INTRODUCING ST. NICHOLAS CHURCH IN GRAND RAPIDS, MI
Written by Reverend Archdeacon David Khorey
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.
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 Rt. Rev. Ellis Khouri served as pastor of St. Nicholas. Beloved 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 fact, St. Nicholas has traditionally been actively involved in the national endeavors of the Archdiocese. Two of its current members, Alan Abraham and Dan Abraham, have recently served on the Archdiocese Board of Trustees. Dan Abraham also served as national chair of the Order of St. Ignatius, a post currently held by Roger David of the parish. Rob Rinvelt and Kathy Abraham held national offices with NAC SOYO and the Fellowship of St. John the Divine. A son of St. Nicholas, Very Rev. Thomas Zain, is dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral and Vicar-General 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 Rev. Daniel Daly became the pastor of St. Nicholas. The church is marked by its Byzantine-style architecture featuring a large dome as well as ample classroom, office, and fellowhip facilities. It also includes a bookstore and chapel, the Chapel of St. Joseph of Damascus. St. Nicholas has been blessed with extensive iconography by the hand of Father Theodore Koufos of Toronto.
Upon Father Daniel’s retirement in 2015, the parish welcomed the current pastor, the Very Rev. Michael Nasser. Father Michael is well known throughout the Archdiocese from his many years of service, including as director of the Antiochian Village Camp.
In 2017, St. Nicholas adopted the following mission statement:
St. Nicholas is a worshipping community in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian tradition that preserves, proclaims, and practices the Faith given by Christ to the Apostles, serving Him, one another and our neighbors. We manifest His love through sacramental and liturgical life, education, hospitality, works of mercy, and fellowship.
As its mission statement affirms, St. Nicholas looks to the future mindful of its past. Consistent with its mission statement, the parish has many active ministries in the areas listed in the statement. Currently, it is also actively engaged in planning for the 2019 Archdiocese Convention. St. Nicholas parishioners have great memories of past conventions they attended even back to when they were children with their families, and want to make the Convention once again, a memorable family destination of spiritual development and fellowship.
Today St. Nicholas welcomes all who seek and have found the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Our diverse church family has spread from its roots in the early years of immigration from the Middle East to include not only new converts to Orthodoxy from the Grand Rapids community, but also immigrants from Romania, Serbia, Eritrea, Russia, and Armenia, among other countries. Our outreach programs and works of mercy are offered on an ongoing basis to the community as we continue to strive to live our mission.