Monday, June 7, 2021

Jad Ganem: Our Forgotten Saints

 Arabic original here.


Our Forgotten Saints

On June 6, the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America celebrated, along with all Orthodox in the United States, the naming of the city block where St Nicholas Cathedral is located in New York after Saint Raphael Hawaweeny, who established that church at the beginning of the last century.

Saint Raphael was born in Damascus and raised in Beirut. He studied theology at the Chalki Seminary and at the theological academy in Kiev. The Russian tsar then sent him, at the request of the Russian bishop in the United States, to provide pastoral care for Arab immigrants in particular. He was elected as an auxiliary bishop to Bishop Tikhon who later became the first Patriarch of Russia after the restoration of the Patriarchate of Moscow. He undertook the organization of the Antiochian parishes in the United States which later formed the foundation of the Antiochian Archdiocese. Bishop Raphael is regarded as the first Orthodox bishop consecrated in the Americas and he is called the "Evangelist of America" because of his evangelical work among the Arab, Greek and Russian diasporas, whose languages he mastered. The Orthodox Church in America declared his sainthood in 2000 and his feast is celebrated on February 27, while his relics were transferred to Antiochian Village in Pennsylvania.

The Holy Synod of Antioch has not yet made a decision to include him on the list of Antiochian saints and he is regarded as one of the unknown saints compared to the new saints that the Patriarchate of Constantinople has recently declared and in whose name new churches have been built in Antioch and whose stories, teachings and sayings have spread among the people.

This might perhaps raise a number of questions:

* Why, despite the promises it made at the expanded synod in 1993, when the sainthood of Joseph of Damascus was declared, has the Church of Antioch not continued to uncover Antiochian saints and work to inform the faithful about their stories and then to celebrate the sainthood of the confessors, martyrs, monks and teachers who have shone forth in her over the past centuries?

* Why do Antiochians seem to be estranged from the saints who have shone forth within their own church, while they flock to honor the saints who have shone forth in the Greek world? And what are the reasons preventing the spread of veneration for saints who have shone forth in the other local churches in Antiochian circles?

* Why has the Church of Antioch not yet come up with a synodal mechanism for including the veneration of saints who have shone forth in the other local churches on her calendar? Is it possible to arrange this at a time when we see churches being built in the names of new saints who have not been included in the Antiochian Synaxarion?

Perhaps the most important question remains: Has the time not yet come to initiate an Antiochian project to discover the forgotten saints in the history of this church and to declare the sainthood of those whose holiness shined forth in these lands, thus giving consolation to the faithful in these difficult times?