About St George & St Rueiss Coptic Orthodox Church
His Holiness the late Pope Shenouda III asked Dr. Mahfouz Awad, currently known as Fr. Rueiss Awad, to start a new church in the heart of Toronto. He asked him to build the largest possible Church, and to finish it from within gradually.
Mahfouz proposed the name of “St. George & St. Rueiss” for the new church. Pope Shenouda agreed to this name at the Papal Residence in Anba Rueiss Abassya Cairo, on Thursday June 15, 1989.
Mahfouz was ordained and became Father Rueiss on the Feast of the Pentecost on Sunday June 18, 1989.The newly ordained priest has to spend 40 days after his ordination in a monastery. Father Rueiss went to the monastery of Anba Bishoy in Wadi Elnatron, Egypt. His return to Toronto was on Sunday August 6, 1989, and he was received at St. Mark Church in Scarborough. His first Divine Liturgy was at St. Mark on Sunday August 13, 1989.
First Temporary Home:
“Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.” (Mark 9:4)
"For he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb.11: 10)
At this point in time, the new church had neither home, nor congregation. Upon the arrival of Father Rueiss to Toronto, he started seeking a temporary home for the church. The first board members of the church were appointed. The hands of the Lord directed the search for one of the buildings to the United Church on Avenue Road.
The First Divine Liturgy for the church was on Sunday, August 20, 1989.
The first feast in the church was for St. Mary on August 22, 1989. Pope Shenouda’s first visit to the church was in this building on Wednesday August 30, 1989, and during his historical visit to North America in 1989
The Blessing of the Foundation Stone:
“What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” (John 13:7)
Now, the new church consisted of a fatherly priest, board members, a small Coptic congregation, and it resided in a temporary home as well. A license for the church was issued. The goal moved forward to create a permanent residence.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda wished a Coptic style building during his visit of this temporary home on August 30, 1989. His Holiness added that traveling to Egypt should not be the only way for our youth to see the Coptic Church model.
Some of the church members donated a piece of land in the suburbs of Toronto to build the new church at the intersection of Woodbine and Sixteenth Avenue. Pope Shenouda planned to come to Toronto on March 6, 1991 to bless the foundation stone. Prior to this date two new developments occurred. Firstly, the city rejected approving re-zoning this land for the purpose of a church. Secondly, Pope Shenouda moved up his arrival to Toronto by two days.
On Monday March 4, 1991 Pope Shenouda arrived to Toronto, and blessed the Foundation Stone while the Church had no known permanent location. The Foundation Stone is still dated March 6, 1991, but it was blessed on March 4.
The church found two separate temporary homes; the first location was in the theater of a Catholic School for girls (Loretta Abby) close to the intersection of Yonge and Wilson. This theater was for Sunday Divine Liturgy. The second location was in a Presbyterian Church close to the intersection of Sheppard and Don Mills, and was used for the activities during the rest of the week.
The Church did not cancel any Divine Liturgy even for one week, and never limited its daily activities. On some occasions like the Last Friday of fasting, the church found a third place in a building for the disabled on Bayview Avenue. The deacons sometimes had to carry the needed Holy utensils from place to another.
The homes of some of the congregation were other temporary church residences as well. The Loaves of the Offering of Oblation (Corban) were baked in those homes.
The Permanent Home of the Church:
“And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Matt. 21:22
The effort for finding a permanent location for the church went in vain until 1992. Several offers for many locations were unsuccessful until a new location emerged on the intersection of Don Mills and York Mills. It was an old factory of over 1.34 Acres at 141 Bond Avenue. It was said that Father Rueiss was reluctant to get out of the car to see an out of reach piece of land for about 1.5 million. Many objected to the idea of paying that price for land only.
With the blessing of the Lord, the deal was closed for a price of $1.34 Million, and the title of the land was transferred to the church on October 31, 1992. It is well known that October 31, is the feast of St. Rueiss, the intercessor of the church.
There was an old factory on the land, but the zoning of this area included a church. The church submitted an application for change of use from a factory to a church. The application included all the details of the building. This was not easy work to be done. It needed plenty of time, effort, and money. Scotia Bank approved a loan for the church after examining the church budget and after some members acted as guarantors. The church building alone cannot be considered collateral for a bank loan, as there would not be many buyers for such a building.
The well-known late Coptic architect Mophed El Sefee designed the church. He designed many other Coptic Churches before. Hadi Khosam was the civil engineer, and the builder. Excavation of the land began on November 16, 1993. This time was the feast of St. George, the church’s intercessor. There was serious trouble in the water supply for the church as the pipes were shared with another neighboring building. Its solution needed some time, engineering consultation, plenty of legalities, and of course, huge fees.
Prior to finishing the building, the church was informed about demolishing the Anglican church of St. Hilda on Dufferin Street at Eglinton Avenue. They offered their expensive wooden seats for free. They were brought to the church on February 28, 1994, and on March 30, 1994. A hotel also offered its luxurious chairs to the church.
There is no need to say that during the time of the construction of this permanent residence the church was renting the other places.
Official Opening of St George and St Ruiess:
“Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid. Then He went up into the boat to them. And the wind ceased.” (Mark 6:50-51) “Do you see that faith was working together with works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:22)
The church received permission to use the building from the city on Friday April 7, 1995. The church celebrated the opening of her building on the evening of Saturday April 8, 1995. This was less than six years after the birth of the Church on June 15, 1989. His Grace Bishop Rueiss cut the opening ribbon for the church; at the same time a White Dove flew over the place. Bishop Rueiss allowed the congregation to express its joy in spite of it being Holy Lent at that time. The mortgage of the church at the time of its opening was $ 4.5 million.
The Last Sunday Divine Liturgy held in the theater of Loretta Abby was on April 2, 1995. The Last Divine liturgy at the church in Don Mills was on Saturday April 8, 1995.
The first Divine Liturgy in the new building was on Sunday April 9, 1995, which was Baptismal Sunday. The first Feast was Palm Sunday on April 16, 1995. The first Easter was on the Saturday evening of April 22, 1995.
Mayor Mel Lastman described the church as the most beautiful building in the city of North York.