St. Thomas introduced Christianity in India in AD 52. Yep, we were introduced to Christianity by an Apostle of Christ himself. He preached about Christ and converted many to Christianity and was martyred in Madras in AD 72. Those 20 years of his ministry in India not only established strong Christianity in the state of Kerala (South India) but in this year 2014, I can proudly say we now have Malankara Orthodox Christians in all parts of the world. The Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Church is an autocephalous church. Now, from the established Malankara Orthodox Church in India, how did the Church find its way to the United States of America?
Well, in 1965, the U.S. legislation passed a law that allowed thousands of qualified professionals to be able to come to America. Along with them came our South Indian community. In this foreign land, it was a struggle as they tried to “transplant their faith, culture, and language” through Church. There were also many clergy who had come to America seeking higher education in Theology. The Malankara community was few in numbers and they did not have much to support clergy and so even the priests had to find jobs in order to support themselves. They worked at restaurants and gas stations as bus boy, waiter, elevator operator, and more. It was mainly women nurses who came to America first seeking better opportunities for them and their family in India. The communities grew as the women went back to India for marriage and brought their husbands to America with them. The Malayalee(term for those who speak Malayalam, the official language of Kerala) community grew and began to form in many of the major cities such as New York City, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Boston.
The Holy Synod, seeing all these growing communities outside Kerala, put America under the diocese in Bombay, which is currently Mumbai. Then in 1979, the American Diocese was formed under the Late Lamented Metropolitan Dr. Thomas Mar Makarios. Although he was teaching at Alma College in Michigan, he lived in New York. In 1992, the Late Lamented Metropolitan Mathews Mar Barnabas was enthroned as the second bishop of the North American Diocese. Due to the growth of the Malankara Orthodox communities in America the North American Diocese formed into two dioceses in 2010: Northeast American Diocese and the Diocese of Southwest America. The Northeast American Diocese was under the leadership of the Late Lamented Metropolitan Mathews Mar Barnabas and Assistant Metropolitan, His Grace Zachariah Mar Nicholovos. After the passing of Metropolitan Mathews Mar Barnabas, His Grace Zachariah Mar Nicholovos was enthroned as the Metropolitan. The Diocese of Southwest America is under the leadership of Metropolitan Alexios Mar Eusebius. These dioceses were formed so that the still increasing parishes and communities can have an even closer relationship and can be better overseen by their respective Metropolitan. The headquarters of the Diocese of Southwest America is in Houston, Texas and the headquarters of the Northeast Diocese remained in New York.
In the 20th century, priests were primarily brought from India to be made vicars of our parishes in America. It’s amazing to recognize that in the 21st century, there have been a growing number of American born Indian men who were inspired to go to an Orthodox seminary in America to be ordained into the priesthood. Although the primary language of liturgy was Malayalam in the 20th century, the Church has grown with English translations for prayers and liturgies to be conducted often in the parishes. The young clergy who were brought up in America have a huge impact on the growing use of English within the Church for all services especially for the youth. In 2012, young Malayalee Orthodox members, with the blessing of the Metropolitan, formed a mission parish in Dallas, Texas with full use of the English language in a liturgical setting as the second established mission parish in America, the first being a mix of Oriental Orthodox mission parish in Spokane, Washington. No matter where Orthodox South Indians travel to in the world, they will feel at home as they easily find the local Malankara Orthodox parish, especially in America.
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- Varghese, Gregory, “Rise of the Malankara Orthodox Church in America” M.Div. thesis, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 2000.
- Daniel, David, “The Orthodox Church of India”. New Delhi , 1986.