Featured Parish: St. Nicholas Church + Grand Rapids, MI
St. Nicholas Church traces its history back to the early 1900’s, when Orthodox immigrants from the part of the Ottoman Empire then known as “Syria” began to come to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Many of these immigrants made their living initially as “peddlers,” selling their wares door-to-door as the city grew into a center of commerce and industry. As they became more prosperous, they opened stores of their own. Others found employment in the city’s well-known furniture industry.
As early as 1906, the community was visited by traveling priests who served the recently arrived Orthodox immigrants scattered around the Midwest and concentrated in growing cities like Toledo and Fort Wayne. At least twice, Grand Rapids was visited by St. Raphael Hawaweeny, who encouraged the faithful to establish a church and who ordained and trained St. Nicholas’s first pastor, Father Philipous Abu-Assaley. Father Philipous was ordained in 1908. His youngest daughter, Rosemary Sears, still faithfully attends St. Nicholas.
The community purchased its first church building in 1908 and incorporated as St. George church in 1910. Grand Rapids became a center of Orthodoxy in the Midwest, as Father Philipous himself continued to travel around the region, ministering to the faithful. By 1923, however, Grand Rapids’ Antiochian Orthodox community found itself divided by the dispute known as the “Russy-Antaky” split, a dispute over church governance that arose in the aftermath of the repose of St. Raphael and the organizational confusion that ensued throughout American Orthodoxy in the wake of the Russian Revolution.
As a result, St. Nicholas was formed in 1923. St. George Church also remained, and to this day is located on property it purchased at the time of the dispute. St. Nicholas moved to a location on Cass Avenue in Grand Rapids, where it would remain until the 1950’s, when it moved to a suburban location in nearby East Grand Rapids. During this period, the Very Rev. Ellis Khouri served as pastor of St. Nicholas. Well known throughout the Archdiocese, he was instrumental in fostering St. Nicholas’s involvement in SOYO and other activities, and later served as Protosyngellos of the Archdiocese.
In 1996, St. Nicholas purchased a 12.5-acre parcel of land in Kentwood, located near several major roadways in a developing part of the area. In January 2000, the community began to worship there and on October 15, 2000, its new temple was consecrated. In 2001, the Very Reverend Fr. Daniel Daly became the pastor of St. Nicholas. The new church is marked by its Byzantine-style architecture featuring a large dome as well as ample classroom, office, and fellowship facilities. It also includes a bookstore and chapel. In recent years, St. Nicholas has been blessed with extensive iconography by the hand of Fr. Theodore Koufos of Toronto.
The parish’s website address is www.stnickgr.com and contains photos, contact information, and a calendar of services. Every week the church welcomes numerous visitors from the community and from local colleges, drawn to St. Nicholas by its steadfast devotion to Orthodox tradition and the beauty of its worship.