40th Priestly Anniversary –
25th Parish Anniversary
of the V. Rev. Antony Gabriel
Good evening. What a wonderful time to be together with all of you; and especially with my beloved brother and dear friend, the Very Reverend Fr. Antony Gabriel. As the scriptures say, “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” Truly, this is a pleasant and joyous occasion. We have gathered together to do honor to our own Fr. Antony. And, in doing so, I bring with me the greetings and congratulations of His Eminence Metropolitan Philip and all the Auxiliary Bishops of our God-protected Archdiocese
Yet, as the Apostle Paul recognized so long ago – a Spiritual Father actually pours out his life for his congregation. His soul, energy, heart, mind and body are offered up to the service of God and to the flock over which God has made him Shepherd. In numerous ways, often known only to God, himself and his family, the priest gives away his life for the salvation of others. In bringing you to the path of God, and keeping you walking faithfully on this path to heaven, your priest sacrifices a great part of his own life, living in the example of Christ’s love. This evening we are gathered together to bear witness to, and honor such a Spiritual Father, as evidenced by the life of Fr. Antony.
By your presence here this evening you show your great love and respect, which you have for this beloved Spiritual Father, his family, and his ministry among you. You demonstrate that Fr. Antony is such a man who strives to live the life of love in your midst. You make apparent that he has bore witness to the teaching of Christ by his very life and works. Of his many and numerous accomplishments, we specifically recognize and honor him for two specific ones this evening. We honor him for two accomplishments, but the two are also one.
First, having faithfully served in Christ’s Holy Priesthood for 40 years. 40 years and still going strong! How many people do we know, who, at the 40 year mark are ready to stop and retire? How many people feel, after 40 years in one position that their most productive years are behind them? But, not our Fr. Antony! His vision is always expansive and forward-looking. His outlook is progressive. He does not dwell on what he has accomplished, but what he can yet accomplish for the Holy Church, his parish, and his community.
I know Fr. Antony has been greatly blessed in his position as Priest. Moreover, we – all of us who make up this God protected Archdiocese – we have been blessed by his priesthood. His knowledge and life experience, and his ability to communicate these things to us, make him a priceless treasure of the faith. We all know of the wonderful stories he often shares with us: starting with his ordination into the holy priesthood by Metropolitan Antony (of thrice blessed memory); and continuing forward to this present time. Like all great storytellers, he is able to glean, even from the most mundane events of life, valuable insights and anecdotes. With these he has enlivened us, called us to deeper Christian living, and started us thinking outside the “preverbal box.”
He has always gone the “extra mile.” Whenever the Archdiocese calls upon him, he responds with the boldness and energy of a young lion. He seriously regards his duties, and undertakes them as a service to God, Himself!
As you know, Fr. Antony never does anything “half-way.” From his education, to his dedication as family man, priest, community activist, and cancer survivor, he has both endured and excelled. But, neither his endurance nor his excellence, can be separated from Whose he is (Christ’s brother and co-worker); What he is (a committed and consecrated Christian priest); Where he is (serving within the Holy Church)!
I remember fondly our many adventures together. In particular, I recall our journeying together to Syria for my consecration to the Holy Episcopacy, he was a very present source of strength and comfort. Humbly, and with a servant’s heart, he supported me, encouraged me, and worked with me. I will never forget his love and compassion. We have laughed much together. We have learned together through mutual experience. We have cried together. We have grown together. He is truly a beloved brother — a trusted friend.
Fr. Antony, how wonderful to be in one line of work for so many years, and still remain filled with vigor and love for the position. This is proof of not simply working a job, but, of your “living-out” a beloved and life-centered vocation.
Secondly, we honor him for having done that which is very seldom done in our world today – serving as priest in the same parish for 25 years. Let me tell you, this is indeed an accomplishment. Within the life of the priesthood, serving in the same parish for so many years signifies that a great love and respect exists between Priest and Parish. It demonstrates that the ministry of Christ is alive and flourishing here. It clearly shows that there is a unity of life and purpose within the parish.
As with my own experience with your Spiritual Father, I know that you have laughed with him; that you have learned from him, and with him; that you have worked with him, and for him. I know that you — in fact all of us who know him — have cried with him, and his loved ones, as well. In all these things, and much, much more, this man has shown himself to have a heart for God, for you, and for all God’s children.
Fr. Antony has persevered! This is to say much, for he has never taken the easy path. Indeed, He has traversed the path less trodden. He, in the name and spirit of Christ, has worked to smash the barriers of indifference and prejudice. He opened his heart, not only to those who are called Christians, but also to all people of all creeds. He, in so many ways, represents the spirit of Antioch.
Not only within this parish, but also without and within the Archdiocese, he has a reputation as a devoted and caring pastor. Such a reputation is impossible unless a priest love his people, more than himself. Such a reputation grows with a man who grows in the love of Christ. This blessed reputation he has gained because of his compassion and dedication for you – his flock.
When speaking of the priesthood, the Fathers of the Church did so with intense fervor and reverence. St. John Chrysostom tells us that the work of the priesthood is the ministry of Angels. He means by this that a priest, although also a creature of the earth, is also a messenger of God: one who brings with him the words of spiritual truth and wholeness of life. Accordingly, a priest must live his life for those around him. A priest must also endeavor to always live his life in purity and charity. A priest is a warrior for the souls of his spiritual children. He is a shepherd whose chief goal and purpose is to lead his flock through the gates of heaven.
I believe that Fr. Antony has demonstrated his willingness to live this ministry of the Angels. He has shown that this has always been uppermost in his mind, as he has exercised his ministry. We know that he has not been alone in this effort. Not only has he, and does he, have the support of Lynn and the children, but He has had the wonderful support of you — his beloved parishioners. With your love and cooperation his ministry has excelled.
As I said, earlier, the two accomplishments for which we honor him are ONE – that of faithful service in the royal priesthood of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Therefore, together, we honor him – this beloved priest of Christ. We express to both his family and to Father Antony, our very sincerest gratitude and heart felt appreciation for their sacrifice and love for God’s Church. May God bless them, and keep them, and make His face shine upon them, and give them peace.