Welcome to the vibrant world of Orthodox Christianity in Chicago, Illinois, where a rich tapestry of history, culture, and spirituality is woven into the architectural fabric of the city. Nestled amidst the bustling urban landscape are numerous Orthodox churches and cathedrals that stand as testaments to faith, tradition, and the immigrant experience.
In this article, we will embark on a journey to explore some of the most beautiful and historically significant Orthodox churches and cathedrals in Chicago. From the ornate domes and intricate iconostases to the captivating frescoes and stunning stained glass, each place of worship carries its own unique charm and allure.
These sacred spaces not only serve as centers of religious worship but also as cultural hubs, preserving and celebrating the traditions and heritage of various Orthodox communities. We will delve into the stories behind their construction, the architectural styles that define them, and the cultural influences that have shaped their identities.
Join us as we uncover the hidden gems and delve into the captivating narratives that have shaped Orthodox Christianity in Chicago. Discover the timeless beauty and spiritual significance that these historical churches and cathedrals hold, inviting us to appreciate the interplay of faith, art, and history in this diverse metropolis.
The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral
The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago stands as a significant religious landmark, serving as the oldest purpose-built Greek Orthodox Church in the Metropolis of Chicago. Established in 1892 by a Greek immigrant community, the cathedral showcases Byzantine-Renaissance architectural style. Situated centrally in the city, the cathedral’s construction was completed in 1910 at a cost of approximately $100,000.
During the challenging times of the Great Depression, the Greek Orthodox community rallied together to overcome financial difficulties and preserve the church. The building itself was even lifted from its foundation and relocated to accommodate the widening of LaSalle Street.
Renovation efforts commenced in 1977, culminating in the completion of the dome’s iconography by the esteemed iconographer Stathis Trahanatzis in 1981. The cathedral’s vibrant sacramental life extends beyond its walls, as it serves the community through various outreach programs such as the “Feed the Hungry” initiative.
As the Cathedral for the Metropolis of Chicago, it holds a central role in facilitating major ministries and conferences for the Metropolis and its clergy. The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral stands as a testament to faith, resilience, and community service, embodying the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of the Greek Orthodox tradition.
Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral
Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, situated in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, holds a significant place as the cathedral church of the Orthodox Church in America Diocese of the Midwest. This architectural gem was designed by the renowned Louis Sullivan, and its historical and artistic value is recognized with its listing on the National Register of Historic Places and its designation as an official City of Chicago Landmark.
Originally commissioned by a diverse Orthodox community consisting of Rusyns, Russians, Serbs, and Greeks, the church incorporates elements of Russian provincial architecture, including an octagonal dome and a frontal belltower.
The design was inspired by traditional Russian buildings, with influences from Sullivan’s own unique style, blending Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts motifs. Notably, Tsar St. Nicholas II of Russia contributed funds, and Sullivan donated part of his fee, as well as an elaborate chandelier.
The church’s architectural significance has been acknowledged in various publications on church architecture, and it has served as a spiritual center under the guidance of notable figures such as St. Tikhon of Moscow and St. John of Chicago (Kochurov). In 1923, it was elevated to the status of a cathedral, solidifying its position within the Orthodox community.
Today, Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral remains an integral part of the Orthodox Church in America, providing a place of worship and spiritual guidance. Its historical, cultural, and architectural significance make it a cherished landmark in the city of Chicago.
St. John of Rila Church
St. John of Rila in Chicago, also known as ‘Tsurkva Sveti Ivan Rilski,’ is a historic Orthodox Church located in Portage Park, Chicago. Originally a Lutheran church called Peace Lutheran Church, it was acquired by the congregation of St. John of Rila in 1999. The church serves as a vital center for Bulgarians in Chicago, preserving their language, culture, and traditions through activities like Sunday schools and social gatherings.
Built in 1928, the church underwent adaptations to conform to Eastern Orthodox liturgical requirements. The interior was modified, and a hand-carved iconostasis was installed. The church building, made of brick and limestone, has a balcony overlooking the main church floor, accommodating around 216 people.
The finished basement includes a large auditorium for cultural performances. A parish house, completed in 1923, served as the main place of worship until the church’s construction was finished in 1928.
In 2008, the church underwent a renovation that involved relocating the sanctuary to the east end to meet the requirements of Bulgarian Orthodox Churches. A new entrance was also constructed. St. John of Rila continues to be a significant spiritual and social hub for the Bulgarian community in Chicago.
The Saint George Cathedral
Saint George Cathedral in Chicago is a historic parish with a rich Slavic tradition, dating back to its founding in 1915. The congregation embraces both Church Slavonic and English in its services, catering to the needs of Eastern European immigrants and their descendants who have made their home in the heart of Chicago.
This dynamic community is a harmonious blend of diverse backgrounds, including immigrants, native-born individuals, young and old, and both heritage Orthodox believers and converts.
The St. George parish was formally incorporated and relocated to its present site in 1914. In 1935, the current church building replaced the original wooden structure and was consecrated. During the years 1943-1946, under the leadership of Metropolitan Benjamin and Bishop Theodore of the Russian Orthodox Church, the church received the distinguished title of a cathedral. Subsequently, the parish aligned itself with the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America.
A significant milestone in the history of the cathedral was the completion, dedication, and blessing of the “new” iconostasis in 1955. This ornate iconostasis proudly displays icons that are faithful reproductions of those found in St. Vladimir’s Cathedral in Kiev, following the distinctive artistic style of 19th-century Russia. These icons, adorning the iconostasis, serve as a visual representation of the deep spiritual heritage cherished by the St. George Cathedral community.
Today, Saint George Cathedral continues to be a vibrant center of worship, spirituality, and cultural preservation. Its diverse congregation remains committed to honoring its Slavic roots while embracing the evolving tapestry of its members’ backgrounds and experiences.
St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church
St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church, located in Chicago, has a rich history that spans over a century. The church was originally constructed in 1910 as Anshe Sholom Synagogue, designed by architect Alexander Levy in the Greek Revival style.
The synagogue featured an upstairs seating area reserved for women during services. However, as the Jewish community shifted to the Lawndale neighborhood in the 1920s, Anshe Sholom built a new temple, leaving the building available for a new purpose.
In 1927, the building underwent a transformation and became St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church. The dedication ceremony, attended by over two thousand Greeks according to the Greek newspaper Saloniki, marked the church’s establishment as the first Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Chicago under the leadership of Bishop Philaretos. The Orthodox Youth Organization of Chicago also originated at St. Basil in 1946, further strengthening the church’s influence within the community.
In the subsequent years, the church faced challenges due to changes in the surrounding area. Parishioners began to disperse with the construction of the Eisenhower Expressway in 1947, and later, urban renewal projects and the Illinois Medical District’s creation caused further displacement. Despite these hardships, a devoted group of members continued to attend worship services and support the church.
A significant setback occurred in 1977 when a fire caused substantial damage to the struggling church. However, a resilient community emerged and dedicated themselves to rebuilding St. Basil. With the appointment of Father Chris Kerhulas as the full-time pastor in 1988, the church underwent a complete renovation of the sanctuary, including the installation of new icons by renowned iconographer Athanasios (Tom) Clark of Athens.
The church experienced another devastating fire in March 2013, but once again, St. Basil persevered. Services were temporarily held in the Philoptochos Hall in the basement, fostering a sense of unity and resilience among the congregation. Through the challenges they faced, St. Basil grew stronger as a faith community. Presently, a successful capital campaign is enabling St. Basil to reopen its doors in a fully renovated sanctuary.
The church’s newly plated dome will serve as a welcoming beacon to parishioners eagerly awaiting the reopening, as well as attract new members from the thriving communities surrounding the church, including the Medical District, University Village, and the South and West Loop areas.
Within the renovated sanctuary, worshippers will gaze up at a new icon of Christ the Pantocrator, symbolizing the spiritual renewal and resilience of St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church.
The Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral
The Holy Resurrection Church has held a significant place within the Serbian community in Chicago since its establishment in 1905. Following the split of the Serbian Church in America, several parishes, including Holy Resurrection, rallied behind Bishop Dionisije and formed a new and distinct church congregation in 1964.
Initially, the community faced challenges finding suitable spaces for their religious activities, relying on rented locations. However, in 1966, they were able to purchase a property located at 2410 N Kedzie Blvd, marking an important milestone in their journey.
The community continued to grow and evolve, eventually acquiring a former Evangelical church on Palmer Square in 1968, which now serves as their present-day parish home. This property underwent renovations to adapt it to the needs of the Holy Resurrection congregation. Today, the church remains a focal point for the Serbian community in Chicago, offering a range of activities and groups to foster spiritual growth and community connection.
Among these activities are the Church School, providing religious education for the youth, the renowned Stevan Mokranjac choir, which enriches the worship experience with its melodic voices, and the Circle of Serbian Sisters, a women’s group that plays an essential role in supporting the community through various initiatives.
Over the years, Holy Resurrection Church has stood as a gathering place for Serbian traditions, faith, and cultural celebrations, maintaining a strong sense of identity and community cohesion. It continues to serve as a hub for the Serbian diaspora, preserving their heritage and fostering a deep connection to their roots in the vibrant city of Chicago.
The Assumption Greek Orthodox Church
Located in the Austin community of Chicago, the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church has been a spiritual haven for the Greek community since its establishment in 1925. While the neighborhood’s demographics have undergone changes over the years, the church remains a steadfast symbol of Greek heritage and faith.
The church building itself is a magnificent testament to Byzantine architecture, featuring an exquisite green dome that stands out in the skyline. Constructed in 1937, the structure showcases many elements typically found in Eastern Christian churches.
One of the highlights is the impressive iconostasis, a wall adorned with icons and religious paintings that separates the nave from the sanctuary. The original artwork reflects a blend of Renaissance style, which aimed to assimilate new immigrants into Western culture during the church’s early years. Notably, the paintings in the entryway depict children, inspired by the young members of the congregation.
The Assumption Greek Orthodox Church is also renowned for its remarkable stained glass windows. These captivating windows feature sharp geometric shapes and draw inspiration from Byzantine influences, adding a touch of splendor to the sacred space. The interplay of light and color through the stained glass creates an ambiance that invites contemplation and reverence.
Despite the changing landscape around it, the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church continues to be a cherished place of worship, preserving Greek traditions, culture, and spirituality. It serves as a source of unity, offering solace and strength to its community members, and stands as a testament to the enduring beauty of Byzantine architectural heritage in the heart of Chicago.