About Our Parish
ST. GEORGE GREEK ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL
HISTORY OF THE CATHEDRAL
The Cathedral’s long and diverse religious and cultural history began during the early 1800s. Though today St. George’s serves the Greek Orthodox community, it began as the home of an Episcopal congregation. The steadily growing population in Philadelphia during the early 1800s prompted the need to form a new Episcopalian congregation. Funds were raised for a new parish, and in 1822 the new Episcopal congregation commissioned John Haviland to design the church, to become St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
Famed English architect John Haviland designed many famous landmarks in Philadelphia. Born in Sussex, England, he apprenticed with fellow English architect James Elmes. Haviland left England in 1815 to further his career in Russia. He then left a year later in search of opportunities in America. Settling in Philadelphia, Haviland designed his most famous works here. These included the Eastern State Penitentiary, the Walnut Street Theatre, the Franklin Institute, and the First Presbyterian Church as well as St. Andrew’s Episcopal.
During the early 1900s, many Eastern Orthodox Christians moved into Philadelphia. In 1901, the Greek Orthodox Community of Philadelphia was established. As the Greek Orthodox population grew, members recognized the need for a new church in the city. In 1922, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. George purchased the old St. Andrews Episcopal church naming it in honor of Saint George. The Society established the new church, which continues to serve the Orthodox Christian community.
On November 25, 1921, while serving at Saint George Church, Archbishop Meletios was informed of his election to the Apostolic and Patriarchal See of Constantinople. In early 1922, Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios declared the Church of America as an Archdiocese, appointing the Right Reverend Alexander Titular Bishop of Rodostolon, as his Patriarchal Exarch in America. On April 23, 1922, the first prelate of the new archdiocese, the Most Reverent Alexander, celebrated the first feast day of the church's patron saint, Saint George. The church was consecrated on October 5, 1930 by Metropolitan Damaskinos of Corinth. Metropolitan Damaskinos later went on to serve as the Archbishop of Athens. The Clergy-Laity Congress of 1942 was held in Philadelphia with church services celebrated by Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and attended by exiled King George of Greece. In 1964, the Historical Commission recognized Saint George as Historic Site No. 27 of Philadelphia.
On April 25, 1971 Archbishop Iakovos, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of America at the end of the Divine Liturgy designated Saint George as the Cathedral of Philadelphia and all of the Delaware Valley. During 1972, the 150th anniversary of the church building of Saint George was celebrated. Letters of recognition came from the President of the United States Richard Nixon, Vice President Spiro Agnew, and Governor of the State of Pennsylvania Milton Shapp among others. In 1972, following the feast day of Saint George, the Honorable Frank Rizzo, Mayor of Philadelphia offered an “official tribute to the City” for the accomplishments attributed to the Cathedral.
The Bicentennial Clergy-Laity Congress of 1976 was held in Philadelphia with its headquarters at Saint George. The celebration was held over July 4th with the Great Doxology chanted at Saint George by the hierarchs, hundreds of priests, and thousands of the faithful who came to participate. In recognition of the Cathedral’s participation in the Bicentennial celebration of our nation, an official proclamation was issued by our government on November 12,1976.
On 1977 the community saw the opening of the “Athenagoras Manor,” a 94-unit apartment complex for the low-income elderly. This project was the first and largest such senior housing building of the Housing and Urban Development Department established by a single parish. In 1979, the Chapel of Saint Nektarios, Metropolitan of Pentapolis, was established along the front right side of the sanctuary.
Philadelphia’s Tri-Centennial Anniversary of her founding by William Penn was celebrated in 1982 and found Saint George as the center of Orthodox Christian participation. Hierarchs, clergy and laity of all the Orthodox congregations of the Delaware Valley gathered at Saint George. A religious procession brought all to Independence Square for an Orthodox service of Thanksgiving. On February 5,1984, an Ecumenical service was celebrated in observance of the 25th anniversary of the enthronement of His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos. Religious leaders of all faiths came to participate and pay tribute.
In 1992, a unique celebration took place. In 1942, a photograph of the 250-member Sunday School was taken in front or the classic portico of Saint George. Fifty years later, a reunion of those in the photograph took place with 350 people in attendance. His Eminence, Archbishop Iakovos celebrated the Divine Liturgy and in the evening, blessed the dinner held at Centennial Hall in Fairmount Park to mark the occasion.
In 1994, Saint George organized and hosted a National Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944-1994. The Federal Government designated Saint George as the official sponsor. Vice Admiral Michael J. Kalleres, USN, Second Fleet and Commander Striking Fleet Atlantic headed the list of notables who attended the Divine Liturgy and memorial in church. Services were continued at the Washington Square monument of the Unknown Soldier with participation of the VFW “Eleftheria Post 6633.” A grand banquet followed where veterans of both American and Hellenic armies were honored.
On April 22,1996, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, presided over by His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, met in the Phanar and issued an official letter declaring the historic church of St. George, Kyparissas in the Queen of Cities to be the sister parish of our Saint George Cathedral. The Saint George Cathedral in Philadelphia is now an honorary parish or the Archdiocese of Constantinople.
On April 23, 1997 and on the Feast Day of Saint George the celebration of the Divine Liturgy was performed at the Cathedral with the presence of the newly elected Archbishop of North and South America Spyridon and with the presence of many priests and faithful people.
On 2003 and 2014 during the time of the newly elected Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey St. George Cathedral became the center of celebration of the two bicentennial Clergy Laity events with a big success. The celebrations were held over July 4th with the Great Doxology chanted at Saint George by the hierarchs, priests, and hundreds of the faithful who came to participate.
Over the years, Saint George Cathedral has been the site of ordinations into the priesthood and episcopacy including: Father Nektarios Cottros, Father George Liacopoulos and His Grace, Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos
In 2002, after many years of planning and as a result of the success of the 94-unit Athenagoras Manor, the housing of Urban Development gave the Saint George Cathedral a $5 million grant to build a second 39-unit complex. Groundbreaking for the Archbishop Iakovos Gardens took place on September 29, 2002 followed by a luncheon attended by 350 persons that also celebrated Archbishop Iakovos’ 91st birthday.