Saturday, November 04, 2006

St. Raphael of Brooklyn, Bishop and Confessor

St. Raphael of Brooklyn, intercessor for the Western Rite, ora pro nobis!

The Western Rite Ordo today commemorates St. Raphael of Brooklyn. St. Raphael of Brooklyn is known for many things: his sanctity, his wise pastoral leadership, and also for being the first Arab-American saint (at least, the first canonized). He should also be praised for his work promoting the Western Rite within Holy Orthodoxy.

When a group of Anglicans approached St. Tikhon (Bellavin) about joining the Orthodox Church as its Western Rite (retaining some variant of services found in their Book of Common Prayer), Fr. Edward Hughes says it was St. Raphael who drafted the letter of inquiry to the Synod. The result was the 1904 Russian Observations Upon the American Prayer Book, delineating the exact contours under which such union would be possible. The document demanded certain changes to the eucharistic liturgy, which the Western Rite (under Antioch and ROCOR) has since implemented.

Throughout St. Raphel's pastoral life, he longed for the return of Episcopalians to the Orthodox Church and worked tirelessly for reunion. (The Church had invited PECUSA Bp. Charles Grafton to attend his consecration in 1904, but he had to decline for health reasons.) St. Raphael was a loving and trusting man. When High Church Episcopalians told him their faith (and that of all their brethren) mirrored Orthodoxy, St. Raphael issued a statement that Orthodox may seek out Episcopal priests in cases of extreme necessity, provided no Orthodox priest was available. PECUSA promptly took advantage of his trust, sheep-stealing as many Arabs as possible. This caused St. Raphael to resign his position as vice president of the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union in 1911 and rescind his pastoral decree. St. Raphael continued to promote the idea of an American Church with a Western Rite until his repose in 1915.

Shortly after his translation, the Orthodox Church would task one of his successors with forming an American Orthodox Church., resulting in the ordination of Fr. Ignatius Nichols as Bishop (later Archbishop) of Washington, D.C., and head of the Western Rite. When St. Raphael's successor proved less than saintly, and the Bolshevik Revolution engendered the canonical confusion still evident in North America, Abp. Nichols founded the Society of Clerks Secular of St. Basil (SSB). The group's canonical status would be re-established when Antiochian Patriarch Alexander III (Tahan) approved the formation of the Western Rite Vicariate on May 31, 1958. Like another recent convert, Bp. Alexander Turner lay aside his mitre to join Orthodoxy, becoming the first Vicar-General of the Western Rite. No Western Rite would have been possible without the wise and loving view of St. Raphael of Brooklyn, who worked and longed for its development and the reconciliation of the West. May he always remember the Western Rite in his prayers; bathed in his sanctity, his petitions will not go unheard.

(P.S.: Spraznikum to Huw, whose heavenly intercessor St. Raphael is.)

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