Some thoughts on St Raphael’s original chapel in New York

Exterior of 77 Washington Street, Manhattan. St Raphael’s chapel was on the second floor. From Frank Moss’ book The American Metropolis (1897).
Exterior of 77 Washington Street, Manhattan. St Raphael’s chapel was on the second floor. From Frank Moss’ book The American Metropolis (1897).

At Orthodox History, I just posted three images of St Raphael Hawaweeny’s original chapel in Manhattan, New York. It was an unassuming place — a small room on the second floor of a building, above a Syrian-owned store. As I observed in that article, the chapel isn’t much different than a typical storefront mission church today.

I showed these pictures (well, the two photos, because I just discovered the sketch) to the clergy of the Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America, in a presentation on St Raphael’s time in America. After that presentation, someone pointed out to me that it must have been inspiring and heartening for some of those priests to see the modest beginnings of St Raphael’s ministry. That hadn’t occurred to me — really, I just thought the pictures were cool and complemented the narrative of St Raphael’s life.

But this observer was right: often, I suspect Orthodox people are tempted to think of the saints as people who were so much higher and greater than we are. And in an important sense, that’s true — they’re saints because they set themselves apart for God, living a life that we hold up for emulation. But many of our saints are more like us than we realize. St Raphael lived not so long ago, in an American city, serving a small but growing parish and trying to keep his people in the Church in a non-Orthodox environment full of distractions. And his parish began like so many of our parishes do, as a cramped, rented, unglamorous place. It was far, not just geographically but aesthetically and emotionally, from the cathedrals of Russia and Greece and the ancient holy sites of Palestine and the Levant. And yet it was no less holy: it housed a saint, yes, but more importantly it was the space in which the Divine Liturgy took place and the people of God came together as the Church.

In this way, those pictures of St Raphael’s modest chapel remind me of an account of the blessing of the Kaw (Kansas) River by the Serbian Orthodox parish in Kansas City in 1910: “The Kaw is not ‘blue’ like the Danube, nor clear like the mountain streams of Servia, but to the members of the little church in the Servian colony along its banks its muddy waters will be just as sacred as those of the rivers in their native land.”

Or perhaps: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Here, one more time, is that link to Orthodox History, where you can see all the images of St Raphael’s first chapel.

4 comments:

  1. Dear Matthew — I am looking at the marriage certificate of my grandparents, Sophia Abood and Mike Abraham (Mounier) in 1907. It is signed by Father Nicola Yanney from Kearney, Nebraska. The certificate is from the state of Missouri, so I assume that Father Nicola traveled to St. Louis where they lived, to perform the marriage. My grandfather was from Amyun, and my grandmother from Zahleh, both Christian towns in Lebanon. A couple of years after their marriage, they traveled back to Lebanon where they stayed until 1920. Upon their return to the US, they settled near Pittsburgh, PA. Let me know if you would like a copy of the marriage certificate.

    1. Marlene, I’d love to have a copy of the marriage certificate! My email address is mfnamee at gmail dot com. Thank you!

      You may want to check out the life of Fr. Nicola Yanney that was prepared by his parish in recent years (http://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/files/Father%20Nicola/FN-timeline-for-parish-website.pdf). It indicates that he was in St. Louis on April 29, 1907, where he performed a baptism and marriage. This was during the early part of an extended missionary trip. Later during the same trip, when he was in Colorado in June, he received word from Kearney that his daughter had fallen ill. She died while he was on his way home. Within a week or two, he was back on the road, visiting his people. He was an amazing man.

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