Skip to Navigation

Honor Wall Project: Update From Economos Antony Gabriel

September 1, 2017

Dear Beloved in Christ,

I listened carefully to Metropolitan Joseph's State of the Archdiocese message at the recent Archdiocesan bi-annual Convention in which he cited the work of his predecessors, Metropolitan's Antony and Philip, citing also the mission of St. Raphael, the first bishop consecrated on American soil and the first bishop to serve the spiritual needs of the Antiochians in North America. Sayidna quite poignantly noted that he is building on the great work of those who came before him and God has appointed him to save "souls" as his most important ministry as the Chief Shepherd of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. This indeed is an awesome task in the context of the secularism of our society. All our prayers are with His Eminence as he presses forward with the Staff entrusted to him by His Beatitude, John X, guiding the spiritual ship of the Archdiocese, in the model of St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians.

With the guiding principles of His Eminence, building on the sacred work of all those who came before, It is of utmost importance that we not forget our forefathers in the faith who layer the foundation of Antiochian Orthodoxy on New shores. During the years that I conducted the research for the book: Ancient Church on New Shores: Antioch in North America, I discovered so many heroes who served the faithful regardless of the vicissitudes of language, climate, material resources and dislocation from their native lands. Many came seeking a better life and because of their love, faith and knowledge of the liturgical services, were ordained to minister in the emerging Church in North America. Saint Raphael utilized all the resources available to him at the time as he crisscrossed the Continent seeking the " lost sheep of Antioch." Just think for a few minutes how arduous was his task, and how easy it is for us with the social media to maintain contact with our friends from all over the globe, let alone here in North America.

If the reader will allow, I would like to recount some personal stories. I shall never forget the late Metropolitan Antony (6' 5") kneeling before his one time competitor, the great canonist, the Rt. Rev. Haniah Kassab, (5') in confession during Holy Thursday. I recall the wonderful hospitality to us young seminarians which included my wife Lynn, by Fr. Wakim and Alice Kherbawy Dalack, then Dean of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. Father Paul and Shirley Schneirla professor of Old Testament and a friend that remained throughout his long life. Father Michael and Sarah Simon of Paterson, NJ, who attended classes at St. Vladimir's Seminary so thirsty for knowledge and whose golden voice would make one reverberate on the spot. Father George and Edna Karim, my home priest, who was a former barber and whose soothing chanting voice and love would mellow even the hard hearted. Fathers Stephen Upson and Seraphim Nassar who with their families produced the Service Books in use to this day.

I recall so vividly at the annual Mahrajan (picnic) in Syracuse, Metropolitans Bashir and David celebrating the Hierarchical Liturgy together, while the naysayers of unity were turned upside down. They were joined by the then Protosyngellos George Khattouf who
had the shiniest shoes ever. Once when I asked him what does one have to do to be a good priest, he replied: "Always have shiny shoes!" St. Elias feast day celebration brought people from all over including Canada so popular was this opportunity for the faithful to gather together. Father Kazaka of Ottawa was another who assisted at this occasion.

During the summer months, the Metropolitan had the foresight to encourage us to visit and help in various parishes. These encounters took us to New Kensington, PA with the late Fr. Louis Mahshie, to enjoy the graciousness of Fr. Nicolas and Emily Ofeish and their family; Washington, D.C. with Fr. John Nicholas; Utica, NY with Fr. Cassis both men needed help in English, and since I was set aside as a subdeacon, permission was granted to do the Ektenias during the Liturgy. These and other trips were invaluable experiences to witness first hand how these "old timers" ministered to the needs of the generation who returned home at the end of the second World War that saw the beginning of SOYO, choirs, and the Archdiocese Board of Trustees. Other examples of clergy who sought to reach out to the faithful of their time, were Fr. Fernani who organized plays in Boston and Montreal where he served, and Fr. Spyridon Massouh in Canton, Ohio, whose humor and poetry inspired his flock. There were many other well known figures as well.

One of the giants of this period was the Protosyngellos Ellis Khouri, who in his early days ran a "bar" as it was known in those days, where the Arab literatii gathered as Khalil Gibran, Elia Abou Madey, Micha'ael Neimy to name a few. He hailed from Khiam, Lebanon, a scion of a priestly family. His spiritual stature after his ordination made him the "darling" not only of the famous Arab authors but of the new generation of Antiochians seeking a home in the Church. He provided solace and leadership as he with Metropolitan Antony joined by Monsour Laham, carved out a new path for the Archdiocese in North America. I have mentioned the above as an example of how the Church unfolded in the modern era.

The raison d'etre for the Honor Wall: Lest We Forget, is for this generation of Antiochians and the next, to be fully aware of how the Archdiocese developed from it's inception on these sacred shores. The Arab proverb is apparently relevant: he who has no past, certainly has no present nor future! And this applies to the project that we are undertaking with the blessings of Metropolitan Joseph, who appointed Dimitri Zeidan, liaison with the Antiochian Village to assist in constructing the Wall which shall be placed in the Heritage Center at the Village. We are therefore, appealing to you for two reasons through The Word magazine, to send us the names of your relatives who were clergy, or whose pastors served your Church in the past and a financial contribution to aid in the construction of the Honor Wall. The plaque would read, "In memory of ________ donated by ________," to ensure that both those to be commemorated and the donor are connected for a more complete understanding of our forefathers in the faith.

Since commencing with this project, I have met in various ways with the children or grandchildren of holy priests who have given their lives for the Church. Some saw the last notice in The Word and contacted me; His Grace Bishop John placed the notice and encouraged this submission in the hopes that others will step up to the plate in assisting with the completion of this most worthy historical project.

I would also encourage any relevant artifacts that will be placed in a secure place, again in memory of the priest whose family donated any memorabilia.

Before I end this brief letter, some years ago, I met the widow of Aftimios Ofeish, Mariam, who gave me the writings of this successor
St. Raphael. Aftimios as a priest was the original pastor of St,. Nicholas of Montreal, later named St. George. He later was consecrated as the successor to St. Raphael. One of his earliest achievements was an orphanage next to the Cathedral. He later married and stepped down as Archbishop. In any case, as I perused his documents and letters, I discovered an early visionary who foresaw the developments of Orthodoxy on this continent. I mention this because I have discovered in the writings and activities of Bishop Emmanuel of Montreal, who organized the first choir , so many insights and jewels of wisdom and actions that indeed planted seeds, under which we now enjoy the shade of the trees that grew from their planting so many years ago.

I close with requesting your prayers for the fruition of this meaningful project, as we journey with our Metropolitan Joseph to a new
era of Antiochian Orthodoxy on this Continent.

In Christ,
Antony Gabriel
(520) 389-4668