FR. GEORGE H. SHALHOUB, ST. MARY ANTIOCHIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
“When I arrived in the United States in 1972,” says Father George Shalhoub, “I was homeless… but not hopeless.”
A faith in God’s unquestionable love has proven to be the welcome wagon for countless immigrants to these shores, and the confidence of Father George Shalhoub, pastor of St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Livonia, has been echoed countless times throughout our interviews for the ‘Our Story’ productions.
“Sure, there was culture shock,” he goes on. “I’d been raised in a monastery since the age of 12, I had little idea of how to take care of myself, even less how to drive or speak the language. But God provides, as always. Our first congregational gathering places were rented—Mt. Hope, St. Michael’s—but it was necessary. The first thing a religious immigrant requires is a place to congregate, a place where he feels comfortable. In time, we built this church… a place where we not only memorialize Christ, but how we worship Him.”
For a man whose devotion is so profound, so all-encompassing, it’s surprising to learn that his earliest goals were far from the Orthodox priesthood. In a tradition that goes back millennia, a shortage of priests in his native Syria resulted in his father ‘giving’ him to the Bishop, sending him to Tripoli, Lebanon to be housed in the Orthodox monetary and begin the long training toward ordination. Father George still gets teary-eyed at the sacrifice his family made to the Church. For his own part, young George, barely out of seventh grade, did not yet understand the scope of his new life; he was excited at the prospect of a train ride to a different country, certain that he’d be reunited with his family at the end of the summer.
It would be nearly a year before he saw them again, and then, only briefly. We can only imagine the difficulty that the separation must have caused them; to this day, he speaks with tremendous emotion of his parents, saying, “No matter how old we get, we always look to our parents, even after they have passed away. My mother, born in Columbia, South America, was a saintly woman: she couldn’t read nor write, but kept the faith as intensely as any Deacon. My father, of course, was prepared to give his youngest son to the Church in its time of need.”
‘Abouna’, as Father George is called with affection by his congregants, has a world-view that extends far beyond his parish, and was asked by the White House to celebrate an ecumenical service on the year anniversary of 9/11. Nearly five thousand people, including parishioner Spencer Abraham, showed up. The service included a rousing rendition of ‘God Bless America’.
A surprising song selection for a religious ceremony? Perhaps, but, says Father George with an amused nod,
“I’ve always been fairly non-conforming, even in the seminary.”
To this day, Father George displays not only a magnetic spirituality, but also fixity of purpose and confidence in his faith, his family, and his adopted country.