Tradition of faith

St. George Orthodox Church started by 25 immigrant families 100 years ago

Community, Life, Life & Accent,
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August 16, 2014 | 12:04 am

CEDAR RAPIDS — When the congregation of St. George Orthodox Church gathers this Labor Day weekend to celebrate the church’s centennial, it will be more than a parish celebration.

It will be a family celebration.

“We have quite a high percentage of our current church members whose parents and grandparents were among the original members in 1914,” said the Rev. Fred Shaheen, parish priest at St. George, 3650 Cottage Grove Ave. SE, in Cedar Rapids. “There’s a continuity there that is very meaningful.”

St. George was started in 1914 with 25 immigrant families, mostly families who had left Lebanon and Syria.

The first few families arrived in the Cedar Rapids area in the late 1800s and settled in what is now the southwest part of the city, on Third Street SW in the New Bohemia area. Because there were no Orthodox churches, the families gathered together to worship or went to other nearby churches.

Gradually more families came to Cedar Rapids, and in 1914, with 25 families living near each other, the group formed a congregation and created St. George Orthodox Church. The first building was in the same area the families lived.

Over the years the congregation grew, and a new church was built in 1993.

There are now about 170 families that belong to St. George Orthodox Church, and dozens more who are members of St. Raphael Orthodox Church in Iowa City — which was started as a missionary activity in the 1970s and formally became an Orthodox church in 2000.

Though the official celebration is being held Aug. 29 through Sept. 1, members of the congregation have been dedicating their service to marking the milestone for the last few years.

During the holidays, the congregation usually assembles 50 to 60 food baskets for those in need, but this past year they did 100, to keep with the centennial theme, and they planted three trees — one at the church and one at the church cemetery, and one was donated to the city to be planted in Hidder Park, which is adjacent to the original St. George building.

And last year the congregation received an iconostasis hand-carved of Syrian stone, a piece they had commissioned five years ago to commemorate the church’s centennial.

The iconostasis, which is approximately 40 feet wide and 17 feet high, with a thickness of about 15 inches, was paid for solely through donations and pledges, all with a three-year maturity. By midway through last year, it had been paid for in full.

“It’s nice that the Orthodox are still building temples for God, you don’t see that much anymore,” said Nick AbouAssaly, a member of the St. George congregation and co-chair of the centennial committee.

“We have a lot of dedicated people who put their hearts into everything they do for this church,” Shaheen said. “It has been a very productive 100 years.”

CELEBRATING 100 YEARS

St. George Orthodox Church celebrates its centennial Aug. 29 to Sept. 1. For more information and a full schedule, go to Stgeorgecedarrapids.org

AUG. 29

•6 to 7 p.m.: Vespers

Aug. 30

•2 to 4 p.m.: Tours, St. George Church, 3650 Cottage Grove Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

•4 to 5 p.m.: Great Vespers, St. George Church

•6 to 11 p.m.: Dinner and Hasli, or party, which will include music by a Lebanese band and dancing, Marriott Hotel, 1200 Collins Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids

Sept. 1

•8:45 a.m. to noon: Matins and Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, St. George Church

•Noon: Luncheon, St. George Church

•5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.: Centennial banquet and dance, Marriott Hotel

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