Russian Orthodox Bishop of Brooklyn


"I am an Arab by birth, a Greek by education, with a Slavic heart, a Russian soul, and an American citizenship."
 Raphael of Brooklyn

In the annals of Orthodoxy, the name of St. Raphael of Brooklyn stands tall—a beacon of faith, dedication, and ecclesiastical leadership. Born Raphael Hawaweeny in what is now Lebanon, he navigated a path through the tumultuous waters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to become the first Orthodox bishop consecrated on American soil. His legacy is not only foundational to the United Roman-Ruthenian Church as the predecessor of Saint Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh,  but also a testament to the enduring spirit of Orthodoxy around the world.

Early Life and Education: The Making of a Spiritual Leader

St. Raphael's journey in this world began on November 20, 1860, amidst the backdrop of the 1860 Syrian Civil War. His family, fleeing the violence in Damascus, found refuge in Beirut, where Raphael was born. From these challenging beginnings, Raphael was destined for spiritual and academic greatness. His initial education at the Damascus Patriarchal School paved the way for advanced theological studies at the Patriarchal Halki seminary in Constantinople and the Theological Academy in Kiev, Russian Empire. These institutions, particularly the Damascus Patriarchal School under Joseph of Damascus, were instrumental in shaping the young Raphael into a future leader of the Orthodox Church.

A Mission Across the Atlantic: St. Raphael's American Ministry

In 1895, Tsar St. Nicholas II of Russia dispatched Father Raphael to New York City to minister to a growing Orthodox Christian community. This diverse flock included Russians, Greeks, Romanians, and Arabs, many of whom were in dire need of pastoral care in their native languages. Responding to the call, Raphael became a unifying figure for Orthodox Christians in America, catering especially to the Arabic-speaking faithful.

The Consecration of America's First Orthodox Bishop

The year 1904 marked a historic moment in the Orthodox Church in America with Raphael's consecration as its first bishop. This monumental event, officiated by Archbishop Tikhon and Bishop Innocent in New York City, underscored the emerging significance of the Orthodox faith in America. As Bishop of Brooklyn, Raphael embarked on a mission to solidify and expand the Orthodox presence across the continent.

A Legacy of Growth and Devotion

Throughout his episcopacy, St. Raphael's achievements were numerous and profound. He founded St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Brooklyn, established thirty parishes, and built over 30 churches. His efforts were instrumental in the founding of St. Tikhon's Orthodox Monastery, a beacon of Orthodoxy and spiritual retreat in America.

Beyond his architectural and institutional legacies, St. Raphael also left a significant literary mark. In 1905, he founded The Word, the official magazine of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, and authored numerous works that, though largely untranslated and unpublished, remain influential.

The Final Resting Place of a Saint

After his death on February 27, 1915, Bishop Raphael was initially buried in New York. However, in a testament to his enduring legacy, his relics were translated to the Antiochian Village Camp in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, in August 1988. This final resting place, shared with several other bishops and clergy, became a pilgrimage site for those wishing to honor his memory.

St. Raphael's Canonization and Commemoration

In March 2000, St. Raphael's contributions to the Orthodox Church in America were formally recognized when he was glorified by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). He is commemorated on February 27, the anniversary of his death, by the OCA, and on the first Saturday of November by the Antiochian Orthodox Church, near the Synaxis of the Archangels.

St. Raphael of Brooklyn's story is a powerful reminder of the impact one individual can have on the spiritual life of a nation. His dedication to his faith, his flock, and the foundational work of the Orthodox Church in America resonates to this day, making him a pivotal figure in the history of the United Roman-Ruthenian Church and the wider Orthodox community.

The Enduring Legacy of St. Raphael

From his early life in a war-torn region of the Middle East to his final days as a beloved bishop in Brooklyn, St. Raphael of Brooklyn’s journey was one of faith, perseverance, and leadership. He not only laid the groundwork for the Orthodox Church’s expansion in America but also fostered a sense of unity and community among Orthodox Christians of diverse backgrounds. His life and work continue to inspire generations, serving as a luminous example of pastoral dedication and ecclesiastical vision. St. Raphael’s legacy is a testament to the power of faith to transcend boundaries, bring people together, and build a lasting spiritual heritage.

Read more about St. Raphael's successor St. Aftimios Ofiesh here.






















Crown, International, and United States Copyright Held � 2008-2021, All Rights Reserved.