As Orthodox Christians we believe that the Saints in Heaven can pray for us in our need. We also believe that it is important when a Church is built or a new Community is established that a Saint that is appropriate is chosen to be our Patron (someone to look to for inspiration) as well as one who seek to protect us. In our case we have two; The Theotokos (God Bearer) Ever Virgin Mary and St Raphael of Brooklyn.
In our Community we look to this feast day for inspiration as it celebrates the appearance of the Mother of God at Blachernae (Vlaherna) in the tenth century. At the end of St. Andrei (Andrew of Constantinople) Yurodivyi's life, he, with his disciple St. Epiphanius, and a group of people, saw the Mother of God, St. John the Baptist, and several other saints and angels during a vigil in the Church of Blachernae, nearby the city gates. The Blachernae Palace church was where several of her relics were kept. The relics were her robe, veil, and part of her belt that had been transferred from Palestine during the fifth century.
The Theotokos approached the center of the church, knelt down and remained in prayer for a long time. Her face was drowned in tears. Then she took her veil (cerement) off and spread it over the people as a sign of protection. During the time, the people in the city were threatened by a barbarian invasion. After the appearance of the Mother of God, the danger was averted and the city was spared from bloodshed and suffering
He was born in Beirut, modern-day Lebanon, to Damascene Syrian parents of the Greek Orthodox faith who had come to Beirut fleeing a massacre of Christians in Damascus. He was first educated at the Damascus Patriarchal School that had become the leading Greek Orthodox institution of higher learning in the Levant under the leadership of Saint Joseph of Damascus. He furthered his study of Christian theology at the Patriarchical Halki seminary in Turkey, and at the Theological Academy in Kiev, Russian Empire (now Ukraine). It was in Russia that he was tonsured as a monk and ordained Deacon and Priest.
Father Raphael was sent to New York City in 1895 by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia to administer the local Orthodox Christian community which then included mainly Russian and other Orthodox immigrants.
One of his key acts was that he served the Liturgy and other Services in ENGLISH as he believed that it was the best way to deal with the demands of the various ethnic groups that made up the Church and it was in accord with the tradition of the Church. He was also known for his generosity to the poor and disadvantaged.
In 1904 he became the first Orthodox bishop to be consecrated in North America; the consecration was performed in New York City by Saint Archbishop Tikhon (Bellavin) and Bishop Innocent (Pustynsky). He served as Bishop of Brooklyn until his death.
During the course of his ministry as an auxiliary bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in America, St. Raphael founded the present-day cathedral of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, established twenty-nine parishes and assisted in the founding of St. Tikhon's Orthodox Monastery.
Father Raphael founded the official magazine of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, "The Word", in 1905, which is still published today. St Raphael worked diligently at translating Greek liturgical books into Arabic and English. These he distributed at his own expense to communities throughout the Middle East and to émigrés in the Americas, Africa, and Australasia, greatly helped preserve Orthodox Christianity in those regions as well as encouraging the appointment of clergy to those regions.
St Raphael is certainly an inspiration for us as we seek to live and share our Orthodox faith.