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A Weekend of Memories: The Elevation of Father Fouad Saba

His Grace Bishop Antoun with the newly-elevated Father SabaHis Grace Bishop Antoun with the newly-elevated Father SabaAlthough the actual elevation of a Priest to the dignity of Archpriest may take only a few minutes, the preparations for this sacred event begin far in advance. Ten years in advance. Once a seminarian is ordained to the Diaconate and later to the Priesthood, he then faithfully serves the Church as pastor, teacher, confessor, spiritual father, and other less notable yet equally important roles over the course of ten years before he can be considered for Elevation to the dignity of Archpriest. During each of these ten years, the Priest will lead his parish through the beautiful seasons of the Church calendar, cultivating a spirit of love and unity. There will be scores of homilies delivered during Sunday Liturgies, the joy of baptisms, the sorrow of memorials, countless hours of counsel, discovering a leak in the Church roof, discovering a second leak in the Church roof, fundraising to fix the leaking roof. Through all this the Priest will gain the love and respect of his parishioners. As an outpouring of gratitude and deepest appreciation, those parishioners will in turn voice to their Bishop the desire to have their Priest elevated to the dignity of Archpriest in recognition of his devotion to the Church and Her members.<--break->

A Priest who has diligently served the Church and his parish in all the ways described above, and has the steadfast support of his parishioners, is Father Fouad Saba, the Dean of Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Coral Gables, Florida. Having graduated with a Master of Divinity from Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, he returned to his hometown of Chicago after seminary and began his journey into the Priesthood at Saint George Church in Cicero, Illinois, before receiving his current assignment as Dean of Saint George Cathedral, beginning January 1, 2012. Upon his arrival, Father Saba, in conjunction with the Cathedral Council, quickly organized the Cathedral and its operations. Realizing the enormous debt looming heavily over everyone as a dark cloud, he sought to improve the overall environment for the parishioners beginning with spirituality, education, pastoral needs, various ministries, youth work, outreach, financial stability, and other important elements which the Cathedral enjoys today as strong focuses for the future. It was at Saint George Cathedral, on January 10th, 2016, that Father Saba was elevated to the dignity of Archpriest by His Grace Bishop Antoun, with the support of the Saint George Cathedral clergy and visiting members of the clergy. 

There was a tremendous amount of planning and preparation for the Elevation Weekend on the part of the Elevation Committee at Saint George Cathedral, comprised of Chairman Michel Nasr, Council Chairman Muazzi Hatem, Archdeacon David Nimer, Andrea M. Abu-Akel, Lama Elhaj, Miray Hayek, Carmen Kostik, Hannan Mounayyer, Noura Soufia, Salma Zacur, and Antoine Zammar. Generous sponsors and benefactors contributed to the weekend’s events out of love and gratitude for Father Saba’s dedication to his ministry.

The weekend began with a Welcome Luncheon on Saturday for His Grace Bishop Antoun, out-of-town clergy, Father Saba’s parents and mother-in-law, and other family members – some of whom traveled from the Middle East for this momentous weekend. Several members of the Clergy, local and abroad, joined by the Elevation Committee, also attended this joyous kick-off to a memorable weekend. Father Saba and his wife, Khourieh Diana, hosted the event at Maroosh Restaurant in Coral Gables. As a keepsake from the occasion, Father Saba was presented with an enlarged copy of the formal Elevation invitation signed by all the luncheon guests.  

That evening, the Great Vespers service was celebrated, presided over by His Grace Bishop Antoun. Following Great Vespers, an elegant Wine and Cheese Reception was held in the Cathedral Hall, co-sponsored by Cathedral Council Chairman Muazzi Hatem and wife, Michelle Hatem, and Vice-Chairman Subdeacon Elie Bardawil and wife, Theresa Bardawil. Attendees had the opportunity to spend an evening meeting all visiting guests and clergy, and to extend their best wishes to Father Saba on the eve of his Elevation.

The next morning dawned sunny and warm with a soft breeze. Nature’s beauty served as a backdrop for the splendor and holiness within Saint George Cathedral during Orthros and the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy.  The voices of the Cathedral Choir flowed in reverent harmony from the loft, guiding the people through the services and prayers. Assisting His Grace Bishop Antoun, and beside Father Saba, were Very Reverend Doctor Paul Nadim Tarazi, Very Reverend Father Nicholas Dahdal, Economos, Very Reverend Father Dimitri Darwich, Reverend Father Gustavo Alfonso, Reverend Archdeacon Saed Rihani, and Reverend Archdeacon David Nimer.

Father Paul Tarazi delivered a powerful homily solidly built upon the Holy Scriptures and filled with admonition yet optimism, with equal parts instruction for Father Saba as well as the laity. As Liturgy’s closing prayers were said, the anticipation of witnessing Father Saba’s Elevation had grown to such a degree that His Grace Bishop Antoun must have known that the parishioners could barely wait much longer, so he quickly and skillfully organized the clergy to begin the ceremony. Children inched closer to the front of the Cathedral, intent on capturing every moment of their beloved Priest’s Elevation. Archdeacon Saed Rihani called Father Saba’s daughter and son, Katherine and Mousa, to join their father on the solea so that they could fully witness the beauty of his Elevation. At that moment, encircled by the clergy, surrounded by the faithful, supported by fervent prayers, Father Saba “through the grace of the All-Holy Spirit, which perfecteth every ministry was commissioned to be an Archpriest.” In one accord, in unanimous agreement, the people answered the Bishop’s declaration: He is worthy! Mustaheq! Axios!

With an overwhelming urge to congratulate Father Saba, a line quickly formed in the main aisle so that parishioners could greet the newly elevated Archpriest as they exited the Cathedral to the adjoining Hall for the Elevation Celebration Banquet. Michel Nasr served as Master of Ceremonies for the formal event which was planned by the Elevation Committee and professionally catered. As mementos, each guest received an icon card of Saint Saba the Sanctified of Jerusalem and an Elevation Tribute Book, which contained over 150 personal messages of congratulations and affirmation to Father Saba upon receiving this well-deserved honor, including messages from His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, Bishops of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, Archdiocese Board of Trustees members, parishioners (past and present) and family from around the world.

 The celebration opened with the Invocation by Father Tarazi and the National Anthem sung by Saint George Cathedral SOYO member Miss Jannet Salman, followed by an original poem in Arabic composed by Cathedral member Bassem Jadon, eloquently expressing his respect and appreciation for the many ways Father Saba serves the members of the Cathedral. As guests enjoyed a three course meal, representatives of the six main Cathedral organizations (Brotherhood of the Noble Joseph, Sunday School, Antiochian Women, Fellowship of Saint John the Divine, SOYO, Order of Saint Ignatius of Antioch) stepped to the podium and presented a set of gold vestments to Father Saba to commemorate his Elevation. Father Saba accepted the vestments with gratitude and sincerely pledged to remember all members of these organizations in his prayers whenever wearing the vestments.

The significance of the day’s events was made all the more special when Archdeacon David Nimer presented to Father Saba the pectoral cross which had belonged to the late Father Michael Husson, Dean of Saint George Cathedral from 1958-1986, and who was also the uncle of Archdeacon David’s wife, Patricia. In their words, “This gift was given with our love and esteemed care. This cross was a piece of us all and a reminder of our wonderful memories with Father Michael and Khourieh Lorraine.” Visibly moved, Father Saba promised to wear the cross daily with humility as soon as he could conduct a memorial service at the gravesite of Father Michael. (Father Saba later conducted the memorial for Father Michael and Khourieh Lorraine on Friday, January 29, 2016 at Woodlawn Cemetery. May their memory be eternal!)

Next, Sunday School students and members of the Saint George Cathedral Youth Choir performed the troparion to Saint George and ‘God Grant You Many Years’ to celebrate Father Saba’s Elevation. Following the performance, Adib Shaheen spoke on behalf of the Saba Family, extending his thanks to all members of the Cathedral for opening their hearts to Father Saba and his wife and children over the past four years, considering them as part of their own families. Then His Grace Bishop Antoun shared the love and respect he has for Father Saba and his ministry. Bishop Antoun also used the moment as an opportunity to remind everyone of the magnitude of their responsibility to the suffering Christians in the Middle East.

As the words of Bishop Antoun sank into the crowd, the lights dimmed in the Hall and the media screen was prepared for the Elevation Tribute Video entitled The Journey of Father Fouad Saba. The video was produced by the Elevation Committee, and to their credit the content had been successfully kept as a complete surprise for Father Saba. Imagine his expression when the film opened featuring His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph with a personal blessing and message of congratulations. Following the Metropolitan, His Eminence Archbishop Theodosius “Atallah” Hanna of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem commended Father Saba’s Elevation and declared him worthy, followed by touching words from Sister Rima Rantisi of the Latin Convent of Mar Yousef Zhur in Beirut, aunt to Father Saba. The tributes continued with equal parts admiration and humor from the clergy and parishioners of Saint George Orthodox Church in Cicero, Illinois and Saint Mary Orthodox Church in Palos Heights, Illinois. To view the full version of The Journey of Father Fouad Saba, as well as a photo gallery from the weekend of events and the Elevation Tribute Book, please visit the links below.

Father Saba stepped to the podium to deliver his closing remarks and benediction. Rather than concentrating on his personal feelings from the day, he gave thanks to God for entrusting him with the new responsibility of Archpriest, shared his gratitude to the Bishop, Clergy, the faithful, and all family members present, and then immediately focused on returning the guests’ attention back to his original and ongoing mission of spirituality, education, outreach, and youth work, with the reminder to everyone that there is still much work to do. To reinforce his commitment, Father Saba donated the entire amount he had received from the Cathedral in celebration of his Elevation toward the future Orthodox Community Center at Saint George Cathedral.  In support of Father Saba’s call to action, several donations totaling over $15,000 were pledged during the banquet and in the following days to benefit the future Center. After the benediction was given, guests departed with the assurance that the sacred events they had witnessed over the course of the weekend had served to strengthen the resolution already contained within Father Saba’s heart, and with the confidence “that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Please enjoy the following links:

Wine and Cheese Reception

Elevation Photo Gallery 

Elevation Tribute Video 

Elevation Tribute Book 

By Mrs. Anna-Sarah Farha, Saint George Cathedral Public Relations Coordinator