by Catherine Doherty (1968).
There are moments in human lives that are truly inexpressible—moments when one gropes for words that all shrink into nothingness before the happenings or thoughts that occur in this once-in-a-lifetime business.
Some ten years ago (in 1959), we had a sign from God. How big that sign was going to be, we did not know.
A Melkite priest by the name of Joseph Raya was brought to us by a mutual friend. He was at the time, pastor of a parish in Birmingham, Alabama.
He came somewhat reluctantly, but after two days he fell in love with Madonna House, especially with its motto, Pax Caritas, peace and love, and with our spirituality, which he declared was his since he was a child. And he demanded, and I mean demanded, to receive the Madonna House cross (which only the members wear) instantly.
So urgent, so strangely compelling was his request that Fr. Callahan (the director of our priests) waived some of the rules we had established rather loosely for future associate priests, if there be any, in our constitution.
So Fr. Raya became the first associate priest of Madonna House.
I said it was a sign from God because I had a dream at which I had been working from the very beginning of my arrival in Canada, an ecumenical dream, which wasn’t popular with anyone, Protestant or Catholic, in the U.S.A. or Canada. Yet, I desired with a passionate desire to see the union of East and West in the Church of God, his Bride. I hated any wounds in her, any split.
So all through the years, until the arrival of Fr. Raya, I was praying and working in my small and humble way at this reunion, and trying constantly to explain to the members of Friendship House and Madonna House, as much as they would accept, the spirit of the East and its spiritual ways. For many years I was not too successful.
But slowly, drop by drop, there was a little acceptance here, a little increased interest there.
Suddenly this sign of God came, a sign of approval as it were, on this dream of mine, and that sign was Fr. Raya.
His personality, his ways of putting things, his holiness, and his tremendous love of God, hit Madonna House ecumenically, I think, like a ton of bricks!
He had a way with him that attracted, that made him loved, and therefore the acceptance of the Eastern spirituality became easier, and many amongst us were deeply attracted to the Eastern liturgy and to Eastern spirituality. Icons made their appearance… Oh, so many things happened.
The years kept going by. One of our priests became bi-ritual, and so the Eastern liturgy became a part of Madonna House in Combermere, and of course, of the spirituality of the staff. (Guests, too, were exposed to it, and many were very much attracted.)
Then suddenly (in 1967) Fr. Raya was appointed to be archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee in the Holy Land!
In 1968 just after he was consecrated bishop and just before he went to Israel, he visited Madonna House. It was an extraordinary moment when this Eastern Rite archbishop, our beloved Fr. Joe, entered Madonna House.
The sign of God grew to immense proportions. All of us, or perhaps I just speak for myself, but I think I can say all of us, were filled with awe and gratitude to God, and a strange joy pervaded the house, that could not be put into words.
The first thing the archbishop did was to come to my cabin. Then, after blessing me, and a joyous reunion, he officially asked me to open a house in his diocese.
The next day he celebrated a beautiful Byzantine Liturgy for us.
Afterwards while we were eating breakfast in the dining room, he spoke to us. He said he was going to a very special place, to the place where Our Lord took on the clay of man and in a sense that clay was the earth of Nazareth, for Our Lady was of Galilee and of Nazareth, and she gave him his body.
He said that now and forever, through him and through the deep roots of that spiritual union between us and him, Madonna House was a part of his see, as he was part of Madonna House. We were now wedded with Nazareth.
In us, in Madonna House, the East and West met, as it were, in a tremendous union which was unbreakable. Over and over he emphasized this tremendous union.
I was shaken to the very core of my being. How could this be? I could not comprehend it, apprehend it with my mind. I could only absorb it in my heart, out of which came such a song of gratitude to God that I never thought I was capable of.
— Adapted from a letter to the staff, November 7, 1968.
This union between Madonna House and Archbishop Raya and between Madonna House and Eastern Christianity, has, over the years, continued and grown.
We did indeed have a house in Haifa, a house which worked closely with the archbishop, and which remained open until he left Israel in 1974.
At that time, he moved to MH Combermere, and though he served in Lebanon in the 1980’s and sometimes left to teach courses at various colleges, he made his home with us until he died.
Here in Combermere, through his liturgies, homilies, and teachings, through his love of us and through who he was, he, along with Catherine, our Russian foundress, passed on to us the spirituality of the East.
Thus it is that Madonna House, a Latin Rite community, has the tremendous gift of breathing with both lungs (as Pope John Paul II described it). Thus it is that we see ourselves as a bridge between East and West.
A note about the Melkite Rite:
The Melkite Rite is one of the Byzantine Rites which were separated from Rome in the great schism of East and West in 1054 A.D. In the intervening centuries, some groups of Melkites, retaining their Byzantine liturgical forms and traditions, re-established communion with Rome. So, at the present time there are both Melkite Orthodox and Melkite Catholic. Archbishop Raya was a Melkite Catholic.
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