A Pascha of Love: Celebrating the Ministry of Economos Antony Gabriel
Although the date for the retirement of Economos Antony Gabriel and his last day of service at St. George Orthodox Church in Montreal, Quebec, was set for July 19, the celebration of the Paschal love began since the first minute of the announcement, even though it did not cease all the years of his ministry at our parish.
The announcement raised the congregation to a mystical celebration; private calls, events, lunches and dinners, but the most important was the celebration of Fr. Antony’s 75th Birthday. A private dinner was organized by the Parish Council headed by Ms. Diane Nemer and was held at 40 Westt in Pointe-Claire, Montreal. The attendees who were honored and blessed by the presence of His Grace Bishop Alexander and the Rev. Mark Wyatt of our sister parish St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church, felt the ambiance of the peace from above; a peace of spirit and mind, tenderness, and grace, mutual love and respect. Joyful laughter mixed with sadness and tears were in the hearts of the attendees and filled their conversations.
Then the date of July 19, 2015 arrived and the scene was like this: People and friends; on wheelchairs, from afar even the US, young and old Altar boys (men), families and kids, young and old generations headed by the Mayor of Montreal Mr. Denis Coderre, Mr. Aref Salem, Executive member of the municipality of Montreal, Sheikh Ali Sobeyti and many others, whose life was touched by this champion leader, start pouring to the church from an early hour. Even nature was flooding the streets with rain and the heavens with thunderstorms prior to the Divine Liturgy, it did cooperate with the cloud of witnesses while coming to the church and the sun turned its rays towards the faithful as a Paschal Light. It was like when our Lord Jesus Christ had quieted the storm and calmed His disciples in the boat.
All this to give the day its celebration of love and where there is love there is joy. The pain of love is joyful. Although it was very sad and emotional, but everyone came carrying in his/her heart and soul as a token of appreciation, respect and grace to Economos Antony who served diligently and raised our community to its highest level of honor.
But the crowning of this celebration was the presence of His Grace Alexander, Bishop of the Diocese of Ottawa, Eastern Canada and Upstate New York, presiding over the Hierarchical Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy was the real banquet. Everybody present was lifted up and carried to the heavens by the prayers like the incense, by the angelical voices that chanted the hymns with power and glory and by the partaking piously of the Body and the Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.
The rivers of tears were held up until the end and flooded with a thunder and unceasing applause when Sayedna spoke elegantly and inspirationally about the forty years of service of Economos Antony at St. George. Many years was chanted many times throughout Economos Antony's small meditation, in which he thanked the love and the generosity of the community and related the success of his ministry to the cooperation and mutual responsibility of the congregation.
Then a hand painted Icon of St. George (hand written by our iconographers), was handed to Fr. Antony by Fr. Jean and Kh. Souhaila in their names and on behalf of the Icon Workshop. A grand applause was also given to Fr. Jean and his Khouryeh for their loyalty and love to this parish and its faithful.
Unfortunately, everything had to come to an end…and it did happen when all the people had jammed in the fellowship hall sharing their last moments with Fr. Antony as their pastor. The Antiochian Women were ready, generously as always, with their delicious food and their smiley hearts offering their last respect and token of love towards their leader who encouraged and inspired them throughout his 40 years of ministry. This ending could not be better without the presence of our brethren Antiochian Orthodox clergy of our sister parishes St. Mary and St. Nicolas: the V. Rev. Fr. Michel Fawaz and the Rev. Fr. Mark Wyatt with some of their congregation, along with the Very Rev. Boulos Khayat and Rev. Jean El-Murr.
Indeed, this day was historical, inspirational and an incarnation of Paschal love. It was a heavenly day that was accompanied by the mystical powers.
By Rev. Jean El-Murr, Assistant Pastor
St George Antiochian Orthodox Church Montreal
Read three reflections by Fr. Antony Gabriel: