Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Raphael of Brooklyn

Today is one of two recognized feast days for St. Raphael of Brooklyn, one of the most recently recognized Orthodox Christian saints (glorified in 2000). These two feast days are February 27 and the first Saturday of November (which places it shortly prior to Raphael's own patronal feast for the Archangels on November 8).

St. Raphael was born Rafla Hawaweeny in Beirut, Lebanon in 1860 where his parents had fled from Damascus in Syria due to religious persecution. In 1879 he was tonsured a monk. After receiving a theological education at the Theological School at Halki (in Turkey — which, by the way, has been shut down by Turkish authorities since 1971) where he was ordained to the deaconate in 1885. He then went to study at the Theological Academy in Kiev where he was ordained a priest in 1889. He was then invited to New York to become the pastor of the city's Syro-Arab Orthodox Christian community (which would later move to Brooklyn). He arrived in New York in November of 1895.

He would spent the rest of his life traveling the U.S. seeking out Orthodox Arabs to minister to them, and to gather them together. Before his death in 1915 he had established 30 parishes and had gathered together around 25,000 faithful. He was also involved in founding St. Tikhon's Orthodox Monastery (which is also now a seminary). In 1904 he was the first Orthodox Christian bishop ordained in North America.

Although St. Raphael is a fantastic example of the kind of wandering cleric one might expect in a D&D campaign (and even demonstrates how, in extreme situations, priests and bishops will wander far and wide), I am going to indulge in a little Gamer ADD. Given the relative modernity of St. Raphael, he provides a marvelous model for the wandering holy man in a wide range of setting and genre-based games.

Let me preface this by reminding folks that today Orthodox Christianity uses a version of the Divine Liturgy that was redacted by St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century using a version even earlier than that. Despite the radical changes that the world has gone through in the last sixteen centuries, Orthodox Christianity has stayed true to what has been passed down from generation to generation. This is not due to a reticence to change with the times, but rather out of an ability to make that which was passed down relevant to each successive age.

This is my way of pointing out that sixteen centuries from now, the Orthodox Church will still be with us and most likely will still be praying the same words St. John Chrysostom wrote sixteen hundred years ago and that we pray today. Therefore, any genre that hypothesizes a world based on our own ought to have a place for a St. Raphael — a wandering Christian missionary — even if it only ever remains a potentiality.

One of my pet peeves about the sci-fi genre (particularly in the last two decades or so) is that it not only ignores this potentiality, but actively tries to deny it. Despite surviving heresy and schism, Roman persecutions, Persian invasions, Muslim conquests, and Communist depravities, Christianity will somehow disappear in the face of modern science? Really?

It is for this reason that one of my all-time favorites in any medium of sci-fi is Firefly/Serenity. Joss Whedon is honest enough to make Christianity and Christian characters part of his story.

Indeed, Malcom Reynolds is a great simile for the modern American. Despite all his protestations to the contrary, Christianity forms the core of his principles and often explains why he makes the choices that he does.

St. Raphael himself personifies an archetype appropriate for such games as Boot Hill, Deadlands and Weird West. For another example from popular culture, let me highlight my favorite Gene Wilder movie, The Frisco Kid where he plays a rabbi trying to cross the country to minister to the Jewish Community in San Francisco.

This archetype is easily applicable to such hard sci-fi games as Traveller, Thousand Suns and Stars Without Number. Book from Firefly/Serenity is an excellent example.

Even in games that envision a world that destroyed itself (such as Gamma World), Christianity was part of that past and (through the power of the Holy Spirit) could have either survived or be part of a character's quest to recover.

In other words, my love of the cleric class goes far beyond the confines of D&D and its descendants and St. Raphael is my guide.


Sylvaeon said...

I love how you tie in the real with the many worlds of imagination... reverent enough, yet also very insightful as to the application to scifi/fantasy & gaming. KUDOS!

FrDave said...

Thanks for the kind means I am (every now and then) succeeding in doing what I try to do with this blog.

Desert Scribe said...

FrDave, have you ever read A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller? It depicts the Church in the centuries after a nuclear war.

FrDave said...

@Desert Scribe
I have been aware of A Canticle for Leibowitz for many years and it has been on and off my to read list many times, I just have never gotten around to it. Thanks for reminding me.