St. Raphael of Brooklyn

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Why do we call St. Raphael of Brooklyn the “Good Shepherd of the Lost Sheep in America”? St. Raphael is called “Good Shepherd” because of his faithfulness to God and his flock as a bishop and priest. The “Lost Sheep” are the people who he was sent to care for and those who he sought out and found. Finally, he was this good shepherd to lost sheep right here in America.

St. Raphael of BrooklynWhen Dr. Ibrahim Arbeely and the Syrian Benevolent Society asked for Fr. Raphael Hawaweeny to be sent to Brooklyn, NY to minister to them, Fr. Raphael was being asked to leave the Kazan Theological Academy in Imperial Russia. He was being asked to leave the glorious splendor of Czarist, Orthodox Russia to go to a non-Orthodox country. He had spent all his years surrounded by Orthodox culture, growing up in Damascus, Syria and being educated in Haliki. Now he was being asked to go to a religiously foreign culture here in America. He had been surrounded by the glories of Orthodox architecture, art, liturgical music, and monastic piety. Now he was being asked to go where there was no monastic life and very few Orthodox Churches.

But Fr. Raphael proved himself a “Good Shepherd” by his willingness to go to America. He proved himself a “Good Shepherd” by leaving the world of academia to educate the uneducated through translating liturgical texts, establishing “The Word” magazine, and writing articles. Rather than lament the lack of a glorious Orthodox presence in this country, he went to work meeting people across the country, establishing 30 parishes in under 20 years.

And to whom was he a “Good Shepherd”? To the “Lost Sheep”. These “Lost Sheep” were the Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian people who came to America looking for a better life (over 90,000 between 1899 and 1910). They were lost because they were in a foreign culture, both socially and religiously. They were lost because they had no shepherd and were scattered from the flock. When a sheep is separated from the herd, it becomes likely prey. When it is with the flock, predators hesitate to strike. The stakes were high for these immigrants in being seduced and assimilating to the various temptations offered to them. America was a “Christian” country, so did it really matter if they practiced Christianity according to the American way?

St. Raphael of BrooklynSt. Raphael recognized that the way to minister to these “Lost Sheep” was not simply to create a religious ghetto to hide in. He encouraged Sunday School to be taught in English. He translated Greek liturgical texts into Arabic so that the priests and people who were new to the country could understand them. But he also worked with Isabel Hapgood to bring texts into English. In other words, he recognized that he was sent to America. He is a good shepherd because he realized his sheep, albeit lost, could be “found” and placed within a “flock” in America.

Today we celebrate St. Raphael not only for what he has done but for what we ask him to continue to do, namely, shepherd us, who are now the lost sheep in America. We are the lost sheep because America has grown and is growing increasingly hostile to us as Orthodox Americans. We are being forced out of the flock of American society because our views do not fit with the naked materialistic and hedonistic mores of current culture. Unfortunately, many baptized Orthodox are “lost” by leaving the flock of their parishes and the life of the church, trusting in their own abilities to not be devoured by the predators of this world. Many of us are lost in a spiritual wilderness, driven by anger, despair, or worry.

St. Raphael comes to shepherd us to “The Good Shepherd”. The heart that spurred him on to leave the comforts of an Orthodox home and culture remains with him. He has proven himself to care about our country. He can bring us from being lost into the flock. Furthermore, by his intercession, God can bring other Americans who are not of the Orthodox fold into the flock (see John 10:16).

Glory to God for being wondrous in his saint, Raphael of Brooklyn and may his shepherding intercessions preserve and keep us in The Good Shepherd’s flock. Amen.