by Rev. Fr. Theodore Ziton


The king, prophet, and psalmist David taught through his writings that “the Heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims His handiwork.” (Ps. 19:1.)

As rich and as great and as beautiful as this earth and the universe about us are, yet they are only one small glimpse of the Kingdom which our heavenly Father gave us in order to instruct us about His glory and about His providence. Through the created God becomes evident to us — in His justice, in His truth, and in His decisions which are for the good of us all.

Nature is oriented in a specific direction. She reveals an ordered response to the Almighty Creator, as the flower orients itself toward the sun for nourishment. In our lives Jesus is the director, the secret cause, and end of all evolution, like the compass needle or vector, as scientists would say, of natural phenomena.

God has impressed the transitoriness of all earthly things upon the clouds, that every eye may see it. He gave them beauty and made them a blessing, that they may the better represent the things which charm for a time and are a disappointment in the end. When we are tempted to set our hearts on earthly things, we should look up to the changing clouds and see how our treasures will soon pass away. God clothed the clouds of the morning and the evening with a passing beauty, that He may awaken in our hearts a longing for the land where the glory of His presence shall he an everlasting light.

One of the most impressive sights beheld and witnessed by us who composed the special ten-man delegation to the meetings of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch from the end of July to August 5, 1966, was at the Monastery of St. Elias Showaya, Dhour el Shweir, Lebanon.

Late in the afternoon of Thursday, August 4, the third session of the meetings of the Holy Synod was in progress. A few members of the delegation — Fathers Thomas Ruffin of Detroit, Michigan, Antony Gabriel of Toledo, Ohio, George Corey of Louisville, Kentucky, and the author of this article — were strolling meditatively through the grounds of the Monastery, enduring the agony of awaiting the decision as to whether North America would receive her new Metropolitan Archbishop in the synodical election, or whether the election would be deferred to a much later time. As the discussion became a prayer that, by the will of God, all things would have a favorable conclusion, a large whitish-gray CLOUD was moving from over the mountains towards the Monastery of St. Elias Showaya, covering and enveloping it like a blanket. It was both frightening and mystical: frightening, because even the birds and the fowls of the air were flying away from this oncoming CLOUD; and mystical, because its beauty, its blessedness, and its tranquility were moving toward our very presence.

From whatever cause, the beauty of the cloud and the charm of that moment took their place in eternity. The CLOUD inspired a feeling of reverence, fear, and apprehension, for it seemed to be — not just an ordinary cloud, and we all began moving toward the Monastery for cover and protection.

Once inside the monastery walls, we went to look out at “the CLOUD” from within. Sitting on the balcony with the Archdeacon of the Monastery, we related to him what was happening and what we had seen. We were informed that this was very unusual, inasmuch as clouds never engulf the Monastery at that height. The Archdeacon explained to us that a symbolic interpretation does not violate the meaning of nature, and that even’ movement or spectacle of nature has a spiritual interpretation. The truth is that nature is an open book in which each detail expresses in veiled terms the realities of the supernatural life. It is a tribute to the medieval genius that people of that time had such a strong intuition concerning the meaning of symbols. But there was more than symbolism here.

The Archdeacon, interrupted by us now and then, led us through passages of Holy Scripture on “the CLOUD or the CLOUDS of decision or direction.” When God led the people out of Egypt, “the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of CLOUD to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.” (Exodus l3:21.)  When the people of God rested from their flight from Egypt, “the angel of God who went before the host of Israel moved and went behind them; and the pillar of CLOUD moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the CLOUD and the darkness: and the night passed without one coming near the other all night.” (Exodus 14:19-20.) “The glory of the Lord appeared in the CLOUD as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel” when they began murmuring against the Lord on their journey from Egypt. (Exodus 16:10.) When God wanted to rule and instruct Israel through His servant Moses, did He not call him up to the mountain so that He could give Moses the tables of stone which contained the law and the commandments for the instruction of the people? And a CLOUD covered the mountain for forty days and for forty nights when the covenant was in the process of being made. (Exodus 24:12-18) “A CLOUD covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle where the Israelites would gather before the Lord enroute to the promised land.” (Exodus 40:34) And St. Elias, Patron of the Monastery, was taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire upon a whirlwind, surrounded by CLOUDS, as we behold in the icons of this Old Testament Prophet. (II Kings 2:11.) On the feast day of the Transfiguration a bright CLOUD overshadowed the Disciples of Christ, and they heard the Heavenly Father speak of His beloved Son in Whom He was well pleased. (Matt. 17:5.)In His Ascension Christ was lifted up and a CLOUD took Him out of the sight of the Disciples. (Acts 1:9.)

While we sat in awe of this phenomenon and were still pondering the scriptural interpretations, exclamations of wonder were exchanged between the Archdeacon of the Monastery and ourselves, and we were informed that a decision of the Holy Synod was forthcoming. A proposal was accepted about 7:00 p.m. on the evening of August 4, 1966, that the nominations of the New York Archdiocese be accepted and that the leading candidate, the Rt. Rev. Philip Saliba, be made the Metropolitan Archbishop of our Church in all North America. Other decisions pertaining to the welfare of the Patriarchate of Antioch were also adopted.

Many delegations, both clerical and lay, from Syria and Lebanon were present at St. Elias Monastery and awaited these decisions outside the chapel. At the conclusion of the meeting of the Holy Synod, as some of the Archbishops were leaving the meeting in protest, all the members of our delegation began counting those Archbishops remaining in the Monastery where the deliberations were taking place. Only six Archbishops left the salon, and SEVEN remained — a sacred number, not only to the people of the Old Testament to whom it indicated perfection or completion, but to us it was symbolic that our religious pilgrimage and duties of sacrifices for our Archdiocese in loving memory of our late spiritual father, Metropolitan Antony, were now complete.

As the six dissident Archbishops left the Monastery in their cars and drove away, the CLOUD which enveloped the entire Monastery also disappeared. That CLOUD, we felt, was leading, protecting, ruling, and instructing us in God’s decrees for His Church so that His glory could be better revealed. In awe we were led by the Rt. Rev Protosyngelos Ellis Khouri of Grand Rapids, Michigan, into the Chapel of St. Elias Showaya for a prayer of thanksgiving.

It is true and right that nature and the heavens should declare the glory of God. All the elements glorify the God-Man Who is the Head of the Church. Stone and rock will furnish the Savior’s sepulchre. Water will attain its highest purpose in the regenerating sacrament of Baptism. Olive trees will produce oil to anoint and cure the sick in the name of Jesus. Grains of wheat and grapes from the vine will produce the bread and wine from which the Master will bring forth the Mystery of His broken body and blood. From the tree will come the wood of the Cross. In this way all the products of nature will serve Christ, and with them all human labor, whether that of harvesting, baking, vine growing, or any other which contribute to this mystery of transfiguration.

But for the delegation who went to the meetings of the Holy Synod at the Monastery of St. Elias Showaya for the purpose of beseeching the Holy Synod to grant them a humble, God-fearing leader, the Heavens — on the day of the preparation for the feast day of the Transfiguration, August 5, 1966 — the Heavens declared the real glory of God and for our beloved Archdiocese here in North America by granting to us our beloved and highly revered Metropolitan Philip Saliba.

From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
November 1966
p. 15