Salt Lake City, December 13, 2015
He wears a long beard and a long, black cassock wherever he goes, which often produces stares from inquisitive onlookers.
"People were welcoming … curious about who I was because of what I was wearing, but weren't afraid to have a conversation," said Rev. Father John Mahfouz.
He wears the traditional, ascetical garb of the Orthodox Christian Church which he says has helped him, his wife and young children fit in in Salt Lake City.
"We feel that this is a good place to raise a family," Father Mahfouz said. "So, we're very happy."
On Sunday, the Los Angeles native was ordained a priest by His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph Al-Zehlaoui — the archbishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America — at Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church.
In an ancient ceremony during the Divine Liturgy, Father Mahfouz was led into the sanctuary to kneel before the altar. By laying his hands on Father Mahfouz's head, Metropolitan Joseph prayed that God would bless the newly-ordained so that he can "stand in innocence before thine altar, to proclaim the gospel of thy kingdom … to offer unto thee spiritual gifts and sacrifices."
Then, the archbishop bestowed new vestments upon Father Mahfouz as the packed church shouted "he is worthy" in English, Arabic and Greek.
Father Mahfouz will serve as the parish's assistant pastor, having served as a deacon there for the past 14 months.
He and the parish's pastor, Rev. Father Justin Havens, minister to a multi-cultural community of 200 people that is growing by converts to the faith, transplants from other areas, and the children they're having and baptizing.
"Orthodox Christianity is growing here in Salt Lake City," Father Havens said. "Many people are looking for a faith that isn't changing and has historical roots."
Among its ministries, Saints Peter and Paul Church has a parochial school — a home school co-op — that meets each Thursday, plus a Sunday School. The parish has teen and adult ministries, as well as divine services twice a day, seven days a week.
"People walk into the building and feel they're experiencing something that is not of this world," Father Mahfouz said. "This is the presence of God."
Both Fathers Havens and Mahfouz said the community has outgrown its home, which opened as a Jewish synagogue in 1903.
Now, they're looking for at least five acres somewhere in the south valley where they and their parishioners can build a new church.
"It's a great problem," Father Havens said. On the new property, the parish wants to establish a full-time school.
"We have so many kids. We love downtown, but there's no place for them to run," he said.
The community would not sell the current facility at 355 S. 300 East, but perhaps use it for outreach to the homeless.
"Some just need help with a meal, or just laundry," Father Mahfouz said. "Once we establish a new home for our parish community, we can give more attention to the needs of Utah as a whole."