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Festival 2003


Holy Nativity church was founded after a conference on June 8, 1939 of 30 men and 13 women. As quickly as one week after this meeting, the new membership had already increased to 72 members. Moving quickly, the members elected their new Church Council and nominated George Voina, the founder of the church, as the first President. The church is named Holy Nativity Romanian Orthodox Church.

On July 15, 1939 the newly formed church purchased a building at 1111 W. Belden Ave. in Chicago from the Seminary and Federal Church, with the sum of $6,750 and a down payment of $25 in order to establish a permanent home. In August of the same year, the Ladies' Auxiliary "St. Mary" was formed with their mission being to support the growth and prosperity of the church.

The first permanent priest for the newly formed congregation was Fr. George Branut, who served until 1942. After his departure, the parish was faced with a shortage of priests. For this reason, the church membership elected that cantor Roman Taran be ordained as a priest and serve at Holy Nativity. After serving for seven years, Fr. Roman Taran relocated to California and the parish was once again faced with the problem of finding a permanent priest who would also facilitate the growth and prosperous future of Holy Nativity Church.

By 1950, the situation for a permanent priest had still not yet been resolved. However, Nicolae Zmed recommended his son, Fr. George Zmed, who at the time was still living in Romania. The emigration forms are filed immediately following, it was still only in 1952 when Fr. Zmed and his family finally arrived in Chicago. In 1953, the number of church members had increased to 93. Up until this time, The Holy Nativity church had functioned as an independent parish with no affiliations to existing Orthodox Episcopates. This was soon to change. On July 6, 1958, Holy Nativity General Assembly decided to request of His Grace Bishop Valerian to accept the church under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America and Canada headquartered at the Vatra in Jackson, Michigan. Shortly following, festivities were held on October 12th to celebrate the acceptance of Holy Nativity in to the Episcopate. This move proved to be a healthy change for the parish, with the membership already increasing to 162.

In 1959, the young members of Holy Nativity started a local chapter of the national organization known as A.R.O.Y. (American-Romanian Orthodox Youth). Their mission was the support of the local parish as well as participation and support of the national Episcopate. It gave them a way to meet others of their age from the same heritage as well as a platform for furthering the Orthodox faith.

In 1969, the location of the church had become a problem. The church's location happened to fall in an area on Belden Street which had become part of the of the urban renewal plan. On July 13 of the same year, the church was forced by the "Urban Renewal Department" to relocate and find a new building for holding mass. By September, the church had found and purchased a building at 6450-52 N. Paulina Street in Chicago. During this period of uncertainty, however, the membership for Holy Nativity suffered and had decreased to 155 by the end of the year.

Fr. George Zmed formally retired in 1983 and on July 1st, 1983 Fr. Simion Pavel is named parish priest. With membership increasing every year, it quickly became apparent that a new church would be necessary in order to serve the needs of all parishioners. During the following years, a search had begun for either an existing larger church building or land on which to build a new church from the ground up. The need for a bigger church became more acute after the 1989 events in Romania. With a sudden influx of immigrants from Romania, the membership of Holy Nativity began to grow exponentially and the current location could no longer function appropriately for the parish.

After many years of looking, in January 1997, John Pop Jr. found an existing church for sale at 2820 W. Ardmore Ave. in Chicago. After deliberation, the parish General Assembly decided in February 1997 to make the move and purchased the new church. The relocation proved beneficial; with a capacity of 350 seats, a parish house, a social hall, a large yard, and plenty of private and residential parking, it met all of the needs of the parish. Immediately after the purchase, work began to transform it from its existing Lutheran environment into an Orthodox church. A new iconostas was build, the interior walls were painted, icons were hung throughout the church, and a new choir balcony was built.

On September 19, 1997 the IPS Archbishop Nathaniel and many priests from throughout the Episcopate consecrated the new home of Holy Nativity. Hundreds of people attended the festivities surrounding this momentous event. By this time, the membership had already swelled to 570 families. With such a large parish to direct, it became clear that additional assistance would be needed to continue managing the parish with the same level of commitment and excellence. At the 2001 General Assembly, Fr. Simion Pavel requested an assistant priest and during the same year IPS Archbishop Nathaniel names Fr. Ioan Lupescu as Assistant Priest and Fr. Nicolae Izbasa as Attached Priest to the Holy Nativity church.

It is important to point out that from 1952 to the present, there have only been two priests who had served at Holy Nativity. Fr. George Zmed dedicated 31 years of service to the parish followed by the appointment of Fr. Simion Pavel in 1983 and his service up until today. From a spiritual perspective, Holy Nativity church followed the Orthodox rites through religious services, sermons, spiritual retreats and the spiritual preparation of the faithful for the Holy Sacraments. The spirituality of the faithful merged into forming a big church family, where everybody worked, prayed and prepared themselves for the salvation of their souls together. The parish truly became a ship sailing towards the Kingdom of Heavens. John Tomulet organizes the church choir in 1972, which carries his name even today. The "John Tomulet" choir continued without interruption from its inception, conducted by Dorina (Sarafoleanu) Scaunas, Cornel Husz and Dorin Crasovan. Holy Nativity as of today (2004) has over 700 families signed as members and is examining the possibility of enlarging the current church or building a new and more spacious one on the same property.

During this period, the love of the parishioners for their country of origin, which in the minds and hearts of the faithful, was never confused with the passing regimes, was demonstrated by their participation in numerous charities and by their continued efforts to strengthen the presence of Romanians in America. Before the 1989 revolutionary events, the church members sponsored the emigration of refugees from the refugee camps, and after 1989, they continue making donations through the Episcopate and directly to charities in order to help their countrymen. Holy Nativity made contributions to the churches in Romania, Romanian orphanages, Romanians struck with devastating illnesses or those who suffered terrible accidents.

During these years, in order to increase the Romanian presence in America, the church organized various Romanian programs within the Chicagoland area. In 1975, a Romanian folk dance ensemble was created and named "Miorita". The first instructor was Tavi Iovanescu, who was succeeded by Dr. Ilie Pavel, Liliana Ciupeiu and most recently Sever Rus. This ensemble kept alive the Romanian presence in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. The group continues to participate every year in the Museum of Science and Industry's "Christmas Around the World", at the Chicago City Hall for the May 10th celebration of Romania's Independence, in the annual Illinois State Fair festivities, at the Episcopate Congress at the Vatra, as well as other various ethnic festivals. In addition, Holy Nativity has organized every year since 1999 a Romanian Festival of music, dance and Romanian food on the church grounds in which the ensemble participates and all neighbors and parishioners can enjoy the Romanian heritage. In order to propagate the Romanian literary heritage, Prof. Dr. Gheorghe Radulescu formed the literary club "Mihai Eminescu" in 1992, which organizes literary evenings with lectures, poems reciting, and songs. Today, Prof. Stella Radulescu continues the activities of this club.

At the Episcopate Council held in 1992 at Holy Nativity church, Fr. Simion Pavel was named Archpriest of Midwest. This created better cooperation between Midwest parishes, priests and the faithful.

If we look how the parish started, how it evolved and where we are today, it is clear that the hardships encountered within the first few years of its inception only served to strengthen the young parish. Its independent spirit and the faith of the parishioners has continued to grow stronger over the years, and the priests dedicated their services for the best interests of the church, as our forefathers dedicated themselves to the faith of the Romanian people.

V. Rev. Fr. George Zmed, Historical Anniversary Album 1939 - 1989, Holy Nativity Romanian Orthodox Church, Chicago, Illinois, 1989

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Holy Nativity Romanian Orthodox Church Chicago