Saint George Coptic Orthodox Church Astoria, NY
Based on the need of the Coptic community in New York City, H.H. Pope Shenouda III blessed the birth of a second church in Queens, NY. The first liturgy took place on October 24, 1994 in a rented church in Astoria, New York. During the first year, several reverend fathers took the blessing of praying in St. George’s church, including the departed Reverend Father Shenouda Halim, the Very Reverend Hegumen Tadros Malaty, the Very Reverend Hegumen Yacoub Ghaly, and the Reverend Father Mikhail Tobia.
Less than a year later, God sent the departed Reverend Father Rewais Magar to shepherd the flock of the church. He arrived on September 10, 1995, and assured the congregation that very soon they would pray in their own church building. Many doubted his promise. A few months later, in early 1996, the congregation moved to another church building in Astoria, where they rented the basement for services.
Since his arrival, Fr. Rewais and the church board continually searched for a building to purchase and make into the permanent church building. For over a year, every time they saw a building for sale and placed an offer, someone else would place a higher offer, to the congregation’s disappointment. Despite the many rejections, Fr. Rewais reassured his flock that “St. George had not yet chosen his church building.”
By the summer of 1997, they had found a place that they liked very much. On a trip to Egypt during the summer of 1997, Fr. Rewais met with H.H. Pope Shenouda III to discuss the progress of the church. During that meeting, Fr. Rewais told His Holiness about the prospective place for the church, and asked for His Holiness’ prayers. In the following issue of Al Keraza magazine, Fr. Rewais found, to his surprise, that His Holiness included a portion about the news of St. George’s Church congregation purchasing a building in Astoria, NY to make their permanent church building.
Upon his return to the United States, Fr. Rewais and the board continued negotiations with the owners of the prospective location, and it was clear that St. George had finally chosen a location for his church. The owner’s name was George, and Fr. Rewais repeatedly told him that the building was going to continue to carry the name of George – either the owner will not sell or it will become St. George’s Church. At some point, when the negotiations became heated over $100,000, God used the owner’s wife who spoke up and informed the group that she was going to donate that amount from her share, allowing the purchase to go through.
The closing date was finally scheduled, the date by which the down payment was also due. A few days before the down payment was due, Fr. Rewais was informed that there was not enough money in the church’s account to cover the amount due. Fr. Rewais called upon his flock to join him in prayers for this cause. In response to all the prayers, the owner called about a day before the closing was scheduled and requested that the closing be rescheduled to a later date. As the second closing date approached, the church congregation was still struggling to raise the full down payment amount. A couple of days before the closing, Fr. Rewais was informed that the amount raised was $30,000 short. As always, Fr. Rewais raised his heart to heaven and asked for God’s solution. Within hours, he received a phone call from a former member of the Astoria congregation who had moved to a different state, and who was unaware of the $30,000 shortage. This individual explained that he had just deposited $30,000 into the church’s account. Overjoyed, Fr. Rewais immediately contacted one of the board members, asked him to check the church’s account and to secure a certified check to take to the closing appointment.
After signing the closing documents, Fr. Rewais determined from the board member responsible for the church construction that a month was needed before the church was ready. Accordingly, the first liturgy was scheduled for Sunday, November 16, 1997, a short two years after Fr. Rewais’ arrival in the US. Church youth worked around the clock to get the church ready in time. During the construction, the church family saw God’s hands clearly at work, and they all enjoyed an atmosphere of love and cooperation by all of its members.
As the first liturgy approached, Fr. Rewais checked the Synaxarium entry for November 16, curious as to what other events coincided with that date. The first liturgy in St. George’s Church in Astoria, NY coincided with the commemoration of the martyrdom of St. George of Alexandria and the consecration of the church of St. George of Cappadocia.
In the years that followed the opening of the church, the service grew and flourished. In August of 1999, a piece of the relics of St. George was received by the overjoyed congregation of St. George’s church with beautiful Coptic hymns and trills. St. George’s Church in Astoria became the first Coptic Church on the East Coast to receive the relics of St. George. Then, in August of 2006, the church received pieces of the relics of St. Theodore El-Shotbe, St. Theodore El-Mishreke, and St. Apaskhairoun. Over the years, the church also received pieces of the relics from the martyrs of Akhmim and from the martyrs of Ansana.
Renovations started taking place in the church between 2006 and 2007, including the installation of a new iconostasis, new benches, icons, altars, and the building of a new baptismal. At the completion of these renovations came a milestone in the church’s life on a very special Sunday morning. On Sunday morning, August 19, 2007, the church congregation rejoiced when H.H. Pope Shenouda III blessed the church with a visit, and consecrated the church, including the main altar of St. George, the altar of St. Rewais, the iconostasis and all the icons, the liturgical vessels, and the new baptismal.
Soon after the consecration, Fr. Rewais fell ill and in 2008, the Very Reverend Hegumen Benjamin Gergues joined the church. Later that year, Fr. Rewais departed to paradise, to the bosoms of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, on September 8th, 2008. Hg. Benjamin took the leadership of the church from that day and is shepherding the flock of St. George’s church to this day. By the grace of God, the services continue to grow.