Metropolitan Joseph Celebrates Milestones with Chicago Community

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Metropolitan Joseph elevates Fr. MousaView the photos by Toni Milak and Sami Studio.

Between January 15– 18, 2015, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph made his first visit to Chicago as Metropolitan, to St. Mary Orthodox Church of Palos Heights, IL, to join Fr. Mousa Haddad, Fr. Malek Rihani, and their parishioners. Throughout the weekend, His Eminence and the St. Mary community celebrated the tremendous growth the church has experienced since starting as a mission only eleven years ago, and looked forward in anticipation of the expansion and renovation of their recently purchased building.

On Thursday January 15 His Eminence, accompanied by His Grace Bishop Nicholas, were welcomed at Chicago’s O’Hare airport by a large delegation led by Fr. Mousa and Mr. Luai Sweiss, the Chairman of St. Mary’s Parish Council. This delegation included the Antiochian clergy of the Chicagoland area, local members of the Archdiocesan Board of Trustees, and parish community leaders. After the arrival of His Eminence, the group was treated to a wonderful lunch hosted by Board of Trustees member Constantin Kari.

Meeting with the Parish CouncilOn Friday evening, our beloved hierarchs, now joined by His Grace Bishop Anthony of the Diocese of the Midwest, attended a benefit dinner to support St. Mary’s in its project to expand and renovate its 42,000 square foot facility. By the grace of God and through the generosity of parishioners, the architecture of the church will be transformed into a Byzantine styled Orthodox Church.

On Saturday morning, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph and their Graces Bishop Anthony and Bishop Nicholas gathered in the church to meet with organization and ministry leaders and members. Present at this gathering were students and teachers from the Sunday School and Arabic School, members of the Antiochian Women, Fellowship of St. John the Divine, Teen SOYO, Athletics Ministry, and Fishers of Men (St. Mary’s men’s group). His Eminence addressed the full church and answered their questions, stressing the importance of our youth, not just as the future of the community, but as an important part of the present.

Later that day, our beloved Hierarchs attended a luncheon hosted by St. Mary’s Parish Council. His Eminence again reminded the Parish Council of their role of assisting and facilitating the clergy as they fulfill their calling of saving souls. His Eminence said to those in attendance that he sees himself as a servant of Christ and His Church, and expects all of his priests to lead their parishes by being an example of servanthood, not looking for titles or recognition. His Eminence offers the homily

That afternoon, His Eminence presided over Great Vespers, joined by our own Antiochian Bishops and by His Grace Bishop Paul (Gassios), the newly consecrated Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest for the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Fourteen clergy from various jurisdictions also participated in the service, which included the Artoklasia in honor of the Feast Day of Ss. Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria.

An eventful Saturday became even more exciting when St. Mary’s hosted an evening Grand Banquet celebrating the election and enthronement of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph. His Eminence was greeted by over 450 people, including our own bishops, as well as His Grace Bishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago and His Grace Bishop Paul. The honorable Robert Straz, Mayor of Palos Heights, was also in attendance and presented to His Eminence a City Council Proclamation welcoming him to Chicago, and declaring Saturday, January 17, 2015, to be “HIS EMINENCE METROPOLITAN JOSEPH DAY IN PALOS HEIGHTS.”

Presentation of “Christ the True Vine”During the dinner, the audience was entertained by a Dabkeh performance given by the renowned St. Mary Dabkeh Troupe, led by Jawad Salman. Later, Parish Council Chairman, Mr. Luai Sweiss gave a detailed presentation, revealing the church’s architectural plans and schedule of renovation. The beautiful renderings of what the new church will look like invoked high emotions, inspiration and excitement to all those present. A special icon of “Christ the True Vine” was unveiled at the banquet. The icon measures 10 feet tall by 16 feet wide and will be placed at the new lobby entrance of the renovated church. This icon will stand as a testament to the generosity and dedication of the parishioners of St. Mary.

His Eminence, along with Fr. Mousa, presented three plaques to those who helped establish and grow St. Mary Church in her young history: Mr. Eid Swais, Dr. Constantin Atallah Kari (posthumously), and the Fuheis American Association of Chicago. In addition, His Eminence bestowed upon 93-year old Mr. Eid Swais the Antonian Silver Medal for his tremendous contribution, not only as a founder of St. Mary, but for being a catalyst and a driving force behind her growth. Following the presentation of awards, gifts were presented to the three Antiochian Hierarchs. Each bishop received an icon of his patron saint. In addition, His Eminence was presented with a Trikiri and Dikiri set. Architect’s rendering of St. Mary

In his keynote address, His Eminence expressed his extreme joy in seeing the progress at St. Mary which he felt was driven by the loving relationship between the clergy (Fr. Mousa and Fr. Malek), the exceptional cooperation between the pastor and the Parish Council, and by parishioners determined to stop at nothing to ensure the spiritual well-being of the entire community. His Eminence reiterated that everyone entrusted to the care of the parish of St. Mary is important and must be served.

In concluding his remarks, his Eminence said that the incredible progress by this young parish of St. Mary has not gone unnoticed; and he pleasantly surprised everyone with the announcement that during Sunday’s Divine Liturgy, he would elevate Fr. Mousa to the dignity of Archpriest. No sooner had he completed these words, than the audience began chanting “Axios!” Only a couple of people had known about the elevation, and in Fr. Mousa’s honor they prepared a slideshow, highlighting Fr. Mousa’s journey as a priest and the many people that he positively impacted along the way. This joyous announcement also enhanced the celebratory mood as our guests began taking to the dance floor to enjoy the music of St. Mary’s very own Mr. Nabil Nemeh and his orchestra.

The weekend’s highlight was of course the Hierarchal Divine Liturgy. His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, assisted by His Grace Bishop Anthony and His Grace Bishop Nicholas, presided at the Divine Liturgy. Alongside Fr. Mousa and Fr. Malek, several visiting clergy also concelebrated at the service: Fr. James Ellison of St. Nicholas in Urbana, IL, Fr. Dimitri Darwish of St. George in Little Falls, NJ, Fr. Habib Ghantous of St. Elias in Peoria, IL, and Archdn. Saed Rihani of St. George in Cicero, IL. Following the Divine Liturgy, Mr. Luai Sweiss hosted the Hierarchs and clergy of St. Mary’s to a delicious seafood lunch.

Later that afternoon, His Grace Bishop Anthony and Fr. Malek Rihani joined Chicago’s new Roman Catholic Archbishop Blase Cupich and other clergy in the annual March for Life in Chicago, commemorating the 42nd anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s regrettable decision to legalize abortion. In addressing the 5,000 Pro-Life marchers, Bishop Anthony delivered these memorable words: “We just received the eternal life [Communion], we must now go and defend life. Each one of us must make the ultimate choice that determines our fate: I either came from no one, to go nowhere and to become nothing, or I came from someone to go somewhere and to become something that God has planned for me!”

This historic visit of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, His Grace Bishop Anthony, and His Grace Bishop Nicholas, was truly inspiring. Their presence in our midst raised the bar, and along with it, God’s expectations of us. They raised our awareness that “saving souls,” in the words of His Eminence, must be above all else. We’re grateful to His Eminence and their Graces for their tireless effort during this visit and for their many expressions of love. We pray that the fruits of their labor will be felt for generations to come. May God grant them many years!