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The Life and Ministry of Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny

By Paul D. Garrett

In 1894, Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) of the Russian Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and North America was on a "recruiting mission" in his homeland. He was seeking the best clergymen he could find to facilitate work among the Uniate Rusyns in America, who—first in a trickle, then in a stream, and later in a veritable river—sought reentry into their ancestral Orthodox Faith.

The bishop's net drew in such notables of early twentieth-century Orthodoxy as Alexander Hotovitzky, John Kochurov, Benjamin and Leonid Turkevich, and—far from the least—Raphael Hawaweeny.Providence saw to it that Archimandrite Raphael, a thirty-four-year-old professor of Arabic language and literature at the Kazan Theological Academy in Russia (an institution specializing in missionary work among the Muslim inhabitants of the Russian Empire, in Central Asia), received an invitation— actually a plea—from New York's Orthodox Syrian Charitable Organization.

Two clerics had already heeded the call, journeyed to the New World,and swiftiy departed again. When he had been assured by the O.S.C.O. that the Orthodox Arab-Americans would have no reticence about pledging obedience to the Holy Synod of Russia, Raphael accepted the post and joined Bishop Nicholas' retinue for the voyage across the Atlantic. He set foot on American soil for the first time on November 14,1895.


Soon afterward, the cornerstone for the first Saint Nicholas Cathedral in New York was laid,and Archimandrite Raphael settled into the task of teaching, preaching, counseling, and celebrating the liturgy for the New York community. The Orthodox Arab Americans were sufficiently numerous there to support him and keep him busy, and he could easily have found an excuse for falling into a limited, conventional parochial ministry.

His official title, however, was "Leader of the Syrian Orthodox Spiritual Mission in North America," and he took it too seriously to limit his work in this way. As Saint Innocent had done in Alaska and Eastern Asia, and as Innocent's successors continued to do in Alaska and across the continental United States from their headquarters in San Francisco, Raphael set out in mid-1896 on a monumental pastoral journey, in order to acquaint himself with some 4,000 Arabic-speaking Christians in thirty cities along the main rail lines between New York and San Francisco.

Over the course of five months he never stayed in one place for more than four days; often his ministrations required less than twenty-four hours before he returned to the road. His spirit was troubled by the restrictions of staying close to the rail lines. In 1898-99 he made multiple sorties out of Saint Nicholas Cathedral—the "Mother of the Churches"—and back again, reaching in a meandering loop the untouched northern tier of states—Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa; and in other trips visiting Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, en route to Califomia.

Raphael soon became an integral part of the Russian Mission. Utilizing his fluent Russian, he served as censor of the diocesan monthly, the Russian-American Orthodox Messenger, and was a frequent contributor to its pages. His presence in New York prior to the transfer of the episcopal see from San Francisco to New York in 1905 meant that he had, defacto, to join the Russian clergy in providing nurture and guidance to newly arrived missionaries, whose technical training in seminary could in no wise adequately prepare them for the radical novelty of service in heterodox America.


It simply cannot be disputed that Raphael's canonical loyalty to the Synod of Russia was sincere and unwavering, and his appreciation of the Slavic spirit very high. Nevertheless, he was a proud son of the Church of Antioch and greatly rejoiced at the restoration of the Patriarchate to Arab hands in 1898—an event which removed the only barrier to his return home. Soon the highly prized archimandrite was receiving requests from Damascus that he return, to head the See of Seleucia. Raphael demurred, claiming that he had first to build in Brooklyn the proper church, for which he had been collecting monies across America during his travels.

The Patriarch bode his time. When Bishop Tikhon consecrated Saint Nicholas Cathedral on November 9, 1902, one of the Russian priests present observed, "If anything bothers the Arab flock, it is the anticipated separation of their pastor... Now the church is completed, and recently the Archimandrite received a telegram from Patriarch Meletios: 'When will you come to us?'—to which he again replied that it is impossible for him right now to abandon his American flock."

Ultimately, he did not leave, but with the full knowledge and concord of Patriarch Meletios, accepted the first episcopal consecration in America (and its increased burdens) at the hands of Bishops Tikhon and Innocent (Pustynskii). The canonical election took place in theRussian Saint Nicholas Cathedral on March 12, 1906, and the historic consecration was held in the Syro-Arab Saint Nicholas next day. As he entrusted the staff of office to the new bishop, Saint Tikhon emphasized that his flock had seen many" 'cloudy and dark days'... like sheep without a shepherd. . . scattered over the whole face of the land.., guileless, trusting as children, they often became spoils of the 'beasts of the city' and had no one to 'seek and find' them"—prior to Raphael. The last nine years of his life would be entirely devoted to changing this situation.


Realizing that he could not be physically present everywhere, and that the peddler's life most typical of his flock would not make it feasible to incorporate all of them into parishes, he expanded the literary ministry which he had always exercised by founding a diocesan magazine, al-Kalimat (The Word). As a close collaborator with Father Alexander Hotovitzky on the Russian Messenger, he knew firsthand the plight of American Orthodox editors/ publishers: they do not simply peruse and pass on to press the articles that cross their desks; they write nearly every word of every article of every issue.

And so it was over most of the course of al-Kalimat. The pages are filled with probing historical and theological articles and minutely detailed chronicles of Raphael's never-flagging travels in the Saint Innocent tradition. These included the joyful founding and consecration of churches, and the less enviable archpastoral task of disciplining priests and preventing schisms among immigrants from different regions and villages of the Middle East.

Despite all the problems of his high office, Bishop Raphael endeavored to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world," as the Lord also enjoined his followers (Matthew 5:13, 14). At his own expense he distributed copies of al-Kalimat to the Middle East and to emigres on every continent, leaving himself penniless at the end of his life. Day and night he labored over fresh, and in some cases premiere, translations into Arabic of the liturgical books of the Orthodox Church.

He resisted repeated attempts by the Patriarchate to lure him home; the archdioceses of Beirut, Zahleh, Aleppo, Akkar, Tripoli, and Tyre-and-Sidon-—even the Patriarchal Vicarate in Damascus—were all offered and declined, yet he maintained the most intimate of communications with his Mother Church. The pages of al-Kalimat clearly reveal that he was consulted before, and informed of the outcome directly after, virtually every important decision in the Patriarchate.

He publicized these decisions in his journal for the faithful's edification, along with his voluminous correspondence with Old World hierarchs. Often the subject was the importation of clergy to serve the needs of the parishes, the number of which had grown to thirty by 1913;or their retum home when life in America weighed too heavy on them or their families. The tension which all bishops felt between training these men to deal with the American situation realistically, and advancing American-born men to the priesthood (most often without specific training), weighed on this very cautious soul.

Raphael never broke the formal canonical bonds with Russia; indeed, he became ever more deeply involved in the life of the Russian Diocese. He saw no conflict between this involvement and his service as the veritable envoy of Antioch in America.

America also teemed with refugees from the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, and Raphael kept up a conscientious and voluminous correspondence with these ancient centers of Christendom. Archdeacon Emmanuel Abo-Hatab, Bishop Raphael's secretary and eventual successor, maintained that "these other churches considered him an ecclesiastical leader who possessed the true faith and correct teaching—a good chief and leader." The Russian hierarchy seems not to have objected to this arrangement; it certainly mirrored their own orientation of keeping one foot planted firmly in each world. The Consistory's only complaint with Bishop Raphael was that he was too busy to visit frequently enough or to contribute articles to their journal.


More so than any bishop of the time (with the possible exception of Saint Tikhon), Raphael accepted the realities of life in America, and refused to rail against and fight with them. Superficially, photographs show him slowly evolving from a stern-looking archimandrite on his arrival, to a kindly visaged gentleman-priest in clerical collar and tailored business suit. More profoundly, when he saw his young people drifting away from the Church because they did not understand the Arabic of their elders, he did not insist on Saturday classes in the forgotten tongue, but instituted English-language Sunday school instruction and services in the new vernacular.

He found time in his schedule to collaborate with such pioneers of the Anglicizing of Orthodoxy as Isabel F. Hapgood and Father Nathanael Irvine. In Bishop Raphael one can see incarnate Saint Innocent's 1867 call for an English-speaking hierarchy and clergy, and the inevitable adoption of English for liturgical and educational purposes. The bishop could afford this attitude, of course, since he had become absolutely fluent in English (as well as Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Russian, and French) and was a much-sought-after speaker in the non-Orthodox churches of New York.

A very significant part of Raphael's coming to grips with American society lay in the area of ecumenism. In the "native lands" of Orthodox Christianity, the Orthodox Faith was either an established and virtually uncontested state religion, a persecuted underdog to another state religion, or one party in a more or less constant "holy war" among multiple sects. Catholicism was generally viewed as a "known threat" seeking to absorb the Orthodox; Protestantism was seen as a deformed form of Catholicism, usually confined to lands seldom visited by Orthodox. Only in America was the reality of having to live in "peaceful coexistence" with other faiths encountered. Raphael quickly adapted to this situation and became highly esteemed for his grace and tact.


The most natural and friendly relations between the Orthodox and Western Christians occurred with the Episcopalians, since they were not outwardly proselytistic and were openly helpful, morally and financially, to the plight of the immigrants. Contacts between Canterbury and Moscow dated back to Metropolitan Philaret's tenure and by the turn of the twentieth century had grown particularly fruitful, with individual hierarchs of the Russian Church privately expressing hopes for a corporate reunion of the two confessions and recognizing the validity of Anglican Orders. Among these hierarchs were the progressive Archbishops of North America Tikhon, Platon, and Evdokim.

Orthodox hierarchs and clergymen were regularly invited to address the annual general conventions of the Episcopal Church.

In 1910 Raphael was invited, and he declared, "I hope the day is not far off when we will no longer say, 'our church, your church,' our bishops, your bishops,' but will say, our church, our bishops,' just as we now say, 'the Head of the Church is our Lord Jesus Christ.'

Prompted and supportedby Archbishop Platon, Raphael took two concrete steps towards that end. First, on October 13,1908, he accepted a vice-presidency in the newly formed Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Church Union. More significantly, in June of 1910, he authorized Episcopalian ministrations to Orthodox Christians in a number of carefully delineated situations where they could not avail themselves of the services of an Orthodox priest.

Within fifteen months, however, he withdrew the edict and reluctantly severed all connections with the Union. Factors contributing to this decision included complaints about a number of individual Episcopal clergymen overstepping the boundaries of the decree, as well as reports of a significant number of Orthodox laypeople misunderstanding its intent and taking it to mean a state of defacto union— which no one bishop could conclude. Close contact with representatives of the Anglican side left both Raphael and Platon with a "personal regard and love" for them individually, but with as strong a certitude that authentic, theologically based union was not yet possible.


Like Saint Innocent, Raphael was not diverted by his many side interests and pursuits from the main focus of his calling - ministering to the flock. As early as 1909, his travels caused him to grow gray, and triggered a painful case of rheumatism which kept him bedridden for an extended period. Heart disease progressed, and in 1914 he was incapacitated for an even longer period. He recovered and undertook a major visitation of his parishes. In January of 1915 he sought medical help.

On February 22, 1915, Bishop Alexander (Nemolovsky) paid a visit, and found Bishop Raphael confined to an armchair. From there he had worked feverishly to complete his translation of the Euchologion, then said his "Lord, now lellest Thou Thy servant depart in peace." He entrusted to Alexander the archpastoral staff he had received just short of eleven years earlier, begging him to see that it be passed on to a worthy successor. Throughout the Arab and Russian parishes prayers went up for his recovery. But this was not the will of God. Bishop Raphael had completed the way he should go, and departed this life sometime after midnight on February 27, 1915.

Vested by Bishop Alexander and the local Arab and Russian clergy, he lay instate for a full week as special permission was obtained from the City of New York to inter his remains beneath the altar of Saint Nicholas Cathedral. Twenty-three of the clergymen whom he had left orphaned across the continent gathered to bid farewell to their father.

The funeral proper saw twenty-three Arab, eighteen Russian, and three Greek priests, and four deacons. As the masses wept and wailed and would not be comforted, clergymen and poets vied with one another to praise the departed's qualities in the most exalted terms. But none surpassed the tribute paid him three years before in the pages of a Brooklyn daily by the Episcopalian Reverend T. J. Lacy: Bishop Raphael was a"rare man," reminiscent of the Apostle Paul himself, sitting in the lowly quarters of Rome, receiving all visitors in patience, sympathy, and hospitality. "I consider Bishop Raphael," Lacy wrote, "as one of the most outstanding men in our city, a worthy prelate, an outstanding scholar, a selfless Christian, a friend of the poor and a social worker among his compatriots a man of whom our Brooklyn can be proud."

May his memory be eternal!

-Again Magazine December 1993 Page 6-9