Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Pastor Honored As Melkite Parish Celebrates 50 Years

By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published noviembre 22, 2007  | Available In English

Altar servers garbed in flowing golden robes entered an ornately decorated church to the delight of an attentive congregation.

The servers were followed by chanting cantors, parishioners holding liturgical banners and several Melkite priests, marking the beginning of a Hierarchal Divine Liturgy to recognize the 50th anniversary of St. John Chrysostom Melkite Catholic Church.

Concelebrated by clergy that included Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, the shepherd of Melkite Catholics in the United States, and the pastor, Father John Azar, the gathering on Nov. 11 not only honored the 50 years of the parish on Ponce de Leon Avenue, but also served as a platform to mark the elevation of the pastor to archimandrite, a title of honor.

The Melkite Catholic Church, which reaches across time to the early Christians of Antioch, worships in the Byzantine rite with its tradition coming from the Middle East. The Byzantine Melkite liturgy traces its roots back to the Antiochian liturgy and before that to the apostolic liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem. The Melkite liturgical celebration has certain distinctions from the Latin rite, including the chanting of the Divine Liturgy, Communion always being given under the species of both bread and wine, and the celebrant traditionally facing east. The Melkite Church is in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

Following the opening procession, the Great Doxology and three chanted responsorial antiphons, Archbishop Bustros paused to explain to the congregation the importance and respect associated with the new title given to Father Azar, formally that of Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Azar.

“‘Archimandrite’ is the title given to a priest who is faithful to the eparchy (diocese) and his parish,” he said. The archbishop then placed the “epikamalavkion,” the archimandrite’s clerical hat, on Father Azar’s head, and a cross around his neck, completing the blessing and explaining how the priest must accept Christ’s cross as his responsibility.

The Divine Liturgy continued with a beautiful blend of English, Arabic and Greek, presented in the form of chant. Many times throughout the service, Archbishop Bustros blessed the community with two candelabras, one holding three candles, representing the Trinity, and the other holding two candles, acknowledging the human and divine natures of Jesus.

After the Gospel reading, which came from Luke and told the story of the Good Samaritan, the archbishop spoke about how Catholics should interpret the reading in modern times. He focused on the main question asked by the lawyer: “Who is my neighbor?”

Archbishop Bustros told the congregation that, as children of God, every person is part of their spiritual family and everyone is their neighbor. He encouraged the community to persevere in becoming a neighbor to those they have contact with because Catholics “keep the Spirit alive by being active,” he said.

The Melkite community present at the 10:30 a.m. Divine Liturgy continued to participate actively, responding with song and chant, and occasionally snapping photos of their recently elevated pastor and the visiting archbishop.

Toward the end of the celebration, the archbishop blessed several new icons recently added to the church, including one of St. Cyril of Tyre, one of St. Habib of Edessa, one depicting cherubim, one depicting seraphim and two showing angels of the Lord.

After the Divine Liturgy, the congregation moved to the parish’s Cultural Center for a luncheon. While the crowd enjoyed a catered menu consisting of salad, lamb, chicken and rice, among other items, many of the clergy took a few minutes to speak about the importance of the event.

“I cannot say enough to you for coming here and bestowing this honor, not on me, but on the parish, because the honor is not mine, it’s yours,” said Father Azar. “You are the ones who brought me to where I am today. The honor is shared with you today, so thank you and congratulations.”

A thunderous applause ensued when the pastor finished and took his seat, and Bishop John Adel Elya, eparch emeritus, approached the podium.

“My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I am truly happy and honored to be with you today,” he said. “I remember that 50 years ago, God, who loves us all, loved Atlanta in a special way by sending Father William (Haddad) to start the small parish, which kept growing and growing. … God loved this parish again by sending Father John with his pastoral expertise and his resourcefulness.”

Archbishop Bustros continued the celebratory theme with words of encouragement. “I see that this parish is really excellent now,” he said. “There are many special things here. …With the people here, I’m sure this parish will prosper.”

The Melkite Catholic presence in the Atlanta area goes back further than 50 years. Father Haddad, St. John Chrysostom’s first pastor, came to Atlanta in 1954 to serve the growing community. The priest and the congregation purchased the Candler mansion, former home of Coca-Cola magnate Asa Candler, on Ponce de Leon Avenue the following year. In 1957, the building was placed under the patronage of St. John Chrysostom and was dedicated by Bishop Francis Hyland, the Roman Catholic bishop of Atlanta.

In 1966, an exarchate, or a temporary diocese, was established in the United States under the leadership of Bishop Justin Majmy, the first Melkite bishop in the U.S., to serve the increasing number of Melkites throughout the country.

Just over a decade later, in 1977, the American exarchate became a full eparchy (diocese), the Eparchy of Newton, under Archbishop Joseph Tawil, and now comprises 42 parishes in 21 states, including two in Georgia. Archbishop Bustros was appointed by Pope John Paul II in 2004 when Bishop Elya retired.

“It is wonderful to have a Melkite Catholic Church here in Atlanta,” said Vic Sayour, a 19-year parishioner of St. John Chrysostom, who was baptized and married in the Melkite church. “With only 42 parishes in the entire U.S., I have been fortunate that wherever I lived, there was a Melkite church. Namely being born in Brooklyn, living in Miami and now here in Atlanta. I really feel very close to the Melkite church and have grown closer and closer here in Atlanta.”


St. John Chrysostom Melkite Greek Catholic Church is located at 1428 Ponce de Leon Ave., NE, Atlanta. On Sunday the Divine Liturgy is celebrated at 10:30 a.m. preceded by Morning Prayer at 10 a.m. For further information call (404) 373-9522 or visit