The Greek Orthodox Church in Alabama today has approximately 2,800 members in five parishes. The first church was established in Birmingham in 1906, and there are also congregations in west-central Baldwin County and in Mobile.
The Greek Orthodox Church was formed in 1054 when the Roman Catholic Church split over the status of bishops as successors to the Apostle Paul, changes to the Nicene Creed, and the issue of allowing the lower priesthood to marry. The Greek Orthodox Church characterizes itself as following the practices established by seven ecumenical councils that took place between the years 325 and 787. Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, oversees approximately 300 million Greek Orthodox members worldwide. Greek Orthodox churches are noted for their domed architecture and intricate and highly decorative furnishings, which include widely admired painted icons. The priests' elaborate vestments are worn in highly stylized liturgical services that incorporate extensive use of candles and incense. The Greek Orthodox Church of America was incorporated in 1921 and officially recognized by the state of New York in 1922. The Archdiocese in New York oversees the 1.5 million U.S. members and the eight metropolises, which are ecclesiastical provinces.
Alabama's Greek Orthodox churches are presided over by the Greek Orthodox Metropolis in Atlanta. Alabama's first church, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, was established in Birmingham in 1906. As Birmingham's Greek community expanded, it outgrew the first church, and so the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church was established in 1933. In 1953, the two churches merged and became Holy Trinity–Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Each September, the cathedral draws thousands of people to its Greek festival for a taste of traditional Greek foods and pastries and an opportunity to watch and participate in traditional Greek dances.
Mobile's first Greek Orthodox parish, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, celebrated its first mass on January 26, 1912. Originally served periodically by a priest who traveled from Florida, the church hired its first permanent priest and teacher in November 1926. Local Greek entrepreneur James Malbis paid the priest's $1,800 salary that first year. He would later help to establish a church in Daphne. The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church also hosts a large Greek Fest each September as a fundraiser for charities. Montgomery's Greek community established its church, the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, in 1943, and Huntsville's Holy Cross–Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church was established officially in 1964.
The Malbis Memorial Church in Daphne has a unique history. It was built in honor of humanitarian and philanthropist, James Malbis, who emigrated from Greece in 1906. While visiting Baldwin County, Malbis claimed to have seen a sign from God in the sky and purchased 120 acres of land, which he later expanded to 600 acres, to establish a farming commune. Self-sustaining by 1926, Malbis Plantation added a cannery, a bakery, an ice plant, and a power plant to produce electricity, among other facilities. The highway built to connect the community to main byways became U. S. Highway 90. Upon Malbis's death in Greece in 1942, and based on his request in a letter sent before his death asking that a church be established on the site, his followers raised money over a period of 15 years to build the church, which opened in 1965. Stunning mosaics adorn the exterior of the building, and striking murals that took more than eight months to finish decorate the interior walls and rotunda.
Published May 17, 2010
Last updated January 15, 2013