Isabel Hapgood: The death and funeral of St. Raphael

Clergy surrounding the body of St. Raphael. This photo is mentioned by Isabel Hapgood in her March 8, 1915 article.

Editor’s note: The following article was written by Isabel Hapgood and appeared in the New York Tribune on March 8, 1915. It is the most complete surviving description of the funeral of St. Raphael, who died on February 27, 1915. Hapgood herself had known St. Raphael for nearly two decades, from the time that he first arrived in America.

The first Syro-Arabian Bishop in America was buried yesterday in a tomb beneath the Syro-Arabian Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Brooklyn, which forms his monument.

Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny was born in Damascus, a pure Arab. [In fact, St. Raphael’s family was from Damascus, but he was born in Beirut. – Ed.] From the Patriarchal Theological School, at Khalki, he went to Russia and became so identified with the spirit of the country that he was wont to say, “In soul I am a Russian.” He went in a monastery at Kiev for six years, and then was professor of Arabic at the University of Kazan. A desire for active work brought him to America.

In Russia he was ordained, and it was under the auspices of the Holy Synod that he labored here. On several occasions the Patriarch of Antioch offered him the rank of Metropolitan in his native Syria. It is probable that had he returned he would have become Patriarch, but he felt that his work was among the 25,000 Syro-Arabians here, whom he had organized into thirty parishes.

He came to this country in 1895. His first church was on the second floor of a house in Washington Street, Manhattan. How the floor bore up under the masses of worshippers, especially when the Russian Bishop held services there on his infrequent visits from San Francisco (then the seat of the Russian diocese), I never understood. Another dispensation of Providence was required to avert a catastrophe when we adjourned to the floor above and enjoyed a genuine Arab feast, ending with Arab coffee flavored with rosewater from Syria. All the partitions and supports below had been removed to make space in the church.

Bishop Nicholas, now Archbishop of Warsaw, remarked to me on one occasion: “I know now exactly how Louis XIV felt when he had to eat in public!”

After the feast a couple of handsome young fellows (ladies’ tailors by their American profession) in Albanian costume performed the famous sword play over the oilclothed floor, upon which dressy lengths of ingrain carpet had been loosely laid, with such vigor that they literally cut the gas jets, partly smashed the fixtures and had to be separated by the umpire, who interposed with a dagger — more Providence!

One day a pistol flew from one of the swordsmen’s sashes across the room and landed at my feet — that illustrates the vigor of the proceedings. I captured it and refused to return it until the end of the session — and thereafter, instead of sitting at the side of the room, I took a safe seat by the side of the Russian Bishop.

A few years passed and Father Raphael was able to move his church to a building on Pacific Street, near Hoyt Street, which later on became a cathedral. That was in 1904. Early that year he was raised to the rank of Archimandrite, and in May of that year he was consecrated Bishop, and became the second Vicar of the Russian Archbishop.

Ordinarily three bishops are required for consecration. In this case, owing to its exigencies, only two officiated, the Most Revered Tikhon, Archbishop of Aleutia and North America, now Archbishop of Vilna, and the Right Rev. Innokentz, first Vicar, later Bishop of Yakutsk and Viluisk, and now Archbishop of Tashkent, in Turkestan. That is, I am sure, the only ocasion [sic] when a Bishop of the Orthodox Eastern Church has been consecrated in America, and a wonderful service it was.

The Russian Ambassador, not being able to come, sent his representative, who sat at the right hand of the new Bishop at the banquet which followed. As the only representative of America and the Episcopal Church, I was placed at his left hand, opposite the consecrating prelates, and was called on for a speech after the Ambassador’s representative had conveyed his formal message.

In course of time Bishop Raphael came to know many of the Episcopal clergy, and was highly respected by them. His later alienation from them is regarded as having arisen under misapprehension. By his own people he was cherished as the man to whom they owed their beneficent organizations. The Young Turk element quarrelled with him for reciting the formal prayer for the Sultan, as the ruler of Syria, in the services, and several attempts were made on his life. At times he was obliged to go about with a guard, and I met him in the Syrian restaurants dining with a guard on duty. But he lived down their enmity.

Bishop Raphael died, after an illness of three weeks, from dropsy, kidney trouble and heart disease, worn and gray as a man of seventy with his toils and sufferings.

For a week he lay in state in his cathedral, and morning and evening requiem services were held by the Right Rev. Alexander, Bishop of Alaska, assisted by Russian and Syrian clergy. A wonderful service, picturesque in setting.

Across the foot of the open coffin was draped the purple episcopal mantle, with its crimson velvet “tables of the law.” Over the face lay a sacramental veil of white and silver brocade, embroidered with a gold cross. At the head of the coffin stood pontifical candles, but no longer lighted, as during pontifical service. They were tied with black ribbons, so that their tips spread abroad, reversed and unlighted. Between them, leaning against the head of the catafalque and the coffin rose the crozier. Behind, on a folding lectern, lay a purple velvet cushion, on which were placed the orders and decorations which the Bishop had received, many from Russia. The holy doors in the centre of the ikonostasis, with its many ikoni, were closed and draped in black and gold, purple and silver. All about the walls were more ikoni, and huge floral pieces surrounded the coffin. One of the set pieces was an armchair, of white artificial flowers, with sprays of lavender flowers and surmounted by a canopy or arched gateway of palms, violet tulle and white flowers.

At the evening requiems the church was always filled. Many women waited for hours to secure front seats in the little gallery. More women thronged every step of the stairs. The Syrian priests, in passing, kissed the dead Bishop’s hand, after kissing the cross. The Russian Bishop and priests passed without saluting cross and hand.

The gospels were read night and day, instead of Psalms, as with a layman, by relays of clergy. The Syrians relieved one another at frequent intervals, and showed the finest, most varied forms of intoning.

Bishop Alexander who, by command of the Holy Synod, has charge of the vast Russian Diocese of North America until the newly appointed Archbishop shall arrive, stood at the services motionless (“like a candle” is the Russian term.)

Thursday evening, at the close of the services, a picture was taken of the dead Bishop and the circle of celebrating clergy. After the clergy had retired, representatives of all the Syrian societies, including women, made addresses from the chancel platform about the great work which Bishop Raphael had accomplished for his people in America.

Saturday morning, after the liturgy had been celebrated in Old Church Slavonic and Greek by Bishop Alexander and his clergy, and in Syrian by the Syrians, while the choir of the Russian Theological Seminary from Tenafly, N.J., sang their part in Slavonic, two requiem services were held, the first by the Metropolitan Hermanos Shehadah, of Selveskia Mount Lebanon [should be Baalbek – ed.], Syria (his black, waist-long hair concealed beneath his black cassock and cloth of silver pall) and the Syrian clergy; and the second by Bishop Alexander and a few Russian priests, the seminary choir singing. The Syrian clergy no longer kissed the dead Bishop’s right hand. That lay at rest forevermore. The raised left hand supported a large cross, and this alone was saluted.

Yesterday morning, at 10 o’clock, the liturgy was celebrated by Bishop Alexander, standing at the right of Metropolitan Hermanos, on their eagle rugs upon the dais at the head of Bishop Raphael’s coffin. As was customary, Bishop Alexander was vested on the dais in magnificent vestments of silver brocade. Metropolitan Hermanos wore gold brocade and the tall Metropolitan’s mitre of crimson velvet and gold, from whose crest rose a diamond cross. The choir of the Russian St. Nicholas Cathedral sang, except during the brief intervals when the Syrians chanted.

At a layman’s funeral the clergy wear black velvet and silver; at the funeral of a priest or bishop, no mourning is worn and the flowerlike vestments of the priests, mingling with the magnificent floral pieces, produce a very brilliant effect. The Syrian deacon wore pink brocade with a stole of blue and gold. As only 500 people were allowed by the authorities inside the cathedral, there was space for the ceremony of processions to and from the altar. At 12 o’clock the liturgy ended. At 1:30 the funeral began.

The singing was now done for the Syrians by the boys’ and girls’ choir of the Sunday school, wearing white vestments with lavender crosses, the girls, with mortarboard caps, occasionally assisting the clergy. The Russian singing was done by the clergy, assisted by the adult members of the choir. In all there were about forty priests, Russian and Syrian, who chanted, the Russians led by Archdeacon Vsevolod, of the Russian Cathedral, with his magnificent voice.

Among the hymns, which show the spirit of the service, were:

“Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of thy servant and establish him in Paradise. Where the choirs of the saints, O Lord, and of the just, shine like the stars of heaven, give rest to thy servant, who hath fallen asleep, regarding not all his transgressions.”

“Forasmuch as we all are constrained to that same dread abode, and shall hide ourselves beneath a gravestone like to this, and shall ourselves shortly turn to dust, let us implore of Christ rest for him who hath been translated hence.”

In the Eastern Church there are several orders of burial. One is for a child under seven years old, in which no mention is made of sin, because a child’s soul “is not grown,” as the Russians say, until he is seven. Another is for adult laymen; a third, for those who die in Easter week, in which there are almost no songs of mourning, but all are songs of the joy of the Resurrection; the fourth, for dead priests, has five epistles and five gospels. These were read by the Syrians and the Russians alternately, as were the many hymns, most of which were written by St. John of Damascus.

Then at last the clergy made addresses, Father Basil Kerbawy, dean of the cathedral, Father Sergius Snegyeroff and others, in praise of the Bishop. Father Kerbawy reduced the congregations to tears. Bishop Alexander made the last speech, directly addressing the dead as he stood by the coffin.

After “Memory Eternal” had been proclaimed in Syrian and in Old Church Slavonic, with the addition of the Bishop’s title and name, the procession formed. It is customary to carry the body of a Bishop around the outside of the church and to hold a brief service on each of the four sides before going to the graveyard. This constituted the funeral procession in the present case, as its route was along Pacific Street to Henry Street, thence to State Street, then to Nevins Street and back along Pacific Street to the cathedral.

The procession formed in the following order: Cronin, political leader of the district; squad of mounted police; twenty to thirty small boys in white tunics, with lilac crosses and flowers; the Cathedral committee (honorary pall-bearers); girls, singing hymns; Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society; the Homsian Fraternity; the Syro-American Political Club; members of the various Syrian diocesan parishes; the United Syrian Societies; cathedral Sunday school pupils, carrying crosses, candles and church banners; coaches with floral offerings; Archimandrite [Aftimios] Aphaish of Montreal, carrying the cushion with the late Bishop’s orders; finally, St. Joseph’s Society of Boston.

The dead prelate was borne in an open coffin by the priests, the snowflakes drifting down upon his splendid mantle of purple, crimson and white, his golden mitre, and the white brocade sacramental veil which covered his face. The body was followed by the Orthodox clergy, both Syrian and Russian; last came Bishop Alexander of Alaska. The family of the deceased, parishioners and friends followed, women joining, although it is not the custom to do so abroad.

Directly beneath the altar the Bishop had built for himself a vault. On the return of the procession masses of the flowers were carried into the crypt, and the clergy surrounded the bronze coffin into which the mahogany casket was lowered. The Metropolitan Hermanos made the final address before the coffin was closed, and a most distressing scene of grief ensued. Not only the clergy, but many parishioners, cast earth upon the body of their beloved Bishop.