Who We Are (History)

St. John's Orthodox Church, Rockland, NY
 

The St. John’s Malankara Orthodox Church of India Rockland Inc. has been in existence since 1996. 

Sunday services are held in our Church building at 331 Blaisdell Road, Orangeburg, NY 10962 from 8.30 am to 11.00 am.  On the average about 180-200 people attend the weekly service. In addition, to the regular service, the Church also provides spiritual and moral education to the younger generation. 17 children are serving in the altar. Sunday School Classes are held every week from 11.00 am to noon.  Every Sunday there is Sunday School, which encompasses Bible study, moral instruction, church history and instruction related to the Faith and Holy Sacraments. Our children are brought up in discipline to work hard and support this country and the Church the best way possible. In addition, we have Student Movement, Youth Movement, Ladies Forum, Couples Forum and Men’s Forum, who are engaged in different intra and interdenominational and social activities that bring amity and understanding in the community.

The primary focus of the Parish for 2010 was purchasing a property in Orangeburg, NY to be a place of worship for the congregation. On 11/23/2010 we purchased our own building at 331, Blaisdell Rd, Orangeburg, NY 10962 for $1.1 million which was converted to a church. The parish also own another old Church Building and 0.7 acres of land in Southfields, New York.  This property was purchased from the United Methodist Church, Harriman, NY. 

Our Church is very active in charitable activities.  In 2010, the major charitable activity that we participated in was providing humanitarian assistance to the victims of the earth quake in Haiti. Other activities include participation in the Joint Council of Churches (JCC) in Rockland County.  JCC is an organization that promotes ecumenism and understanding between members of different Christian Faiths. Our vicar, Rev Dr.Varghese M Daniel is working as the current president of JCCR. In 2011 February we conducted a blood drive in cooperation with the American Red Cross. We also conduct many charity works for the poor and the needy in US and and abroad.

 
 
Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Church
Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Church consists of more than two million people, 29 dioceses, 2010 parishes, 33 Bishops, 2460 priests, 120 deacons several educational, health and charitable institutions all over the world.

 Malankara Orthodox Church is an ancient Church of India and it traces its origin to as far back as A. D. 52 when St. Thomas one of the disciples of Jesus Christ came to India and established Christianity in the South Western parts of the sub-continent.

The St. Thomas Christians or the Syrian Christians exist at present in different churches and denominations. But a major section of the parent body of St. Thomas Christians which has maintained its independent nature constitutes the Orthodox Church under the Catholicate of the East with headquarters at Devalokam, Kottayam. The American diocese head quarter is located at Mutton Town, NY.

The beginning of the Church (Ad 52-1498)

That the Apostle Thomas, one of the Twelve is the founder of the St. Thomas Christians has been well established. Christian writers and representatives of the Churches at least from the 4th century refer to the evangelistic labours of the Apostle Thomas in India and the Indian Christians ascribe the origin of their Church to this event in the first century.

It is reasonable to believe that the Apostle came to India, preached the Gospel, established the Church and died here as a Martyr. Tradition has it that the Apostle Thomas established Seven Churches in Kerala and appointed Priests for them from 4 families. The Indian Church came in contact with the East Syrian Church possibly from the 4th century. In the 5th century, the church of Persia came to its own. The Catholicos with his seat at Selucia-Ctesiphon began to be called also Patriarch and in 486 A.D., the Church officially accepted a resolution in its Synod to recognise Nestorius as a Saint and Church Father. The decision was not however accepted by a minority of Persian Christians who acknowledged a Catholicos at Tigrit in northern Mesopotomia as their spiritual head in 629 A. D.

We have evidence that in the 8th century the Indian Church had its primate known as "The Metropolitan and the Gate of All India" a title adopted presumably under Islamic influences. The Vatican Codex 22, written in Cranganore in 1301 gives the title as "The Metropolitan of the Throne of St. Thomas and of the whole Church of the Christian India."

The Indian Church maintained its autonomous administration. The Church of Persia had a tradition which acknowledged autonomy of Churches in its communion abroad. The Church in Kerala continued as an administratively independent community till the 16th century.

(1498-1912)

Things changed during the Portuguese period. The missionaries who came from abroad were eager to bring the Indian Church into communion with Rome. They worked on it almost through the 16th century. In 1599 by the Synod of Diamper, the assembly of representatives from churches was forced to give up the Indian Church’s connection with the Patriarch of the Persian Church in favour of the Pope of Rome. But there was dissatisfaction among the people which led to a general revolt in 1653 known commonly as the Coonan Cross revolt. Portuguese efforts to put it down by force did not succeed. Now Rome entered the field directly through missionaries, and a section of those who rebelled went back to Roman allegiance.

A body of the people led by the Archdeacon, who stood for the administrative autonomy of the Indian Church inspite of serious difficulties, were determined to keep the independence of the Indian Church. The Portuguese were in fact instrumental in causing a division in the one united church in India. Although they succeeded in getting the alleganice of a party in the Church to the Roman Catholic community, an equally important party did not follow their way.

 

The party that sought to preserve the Church’s freedom appealed to several Eastern Christian Centres for help in restoring its episcopal succession. The Antiochene Syrian Patriarch responded and sent to India a Bishop, Metropolitan Mar Gregorios of Jerusalem who came to India in 1665. The Archdeacon who had been declared in the meantime to be Metropolitan Mar Thoma by the laying on of hands by twelve Presbyters was now confirmed by him in his episcopal rank, and both of them worked together to organise the church on firm footing. Mar Thoma I was followed in succession by a series of Prelates with the same name till 1816 when the last of them namely Mar Thomas IX came to the scene, but was soon replaced by Mar Dionysius II.

Malankara Orthodox Church had felt the need of assistance for establishing systematic education for its clergy, teaching the people in the faith, instructing the clergy in properly celebrating the liturgical services and above all assistance in the maintenance of the episcopal succession intact. But the Orthodox Church maintained its autonomous administration and life under local leadership. Even the help from the Antiochene Syrian Patriarch was without any idea of formally submitting to his jurisdiction but only for an over all spiritual supervision and of keeping a friendly relation.

There were differences of opinion over the authority of the Patriarch in the Malankara Church and it created certain difficulties. But the Church has always been successful in maintaining its freedom and never allowed any foreign domination.

 

By 1795 the British established themselves in South India and Kerala came under their sway. During the time of Col. Munroe who was the British Resident in Kerala, Pulikottil Ittoop Ramban expressed his interest in founding a Seminary for the teaching of the Church’s Clergy. The Resident supported him and the seminary was founded in 1815. Pulikottil Ittoop Ramban became a Bishop - Metropolitan Mar Dionysius II.

From 1816 the experiment of co-operation between the Malankara Church and the C.M.S. of the Anglican Church was carried on, but it was found to be unsuccessful and was called off in 1836.

This incident led to the division of the community into three bodies. One of them, a reformed group tried to make serious reforms in the liturgy and practices of the Church as a whole but failed. After about half a century of conflict within the church this body had to withdraw and organise itself as the Mar Thoma Syrian Church. A small body of the Syrian Christians opted to join with the missionaries and be absorbed in the Anglican Church. The majority of the community continued in the Church without accepting the reforms.

The conflict between the body which adopted the reform and that which opposed it, was a serious development in the church during the 19th century. This led to the latter to appeal for help from the Antiochene Syrian Patriarch. In 1875 Patriarch Peter III came to Kerala and held a Synod of representatives of Churches at Mulanthuruthy in 1876. This Synod adopted a number of resolutions including an admission that the Church would continue in the communion of the Patriarch and the Syrian Church of Antioch. However the Patriarch tried to see in these decisions more than the Indian Church really wanted to acknowledge.

Following the Synod of Mulanthuruthy in 1876 a litigation in court between the party in favour of the reforms and the party against it continued. It came to an end in 1889 with the judgement announced in favour of the latter by the then highest court of Kerala, the Royal Court of Appeal. The majority in a panel of three judges gave their verdict admitting that from the middle of the 18th century an over-all spiritual supervision used to be exercised by the Patriarch over the Malankara Church and that he had a right to claim it.

Patriarch Peter III was not satisfied with this judgement. He was keen to establish that he had full authority over the Malankara Church both in its spiritual and in its temporal matters and not merely an over all spiritual supervision. In fact he protested though nobody responsible in the matter took note of it. His second successor Patriarch Mar Abdullah II was determined to follow up the matter. With this intention he came to Kerala in 1909 and pressed the issue. But that led to sad division in the Church from 1911, one party siding with the Patriarch and the other lining up with Metropolitan Mar Dionysius VI of Vattasseril who stood against him and wanted to keep up the independence of Malankara Church.

Catholicate established in Malankara in 1912

In this conflict the Metropolitan could obtain the support of Patriarch Mar Abdul Messiah the immediate successor to Patriarch Peter III. Patriarch Peter III was succeeded in 1895 by Mar Abdul Messiah. By a state interference he had lost his position in Turkey and came to be replaced by Mar Abdullah. While Metropolitan Mar Dionysius VI clashed with Mar Abdullah, the Canonical senior Patriarch Mar Abdul Messiah offered to come to the assistance of the former. Thus in 1912 he came to Kerala and associated with Mar Dionysius VI and the Bishops and the Church with him, to establish the Catholicate of the East in Malankara. The ceremony was held at St. Mary’s Church, Niranam on 15th September 1912; Niranam Church is one of the seven Churches founded by St. Thomas during his visit here in the first century.

The Catholicate of the East was thus established in Malankara with the co-operation of the Canonical Patriarch Mar Abdul Messiah who was senior to Mar Abdullah. Thereby the Patriarch himself has withdrawn his right of spiritual oversight if any in the Indian Church, which the Royal Court of Appeal had acknowledged for him in 1889.

The designation "Catholicos of the East" to the successors of St. Thomas the Apostle was given by the Jerusalem Synod of AD 231. The head quarters of the Orthodox Church of the East was first at Uraha (Edessa) in Persia. This was moved to ‘Selucia’ and it was there the tittle "Catholicos of the East" originated. Catholicos is an ecclesiastical dignitary recognised in the Antiochene Syrian Church also. He is equal in rank with the Patriarch though the latter is considered as first among equals (primus interparees).

Constitution of the Church adopted in 1934

Malankara Orthodox Church is now administered as per the constitution adopted in 1934 which was passed by the Malankara Syrian Christian Association. The Association is a fully representative body of the Church with elected members-priests and laymen-from all the Parish Churches. Now one Priest each and laymen 1 to 10 depending on the number of members in each parish are members of the Association. There are about 1400 parishes under the Malankara Orthodox Church. It is the Association which elects the Catholicos and the Malankara Metropolitan and also the Bishops.

There is a Managing Committee for the Association with members from each Diocese elected by the Association. The Malankara Metropolitan is the President of the Managing Committee and the remaining Prelates having administrative charge are the Vice-Presidents.

The Association Managing Committee has a Working Committee with Malankara Metropolitan as its President. The Working Committee is also the Consultative Committee of the Malankara Metropolitan.

The Episcopal Synod has all the Prelates of the Malankara Church as members. Matters concerning Faith, Order and Discipline are under the authority of the Episcopal Synod. It is the Episcopal Synod which installs the Catholicos.

 

Malankara Church in USA

 

The history of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of the East in the U.S.A. begins approximately in the mid 20th century. During this period, a number of prominent priests and laity came to the U.S.A. for higher studies and training. In 1965, the United States' legislation passed a new bill which cleared the way for thousands of professionally qualified individuals to make their way to America. Many Malankara Orthodox Christians, who were in search of a better life for themselves and their families, came to the United States during this time. After 1970, the Malankara Orthodox Church gradually began to take root in many of the major US cities. Many of the new congregations were faced with uncertainties regarding the fate of the Church in America. As time passed, the growing number of clergy and laity proved that the Malankara Orthodox Church would be a permanent body in the United States. The question of ecclesiastical authority and how this body should be structured was a chief point of concern among the clergy and other church officials. Despite the hardships taking place within the Church, "pioneer" priests worked hard to establish parishes in order to serve the needs of the growing number of Malankara immigrants to the United States.

The year 1976 was a very important year for the Church, especially here in America. The Holy Synod decided to establish more dioceses to better administer the flock in various parts of the world. At this time, the numerous churches in America were placed under the authority of the Metropolitan of the Bombay Diocese, Thomas Mar Makarios, who had spent time in America as a student. Under the leadership of Mar Makarios, the Holy Synod made a momentous decision and granted the parishes in America their own Diocese, creating the American Diocese. Mar Makarios was given authority of the American Diocese and the enthronement of the newly elected Metropolitan Mar Makarios was held at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, under the authority of the Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan, Baselius Mar Thoma Mathews I, on July 14, 1979. The enthronement was well attended by many leaders of the Orthodox Churches, as well as representatives from various other denominations. Notable during this time was the grand celebration of Saint Thomas Day by parishioners and church leaders across the nation at Union Theological Seminary, NY. During the tenure of Mar Makarios as Metropolitan, the Diocese saw growth in a dramatic fashion and the number of parishes grew to almost fifty strong. Along with this, the dedicated service of the priests in America added to the unity, prosperity and growth of the Diocese.

In 1991, the Diocese came under the direct control of a Malankara Metropolitan who was assisted by Mathews Mar Barnabas. For one year, the Diocese continued in this manner, until control came under the full authority of Mathews Mar Barnabas. The enthronement ceremony was held in March 1993 on a grand scale at St. Mary's West Sayville under the authority of the Catholicos of the East, Baselius Mar Thoma Mathews II, and was attended by representatives from across the Diocese.

Under the leadership of Mar Barnabas, the Diocese had grown both spiritually and physically. Most notable of all Mar Barnabas' accomplishments is the development of spiritual organizations, such as MGOCSM and Sunday School. He gave both organizations a national structure and administration. In 2002, Zachariah Mar Nicholovos, a young, talented leader and orator joined the Diocese as the assistant to Mar Barnabas. With his assistance, the Diocese has grown even further. In January 2011, Mar Barnabas retired from the office due to his ill health.  By the order of H H Catholicose and Holy Synod Zachariah Mar Nicholovos has taken the office. St. Johns Church of Rockland is one of the parishes in this diocese.

 

 

 

3. The Organisation of the Hierarchy

 

The Church is ruled and governed by the Church Constitution of 1934. True to the Orthodox Christian tradition, the Malanakara Orthodox Church employs an administrative system which is a perfect blend of episcopacy and democracy.

 

The primate of the Church is called Catholicose of the East. The Church is divided into 25 dioceses with a bishop heading each diocese. Bishop is the highest title of dignity and every clergyman serving at this level (metropolitan, archbishop and bishop) can be called Bishop. The next lower level is occupied by the parish priests (Presbyters). They are entitled to head the life of the parishes in cities and villages. The lowest level of clergy is the Deacon. They help Bishops and Priests to perform the mysteries; they do not do it by themselves. The older deacons are called archdeacons.

 

The Malankara Syrian Association is the parliament of the Church which is a body of bishops and elected laity and clergy representatives from all the parishes. This Association meets on special occasions to take important decisions pertaining to the entire church.

The Association also elects a Managing Committee for carrying out administrative activities on behalf of the Association. The number of laity members of this committee is double that of the clergy, which indicates the participative nature of laity in church matters. The Episcopal Synod comprising of all the Bishops of the church is the authority regarding Faith, Order and Discipline. The Synod is also responsible to install the Catholicos designated by the Association.

This St. Johns Church is under the guidance of North-East American diocese of Malankara Orthodox Church, NY. 


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