2016-06-30
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(RNS)--For the past two years, the Rev. Josiah Trenham has ended every service at St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside, Calif., with a prayer for peace for the soul of the mid-19th-century bishop Raphael Hawaweeny.

The words slip from his tongue with an ease born of habit: "Oh Lord...give rest to the soul of thy departed servant.... Pardon every sin he hath committed whether by word or deed or thought for thou art good and loveth mankind, for there is no man who live and sinneth not...."

But after Memorial Day weekend, Trenham will no longer lead parishioners in prayer for the bishop's soul.

That weekend, during a special glorification ceremony at St. Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan, Pa., Hawaweeny will join sacred company and become St. Raphael, one of 11 people recognized by the Orthodox Church in America as saints.

"The whole emphasis of our prayers will change," Trenham said. "We will pray to him instead of for him."

For more than a century, Orthodox Christians have prayed for Hawaweeny--nicknamed the "Father of Orphans" and the "Good Shepherd of Lost Sheep in America" because of his dedication to spreading the message of Jesus to immigrants in the United States.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1860, Hawaweeny studied at theology schools in the Mediterranean and in Russia, eventually becoming a priest and leader of the Antiochian Representation Church in Moscow. In 1895, at the request of the Arab community in New York City, Hawaweeny immigrated to Brooklyn to lead a Syrian mission of the Russian Orthodox Church.

His arrival had a deep impact on the immigrant Syrian Christian community in New York, said Bishop Basil, an auxiliary bishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Basil was one of about a dozen people who served on the commission that recommended Hawaweeny's canonization (a collaboration of the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America).

"All of a sudden they had a priest show up in their community, speaking their language, someone able to hear their confessions," said Basil, who owns a prayer book that once belonged to Hawaweeny. "People really looked to him as a father figure."

By the time of his death in 1915, Hawaweeny had helped organize about 30 Orthodox parishes from Montreal to Mexico City, become the first Orthodox Christian consecrated as a bishop in North America, and published a book of prayer and liturgical services in the Arabic language. He also consecrated the grounds of the first Orthodox monastery in the United States--the same place where the devoted will gather to celebrate his sainthood at the end of May.

"He went collecting the faithful and establishing churches all over this country," Trenham said. "He was an incredible missionary, so when we think of him we have to think of the growth of the Orthodox Church."

The bishop's letters, sacrament registries, and daily travel log all bear testament to his dedication to missionary work, Basil said.

"He really went looking for his flock, to encourage them in their new homeland by feeding them the Gospel and forming communities of Christian believers," Basil said. "He was a shepherd who went to gather his sheep."

Even toward the latter part of his life, when he was most frail, Hawaweeny heeded the call to spread the word of Jesus, Basil said.

"He behaved not only as Christ would have expected another human being to behave, but as the apostles behaved, preaching the Gospel to distant lands and to rich people and poor people," he said. "One of the last missionary trips he took was on his way to recuperate in upstate New York. The doctor had sent him there to live quietly, but on the way there he stopped at every little town to look for people to preach to. That which was supposed to be a period of recuperation he used as a period to find his lost sheep. He made no excuses, even though he had every reason to because he was in ill health."

Hawaweeny's devotion to the immigrant community a century ago is returned by Orthodox Christians of today, Basil said.

"The devotion to him comes from people of all ages, all nationalities--it has been passed from generation to generation," Basil said. "It was almost demanded by the people of the church that his case be considered for canonization."

Though no miracles are required of saints in the Orthodox Church in America, Basil said, several medical miracles have been attributed to Hawaweeny, whose feast day will be celebrated the day of his death--February 27--in the Orthodox Church in America, and on the second Sunday after Pentecost in the Antiochian Church.

One of the most recent miracles is said to have occurred less than a decade ago.

"About 10 years ago, the bodies of several Antiochian Orthodox bishops were moved from Mount Olivet Cemetery in New York to the newly established Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pa.," said Alexis Liberovsky, archivist of the Orthodox Church in America on Long Island and secretary of the canonization commission. "Bishop Raphael's body was virtually intact, incorrupted, which is like a miracle since he died in 1915. In Orthodox piety the incorruption of a body is generally considered to be a sign of sanctity, of holiness. The incorruption of Bishop Raphael's body was a confirmation that God's grace resided in him."

Trenham remembers the event well.

"When they transferred his body to a new casket, we took a portion of his ankle bone as relics, and I participated in the actual cleaning and preparation of those relics," he said. "It was one of the great honors of my life."

Trenham said he and his wife Catherine plan to join the hundreds of devotees expected to attend the bishop's glorification ceremony, an official celebration of the proclamation issued in March by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America that announced Hawaweeny's sainthood. He recently purchased two icons of the bishop to place in his church after the Memorial Day weekend ceremony--and has already decided to place them next to an icon of St. Innocent, a 19th-century Orthodox evangelist in Alaska.

"The bishop's icons will go right next to our icon of St. Innocent because I think Bishop Raphael carried on the work of St. Innocent in spreading the message of the church across the nation," said Trenham, who also has an icon of the bishop at home. "I'm looking forward to the day he's officially glorified as a saint. We owe so much to him."

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