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Communities in Action

by Editors

Visit of His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP to St. Mary Orthodox Church in Montreal, Quebec

The visit of His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP had a great impact on the Middle Eastern community in Montreal, and specifically the Orthodox community. This visit was promised by His Eminence to the Church of the Virgin Mary in Montreal, on the occasion of the parish’s fifteenth anniversary, upon hearing about the accomplishment which culminated in the purchase of the largest church in the Archdiocese, and the completion of the first phase of its beautification.

His Eminence’s short visit included several invitations and receptions, especially since it had been almost seven years since his last visit to Montreal and everyone was looking forward to hearing his views and his future orientation.

Upon his arrival, a dinner for the honorable guest was held at the restaurant “La Siréne,” during which he was briefed about the vibrant activity of the three Antiochian parishes in Montreal (Virgin Mary, St. George, and St. Nicholas), specifically the accomplishment of the hosting parish and its great initiative of offering a chancery to host the bishop of the Diocese of Ottawa, Eastern Canada and Upstate New York, His Grace ALEXANDER (Mufarrij).

On the second day, His Eminence was eager to see the hosting church with his own eyes, and was astonished to behold the greatness of the edifice, with a capacity to seat over one thousand worshippers. As he entered the church, he admired the transformation of the interior of the church to Byzantine standards and listened to the future phases of the beautification plans, which include decorating the walls with iconic frescoes. Following this moment, His Eminence had an interactive meeting with the organizations of the parish in the presence of His Grace Bishop ALEXANDER. After he delighted in listening to the children of Sunday School chanting Arabic hymns, he listened to presentations about the work of Teen SOYO, the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, the Antiochian Women and the Sunday School over the past 15 years.

After this gathering, His Eminence visited the Montreal Chancery, home of the diocesan bishop, and reiterated his appreciation of the parish’s initiative. Later, he visited the house of the family of the late Ernest Saikaly, the former vice-chairman of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees, to personally convey his condolences as unfortunate circumstances had prevented him from attending the funeral arrangements six months before.

The evening of the second day concluded with the unveiling of the commemorative stone which shows the ownership of the Church of the Virgin Mary, which was purchased from the Catholic Church of St. Nicholas in the year 2002. Attending the ceremony were the families of the parish of St. Mary and a host of prominent personalities from the Montreal community, including the mayor of the City of Montreal, Mr. Gerard Tremblay, and representatives of the federal and provincial governments, as well as the local municipalities associated with the City of Montreal. During the ceremony, Father Michel Fawaz, the host pastor, welcomed everyone and thanked His Eminence for blessing and supporting the purchase of the church. Mr. Tremblay then noted the importance of the accomplishment that is the purchase of this great edifice in the best part of the city, highlighting the contributions of this community which has served hundreds of families that have immigrated from the Middle-east on a spiritual, social, cultural and humanitarian level, hoping for a continued effort, and expressing his pride in the presence of this church as an important spiritual center in the great city of Montreal. His Eminence then spoke of his love for the city of Montreal and his fond memories of it, highlighting its diversity of cultures and religions, which make it a city which is open to and admired by the whole world. He then announced to Mr. Tremblay that the Archdiocese Convention will be hosted in 2007 in the city of Montreal, and will gather thousands of people from more than 250 churches belonging to the Archdiocese from Canada and the United States. Mr. Tremblay then presented His Eminence with an artistic painting of City Hall, and then they both proceeded to remove the veil off the commemorative stone. Following the unveiling, everyone entered the church to participate in the service of Great Vespers, presided over by His Eminence.

Later that night, a grand banquet was held at the Sheraton Hotel in Laval in honor of His Eminence. Among those present were religious, diplomatic and social figures, among whom the Ambassador of Lebanon to Canada, Mr. Raymond Baaklini; the Ambassador of Syria to Canada, Mr. Jamil Sakr; the Maronite Bishop of Canada, His Grace Joseph Khoury; the Melkite Catholic Bishop of Canada, His Grace Ibrahim Ibrahim; and others from the Canadian civil authority and Lebanese community. Speeches at the banquet included a welcome note from the president of the parish council, Mr. George Bou Rjaili, followed by an address of the host pastor, the Very Reverend Father Michel Fawaz, who again welcomed His Eminence. Fr. Michel highlighted once again the accomplishment which was made possible thanks to the efforts of the parish councils which have consecutively served the church and the spiritual guidance of the priests who served the parish before him, promising to continue the way with the zeal of those who wish to help. His address was followed by a word from the owner and editor-inchief of the Lebanese newspaper Alakhbar, Mr. Elias Moujais, who welcomed His Eminence with these words: “Your Eminence, you are an example; you speak the word of truth. Your opinions have always been faithful. We’re proud of you, our Chief Shepherd. May God preserve you!” His Grace Bishop ALEXANDER also welcomed His Eminence, and congratulated the host parish on the occasion of its fifteenth anniversary, highlighting its great activity and promising his continued support. Then followed a written word from the former pastor of this parish, the Very Reverend Father George Shahine. Finally, the last word was for the great guest, His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP. In his address His Eminence described the accomplishment as the “miracle” of acquiring the largest church within the Archdiocese through the leadership of Fr. Michel, and the continued support of the parish, which he hoped will continue as the future plans for the parish get underway. He then recalled the great loss of the Archdiocese in the absence of the former vice-chairman of the Board of Trustees, the late Ernest Saikaly, a man of self-giving and sacrifice, whose memory will remain in every project he morally or financially supported in this Archdiocese. He ended his address on a sad note about the Israeli war on Lebanon that destroyed Lebanon, saluting the determination of the people of the south and the resistance’s efforts in protecting the country, and the resolve of the Lebanese people to stick together in the face of the war. Finally, His Grace Bishop Ibrahim wished to present His Eminence with the gift of a diamondplated cross, for all the love, respect and admiration he has towards him.

On the last day of this historic visit, His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP presided over the Divine Liturgy assisted by His Grace Bishop ALEXANDER, and the serving clergy: the Very Reverend Father Michel Fawaz, his assistants the Very Reverend Father Boulos Khayyat and Deacon Theodosios Abou Rjaili; the pastor and dean of the Cathedral of St. Elias in Ottawa, the Very Reverend Father Ghattas Hajal; the pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Montreal, the Very Reverend Father Peter Shportun; the retired priest, the Very Reverend Father Emile Hanna; the Archdeacon Hans Hayek; and Deacon Dimitri Shouweiri. In his sermon, His Eminence spoke about the importance of the Cross in the Church and its power to root out all evil, and its transformation from an instrument of shame to an instrument of pride and salvation, and how God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, so that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life. “This love,” his Eminence said, “we ought to live in order to be saved, and how much are we in need of living this love. Sadly, I say that hate has led to the killing of innocent lives seeking refuge in their homes, while there are no reactions to denounce this angry and criminal act that took hold of Lebanon for no reason.” Following the Divine Liturgy, His Eminence held a six-months memorial for the repose of the soul of Ernest Saikaly, in the presence of his family, relatives, loved ones and a host of believers that crowded the church. Following the Liturgy, His Eminence inducted five new members into the Order of St. Ignatius, the first being the Very Reverend Father Michel Fawaz, followed by Kamil Kotran, Joseph Daher, Elias Younes and Fadi Elghrayib.

After the service, a final lunch was organized in honor of His Eminence in the church’s fellowship hall, in the presence of a crowd of believers from the Orthodox communities in Montreal and the capital Ottawa. Finally, the schedule concluded with a cocktail party hosted by Mr. Elias Moujais, of the newspaper Alakhbar-Alnahar in honor of His Eminence, in the presence of different religious and diplomatic figures and prominent personalities from the community in Montreal.

Costa Mesa, CA

Lazarus Saturday, March 31, 2007 was a busy day for Saint Barnabas Orthodox Church, Costa Mesa, California, as the growing parish of 200 received twenty-eight catechumens into the Holy Orthodox Church. Ten adults and five children were received through Holy Baptism and chrismation. An additional thirteen adults were received through chrismation. The Very Reverend Father Wayne Wilson, Senior Pastor, and the Very Reverend Father Michael Reagan (attached) baptized and administered holy chrism. Recently, His Grace Bishop JOSEPH, Bishop of Los Angeles and the West, visited Saint Barnabas, personally meeting and blessing each and every catechumen.

Formal catechism classes for the newly-received faithful officially began in September, 2006. The curriculum included individual classes on the history of the Christian faith, the Nicene Creed, Orthodox theology, liturgics and worship, the Holy Sacraments, the role of icons in Orthodoxy and spiritual formation. Before “graduating” from catechism, each adult was required to write a minimum one-page essay titled, “Why I want to become an Eastern Orthodox Christian.”

One of the newly-illumined catechumens, Jennifer Otten, explained of her conversion, “Becoming Orthodox, to me, is coming to the fullness of the Christian faith that is in the Scriptures I’ve known and read my whole life. For the first time, my faith makes sense. It makes sense theologically, historically and it makes sense practically. I feel like so many of the concepts of Christianity have been brought from the esoteric to the concrete, yet maintaining the mysteriousness of God and the mystical element of the faith. Becoming Orthodox is fulfilling what I was created for – to be a Christian planted in the place where, ‘He is the head of the body, the Church … For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ (Col. 18a-19).

Saint Barnabas has grown in its twenty-year history in the Archdiocese from a small fellowship of 25 people meeting in a single rented room, to over 200 parishioners today. Many of its parishioners come from Protestant Evangelical backgrounds and a growing number of its inquirers come from Evangelical universities and graduate schools in the area. In 1998, the parish purchased its current 5,000 square foot building in a commercial office park, transforming it into a “virtual temple.” In early 2007, in order to accommodate growth, the community acquired a contiguous building, adding another 5,000 square feet for offices, classrooms, meeting rooms, childcare, kitchen, Fellowship Hall and future bookstore. The parish’s recently expanded and newly decorated nave was completed just in time for the reception of the newly-illumined and their families.

Bishop JOSEPH’s Episcopal Visit to St. George Church, Phoenix, Arizona

It’s amazing what is considered news these days. Have you heard? … of course you have — one celebrity shaved her head then was admitted to rehab. A celebrity family is moving out of LA and the mystery of it all — where will they live? And get this: a famous actor is seen with his old girlfriend. These are the leading “news” stories of TV and radio … ugh!

If the news was written for us at St. George, last weekend would have featured Bishop JOSEPH. Can’t you just see Katie Couric’s report? “His Grace Bishop JOSEPH had a busy trip to Phoenix last weekend. He brought relics, consecrated an altar and iconostasis, tonsured a reader, ordained a subdeacon … Whew, why did the weekend go by so quickly?”

suppose it seemed too quick because there was so much going on. Sayidna flew in with Archdeacon George from St. Nicholas Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA, Friday at noon. His first order of business was to make a beeline to St. George. The ladies prepared a tasty lunch (we have such terrific cooks), but before that he wanted to see firsthand our new iconostasis. His face lit up and he smiled as he slowly admired the icons, woodwork, altar, prothesis table, and new choir loft. He wanted to savor it, just as many of our parishioners also have.

Grayhawk Country Club was the location of an elegant dinner that evening for our Bishop with clergy and the parish council. He delivered a short speech after the meal. In one memorable point he said, “In a restaurant you eat for the stomach, but with a group of people such as this you eat for the fellowship.” I must add, he said this at our lunch with the ladies, too.

Vespers on Saturday had two special endings. One of our newer parishioners, Sam Herron, was tonsured a Reader. His mother, Grace, and brother, Nathan, flew out from Nashville for the ceremony. Metropolitan SIMEON, Metropolitan of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Germany (retired in Phoenix), presented Sayidna and Fr. Christopher Salamy icons and congratulations commemorating our beautiful new iconostasis and altar.

The following morning Orthros was packed with four ceremonies, three of which will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for some. First, His Grace brought a relic of St. Thekla, a very special Saint called “equal-to-the- Apostles.” After setting her relic in the altar, he washed, anointed, and then consecrated it. After that, he anointed the iconostasis and its new icons. Lastly he ordained our own Matthew Hall as Subdeacon. Matt has been serving faithfully on the altar for several years. Axios, Subdeacon Matthew!

Don’t you always like hearing Sayidna JOSEPH deliver the homily at Liturgy? What a blessing when he speaks to us. A central point to his sermon that day was something like this: the altar and iconostasis were washed and anointed, but how much more important to daily wash and anoint our lives with the Holy Spirit.

After Liturgy, there was a dinner held in his honor. His words were words of blessing and encouragement. He honored our Khouriye Allyson, by mentioning that he noticed how loved she is by our people. At the conclusion of our dinner it was time for him to catch his flight home. I worried that he would miss his flight because nearly everyone wanted to say good-bye personally. These goodbyes were almost like saying, “please don’t leave.”

How great is it that we have Sayidna JOSEPH as our Bishop! We have a leader who is our humble servant. Not a servant we give the cleaning or cooking to, but a servant with whom we entrust our spirituality. How thankful we are that he takes his responsibility as Bishop seriously. He leads us and prays for us, not with shallow holiness, but with fasting, true spirituality, and compassionate love. This man, our Bishop JOSEPH, is a model of holiness for our lives. Is it any wonder we want him to come more often and stay longer?

Courtesy of the

May 2007 issue of The Word magazine.

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