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St. George celebrates milestone, dedicates new center

5/3/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Members of the congregation and special guests are shown in front of the new Family/Youth Center at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Copley.
Archbishop Philip Saliba, shown at center, bestowed awards to St. George leaders, shown from left, Mike Pancoe, Bob Snyder, Gary Salhany and David Esber.
Photos courtesy of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church
COPLEY — St. George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church marked 95 years while officially dedicating its new Family/Youth Center the weekend of April 27.

The Ridgewood Road church hosted Metropolitan Philip Saliba, archbishop of the North American Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, who appeared before the church’s youth members in an event April 28 and at a hafli, or traditional Middle East party, on April 27. He also took part in a banquet April 28 and in the Sunday liturgy and brunch April 29.

Church historian Sam Salem, of West Akron, said Saliba addressed the issues being faced by victims in the year-long Syrian revolt, the plight of Christians throughout the Middle East, and the need for all Christians to agree on when to celebrate Easter.

Salem said that Saliba, a native of Lebanon and a U.S. citizen since the early 1960s, focused on the inhumanity of “the thousands of women being made widows, the thousands of homes destroyed and the need to provide help for the suffering” in conflicts taking place.

In a meeting with the church’s youth and again during the banquet over the weekend, Saliba spoke out against extremism in any religion.

“Christians, who make up 10 percent of Syria’s population, have long been protected by the current and previous moderate Moslem regimes,” he said. “Now extremists coming from outside are trying to take over, and the Christians are afraid that they will become victimized, as we have seen happen in Iran, Iraq and Egypt. Already there are signs of an exodus of Syrian Christians, and we need to help them.” 

Salem said several hundred people heard Saliba over the weekend. While he talked of serious issues, he also was there to help the church celebrate its 95th year as members celebrated the completion of the new Family/Youth Center under Father Lou Mahashie, who has been at the church since 1978.

During the weekend, Mimi Hicks, president of the Ladies Society, gave Mahashie a $25,000 check for the Family/Youth Center building fund, bringing its total donation to $100,000.

Salem said the center was built to accommodate the growing parish, which has a very active youth group. He added that the group was named the Teen Club of the Year during a recent youth convention with members of parishes from Ohio to Iowa and Kentucky to Wisconsin. The group garnered 52 awards in the areas of oratory, writing, poetry, art and photography, Salem said.

St. George was founded in Akron in 1917 by Arabic-speaking Christians from the areas known today as Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan. 

The original parish was located in Downtown Akron and later moved to West Akron on South Hawkins Avenue. When Mahashie arrived, he created a plan to build a new facility, and the Hawkins property was sold. The church then met in a renovated warehouse near Downtown Akron for eight years, Salem said. In 1987, the church moved to its current location on 10 acres. In 1996, the church expanded with a new Sunday school addition. The new $2 million Family/Youth Center was completed this year.

The church serves 200 families and maintains a Sunday school, choir and array of church organizations, Salem said. Its members come from Akron and beyond, such as Massillon and Canton and the Cleveland suburbs, he said.

The Family/Youth Center features banquet space, a stage and two assembly areas.

Salem said the church is now planning to honor Mahashie next year as he marks his 50th year as a priest, his 50th wedding anniversary and his 35th year at St. George’s.

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