New York City, October 22, 2019
St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn famously said of himself: “I am an Arab by birth, a Greek by primary education, an American by residence, a Russian at heart, and a Slav in soul.”
Over the weekend, the 125th anniversary of the American mission of this great saint who unites so many people was celebrated by Antiochian and Russian Orthodox hierarchs at St. Nicholas Cathedral (Antiochian) in Brooklyn, New York.
In fact, several celebrations were combined into one, as St. Nicholas Cathedral has also reached its centenary, and the cathedral’s dean, Fr. Thomas Zain, is celebrating 25 years in the priestly ministry, reports the press service of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. The cathedral’s assistant priest, Fr. Adrian Budica, was also elevated to the dignity of archpriest, and Fr. Thomas’ son, George, was tonsured as a reader.
The glorious celebrations were led by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, the primate of the Antiochian Archdiocese, together with Bishops Basil of Wichita, Thomas of Charleston, John of Worcester, Anthony of Toledo, Nicholas of Miami, and special guest Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk of the Russian Orthodox Church.
As the Antiochian report notes, “The Russian Church provided St. Raphael as a priest in 1895—and consecrated him as a bishop—for the founding of the Syro-Arabian Mission, the precursor of the Antiochian Archdiocese.”
The seven hierarchs were also joined by nearly two dozen priests and a host of faithful. The Liturgy was celebrated in Arabic, Church Slavonic, Greek and English.
“We must continue to remain the salt of the earth, to preserve Christ in our hearts, and to save this world from madness and decay,” Met. Hilarion said in his homily. “We must do all that we can to transfigure it. Each of us is a disciple of the Lord, with humility and love, bringing the Gospel to those near and far. Such was the ministry of St. Raphael of Brooklyn, who came here 125 years ago, to found the community of this church.”
Met. Joseph, who led a pilgrimage to holy sites in Russia in May, thanked Met. Hilarion for traveling to America to celebrate with them and for “bringing the blessing of the holy Patriarchate of Russia.”
Recalling the summer’s pilgrimage, Met. Joseph said, “You cannot imagine the joy and the richness of the faith we brought home with us. We have witnessed the beautiful way of faith in Russia. People are strong and deep in their faith.”
Met. Joseph then turned to the congregation and said, “Go to Russia and see the spirituality and the piety and the monasteries, and the experience of many holy fathers and mothers. St. Raphael experienced all of that.”
St. Raphael was born in Beirut in 1860. He was educated at the Damascus Patriarchal School, the leading Orthodox institution in the Levant, at the Patriarchal Halki Seminary in Constantinople, and at the Theological Academy in Kiev. He later served as rector of the Antiochian representation church in Moscow and taught at the Theological Academy of Kazan.
He was sent to New York City in by Tsar Nicholas II in 1895 and in 1904 became the first Orthodox bishop to be consecrated in North America. His consecration was celebrated by St. Tikhon, the head of the Church in America at that time.
During the course of his ministry as a bishop of the Russian Church in America, St. Raphael founded the St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York and 29 other parishes, and assisted in the founding of St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania, where his glorification was celebrated in 2000, with the participation of hierarchs of the Antiochian Archdiocese, the Greek Archdiocese of America, and the Church of Poland.
He is buried at the Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.