St. Nicholas Cathedral of Brooklyn: A Brief History
The Establishment of the Community: 1895
In the mid 1890s, Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians from various Middle Eastern countries living in Metropolitan New York formed the Charitable Syrian Orthodox Association. At that time the established Orthodox Church in North America was shepherded by clergy from the Church of Russia. The members of the Charitable Syrian Orthodox Association petitioned the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Archdiocese for an administrator who could speak their language and minister to them according to their customs. The choice for this ministry was Archmandrite Raphael Hawaweeny who was studying in Russia at the time. He was summoned to New York, after consultation with the Holy Synods of Antioch and Russia, and he arrived in the New World in November 1895. A loft at 77 Washington Street in Manhattan was converted into the first church for the Arabic-speaking Orthodox and Father Raphael ministered to their needs. One of the first families on record at that time was the Arbeely Family.
The Move to Brooklyn and the St. Raphael Era
The parish outgrew their small church in Manhattan and in 1902, they purchased a building at 301-303 Pacific Street in Brooklyn where a larger Arabic-speaking community had been established. It was consecrated by the Russian Bishop TIKHON (later Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia), and named after the Great Wonder-Worker, Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. In March 1904, the Primate of the Russian Church in North America TIKHON, and INNOCENT, a vicar bishop to TIKHON (TIKHON would later also be canonized a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church) elected Archmandrite Raphael Hawaweeny as a Vicar Bishop to TIKHON and the spiritual head of the Syrian Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America. RAPHAEL was given the title "Bishop of Brooklyn" and head of the "Syrian Mission". St. Nicholas Church of Brooklyn was designated as his cathedral. Bishop RAPHAEL served with great dignity and added thirty parishes to his "Mission" during those ensuing years. He established a publication called "Al Kalimat" (THE WORD), through which he informed his readership of the truths of Orthodoxy. Bishop RAPHAEL fell asleep in the Lord in 1915, but his memory and accomplishments would not be forgotten.
The Canonization of St. Raphael
On May 29th, 2000, at St. Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan, PA, the monastery that Bishop RAPHAEL helped consecrate many years earlier, he was glorified as a saint of the Holy Orthodox Church by the Orthodox Church in America. Their Graces, Bishops BASIL and DEMETRI represented our Archdiocese at this memorable event. Many faithful of the Brooklyn Cathedral, St. Raphael's first community, made the pilgrimage to St.Tikhon's Monastery for this blessed event. Later that year, on his first feast day, November 4, 2000 (the first Saturday of November), St. Nicholas Cathedral welcomed His Grace, Bishiop DEMETRI to celebrate this memorable event. On the eve of the feast at Great Vespers, His Beatitude, Metropolitan THEODOSIUS, the former primate of the Orthodox Church in America, presented St. Nicholas Cathedral with a large reliquary containing the relics and icon of St. Raphael. This reliquary remains as a permanent appointment of the Cathedral.