Posts tagged Raphael Hawaweeny
A lot of Antiochian-related events this week:
January 30, 1902: Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny, head of the Syro-Arab Orthodox Mission in America, began a pastoral journey to Mexico. Later this week — on February 3 — he made a brief stop in Cuba en route to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. St. Raphael remained in the Yucatan for a month, until March 2. To his great surprise, he found not only Arab Orthodox Christians, but also many Mexican Catholics who were interested in converting to Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, this would be the only visit St. Raphael ever made to Mexico, and the missionary potential there was never realized. Incidentally, I’ve heard that the Mexican newspapers gave St. Raphael quite a bit of publicity, so if anyone reading this has access to Yucatan papers from 1902 (and can read Spanish), please let me know.
January 31, 1938: Metropolitan Samuel David, head of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Toledo, was excommunicated by both the Patriarch of Antioch and the ROCOR Holy Synod. The backstory was this: In 1935, the Arab Orthodox in America were set to elect a new hierarch who would, it was hoped, unite the long-divided factions of Antiochian Orthodoxy in America. The majority voted for Archimandrite Antony Bashir, who was duly consecrated in New York. But a strong minority favored Archimandrite Samuel David of Toledo. That minority found some other bishops to consecrate their man on the very same day that Bashir was consecrated. This division lasted until 1975, when Met Michael Shaheen of Toledo accepted subordination to Met Philip Saliba of New York.
February 1, 1928: The future Greek Archbishop (and Assembly of Bishops President) Demetrios Trakatellis was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. May God grant him many, many more years!
February 2, 1927: The Holy Synod of the Russian Metropolia (today’s OCA) created “The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of North America” (more palatably known as the American Orthodox Catholic Church). This body — let’s just call it the AOCC — was led by Bishop Aftimos Ofiesh, who was simultaneously the head of the Metropolia’s Syro-Arab Mission. Whatever the intent of the Metropolia in creating the AOCC in the first place (and that intent is far from clear), Ofiesh himself viewed the AOCC as the vehicle for Orthodox unity in America. The AOCC was always on the fringe in terms of legitimacy, having been the ambiguous creation of the Metropolia, which itself was on shaky canonical footing in that era. (Only a few years earlier, the Metropolia had declared itself independent of the Soviet-influenced Moscow Patriarchate.) It wasn’t long before Ofiesh and his jurisdiction ticked off their Metropolia creators, driving the AOCC even further away from the mainstream. For all intents and purposes, the AOCC experiment ended in 1933, when Ofiesh married a young girl. However, as Fr. Oliver has recently shown, the AOCC did continue on until 1940 in the person of Bishop Sophronios Beshara, its last surviving hierarch. For a lot more on the AOCC, check out my conversation with Fr. Andrew Damick over at Ancient Faith Radio.
February 5, 1873: The future Fr. Nicola Yanney was born in what is today northern Lebanon. Yanney eventually immigrated to America and settled down in Nebraska. After being widowed at a young age — and with a house full of young children — Yanney was chosen by his fellow Syrian parishioners in Kearney, NE to be their first parish priest. He traveled to Brooklyn and studied for the priesthood under St. Raphael, who had just been consecrated a bishop. In fact, Fr. Nicola was the first priest to be ordained by St. Raphael. Upon returning to Kearney, Fr. Nicola not only shepherded that community, but he was given responsibility for an immense territory — he was essentially responsible for all Arab Orthodox Christians living between Canada on the north and Mexico on the south, the Mississippi on the east and the Rocky Mountains on the west. Roughly speaking, he was the lone priest over all the territory that now comprises the Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America. And he was a single parent.
Fr. Nicola was, by all accounts, an outstanding pastor. His end was a testament to his dedication: he died from influenza in 1918. Of course, that was the year of the horrible flu pandemic that killed so many millions. Fr. Nicola’s parishioners were among those dying from the disease, and rather than keep himself safe, Fr. Nicola went to his stricken people, hearing their final confessions and giving them communion. In this way, he caught the flu and soon died. It seems to me that he may be worthy of canonization. (To learn more about Fr. Nicola, read this article by Fr. Paul Hodge.)
In the life of St. Raphael Hawaweeny published by Antakya Press (page 24, to be precise), there’s a reference to an early Syrian/Antiochian chapel in New York, dating to 1893. The story goes that a visiting Antiochian priest, Archimandrite Christopher Jabara, established the chapel at Cedar and Washington Streets in New York City. Unbeknownst to the local Syrians, however, Jabara espoused a radical, heretical theology, rejecting the Holy Trinity and calling for the unification of all religions — and especially a merger of Orthodoxy with Islam. Jabara was a speaker at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, and his talks were reported in the New York newspapers. Jabara was “compelled to leave the country” and eventually died in Egypt. To read more about Jabara, check out this article I wrote two years ago.
I haven’t been able to find much of anything about that original Syrian chapel, but I did recently stumble upon the following note in the June 12, 1893 issue of the New York Sun:
The members of the Syrian Orthodox Greek Church who have been worshipping in the Greek chapel in Fifty-third street have now a chapel of their own on the top floor of the building at the northeast corner of Cedar and West streets. The chapel was dedicated yesterday morning at 10 o’clock. The service, which was in Greek, Arabic, and Russian, was conducted by Archimandrite Christophoros Jebarah, assisted by two priests from the Russian war ships now in the harbor. The Russian Vice-Admiral and a party of Russian sailors attended the service.
Jabara’s own weirdness aside, this is a really fine example of early inter-Orthodox cooperation. At the time, the only Orthodox church in New York was Greek, so that’s where all the Orthodox went — regardless of ethnicity. (Other sources tell us that the local Russians also attended the Greek church.) And when the Syrians opened their own chapel, the visiting Russian clergy and sailors came out for the dedication. Orthodoxy was small and new in early 1890s America, and the Orthodox, of necessity, had to work together. Of course, once the necessity passed, the Orthodox were content to break up into their respective ethnic groups.
Anyway, the Syrian chapel failed pretty quickly. It’s clear that Jabara wasn’t the right man to lead the church, but two years later, the right man, Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny, arrived on the scene, leading the Syrians until his death two decades later.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Last week, I introduced Fr. Moses Abihider, a little-known Antiochian priest from the early 20th century. One thing we did know was that Fr. Moses was buried at the Antiochian Village along with St. Raphael, with whom he shared a tombstone. But… well, I was wrong about that one. See, before being moved to the Antiochian Village, St. Raphael had been buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens, NY. Fr. Andrew Damick pointed out to me that the tombstone may well have been moved from Mount Olivet along with Raphael’s body. If so, and unless the Antiochian Archdiocese also moved the other clergymen on the tombstone, it’s entirely possible that those clergymen are still in Queens.
I did some digging in my own files and found a copy of a June 23, 1988 letter from Metropolitan Philip to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, stating,
Please be advised that as the official hierarch of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, I hereby authorize the disinternment of the following clergymen from the Mount Olivet Cemetery in the town of Maspeth, Burough of Queens, State of New York, and the transfer of their remains to the newly-established church cemetery on the sacred grounds of the Antiochian Village located in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.
This is followed by, “Grave No. 50: Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny (died Feb. 27, 1915, reinterred at Mount Olivet ca. 1920)”.
A second letter, with the exact same date and wording, authorizes the transfer of the bodies of Bishops Emmanual Abo-Hatab and Sophronios Beshara from Grave 52.
In an earlier document, a 1965 letter from the superintendent of Mount Olivet Cemetery to “Miss G. Hatab” (probably a relative of Bishop Emmanuel), it is noted that Bishop Raphael was buried alone in Grave 50; Frs. Moses Abihider, Agapios Golam, and Makarios Moore were buried in Grave 51; and Abo-Hatab, Beshara, and Fr. Fred Farkouh were buried in Grave 52.
The upshot being that the three bishops — Raphael, Emmanuel, and Sophronios — were moved to the Antiochian Village along with the tombstone, while the four priests (including Fr. Moses Abihider) presumably remained at Mount Olivet. I don’t know whether the Antiochian Archdiocese provided new grave markers for those priests to replace the tombstone.
Another thing worth noting: as is apparent from the photo of the tombstone, the inscriptions for the latter four clergymen — Beshara, Golam, Moore, and Farkouh — were added to the tombstone later. (Those four also died later than the first three.) Thus, the original three names were Hawaweeny, Abo Hatab, and Abihider.
Which makes me even more curious to learn more about Fr. Moses Abihider. I mean, he of all people was considered important enough to be buired alongside (and share a tombstone with) Bishop Raphael and Bishop Emmanuel. What distinguished this parish priest? Why was he deemed “worthy” to be buried with two bishops?
We’ll have more on Fr. Moses in the near future.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
I know I owe you a recap of our recent Princeton symposium, but before I do that, I’m going to launch a new feature here at OH.org. I’m calling it “In Search Of…” The idea is pretty simple: I’ll present what I know about an interesting but obscure figure from American Orthodox history, and I’ll ask readers to help fill in the biographical gaps. If I get a good response, I’ll do a follow-up piece.
Not only do I think this will be a fun exercise, but (crucially) it’s simple enough for me to fit into my own crazy schedule (family, church, law school, etc. – you know the drill). We’ll start today at the top of the alphabet, with the early Syrian (Antiochian) priest Fr. Moses Abihider.
Fr. Moses Abihider (or “Haider,” or “Abi-Hider”)
- Born March 1, 1863
- Died June 10, 1926
- Pastor of St. George Syrian Orthodox Church in Lawrence, MA from at least 1911 to 1912
- Pastor of a Syrian/Antiochian church in Springfield, MA from at least 1915 to 192
- The only anecdote I’ve ever read about Fr. Moses comes from the strange biography of Aftimios Ofiesh, the disgraced ex-Archbishop of Brooklyn. The book was written by Aftimios’ widow, who obviously heard this story from her husband. This reportedly took place in Brooklyn just after St. Raphael’s death (so, March 1915). Aftimios was with St. Raphael’s archdeacon, Emmanuel Abo-Hatab.
Speaking directly to Abohatab, Reverend Abihider said, as told by Aftimios, “You are my friend, Emmanuel, and I like you; however I don’t want you as my bishop.”
Aftimios interrupted saying, “Our bishop is still among us, even though he lies dead. We should have enough respect for our leader to refrain from such discussions now.”
“Don’t tell me this,” replied Reverend Abihider, “tell it to Emmanuel and [Fr. Basil] Kerbawy [dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn]. They are busily engaged among the clergy and laity, telling them that you have ceded this candidacy to Emmanuel.”
[Mariam Ofiesh, Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh (1880-1966): A Biography Revealing his Contribution to Orthodoxy and Christendom (Sun City West, AZ: Aftimios Abihider, 1999), page 57.]
Note the name of the publisher: Aftimios Abihider. This man is now dead, but I remember hearing that he was somehow related to Aftimios Ofiesh. “Abihider” isn’t exactly a common name, so it’s entirely possible that there was a some sort of family connection between Aftimios Ofiesh and Fr. Moses Abihider.
I found the record of Fr. Moses and his family in the 1920 U.S. Census. From this, we learn that Rev. Moses Abihider immigrated to America in 1908, along with his eldest daughter (who would have been about 14 at the time). Two years later, Fr. Moses apparently sent for his wife and other children; in all, he had six daughters and one son (with ages ranging from three to 26) living with him in Springfield, MA in 1920.
Those ages are interesting; Fr. Moses was 15 years older than his wife, who would have been about 16 when they had their first child. And Fr. Moses was well into his fifties by the time his youngest child was born. The age difference between husband and wife seems scandalous to us today, but it was pretty common in turn-of-the-century Syria. (Indeed, my own great-grandparents had a similar age difference.)
The strangest thing about the census record is that it clearly indicates that Fr. Moses and his family were “Serbian,” and born in “Servia.” This can’t be right; the man’s last name is obviously Arabic, and he was a priest of the Syrian (not Serbian) Mission. But it’s just as obvious that the census record reads Servia and Serbian, not Syria and Syrian. I’m pretty sure this was just an error on the part of the census worker who took down the information. But of all the census records I’ve looked at (and I’ve looked at a lot of them), this is the first such error I’ve found.
Anyway, the most notable thing about Fr. Moses is the odd fact that he is one of many clergymen who is buried with St. Raphael at the Antiochian Village. In fact, Fr. Moses shares a tombstone with the great Raphael. I frankly have no idea what was going on here. The Antiochians took possession of St. Raphael’s body not all that long ago (the 1990s, I think), but for some unknown reason, they didn’t build a worthy tomb for their forefather Raphael. Instead, they buried him with a random collection of other clergymen. In order of appearance, you’ve got St. Raphael, Bishop Emmanuel Abo-Hatab, Rev. Moses Abihider, Bishop Sophronios Beshara, Archimandrite Agapios Golam, Archpriest Makarios Moore, and Economos Farid Farkouh. Here, see for yourself:
What’s clear is that Fr. Moses Abihider was associated with some pretty significant figures in American Orthodox history, and he lived through a truly remarkable time. If you know anything that can shed more light on his story, please comment below or send me an email at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Prior to Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny’s death in 1915, pretty much all the Syrian (Antiochian) Orthodox in America recognized his authority. This included St. George Syrian Orthodox Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, which was incorporated in 1910. The parish was under St. Raphael, and all seemed to be well. But in February 1915, St. Raphael died, and his flock split: some recognized the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch, and others the authority of the Russian Holy Synod and its North American Archbishop. This marks the beginning of the “Russy-Antacky” schism, which divided Antiochian Americans for many years.
This split not only divided St. Raphael’s diocese, but individual parishes as well. At St. George in Grand Rapids, the priest came back from St. Raphael’s funeral and told his congregation to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Russian archbishop. Not everyone complied, and pro-Antioch parishioners insisted that their priest commemorate the Patriarch of Antioch in the Divine Liturgy. Meanwhile, the pro-Russian group tried to amend the parish articles of association to place church property under the control of the Russian Holy Synod. The factions went to court, culminating in Hanna v. Malick, a 1923 Michigan Supreme Court case.
The key question in the case is which faction — Russy or Antacky — should have control of the church property. To figure this out, the court had to determine which hierarchy — Russian or Antiochian — was recognized by the parish when it formed in 1910. The Antacky members “claim that they organized under and are subject to the supreme jurisdiction” of Antioch, “whose representative in America was Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn.” The Russy members “claim that this local church was organized under and has always been subject to the supreme jurisdiction” of the Russian Church.
The original parish documents are somewhat ambiguous. Article 2 of the original articles of association describes the purpose of incorporation as follows: “To teach and promulgate the Christian religion in accordance with the tenets and doctrines and creed of the Syrian Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, Syria, and the Syrian Greek Orthodox Church of America, as expounded by the bishop thereof resident at Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.”
According to the trial court judge, the articles were prepared by a local Grand Rapids attorney “after he had asked these men under what jurisdiction this contemplated church was claimed by them to be.” Similar language appears in the parish bylaws:
All persons believing in the divinity of Christ, in God the Father and the Holy Ghost, the sacrament of baptism and marriage in accordance with the articles of faith established by the Orthodox Greek Church of Damascus, Syria, shall be entitled to membership. Members are admitted by baptism and by confession of faith under the rules and tenets of the Orthodox Greek Church of Damascus, Syria. They may be suspended or expelled for violation of the teaching and precept of the church as laid down and expounded by the bishop of the Syrian Greek Orthodox Church of America, resident at Brooklyn, New York.
Now, to a casual reader, these documents seem to recognize Antioch. There’s not a word to be found about the Russian Church. But there are references to the Bishop of Brooklyn, and the Russy party used this fact to argue for Russian jurisdiction. According to the Russy group, all the Orthodox in America were under the Russian hierarchy. In fact, they expounded what is, as best I can tell, the earliest coherent example of the “flag-planting theory” for Russian jurisdiction. Here’s how the trial court explained it: “By virtue of having established in the Western Hemisphere a Russian church, and the territory wherein the church was established having been purchased by the United States, the Russian Church now claims the right to rule over and assumes jurisdiction over all Greek Orthodox churches within the United States, regardless of the nationality of the congregation or the membership of the local church.”
But the court wasn’t interested in the jurisdictional claims themselves. It’s not a dispute between Russia and Antioch, but between members of the local parish, for control over a piece of real estate. Because of this, the paramount question is the intention of the original incorporators. “If this were a lawsuit between the Patriarch of Antioch, on the one hand, and the Holy Russian Synod, on the other hand [...] it is possible that a different question might be raised.”
The case, then, boils down to St. Raphael himself. If he was under Antioch, as the Antacky claimed, then their side would win. If he was under Russia, the case for the Russy would be greatly strengthened. So the court looked at St. Raphael’s own writings: what did the man himself say about his jurisdictional position? The following quotations are from St. Raphael’s periodical Al Kalimat, and were translated for the court (brackets in original):
- “That he [Raphael] was consecrated bishop by the order and permission of Melatois, the Patriarch of Antioch.” (vol. 1, page 2)
- “Those who were consecrated bishops through his [Patriarch of Antioch] consent were his grace, Basileus Dibs, the Metropolite of Akkar, Syria, one of the Antiochian dioceses, and the owner of this magazine, the Bishop of Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.” (vol. 2, page 95)
- “Patriarch Melatois counted the new parish of Brooklyn, New York, as one of the parishes of Antioch.” (vol. 3, pages 95-96)
- “And during his [Melatois'] administration [as patriarch] many unusual things many unusual things took place, such as the demise of several lamented archbishops. For this reason a conclave was had of archbishops, his beatitude presiding, during which conclave there were clected bishops for the seats vacated by such deaths. … Those who received the benediction of ordination into the high priesthood by the sanction of his beatitude are two, to wit, his eminence, Basileus Dibs, archbishop of Akkar, and the editor of this magazine (Bishop Raphael), Bishop of Brooklyn, North America.” (vol. 3, page 95)
- “And the territorial jurisdiction of the See of Antioch became much more extensive during the time of his beatitude, for Syrians who emigrated to many other countries still retained their spiritual relations with and continued to acknowledge and yield allegiance to their mother church, the Holy Church of Antioch, and kept firm in the Orthodox faith. His beatitude manifested the most perfect evidence of his interest in and care for them to the best of his means and ability. In substantiation of this, when the Russian Holy Synod informed him that the lot of presiding in this diocese [the diocese of Brooklyn] had fallen upon our humble self [Raphael], his beatitude hastened to write to the Holy Synod, to His Eminence Tikon, then Archbishop, and to our humble self, sanctioning the choice and declaring that he [his beatitude] had instituted this new diocese as one of the dioceses pertaining to the See of Antioch and thus it is in actuality, notwithstanding its nominal allegiance to the Russian Holy Synod.” (vol. 3, page 95)
- “Whereas, we, the Syrian Orthodox residents of Greater New York and all other parts of North America constituting our new diocese (may God keep it) are considered a vigorous branch of our mother tree, the Church of Antioch; and whereas, this branch has flourished luxuriantly during the days of the administration of our father, may his name be ever blessed, the thrice illustrious Patriarch Melatios; and whereas, his beatitude was the first to sanction and bless the establishment of this new Syrian diocese in this new world.” (vol. 2, page 18)
The trial judge observed that “at first the writings of Bishop Raphael gave to the Patriarch of Antioch jurisdiction over the Syrian branch of the Orthodox Church in the United States, and later gave expression to language indicating that all the branches, including the Syrian branch, of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, were under the jurisdiction of the Holy Synod of Russia.” Without a clear-cut answer from St. Raphael’s own writings, the judge looked at two non-Orthodox sources: Funk & Wagnalls’ Religious Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. The former reported that “the Patriarch of Antioch elevated Raphael to the rank of bishop” (but that Raphael was consecrated by Russian hierarchs), while the latter noted that the Russian archbishop in America “is assisted by two bishops, one for Alaska [...] and one for Orthodox Syrians, residing in Brooklyn.” The secular sources don’t seem to settle things, either.
Texts being insufficient, the judge moved on to consider actions. He observed that “the record shows but one instance where he [Raphael] was directed by any church authority.” That instance was in August 1910, when St. Raphael announced in Al Kalimat an order he had received from the Patriarch of Antioch regarding marriages of Syrian Orthodox in America. In addition, in 1901, St. Raphael wrote that he had received a telegram from the Patriarch informing him of his election as Metropolitan of Salefkias. St. Raphael declined, but the judge saw this as evidence of a relationship between Raphael and Antioch. Furthermore, according to the judge, “It is not shown in this case that during the life of Raphael the authorities of the Russian Church in any manner gave any orders to the Syrian branch of the church, or attempted in any way to direct the actions or utterances of Raphael in his relations with the Syrian Church.”
There are some flaws in this reasoning. Yes, we can establish that there was a close relationship between Raphael and Antioch, but there was also a close relationship between Raphael and the Russian hierarchy in America. It was St. Raphael who, as an archimandrite, welcomed St. Tikhon to America in 1898, and Tikhon and his auxiliary Bishop Innocent were the ones who actually consecrated Raphael in 1904. It was St. Raphael who blessed the land on which St. Tikhon’s Russian Orthodox Monastery was built, and there are countless examples of Raphael working with the Russian Archdiocese in America. The Russians themselves clearly understood Raphael to be one of theirs, and in his 1905 plan for Orthodoxy in America, St. Tikhon includes the Syrian bishop as a crucial part — while at the same time recognizing that Raphael was “almost independent in his own sphere.”
Both parties have a legitimate argument in this case, but as the judge consistently reiterated, this case is ultimately about the intent of the original incorporators of the Grand Rapids church — not about the relative claims of Russia and Antioch in America. Those claims are relevant only insofar as they help us better understand the incorporators’ intent.
In the end, the trial court sides ruled in favor of the Antacky group — that is, as best as the court could determine, the original parish incorporators intended to be under Antiochian jurisdiction. The court based its decision largely on the references to Antioch in the parish documents. Yes, those documents also refer to the bishop of Brooklyn, but the judge saw insufficient evidence to conclude that Raphael was under Russia rather than Antioch. The Michigan Supreme Court upheld the judgment (and, indeed, hardly added a word, mostly quoting directly from the district judge). The Michigan Supreme Court did note that, in light of the chaos that followed the Russian Revolution, “the precautions taken in organizing this Syrian church seem to have justified themselves.”
This is a terribly fascinating case from a historical perspective, and tells us a lot about how the early Antiochians in America thought about themselves. But what are the legal lessons we can learn? The district court judge — affirmed by the state supreme court — could not have employed “deference to higher church authorities” if he had wanted to, since the entire dispute was over which was the correct higher church authority. The judge was forced to employ something along the lines of a neutral principles analysis. Did he get the right answer? Well, it depends on the question. The judge was trying to figure out the intent of the original incorporators, and based on the language of the official documents, it does seem like they intended to be under Antioch. Were they really, in fact, under Antioch? What would the outcome be if the claim was between Antioch and Russia themselves, and actual jurisdiction had to be determined? That is a much, much more complicated question, to which there isn’t a single, clear-cut answer.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.