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Metropolitan Philip Consecrates Church of the Virgin Mary, Alsip, IL

By Rev. Deacon Saed Rihani

May 27-29 was a weekend like no other! For months we prepared for this holy consecration event…not knowing what to expect. But we knew we had to be ready! We built a new iconostasis! We had new icons written for the occasion! We re-constructed the altar area to be suitable for Orthodox worship! And we built a new altar table! And now the weekend was upon us. Sayidna Philip was to consecrate the Church of the Virgin Mary in Alsip, Illinois!

Words cannot express the extent of our happiness at having His Eminence, Sayidna Philip consecrate our Holy Church. It was the wishes of our Pastor, the Rev. Father Mousa Haddad, and the entire congregation that he visit us. Also, since this would be his first visit to our community, it was befitting that he would consecrate our house of worship. Committees worked hard to prepare for this holy and historic visit. We welcomed Sayidna Philip and we were honored to have Sayidna Antoun also join us for this historic weekend. Also, we were grateful for the presence and assistance of Archdeacon Hans El-Hayek.

Upon the arrival of his Eminence on Friday, May 27th, a private lunch was hosted by one of our Parish Council members for His Eminence and His Grace. Later that evening, a fundraising dinner was attended by more than 50 generous members of our community. This was to continue our fundraising efforts for a desperately needed church school building for the growing number of children in our community!

On Saturday, the children received Sayidna with a program to end our Church School year. The theme was “You are the Light of the World”. And the children presented a program highlighting how each of us can become a light to the world! Each child received a gift highlighting this theme. Also, Sayidna was presented with a special vigil lamp honoring him as the light to all the youth of our parish and the Archdiocese.

A lunch with the Parish Council was held on Saturday afternoon, with encouraging words given by Sayidna to the Council. The theme of his talk was the children of the church and building a new Church School for them.

Saturday evening brought the Grand Banquet with almost 400 in attendance! Clergy and other guests from sister parishes were in attendance and our Church’s Debke Troupe performed 3 dances for Sayidna’s enjoyment! The filet mignon and chicken breast entrée were delightful, as well as the many remarks made by honored guests. The keynote speech was given by Sayidna where he highlighted his visit so far, and especially his time with the number of children in the community.

Sunday morning could not have arrived any sooner; the highlight of the long-awaited weekend was upon us! Sayidna’s arrival to the Church on Sunday morning was received by a full house of parishioners waiting in anticipation for His holy hands to consecrate our Temple! His Eminence Sayidna Philip and His Grace Bishop Antoun were greeted by our Pastor, the Rev. Fr. Mousa Haddad, along with the Rt. Rev. Fr. Nicholas Ozone from St. Philip’s in Ft. Lauderdale Florida, the V. Rev. Fr. Andrew Harrison from St. Luke’s OCA Church in Palos Hills Illinois, and the Rev. Fr. Malek Rihani who is attached to St. Mary’s in Alsip. It was a wonderful celebration!

The consecration followed the traditional ancient rites of the Orthodox Church with the consecration the new altar. Sayidna explained each step as he progressed, and we were honored and blessed to have the following relics placed in our holy table: the relics of St. Raphael Hawaweeny (gifted to the church by his Eminence Metropolitan Philip), the relics of St. Maximos the Confessor (gifted to the church by the V. Rev. Fr. James Ellison of St. Nicholas Church in Urbana, IL), and a stone from the wall of the original Church of the Dormition in Jerusalem (gifted by the Rev. Fr. Fouad Saba of St. George Church in Cicero, IL).

We baptized the new altar; we placed the holy relics into the heart of the altar table; we placed Holy Chrism on the entire altar and washed it as one washes a baby at baptism. Then we dressed the altar with beautiful white covers, along with a new tabernacle and vigil lamps. What a beautiful sight it was…just as one pictures a new baby clothed in a new baptismal gown! Then we processed with the altar servers as Sayidna anointed the church walls, and the new Icons! What a heartwarming experience! Even as the thunder sounded outside, and fierce rains poured down, and winds blew, one can only feel that the Holy Spirit descended upon our church just as he had descended upon the Holy Apostles in the Upper Room 2000 years ago!

At the end of Liturgy, a small bag of mementos were given to all in attendance that day. This bag included an icon of the Dormition (our patronal feast) and a piece of the savanon, which was the robe worn by Sayidna Philip as he consecrated the church.

At the conclusion of the service Sayidna inducted eight members of our community into the Order of St. Ignatius.

Following the Divine Liturgy, everyone enjoyed a luncheon served by our ladies, and everyone was able to greet Sayidna, receive his blessing and thanked him for being with us on our consecration weekend! As the rain and winds subsided, Sayidna was on his way back to the Archdiocese Headquarters. We all felt a sense of sadness seeing him leave, but we all knew that he didn’t leave us empty! Through his holy hands, he brought to us the Holy Spirit which will remain with us until the end of the ages.

God bless you Sayidna Philip, and may God grant you many, many years!