At the latter part of the nineteenth century, a handful of people who migrated
from Syria and Lebanon traveled up the Mississippi River to settle, live, and work in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Gradually,
friends and relatives of this small group were drawn to this area in growing numbers, and soon it was evident that they
were forming a community of their own, thousands of miles from their homeland.
Although the early days were difficult and challenging, these courageous people
faced up to the challenges of being in a new country. They worked hard and steadfastly stuck together and soon found
the strength to make every sacrifice necessary to acquire their own house of worship, an Orthodox temple, in this new country.
So deeply rooted was their religious faith that these strangers in a foreign land, with the help of God, found the means,
will, and determination to purchase their own church. The hardships and sacrifices were many, but the expression of their
faith was soon to become a reality.
From 1906 to 1910 services were held by the itinerant priest, Father Makarius
Saify, in homes and in his storefront home on Openwood Street. In 1908 the community was given official recognition
in the Arabic American ecclesiastical magazine, al-Kalimat (The Word), by Bishop RAPHAEL (Hawaweeny), the vicar bishop who
headed the Syro-Arabian Mission of the Russian Archdiocese of North America. In 1910 the community purchased the old
Gibson Memorial Church and transformed it into an Orthodox temple. In February 1914, Bishop RAPHAEL, while touring around
the country to visit the parishes under his care, came to Vicksburg on the weekend of Meatfare Sunday. He was deeply
moved by the fact that the community already had its own temple and commended them heartily for their deligent work for the
Lord's Holy Church. Father Makarius became the pastor and continued serving the St. George parish until his untimely
death in 1924. While traveling in Arkansas in the new automobile which had been given to him, he was hit by another
car as he exited from his car. It was during his pastorate in 1924 that St. George received its official charter that
placed it under the newly formed Antiochian Archdiocese of New York.
Former Priests of St. George
Fr. Makarius Saify
1906 - 1924
Fr. John Saba
1924 - 1925
Fr. Elias Meena
1925 - 1927
Rt. Rev. Antony
1927 - 1929
Fr. Elias Hamaty
1929 - 1932
Rt. Rev. Agabius Golam
1930 - 1932
1932 - 1937
Fr. Michael Baroudy
1937 - 1959
Fr. Daniel Montgomery
Fr. John Barrett
1959 - 1960
Fr. Basil Karpelania
Fr. Theodore Ziton
1962 - 1963
Rt. Rev. John Matthieson
Fr. Nicholas Saikley
Fr. David Hester
1990 - 2000
Fr. Peter Smith
2000 - 2004
St. George was one of the first Orthodox churches in the southern part of the United States and has played a very
important role in the lives of many Orthodox faithful, whether Lebanese, Syrian, Greek, Russian, Serbian, or other national
Following Father Makarius' death, the parish was served by
Father John Saba from 1924-25. Then Father Elias Meena, who was a lay member of the parish, was ordained a priest and
served St. George from 1925-27. The fourth pastor, Right Reverend Anthony Bashir, who served from 1927-29, was later
to become Metropolitan Archbishop of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America in 1936. St. George was then pastored
by Father Elias Hamaty from 1929-30 and by Right Reverend Agabius Golam from 1930-32. Father Gabrial Debes was the pastor
from 1932-37, but sometime in this period he also began to serve as the pastor of St. Michael in Beaumont, Texas. It
was during this time that the church complex was enhanced with the addition of a basement for classrooms for the now organized
Sunday school. Again in 1937, a member of the parish, Father Michael Baroudy, was ordained to the priesthood to care
for St. George. For the next 23 years his energy, dedication, and leadership worked to build a strong church community.
It was during the time of Father Michael that the use of English in the Divine Services was gradually increased.
St. George Church 1910-1966
In 1954 Father Daniel Montgomery was brought in to assist Father Michael, who retired later that year. Father
John Barrett then became pastor until early in 1960, and was succeeded by Father Basil Karpelania, who remained until late
1962. It was during this time that the women of St. George began their tradition of an annual Lebanese Dinner and that
St. George purchased its parish rectory. Father Theodore Ziton served as pastor until the middle of 1963, when The Right
Reverend John Matthieson became pastor for the next two and a half years. In January 1966, Father Nicholas Saikley became
pastor. He served as pastor of St. George for 24 years until August 15, 1990, when he retired and was succeeded by Father
David Hester. Following on the heels of Father Saikley, Father David Hester labored diligently as the pastor of St.
George from August 1990 until August 1, 2000, when he was succeeded by Father Peter Smith. Father Peter served at St.
George until 2004, when he was succeeded by Father John Morris, the current priest.
Church Members 1966
On April 3, 1966, the ground-breaking ceremony for the new St. George temple
was held under the pastorate of Father Nicholas, and in January 1967 the new temple was consecrated by His Eminence Metropolitan
PHILIP, then the newly consecrated Metropolitan for North America.
dome with the icon of Christ the Pantokrator
In 1980, through the generous efforts of a building drive, an addition was
made to the front of the temple of a balcony to protect the entrance and beautify the outer front of the building. Then,
starting in 1991, there began the most recent repainting and recarpeting of the temple, parish hall, offices, and classrooms.
Further additions were then made to the temple of a bell tower, five bells, new icons within the temple, and new stained
glass windows depicting the Lord's Return in Glory, on the western wall of the temple and the office complex. This work
was then further enhanced by the addition in 1996 of an interior dome with the icon of Christ the Pantokrator.
THE STAINED GLASS WINDOWS, THREE OF WHICH
ARE BELOW, DEPICT EVENTS IN
THE LIFE OF CHRIST.
The Feast of Feasts
The Church of St. George from the beginning has grown and developed. It has grown over the years as new generations
of its youth have taken their place in its life, and converts have come to embrace the Orthodox faith. The young generation
of today is very fortunate to be the beneficiary of the early settlers of Vicksburg, whose steadfastness in difficult times
formed a community strong in the Orthodox faith. They can also be grateful for the guidance and aid of many of the people
living today who helped build this new church temple. This and future generations must surely take pride in their
rich Orthodox heritage and must find the time, energy, and courage to devote themselves to their Orthodox faith and her deep
treasures of Orthodox Christian Tradition. Through their faithfulness may God, "look down from heaven and behold and
perfect that which Thy right hand hath planted."
In 2006, St. George celebrated its 100th anniversary in Vicksburg, Mississippi, as the oldest Antiochian Orthodox
Church in Mississippi and the South.