Around the turn of the 20th century, many immigrants from Syria and Lebanon settled in Pittsburgh, PA. Those who were Orthodox worshipped in the Russian Orthodox Church, but knew they needed a priest who could communicate with them in their own language. This need was satisfied in 1908 when Bishop RAPHAEL Hawaweeny (Saint Raphael of Brooklyn) assigned Fr. George Michael as the first pastor of our community in Pittsburgh. Thus began our pilgrimage of faith.
We owe our continued progress to our founders and to our current members for glorifying God and giving our posterity a solid foundation to build upon! Glory be to God!
Although the St. George parish was organized in 1908, plans for a church building did not begin until March 1913. The church, under the name of its patron, St. George, was consecrated by Bishop AFTIMIOS Ofiesh in 1917. Meanwhile, many Syrian immigrants were leaving Pittsburgh to move closer to their places of employment in the eastern suburbs. In 1918, Fr. Meletius Koury was ordained by Bishop AFTIMIOS Ofiesh to serve the eastern suburb towns.
Because of the depressed economic conditions at the time, it was not possible for this new community to build a church. Church services were held in the homes of the faithful or in a rented hall set up as a church. The community persevered; however, and after World War II, a church dedicated in the name of Saint Michael was built on Amity Street in Homestead. Metropolitan ANTHONY Bashir consecrated St. Michael that same year and Fr. Meletius continued as pastor of the community.
Through the years, each of the respective parishes, St. George of Pittsburgh and St. Michael of Homestead, endured many hardships related primarily to the changing economic climate of the region. Nevertheless, these two parishes continued to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful.
In 1951, a young, recently ordained priest, Fr. Paul Romley, was assigned as pastor of St. George. At the same time, Fr. Meletius realized he could no longer serve the widely-spread parish of St. Michael as he had in his younger years. The parish of St. Michael also recognized that they would find it difficult to support a successor to Fr. Meletius. Soon, committees from St. Michael of Homestead and St. George of Pittsburgh were meeting to work out the details of a merger, which subsequently took placein January 1953. Fr. Meletius Koury then became Pastor Emeritus of St. George.
Under the leadership of Fr. Paul, a Building Fund Committee was organized in 1954 to spearhead a drive for a new, centrally located church large enough to serve the combined community. Ambitious plans were formulated and a lot was purchased on the corner of Dawson Street and the Boulevard of the Allies in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. On August 22, 1954, Metropolitans ANTHONY Bashir and SAMUEL David officiated over groundbreaking ceremonies for the new St. George Church. In 1956, a pledge system which required every working individual in the parish to pledge a minimum $2.00 per week was initiated to meet the heavy mortgage payments and usual operating expenses. By the middle of 1959, the magnificent edifice of St. George Pittsburgh, with the exception of the domes, was completed. The domes were added during the 1960”s and the mortgage was burned in October, 1967.
The parish continued to move forward energetically. In a short time, not only was there an awakening of the spiritual life of the parish, but the annual income for the operation and maintenance of the parish doubled. In 1963, the building adjoining the church was renovated to provide appropriate classroom space for the Church School. Adult education classes were started in 1972. The church library was expanded. In recent years, two houses in close proximity to the church were purchased for future expansion.
In the mid to late 1940”s, the first choir was organized at St. George, providing the parish the opportunity to hear liturgical music sung in English. Today, the St. George Liturgical Choir draws from both the Byzantine and Russian traditions of liturgical music. We are also blessed at St. George with a long tradition of chanters who are both competent in both Byzantine chant and the Arabic language.
The organizations of St. George have always reflected the diversity of the parish. Church School was established in 1954 in the St. George Church on Bedford Avenue with approximately twenty-five students. Â Currently, Church School classes range from preschool to adult education with a dedicated teaching staff. Teen SOYO has been a very active group since the early 1970′s.
Senior SOYO was subsequently renamed the Fellowship of St. John the Divine and reorganized in 2005. This organization is very active in various church affairs, with special emphasis on Youth Ministry Programs. In 1972, the adult organizations of the parish merged to form the Society of St. George. The aim was to involve every adult member in all phases of parish life with a three point program: religious, socio-cultural and humanitarian. In 1996, a chapter of the Antiochian Women was formally organized at St. George. In 1975, the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch was created by Metropolitan PHILIP for the purpose of providing resources to support the programs of the Archdiocese. The current membership of the St. George chapter of the ORDER totals thirty-seven.
Throughout our pilgrimage of faith, the parish of St. George has been served faithfully by the following clergy: Fr. George Michael, Fr. Sleiman Boulas, Fr. Meletius Koury, Fr. Meletius Fiani, Fr. Abraham Corey, Fr. Luke Koury, Fr Stephen Upson, Assistant, Fr. John Dacy, Fr. John John, Fr. Elias Â Haj, Fr. John Kamelakis, Fr. Paul Romley, Fr. James Meena, Fr. George S. Corey, Fr. George M. Corry, and Fr. Samuel David. In Jully 1995, Fr. John Abdalah was assigned as pastor. Fr. John is a tireless and innovative individual whose skills and capabilities moved the parish well in the new millennium in all areas of parish life.
After Fr. John’s arrival, a few members of our parish have entered the ministry. Deacon Gregory Long was ordained to the Diaconate in 1997 and assisted Fr. John until he was ordained a priest in 1999 and assigned to the St. Anthony Church in Butler, PA. Deacon Ned Trbovich, ordained to the Diaconate in 1998, and Deacon Andrew Cross, ordained to the Diaconate in 2006, both continue to assist Fr. John in the ministry of this community.
Fr. John’s son, Gregory Abdalah, ordained as a sub-deacon in 2005, graduated St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminiary and will be ordained a priest in the future, following his father’s footsteps to serve the ministry of the Church. In 2007, Fr. James Purdie was ordained as a sub-deacon and then was ordained as a priest on August 15, 2010, becoming assistant priest at St. George. A significant milestone in our church history occurred on May 6, 2005 when Bishop THOMAS Joseph was enthroned as Bishop of Oakland (Pittsburgh) and the East at our church. Because of the establishment of the Diocese here in Pittsburgh, our church was elevated to the status of a cathedral. The Diocese was subsequently renamed the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic.
In the recent past, many significant improvements were accomplished to enhance the church facility. In the church nave, many icons depicting various saints were written on the previously bare north and south walls. The icon of Christ the Almighty (Pantocrator) was written on the ceiling of the church and the icon of the Communion of the Apostles was written on the east wall of the Cathedral. An elevator was installed to give access to all three levels of the church facility and the social hall was completely renovated. Recently, the parish has embarked on an ambitious plan to expand the church school facilities in order to accommodate the growing student body.
On a sad note, St. George Cathedral suffered the untimely death of our beloved Kouryee Joanne Abdalah on May 27, 2008. She was an active member of the choir, conducted our Adult Education class, and worked for the Antiochian Archdiocese in various capacities. She served as president of the North American Board of Antiochian Women and was assistant editor of the Archdiocese’s magazine, The WORD. Her contributions to our Cathedral in particular and the Antiochian Orthodox Church in general were exceptionally significant. She will be sorely missed. May her memory be eternal.
In December of 2011, Archimandrite John Abdalah was elevated as an Auxiliary Bishop. He moved to Worcester, MA, and will serve the diocese of Worcester and New England. While a great blessing to the Archdiocese, we at St. George will miss him greatly.
In January of 2012, Father Demetrios Makoul and his wife Khouria Tammy moved to Pittsburgh from Allentown, PA. Father Demetrios now serves as the Dean of St. George Cathedral.
Today, the parish includes 425 families. The people of St. George have, on many occasions, risen to meet great challenges and converted frustration into achievement. We pray to the Almighty God that He will bless us and guide us to face the future boldly; that we may continue our pilgrimage of faith.
Most of this history was written by Richard T. Esper, Proto-Psalti, St George Cathedral, with some updates provided for events after 2008.
Recent photos inside our cathedral: