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by Archdeacon Saed Rihani
It was a weekend like no other! For months we prepared for this special event, the highlight of this year, and our entire existence as a parish. Between September 27-29th, 2013, we were about to celebrate our 50th Anniversary as St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cicero!
Excitement built up when we knew that our beloved Metropolitan, His Eminence Sayidna Philip, would be presiding over the weekend’s activities. We were also blessed with the presence of His Grace Bishop Antoun, Bishop of Miami and the Southwest, as well as His Grace Bishop Anthony of our diocese. We were also honored to have Subdeacon Rassem Massih, who accompanied the Metropolitan on this visit. Everyone from all ages were thrilled to be part of this historic celebration; a celebration of a parish that has faced obstacles in its history, but overcame them with faith and hard work!
The weekend began with a private dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mansour Rayan. Mansour, Archdiocese Board of Trustees Member, and his gracious wife Wafa, were hosts at this private dinner to kick off the events. We enjoyed an evening of fellowship and music, an evening which began with a prayer service in the Chapel. Our sincere thanks to Mansour and Wafa for their gracious hospitality and for an evening of fellowship and fun!
Our children were very excited about this celebration and came to the church on Saturday morning to greet our hierarchs, and to receive their blessing. Sayidna enjoyed meeting our children and answered their questions on this special day that was designed with them in mind. They enjoyed making a craft as they waited for Sayidna to join them later in the fellowship Hall. Afterwards, an elegant dinner was prepared especially for the children and enjoyed by all in the hall following the gathering. Our sincere thanks to the entire Sunday School family, led by Karen Nawas, our principal.
A day would not be complete without Sayidna meeting with our organizational heads. On Saturday evening, we enjoyed a gathering at a local restaurant, The Grotto. Over 70 persons, including officers of SOYO, The Fellowship, The Ladies Guild, chanters, as well as Parish Council and the Order of St. Ignatius members, broke bread together and enjoyed an evening of fellowship. It was an opportunity to receive Sayidna’s blessing at this small gathering, and for Sayidna to say a few words of encouragement to our leaders. Thanks to Elie Haj and Johnny Massih for organizing this event.
The highlight of our celebration finally arrived! The hierarchical Divine Liturgy began with Matins, and the arrival of His Eminence Metropolitan Philip at St. George, Shrine of the Icon of The Miraculous Lady of Cicero. Our pastor, the Economos Fr. Nicholas Dahdal, along with Archdeacon Saed Rihani and Deacon Bassam Al Sweis were honored to welcome that morning, along with our beloved hierarchs, the Economos Fr. Antony Gabriel (pastor of St. George in Montreal) , one of the first full time pastors of St. George (1966-1975). Also joining us were clergy from the local Antiochian Parishes: Holy Transfiguration in Warrenville, All Saints in Chicago, and Saint Mary in Palos Heights.
The Divine Liturgy was most beautiful and elevated everyone’s spirits to prayer and celebration. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, our Deacon Saed was elevated to Archdeacon, honoring his 25 years of service to the Church. Also, we honored our Head Chanter, Mr. Jameel Haddad, for his service to our community for over 40 years. Subdeacon Mazen Khalifeh was also honored for his service also of over 40 years to the St. George Community. Both were given the Certificate of Meritorious Service by the Metropolitan.
At the conclusion of the Liturgy, Sayidna inducted eighteen members of the community into the Order of St. Ignatius; 15 new members, and 3 upgraded to life members. Thanks be to God!
You would think that the weekend was over, but not quite yet! Our social highlight was the Grand Banquet held on Sunday evening at the luxurious Drury Lane in Oak Brook Terrace. Over 650 persons were in attendance at this celebration. It included brief presentations of the founding pastor; 2nd Pastor, the recently departed servant of God, Archimandrite Fr. Athanasios Emmert; our current Pastor, Economos Fr. Nicholas Dahdal, Parish Council Chairperson, and a brief pictorial presentation of the parish over the past 50 years. Others were recognized who served this community over the past 50 years. The highlight, of course, was the address by Sayidna Philip.
Sayidna spoke of the importance of this parish’s growth over the years, its vitality and the hard work by all its clergy. At the conclusion of his address, Sayidna recognized the only surviving founder of St. George, Mr. Nicola Haddad, a life member of the Order of St. Ignatius and an avid supporter of St. George. Sayidna bestowed upon him the Antonian Silver Medal for Service. It was a surprise and moving moment when Sayidna bestowed upon our pastor, the Economos Fr. Nicholas Dahdal the Antonian Gold Medal for his unselfish and tireless service to the community; for his 27 years as pastor who has taken this church through a fire, and rebuilt not only the church building, but the community as well! Everyone cheered, and the hall echoed with Axios…He is Worthy…Mustahiq!
The Grand Banquet continued with lovely Arabic entertainment. Everyone who attended enjoyed the reminiscing about old times, spending time with old friends, and making new ones! Each one of us could relate to one or more decades of our life at St. George, and the impact Church life has had on their families. Whether you belonged to SOYO, The Fellowship , the Ladies Guild or Parish Council, each person at the Banquet, and those who participated in this weekend’s festivities felt a part of the St. George History. And as we concluded this weekend, we begin to climb another peak, a peak which will take us to our next celebration …. Our 60th! Our 75th … and, God willing, our 100th anniversary!
Thank you, Sayidna Philip, for your blessings this weekend. You have touched the lives of all of us at St. George of Cicero, and we thank God for you. God bless you Sayidna, and may God grant you many many years! May God also watch over our parish of St. George of Cicero, previously in Oak Park, for what we pray will be more blessed days ahead.
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