"Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." Romans 15:7
In September 1973, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Newey and their daughter, Pamela, attended a family reunion in Beckley, West Virginia. Pamela asked a participant at the gathering, His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba), why there was no Antiochian Orthodox Church in Jacksonville. It was this question, and the welcoming of the Middle Eastern community that planted the seed for establishing an Orthodox Church in Jacksonville, Florida.
A Church Home Is Needed From the very beginning, the community's generosity was abundant, not only in financial matters but in giving of their time, talents, and hard work. The Syrian-Lebanese Club and the Ramallah-American Club opened their doors to the new Mission for Sunday services; however, it was decided a church would be a more fitting place for us to grow and fulfill the community’s spiritual needs. Reverend Paul Abdullah offered us the use of Mount Olive Presbyterian Church in Riverside for Divine Liturgy after his own regularly scheduled services. In February of 1979, St. George was to be elevated to the status of a church. The church was consecrated in front of an overflow crowd and by His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba). His Eminence co-celebrated the Divine Liturgy with the Very Rev. Fr. George Harb, Fr. Nicholas Dahdal, Deacon Hans, and Fr. Paul Costopoulos from our sister church, St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church. At this time, His Eminence placed a list of the founding members' names in the altar for posterity and congratulated the community on its accomplishments.
Planning and moving to a new Edifice In February of 1979, St. George was elevated to a church's status. In front of an overflowing crowd, the church was consecrated by His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba). The Divine Liturgy was also celebrated with the Very Rev. Fr. Georg Harb, Fr. Nicholas Dahdal, Deacon Hans, and Fr. aul Costopoulos from our sister church, St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church. The occasion was joyous.
In 1994, Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba) honored us once again with his presence and presided over the consecration of the property, which would one day be the site of our new church home. A decision was made to build both the church and the hall simultaneously. First, however, funds had to be raised by selling the present church on Ashland Street. The General Assembly voted to sell the property in 1997 for $150,000.00. We held our last Liturgy at that location on Sunday, August 31, 1997. All of the icons, religious artifacts, tables, chairs, books, etc., were stored at the Ramallah Club, which graciously donated storage space at their clubhouse for our use.
In the summer of 2001, Archpriest John Elias decided to retire for health reasons. Metropolitan Philip assigned a newly ordained priest, Fr. Kamal Al-Rahil, along with his Khourieh Ranwa, to St. George. V. Rev. Fr. John Elias was honored at a retirement banquet and continues today as Priest Emeritus of St. George. Once again, Fr. Kamal brought youth and vitality to St. George. As a young priest, he has long-range plans for St. George to “increase and multiply” as he strives to minister to the community. Under his direction and guidance, a parishioner was instrumental in seeking a $100,000 donation from a non-member benefactor towards building a new Bell Tower with a sound system that rings out as if giant bells were ringing. The Bell Tower gives a more “Orthodox” appearance to the church, and the “bells” ringing every Sunday brings a sense of peace, blessing, and joy to the parishioners and those in the surrounding neighborhood.
As with his predecessors, Fr. Kamal has long-range plans for St. George to build an educational and administrative building on the adjacent property. The facilities will be to expand the Sunday School classrooms, library, and administrative offices to educate our children in their faith, the Arabic language, and their Middle Eastern heritage. St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church of Jacksonville, Florida, has long attained its “star” status in the Archdiocese.
St. George hosted the Parish Life Conference for the Diocese of Miami and the Southeast June 16-20, 2010; it was very successful spiritually and financially because of dedicated people from St. George and Fr. Kamal's leadership.
The Reverend Fr. Father Kamal was elevated to the dignity of Archpriest by His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba) on October 24, 2010. This Auspicious occasion was blessed also with Bishop Antoun (Khoury), and bishop Joseph Alzehlawi, as well as many clergies, were in attendance. The Very Reverend Archpriest Father Kamal Al-Rahil looks forward to many years of serving the community's spiritual and physical growth.
Currently, Fr. Kamal has One Deacon two sub-Deacons, Two Readers, Two Choir Directors (Arabic/ English) a large team of altar servers, an active chapter of the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ladies Auxiliary, The Young Adult Fellowship (YAF), Teen SOYO, Choir, and a Sunday School consisting of 60-80 children.