Life of Archbishop Aftimios Ofeish

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LIFEOFAFTIMIOSOfieshOFAMERICAPart1 AManofVirtue ABiographyofArchbishopAftimiosOfieshbyMrs.Aftimios(Mariam)Ofiesh Aftimios,thesixthoftenchildrenborntothevillagepriest,GabrielOfiesh,andhiswife Badrah,wasbornOctober22,1880,inBickfaya,Lebanon.Henaturallyassimilatedfromhis piousparentsanacuteawarenessofsocialresponsibility,spiritualvalues,andethical standardshavingbegunatanyearlyagetoassisthisfatherinchurchservices,andoftento accompanyhimonhispastoralvisitations.In1890,whenanepidemicofsmallpoxoccurredin Bickfaya,thevillagersnotexposedto,orstrickenwith,theplagueevacuatedtoBeirut. Relievedthathisfamilywasamongthosewhohadescaped,FatherGabrielwentoninthe performanceofhisministerialdutiesamonghisstrickenparishioners.Tohishorror,hefound hissonAftimiosinahomeinwhichallthememberswereill,servingtothebestofhisability. Askedwhathewasdoing,andwhyhehadn'taccompaniedthefamilytoBeirut,Aftimios repliedthathe'dbeenconcernedaboutthemanyneedingservice,andhaddecidedtostay behindtohelp.Afterbeingthusexposed,therewasnoalternativebuttoallowhimto continuetoassist. ThewellknownbenevolenceandhospitalityofFatherGabrielandhisgraciouswife,daily broughtmanyimpoverishedcallers.NotingthatAftimiosinvariablygavehisallowancetothe morewretchedbeggars,hismotherwouldtrytocompensatebygivinghimextraportionsof herchoicestgoodiesbuthealwaysfoundaneedierrecipient. SCHOOLING AlltheOfieshchildrenattendedthelocalvillageschool.NearbywastheSt.EliasShuwaya monastery,wherespecialclassesinByzantinemusicwereconducted.Thishadastrong appealtothevocallytalentedAftimioswhoaskedandreceivedhisfather'spermissiontobe enrolledasasecularstudent.Favorablyimpressedwiththelad'sgooddeportment,musical aptitude,andstronginterestinchurchservice,FatherMattias,abbotatthemonastery, influencedAftimiostojointheranksofreligiouspostulants. Learningoftheimpendinginvestitureceremonyfromatraderwhohadcalledatthe monasterybeforecallingattherectory,FatherGabrielhastenedtoseeifitwastrue.Sure enough,hefoundtheladlinedupwiththegarbedpostulants,fromwhence,takingholdof hisear,hewithdrewhisson,takinghimtositinthepewbesidehim.Whentheperplexed AbbotMattiasapproachedFatherGabrielaftertheserviceswereover,toinquireintothe

reasonsforhisaction,hewasvehementlycensuredforhisreprehensibleattempttoinitiate Aftimiosintoreligiousorderswithoutfirstclearingwith,andgainingtheconsentof,his parents.TheAbbotexpressedsurpriseatFatherGabriel'soppositiontohisson'svocational choice,sayingtheyouthhadshownextraordinaryaptitudeandreadiness,andthathe'sfelt thatthiswouldhavepleasedhisparents.Challengedastohisrighttopreventhissonfrom choosingavocationtowhich,intheAbbot'sopinion,theladwasborn,FatherGabrielreplied thattheboywastooyoungtomakeavalidvocationalchoice.Hedeclaredthatinterestin Byzantinemusicandinclinationtowardtheaestheticwayoflifewereimmaturegroundson whichtobasealifetimedecision."Ifear,"saidFatherGabriel,"thatifheweretoliveaGod fearinglifewithapureconscience,hewouldbecomeyourprey.Ontheotherhand,shouldhe deviatetothepracticesofyouandyourcolleagues,I'dratherseehimdeadthisinstant!" Aftimios'eldestbrother,Dimitri,alawyer,andhiseldestsister'shusband,atobacco merchant,spenthourstellingAftimiosofthehardships,pitfalls,anddeprivationsofthe monasticlife,incomparisonwiththeadvantagesofothervocationsinprofessions,trades, commercialorindustrialfields.Findingtheireffortsatdissuasiontobeofnoavail,thefamily decidedtoenrollAftimiosinthebestclericalseminarythenextantinSyria.TheMiddle EasternOrthodoxEcclesiasticalSeminarywasfoundedandadministeredbytheDamascene, GavrielShatilla,BishopofLebanonandBeirut.Itsfacultyconsistedofthemostrenowned educatorsandeminentscholarsintheregion,anditofferedabroadliberalcurriculum. *AstoldbyAftimios. **AstoldbyNicholasLawiese,aformerclassmate. **Astrongrivalrystemmingfromprovincialpartisanshiphadlongexistedamongthe students.Theslender,handsomeyouthbeingenrolledbyhisfathermadeafavorable impressiononall,eachfactionhopinghewouldbeoneoftheirs.Theminoritygroup,from Mt.Lebanon,rejoicedtolearnthatAftimioscamefromthere. Hishumblebearing,delicatesensibility,andinherentgentilityendearedAftimiostoallthe students,whilewithimpartialcooperationheaccordedeachrespect,individual considerationandsincerefriendliness.Soonthedivisiveprovincialismwasreplacedwitha morepleasantfraternalatmosphere,andthecontentionsamongthestudentswithmore mature,responsiblebehavior.ThedegreeofloveandesteeminwhichAftimioswasheldby hispeerswasdemonstratedinanincidentwhichoccurredinGeographyclass.Aftimios,who hadbeenaskedtopointonthemaptothelocationofhishometown,stoodstudyingthe mapinbewilderedfascinationwhenanimpatientteachertoldhimtofindthetownofmules

andjackasses.Herespectfullyapproachedtheteacherandpolitelyexplainedthiswasthe firstmaphe'dseen,andhadn'tyetlearnedtoreadmaps.Thisbroughtavolleyofinvectives onthebowedheadofthehumiliatedandembarrassed,tearfullad.Atthispointahandwas raisedandthevolunteer,receivingthenodfromtheteacher,boldlysteppedupandpointed to"ElWadi,"thehometownoftheteacherknowingthatpunitiveactionwouldcertainly follow. Aftimiosachievedhighacademichonorsinthenextfiveyears,duringwhichhewrote prolificallyfortheclasstabloidhe'dbeeninstrumentalinestablishing.Hewaselectedbyhis classmatestoactasarbitratorwithfacultyandadministrationinnegotiatingforstudent activities.Withthepassingofhisadolescence,Aftimiosappliedhimselfmoreseriouslyand assiduouslytoeveryworthwhileendeavor,discardingillusoryworldlypursuits,directinghis energiesandtalentstowardhisvocationalgoal. ASCLASSLEADER CampuslifeandactivitieswereperceivedbyAftimiosasaminiatureworldcomparabletothe largeroutsideworld.Accordingly,toprovideresponsiblecontrolsandstability,Aftimios thoughtoforganizinganindependentstudentassociation,composedofthemoreadvanced clericalstudents.Bythismeans,hehopedtokindlethespiritofrenaissancewhichwould stimulatethemtosustainedprogressiveandproductiveendeavors. Thenamefortheproposedorganizationwastobe"TheSyrianYouth"(orTheYoungSyrians), whoseauxiliaryventurewastobethepublicationandcirculationofatabloidtobecalled "TheBalanceofJustice."Thiswastoprovidetheinstrumentforthefreeexpressionofthe thinkingofthosehavingliteraryproficiencyandskilledinrhetoric.Aftimios'conceptofthe jointventurewasthatthestudentgenerated,directedandcontrolledactivitieswould provideasalutaryclimateinwhichthestudents'mentalcapacitiesandculturalhorizons coulddevelopandsoarwithhopesthatintheprocess,thestatusoftheirbackwardschool wouldbeupgradedtothatofhigherratedcontemporaryschools. Thistypeofinnovativethinking,accompaniedbypersistentanddevotedlabortoward actualization,wasunprecedentedinthehistoryoftheschool.Aftimiosspurredthestudents outoflethargytoworkforliberationfromblindsubservienceandmentalbondage. Stimulatinginthemasparkofenthusiasm,heaskedthemtoindividuallyendorseand unitedlyimportunetheschooladministratorforofficialsanctionofthetwinproject. Meanwhile,theoutdatedprinciples,objectivesandbylawsweresubmittedtoMusaKattini, theheadmasterandgeographyteacher,tobepresentedtotheadministratorforapproval. Notonlywasapprovaldenied,buttheorganizationwasorderedtobedissolvedandall

relatedactivitieswereexpresslyforbiddenbyMusaKattini.Thestudentsconsideredthe decreeunjust,suppressive,anddecidedtoresistthetyrannicalrestriction,bravingthedire consequencesoftheirdefiance.However,intheinterestofpeaceandorder,Aftimios prevaileduponhiscompanionstodesistfromcontentiousconflict,promisingtoresortto tactful,diplomaticnegotiationstowardgainingtheirobjectives.Whenthenegotiations reachedanimpasse,andthestudents'restlessnessandimpatiencemountedtothepointof mutiny,thealarmedHeadmastersoughttowardoffthisundesireddevelopmentby promisingtodiscussthematterwithhissuperior.Notwillingtoseetheirprojectscuttledby thestratagemofdelayingaction,thestudentscontinuedtoimportuneuntilacompromise settlementwasreached.ThecompromiseconsistedoftwoconditionsimposedbyMusa Kattinitotheeffectthathebecreditedwiththedistinctionofhavingorganizedthestudent associationandhavingfoundedtheauxiliarypublication,andthatheberecognizedasthe supremeauthority. Aftimioshadovercomethebitterresentmentofhiswouldbedefiantclassmatesby emphasizingthemoreimportantfactortobeconsidered,whichwastheactualizationofthe project.Thus,theorganizationwascalled"TheScholasticFlower,"andthetabloidnamed "Diligence."Throughthesemediawasofferedanoutletfortheloftyideals,nobleprinciples, constructiveandbeneficialobjectivesenablingthestudentstosurmounttheoppressive tyrannyandignoranceoftheirnarrowlycircumscribedatmosphere. THELITERARYCRITIC Aftimios'prolificwritingsonvarioustopicsweresaidto"...revealhistrueidentity...show thecompositeofhisnoblesoul...andtheprocessofhisdevelopmentthroughthestages fromboyhoodtoyoungmanhood." *NicholasLawiese'sbooklet,"ThePriest,AftimiosOfiesh."AselectednumberofAftimios' essaystakenfromNicholasLawiese'sbookletfollow: #1TheDeathoftheShepherd "Earlyoneeveningmyfathergavemepermissiontogooutintoourvineyardwhichwas behindourvillage.Ilongedtobreathethepureairfromthenearbymountainsandtofeast myeyesonthebeautyofthehills,valley,andplainswhichhavebeencarriedonthebackof ourMt.Lebanonforthousandsofyears.Iwasveryfondofthesescenesofnaturewhichgave megreatpleasureandmovedmeprofoundly. "Afterspendingsometimethere,andbeingfearfulofthehowlingfoxesandjackalswhich emergefromtheirlairsaftersundowninthedarkshadowsofthenight,Iturnedhomeward.

OnthewayhomeIsawasmallflockofsheep,somegoatsandaherdofcowsgrazingina nearbymeadow.Takingthesightofthesegentle,humanlybeneficialcreaturesasasignofa goodeventide,Iapproachedtopetthelambs.Butforthelittleshepherdwhowastending theflockforthelasttime,itdidnotturnouttobeagoodeventide,forthisiswhat happened. "Thispoorshepherd,lyingatopahighrockinthemeadow,wassodeeplyengrossedinhis visionsthathenolongerheardthecowbells.ThecloudsoverhangingtheloftypeaksofMt. Lebanonwereaglowwiththegoldenraysofthesettingsun.Inutterfascinationwiththe splendorofthismagnificentscene,withwhichhewassocompletedentranced,thepoorlad rememberedallhehadheardabouttheheavensanditsinhabitants.Heenvisionedthe goldenwingsofan