Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
In the moments after his ordination, Rev. Mr. Anthony Joseph Alles blesses the congregation with incense, led by Abouna Jonathan Decker.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
In the moments after his ordination, Rev. Mr. Anthony Joseph Alles blesses the congregation with incense, led by Abouna Jonathan Decker.
Oregon Catholics last weekend learned just how far their faith reaches.

A local monk was ordained a deacon for the Maronite Catholic Church. Rev. Mr. Anthony Joseph Alles, who lives with three others in a Beaverton home-turned monastery, is a Portlander who graduated with a philosophy degree from the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Bishop Elias Zaidan, kindly leader of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, came from St. Louis to officiate at what was the first Maronite ordination in the Pacific Northwest. If all goes according to plan, Bishop Zaidan will return in November to ordain the philosophical monk as a priest.

Maronite Catholics, many of whom have roots in Lebanon, marked the ordination and bishop’s visit with three days of gatherings at homes and at St. Sharbel Maronite Church in Southeast Portland.

The culture’s vibrant hospitality was on display. Parishioners offered large trays of Lebanese food, composed Arabic poems to express their joy and welcomed guests of honor with candles and music.

“I hope you will all be lights to this sad world,” Bishop Zaidan told a candle-bearing crowd gathered the night before the ordination at the house of Deacon Tony Karam.

Maronites, who are loyal to the pope, trace their tradition to a fourth-century hermit in the mountains of Syria, St. Maron. The Maronites, who flourished in what is now Lebanon, are one of 22 Catholic Churches whose traditions developed in various regions in the eastern ancient world. The Latin Church developed in the west.

According to Maronite tradition, an ordaining bishop places one hand on the Eucharist as it sits on the altar and the other on the candidate’s head. It’s a sign, Bishop Zaidan said, that God is doing the ordaining.

“How much our world and our families need peace,” said Bishop Zaidan, who often serves as a spokesman for Christians in the Middle East, who are facing persecution. “Christ wants us to bring everlasting peace.”

The bishop urged worshipers at the ordination to share the treasure of faith zealously and to pray deeply. He is optimistic that Catholics can make a difference in Oregon and worldwide.  

In attendance was Archbishop Alexander Sample, who said it would not be right for him to “welcome” Bishop Zaidan, since Oregon is part of his eparchy. “It is good to be with you, brother,” Archbishop Sample said before embracing the Lebanese-born prelate.

Both bishops made mention of St. John Paul’s quote that the Church of Christ breathes with two lungs, the East and the West.

Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith was on hand, as was Mary Jo Tully, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Portland. Leaders of local religious communities came, as did a group of Greek Catholics nuns from Olympia, Wash.

Also visiting was Chorbishop William Laser, a Los Angeles priest who is judicial vicar of the Maronite eparchy, or diocese, which covers the western United States.  

Supporters of Rev. Mr. Anthony Joseph and the other monks are seeking a permanent site for the monastery.

“We need to find land,” says St. Sharbel parishioner Maria Oreste, who helped found St. Sharbel and who sees the monastery as a new sign of permanence for her tradition.

Founder of the monastery and longtime pastor of St. Sharbel is Abouna Jonathan Decker, who also serves as a local spiritual director. The parish has grown during his tenure.   

Oregon has long been home to Maronites. In the early 20th century many settled in North Portland, attending Roman Catholic churches out of necessity. In the early 1970s, newer immigrants decided to establish a Maronite parish with worship according to traditions developed in Lebanon and Syria in the early years of Christianity.