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Part One: A Brief Reflection on 54 years in the Holy Priesthood

Economos Antony GabrielEconomos Antony GabrielReflections Homepage

Today, it is coincidently the 50th Anniversary of the Repose of our late Metropolitan ANTONY.

While it is a long time ago, the event is like yesterday. I remember kneeling before the altar as His Eminence was about to ordain me a Deacon, and before he did, he whispered: "What name did you choose, since Kenneth is not a saints name?" I whispered back: Elias, the name of our parish. When he began the prayers of elevation, he loudly exclaimed Antony as he banged me on my head with his heavy hands. To this day, I believe he chose my name as a sign of friendship with my parents remembering how often I sat on his lap when the car paraded to the fairgrounds for our annual St. Elias Marahjan, with the late Archbishop SAMUEL standing in the convertible singing and chanting as loudly as possible while ANTONY egged him on. Cars would stop on all sides of the road, of course we had a police escort in those days, but people would stop in their tracks upon hearing that powerful voice.

I was fortunate to have a priest, +Fr. George Karim, who had the voice of—and was himself—an angel, alongside his Khouria Edna. Witnessing the two Princes of the Church together in worship and at a Hafli, we never knew there was any strife between them. And personally, they loved each other, but partisans surrounding them created the problem that lasted until the union effectuated by Metropolitans PHILIP and MICHAEL, years later.

I will forever remember the tall somber Metropolitan ANTONY, in his "gruff" voice state "where there is a will there is a way!" His stature enveloped the Royal Doors when he made this proclamation, hitting the solea with his gold staff. Even though I had prayed as a young man about the ministry, it was at that riveting moment that I was convinced as to the path I was about to embark on for the rest of my life, and that there was no turning back.

Previously, we attended the Anglican Church since there was no real church at the time with youth programs and Sunday School. The Anglicans tried their best to solicit me to study at an Anglican College full scholarship. Bishops Peabody of Boston and Lauriston Scaife of Buffalo tried every measure to entice me to change and become a full-fledged Anglican. But then I remember another word His Eminence said " He who has no past, has no present, nor any future." Wow, I thought, can I deny my heritage? A resounding "No!" emanated from my heart.

The former Priest Mark Campbell and myself were ordained on that cold day in February in Paterson, NJ, where I interned with the late, great Economos Michael Simon. I was ordained on Saturday first and Mark on Sunday. My mother and relatives brought an assortment of Arabic food and delicacies for the meal following the Liturgy. Quite frankly, the episode was a bit frightening; I was used to doing chores or driving His Eminence on trips, and he had never said a word! Then suddenly, Father Alexander Schmemann called me to his office and said, "You will be ordained this Sunday", as I quaked in my shoes. I had to run and call my mother -in-law, who was experienced in making vestments, to do a rush job for me in one week. Good Janna did so beautifully, and others too.

One of the most striking features of the Ordination Service, other than the prayers themselves, was the moment the Archbishop placed the lamb in our hands saying: "Preserve this unblemished until your dying day, for the Lord shall require this of you on the Day of Judgement," as we recited Psalm 50 behind the altar. I recall my mind swirling with the awesome responsibility that lay ahead. "Would I be worthy of this charge?" I was in a "Walter-Mitty State" with a multitude of thoughts swimming in my head.

Also, on that particular weekend, Mark, Nettie, Lynn, and myself stayed in a hotel, each in separate rooms, as we all participated in the Holy Mystery of Confession during Vespers, in a " kenotic" emptying of ourselves, in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in the succeeding days.

We were really blessed to have Fathers Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff from St. Vladimir's Seminary as our sponsors. We were so close to these wonderful men of God. I used to babysit their children and have breakfast with them each morning. I was the youngest seminarian and they took Lynn and myself under their wings, especially since Lynn was the first female to attend St. Vladimir's Seminary. Professor Serge Verhovskoy was very partial to Lynn and stayed in touch with us until his repose, as we did with our sponsors. That will be another story!

Economos Antony Gabriel is Chairman of the Antiochian Heritage Foundation and is recently retired from St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church of Montreal, Quebec and McGill University, and has authored numerous articles in The Word magazine and elsewhere.