The variety of Catholic tradition and the plight of Christians in the Middle East will be at the forefront this weekend in Portland.
The leader of Maronite Catholics in the western U.S. is visiting to ordain a Portland monk on the path to priesthood. Bishop Elias Zaidan of the St. Louis-based Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon will ordain Monk Anthony Joseph Alles as a transitional deacon during the Holy Mysteries — or Mass — starting at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, July 20, at St. Sharbel Church in Southeast Portland.
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 rite developed in the west.
Sunday’s ordination is the first for Maronites in the Pacific Northwest. Archbishop Alexander Sample and Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith will attend. Monk Anthony Joseph, 29, recently professed solemn vows in the Maronite Monks of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Bishop Zaidan says the western U.S. is a place of growth for his tradition. There are nine Maronite churches in California and one each in Portland, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver. He hopes for a church in Seattle soon.
The bishop says Maronites, especially those like Abouna (Father) Jonathan Decker of St. Sharbel, have a deep spiritual tradition to share with the Latin churches. A native of Lebanon who has been in the U.S. for 26 years, Bishop Zaidan is a spokesman for beleaguered Christians in the Middle East, the land where Jesus lived.
“Christians need to remain there despite persecutions,” the bishop says. “I hope people here will lend them support and let them know they are not forgotten.”
The Oregon Maronite monks — four in all — live in a simple house on a Beaverton cul de sac. They begin the day with communal prayer at 3 a.m. and pray throughout the day, keeping silent for long periods. They break silence for spiritual direction and work at St. Sharbel.
Monk Anthony Joseph says making solemn vows was a moment of grace in which God affirmed his monastic vocation. Service is integral to monasticism and to the diaconate, says the bearded monk, a Portland native who studied philosophy at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
He has learned that his expectations don’t always fit what God allows, but that God will always do something in keeping with divine majesty.
“I know if I am open and docile like the Blessed Mother, it will be wonderful,” Monk Anthony Joseph says. “We just have to be faithful to what God puts in our life each step of the way.”
Monks keep silence, he explains, so they can be responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit.