BOSTON – The historic St. George Cathedral of the most historic city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is preparing to celebrate its centennial of sacred and valuable service to its faithful members and also to the Holy Archdiocese of America and the Greek-American community. A number of events are in the planning process as Very Rev. Archimandrite Ambrose Bitziadis-Bowers explained in an interview with The National Herald.
Fr. Ambrose also spoke about the life of the Cathedral during the difficult time of the pandemic which has caused so many problems in the world and of course to the Church in general. Currently the Cathedral has close to 250 active members.
The entire interview follows:
The National Herald: In what condition is the Cathedral today, and how much has the pandemic affected parish life in general, in terms of worship, participation, finances, ministries, and community life?
Fr. Ambrose Bitziadis-Bowers: 2020 is characterized as a pandemic year due to COVID-19, and it was a year when I believe many faithful and parishes meditated on the theology of the cross. “Whosoever wishes to come with me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me,” says our Lord (Matt. 16:24).
One of the challenges of the last year in our lives has been staying connected with members of the Cathedral, especially the youth. There are many members of our Cathedral family we have not been able to see since March of last year. We have put time and effort into connecting with people online and holding various meetings, but technology has not always cooperated, and we know that has caused frustrations for those joining online.
Financially, I have to say the Cathedral is in a good shape due to the generosity of many parishioners, and also due to the income generated by the rentals of the Athenagoras and Iakovos Manors, the two Senior Housing institutions of our Cathedral. For this school year, since the beginning of September, we decided for the Greek School to go completely online via ZOOM, and we still continue operating like that.
For Religious Education our goal this school year is to keep our sense of community and foster opportunities for our students to get together and interact without physical gathering. Every other Sunday we set up a ZOOM class. Because the students attending the religious education classes are from PreK to 4 Grades, we offer them less lessons but more conversation and discussion.
TNH: What are the questions that parishioners frequently ask you, especially the young people, with regard to the pandemic?
Fr. Ambrose: Some of the questions frequently asked by young people are:
• Is God in control of the world?
• Why does God let bad things to happen?
• Does God not care for his people anymore?
• Where is God in the midst of the pandemic?
• Why is not God hearing our prayers to stop the spread of the virus?
TNH: Does the new generation participate actively in the Sacramental and Liturgical life of the Cathedral, and also at the Parish Council level?
Fr. Ambrose: Before COVID, we have seen a surprising increased number of young adults participating in the liturgical life of the church. Most of them are graduate students and professionals in the greater Philadelphia area. The Cathedral is not only the mother church of most of the other Greek-Orthodox communities in the area but constitutes also a destination church for many faithful. There is of course an increased interest from some of them to be part of the administration of the Church by participating on the Parish Council of the Cathedral. In the last five years the turnover in the Parish Council by young professionals was great!
TNH: I understand that you are preparing a series of events in the coming year for the celebration of the Cathedral’s 100th Anniversary. Tell us in detail what you are planning?
Fr. Ambrose: 2022 is the year during which we will be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and the 200 years since the Cathedral’s historic building was constructed, and certain preparations already started for the festivities of this anniversary year. Saint George Cathedral was built by the famous architect John Haviland in 1821, the year of the Greek liberation from the Ottomans, and the beginning served for almost 100 years as an Episcopal Church. In 1922 the Church was acquired by the Greek Orthodox Community of Philadelphia for its own spiritual needs, and after that was elevated to the rank of the Cathedral, by Archbishop Athenagoras of North and South America and later Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
2022 is not only the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Cathedral but also the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Philoptochos Sisterhood of the Cathedral ‘Ai Myrophorai’. Therefore, we are planning various historic lectures and pictorial exhibits in regard to the 100th Anniversary of the Cathedral and Philoptochos society. In addition, we are scheduling educational and evening events for the youth and young adults of the Cathedral, a 100th Anniversary Golf Tournament, and a 100th Anniversary Christmas Concert at the Cathedral, with organizer and conductor Mr. Demetrios Fousteris.
Furthermore, the Parish Council and the 100th Anniversary Committee is in preparation of an historic publication with the title, Our First One Hundred Years at Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which will include also families that are no longer active stewards of the Cathedral due to their relocation. This historic book will contain highlights of the vision and growth of our Parish over the past 100 years along with pictures, articles, and memorabilia, and it will also document the celebratory activities of our parish during 2022. The material will be published in a commemorative book and exhibited during the 100th Anniversary Grand Banquet in the middle of October of 2022.
Some of these calendar events may be hosted in nearby facilities due to the beginning of the construction of the new project of the Cathedral. By the Grace of God and the blessings of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America we will start developing in the later part of 2022 our new vision for our Cathedral for the near future. At the end of November 2020, we had a successful meeting with the Metropolis of New Jersey planning Committee that was supposed to kick off our efforts to develop and construct the new Church facilities and the new six-story Athenagoras Manor Senior Housing tower within the Cathedral’s perimeter, a project whose preliminary costs amount to almost 17million dollars and will take between four and five years for its completion.
TNH: Is there enough interest from the members for them to be part of this celebration?
Fr. Ambrose: We are still finalizing the 100th Anniversary Calendar of events. Once it is completed, we will start reaching out to individuals and families to sponsor these events. As has happened many times in the past, I am very confident that the parishioners of St. George Cathedral are ready to offer plentifully their time, talent, and treasure to make this 100th Anniversary celebration of their beloved Cathedral a success!