St Raphael Hawaweeny arrived in New York City in 1895, and he immediately established a chapel for his growing community of Arab Orthodox Christians. The chapel was located at 77 Washington Street in Manhattan, right next to the Syrian Maronites’ own chapel. The Orthodox chapel, called St Nicholas, was a very modest affair, a low-ceilinged, second-storey room above a shop. But this unassuming place is the mother church for the entire Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.
Recently, when preparing for a series of talks for the clergy brotherhood of the Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America, I discovered three heretofore unknown images of that original Antiochian chapel. I also found a great description from a contemporary newspaper. Here, have a look:
Here’s how the New York Tribune described the chapel in an article published March 13, 1898:
The place of worship of the Greek Orthodox Syrians is over a store, No. 77 Washington-st. A steep stairway leads to the room which corresponds in size with the store below and is divided into two parts, the larger part being the auditorium and the small part at the rear being reserved for the priest and his assistants. The partition separating the sanctum from the maleroom is hung with pictures of the saints, and on either side of the altar are large embroidered pictures, also of saints, which were sent to the church from Syria.
Aside from these the chief decorations are three crystal chandeliers which hang from the low ceiling. Only one-half of the room is furnished with chairs. In explanation of this the priest said that only the women are permitted to sit in the house of God, the men remain standing during service. An air of neatness and cleanliness pervades the place, which is not in keeping with the Oriental decorations, and those who visit the place seem devout and earnest.
In 1902, St Raphael acquired a former Swedish Lutheran church on Pacific Street in Brooklyn and established St Nicholas Cathedral, which has since moved but remains the primatial see of the Antiochian Metropolitan in America.
But all that began with this little chapel, which really is not so different from so many dozens of storefront mission churches today.