The First Pan Orthodox Parish
If St. Anthony’s seems unique to you, that’s because….it is!
We are honored to be the first Pan-Orthodox Parish in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Settle in, because we’re going to take you all the way back to 1956.
That’s when, on July 3, the late Metropolitan Anthony Bashir presented a charter for a new church to seven men: Mitchell Moore, Theodore Maloof, Abraham G. Debs, George Shamyer, Edward Deeb, Alex Sahadi, and George A. Hatab. They are the founders of the church we now call our home.
Our founders mission was unique. They wanted to create a church that would bring together the traditions of all of the cultures of Eastern Orthodox Christianity: Middle Eastern, Greek, Serbian and Slavic. Services would be conducted in English, to include all who attended.
The selection of St. Anthony the Great was no coincidence. Our founders hoped that the missionary zeal of Saint Anthony, the Father of Monasticism for the entire Christian World, East and West, would galvanize the various cultures, as well as all who looked to embrace Orthodoxy, as one parish family.
That year, Father Jim Mitchell welcomed our original group to worship at his church, St. Paul’s Chapel in Englewood, New Jersey. Seminarian Raymond Ofeish, who later became Father Gregory, celebrated the first Typica Service at St. Paul’s on May 13th of that year. Later that year, on September 30th, Father Joseph Kreta, from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in New York, celebrated St. Anthony’s first Divine Liturgy.
A number of other priests graced us with their presence in the early days, including Father Alexander Schmemann, Father Daniel Hubiak, Father John Psillas, Father Stephen Lyashevsky, and, true to our multicultural roots, Father Peter Sayama, the first Japanese Orthodox priest ordained in the U.S.
A year later, in 1957, Father Gabriel Ashie arrived, first as a Sub-Deacon to assist Father Stephen, and a year later, became our first permanent priest. As more members joined the parish, we outgrew our facilities at St. Paul’s. In December of 1957, we moved to the Masonic Lodge in Englewood for Wednesday vespers and Sunday services. Back then, they lasted a little longer than they do now, because we had to set up our portable Iconostasis and folding chairs before and after every service!
A Few Years Later…
In 1961, after a lot of debate, the growing parish acquired two parcels of land, about one acre in total….located at 385 Ivy Lane, at the crossroads of three Bergen County towns: Bergenfield, Englewood and Tenafly. That year, Architects Harsens and Johns were selected to build our new church, with the vision that it would blend Byzantine tradition with the New World. The hallmarks of the project were:
- beautiful stained glass windows…the first of their kind in North America, by Hendrick VanderVoort, depicting the life of Jesus
- unique Iconostasis, blending Byzantine and Slavic traditions, painted by Pimen Sofronov, a Russian exile, set off by dramatic lighting twelve buttress arches, representing the twelve Apostles.
- Their budget: $135,000, which at the time….was a lot!
Three years later, in 1964, Metropolitan Anthony joined our Pastor, Father Gabriel, and all local Orthodox Clergy to celebrate the first Divine Liturgy in the church. That dedication service was featured later that year, on Lamp Unto My Feet, a nationally broadcast TV program.
Father Gabriel left a year later to start another Pan Orthodox church in California. We then welcomed Father Michael Irwin, who served as our Pastor for two years, before leaving to serve as a missionary in Alaska and Assistant to Bishop Theodosius.
In 1967, St. Anthony’s welcomed a young priest, just out of the seminary, Father Joseph Allen as its third pastor. Fr. Joseph faithfully guided our parish until 2019 when he became Pastor Emeritus. For 53 years, Fr Joe shaped the parish into a vibrant, dynamic community, by building on its ethnic diversity, to become a model of a welcoming, pan-orthodox community of believers. Fr. Joe took leave in 1992 with Fr. Daniel Daly serving as pastor for two years. Under Father Joe’s leadership, St. Anthony’s grew rapidly, so much so, we needed more room!
In 1976, we broke ground on our present Church Hall, including a kitchen, stage, and restrooms. Our new and expanded home allowed us to host such events as Spring Soirees, Fall Dances, Wine Fests, Mardi Gras, and Art Auctions. This is also when we launched what’s become our signature event, our annual International Festival.
The 80s and Beyond: Still Growing…
1989 saw the beginning of a Beautification Program, which improved the Sanctuary, the Narthex, and the Nave.
Eleven years later, we launched Expansion 45 in recognition of our 45th anniversary. The purchase of an adjacent parcel of land allowed us to create what we call The North Complex. Architect Romeo Aybar was retained for this project. The project expanded the altar, creating the chapel of preparation, enlarged the kitchen, and added a new multi-purpose room, offices and a vesting room. The construction of an elevator offered barrier-free access to the church for the first time. The project also included the purchase of new pews, with kneelers for the first time, modernized the sound system for the church and hall, installed new carpeting in the church and hall, and new stage curtains in the Fellowship hall.
We were honored to have the late Bishop Antoun dedicate the Complex in 2002.
Sixty-plus years later…..stronger than ever…
A new era began at St. Anthony’s when Father Michael Ibrahim became our Pastor, in 2019. Well into our second half-century …. the bold experiment our founders envisioned is a resounding success!
St. Anthony’s has been honored to serve as the prototype of many Pan-Orthodox parishes across North America. Our vibrant, diverse community welcomes all who seek the love and fullness of the Orthodox Faith. Our members can trace their heritage to almost every nation on the globe, and our doors are open to all. With God’s grace, we know the future looks bright!