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“I Would Fly Away and Be at Rest:" The Last Public Appearance and Funeral of Bishop Antoun

By Subdeacon Peter Samore

On Friday, November 10, the fortieth day of His Grace Bishop Antoun's repose is commemorated, and on Sunday, November 12, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph asks all parishes to hold Trisagion Services.

“Oh that I had the wings of a dove. I would fly away and be at rest.” (Psalm 54:6)

Although the context of the Psalm is tribulation, it holds a different context for His Grace Bishop Antoun, the longest-serving auxiliary bishop of the Antiochian Archdiocese who left this world on the morning of Monday, October 2, 2017. For, as Metropolitan Joseph remarked in funeral address, Sayidna Antoun did not fly away to leave the rest of us behind, because he never betrayed us. Rather, His Grace took up his new abode at the throne of Almighty God to intercede with Him for us, and reunite the clergy and laity he loved so dearly on the Last Day.

Every bishop of the Archdiocese, along with dozens of clergy and hundreds of faithful, gathered at St. George Cathedral in Coral Gables, Florida – Sayidna Antoun’s cathedral in the Diocese of Miami and the Southeast – to mourn the loss of a man who served them in so many ways since his arrival to the United States in 1959. (View the memorial page for His Grace Bishop Antoun, and view the photo album of the funeral.)

Sayidna’s sister, Marie, and his nephew, Fadi, who chanted his uncle’s funeral services, also came. Hundreds more watched on Facebook Live and added their comments of love as the video streamed. Hours before the Funeral of a Bishop on Tuesday, October 10, Metropolitan Joseph landed in Miami from Balamand, Lebanon where he just completed his participation in the meetings of the Holy Synod of Antioch.

But let us go back to Bishop Antoun’s last public appearance. For health reasons, Sayidna missed nearly the entire Archdiocesan Convention (July 23–30, 2017) that was dedicated to his eight decades of service to the Orthodox Church with “Love, Humility and Sunshine.” But he refused to be confined to a hospital bed. He returned to the Convention on Friday, only to be rushed back to the hospital on Saturday afternoon. Yet, Sayidna Antoun was determined to get back to his people so they could exchange their Christian love for each other upon his retirement from active ministry.

On Saturday night, July 29, 2017, Sayidna Antoun arrived to a standing ovation at the grand banquet of the Archdiocesan Convention in Hollywood, Florida. Everyone sang his favorite song: “You are My Sunshine.” Smiles beamed and tears flowed as he entered the room. He blew kisses to the crowd as he took his seat on the top tier of the dais. Then, he led the next many renditions of his favorite song.

Later, in Bishop Antoun fashion, he grabbed the microphone and started to talk. “You know people, I love you. I came especially tonight from the hospital just to see you. I had to fight with the doctors after they rushed me to the hospital in the afternoon. And they asked me, ‘Do you really want to go?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ One of the men there said to me, ‘Are you crazy? How can you leave the hospital?’ I said, ‘I was here for five days before, and nothing happened! Nothing! After that, I said I’m good to go and see my people, who are here and they’re waiting for me.”

Sayidna Joseph presented Sayidna Antoun with the highest award of the Archdiocese: the Gold Order of St. Raphael of Brooklyn. The Convention hosts at St. George Cathedral also presented a painting of Sayidna Antoun in his blue vestments, holding the trikerion and dikerion (three- and two-branched candlesticks) and blessing the people. Sayidna Antoun then sang “You are My Sunshine” one last time with his people and left their midst. Some reached out for his blessing, realizing it would be their final chance.

At the Funeral for a Bishop in October, Metropolitan Joseph remembered how Bishop Antoun helped his lifelong friend, Metropolitan Philip of thrice-blessed memory and eternal repose, build up the Antiochian Archdiocese which they loved so dearly.

“With his sacrificial love, he worked side-by-side with His Eminence in building a new headquarters for the Archdiocese, creating the Antiochian Women, Teen SOYO, and the Order of Saint Ignatius, establishing the Antiochian Village, and welcoming the Evangelical Orthodox Church and countless others home into the green pastures of Holy Orthodoxy,” Sayidna Joseph said.

Father Fouad Saba, dean of the Cathedral, said that everyone considered Bishop Antoun to be “the people’s bishop.” “He was always that person who would be the first to give, and the person whom we always looked up to.”

Following each funeral service (a second one, the general service with the Prayer of Absolution, was held Wednesday, October 11), attendees gave fond recollections. Bishop Antoun’s friends from their days at St. Vladimir Seminary in New York – Fr. Antony Gabriel and Fr. Joseph Shaheen – recalled Sayidna’s selflessness and considered him their protector and guide in the priesthood.

His Grace Bishop Thomas of the Diocese of Oakland, Charleston and the Mid-Atlantic considered him a mentor in the episcopacy. Sayidna Thomas admitted that he would impersonate Sayidna Antoun over the phone to fool some of the priests, but said Sayidna Antoun gave him permission to continue doing that. Like other speakers, Bishop Thomas thanked Fr. Elia Shalhoub for being a wonderful caregiver for Bishop Antoun in the last years of his life.

Following funeral services in Coral Gables, Sayidna Antoun’s body was flown to Pennsylvania for burial at the Antiochian Village. Hundreds more clergy and laity greeted him there and laid him to rest next to his lifelong friend, Sayidna Philip. Both men had traveled millions of miles in their lifetimes to lead and serve the people of God.

Perhaps some of Bishop Antoun’s last public remarks at the Convention will best establish his legacy in the Antiochian Archdiocese and the Holy Orthodox Church. “Do not forget me! Bishop Antoun is here! And you know what? You cannot imagine this moment tonight. By seeing you here, just to see your faces, you are my sunshine! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you gave to me. I worked for the Church and for you people. And I love you from the bottom of my heart!”

In lieu of flowers, donations to the Bishop Antoun Memorial Fund should be payable to "Camp Saint Thekla" at:
St. John Orthodox Church, Attn. Fr. Alex Mackoul
1663 Tutwiler Avenue
Memphis, TN 38107