“Calling to Remembrance…” [part twelve ]
Fr. George Maloof and a large delegation from Boston took the train from South Station to attend the service. Over two thousand faithful crammed into the church that Sunday morning. The crush of the crowd was so great that the assembled clergy and dignitaries were unable to make the customary procession through the church. The bishops and priests were virtually ‘trapped’ in the sanctuary throughout the entire service. Many people were taken from the building on the verge of fainting. Following the Liturgy, a grand banquet was held in the church hall which was quickly filled to overflowing forcing many faithful to retire to the streets with their food. It must have been quite the sight; we still experience hints of it from time to time, especially during Holy Week.
At the time of his consecration, Bishop Raphael could count only six parishes under his jurisdiction and a handful of clergy. The primary objective of his episcopate was to missionize the countless communities of Syrian Orthodox immigrants scattered throughout North America. To assist him in this monumental effort he called on the services of his devoted priest in Boston, Fr. George Maloof. Only four years earlier, Archimandrite Raphael had received Fr. George in New York as he himself describes, “In October 1900 there came to New York, a priest by the name of Jerjes Aba Daw El-Ma’louf from the village of Der El-Gazal of Zahli, and he held a letter from the Antiochian Patriarch Malitios. His Eminence Bishop Tichon accepted him with pleasure and assigned him as priest for the people of Boston”. Fr. George was one of only four Syrian priests in North America at that time.
One of his first official visitations as bishop was to his flock in Boston. Early in April, just before Easter, Bishop Raphael met with the faithful of the Boston community and reports that, “While we were visiting our spiritual children in Boston we had the opportunity to convince them of a project whose destiny is to build their own Syrian Orthodox Church, and our words touched their hearts, and within an hour’s time all of them signed for it and donated $775 and gave us the money in cash. God willing we will come back again in a week to continue with this مشروع جليل Great Project.”
In one week’s time, Bishop Raphael returned again to Boston to meet with more of the community and convince them of the worthiness of the ‘Great Project’. This time he collected over $1,200 for the future church. He himself donated $50. Tanyos Sliman Nader Ma’louf and his family, from Duma, donated $400 – a very respectable gift for that time representing approximately $10,600 in today’s economy. Hanna Abu A’bdalla from Shlifa, gave $200. Other donors included Khalil Jirias El’Laham from Daria, Syria and his family, Yousef El-Dirani from Daria, Tanios Badr from Duma, Elias Habib Ma’louf from Hadad Ba’lbak and Turkman and Jeries A’bd Alla Abu Feissal from Kufor Zabad.
Enthusiasm for the ‘Great Project’ quickly grew and the community rallied around this noble goal. Ongoing immigration had already increased the membership of the Syrian Orthodox community and Fr. George relocated the chapel of St. George from his Oxford Street residence to a larger facility one block away on Edenboro Street. The prospect of building a proper sized Orthodox Church in the traditional style soon became the dream of the growing Boston parish.
In July 1904, Bishop Raphael, unable to travel at the time, commissioned Fr. George to “make the tour on my behalf for five whole months around the southern U.S.A. to check on the communities and to fulfill their religious needs.” The bishop also instructed Fr. George to solicit funds for the ‘Great Project’. This would be one of several mission trips that Fr. George would take on behalf of Bishop Raphael over the next few years. During his absence, the Boston community was served by Fr. Malatius Karam, a newly arrived Archimandrite from Syria.
His first mission trip took him from Boston to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Montgomery, Alabama to New Orleans, Louisiana to Texas and to Wichita, Kansas and everyplace in between. Accompanied by his cousin and Deacon Ross Maloof of Boston, he covered the distance by train, wagon, horseback and steamship. While in New Orleans they sailed to Havana, Cuba to visit the Syrian Orthodox faithful there. They traveled the Mississippi River by stern wheeler and visited Vicksburg, Mississippi, Memphis, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri. They stayed in the homes of local Syrian immigrants and established lasting friendships with Orthodox faithful throughout the country.
Fr. George heard confessions, counseled and administered absolution. He celebrated the Divine Liturgy in people’s front parlors, dining rooms and in store fronts. He baptized their infants and young children. He married their sons and daughters. He buried their dead. He even received converts. While in Altoona, Pennsylvania he celebrated Divine Liturgy at the home of Elias J. Horaney and remained a few days to minister to the twenty or so Syrian Orthodox families in that town. During his stay, he instructed a local Moslem in the Faith and he was baptized at the next Sunday Liturgy.
In New Orleans Fr. George was invited to use a Catholic church on Dorgenois Street to offer the Divine Liturgy for the Syrian Orthodox faithful of that city, quite an ecumenical gesture for that day and age. His solicitation of funds there for the ‘Great Project’ met with marked success as both local Orthodox and Catholics contributed to the new church in Boston.
In Wichita, Kansas Fr. George converted Mike Ayoub’s store on West Douglas Avenue in the heart of the ‘Assyrian Colony’ into an ‘Orthodox church’ and served the Divine Liturgy for the newly transplanted Syrian Orthodox immigrants. In the afternoon, he baptized Mike’s three children ranging in age from six months to four years. The account of the baptism by a local newspaper reporter is so fascinating that it deserves separate coverage in a future installment of “Calling to Remembrance” – watch for it in October, you’ll love it.
By the end of November 1904, Fr. George and his cousin had traveled through sixteen states plus the Indian Territory [Oklahoma-not yet a state] as they visited over sixty communities of Syrian Orthodox faithful. For most of the people they met, it was their first visit from an Orthodox priest. His ministry as a mission priest was instrumental in encouraging several communities to establish themselves as parishes and petition the Bishop for a priest of their own. Within a couple years, six of the communities were fully fledged parishes with resident priests, including Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Vicksburg, Mississippi and Beaumont, Texas. Fr. George would make similar extended mission trips in 1906-1907 and again in 1909 visiting these and still other communities. His stamina is to be admired as he was in his sixties at this time.
In addition to the Liturgies he served and the countless Baptisms and Marriages he celebrated, Fr. George was able to raise nearly $2,000 towards the ‘Great Project’. Shortly after his return, the project received an additional boost when Bishop Raphael returned to Boston accompanied by the Russian Counsel General. On behalf of His Imperial Majesty, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the Counsel General presented Fr. George and the Boston parish a gift of $1,000 to be added to the “fund for a suitable church”. Tsar Nicholas also bestowed a large Icon of the Theotokos to the parish. The Icon, one of our prized possessions, resides in the Marida of our church behind the bengharie.
The parish needed to rent the Protestant church at Tyler and Kneeland Streets in order to accommodate the number of faithful who attended the Hierarchical Liturgy and presentation. Once again Bishop Raphael reminded the people “of the necessity of having a permanent place of worship, and begging them to cooperate with their pastor to that end.” At that visit an additional $1,800 was pledged to the ‘Great Project’.
The ‘Great Project’ was obviously very dear to Bishop Raphael’s heart and he longed for the day when his Boston flock would have a church building suitable to their needs. It would be a few more years until the community undertook their building program on Tyler Street; unfortunately neither Bishop Raphael nor Fr. George lived long enough to see the fulfillment of their dream. Their dedication and extreme love for the Boston parish, however, motivated the parishioners to realize that all their worthy goals and dreams could be realized in the “building up of the Holy Church of Almighty God.” We are the spiritual heirs of such hope.
Blessings, Fr. +Timothy