People driving on East 13th Street in Wichita, Kansas are treated to a heavenly sight.
On St George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral’s exterior, mosaics of Christ, the Theotokos, St John the Baptist, St George, and the Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, bear silent witness to passersby. The mosaics, created by Tuscan artisans with thousands of pieces of colored glass native to that region, were installed in 2008. Inside the cathedral, the stunning iconography was written by monks of the Dormition Skete in Buena Vista, Colorado. The arched brickwork, domes and apses, mosaics, and tiled roof are all beautiful examples of traditional Byzantine architecture; St George Cathedral is the only such structure in Kansas.
The founders of St George Orthodox Cathedral came to Wichita from Marj'ayoun in southern Lebanon in the late 19th century. The community’s beginnings were humble: with no place of worship and no elected priest, the people worshiped within each other's homes with missionary priests from Nebraska and Oklahoma presiding. Soon after receiving their first priest, Fr Elias El-Khouri, St George purchased their first place of worship. In 1990, the cathedral moved to its current location on East 13th Street. Cathedral Dean Protopresbyter Paul O'Callaghan has been the priest since 1993. Since it opened in 1990, the church fellowship hall, educational wing, and cathedral interior and exterior have been built or updated. Today St George Cathedral serves approximately 400 families with over 900 members.
Saint George Cathedral is a cherished Parish Partner of St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS); the strong ties that have developed between the two over many decades have benefitted both institutions. Seminary President, the Very Rev. Chad Hatfield, who once served as a priest in the greater Wichita area, expressed gratitude for the depth of the cathedral's commitment to the seminary. "Not only is St George Cathedral home to our alumnus, His Grace Bishop Basil (M.Div. ‘73, D.D. honoris causa ‘10; retired in 2022), but over the years we have received seminarians from the cathedral and hosted many St George parishioners at events like our summer diaconal and music institutes. Saint George's stalwart financial support for many years has been foundational for St Vladimir's Seminary, and in turn, we have been blessed to provide training and resources to undergird their many ministries in Wichita."
In one of many examples of this synergistic relationship between SVOTS and the Cathedral, the seminary board of trustees awarded an honorary doctorate to Wichita State professor Dr Anthony Gythiel at St George Cathedral in 2008. A longtime author and translator for SVS Press, Dr Gythiel’s well-known SVS Press translations have included: Dragon's Wine and Angel's Bread, by Gabriel Bunge; Despondency: The Spiritual Teaching of Evagrius Ponticus on Acedia, by Gabriel Bunge; Woman and the Salvation of the World: A Christian Anthropology on the Charisms of Women, by Paul Evdokimov; and Theology of the Icon, by Leonid Ouspensky.
Another SVOTS connection to St George Cathedral is the Bishop Basil Endowment for Byzantine Liturgical Music. Launched in 2010, the endowment has ensured that the heritage of teaching Byzantine music not only continues at St Vladimir’s Seminary but also evolves and is strengthened. The fund helps to underwrite SVOTS’ Byzantine music faculty and concerts like the recent performance featuring the outstanding Byzantine ensemble, Cappella Romana. (Byzantine music fans can still contribute to the fund by writing “The Bishop Basil Endowment for Byzantine Music” on the memo line of a check, or in the comments field online.)
His Grace Bishop Basil’s musical contributions to American Orthodoxy have been substantial. After he graduated from St Vladimir's Seminary in 1973, he served as director of the Department of Youth Affairs for the Antiochian Archdiocese, while simultaneously teaching contemporary Byzantine chant at the seminary. From his enthronement in 2004 to his retirement in 2022, His Grace continued to develop musical resources for his clergy and parishes. In May of 2010, recognizing his service to the Church, the St Vladimir's Board of Trustees conferred a Doctor of Divinity honoris causa upon Bishop Basil. He was also the featured speaker at the Seminary’s 75th Anniversary Gala Benefit Banquet in November of 2013.
Over the years many of St George’s musicians have benefitted from Byzantine music resources offered through St Vladimir’s Seminary. Saint George’s Music Director Chris Farha recalls the many points of intersection between the seminary and St George’s choral tradition.
“With seminary-educated priests from the mid-seventies to the present, music has been the heartbeat of our parish, both 4-part choral and Byzantine chant. Father Alexander Schmemann helped us understand and embrace frequent communion. He and Fr Thomas Hopko taught us stewardship, giving our time, talents, and resources to the church. Saint Vladimir’s Seminary professor David Drillock helped us build an acapella choir, showing us the energy, discipline, and commitment required to effectively acquire a living ministry as church musicians.
“We hosted many St Vladimir’s Seminary Octets and hired a few seminarians along the way to serve the parish for a year or two before their ordinations. One such seminarian, Christopher Holwey, taught me to direct the choir before he left us by giving me a tuning fork, a pad, and a pencil with beat patterns I could trace, to train my hand to move with grace and precision. Chris also encouraged me to attend a Summer Liturgical Institute at the Seminary.
“The most instrumental and invaluable teacher and mentor has been St Vladimir’s Seminary alumnus Bishop Basil. He came as our priest in the late 1980s and then became our bishop. He has shared volumes of music and spent countless hours training and encouraging us. He said ‘A church without a choir is like a body without a soul.’”
VIDEO: the Cathedral choir sings “An Offering Carol”
In addition to its strong choral tradition, St George Cathedral is known for its community outreach. A kindergarten through fifth-grade educational wing attached to the south side of the cathedral hosts Christ the Savior Academy. The school offers classical education to the Orthodox community but also accepts children from all faiths and has been growing in attendance since opening its doors in 2012.
Off the grounds of the cathedral, the congregation founded and supports The Treehouse, a pregnancy resource center that provides basic goods to over 3,000 new mothers in Wichita each year including diapers, formula, clothing, books, toys, and blankets. These items are distributed once mothers have completed any one of the many educational programs provided.
Yet another cathedral initiative is Eighth Day Institute, an educational venture that fosters relationships with Christians of other traditions who uphold the apostolic and patristic heritage. The cathedral also supports the work of the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM).
List of St Vladimir’s Parish Partners
Ordination of Dn Anthony Gilbert
VIDEO: the story of the Cathedral