Attending the Glorification Service of
St. Raphael Hawaweeny of Brooklyn,
Shepherd of the Lost Sheep in America
By Christian Moulton
Having been raised in the faith, I have known my whole life that there is little that rivals the joy of Pascha. My wedding was one time. The glorification service of Sayedna (Master) Raphael of Brooklyn was another such moment.
For all our life we Orthodox "lifers" have been praying to saints. Occasionally, we even hear that someone has "become" a saint. In my life I remember when I heard that St. Silouan of Athos and St. Tikhon of Moscow, to name a few, had been canonized. With St. Tikhon, I remembered thinking, "Alright! We’ve got another one!" And with St. Silouan, I remember thinking how cool it was that I had read a book by a saint before he was "made" a saint.
Whether we realize it or not, the saints permeate the lives of us Orthodox. How many times have we venerated their icons? Every one of us knows at least the tropar to our parish’s patron, whether it’s St. George, or St. Nicholas, or, in my case, St. John the Evangelist. And this is only the "low-level" relationship with these people who, we all know, are alive in the Lord.
I had never been to a service in which they "glorify" a saint. I know that I thought to myself back in March, when Fr. Troy told us that Bishop Raphael was going to be glorified by the Orthodox Church in America, "I don’t want to miss this." We booked our hotel room back then, having heard that these services are packed.
We also started to read a lot about Sayedna Raphael. He was amazing. There’s no way anyone could work as hard as he did without really loving God and His people. One Romanian nun my wife talked to that weekend said, "Oh yes – he’s a saint. Who can do the things that he did?" He was a saint.
We also started hearing about the miracles. Stories started trickling in from all over the archdiocese about the different people who had been healed by Bishop Raphael from all kinds of problems, spiritual and physical and psychological. One woman had her anger taken away by Bishop Raphael, a couple of people had their vision healed by him. He even cured a couple kids who had a bipolar mental disorder. And, of course, Bishop Basil was telling everyone to pray to him.
When Memorial Day weekend came, we found nineteen people from my parish planning to catch a plane to Philadelphia that weekend and drive up to South Canaan for the weekend retreat. The more people prepared for the retreat, the more we all got excited about it. It was like another Great Lent, and the weekend leading up to the canonization was like another Holy Week, preparing us for the glory that God would manifest in his grace, Bishop Raphael.
When my group arrived at St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery, whose altar was originally blessed by St. Raphael, we walked in on the last 45 minutes of a long, Russian vigil service. Twenty-four hours before the glorification service would start, the monastery church had only barely enough room for us to squeeze in and receive the anointing with oil from Metropolitan Theodosios. I wavered back and forth for that last 45 minutes of the service listening to the Paschal Canon and staring up at the icons on the high walls and in the stained glass windows.
In the back of my mind Saturday night and Sunday morning, though, was the upcoming glorification. This was a very big change of pace for me. We all know intuitively that worship revolves around Sunday, so much so that we all feel weird eating breakfast Sunday morning before the Agape Vespers on Pascha. Never has my liturgical life revolved around Monday. But this weekend the liturgical of life of thousands of people revolved around Monday and Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn. Even Metropolitan Theodosios’ sermon on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman got turned around to be about our forthcoming saint.
As we all dawdled around the monastery and seminary Sunday afternoon after Liturgy, we all realized that we were just filling up time before the Vigil service at 3 p.m. Sure, I went to the bookstore; how could I not go to the bookstore? And I did walk around the grounds to venerate the different mosaic shrines the monks have built; they even have a well for the Samaritan woman, whose Sunday we had just commemorated. But as early as an hour before the Vigil, hundreds of people were beginning to hang out on the lawn where, we realized, they were setting up for Vigil.
So many people were getting things ready. People were walking in and out of the monastery church where subdeacons and deacons were folding the bishops’ huge mantiya-capes, and there were nine – I counted – bishops’ staffs leaning up against the iconostas. At the big outdoor church, there were about fifteen eagle-rugs set up in a half-circle facing the iconostas for where the bishops’ spots had already been marked.
About fifteen minutes before the Vigil started, I staked my claim on the spot I thought would be the best view – right at the end of the row of bishops. Some older folks had already staked their claim with lawn chairs on the opposite side but hadn’t had the energy to lay claim to my side of the outdoor church. And – by God’s will and great grace – no one had the chutzpah to step in front of me.
By the time 3 p.m. rolled in, hundreds of people had begun to lay claim to the best spots they could find, as the bells spoke in a language we all understood – "Any minute, now!" All of a sudden, we began to softly hear lots of male voices singing the "Christ is Risen…" from the opposite side of the Monastery Church. All glorifications should take place during the Paschal season. There is no more perfect way to begin such a service than to sing Christ is Risen with the other fifteen hundred people, or so, that had joined us there. And the clergy processed in.
There’s a scene in the movie Crocodile Dundee where a thug in New York pulls a little switchblade knife on the backwoods Australian who’s really out of his element. The girl panics, but the Australian seems to be brushing off the thug, and says, "That’s not a knife," and he reaches over his shoulder and pulls out a two-foot machete – "That’s a knife." Well, if you think you’ve had a grand Orthodox procession, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen about seventeen hierarchs, a hundred priests, and dozens of deacons and subdeacons, surrounded by fifteen hundred anxious laity who are getting more wound up because they’re singing "Christ is Risen…." First to come around the church was one of the monks of St. Tikhon carrying the giant blue and gold processional cross they began all their processions with. Following him was one of our Antiochian priests from Toledo who had brought a brand new, large, processional icon of Bishop Raphael that contained a small relic at the base. Following them were at least a hundred priests only in their riassas, cuffs and stoles. But stealing the show from everyone except St. Raphael were the hierarchs, the pillars of the Church, in vibrant red, light blue, or purple mantiya-capes like you see in the icons of St. Innocent of Alaska or St. John of Shanghai.
The difference between this service and a regular vigil that just happens to have lots of clergy is the reliquary. Somewhere in the procession – my sense of chronology got all jumbled in the excitement – four priests were shouldering a wooden frame that carried a gilt box, like a smaller version of what you would expect the Ark of Moses to look like. One of the priests – Fr. John Mack – was almost knocked over while they turned the box to have the wide side facing the two celebrating Metropolitans, as Fr. John was pushed right on top of the table they were about to place it on. Immediately following them, two subdeacons positioned themselves on either side of the reliquary each holding a processional fan at an angle over the reliquary for the entire service. The message sunk in as we all saw the images of the seraphim hovering over the reliquary – Bishop Raphael was the center of attention today.
In a rather anti-climactic manner, after we had waited for all the clergy to process in – and, by the way, I did lose some of my perfect view to the priests who lined up two-deep behind the hierarchs – Fr. Robert Kondratick, chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, opened a folder on a cantor’s stand at the top of the solea and read the proclamation of his holy synod proclaiming St. Raphael to be a saint. And when he went back to stand in front of the holy altar, we knew it was finally about to start.
What can I say about the Vigil service? It was an off-and-on barrage of singing hymns with the choir that we all know and trying to listen to the new hymns for Bishop Raphael that none of us had ever heard before. Contemplate, if you will, that a seven-year-old boy and a seventy-year-old nun were both hearing hymnography for the first time. Most of us were entering into a part of the Orthodox Church that we had never experienced before: we were experiencing a specific example of what "Christ is Risen!" can mean if you live it. We found in St. Raphael a man who had traveled to familiar towns like Brooklyn and Vicksburg and Cleveland, but were all straining to see his icon.
We had the great procession during the litya around the monastery church and sang the Christ is Risen in countless languages. I know that other people cried when Metropolitan Theodosios descended to the reliquary, opened it, and read the petition prayer to our newly glorified, father-among-the-saints Raphael. And we all tried to not be too pushy when we went up to venerate the relics; few of us succeeded. One of the deacons serving says that Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and all Poland, who concelebrated the service with Metropolitan Theodosios, commented as the people were coming to venerate the relics how surprised he was at the civility of Americans on such an occasion in comparison with the old women of Poland and Russia, who would elbow each other out of the way to get to the relics sooner.
The veneration of the relics began as the clergy choir began the canon to St. Raphael, about two-thirds of the way through the Vigil, with all the excitement of approaching the chalice for your first communion. By the end of the third ode, the hierarchs had finished venerating the relics and anointing themselves with oil, and, by the end of the canon, the priests and deacons had finished venerating. With at least forty-five minutes left before the Vigil and First Hour were finished, the laity were not done venerating the relics for an hour and a half – that’s right, forty-five minutes after the service was over, people were still being anointed by the hierarchs and venerating the relics.
What amazed me most was how comfortably some of the most zealous people I know began milling around once they had venerated the relics to find the people they knew and start talking to them about the most wonderful evening of their life – during the service. It seemed that we were all busting at the seams to find our dearest friends in the throng and talk to them about the "best weekend in my life," as so many put it. "Glorious," was the adjective used by those who had managed to retain a sense of calm while still absorbing the grace that seemed to be saturating the air.
May God help us all to experience this joy at some point in our life. If you have never experienced this, then, I can say with all confidence, there is a part of the life of the Church that you have not seen. There is an aspect of "Christ is Risen!" that you have not seen. If you missed this glorification, talk to someone who was there. They have an important message that they want to share with anyone who will listen: "Christ is Risen!"