What you see above is the final paragraph of a letter that our dear Monsignor Ignace Sadek wrote to my wife, Julie, after we moved from New York City to Dallas. He had been our priest at Our Lady of Lebanon cathedral. He was a holy man. One of the reasons we left New York was because of the post-9/11 anxiety. Monsignor wrote to Julie to reassure her that he did not feel abandoned by us, and to comfort her by assuring her of his prayers for our family.
The letter was so beautiful, and our love for Monsignor Sadek was so strong, that we decided to frame it. I photographed the final paragraph on the letter tonight, and I apologize for the glare from the frame, but I could not manage to shoot the image without glare. We have had that letter for twelve years, but my emotions about Monsignor Sadek are so strong that I had not read it until today.
Why today? Because Monsignor Sadek’s funeral was last week in Brooklyn, and he was much on my mind today in the liturgy. For me, back when we were his parishioners at Our Lady of Lebanon, one of the high points of the entire week was hearing him chant the Trisagion prayer in Aramaic, in the liturgy. Our Lady of Lebanon is a Maronite church, which is to say, one of the Eastern Rites of the Roman Catholic Church. The Maronite liturgy differs from the Roman liturgy in many ways, one of them being the inclusion of the Trisagion (“Thrice Holy”) Prayer: Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. I loved hearing that old man, in his crackly voice, chanting the Trisagion in the ancient language of Christ:
Qadeeshat aloho, Qadeeshat hyeltono, Qadeeshat lomoyouto, itraham alein.
Here is a YouTube version of a small Maronite choir chanting the Qadeeshat. This is not quite like Monsignor did it, because there are no instruments in the Brooklyn cathedral. But it’s very close, because the tune is the same.
All Orthodox churches chant the Trisagion in our Sunday liturgy, and in many other prayer services. This morning when the choir chanted it (in English), I was instantly transported back to Our Lady of Lebanon, and could see in my mind’s eye sweet Monsignor Sadek, facing the altar, his arms extended, intoning the ancient prayer. I couldn’t stop my tears, and was glad that I was standing near the front of the church, so no one else could see them.
Suddenly, I felt somebody standing next to me. It was Lucas, my 11 year old son, and he nestled his head into my chest. The thing is, he could not have seen me mourning and weeping, because I took care to hide my face from the congregation, which was behind me. Lucas has this way of sensing when he’s needed, and that’s what he did this morning.
Here’s the thing: Lucas’s full name is Lucas Joseph Ignace Dreher. He bears the name of Monsignor Sadek. Julie gave birth to Lucas after we left Brooklyn, but we made a return visit when he was a baby, in part so Monsignor Sadek could see the boy named after him. Somewhere, we have a snapshot of Monsignor Sadek holding the baby he called “little Ignace.”
So when “little Ignace” came to me today to offer comfort as I cried over the loss of this saintly priest, it felt a little like Monsignor Sadek was standing beside me.
When I came home from church, I finally screwed up the courage to read the letter. It is one of the most beautiful and treasured things in our possession. It is by the hand of a man I deeply believe is with God now, a saint in Paradise. And I believe he is still praying for us, and is with us, because as he once assured us, “thoughts and prayers know no bounds nor barriers.” Not even death can separate us from the love of that good and holy man, whose voice, God willing, we will hear again one day, chanting the Qadeeshat in the presence of the All-Holy.