(includes highlights of other Melkite parish assignments, taken from various parish authors)
Originally from Central Falls, Rhode Island, Father John, born February 11, 1945, is the youngest of twelve children of the late John Azar el Deeb and Nasema Yousef Chehadeh Alam of Maarra, Sednaya, Syria.
At the age of fourteen, he was assigned by his Pastor, the late Archimandrite Justin Najmy, later the first Melkite Bishop for the U.S., to form and coordinate a summer vacation religious education program for the youth of the Central Falls parish community.
As a seminarian from 1964-1971, he served in the Melkite communities of Central Falls & Woonsocket, Rhode Island; Worcester & Roslindale, MA; Danbury, CT; Paterson & West Paterson, New Jersey and Miami, FL.
At the end of his third year of theology studies at St. Basil Seminary, Methuen MA and St. John Seminary, Brighton, MA, he left his studies and moved to New Jersey where he was hired as a lay faculty member of Paul VI Regional High School, Clifton, NJ. During his fifteen years at the school, he held the positions of Theology Teacher, Student Council Advisor, “Libertie’s Childe” Newsletter Advisor, Alumni Memorial Advisor, Vice Principal and Dean of Students. Together with the students, he created a Memorial Garden on the school’s campus. He was also a member of various city, state and national youth organizations. He traveled with his students on educational tours in the U.S. and Europe and was a representative of Educational Foundation (EF), working with American families who wished to sponsor visiting European students.
A founding member of the Board of Directors of the New Jersey Arab Cultural Institute, he was asked to serve as its first radio broadcaster of “The Caravan”, an Arabic music and community news program at WSOU, Seton Hall University. He has traveled several times to the Middle East.
Having been a member of St. Ann Melkite Catholic Church, West Paterson, NJ, being on several committees, including serving as Vice Chair of the Parish Advisory Council, he returned to New England in 1986 to complete his theological studies and entered St. Gregory the Theologian Seminary, Newton Centre, MA to fulfill a residency. While there, he continued his theological training at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, MA.
On May 15, 1988, Fr. John was ordained a deacon by the late Archbishop Joseph Tawil at and was assigned temporarily to his home parish of St. Basil the Great in RI. On June 26, 1988, he became the last priest ordained by Archbishop Joseph.
In August, he was appointed as Assistant Rector to Bishop John Elya of the Annunciation Cathedral, Roslindale, MA.
In the winter of 1989, Fr. John was sent to assist the late Exarch John Haddad, Pastor of St. Jude Melkite Catholic Church, Miami, FL. While there, he formed a choir, a youth group and a young adult group. He assisted the young adults with their newsletter “Brickell Beacon”. He returned to Boston in the spring of that year when he was soon appointed as Cathedral Administrator. Later, he was appointed as the Spiritual Advisor to the Ambassadors, the young adult organization of the Melkite Greek Catholic Diocese, by Archbishop Joseph and following as Administrator of the Melkite Cathedral. Soon after, he was named as Cathedral Rector in 1991 by the late Archbishop Ignatius Ghattas.
During Fr. John’s tenure at the Cathedral, a physical renovation of the facilities was begun. A number of projects followed, such as: etched glass door panels and the commissioning of the magnificent icon “More Spacious than the Heavens”, the “Heavenly Banquet” and “Angelic Guards” on the apse wall, as well as custom-designed chanters’ stalls, lecterns, icon veneration stands, a hierarchal and historical gallery.
He was involved in the area of Communications, both within the parish and in the wider Diocesan arena. Through his development of a Cathedral magazine, “Joyful Light”, and his later appointment as Editor of “Sophia”, the national Diocesan magazine, for eight years, he fostered and heightened an awareness and appreciation of the Melkite Church in America, both nationally and internationally. He has represented the Cathedral Church by participating in a number of television and radio programs that served to increase the visibility of both the Cathedral, the Mother Church of the Diocese, and of the Diocese itself as well. He encouraged and assisted the Diocesan Women’s Society of the Cathedral in becoming the Charter Chapter of the National Association of Melkite Women (NAMW).
He formed a youth group and a young adult group at the Cathedral. He also initiated “AHLAN”, a contact office for Middle Eastern emigres to the Greater Boston area.
He traveled to the Middle East, designed and commissioned a mosaic inlaid & wooden artophorion (tabernacle) to be fabricated in Damascus, Syria, for the Holy Altar of the Cathedral. In 1993, Fr. John established the Bishop Justin Najmy Library at the Cathedral as a Diocesan and Parish resource to collect and make available works of both religious and cultural significance relevant to the Melkite Community.
He has also served on the Diocesan College of Consultors, Diocesan Corporation, Diocesan Pastoral Council Executive Advisory Board, Retirement Board, Diocesan Presbyteral Council and was a Chaplain of the Order of St. Nicholas.
In August, 1994, he was transferred to the West Coast and appointed as Pastor of St. Anne Melkite Greek Catholic Church, No. Hollywood, CA, the largest parish of the Melkite Diocese. His initial work was to begin the extensive repairs of damages incurred from the Northridge earthquake. Mosaics were refurbished, floors were repaired. He designed a new wooden and mosaic inlaid Holy Altar for the Holy Place, had a marble soleas installed, purchased chanters chairs and lectern & icon veneration stands. He created a small booklet for children entitled: ” This is My Altar”. Leading the parishioners to many fundraising activities, the large debt on the church was soon completely wiped out. He established the Women’s Circle, re-established the Youth Group (SAMYA), the Young Adults (SAYA) and formed another Young Adult Group (Ambassadors). The filming of an extensive video series of liturgical celebrations and presentations was begun. A new parish magazine, founded on former ones, was initiated under the name “Mosaic Images”. He began to initiate an Academy of the Arts to offer courses in the language, music and dance of Middle Eastern Culture.
Fr. John was on the speaker circuit of the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women and was involved in other speaking engagements, highlighting the Eastern Church.
He converted the existing rectory into a Church School facility and led the parishioners into purchasing a home for a clergy residence a block away fom the church property.
In August 2000, he asked to return to the East Coast and was appointed as Pastor of St. John Chrysostom Melkite Catholic Church, Atlanta, Georgia. He instituted a parish publication titled, “Golden Sound”, and began the re-organization of former parish groups and the formulation of numerous new ones. He worked with a parishioner-based design company and launched the parish’s first website. He converted the former reception room into a Heritage Room and Gift Shop. Together with parishioners, Fr. John formulated a plan to complete the lower basement level of the 1982-built Cultural Center with the design and construction of classrooms, conference room, kitchenette and restrooms. Following was the re-establishment of the Church School Program of Religious Education and training of teachers.
In 2003, Fr. John was assigned to travel to New Orleans, Louisiana, and as Administrator, worked with a fledgling community with hopes of establishing a Melkite Mission and Parish. This lasted until Hurricane Katrina hit the area two years later. He was later asked by Bishop Nicholas Samra to become a member of a newly established Diaconate Formation Advisory Board.
In 2004, he participated in a training program by the Office of Family Life of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta and became one of eight Clergy Presenters for the ongoing Pre-Cana Marriage Preparation Program. In December, 2006, he began to travel to the Nashville, TN area to begin ground work for a possible Mission.
In 2006, he began travelling to Franklin, TN, to celebrate the Liturgy for Melkite & Maronite families and other interested persons. This has been on hold.
On Jan. 1, 2007, a new website www.maarratsednaya.com was launched. The site re: his ancestral village was conceived by him and developed along with Rev. Fr. Alam Alam of Lawrence, MA and Sami Wakeem of Palo Alto, CA.
Throughout the course of the year, Fr. John gives presentations on the Melkite Greek Catholic Church to civic and religious groups, both Catholic and non-Catholic, on and off site and also offers periodic tours of the Atlanta mansion, (once the residence of Asa Candler, former Mayor of Atlanta and Coca Cola magnate), now one of our Melkite churches in the U.S.
Currently, with his development of an iconographic schema for the Holy Place and the rest of the Atlanta Melkite Community’s house of worship for the past four years, he continues to oversee the unfolding of the plan with the realization of new icons being mounted. Completed icons to date have been several Festal Icons, Fathers of the Liturgy, Communion of the Apostles, Deacons of the Early Church, Angels of the Lord, along with The Cherubim and Seraphim. More icons are planned to complete the Holy Place and throughout the church.
Besides his pastoral responsibilities and the refurbishing of the Atlanta Melkite Community’s buildings and property, he has recently returned to writing submissions for Sophia magazine and has also been appointed as an Advisory Board Member of the National Diocesan Office of Religious Education.
On November 10 & 11, 2007, the Parish gratefully celebrated the blessing of its 50th Anniversary in a two-day event. On Sunday, November 11, Archbishop Cyril elevated Fr. John to the ecclesial rank of Right Reverend Archimandrite.
Presently, he is developing a Film Ministry within the Parish.