A Tribute to the Chief
Anything I write will fall short of truly capturing the essence of who my brother Jonathan is. That being said, I’m going to try describing the extent of love he expressed for others and the impact that he has had on so many.
Jonathan makes everyone feel at home
I met Juna about six years ago through my friendship with his brother, Andrew, in college. We had just met, and Juna introduced me to all his friends and already planned weekly hymns classes and services. I still remember exactly what we learned together. He never treated me like an outsider. He was constantly inviting me to spend time with him, his friends and family. What I found out later is that it wasn’t just me. He did the same with so many people, who had personally told me how he had gone out of his way to, and made them feel like he’d known them his whole life. Even when he was hospitalized – I kid you not – the hospital itself lost its eerie feeling. We would regularly visit, but not with sadness or grief. Apart from the circumstance itself, it did not lack the typical joy derived from a day that is shared between friends. Despite the gravity of what he was facing, we were welcomed all the same.
Jonathan fills any room with laughter
I cannot recall a time with Juna when I didn’t laugh. Not a single time, even throughout his illness. When he was first diagnosed my brother and I went to visit him and went to eat out. We ended up on the floor in the middle of IHOP crying of laughter. If you don’t believe me, ask the guy next to us, who was staring the entire time. One day in the hospital, he asked us to pray with him because he was in a lot of pain. So we sang hymns with him, praised God, and prayed for him. When we finished, he turned to us and said, “I love you guys.” Looking around the room, he turned to his brother and continued, “Except you Andrew.” We all erupted in laughter, because we knew Jonathan loved to mess with him. Juna had the brightest and goofiest smile. He would often wake up in the middle of the night, and on more than one occasion his request for a glass of water gave way to a deep conversation at 3am. All the while he would look at me with the purest eyes and smile. Without a doubt, we still went to sleep laughing. https://youtu.be/7WubMRzjKe8
Jonathan is dedicated to his community and his church
He was excited to serve. Every single time I visited Archangel Michael’s church in Howell he gave me the rundown on the new construction. He took my brother and me on the roof to show us the view and told us about all the little details of everything going on. Juna was the piece that fell into place to help us record the liturgy of Saint Gregory in English. It would have never happened without him. Bringing us together and recording was his idea to begin with. When we planned to get together, he always had to factor in his service schedule. Meanwhile, Jonathan had already worked his way up to being chief of the rescue squad in East Windsor. He was passionate about his service as chief, and this enthusiasm would make itself evident as he talked about it endlessly.
Jonathan cares about others in an unfathomable way
My routine when visiting Juna in the hospital would be to go in, say hi to his father first – otherwise I would get rocked for it – and then go sit next to him. Before I sat down, I was always greeted with “Hey, how are you?”, and right afterwards, “How is baba and Sammy?” – asking about my father and my brother. When my father went to visit him, although they hadn’t met before, he was ecstatic. He kept asking me to bring him back to see him. He would ask me then about every detail about church and school. He went out of his way for everyone. Jonathan spoke to Andrew in his last few days and told him to write a letter to Sammy’s school explaining to them the situation because he has finals coming up the next few days. The last I spoke to Jonathan was on the phone about a week before he went to Jesus. In it, he told me what was new on his end and I complained about my exams and professors. He told me he loved me, I told him that I loved him too and that we would continue praying for him until God did something.
Jonathan is loved by an enormous number of people
The hospital staff told Juna’s family that they had never seen a single patient that had so many visitors come on such a consistent basis before. There was never a day or a night where he was alone; as a matter of fact there wasn’t a time where he wasn’t surrounded by friends and family praying and loving him. This past weekend the church services were filled with a sea of people wearing white celebrating your memory and eternal life in the Resurrection of our Lord.
Jonathan has amazing faith
Juna was a saint. No, he was not perfect. We are called to be perfect, but we are made perfect through the Mediator, Jesus Christ. He, like everyone of us, had tough times and good times, but when it came to his faith in God; his belief in God’s love for him, that didn’t waiver. This is one of the main points I want to get across. God looks for the smallest positive quality in his children to give them all the blessings he has. While the Samaritan woman was living in sin, with no plausible way out at the time, he commended her for her honesty, changed her and used her to preach His name to a nation.
On January 29th, I had to travel back to Buffalo, NY for the beginning of the semester. The doctors said several times that Jonathan wouldn’t make it more than a few days. Before I left, I walked over to him and said, I have to leave today. Whenever I said that, he always asked me to stay “shwaya”. Shwaya usually ended up being the rest of the day. So after a little while longer, we prayed and sang with him. I’ll never forget the prayerful presence of God that day as we sang. As I was leaving I told him, “I’m going to come back and see you.”
He responded by saying, “Yeah, but hopefully not here”.
I said, “We have to believe and have faith that God can and will do miracles. He is a strong God and nothing gets in His way. Do you have that faith?”
He said, “I do and I know He will.”
Sure enough, in defiance of centuries’ worth of medical knowledge, Juna made it out of the hospital a few weeks later. He was able to go home and spend Holy Week and the Feast of Resurrection with his family. If that isn’t a miracle because of his courageous faith, I do not know what is. He bore all his pain with thanksgiving.
Jonathan impacted me in so many ways
When I left to start the semester, Jonathan told me to work extremely hard. This was echoed by his father, Mounir, who asked me to do my best for Juna. By the grace of God and his prayers, this was my best semester in school yet. I came back mid semester to see him and to celebrate my mother’s yearly memorial. He told me that he had been praying and asking her prayers for himself and me, even though he had never even met her before. I remember feeling her presence so strongly that weekend. I loved singing with him. Many nights I would spend holding his hand and singing, and yes he would make fun of me for it, but he would ask me to continue. He has left a mark and a purpose on everything that I do with the hymns of our church and showed me they have a real effect on us. I will never forget those nights.
Jonathan is a fighter
He never gave up. Ever. Well, there was one time he tried to climb a ladder in church and almost fell, so he told Andrew to go up instead. Other than that, in health or in sickness, he fought hard and never let anything get in his way. He fought for his community, for his squad, for his friends and I have seen him stand up for what’s right on several occasions. https://youtu.be/EMDrvFaEtqI
I want to mention something else that I found fascinating. The Wassef family is absolutely amazing. Mounir is an extremely strong and faithful man with the utmost respect for God and His church. Juna’s mom, Caroline, is a true example of a loving and sacrificial mother. I commend them on a job excellently done in raising a fine young man who changed so many people’s lives with his presence, even if they didn’t realize it. As for their children, Jonathan is one of five of the most incredible people I’ve met in my life. Catherine, Andrew, Justine and Daniel stood by their brother during his sickness giving everything they had until the last moment. Since Jonathan was diagnosed, there was not one sacrifice they could have made on his behalf at any point in time that was not made. The only adjective sufficient to describe them is “Christian.” Their love is so strong and divine that no other word is viable. This snapshot of his family, however, is not quite complete. I can’t impose any limit on who his family is, because they made us all feel like family. The first day I visited Jonathan, Uncle Mounir asked us all to leave to let Juna get some rest. Jonathan told me to sneak downstairs, and wait for him to leave and come back up. When his dad found out, Juna couldn’t hide behind his truth ears, hence why I had to say hello to Mounir first before I entered from then on.
Jonathan my dear brother,
I hope you know how much we all love you. I ask that you pray for us and that you hold my hand throughout my journey until I see you and my mom again, as I was blessed to hold yours these past few months. You are an exceptionally fine young man, in more ways than one.
You are a piece of who I am and I will live the rest of my days here by your example to the best of my ability. I promise you I’ll try to impact my community the way you have. I promise to bear pain thankfully and with a smile on my face. I promise to focus on others before myself as much as I can. Please do not forget my father, my brother and me, or any of your loved ones. Stand by your family closely. Enjoy the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior.
You are not getting a farewell or goodbye from me. We, Orthodox Christians, do not believe in that.You are there in every liturgy we pray. In every service you are present on the altar as a part in Jesus Christ. He unites us forever. I really love you.