St. Elias parish was born officially, and for the record, on November 10. 1929. That is the date of the first meeting of the “Men’s Committee.” But, its real beginning, in the hearts of the founders, stemmed from the need for freedom and self-expression, even before they arrived on the shores of our great United States of America.
Among the thousands seeking the better life for themselves and their families, a few from the Middle East settled in Syracuse. And as with all the different foreign groups, most lived among themselves, maintaining their own “old country” customs while learning the ways of the new land.
Having lived close to the Church all their lives and desiring the fulfillment of spiritual needs, it was only a matter of time before these people would gather in the one common effort.
For some time in previous years, clergymen had been traveling throughout the country, serving the people with the sacraments. It was on one of these visits by His Grace, Bishop Victor Abu Assaly that he urged the people of Syracuse to organize a parish, and following the Divine Liturgy that day, a meeting was held in the home of Michael Morris to discuss the matter. A second meeting in the home of Joseph Seikaly resulted in the formation of the first committee, with Habeeb Rezak, President Michael Morrice, Vice-President, George Corey, Treasurer, and Nick Yako, Secretary, along with Constantine Eassa, Joseph Corey, Joseph Seikaly, Towfick H. Mashie, Salim Abdo, Salim Derany, Simaan Houry, Basila Ketaily, and Constantine Hodge, members fo the committee. A ladies organization was also formed, its officers being Jamelia Abdallah, Eveline Abdo, Nehai Abdo, Hind Aborjaily, and Mary Rezak.
In the following year, the obvious need for a Church building was realized with the purchase of the former Lafayette Methodist Church on West Lafayette Avenue, for $9,000. Meanwhile, the occasional visits by clergy continued, among these were (1) The Very Reverend Hannania Kassab, (2) Reverend John Khoury, (3) Reverend Michael Massbny, (4) The Very Reverend Antonius Joorey, and The Very Reverend Basilius Nadir, who became our first resident pastor, if only for a short time.
1936 was a critical year and turning point in the life of the parish. Problems of organization plagued the congregation, and during this period, a file caused considerable damage to the building. Parish life suffed and leadership lapsed. Fortunately, others took up the slack, renewed leadership evolved, and more younger members emerged to develop interest and activity in the Church. Re-organization efforts of the Men’s Committee, along with revival of the Ladies Society rejuvenated the parish life.
The following year, an activity which would become the social event of the year for the Arabic speaking community of Central New York was instituted – the Annual St. Elias Mahrajan. The first of many annual affairs which brought together many people of Arabic speaking background.
With this stabilized condition, the ability to support a resident pastor brought the assignment of The Very Reverend Father George Karim in 1939. He and his family were housed in a rented house on Midland Avenue until 1943 when the West Lafayette rectory was purchased.
During the years of World War II, little change took place, aside from maintaining the stability of the parish and participating in those activities concerned with servicemen. But when peace returned and with it our loved ones, a renewed effort for growth appeared.
In 1950, the expanded social center was completed and Metropolitan Anthony Bashir graced the occasion with his presence at the celebration of the opening of the building. In 1953, the St. Elias Orthodox Youth Organization was founded. A Church School was organized under the able direction of Evelyn Abdo. Our choir was started with Rose Sopp as its first director, using English liturgical music was introduced into the Divine Liturgy. These years also saw the expansion of a strong your movement on Regional and Archdiocesan levels. A Men’s Society and Teenage SOYO became the extension of other activities. Along with the religious and social aspects of the parish life, the financial needs commanded continuous attention. The ever growing parish activity demanded further financial support which demand was met by the fenerous giving of money and effort by members of the parish. In 1955, the use of weekly pledge envelopes was introduced and dues were increased. Prior to this annual contributions were only $12.00 per family, but the growing parish and greater needs for service called for a financial system which could support those needs. Truly, St. Elias had moved from providing the minimal requirements of a small immigrant neighborhood in 1929 into the spiritual center of Orthodox people of Arabic heritage from as far as seventy miles from Syracuse.
The year 1959 saw The Very Reverend Father George Karim resign due to ill health, after having served diligently for twenty years. Interim assignments of the Very Reverend Fathers John Koury and Michael Hubiak followed the permanent appointment in 1960, of the Reverend Father Gregory Reynolds whose stay here was but to last a few years. That same year the parish was all saddened by the passing away to sleep in the Lord of our beloved Father George Karim.
1963 became a pivotal financial year for St. Elias, the increased demand of activity of the parish had necessitated an increase of parishioner contributions both financial and in service. This was the beginning of annual budget controls which called for planned budgets and control of expenditure. The parish purchased 7-1/3 acres of land for $10,000 on Onondaga Hill, destined to be the future site of St. Elias Church of Syracuse.
The Very Reverend Father Michael Shahin was assigned as pastor in 1964, and in the next year a building committee was appointed to develop plans for the new Church. Under the able leadership of the Parish Council plans were developed for future building and financing of needed church structure. In 1966, we mourned the passing of our beloved Metropolitan Antony Bashir, then rejoiced in the elevation of his successor, Metropolitan Philip Saliba.
The continued movement toward our new parish life resulted in the sale of the old Church in 1967, and for the next two years Divine Liturgy, Church School, and other activities were held in St. Michael’s Russian orthodox Church on Oswego Street, one of our sister parishes. Metropolitan Philip Saliba, the Hierarch of the Church, presided, on August 18, 1968, at the ground breaking ceremonies of our new building. On St. Elias day, July 20, 1969, the first services were held in the new facility. On August 17, 1969, Metropolitan Philip returned to formally consecrate the Church. He took this happy occasion to elevate Father Michael Shahin to the rank of Archpriest.
It is fitting to include at this point that the spiritual environment of those first 40 years produced a contribution to the Archdiocese of three priests from among our congregation – Very Reverend Elias Karim, Reverend Louis Mahshie, and Very Reverend Anthony Gabriel, each of whom have served pastorships in a number of various cities throughout the Archdiocese.
We should also be ever so mindful of those memebers of this parish who have been thrust into positions of leadership and responsibility, by their acknowledged desire to serve and by the needs for service as they evolved:
- Habeeb Rezak
- Charles Sopp
- Michael Morris
- George T. Mahshie
- Joseph Seikaly
- Victor Awad
- Tawfick H. Mashie
- Frank Eassa
- George Corey
- Douglas Monsour
- David Rezak
- Kamal Adbo
- Eli Eassa
- Fred Hodge
After moving into the new Church, the West Lafayette rectory was sold and a larger residence on Victoria Place was purchased, folled in 1974 by the purchase of the present rectory on Sherwood Driver, Onondaga Hill.
Meanwhile, assignments of other priests as pastor were made, including Rverend Father Simon Garfeh, (Very Reverend Father Athanasius Emmert – temporary), Very Reverend Father George Shaheen, followed by Father Hanna Sakkab, our present pastor to whom we are all so grateful for his human kindness, his pastoral leadership and his able administrative ability.
As with any organization, there must bu a purpose first, then a driving force to keep it alive and functioning. Our purpose, the Church, our Faith, the Sacraments, and finally, our Lord’s saving grace of salvation, are only too evident to us all. These, we seek, receive, and embrace, as the expectations of all Orthodox Christians. The driving force – the desire to create and nurture, that ingredient so necessary for fulfillment of the purpose – remains of us, ourselves, as a commitment, a labor, a sacrifice. Our forbearers, in that “small immigrant neighborhood”, created and nurtured a desire so intense, that neither foreign land, financial sacrifice, personalities nor any other adversity could restrain it. Their contributions, offered by many whose names do not appear in this record, are indelibly written in our hearts, minds, and memories. The preservation and perpetuation of our Faith had become a demanding need to them. We pray that future generations will write a record as great, having received the solid foundation upon which to continue building.