History of the Parish

Early History

The first immigrants from Syria and Lebanon came to NE Pennsylvania in the 1890’s. The year 1892 marked the first migration of an Antiochian Orthodox family to Wilkes-Barre. In this period the families, Atiyeh, Audi, Broody, Gazey, Hyder, Karam, Saba, Serhan, and Simon, came from the area known as Al-Koura in Northern Lebanon overlooking Tripoli, and the families Abraham, Baroody, Bitar, Cross, Johns, Mecherki/Moses, Namey, and Solomon arrived from the area of the Wadi-Nasaara, an area of many Christian villages, in north-western Syria, close to the Mediterranean Sea. Those who came from the Al-Koura came from the villages of Feeh, Buturam, Kyssba, Doraya, Bishmazeen, Baynu, as well as the city of Tripoli. Those who came from the Wadi-Nasaara, in the Al-Husson Valley where the famed Monastery of St. George “Al-Humaireh” stands, came from the villages of Mishtay, Zwaitini, and Matn Arnook.

All these families initially had their baptisms and marriages served either by Russian Orthodox priests, particularly the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Alexis Toth, at the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Cathedral on North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, or by the Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeney, who became pastor in 1895 of the first Syrian Orthodox church in America, Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church in Brooklyn. He would travel to Wilkes-Barre to care for the people here. Both of these men are now glorified saints in the Orthodox Church.

In the late 1890’s, as the number of people from the Middle East increased, there was a time of headline news when one of the members of the Saba family, John, aged 24, eloped with a local Irish girl, Mary Kearney, aged 16. There was a kind of soap opera for a period of time. The two were married on November 5, 1899, and Mary, known usually as Mame, became one of the first converts to Orthodoxy from Wilkes-Barre. Later she was noted for her ability to speak the Arabic language which she learned from her new extended Arab family. She was a mid-wife and also provided much help to the Arabic community in legal matters.

First Priest

By 1904 there were some 35 families who formed the first parish of St. Mary. On March 13, 1904, Archimandrite Raphael was consecrated bishop of Brooklyn, ranking as second auxiliary to Archbishop Tikhon Bellavin, the only Orthodox Bishop in the United States, head of the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and North America and a member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1904 Bishop Raphael organized St. Mary’ s Syrian Orthodox Men’ s Group. In the spring of 1904, a youthful and worthy parishioner, married to Mary Saba, was ordained the first priest of St. Mary’ s, the Reverend Michael John Curry Saba, who served the parish for four years before leaving for Johnstown. His first recorded Baptism is that of Victoria Saba who was baptized on March 25, 1904. At this time the parish bought land at 132 High Street for $300. From 1904 to 1908 the congregation gathered and worshiped in private homes located at 7 McCarragher Street and 9 Moyallen Street. St. Mary’s was the sixth Antiochian parish to be established in America.

Father George Kattouf

In 1907 Father George Kattouf, who was ordained in Wilkes-Barre, became pastor of St. Mary’ s in 1908. He led in the collection of money for the new church. Steady progress was made in clearing the land on High Street of oak trees and of preparing the site for building. In 1907 Bishop Raphael give his blessing to the effort. By this time the parish had grown to some 65 families. A Russian Orthodox contractor, Michael Hlipko had offered the acceptable bid of $8500 for the wood-frame structure, 32 feet wide and 67 feet long. An unfinished, earth-floor basement having only a 7 foot high ceiling was part of the contract. There was no provision for restrooms in the original plan. A belfry and cross topped the front of the temple. The first Liturgy was held in the fall of 1908 and the Church was consecrated by Bishop Raphael during a visit in 1911 to celebrate the burning of the mortgage. The first Baptism in the new church was that of Edna Baroody, daughter of Aboud and Helen Baroody on August 16, 1908, and the first marriage was that of Anthony Cross and Khatun Kattouf, Father George’s sister, who were married April 18, 1909.

On November 3, 1908, the parish received its official Charter of Incorporation for the county of Luzerne and the state of Pennsylvania. The name for the church in its incorporation is “St. Mary’ s Syrian Greek Orthodox Catholic Church, of Wilkes-Barre and vicinity.” The corporation was formed for “the purposes of the worship of Almighty God according to the doctrines, discipline, laws, and usages of St. Mary’s Syrian Greek Orthodox Catholic Church.” The subscribers for the corporation are: Albert Broody, Joseph Broody, Abraham John, Salim Saloom, Rustum Surhan, and D. A. George. The first parish council was established with the “pastor or pastors, and not less than six or more than twelve lay members” of the parish as members. The members of the first parish council were: Joseph Broody, Albert Broody, Rustum Surhan, Abraham John, John George, John Saba, Jacob Awday, Salim Saloom, Mutrey Muedsay, Asper Saleet, Anthony George and Joseph Khouri.

Father George Kattouf was a fine manager and by 1912 he contracted with Mr. Hlipko to build a spacious six-room rectory on the church property to the rear of the Church at 18 McCarragher Street at the cost of $3,300 with the help of much free labor on the part of the young men of the parish. On August 14, 1912, with Joseph Elias (probably Father Joseph Elia Xanthopoulos) and Simon Saba as the grantees, the Church purchased the older part of the Church cemetery in Hanover Township for $1,400.

Father Joseph Elia Xanthopoulos

Father George Kattouf desired to move to Allentown and in 1912 Father Joseph Elia Xanthopoulos came as pastor. He had come to the parish prior to this to visit and to offer Baptism. He had studied at the Balamand monastery and was well known by the people. He was fluent in Arabic and Greek and his strong voice rang out in Byzantine chant. Many young people learned to chant with him, and he started a Syrian school for them. He also served the Greek community, and in 1917 was granted a transfer to the Greek Orthodox Church in Scranton, PA.

Russi-Antaaki Split

During the period after the death of Bishop Raphael in 1915, and the tumult in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, another parishioner, Daniel George, who was a member of the original subscribers to St. Mary’s Charter of Incorporation, and who had been ordained in 1914 to serve as priest in Geneva, New York, by Bishop Germanos Shehadi of Zahle, began to work in the parish of Saint Mary to have it come under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch. Father Daniel served as pastor during the latter part of the time of Father Joseph Elia Xanthopoulos and during a large part of the time of Father Abdallah Khoury. This was during the period when the community split into two factions because of the Russi-Antaaki Controversy in which the Syrian Mission in America was divided according to allegiances to two Patriarchates. Should St. Mary’s remain under the Patriarchate of Moscow, or be part of the Patriarchate of Antioch? During this time services were held both at the church on High Street, for those following the Russian Patriarch, and at 107 Blackman Street, for those following the Antiochian Patriarch. In July 1925 Archbishop Victor Abou-Assaly, the Antiochian Orthodox Archbishop of New York and North America, and also Bishop Germanos, came to the Antiochian church on Blackman Street to have baptisms. Archbishop Victor baptized the son of Father Daniel, Anthony George, on July 15th, and Bishop Germanos baptized Minerva Joseph, the daughter of Mary Xanthopoulos Joseph on July 19th. In the baptismal register for this period there are separate lists for the baptisms performed by Father Daniel George, and for those of Father Joseph Elia Xanthopoulos and Father Abdallah Khoury. Father Daniel remained in Wilkes-Barre until 1926, when he left to be pastor of churches in Geneva, New York, Danbury, Connecticut, and Boston, Massachusetts. He returned a few times after this to have baptisms.

Father Abdallah Khoury

Father Abdallah Khoury of Brooklyn, who would be the pastor under whom the reunion of the parish would take place, became pastor in 1917. Father Abdallah was a dynamic person of strong discipline. He taught Arabic School ever day at 4 p.m. and choir. He was highly disciplined and a friend of many parishioners in their school days in the Al-Husson Valley of Syria. He inaugurated Arabic plays, which he directed, and two vocal groups to chant the Liturgy, one male and the other female. The young people sang antiphonally with the priest as was custom in the churches in Syria. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s there were many plays and musicals put on by the parishioners. In 1928, Father Abdallah and the Parish Council began a major remodeling of the old Church. It was lifted three feet and extended twenty feet. This gave a large basement with restrooms, steam heat boilers, and a kitchen for serving dinners. The construction was completed at the cost of $13,000. Shortly after the construction Father Abdallah Khoury transferred to Paterson, New Jersey.

Father Constantine Abou-Adal

In 1929 Father Constantine Abou-Adal, who had been Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeney’ s chanter and whom St. Raphael sent to Russia for further theological studies in 1899, became pastor of St. Mary’s. He had studied in Moscow where he was educated on scholarship, as well as in Syria. He was a tall, ruddy-faced gentle person, who loved music and children. During this period there were many plays directed and performed by the parishioners. Father Constantine taught the choir and was loved by all the Russian clergy because he spoke Russian. He was an expert violinist as was his Russian-born Khouriyee. Two sons were born to them in their stay in Wilkes-Barre. In November 1932 Father Constantine was transferred to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he served until his retirement in 1965.

Archbishop Aftimios Ofeish

In October 1932 Archbishop Aftimios Ofeish was invited to come to St. Mary’s to settle a dispute in the parish about the transfer of Father Constantine. After Father Constantine left in November, there was no priest for the coming Great Feast of Christmas. Archbishop Aftimios served the parish from November 1932 until February 1933, starting the choir and Sunday School. The Archbishop, who had served as Bishop of Brooklyn from 1917 on, under the Russian Patriarchate, attempted to start an American Orthodox Church in the late 1920’s, along with Metropolitan Platon, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. After its founding, when support was withdrawn, the American Orthodox Church became uncanonical. Archbishop Aftimios, who had met a young woman of St Mary’s during his stay in Wilkes-Barre, married this parishioner, Mariam Namey, in April 1933, and he was then retired. He lived in Kingston, Pennsylvania, where he died in 1966, and is buried in the Maple Hill Cemetery across from St. Mary’s Orthodox Cemetery.

Father George Mitchell

For the first time in the history of St. Mary’ s there was a common desire for a priest who could speak fluent English. Just the priest was found when Father George Mitchell came to Saint Mary from Niagara Falls. Father George became the pastor from 1933 until his untimely death on November 4, 1940. He gained the love and support of the young people of the parish. They loved him especially because of his love for sports—baseball and football—and because of his sense of humor. He was blessed with a wise Khouriyee, Suzanne, and eight children. The Sunday School flowered under his care, as also did the choir. The young people were eager to identify themselves in the community and to share in the Divine Liturgy. A Russian, Deacon Pelish, was engaged to lead the church choir. Michael G. Simon, who would later become a priest and be the pastor of St. George’s Church in Paterson, served as soloist and assistant to the director. For the first time, four-part harmony was enjoyed by the congregation. Father George also lead in the purchase of a second parcel of land adjacent to the parish cemetery which he secured from the Al-Husson Club for the sum of $280. In addition, he rewrote the parish ly-laws, enabling a lay person to serve as president of the Parish Council. Michael Mitchell, the eldest of his sons, became the first Orthodox person in Wilkes-Barre to become a lawyer, and was highly respected in the community. In 1939, the Maronite and Orthodox Churches in Wilkes-Barre held a Testimonial Dinner in Father George’s honor in the Hotel Sterling to which all city officials were invited. By 1940 the congregation was some 175 families strong, and boasted of business and professional people.

It was during the time of Father George Mitchell that a new Metropolitan was consecrated for the Syrian Archdiocese. In the spring of 1936, the Archimandrite Antony Bashir was consecrated as the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese. His resourceful nature established strength and growth for the spiritual, liturgical and financial activity of the Archdiocese.

Father Anthony Sakey

During the war years, 1941 to 1945, Father Anthony Sakey of Boston served as pastor of St. Mary’s. He was active in the community and was able and dedicated. His family was well-liked and his sons received high honors in the military. During the Second World War more that 100 of the youth of St. Mary’s saw service in the war zones. Sadly, several were to lose their lives in the service of their country: Leo Neddoff, William Hannye, James Broody, Michael Ferris, Michael J. Solomon, Albert Jabore, John Malta. In their honor, the young women of the church organized a Victory Club, which sent packages to our service men, and which earned funds to erect a large granite monument in their honor in the front portion of the cemetery, where annually the parish gathers each Memorial Day to pray for them and all the reposed of the parish.

Also in 1944, the Ladies Auxiliary collected $1300 to purchase a new Iconostasis. An iconographer, Michael Kupetz, of Simpson, New York, was hired for the project. The fine craftsmanship of the woodwork and the quality of the icons was a witness to the dedication and hard work of the women of the parish. In 1944, the church mortgage was paid and burned. This was all during Father Anthony Sakey’s pastorate.

Father Nicholas Hussan

In 1945, Father Nicholas Hussan of Wichita, Kansas, became pastor. His great chanting talent lent itself to the choir’s growth, and a new director, Michael Dzury, was engaged. With the help of the newly ordained deacon, Michael G. Simon, the choir grew strong with the influx of returning veterans from the recent war. Marriages abounded and many children were born.

It was a time in which the life of the parish prospered. New pews of light oak were purchased for $3500 and a rubber-tile floor was laid in the church with red carpet-runners in the aisles. During this period a desire began to raise money to build a new church. The ladies baked Pasties for sale in the factories at lunch time each Tuesday of the week. Father Nicholas and his Khouriyee were busy in assisting the work. Baking ovens were set up in the small kitchen in the rear of the church hall. By 1951, the Ladies Society had raised $40,000 towards the building of a new church. The first Arabic movie was shown during Father Nicholas’ time and its success led to many other movies being shown in the parish hall.

In 1948 Deacon Michael Simon was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by Metropolitan Antony at St. Mary’s. It was the first ordination to Priesthood in St. Mary’s Church Temple. Father Michael was assigned to St. George’s Church of Paterson, New Jersey, where he remained until his retirement in 1981 when he and Khouriyee Sarah returned to Wilkes-Barre.

In 1951 the parish held the first of its many annual Haflis which would continue until 1989. These were special times for the community to gather as well as important fund-raisers for St. Mary’s. Many who came to these would come from throughout the community, as well as those traveling from out of state to be part of these parish parties. The Haflis were held in various places, particularly the Hotel Redington, until the new large Parish Hall was completed in 1969, and were held then in the Parish Hall.

Father Herbert Nahas

In October 1951, Father Herbert Nahas and his family, Khouriyee Alice and two children, George and Joyce, came to Wilkes-Barre from Danbury, Connecticut. Father Herbert, born in Rhode Island, was the son of the Very Rev. George Nahas and Khouriyee Elizabeth. Father George was the pastor of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Father Herbert graduated from Brown University in 1940 with a degree in chemistry, and then served in the Army five years in Military Intelligence. Father studied privately with Father Michael Simon of Paterson, and Father Wakeem Dalack, dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral of Brooklyn, and on the Memorial Day Weekend of 1949, was ordained by Metropolitan Antony Bashir. He served for three years in Danbury and then came to Wilkes-Barre, where he would be pastor for the next 35 years.

The New Church Fund continued to grow and by 1958 there was $150,000 collected. The parish now had some 350 families with a Sunday School of 150 children, a Junior Choir of 40 voices, a Senior Choir of 35 voices which performed many public concerts in various places in the area, including the Civic Nationalities Pageants, Boy and Girl Scout Troops, Week-day Religious Classes — every Tuesday in the Church Auditorium commensurate with Pennsylvania State Laws — and many plays performed throughout the area, even on television and radio. Christmas pageants were presented on television two years in succession. Father Herbert was active throughout the community, serving on the boards of directors of the United Fund and Heart Association. He addressed more than a hundred civic and religious organizations in the area, as well as many High School assemblies.

In 1950, the Cathedral Club of Brooklyn and the Young People’s Fellowship of Paterson met to draw up a constitution for the SOYO, Eastern Sector. In January 1951 the constitution was adopted by representatives from Albany, Allentown, Brooklyn, Brownsville, Geneva, Paterson, and Wilkes-Barre. In 1952 the first convention was hosted by the SOYO chapter of St. Mary’s, Wilkes-Barre, at the Redington Hotel, where eleven chapters were represented. On Pentecost, June 6, 1952, Metropolitan Antony visited St. Mary’s and ordained Abraham N. Solomon, who was married to Father George Mitchell’s daughter Christine, to the Diaconate, and Raymond Saba, to the Sub-diaconate.

In 1954, another native son of St. Mary’s answered the call to Holy Orders and was ordained a priest by Metropolitan Antony in Brooklyn. This was Robert George, who was married to Adele Saba, also of St. Mary’s. Father George George — the name taken at his ordination — served parishes in Danbury, Connecticut, and Boston, Massachusetts.

Building the New Church Temple

In 1958, St. Mary’s celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the building of the Old Church. A group of young men was so inspired that they formed an ad hoc Committee to visit Metropolitan Antony to seek his blessing to make plans for a General Parish Meeting to vote for the authorization to build a new Church, Hall and Rectory. A leading member of this group was Isaac (Zeke) Abraham, who over the next decade would diligently pursue the completion of the building of the new Church as he served as chairman of the building committee. It was his vision and persistence that made this dream a reality. The meeting was held in March of 1959 and a total of $93,555 was pledged by the parishioners. Land was the first necessity and after much searching, a 2.5 acre plot was chosen at the South end of Main Street in 1962, and was purchased for $28,500 in 1964. The blessing of God was with this purchase, because the three other sites in the city that were considered were later completely flooded in 1972 by Hurricane Agnes to a depth of sixteen feet. This would have destroyed everything the parish had worked so hard to bring about.

In November 1959, Father Herbert was elevated to the rank of Archpriest with the title “Exarch”. A testimonial dinner was held in his honor with 300 guests at the Hotel Redington. Soon afterward, the fund drive for the new church began with Father Herbert as chairman. There were various efforts to raise the needed funds. Besides the baking of Pasties, the parish began sales of Hoagies for factory workers each Tuesday. As many as 1500 submarine sandwiches were prepared, wrapped and delivered by volunteers to various factories for lunch-hour. A profit of $300 was enjoyed each trip around. Total profits from the ladies’ work with Father Herbert amounted to over $90,000 from 14 years of work. These sales made known the Church’s desire to build, and because of the money raised with such hard work, the bank was readily willing to loan a mortgage of $220,000 at the low rate of 5 1/2% in 1968. In addition, the local Gas Company gave the church a mortgage of $60,000, interest free, payable in five years.

The next, new activity to raise money came in the Annual Block Party and Bazaar the last week of August for a four day period on the old church grounds and street. This began in 1960 and continued until the last Bazaar in 1996. People from all the area came to enjoy Syrian foods and sweets, set up in tents on the church yard, as well as games of chance and times to sit, enjoy, and talk.

Also in 1961, St. Mary’s hosted the Eastern Region SOYO Convention at the Host Motel.

It was during this time that the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese was blessed with the consecration of a new Metropolitan, His Eminence Philip Saliba, who was consecrated in the fall of 1966. This would be an important time of transition for the Archdiocese as the Metropolitan worked to reorganize and restructure the Archdiocese, which was now to be called the Antiochian Archdiocese.

In 1967 the architectural firm of Riggi and Riggi was chosen, and by the next year the architect, Vincent Riggi and his associate, Gene Peters, owner of an engineering concern and Mayor of the City of Scranton, a Lebanese Maronite, prepared the plans for the new Church and hall. The cost for the land and construction exceeded the initial estimate of $250,000, and reached nearly $800,000. The work began with the ground breaking in September of 1968 and was completed in May 1969 with the completion of the Church and Parish Hall.
The complex of buildings measure 250 feet in length and 100 feet in width. All brick and concrete construction with a gold aluminum dome 48 feet above ground level. To secure the buildings, pilings were sunk over 100 feet into the earth to reach bedrock. Much of the work on the Church and Parish Hall was done by crews of parishioners, overseen by John Morrash, a parishioner who was a builder and city inspector, assisted by another parishioner builder, Nick Azain, with the Ladies of the Church providing food for the parish workers.

On the first Sunday of June 1969, Father Herbert served the first Divine Liturgy in the new church. The first Baptism in the New Church on June 1, 1969, was that of Robert Solomon, son of Michael and Barbara Solomon, and the first marriage on June 1, 1969 was that of seminarian, Anthony Bassoline of Yonkers, and Barbara Leo, who was from St. Mary’s. In 1971, during a visit to St. Mary’s, Metropolitan Philip ordained 18 year-old Jack Morrash to the Sub-diaconate during the Divine Liturgy.

Three years were to lapse before the Rectory was finished in August of 1972. The rectory consists of nine rooms and a one-car garage, all heated and air-conditioned. Parishioners, carpenters and electricians, volunteered to build the Rectory at minimal cost, with much of the work done gratis. The work was presided over by John Morrash, who used his building skills to guide the workers to do the best for the least cost. John made use of some of his high school students to aid him in the work. Another parishioner, John Namey contributed many of the materials and did the electrical work, and another parishioner Steve Barrouk did the welding. Instead of the contractor’s asking price of $95,000, the rectory was built for $65,000. It was during the time of the building of the rectory, in June 1972, that the city of Wilkes-Barre and the surrounding communities were all flooded by Hurricane Agnes with some 17,000 homes flooded. The parish suffered 108 families homeless, and 35 businesses of parishioners closed for months. During this time of devastation, the waters stopped just outside the Parish Hall, and the hall would become one of the shelters for the many left homeless by the flood. The men and women of the parish worked diligently to care for those who came to find shelter in St. Mary’s Church Hall in this they were aided by the Teen SOYO.

With the need to raise money for the new Church and hall, the ladies commenced to hold Syrian Nights with ethnic foods and Arabic music in 1969. In addition, SOYO held two Spaghetti Suppers a year and a Bingo party to raise funds. A new source of income for the building fund began in April of 1970 with weekly Bingo Parties on Monday nights. This was to continue for the next eight years until December of 1978 under the chairmanship of Bob Amory who coordinated the many volunteers needed. In addition, the old rectory was sold for $8,500, and the old church and an old apartment building donated to the church by the Al-Husson Club were sold for $13,500.

Shortly after the flood of June 1972, the new rectory was ready and Father Herbert and his family moved into the new rectory in August 1972.

In 1983 the Parish celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the building of the Old Church, with a special celebration presided over by Metropolitan Philip. During this celebration the mortgage was burned, thanks to the hard work of the parishioners to raise the needed money.

In addition, several members were inducted into the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch.

Father Herb's retirement and a new pastor

In 1985 another son of the parish, Father Edward Hughes, along with his wife Khouriyee Anna and daughter Sarah, was assigned as associate pastor to assist Father Herbert prior to his retirement in October 1986. Father Edward was from Kingston, Pennsylvania, and had joined the Orthodox Church at St. Mary’s under Father Herbert in 1976. In 1977 he entered St. Vladimir Seminary and was ordained to the Priesthood by Metropolitan Philip at the Antiochian Village in the fall of 1982. He served as deacon at St. Mary’s from 1981-1982. After his priestly ordination he was pastor of St. Michael Church in Beaumont, Texas, and then in 1985 came to St. Mary’s to become pastor in 1986 at the retirement of Father Herbert Nahas. In 1989 Father Edward was assigned to St. George in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he continues to serve.

Father Mark Sahady

Father Mark Sahady served as pastor from 1989 until 1994. Father Mark was from Brownsville, Pennsylvania, and with his B.A. in music had worked as a teacher in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and instructor in Church music and choir director. In 1986 he began his studies at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, where he graduated in 1989 and had met his future wife Barbara. In 1989 they were married, Father Mark was ordained, and then assigned as pastor of St. Mary’s in November 1989. Father Mark did much work in the parish in music with the choir and chanters. Also in 1993 new icons were added to the Iconostasis as well as the walls adjoining it. In February 1993 St. Mary’s began to have weekly Spaghetti Dinners prepared under the direction of a parishioner and master chef, Jimmy Cardillo. These dinners were provided by a team of loyal parish volunteers who helped cook and serve the many pastas and sauces. The dinners came to be very popular throughout the Wyoming Valley, with some evenings having over 300 meals served. In 1988 Father Mark was commissioned in the Air Force Reserve. His desire was to be in the military, and this became possible in 1994. He is now a chaplain in the Air Force and is being transferred from Germany to Alabama at this time.

On March 12, 1991, Father Michael Simon, who had retired in his home town of Wilkes-Barre after decades of service as pastor of St. George in Paterson, reposed and was buried in St. Mary’s Orthodox Cemetery near Father George Mitchell.

It was during the 42nd Annual Eastern Region Parish Life Conference in 1993, hosted by St. Mary’s in the Woodlands Inn, Wilkes-Barre, that another of the sons of the parish, John Karam, who was Sub-deacon since 1986, was ordained to the Diaconate by Metropolitan Philip.

In addition, in 1992 another parishioner, William Obeid, was ordained to the Sub-diaconate by Metropolitan Philip. Also from 1993 to 1996 Father Iskander Younes, along with his wife and daughters, was sent for studies at St. Tikhon’s Seminary and assigned to come to St. Mary’s for pastoral training.

Father Thomas Zain

Father Thomas Zain and Khouriyee Claudia came to St. Mary’s in 1994. Father Thomas was from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Claudia from Brooklyn, New York. Father Thomas had studied for two years at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and one year at Holy Cross. He also spent one year at St. John of Damascus Theological Institute in Balamand, Lebanon, studying Arabic and Byzantine music. After his ordination on July 17, 1994, he was assigned in August to St. Mary’s. In 1994 he presided over St. Mary’s 90th Anniversary Celebration on October 2nd. Father Thomas was pastor until 1997 when he was transferred to become Dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn, New York, a move which surprised the congregation but was necessary for the Cathedral.

Father John Winfrey

Father John Winfrey, along with his wife Khouriyee Beverly and three children, had come to study at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in 1995, and was assigned to come to St. Mary’s as a seminarian for pastoral training. Father John and his family were from Texas. During his third year in seminary he was ordained deacon and priest at St. Mary’s, and was pastor during his third year of seminary in 1997. He served as pastor until 2000 when he requested to return to Texas to be pastor of a Western Rite Orthodox Church, which he served for two years. In 2002 he was transferred to St. Basil Orthodox Church, Ocala, Florida. Also in 1999 the SOYO Fellowship began to hold annual golf tournaments to help the finances of the parish, as well as provide community fellowship.

On the weekend of September 18th and 19th, 1999, St. Mary’s had two celebrations, with that Saturday being the celebration of the 95th Anniversary of the parish and that Sunday the 50th Anniversary of Father Herbert Nahas’ ordination to Priesthood. Fr. Herbert was awarded the Antonian Gold Medal for Meritorious Service by Metropolitan Philip at this celebration. At the Divine Liturgy that Sunday, another parishioner, Attorney Norman Namey, was ordained a Sub-deacon by Metropolitan Philip.

Father David Hester

In August 2000, Father David Hester was transferred from 10 years of serving as pastor at St. George Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In June 2000, Father David was elevated to the rank of Archpriest. Father David, originally from Baltimore, Maryland, came with his wife, Khouriyee Anne, who was a native of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Father David has a doctoral degree in Eastern Christian Studies, and his wife a doctoral degree in Pastoral Counseling. Father David teaches Patrology part time at St. Tikhon’s seminary, as well as at the Antiochian House of Studies programs.

In 2002, the Archdiocese began to regularly send seminary students to study at St. Tikhon’ s Seminary. In 2002 there were three students, John Oliver, David Sommer, and Fred Pfeil, in 2003, six students, the previous three and Peter Brubacher, Paul Sidebotton, and Joshua Armitage, and in 2004, seven students, the other six and Christopher Morris. In 2005 Andrew Damick and Raid Shawareb came to St. Tikhon’s Seminary. They are all assigned to come to St. Mary’s for pastoral training, chanting practice and parish experience. Fred Pfeil was ordained Deacon at St. Mary’s in March 2003 and David Sommer was ordained Deacon at St. Mary’s in March 2004 and priest at St. Mary’s 100th Anniversary Celebration in October 2004.

100th Anniversary Celebration

The year 2004 was a special year for St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church as the parish celebrated the 100th Anniversary of its founding.

Throughout the year there were various celebrations, parties, dinners and events. As part of this celebration, an icon of the Virgin Mary with Christ, the Platytera, was placed in the apse of the Church behind the Holy Table. This icon is traditionally in all Orthodox Churches in the apse behind the Altar as a sign that through the womb of the Virgin Mary the Son of God came down to earth, incarnate as a man, born through her as the Theotokos, the God-Bearer.

Parishioners and their families donated the needed $7500 over a period of two years.

The Eastern Region Parish Life Conference was hosted by St. Mary’s as apart of its anniversary celebration, and was held at the Radisson Lackawana Hotel in Scranton for some 500 people from the 33 parishes throughout the region. The work for the Conference was a several year task for the parish and especially for the committee that led the preparation for the Conference. Some of these members of the Parish Life Preparation Committee can be seen at the Conference working on the registration of those arriving at the Conference.

The Parish LifeConference was presided over by Bishop Basil, the Bishop of Wichita and Mid-America, who came home to his home state of Pennsylvania to be at the Conference.

One of the highlights of the Conference was the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy served by Bishop Basil and many of the clergy of the region. Before the Divine Liturgy some of the clergy can be seen as they joined with Bishop Basil waiting for the procession into the chapel to begin the Divine Liturgy.

During the Conference there were various meetings of Regional organizations. The Antiochian Women met for a luncheon meeting. During this AOCWNA meeting some of the women of St. Mary’s gathered together for the photo seen here.

The regional women discussed their various projects and enjoyed learning what the women of each parish are doing in their home parishes, as well as their work to support the national AOCWNA.

The Fellowship of St. John had a day-long meeting during which plans were made for various activities and projects in the region. The Order of St. Ignatius had an evening meeting and dinner. During this meeting, over which Bishop Basil presided at the head table, representatives of the National Governing Board of the Order presented the programs of the Order, and called upon those present to continue working to interest new membership in the Order.

On the weekend of October 9th and 10th Bishop Antoun came to St. Mary’s for the 100th Anniversary Weekend Celebration. On Saturday evening the bishop presided over the Great Vespers, as is seen in the photo where he is assisted by Nicholas Sommer, the son of Father David Sommer. The parish chanters and the seminary students did the singing during the Great Vespers.

Following the Great Vesper service on Saturday evening there has a Hafli in the parish hall to which some 350 people attended and enjoyed the arabic dancing and the special food prepared by Riad Attar and his helpers in the kitchen. It was also an opportunity for the clergy to be with bishop Antoun.


As part of the celebration, there were two special cakes made by Jack and Reba Witko which were modeled on the old church on High Street and the new church on South Main Street. The cakes were admired by many people over the weekend and were then served at the Coffee Hour following the Sunday Divine Liturgy where they were first cut by Bishop Antoun.

During the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning Bishop Antoun ordained Deacon David Sommer to the priesthood. Father David’s Father, Father John Sommer and his father-in-law, Father James Bernstein presented him for ordination to His Grace, as can be seen in the photograph below.

It was very moving to the parishioners to see this many priests in one family. In addition, many of the clergy and seminary students from St. Tikhon’s came for the ordination of Father David Sommer.

Also during the Divine Liturgy on Sunday two parishioners, John Moses, Jr. and Edwin Bell were ordained to the Subdiaconate by Bishop Antoun as they are seen here.

With them the parish is now served by four Subdeacons who regularly help in the altar for the various services of the parish, as well as serve when needed as chanters for Great Vespers and Orthros.

The Grand Banquet was held in the Woodlands Inn on the evening of Sunday October 10th. There were some 275 people at the banquet. At the head table seated by Bishop Antoun can be seen the Very Rev. David Hester, Khouriye Anne Hester, the Very Rev. Herbert Nahas, and attorney John Moses, Father Herbert Nahas’ son-in-law.

This weekend honored all of the clergy and parishioners who over the last 100 years have worked so diligently and contributed so much to the life of St. Mary’s. A highlight of the evening speakers was the talk given by O. J. Solomon who served for many years as the parish secretary. O. J., as seen here on the left, spoke about all the events, activities, plans, and organization that went into the construction of the new church in 1968.

In all of this history it is seen how, beginning with Father Michael Saba, whose first recorded Baptism was in March 1904, up to the present, the clergy and people of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church have served the Holy Trinity in true worship and spirit, and have lived and taught the Orthodox faith from generation to generation until our own time. For this reason, the theme that was chosen by St. Mary’s Parish Council for this year of anniversary celebration is this:

Living the Faith – Past – Present – Future.

Compiled from various parish histories, parish records, and newspaper articles by the Very Rev. Dr. David Hester

The Icon of Christ the Pantokrator

Throughout the year 2005 funds were gradually collected as memorials, and for the good health of parishioners, to enable the parish to commission the painting of the Icon of Christ the Pantokrator—the Ruler of All—for the dome of the Church Temple of St. Mary Orthodox Church. The Icon of Christ the Pantokrator is traditionally in the domes of all Orthdodox Church Temples since the time of the sixth century.
The Icons was painted by a Russian Orthodox Iconographer from St. Petersburg, Ivan, who was residing on the property of St. Tikhon’s Russian Orthodox Monastery and Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania.
The Icon was painted on two eight foot semi-circle halves of marine plywood and then brought to the Church were they were each gradually lifted on scaffolding which was erected in the center of the Church Temple.

After each of the halves was attached to the dome, the center of the Icon was repainted to join the two halves into one complete circle.

When the work was completed and the scaffolding removed, all were awed at the beauty of the face of Christ, indeed the Ruler of All, looking down on the assembled congregation offering his blessing to all as we gather for the Divine Liturgy and the other Services of the Lord’s Holy Orthodox Church.

Quote of the Holy Fathers

A brother went to see Abba Silvanus on the mountain of Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard he said to the old man, “Do not labor for the food which perishes (John 6:27). Mary has chosen the better part (Luke 10:42).” The old man said to his disciple, “Zacharias, give the brother a book and put him in a cell without anything else.” So when the ninth hour came the visitor watched the door expecting someone would be sent to call him to the meal. When no one called him, he got up, went to find the old man and said to him, “Have the brothers not eaten today?” The old man replied that they had. Then he said, “Why did you not call me?” The old man said to him, “Because you are a spiritual man and do not need that kind of food. We, being carnal, want to eat, and that is why we work. But you have chosen the good portion and read the whole day long and you do not want to eat carnal food.” When he heard these words the brother made a prostration saying, “Forgive me, Abba.” The old man said to him, “Mary needs Martha. It is really thanks to Martha that Mary is praised.”
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It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped when giving birth to him, should look upon him as he sits with the Father. It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God.
St. John of Damascus (8th century)
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It is necessary to establish a pattern of going to church as often as possible, usually to Matins, Liturgy and Vespers. Have a longing for this, and go there at the first opportunity and if you can, stay without leaving. Our church is heaven on earth. Hasten to church with the faith that it is a place where God dwells, where He Himself promised to quickly hear prayers. Standing in church, be as if you are standing before God in fear and reverence, which you express through patience, prostrations, and attention to the services without wandering thoughts.
Saint Theophan the Recluse (19th century)
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The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit.
Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (4th century)