The history of the St. Elias Parish of Syracuse dates back to the early 1920s when a handful of Orthodox Christians from the Middle East, with the firmness of purpose to keep their faith alive in America, grouped together and sought out a place to accommodate them.  

Since funds were not available to construct or buy their own building for a church, they saw to it that Divine Liturgy was held whenever and wherever possible. Liturgy was celebrated on an interim basis at St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church, as well as at Raymon Hall.  

Funds were limited for the purchase of a building as well as for the hiring of a priest. Consequently, a visiting priest would make an annual journey to Syracuse at which time as many church sacraments, especially baptism, would be performed for the parishioners. It was not unusual for children to be baptized close to a year after their birth; such events were simply delayed until the priest made his rounds. 

The period of the congregation without their own house of worship was short-lived. Increased immigration from the Old Country, with the resulting expanding membership in St. Elias, prompted the founders of our parish to think in terms of their own church building. This would be the only way to preserve our faith and heritage. The search for the appropriate building was started. It was a coincidence that the old Lafayette Methodist Church was for sale. Edward K Bourjalily, who dealt in real estate at the time, discovered the available building and he alerted the members of the Parish to it. 

Meetings were then held by the leaders of the infant parish and it was decided to purchase the available Methodist church building. The $1000 down payment was not readily at hand and would have to be raised. This was the basic need for the organization of the Ladies Auxiliary. The determination and sacrifices made by the many members of the auxiliary were from the depths of their heart as efforts were launched by the first set of officers Jamilly Abdullah, Mary Rezak, Eveline Abdo, Nihai Abdo, and Hina Aborjaly. 

The young parish needed to be nurtured and the auxiliary members thought of this not only by raising the necessary funds, but also by guiding the children in the ways of the church. The treasury was built up and fed with loving care by the ladies spending hours preparing for and holding delectable dinners, bazaars, or having card parties. Bingo games were also held with the ladies donating handmade items for prizes. 

Once the necessary funds were collected for the down payment and total cost of the church building, the ladies continued fundraising events to cover the many needs of the growing parish. These included religious artifacts, basic functional furnishings, or other important requirements for the proper operation of the church and Divine Liturgy. 

The purchase of the Lafayette Methodist Church by the parish of Saint Elias formally took place on September 16, 1929 at the total price of $9000. The first service was conducted without the iconostasis being properly installed, which also was to hold true for the first service at the present new church some 40 years later. 

Since money had to be raised for almost every need of the church, it took several years to finally complete the iconostasis. The framework was built and installed, and over the years the icons and vigil lights above them were donated by many of the Arabic-speaking people of our community. 

Many things in the building at the time of its purchase in 1929 required repairs or replacement. This was not a discouraging factor to the determined members of the parish. It was not uncommon to see many men working on the inside and outside of the church after completing a full day’s work at their own jobs. The woman would cook and work alongside their husbands until the work was finished. With a great deal of hard work on the part of the parishioners, progress was slow but there was a good sense of direction and a spirit of oneness. 

The first board of trustees was created in 1929 with Habib Rezak elected President, Mike Morris Vice President, George F. Corey Treasurer and Nick Yakel Secretary. A men’s committee was then formed and the first members of this organization of the young parish were Constantine Issa, Joseph Corey, Joseph Seikaly, Tawfick Mahshie, Sam Abdo, Sam Derany, Sam Khoury, Basil Ketaily, and Constantine Hodge. 

With the purchase and furnishing of the church building, the parish still needed but could not afford a full-time priest. As had been the practice, Divine Liturgy was held whenever a priest visited Syracuse. This practice continued until the parish treasury could be strained with the necessary salary and expense of a priest to be totally assigned to Saint Elias. There were several priests who served the parish for brief terms before the commencement of a more established tenure by the newly ordained Reverend Father George Kareem, who was sent from Cleveland, Ohio. Father Kareem faithfully worked for the progress of the church until the time of his death. 

With the assignment of a full-time priest, it became even more important to raise funds for the operation of the church. This financial need served to spur the members to hold an annual fundraising event, the Saint Elias Festival. In the early years, the festival was held at the former Old Bear Trap Park. Since most of the parish members did not read English well enough, the program for the annual event was printed entirely in Arabic. 

The same people who needed the written materials to be printed in their native tongue became self-taught, self-made citizens of the United States and a credit to their community. In turn, they raised their families to join the ranks of the productive members of their society as well as their church. 

Growth took hold and soon the church hall could not comfortably accommodate and serve the needs of the parish. Expanded facilities had to be considered. Space for the church school, the most vital factor in keeping Orthodoxy alive and strong, was becoming rapidly limited. Khourieh Kareem was forced to hold Sunday instruction for the children in the kitchen of the basement hall. The need for added space became so pressing, a new social center was decided upon. The construction of the new center came from receipts of past festivals and individual contributions. When the addition was completed, the church school was moved into its new quarters. By 1956 the church school had many classes. The program began to accumulate modern equipment. In 1961, the church school was formally organized under the guidelines spelled out by the Archdiocese. 

As the parish of Saint Elias was progressing, a new generation of Orthodox youth was coming into being. This resulted in the creation of the Orthodox Youth Organization, which ultimately became SOYO and a productively active part of the national organization. 

Due to exceeding the space available, the leaders of the church once again recognized the need for larger and newer quarters for all phases of parish life. Thus, another era was started in the life of the now well-established parish of Saint Elias. The possibilities that were open to the parish ranged from rebuilding and renovating, to selling and buying, or building. Talk subsequently turned to building new quarters and, although very slowly, developed into the initial plans for the prospective construction of a whole new structure along with the sale of the old one. This undertaking was to become just as essential a mission as were the already existing ones of SOYO, church school, and Teen SOYO.  

Even with the sale of the age-worn, red-brick building on Lafayette Avenue, sufficient funds to construct a new edifice had to be accumulated in order to begin to put plans down on paper. The membership, therefore, in cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church, worked for and shared the financial benefits of weekly bingo games. The money collected from these games, added to the money collected from other social functions and conventions, reached the amount needed to begin the new construction.  

The goal set before the parish was to continue to bring into fruition those dreams begun by the members of the original parish in 1929, a church completely belonging to and specifically built for the Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians. It was with this in mind that the search was on for the proper parcel of land on which to construct the dream. An exhaustive search throughout the many areas in Onondaga County and the city of Syracuse was conducted. 

The site that was finally agreed to was one that most parishioners would not experience extreme difficulty in accessing. This was the current location comprised of 7 1/3 acres on Onondaga Hill, purchased for $10,000, $1000 more than the price of the entire church purchased in 1929. Yet this piece of land offered plenty of space for growth in the coming years. 

Although the parish had saved a substantial amount of money, more was needed before the actual construction could start. Parishioners, therefore, continued with their donated time and efforts in running bingo games, festivals, and other many money-raising functions in order to arrive at the point of breaking ground on August 18, 1968. 

On that glorious, sunny Sunday morning, His Eminence Metropolitan Philip was handed the golden shovel with which to make the first turn of the earth to inaugurate the much dreamed of home for the parish of Saint Elias. The dream was made real with the outpour of attendance at the first Divine Liturgy held on July 20, 1969.  

Our congregation has, ever since, known the joy of owning our own church—not one made over but one made for us. This building that houses our church is still enjoyed by Syracuse’s Antiochian Orthodox Christians, and will endure for generations to come.