Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Jad Ganem: Two New Saints

 Arabic original here.

Two New Saints

During the divine liturgy that he celebrated for the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God at the Monastery of Saydnaya, His Beatitude Patriarch John X announced that the Holy Synod of Antioch will discuss at its next regular session declaring the sainthood of the hieromartyr Fr Nicholas Khashsha and his son, the hieromartyr Habib Khashsha, two Damascene priests who were martyred for the faith in the last century.

As a layman, Fr Nicholas was an activist for returning the Patriarchate of Antioch, which had been under Greek domination since the Melkite Catholic schism, to Arab control and was active in establishing and developing schools for the community. He was then ordained to the priesthood, where he served the Archdiocese of Damascus. Patriarch Meletios (al-Doumani) then delegated him as his vicar for the Diocese of Mersin, whose bishop, Alexander (Tahhan) had abandoned it because of its poverty and the disturbances it was experiencing. In Mersin, Fr Nicholas succeeded in reuniting its dispersed flock and caring for and strengthening the faithful, who were subjected to various forms of persecution and ethnic cleansing. The Turkish authorities grew frustrated with Fr Nicholas and arrested him on the basis of slander against him, then tortured him until he was martyred.

Habib, the eldest son of Fr Nicholas, followed in his father's footsteps. Despite his success in business, he decided to be ordained to the priesthood and served as a priest in Damascus and Cairo. His service was distinguished by a life of prayer, devotion to shepherding the faithful with love and self-sacrifice, and his closeness to the poor, who he cared for like he cared for his own family, feeding them with their food and the money that his brothers sent to help them because of his poverty. His life was crowned with a martyric death on Mount Hermon, where smugglers beat him to death because he was a Christian priest, fulfilling his desire to imitate his father.

The faithful have passed down the stories of these two priests and they remain alive in the memory of Antioch because "their blood has attested that the Holy Spirit is in them and because though love they have transcended the barrier of the earthly body and become figures of light." Today, if the Holy Synod decides to declare their sainthood, it is "in obedience to the One of whom they have become worthy."

By declaring their sainthood, the Holy Synod places before the flock and the faithful, at this difficult time, the image of a married priest to whom the Church entrusted the task of shepherding a diocese whose bishop had refused to shepherd it and fled it when its resources became scarce and it started to face difficulties. He shepherded it as though it were his little family. He and his sons lived in it and among its people and he died for it. The Holy Synod also puts forward the image of the son who abandoned worldly success in order to imitate his father and become a shepherd of souls, serving the poor as though they were a little family and dividing his sustenance and that of his family with them. He served them as though they were his masters, not caring about money or worrying about the future, but relying on the mercy and generosity of God, who crowned his life with the crown of martyrdom.

Perhaps, by its effort to declare the sainthood of the hieromartyrs Fathers Nicholas and Habib, following the declaration of the sainthood of the hieromartyr Joseph of Damascus, the Holy Synod desires to emphasize that sanctity is not limited to monks, but rather also exists outside of monasteries, and that the family which is sincerely committed to Christ is also just as much a locus of sancity as anywhere else.

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