Looking back: St. George’s Antiochian Orthodox Church holds cultural significance in Vicksburg – The Vicksburg Post
By Nancy Bell | Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation
Syrian Orthodox (Eastern) Christians settled in Vicksburg as early as 1896.
They met in a number of homes where visiting priests often led services. Around 1910, they formed the Syrian Progressive Aid Society to perpetuate the faith of their ancestors and found a church. In 1910, one of their first tasks was to ask the city of Vicksburg to donate a lot in the city cemetery for the society and its members, which was granted.
By 1913 the society had 45 members and the Vicksburg Evening Post reported that “we hear that the society has the ambition to assist in the building of a church for the Syrian population of this town, and has set aside a sum of considerable money as the nucleus for the worthiest enterprise proposed. There is no doubt that eminent citizens, members of other denominations, will help when the time comes to begin the work.
In May 1913, the members announced that they would purchase South Washington Street Methodist Church and make alterations and improvements to it and that the church would henceforth be known as St. George’s Church. Construction of the South Washington Street Methodist Church began in 1902 and was completed in January 1904 at a cost of $800. It was a half-timbered church with a two-story square tower on the left and a single-story one on the right. The entrances to the church were in each of these towers. When the church was sold, the congregation purchased land across Washington Street and built the Gibson Memorial.
St. George’s congregation had the church building raised so that there was an exposed basement level. The entrance was moved to the center and three round towers were built on the roof. The building was clad in brick veneer and stained glass windows were added. The church was dedicated on February 22, 1914, by Reverend Raphel Hawaweeny, “North America’s greatest Syrian clergyman.”
The Vicksburg Post reported that “the dedication exercises lasted several hours, with mass celebrated and many religious forms performed. At the end, the bishop gave a very interesting address to the Syrians of Vicksburg, who bought and furnished their place of worship. He commended the small settlement here for their excellent work in securing the sacred building and expressed a desire to be able to return to Vicksburg at a later date.
In 1966 work began on a new, modern church building in the same location. A two-story educational building was also added to the rear of the property. The new church was dedicated and dedicated on Sunday, January 22, 1967, by His Eminence Metropolitan Philip Saliba, Archbishop of New York and All North America.
Hundreds of people attended, with representatives from Orthodox congregations in Monroe, Shreveport, several cities in Texas and Memphis. The Jackson Orthodox Church came as a body. The service was followed by a congregational banquet at the Vicksburg Auditorium.
The new church, according to the Vicksburg Post, was built at a cost of $250,000. In April 1992 the memorial bell tower with cross and gold dome was added and in October 1992 five cast bells from Greece were placed in the tower.