“Entire Syrian Colony of Boston Joins in the Festivities"

Only ten months earlier, Archimandrite Raphael was elected bishop by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.  He was consecrated as Bishop of Brooklyn for the Syrian Orthodox Mission in North America, the first Orthodox bishop consecrated on this continent.  He was no stranger to the Boston Orthodox community, having visited here in 1899 and 1900 as the parish was being organized and again in 1904 and 1905 to initiate a campaign for construction of the first Syrian Orthodox Church in Boston.  The ‘great project’, as he referred to it, was dear to his heart and his love for his Boston flock is evident in his frequent references to this community and her pastor, Fr. George Dow Maloof, in the earliest issues of the ‘Word’ magazine, the journal he started and edited.

On the evening of the 7th, several hundred faithful met Bishop Raphael at South Station when his train arrived from New York.  The weather was fair and the temperature was in the 60’s.  A procession of almost thirty carriages escorted the bishop to St. George Church, a home on Edinboro Street.  There, Bishop Raphael and Fr. George offered prayers, joined in a brief reception and addressed the faithful concerning their steadfastness in the Faith, the growth of their community and the need for an permanent Orthodox Church building in Boston.  The newspaper reported that “the church was crowded and the services were short”.  The same can be said today, depending on when we arrive.  The Bishop told the people that he “was very happy to be in Boston”.  Following the reception, Caesar Malook, the groom’s ‘best man’, escorted Bishop Raphael to the home of Samie and Malaka Arbeely at nearby 71 Hudson Street.

The home was filled with guests who “reverently greeted the Bishop and kissed his hand”.  In the middle of the double parlor a lace covered table was set with two candle stands, a vase of flowers, an Icon and a cross.  The newspaper reporter was quite exact in his description of the ceremony, most likely the first Orthodox marriage service he ever witnessed.  He brought with him a sketch artist to record the event.  Bishop Raphael is described as wearing a “long robe of royal purple lined with green silk”.  His crown was “studded with precious stones and decorated with miniature enamel paintings”.  The gold cross he wore was “received from the Czar” and contained a “relic of the true Cross”.  He describes Fr. George Maloof as being vested in a “brilliant robe of gold and silk”.

The sketch attached here is by Haydon Jones, star illustrator for the Boston Herald.  His keen eye and gifted hand depicts the scene with precise detail.  Jones began his career as an artist with the New York Mail & Express in 1889.  In 1895 he received national recognition for his work with the San Francisco Examiner.  From there he moved to Boston and became the chief illustrator and director of the art department at the Herald.  As a member of the Society of Illustrators he received worldwide recognition and numerous awards.

Syrian Wedding on Hudson StreetHere he captures a moment in the wedding as well as any camera could have.  Fr. George, in the foreground, is drawn as a rather tall man of mature age; he was about sixty years old at the time.  He appears to have a serene, prayerful visage with a high brow and thinning hair combed behind his ears.  He wears wire rimmed glasses and has a very distinctive flowing pointed beard.  His vestments are Russian, identified by the characteristic ‘high back’ at the neck.  His slender gnarled right hand holds a long lit candle.  He reminds me of an Icon of one of our Holy Fathers. The drawing accurately resembles several photographs we have of the cherished founder of our parish.

Bishop Raphael has a strong bold face with a neatly trimmed beard and hair.  His crown is accurately depicted with its enameled icons and trim of precious jewels.  He’s wearing his Bishop’s Mantiya or long outer cloak, with its distinctive embroidered tablets at the chest which represent the Ten Commandments. Under the Mantiya he has on a dark jibbe.  His oval Engolpion with its Icon of the Theotokos rests on his chest reminding him that he must always hold this image in his own heart.  Jones has the Bishop reading from his service book, he seems to be intent in prayer.

Behind the Bishop stand Assad and Rosa, heads inclined as if at the moment of the command, “let us bow our heads to the Lord”.  They hold lit candles in front of them while behind them their ‘shabeen’, Caesar Malook, holds the wedding crowns.  The guests are all finely dressed and intent on the Bishop’s prayer as they hold their lighted candles aloft.  At Rosa’s side is her sister, Lida, acting as her ‘shabeeny’.  Perhaps the woman in the center right, so intently focused on the Bishop, is the bride’s mother, Malaka.

It’s edifying to read accounts of our Orthodox services written by observers for whom, in all likelihood, this was their first encounter with Orthodox Christianity.  By in large they are accurate descriptions of actions and events we too often take for granted.  A good reporter had to be an acute observer and most of these early newspaper writers proved to be masters at their craft.  The unnamed reporter who visited the Arbeely home that spring day was struck with several impressions that he wove into a lovely account of a community rejoicing in the love shared by two of its members.

The blessing and placing of the rings, surely a practice he had never witnessed before, struck him as a key feature of the ceremony.  He reports that after blessing the rings, “the Bishop placed the ring on the finger of the ‘shabeen’, and he in turn placed it on the finger of the groom”.   Then he sites that “the bridesmaid, on receiving a ring, placed it on the bride’s finger”.  For him, the “central feature of the ceremony was the placing of wreaths on the heads of the bride and groom and then exchanging them from one to the other”.   He was also impressed by the “blessing and sharing of the wine and the symbolic walking around the table, typical of an altar”.   Then, he says, “after a general prayer and a blessing, the ceremony was complete and the merrymaking began”.

One of the guests attempted to get everyone’s attention as he recited a melodic congratulatory poem in Arabic which he had composed for the occasion, how often have we heard our resident poets do the same.  The guests rushed to congratulate Rosa and Assad and greeted Fr. George and Bishop Raphael.  The bridal couple and their guests reportedly celebrated with “feasting and the drinking of wine late into the night, long after the clergy had retired”, as is still quite often the case.

The following day a reception was held that lasted into the evening and the entire neighborhood was invited.  The couple then left on a tour lasting several weeks after which they returned to Boston and settled at the Arbeely home.  Rosa died at the same home on the Feast of the Dormition in 1958.  Assad and Rosa remained faithful members of our Orthodox community and theirs is one of the earliest marriages recorded here at St. George Syrian Orthodox Church of Boston.

This, a reflection for the summer, as we celebrate several weddings, an image from the past and a symbolic presentation of the timelessness of human love and the sanctity of sacramental marriage.  As at Cana in Galilee may our community be filled to overflowing with the grace that comes through the presence of Jesus Christ, His mother and His friends.


 Fr. +Timothy







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