95 years ago: The death of St. Raphael

The funeral of St. Raphael Hawaweeny, Brooklyn, 1915

This past Saturday was February 27, the 95th anniversary of the death of St. Raphael Hawaweeny, the great Syrian Bishop of Brooklyn. His death set off more than a week of commemorations in the Syrian Orthodox community. Telegrams immediately went out to Syrian parishes all over the country. In fact, the news spread so quickly that the Kearney Daily Hub was able to run a notice in time for its evening publication, the very day of St. Raphael’s death. “Rev. [Nicola] Yanney was in receipt of a telegram this afternoon announcing the death of Bishop Raphael, head of the Syrian church,” the paper reported.

Yanney and his fellow Syrian clergy had to make hasty arrangements to travel to Brooklyn for the funeral, and the visiting Antiochian Metropolitan Germanos Shehadi rushed back from Montreal. The Russian Bishop Alexander Nemolovsky hurried to Brooklyn to serve a Divine Liturgy. A solemn procession escorted St. Raphael’s body from his home to the cathedral, where it would lay in state until the funeral on March 7. In the meantime, clergy began a round-the-clock reading of the Bible, never leaving the saint’s body unattended. The community sprung into action, convincing the Board of Health to grant them special permission to bury their bishop in a crypt within his cathedral.

It must have been a painful and poignant time and place to be an Orthodox Christian. Bishop Raphael’s orphaned flock would splinter in the years to come, but at the beginning of March, 1915, they were completely united by the death of their beloved bishop.