St Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, Savannah, GA

St Paul's Greek Orthodox Church, Savannah, GA

This postcard, of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Savannah, Georgia, is from 1914, seven years after the parish acquired the church building. The Greek Orthodox community in Savannah didn’t have a name yet, but they purchased St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and decided that, hey, St. Paul is Orthodox, so let’s go with that.

Also, this is one of the first documented instances of an Orthodox church with pews. The often-repeated story, which mostly isn’t true, is that Orthodox churches in America got pews because they bought Protestant or Roman Catholic churches that already had pews, and just decided to keep them. Several years ago, I researched the Greek parishes that were in existence in the 1910s and found that the majority actually built their own churches, rather than buying them from another religious group, which puts a dent in the whole “let’s keep the pews” theory. Pews tended to be a later addition, in the 1920s or so, and were usually part of a broader program of Westernization that also included organs and mixed choirs (and even the occasional communion rail!). But St. Paul’s in Savannah was an exception — they actually did buy an old Protestant church in the early 1900s, and kept the pews.

One comment:

  1. I myself really don’t mind pews provided there is a pew free area for standees to venerate icons at the front of the church. I have balance problems and am often unable to stand throughout. The best approach seems to be well-spaces freestanding chairs, and pews alomg the outer wall facing in.

    The Greek Diaspora does beautiful things on the organ, and I enjoyed Capella Romanas recording of Tikey Zes, which was like a celebration of Greek diaspora parish music. I am not a fan of synthesizers, and I’d rather cantors working alone used organs for,the ison, with maybe a hidden secondary console in their lectern, than the ison-generating ipad app. I would not want to hear an organ in a Russian Orthodox Church. For that matter, the Syriac Orthodox and Assyrians ruin their music when they use organs or synthesizers to accompany it, but the Armenians do,a good job on the organ.

    As the Orthodox grows and the mainline churches shrink, I think we should consider purchasing historic mainline Protestant and Catholic Churches, but we need a program for making them suitably Orthodox while preserving historically valuable aspects of the interior. For example, at Catholic Churches that have a beautiful high altar and a newer freestanding altar, could we not use the high altar for as the table of preparation, and the freestanding altar as the main altar, and then ensconce the chancel with an iconostasis? If we buy an Anglican Church with a rood or choir screen, can that be upgraded to an iconostasis or used as is, since the rood screen was simply the Western evolution of the common Templon?

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