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St. Elias Cathedral in Ottawa Celebrates the 85th Anniversary of the Parish and 15th Anniversary of the Cathedral

by Rev. Fr. Nektarios Najjar

The Most Reverend Metropolitan Joseph, Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of All North America, blessed the Clergy and faithful of St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Ottawa by presiding over the celebrations for the 85th anniversary of the parish and the 15th anniversary of the consecration of the Cathedral that took place from September 9-13, 2015.

This historical visit was the first visit of His Eminence to Ottawa after his election as the new Metropolitan. His Eminence arrived in Ottawa on Wednesday, September 9th, 2015. The Very Rev. Fr. Ghattas Hajal, Pastor of the Cathedral, alongside Assistant Pastor Fr. Nektarios Najjar, the parish council, a representative of Ottawa's mayor and the organizing committee of the event welcomed our Father in Christ Metropolitan Joseph at the airport's V.I.P. Salon. 

Sayidna's visit started with a welcome dinner that was hosted by Very Rev. Fr. Ghattas Hajal and Kh. Helene at their home, where His Eminence met Chargé d'affaires of Lebanon Mr. Sami Haddad, as well as the parish's clergy, parish council, church organizations officers and organizing committee.

Mr. Haddad and his wife hosted a lunch on Thursday, September 10th at the Lebanese Embassy to welcome Metropolitan Joseph. Among the guests were ambassadors of various countries including Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. This was an occasion to exchange thoughts and visions towards the situation in the Middle East and the Arab World and a platform for inter-cultural dialogue.

On Thursday night and at Friday noon, His Eminence was hosted by Mr. Dimitri and Mrs. Susanne Zeidan; and Mrs. Joyce Tannis, respectively. Mr. Zeidan served as the parish council president from 2009 to 2014 and is currently serving as a member of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees. Mrs. Tannis was the chairwoman of the 85th Anniversary Organizing Committee, playing an essential role in the success of the occasion.

On Friday morning, Metropolitan Joseph met with the clergy of the Canadian Deanery at the Cathedral's board room. Antiochian priests came from Montreal to join their brothers in Ottawa in that meeting and hear their father's wise words and guidance.

One of the highlights of the week was the great banquet that was held on Friday night at St. Elias Centre in honor of His Eminence. The banquet was well attended by almost 500 participants. Among the guests were His Grace Bishop Alexander of Ottawa, Eastern Canada and Upstate New York; His Excellency Bishop Paul-Marwan Tabet of the Maronite Church in Canada; Mr. Sami Haddad, Chargé d'affaires of Lebanon; His worship Jim Watson, Mayor of Ottawa; Councillors of the City of Ottawa; Very Rev. Fr. Joseph Purpura, chairman of the Archdiocese Department of Youth & Parish Ministries; clergy of the Antiochian Orthodox Church and the Maronite and Melkite Catholic Churches; Mr. Fawaz El Khoury, Vice-Chairman of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees; Mrs. Mary Winstanley O'Connor, member of the Board of Trustees; Mr. Roger David, North American Chair of the Order of St. Ignatius; and representatives of Lebanese associations and political parties.

Among the words that were said in the banquet, Fr. Ghattas addressed His Eminence saying:

"Like your Patron Saint Joseph of Arimathea, who served the body of Christ by taking it down from the cross and burying it in a new Tomb, you are now serving the body of Jesus Christ, which is His Church. Your many accomplishments for the last twenty-one years in this Archdiocese witness to your wise leadership and give us great hope of a bright future. We thank God for Your Eminence and for the Holy Synod who elected you to be our Chief Shepherd."

As for His Eminence, he addressed the attendees and the faithful of St. Elias Parish and congratulated them on this remarkable milestone, the 85th anniversary of the parish, and stressed the fact that it is important to maintain this achievement by looking forward to building a similar future for the coming 85 years of this church. Sayidna reminded the parishioners that God wants servants and dedicated people that have their minds and hearts for Him.

During the Banquet, His Eminence granted the Pastor of the Cathedral, the Very Reverend Fr. Ghattas Hajal, who has led the parish for 23 years and continues to lead it with his great love, the "Antonian Gold Medal of Merit," which is the highest honour given by our Archdiocese, "in recognition of distinguished services of exceptional merit, rendered with generous and unselfish dedication".

Some parishioners were also presented by Fr. Ghattas and Kh. Helene and recognized by receiving Certificates of Meritorious Service from the Metropolitan for their dedication and work in St. Elias Cathedral. The following parishioners were recognized:

  • SUB-DEACON GEORGE SAIKALI
  • NADER HAJJAR
  • GRANT SHACKER
  • GEORGE HANNA
  • CHARLES SAIKALEY
  • SUSANNE ZEIDAN
  • DR. NAWAL SARRAF SAYEGH
  • JOYCE TANNIS
  • FAYE THOMAS

On Saturday morning, all church organizations and especially Sunday school students and teachers were blessed by meeting their father in Christ Metropolitan Joseph in a fatherly encounter at which His Grace Bishop Alexander was also present. This was a chance to hear Sayidna's spiritual guidance and his vision for the Archdiocese, which he bases on the spiritual growth of the youth and the strong faith of the future generation.

Following the meeting, all who were present had lunch with His Eminence and then accompanied him to the new St. Elias Cathedral Library, which he consecrated and blessed. His Eminence thanked Dr. Nawal Sarraf Sayegh for donating the library and Fr. Ghattas announced that the library will be opened for the public to read and research.

On Saturday Evening, the liturgical celebrations of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross started with His Eminence presiding over Great Vespers. At the end of the service, Sayidna spoke about the importance of the Cross in the daily lives of Christians.

Mr. George Hanna, the chairman of the parish council, hosted a dinner on Saturday night honoring Metropolitan Joseph. Bishop Alexander, the clergy, parish council officers, organizing committee and family members were all invited to a familial dinner and encounter with His Eminence.

We believe that the Divine Liturgy is the mirror of the heavenly kingdom. This was what all the faithful sensed on Sunday morning, which was the peak of the celebrations, when His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph presided over the Divine Liturgy celebrating the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. His Eminence was assisted by His Grace Bishop Alexander, Very Rev. Fr. Ghattas Hajal, Very Rev. Fr. Joseph Purpura, Very Rev. Fr. Mitri Housan, Rev. Fr. Nektarios Najjar, and Sub-Deacons Rassem El Massih, Robert Bayouk and George Saikali.

After the Gospel, Metropolitan Joseph granted Fr. Nektarios Najjar the "Epigonation", which is a blessing to be a spiritual father and hear confessions. This service was impressive for St. Elias parishioners, as it is the first time that it was done in this Cathedral.

His Eminence's powerful sermon was about the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. He addressed the faithful saying that each moment in our life is a moment in which we are in risk of danger and sin. The Cross is our companion in these moments, and this is why we cross ourselves before and after each act we do in our daily lives. Metropolitan Joseph said that the Church is open to all believers to come and lay their burden and be healed. We as believers must not come to church as if we come to a social club, but as we come to a place in which we seek first the Kingdom of God.

At the end of the Divine Liturgy, all the faithful worshipped the Holy Cross through a procession for the Feast. Metropolitan Joseph then inducted 23 new parishioners into the Order of Saint Ignatius. Three other members also became life members: George Hanna; Joyce Tannis; and Very Rev. Fr. Ghattas Hajal, who was elevated to life member by His Eminence upon the request of the parish council.

Sunday's luncheon was another encounter between the father and his children. Numerous parishioners attended this lunch, which was an opportunity to extend the communion among each other which is expressed in the Divine Liturgy as well as in communal meals among the one family. During this lunch, His Eminence recognized former parish council presidents. The following former presidents were granted tokens of appreciation:

  • CHARLES SAIKALEY 1992-1997
  • RAYMOND RIZK 1997-1998
  • GABI NESRALAH 1998-2000
  • ANDRE SKAFF 2001-2006
  • SUE PARUCH 2007-2008
  • DIMITRI ZEIDAN 2009-2014

Sayidna's final stop in Ottawa was at the house of a former parish council president and former member of the board of trustees, Charles Saikaley, who hosted His Eminence, the clergy and other parish council members and parishioners in a dinner on Sunday night. Those that gathered in that house said their goodbyes to Metropolitan Joseph and enjoyed beautiful Byzantine chants and oriental songs that gave the gathering a beautiful taste and sealed this visit with beautiful memories.

We at St. Elias Cathedral thank our Lord Jesus Christ for 85 years of blessings and graces. We are so blessed to have a well-established, active and faithful Orthodox community. We also thank His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of All North America, for his fatherly love and numerous blessings that we received in his historical visit to Ottawa.

May God grant His Eminence many years as our chief shepherd and as our father in Christ. May He also grant all Antiochian Orthodox churches in North America many years in faith and service for our Lord Jesus Christ and His flock.