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St. Nicholas Cathedral celebrates its 125th anniversary in Brooklyn

BOERUM HILL — It was a weekend of commemorations at St. Nicholas Cathedral on Saturday, Oct. 19 and Sunday, Oct. 20 as the Antiochian Orthodox cathedral kicked off its 125th anniversary celebration and its 100th anniversary at its present location.

In addition, the church marked the 25th anniversary in the priesthood of its pastor, the Very Rev. Thomas Zain, vicar general and dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral. The ceremonies also included the elevation of Father Adrian Budica to archpriest and the tonsuring of Zain’s son George as a reader in the church.

St. Nicholas was established in 1895 by Archmandrite Raphael Hawaweeny, later St. Raphael, on Washington Street in lower Manhattan. He founded the Orthodox congregation, then part of the Syro-Arab Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church, eventually moving it to Pacific Street in 1902 before relocating the congregation in 1920 to the church’s current home at 355 State St. in Downtown Brooklyn.

“The Russian Orthodox Church provided St. Raphael as a priest in 1895 and consecrated him as a bishop for the founding of the Syro-Arab Mission, the precursor of the Antiochian archdiocese,” explained Zain.

Elected officials and community leaders attending the Saturday evening dinner at Brooklyn Law School, 250 Joralemon St., included State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Honorary Consul General of Lebanon in New Jersey John Abi-Habib and his wife Sonia. Also in attendance were bishops and lay leaders, including members of the Archdiocesan Board of Trustees from all over the United States and Canada.

ebrooklyn media/Photos by Arthur De Gaeta
Community leader and Honorary Consul General of Lebanon in New Jersey John Abi-Habib and his wife Sonia attend the service.

St. Raphael’s “mission started in Brooklyn but now it covers 300 other churches in North America,” Abi-Habib told this paper. “This is a very big deal for immigrants who came from overseas to seek a better life in the United States and brought their faith with them.”

The program began with an invocation from His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph Al-Zehlaoui, the Antiochian orthodox archbishop of New York and North America, before the United States and Canadian national anthems were performed by Simone Zain, Bronwyn Schuman and Joel Untinen.

The Very Rev. Michael Ellias, secretary of the archdiocese and pastor of St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Bay Ridge, served as emcee and introduced the honorees. St. Nicholas Parish Council Chair Samir Khoury welcomed guests. Claudia Zain and Fawaz El Khoury delivered the opening remarks.

Metropolitan Joseph was the keynote speaker and presented Zain with a certificate honoring his years of service as a priest, cathedral dean, vicar general and other roles within the archdiocese.

“Father Tom is a great man and I’ve known him for the 25 years that he’s been in Brooklyn,” said Abi-Habib. “For 15 of those years, we lived on the same block as neighbors in Bay Ridge. Our families were close and our kids grew up together. We’ve done a lot of events together and he’s been involved in a lot of Middle Eastern Christian events that he contributed his time and energy to, not only to grow his own church but to grow the community in Brooklyn as well.”

ebrooklyn media/Photos by Arthur De Gaeta
Metropolitan Joseph tonsures Father Thomas Zain’s son George.

On Sunday morning, a special anniversary service was held at the cathedral.

Seven bishops, assisted by almost two dozen clergy, were at the mass, which was led by Metropolitan Joseph. A special guest attendee was His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion who came from Moscow to represent His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia. Metropolitan Hilarion is the chairperson of the department of external church affairs for the Russian Orthodox Church.

In addition, earlier this month Community Board 2 approved the co-naming of State Street between Hoyt and Bond streets as “St. Raphael of Brooklyn Way.”

Abi-Habib was instrumental in lobbying for the street co-naming. “Along with Father Tom, we put together a nice package that we presented to the community board and they voted unanimously to accept it,” said Abi-Habib. “City Councilmember Stephen Levin also helped us put it together and hopefully by the end of November we will have a street named in honor of St. Raphael of Brooklyn.”

Gounardes, who is Greek Orthodox, was delighted to be at the event. “It was truly a joy to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of the St. Nicholas community by St. Raphael in 1895,” Gounardes told this paper.

“I also wish to congratulate Father Thomas on his 25th anniversary of being in the priesthood, and Father Adrian for his elevation to archpriest. St. Nicholas is a gem of the community and I was proud to have the opportunity to honor their wonderful work and history,” he added.

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