This month, join the Pan Orthodox celebration of 125 years of Orthodox Christianity in Chicago. Learn about Orthodoxy’s beginnings in Chicago.
Celebrate 125 years of Orthodoxy in Chicago
On September 30, Orthodox faithful in the Chicago area will come together for a historic celebration, commemorating 125 years of Orthodox presence in Chicago. Let’s learn more about the history and the upcoming celebration.
Chicago’s Orthodox Christian presence dates back to the late 1800s. Orthodox Christian immigrants first arrived in Chicago in the mid 1800s; the 1st Greeks arrived in the 1840s. In the late 1800’s an organization called the “Greco Slavonic Brotherhood”, comprised of immigrants primarily from Sparta and Corfu, in Greece; Montenegro and Hercegovina, in Serbia; and Carpatho Russians (Galicians) from the then Austro-Hungarian Empire; was established. Celebration organizers explained.
“In March of that year, a Greek congregation was organized with Father Panagiotis Phiambolis; in April, Archimandrite Firmilian Drazic arrived from Serbia to serve the needs of the Serbian emigres; and in May, a Russian parish was established with Father Ambrose Vretta as its first priest. After petitioning the ecclesiastical centers in their respective homelands, in 1892, all three mother churches responded by sending a priest to serve the faithful, under the existing Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sitka Alaska. This was the start of the Annunciation Greek, Holy Resurrection Serbian, and St. Vladimir Russian (later renamed Holy Trinity) Orthodox parishes here in Chicago. Today, Chicagoland’s Orthodox Christian presence comprises nearly 80 parishes.”
The Greco Slavonic Brotherhood rented a facility to celebrate Divine Liturgy. The parishes of these 3 Orthodox jurisdictions, which eventually became cathedrals, sprung from this shared make-shift chapel. There, they alternated services in Greek and Slavonic languages.
Read on to learn more about these historic parishes.
Chicago’s 1st Greek Orthodox Community
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church was the 1st Greek Orthodox community in Chicago, established in early 1892. Historical documents reveal that the “Lycurgus Society”, comprised of immigrants from Laconia, petitioned the Synod of Bishops of the Church of Greece to send a priest to Chicago, as the immigrant population was growing steadily. Worship began in a rented warehouse at Union and Randolph Street on Chicago’s West Side, not far from Chicago’s original Greektown, known as “The Delta”. Later, services were held in a Masonic Temple at Clark and Kinzie Streets. An article on the website Orthodox History states that Father Panagiotis Phiambolis, one of the first Greek Orthodox priests in America, came to the U.S. in 1892 to become the “first pastor of the first Orthodox church in Chicago.“
The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Chicago is the oldest Greek community in Chicago. IMAGE: annunciationcathedralchicago.org
The parish of Annunciation celebrated their 1st Divine Liturgy in March 1892. They built their church in 1910 at its current location on LaSalle Street. The structure, modeled after the Cathedral in Athens, is the oldest surviving building in Chicago constructed as a Byzantine Church. Annunciation was consecrated as the Cathedral of the 2nd Archdiocesan District in 1942, and as the Cathedral of the Diocese of Chicago in 1983.
Though Annunciation was the first established parish community, the first Greek Orthodox church structure in Chicago was Holy Trinity Hellenic Orthodox Church. A group of Greeks from Arcadia purchased a former Lutheran church on Peoria Street in The Delta. It was converted into an Orthodox church and opened in 1897.
1st Serbian Orthodox Community in Chicago
April 1892 brought the establishment of the 1st Serbian Orthodox community in Chicago. Archimandrite Firmilian Drazic, who later to become Metropolitan of Skoplje, was Chicago’s 1st Serbian Orthodox priest. The Holy Resurrection community celebrated liturgy in rented halls until 1901, when a home on Milwaukee Avenue was purchased and converted to a chapel. A house church at 8 Fowler Street (the address was later changed to 1905 W. Schiller Street) was rebuilt and consecrated in 1932, during the Great Depression. Holy Resurrection was elevated to a cathedral in 1962. Today’s cathedral, off the Kennedy Expressway, near O’hare Airport, was built and consecrated in 1975.
Chicago’s 1st Russian Orthodox Community
From the shared rented chapel, the Russian Orthodox of the city came together to establish their own community. Originally called St. Vladimir’s Church, and beginning in May 1892, the community held services in a private home on Noble Street, and then another on Armitage Avenue. In 1898, in response to the influx of Orthodox faithful to the Imperial Russian Pavilion (a church structure in which daily services were celebrated) at the Columbian World Exhibition, Czar Nicholas II sent 4,000 Rubles (about $2000) to build an Orthodox Church in Chicago — St. Vladimir. This was the first Orthodox Church built in Chicago, and opened in 1898.
The current structure, located at 1121 N. Leavitt Street, was designed by well-known architect Louis H. Sullivan. An article on dna info stated that the building was “inspired by one particular church in the village of Tatarskaya in Siberia”, and that “Sullivan’s design resembles traditional country churches in Russia.” Designed as a cathedral and consecrated in 1903, the parish, became Holy Trinity. Designated as a cathedral in 1922, Holy Trinity is the See Cathedral of the Diocese of the Midwest of the Orthodox Church in America. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was later named an official City of Chicago Landmark in 1979.
Artist rendering of the Louis Sullivan designed Holy Trinity Orthodoxy Cathedral (OCA). This first Russian Orthodox community also traces its beginnings to 1892. Image: holytrinitycathedral.net
The Orthodox History article establishes that there was no rivalry or conflict between the historic parishes. Rather, a friendly, cooperative relationship existed. “One of the most notable aspects of Vretta’s tenure in Chicago was the warm relationship between the Russian and Greek churches: although the Orthodox community of the city had split into two parishes, there doesn’t seem to have been any rivalry. Vretta concelebrated with the Greek priest, Fr. Panagiotis Peter Phiambolis, on numerous occasions. When the Greek Archbishop Dionysius Latas of Zante visited Chicago for the World’s Fair, Vretta went over to the Greek church for services. When the Russian Bishop Nicholas came to town, it was Phiambolis’ turn to visit the Russian church. In 1894, a special service was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Orthodoxy in North America, and both Vretta and Phiambolis were present. Later that year, Czar Alexander II died, and for the memorial, Vretta went over to the Greek church, which was simultaneously dedicating its new building.”
Metropolitan Iakovos+ of blessed memory and Chicago’s ruling bishops came together to proclaim 2017 as the 125th year of Orthodox Christianity in Greater Chicago. They endorsed the celebration set for September 30.
This historic celebration, sponsored by the Orthodox Christian Clergy Association [OCCA] of Greater Chicago, includes a Pan Orthodox Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at Lane Tech High School Auditorium, located at 2501 W. Addison in Chicago. The liturgy will commence with a large procession of the 10 celebrating hierarchs and clergy, plus church school youth representing all jurisdictions. A celebration banquet will follow at Chicago Marriott O’Hare, 8535 W. Higgins Road in Chicago. The program includes a slide presentation of the growth of Chicago parishes, by the National Hellenic Museum and a choral finale of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by the Pan Orthodox Choir, conducted by Georgia Mitchell, accompanied by Khouria (Antiochian: Presvytera) Jean Ellsworth.
Archpriest Nicholas Dahdal, rector of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cicero is the chairman of the anniversary celebration. He extends an invitation to all Orthodox Christians of Chicago.
“We invite all area clergy and faithful to join Chicago area hierarchs to celebrate the historic liturgy.”
Guest Homilist is His Grace IRINEJ (Dobrijevic) of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America. Responses will be sung by the Pan Orthodox Choir of Greater Chicago, under the direction of Gordana Trbuhovich.
Be a part of history and join the celebration. Pan Orthodox Hierarchical Divine Liturgy begins at 10:00 am at Lane Tech. Parking is free. The celebration banquet commences at 2:00 pm. Tickets are at $50/seat (table of 8), or sponsor tables of 10 for $1000. Event sponsors are greatly appreciated. For tickets and more information, call Father Nicholas, at 708.656.2927 or Gordana, at 773.619.8755.
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