Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Church

Portland, OR

The history of Saint George

Photo of the Southeast 62 and Foster Saint George parish around 1953

With the passing of the first members of Saint George, the first-person account of the history and the start of our church was partially lost with the missing pieces being filled in by second and third person accounts. Although, based on a study the first known Antiochian Orthodox family, George Darowish family, arrived in Portland in 1889.  Early arrivals from Syria attended a small Russian Orthodox chapel established around the year 1900. The first efforts to establish an Antiochian Orthodox parish began in 1920. Officers were chosen, but the venture soon faltered for reasons which are lost to history. The work of these intrepid founders, however, was taken up again a decade later when the community was once again organized and a religious corporation was formed.  The difficult task of collecting money fell on the shoulders of Father Shalhoub of Santa Barbara, California (who covered six Western states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, and Arizona) for the first church building.   This was an amazing task for it materialized at the beginning of the Great Depression, where many first members lost their jobs and it was difficult to keep their business afloat.

In 1930, many first members raised the sum of about $700 to purchased the first church building that was on Southeast 62nd Avenue between Powell Boulevard and Foster Road. The daughter of George Darowish, Annie, and her husband, John Rottle, were among those first members of St. George. As many United States Orthodox communities, the St. George community gathered for services in its small, modest facility, for support for one another during tough economic times and watched their sons going off to World War II and the Korean war.  The first members were forever grateful and remembered of the well-traveled priests of Fr. Elias Dacy, Fr. George Habib, and Fr. Samuel Makad for their labors served during these harsh times.

Photo of Father Harb at the 62 and Foster church

In 1960 Fr. George Harb arrived from Palestine and became St. George's first full- time pastor. Father Harb worked tirelessly to strengthen and consolidate the community.  During his tenure, in 1965, that a larger building was purchased on Southeast Holgate Boulevard at 115th Avenue. This building was transformed by the labors and love of the community into a small, but nicely appointed Orthodox temple. A beautiful, walnut iconostasis was constructed, which was moved to our current location, by a local craftsman and was fitted with icons purchased second-hand from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. In those years the parish benefited greatly from its close relationship with the Syrian Lebanese American Club, which the majority of church members were also part of, which built its clubhouse on land immediately adjoining the church property. "The Club" was the site of many church festivals, dinners and special events over the years. At the Holgate location, the parish continued to grow and diversify, adding many new members of Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, and Palestinian descent, as well as many converts not of Middle- Eastern heritage. On Holgate, the parish was served by a succession of priests including Fr. John Edward Birch, Fr. Athanasios Suheil Salhany, Fr. David Buss, Fr. Anthony Scott, Fr. Paul Doyle, Fr. David Anderson, Fr. Gregory Cooke, and Fr. Alban West.

 

The New Church Building of Saint George

Photo of Saint George's dome being put on

Photo of the new completed Saint George

The Holgate Boulevard building had been loved by the community, but somewhere during the 35 years that St. George parish sojourned in that location. Its' members began to realize that its home was far too small for the growing community and its growing aspirations to live and share the Orthodox Christian faith. In 1992, after many years of prayer, discussion and fundraising, the parish purchased a two-and-one-half acre lot on Northeast 162nd Avenue. Several ramshackle old houses were removed from the land and plans were laid for the future.

In 1997, with generous donations from a few members and under Fr. Alban West's direction, the dream of a new building began to take definite shape with the hiring of an architect who began to draft ambitious plans for the parish's new home. It was to be a building that would use the technology and building techniques of the twenty-first century to recreate a beautiful pattern inherited from the finest Orthodox churches of the Byzantine era. Fundraising efforts for the building campaign received a tremendous boost when His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP, visited Portland in 1998 to encourage sacrificial pledges from all members of the community. Very soon afterward a foundation was poured and construction began in earnest.  For nearly a year after the Holgate church was sold and the beginning of the church construction, Sunday services were held at the Syrian Lebanese American Club.  By February of 2000 the new building had progressed far enough that it was time for the parish to take leave of its beloved home on Holgate, along with its’ iconostasis, to their new spiritual home.

March 28, 2001, marked an unforgettable milestone in the realization of the parish's dream. On that date His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH, celebrated an Agiasmos service to bless the new house of worship and a Pan-Orthodox Lenten Presanctified Liturgy marked the opening of a new era for the St. George community. Finishing details were added to the construction over subsequent months, and in June of 2003, iconographer Ayman Bitar arrived from Syria to install the beautiful Byzantine icons that now adorn the iconostasis.

Throughout 2001 and early 2002, as the St. George community settled into its new home, it also eagerly anticipated the completion of the second major stage of construction on its new facilities. A new parish hall and classroom facility rapidly took shape next door to the church building largely due to a generous donation from Frank and Margrett Memorial Fund, who was one of St. George's first members. On Palm Sunday, April 28, 2002, parishioners enjoyed their first festive coffee hour in the beautiful new hall.

On September 19, 2004, His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP returned to Portland, where, assisted by the newly enthroned Bishop of Los Angeles, His Grace JOSEPH, he presided over the consecration of a new Holy Table and the temple which houses it. The permanent home of the St. George community was now sanctified and complete. Take a moment and read the article that the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America have on the Consecration of the new Saint George site.

The Iconostasis and Domes

With memorial funds raised by numerous families, the icons that was on the iconostasis needed to be replaced.  So, the Saint George's parishioners’ sought out an iconographer from Syria to draw the icons. In addition, the great dome was filled with the grand icon of Christ the Ruler of All surrounded by angels. This could not have happened without St. George’s community raising funds through members generous donations and numerous fundraisers.  In later years, the half dome icons were put in place, primarily funded by memorial of past members, in the altar (Platytera), choir (Icon of the Resurrection of Christ) and baptism (the Icon of Theophany) area.  Also, the church altar was also beautified with the great altar covering, vestments, and embroidery work of Khouria Krista West. Visit our Icon Webpage for additional information of the significance of Orthodox icons and icons in Saint George.

Future Church Projects

Currently, St. George is in the process of raising funds for additional icons to be drawn for the remainder of the inner church.  Please visit our Icon Webpage.  Also, we are in the planning stage of developing the vacate property next to the church.  What exciting times!

With the help of God, the community of St. George will go on to new accomplishments and new milestones. We look forward in the immediate future to a church building adorned with beautiful icons on the surface of its domes and walls, bearing witness to the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst. We look forward as well to a future of continued growth as a new generation is brought up in the faith of our forebears and as we seek to invite countless numbers of our neighbors in the Portland area to come and behold the glory, majesty and unchanging truth of the Orthodox Christian faith. We who have participated in this ongoing story count ourselves individually as merely weak vessels of clay. But we give thanks to God who has filled our efforts with the overflowing of the Grace of His Holy Spirit. To Him belongs all the glory!

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