Photo by George N. Darah
"U.S. church record set."
The Altar Boy
SYLVANIA, Ohio – An altar boy at St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church in Sylvania, Ohio, set the record on Feb. 21 as the oldest server in the history of the U.S. Archdiocese.
At 70 years, 364 days, George Tanber broke the record of 70 years, 363 days set by John Haddad of St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Wooster, Mass. Haddad’s record, set in 1981, was thought to be unattainable.
A transcript of Haddad’s deathbed conversation with his family, confirms his belief his record would stand forever:
John Haddad: Son, remember one thing about your father.
Nick Haddad: What’s that, Dad?
John Haddad: No one will ever break my……….
Nick Haddad: Dad! Dad!
About 50 parishioners were in attendance at St. Elias to mark the occasion. Tanber wore his favorite black robe to celebrate. He had been called out of retirement last April when the COVID epidemic struck, as all the usual altar boys quit serving.
Tanber’s return set another Archdiocese record: Longest period between altar boy stints: 55 years. He had last served in 1965, when he was 15.
During his first appearance, clearly Tanber was rusty as he had a number of questions for sub-deacon Brian Thabit:
Tanber: What’s that?
Thabit: A cross
Tanber: Who’s that?
Thabit: The priest
Tanber adapted fairly quickly. But his return to the altar has not been without incident. In January, during the Great Entrance procession, Tanber tripped while carrying the cross, sending the tip of the holy relic into the neck of 84-year-old Helen Habib, sitting in her usual seat: Row 5, Seat 1.
Habib was rushed to nearby Flower Hospital, where she received 18 stiches. Her 63-year-old son, Richard, sitting in Seat 2, had to be restrained by ushers as he attempted to attack Tanber: “You almost killed my Mommy,” he screamed.
The incident prompted a search in church records, which uncovered a previous infraction by Tanber. On Feb. 8, 1965, Tanber stoked the censor with two charcoals and six ounces of incense – one charcoal and a half teaspoon of incense is the normal amount. Three swings of the censor by Rev. John Mathiasen sent the priest to the floor in a cloud of incense. The service was cancelled as Father Mathiasen was treated for smoke inhalation. Tanber received a three-year suspension for the offense.
Although his suspension had long since been lifted when he resumed his altar boy duties, the current priest, Rev. Ayman Kfouf, has denied Tanber access to the censor.
“With him, I don’t believe in second chances,” he said.
Nevertheless, with his name now in record books, Tanber has set his sight on a loftier goal: Beating the world Antiochian Orthodox church record for oldest altar boy. That title is currently held by the late Christopher Shemas Skaff of Bludan, Syria. Skaff last served on June 3, 1986 at age 83. Ironically, he died the following day after choking on a piece of holy bread.
Tanber is hoping for better luck as he pursues Skaff.
“If I stay healthy and, most important, stay out of trouble, I have a shot,” he said.
Almost certainly untouchable is the world Pan-Orthodox church record for oldest altar boy. That title is held by the still active Dimitrios Konstantopoulos of the Paleokastritsa Monestary in Corfu, Greece.
Konstantopoulos is 107.
When he heard that Tanber had broken the U.S. record and was hoping to beat Skaff’s and then his, Konstantopoulos had a brief response: “Για έλα.”
Translation: “Bring it on, dude.”
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