by Jamil Malone
Since our youth we have been told that the saints are always around us. Whether we’ve lost something and need help finding it, or we need comfort in our lives, we have been told the saints are there. But how true is that? How do you actually know the saints are there with you, helping you and inspiring you in your daily lives?
Picture with me a dark, cold night in the mountains of Pennsylvania, on the edge of a forest filled with dark trees. The air is crisp and there is no sound except the breeze creeping through the trees as it chills your skin. The only light is from the candles that a few college students are holding as they came to pay their respects. As they draw near, the light catches on a tall gray stone and they feel the emptiness of the night upon them. These college students are members of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship Student Advisory Board, and they’ve come to pay their respects to an American saint. As they surround his grave, they begin chanting his Kontakion, breathing warmth into the night air.
“Today the memory of blessed Raphael hath shone on us;”
Together, they feel a warmth come upon them. At this moment they know they are not alone but another has joined them. Bringing these young adults together to sing praises at his grave, he inspires them to use their voices. And so they do. In the dark of the night, on this little corner of the world, these students begin singing more than just to St. Raphael. Having never sang together, they begin singing “The Angel Cried” and as if part of an angelic choir, their voices join together in four parts. They sing on and on, bringing warmth to the cold, knowing that the presence of St. Raphael is filled within them.
Back in the lodge, they explain the joy of what has just happened to the rest of their friends. Reflecting on this experience, they look into this wondrous saint they have just experienced. St. Raphael journeyed around America finding the lost sheep of the church and preformed marriages, baptisms, heard confessions, and celebrated Divine Liturgies at homes and in 30 parishes that he started. Much like St. Raphael, we as members of the Student Advisory Board were charged to spread Orthodoxy and find lost sheep on college campuses. From this point on, we knew St. Raphael would be with us.
“For having received Christ’s call, he faithfully took up his cross and followed Him becoming a fisher of men.”
St. Raphael has touched more than just a group on college students. In 2001, another group of individuals were inspired by him. Just over a year after he was proclaimed a saint, a group dedicated to the youth in the central United States formed Camp St. Raphael. St. Raphael has given inspiration to the youth. An activity done by many counselors of the younger children every year helps explain how real the saints are. Sitting in cabin time, the campers are given a black and white picture of an old man. When asked who this person is many say some bishop. An icon of St. Raphael is then passed around and everyone knows who the icon is of. When told that these two images are of the same person, the children are shocked. A photograph of a saint? They learn the story of St. Raphael, and how each of us is called to be saints. St. Raphael wasn’t a wonder-working saint per se, he lived his life through Christ, much like we all should live. He is an example to the campers and staff to live a Christ-centered life, much like our patron saint. Eleven years and over one thousand campers later, St. Raphael continues to inspire.
“Let us cry aloud to him saying: Rejoice O Father Raphael!”
Like we were told as children, the saints are always around us. Having an experience where you can feel the presence of a saint adds to that realization. We find safety in the saints, and we find familiarity in our American saints. A saint who walked on the same streets we walk on every day. A saint who started churches that we still sing praises in today. A saint who has touched and continues to touch the lives of many. Through the intercessions of this great American saint who passed away 97 years ago on February 27, May God have mercy on us all!
More information about Saint Raphael.