The reflection that was marvelously imaging an Assyrian flag on the wall of the sacred altar took my attention away from the consecration ceremony. The Assyrian flag painted on the window that faces the altar creates this fabulous scene. I felt there were more eye-catching elements. When I looked more carefully, I noticed the radiation of the morning sunlight passing through the 20 feet tall cross built with stained glass was in three colors of our Assyrian and America flag, red, blue, and white. “I really should shake the hand of the designer”, I thought to myself.
The parishioners of St. Mary Assyrian Church of the East in Warren, Michigan and their guests all of whom came from different regions like Toronto, Chicago, California, and as far as Arizona, a crew of more than 2000 people seemed to have completely forgotten the recent vandalizing of this church. There were no signs of damage left due to the sincere help of the City personnel and the support of the neighboring residents, businesses, churches, mosques, and synagogues. I saw the appreciation in the eyes of the church members when they were telling us what happened to their church and how they received passionate support from the highly diverse society they live in. I didn’t ask more questions because these people were here to happily celebrate the inauguration of their new church, St. Mary, a project that took them two years of volunteer work and near two million dollars.
The opening ceremony on Sunday, May 6, 2007 started with the entrance of the beloved Catholicos Patriarch His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, accompanied by:
- His Beatitude Mar Narsai D'Baz, Metropolitan of Atour (Assyria)
- His Grace Mar Aprem Khamis, Bishop of Western United States
- His Grace Mar Emmanuel Yousif, Bishop of Canada
- His Grace Mar Sargis Yousif, Bishop of Baghdad
- His Grace Mar Odisho Oraham, Bishop of Europe
- Chorbishop Aaron of Connecticut
- Father Benjamin Benjamin of Mart Mariam Church in Warren Michigan
- Father Joseph Peera of Mar Shimun Bar Sabaii
- Father Patros Patros from Chicago, Illinois
St. Mary Church received well-deserved attention.
The church was completely packed and so was the basement where people watched the consecration on big screens. The choir was singing and chanting in Assyrian language. Among them was Linda in white! Linda George, the most popular Assyrian female singer sang the holy scripts of our 2000 year old Assyrian Church of the East. The flag, the radiation, our Patriarch and Synod members, the Choir, Linda, Assyrian prayers, clouds of incense, all together built an unforgettable magic of orthodoxy in front of our eyes. Many cried, including Mr. William Dadesho, one of the founding fathers of Bet-Nahrain organization who was invited as a guest of honor to this wonderful event.
During the consecration, H.H. Mar Dinkha installed a golden cross in the sacred altar officially ordaining this unique church for the people of Michigan. Looking at the newly placed Orthodox cross which this proud nation carried during her 2000 years history subjected to frequent genocides and massacres, and the national flag, I suddenly, remembered H.H. Mar Dinkha’s famous quote, “Always protect and preserve your religion as Christians and your nationality as Assyrians.”
After the Holy mass ended, H.H. Mar Dinkha IV delivered a speech in which he said, “We, the Assyrian Church of the East, acknowledged whoever is baptized and believes in one God and Holy Trinity.” showing his unbiased Christian values.
Bella Banquet, a beautiful place decorated by statues of the Assyrian kings was where waives of joy and happiness shifted to for breakfast. Many speakers took the podium, including the Mayor of Warren City, Mark Steenbergh. Commissioner David Flynn from Sterling Heights, Michigan on behalf of the Macomb County Commissioners office presented His Holiness with a resolution from the county acknowledging the event along with Richard Sulaka, City Clerk and Mayoral Candidate for the City of Warren. They all congratulated the parishioners and were honored by the presence of the Patriarch.
We were informed the Bishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Michigan, Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim did not accept the invitation from our church and failed to even send a representative to this joyful event. Unlike bishop Ibrahim, His Grace Bishop Gregory of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church from the Monastery of Saint Sabbas was in attendance at the head table next to our Assyrian bishops as a sign of support from a sacred sisterly church.
While in Bella Banquet, numerous people welcomed us as the representatives of Bet-Nahrain organization and AssyriaSat. They expressed their appreciation for the hard work AssyriaSat, Bet-Nahrain, Dr. Sargon Dadesho put in. They admired our nationalist stand saying, “You are our voice!”, and “If it was not for AssyriaSat, the recent conspiracies against our Assyrian identity and our Assyrian Church would have prevailed.”
Masters of Ceremony, Dr. Oraham Yacoub and Linda Warda, members of St. Mary’s Executive Committee and Fr. Benjamin Benjamin expressed their gratitude towards the TV satellite networks AssyriaSat and Ishtar TV for the media coverage and their support for the church.
Mr. Sabah Yokhana presented welcoming gifts to His Holiness and bishops gold and silver engraved pocked watches on behalf of St. Mary's parish.
During the two hours event, the amount donated to the newly consecrated church reached approximately $40,000. In addition to the internal support the church received, the McDonald’s restaurant next door has offered to remove the fence in between the properties in order to make its parking lot available to the congregation, although, the church has her own huge parking lot.
Toward the end, I had a pleasure of meeting the talented designer Mr. Leonard Jacob who had added the Assyrian touch to the front window Assyrian flag (glass art) which reflects on the altar's marble, and the altar cross. His art is a supplement to the church architectural design which is made by Kalabat Design Group.
A scene that would never leave my memory would be the private moment two Assyrian old ladies had with their scarf tied at the back of their head. They were the mothers of Martyrs Yousip Toma and Jamil Shmoel who were killed by Saddam’s regime. Looking at these mothers of Martyrs sitting next to each other having a quite conversation, I thought to myself if there is any mother in this world that can understand what St. Mary went through when her Son was captured and killed, it would be these two brave women.