His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s address on the occasion of the Very Reverend Hanna Sakkab’s 50th Anniversary in the Holy Priesthood
November 5, 2004
San Diego, California
My beloved children in Christ:
This is a most joyous occasion, as we celebrate the long and distinguished ministry of our beloved brother in Christ, Father Hanna. I would like to take this opportunity to use his life as an example of what the Holy Priesthood means to the Church, and what it should mean to all of us here.
This is a reading from the St. John Chrysostom’s Six Books on the Priesthood:
"The work of the priesthood is done on earth, but it is ranked among heavenly ordinances. And this is only right, for no man, no angel, no archangel, no other created power, but the Holy Spirit Himself ordained this succession, and persuaded men, while still remaining in the flesh to represent the ministry of angels. The priest, therefore, must be as pure as if he were standing in heaven itself, in the midst of those powers."
For fifty years, Fr. Hanna has stood before the altar of the Lord and offered the most Holy Gifts to the Lord. He has stood in the presence of God, and His words have been heard by God. He is a holy man, for the Lord has made him holy. Some may look and see his human weakness, but they are as blind as a man with no eyes, for they do not see that beneath his fragile humanity is the fire of the Living God. This fire, the very love of God, burns away all sinfulness and warms the faithful in its radiant light. It brings warmth and healing to those in need.
This is the holy fire that Fr. Hanna has brought to this parish of St. George in San Diego . With him has come the peace and the healing that this purifying fire brings. The Holy Spirit has visited this community for as much as you have received Fr. Hanna into your lives, to correct you and guide you. When you spurn his kind words and forget the Gospel message Fr. Hanna preaches to all of you, then the Holy Spirit departs from you. Yet, when you receive his words in the preaching of the Gospel, then God comes and enlivens you.
To bear such a great responsibility for so long means that Fr. Hanna has sacrificed more than any of us here. How many years has he put all of you before his own family? How many years have all of you laid your burdens upon him and returned to your homes free, while Fr. Hanna goes to his family struggling under the weight you have given him. He does not complain. His wife is not bitter. They gladly take on these struggles for your sake, because they believe the word of the Lord. His family has, all this time, given up a great deal so that Fr. Hanna could continue in his ministry. May God reward them for their patience and love.
When we are patient and tolerant as Fr, Hanna is, then we must sacrifice our pride and humble ourselves as he has. We must renounce our desires to win, to be first, to overcome our adversaries. The church is not a game, and it is not a business. It is a holy place, where we sacrifice ourselves for the Heavenly Kingdom . We give up worldly, temporary pursuits for heavenly, eternal blessings. If you think of nothing but money, then you will be ruled by it. If, however, you think of God, and allow Him to direct your lives, then you will be free of earthly cares and enjoy peace that words cannot describe.
Fr Hanna has, as St. John Chysostom admonishes, kept his ministry pure. He has not dabbled in wickedness, nor has he engaged in hedonism in the name of his human weaknesses. Instead, he has taken the difficult way, and yet his conscience is clean, and holiness even beyond the angels rests upon him.
When I think about the priesthood, I remember my own parish priest. As a little boy, I recall how Fr. Semaan Badeen would ride the bus from house to house, visiting his parishioners. Even in hot Syrian sun, in the middle of the day, he would go about the Lord’s work. One day, he passed away on that bus. Some would say, ‘Father, take care of yourself.’ Indeed, he was taking care of himself, because even though he worked constantly, he was always full of love and joy. In the spiritual realm, ‘taking care of yourself’ means drawing closer to God. It is not material comfort, yet it gives even greater joy than all the riches of the world.
Those who sacrifice their worldly selves and live according to God’s will, actually find little sacrifice in it. They give up constantly struggling to attain money and property, and suddenly find themselves happy beyond measure. Fr. Hanna is trying to lead all of you to this true paradise, and I admonish you all to hear this holy man’s words to you. He loves you and desires nothing but your good and your salvation. You have received much good from him, and yet there is much more he can teach you.
I want to close tonight with some thoughts about your new building project. There is nothing harder on a community than a building project. It brings out conflict and requires great diligence and sacrifice to take it to completion. Yet, like when a mother gives birth, you will forget your pain once you have borne this project to fruition. The joy it will bring you will outweigh your temporary sorrows.
Remember, this building is not for you. It is for your children and their children. It is for your neighbor in need of the Gospel. It is for the world, which is dark without the light of Christ. Never forget that your humility will exalt you. If you put yourselves last, you will find yourselves first. When you truly seek to serve, then you will also find yourselves served according to your need.
Put your faith in God, as Fr. Hanna has done for 50 years, and you too shall endure as he has and enjoy the fruits of such a blessed life.