Elijah of Antioch
Patriarch Ignatius Elias III
|Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonian) perspective, which may differ from an Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian) understanding.|
Patriarch St. Elijah of Antioch, more commonly known as Ignatius Elias III Shakir of Antioch, was the 118th Patriarch of Antioch and a father of the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church. He lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and served the Syriac Orthodox Church in both its Middle Eastern heartlands and in southern India.
St. Elijah was born to the Corbishop Abraham and his wife Maryam in Mardin (modern day Turkey) in 1867 and was baptized Nasri. Following the death of his mother Nasri was raised by his older sister Helena. As a teen St. Elijah worked as a goldsmith and also for the local government. He later entered a seminary at the direction of Patriarch Mor Ignatius Peter IV of Antioch and in 1887 joined Dayro d'Mor Hananyo near Mardin and was ordained a deacon by Patriarch Mor Ignatius Peter. Two years later he was tonsured a monk with the name of Elijah. In 1892 Patriarch Mor Ignatius Peter ordained Dn. Elias to the priesthood.
During the time of the Sayfo (the 'Sword') in the late 19th century when the Ottoman Turks and Kurds were massacring Armenians and Syrians in western Armenia and upper Mesopotamia, Fr. Elias endeared himself to the Armenian community in his area by providing refuge to some 7,000 Armenian refugees in Dayro d'Mor Kyriakos. Because of this and his faithful service to the Church, Fr. Elias was later made abbot of both Dayro d'Mor Hananyo and Dayro d'Mor Kyriakos.
Episcopacy and Patriarchate
In 1908 St. Elijah was elected and consecrated Metropolitan Mor Iwanios Elias of Amida (the Turkish city of Diyarbakir) by Patriarch Mor Ignatius Abdallah II of Antioch. Four years later he was transferred to the Archdiocese of Nineveh (Iraqi Mosul), where he remained until his election to the patriarchate in 1917 following the repose of Patriarch Mor Ignatius Abdallah II. Patriarch Mor Ignatius Elias III's election was confirmed by Sultan Mehmed VI of the Ottoman Empire during his visit to Constantinople in 1919.
Following the second half of the Sayfo in the 1910s and the outbreak of civil war in the Ottoman Empire in 1922 St. Elijah was forced to flee Dayro d'Mor Hananyo in Mardin, which had served as the seat of the patriarchs of Antioch for centuries. After leaving Mardin he spent several months in Jerusalem, where he established a printing press, and also in Aleppo and Mosul. In 1930 he presided over a meeting of the Holy Synod at Dayro d'Mor Mattai near Mosul that structured the organization of the Patriarchate.
Visit to India and Repose
In late 1930 Mor Ignatios Elias was contacted by the British Viceroy of India, who requested that he come to India to negotiate an end to the schism dividing the Malankara Orthodox Church. Despite his health problems the patriarch accepted the invitation and left for India in early 1931, saying to those trying to persuade him not to go that, "Death is inevitable whether here or in India; I would rather sacrifice my life for the sake of our children in Malankara."
Patriarch Mor Ignatios Elias arrived in Kerala in March 1931 and immediately began convening conciliatory meetings in the region between the members of the two factions of the Malankara Orthodox Church. Despite his efforts the schism persisted, however, and at the beginning of 1932 St. Elijah settled at St. Stephen's Church in Manjinikkara on 11 February. The next day he served the Unction and on 13 February he preached at the Divine Liturgy. That afternoon he fell asleep in the Lord at 2:30pm to the shock of his priests and attendant monks.
St. Elijah was the first Patriarch of Antioch to die in India and left the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church at a loss as to what to do. Because of the Saint's preference for St. Stephen's Church it was finally decided to bury him there, with direct jurisdiction over the church being transferred to the Patriarchate of Antioch. The church of Dayro d'Mor Ignatios was later built over his tomb in Manjinikkara by Metropolitan Mor Yulios Elias Qoro, the patriarchal exarch in Kerala.
Today Manjinikkara is a popular center of pilgrimage, with thousands of Malankara Orthodox faithful coming from throughout Kerala for St. Elijah's feast day. St. Elijah remains the only Patriarch of Antioch buried in India. Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas of Antioch blessed the veneration of Mor Ignatios Elias III Shakir as a saint on 20 October 1987.
St. Elijah of Antioch is commemorated by the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church on 13 February.