loves and takes care of his sheep so much.
Still another instance Abu Yakob, the driver of Moran came to my room with a 5Kg Nido skimmed milk powder. He has put it in my room and said to me that Moran has asked him to buy it for me. Just then I remembered why Moran asked me few days ago whether I used to drink milk in India. (2-3 months after my arrival, I had put down weight because of the severe fasting in the monastery in Marat Seydnaya and that was the reason why Moran asked me that). Can anybody point out to me such a high ecclesiastical Dignitary taking care of the health condition of one of the servants who actually should not matter to him anything at all? That is our Moran and it is indeed a very special blessing of our church that we have a Patriarch who is so much concerned about his folk. There are many more incidents where I could feel that touching love both in Syria and Europe. For the sake of brevity I am limiting my personal experiences here.
The immense growth of our church in the last 25 years all over the world under the magnificent leadership of Moran is certainly the gift of God to Moran as reward of his sincerity to the church. In spite of his bad health and problems with kidney and knees Moran is still hard working for the flourishing of his church. His apostolic visit to India last year to strengthen his folk, in spite of all the physical hazards, is just an example for that. And this HH will do, till he offers even the least breath to the church. The blooming of our church today is the true example of how gracious God will be to a church, which is being led in true love by a leader, who has submitted his whole life to love his church and the people. May our Moran live much longer to lead us. May God give him all the necessary graces and health to lead His church and people to the green pastures.
Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka Pradhaman neenal vazhatte!!
* "Moran" is a Syriac-Aramaic term for "our master."