Category Archives: Church Year

A look at some events in the Church year

An Indian Church’s Colourful Tribute to Mary

WEST SAYVILLE, N.Y. — Without doubt, many more people line the sidewalks to see the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan than to watch the St. Mary Malankara Indian Orthodox Church’s annual Assumption Day Parade, which began here on Sunday with the usual blowing of the kumbu horn and the dancing of the koladi by the congregation’s teenage girls, dressed in saris and banging sticks.

But the Indians’ parade has its longtime devotees: neighborhood residents, mostly, who say they look forward to the procession because it is practically the only time when the people of the congregation venture outside, not counting getting in and out of their cars.

None of St. Mary’s 100 or so parishioners live in West Sayville, a predominantly white, middle-class community on Long Island’s South Shore where in the last few decades a surfeit of empty church buildings has attracted various religious communities on wheels.

The Indian congregants drive in from Queens, Brooklyn, western Nassau County and even New Jersey and Staten Island, to worship in a former Dutch Reformed Church building they bought in 1992. Inside, they speak Malayalam, the dialect of the Indian province where most have their roots, and they worship according to an Orthodox Christian liturgy that traces its origins to the teachings of the apostle Thomas.

At an hour or more, their road time is longer than the average trip to church, but national surveys show that most Americans travel farther to religious services than they used to, just as they journey farther to work. Except for Orthodox Jews, who are required to do so, hardly anyone walks to a house of worship anymore — a shift in the landscape that may be best illustrated by the now-unimaginable tableau of Norman Rockwell’s 1953 work “Walking to Church.”

In West Sayville, the congregation and its parade have assumed a mysterious, almost mythical status, despite the procession’s official permit and the three Suffolk County police cars assigned to traffic control.

“If you didn’t actually see this with your own eyes, and some people around here haven’t, you might think I was making it up,” said Christopher Bodkin, a local historian and a former town councilman. “I mean it is so rococo, wonderful, Hindu-esque, with the flower petals, the girls holding the decorative parasols — everything but the elephants.”

On Sunday, people watched with a mixture of fascination and neighborly nonchalance as the procession made its way around the block, marking the annual observance of Mary’s ascent into heaven. At the front was a float with posters of Mary and Thomas and other saints perched on cottony white clouds. Then came the men playing the Indian kumbu horn and chemda drums, the women keeping time with little brass cymbals called Ilathalam, then the littlest girls in angel wings and then the teenagers dancing.

The congregation’s women followed behind, pastel-colored saris billowing in the breeze as they flung paper flowers of red and blue. Bringing up the rear was a car carrying the Rev. Paulose Adai, the parish priest, whose plaintive singing of the devotional hymns was greatly amplified from a loudspeaker on the vehicle’s roof.

“Usually, they’re very quiet people,” said Kathy Ahern, a neighbor, shouting to be heard over the din. “I mean, this is the only day we hear anything from them at all.” She laughed.

Across the street, some people sat on their porches, glancing occasionally over the tops of their newspapers at the passing parade.

Malankara Christians trace their origins to the first century A.D., when St. Thomas is said to have taken the heavily traveled trade route from the eastern Mediterranean to Kerala, a province on the southwest coast of India where today about 20 percent of the population is Christian. They have had churches in the United States since the early 20th century, but have grown significantly since the 1970s, when immigration policy opened the doors to many nurses trained in the Christian hospitals of Kerala. Nationwide there are about 100 parishes.

Though the churches hew closely to Orthodox Christian liturgy, members also sustain many Indian cultural traditions. Worshipers remove their shoes before entering the church. Men and women sit separately.

And as is still customary in large segments of Indian society, young people accept the notion that their parents will be deeply involved in their selection of a mate.

“It’s not, like, ‘arranged marriage.’ But your parents have to approve of him, and have a meeting with his parents, and you probably wouldn’t marry anyone outside your religion,” said Judy Geevarghese, 30, who is married to Christopher Geevarghese, 28, whom she met at a cousin’s wedding in another St. Mary Malankara parish. They have a daughter, Arianna, 19 months old.

Varghese Poulos, one of the congregation’s founders, said church members originally met in a rented basement in Astoria, Queens. Every Sunday, it had to be completely furnished — from the portable altar to the folding chairs.

Finding out that there was an empty church for sale, even an hour’s drive away, was “like a miracle to us,” he said.

Mr. Bodkin, the former councilman, suggested there was an oddity in the move: The Indian Orthodox congregation, with its bells and drums, had taken over what was once an outpost of the strictest Calvinist worship.

There is no Dutch Reformed Church in the United States anymore. It has splintered into several new churches. But Jim Stasny, a former pastor of one of those offspring churches in West Sayville, who now lives in Washington, D.C., said he was pleased that someone was putting the building to good use.

“It would be better, perhaps, if they weren’t honoring saints, of course — we don’t believe in saints, you know,” he said. “But hey, things have changed. We wish those folks well.”

Happy and Blessed New Year 1726 AM (Age of Martyrs)…

It is believed that the ancient Egyptians were the first to arrange a calendar, the Alexandrian Calendar; this became the Julian calendar when it was adopted in the west under Julius Caesar.nile

The original Calendar was organised by astronomy which was considerably accurate and was developed to aid in agriculture.

The calendar we use is derived from a Catholic Pope Gregory of the 16th century, known the Gregorian calendar.  The western calendar was based not on the stars but on the cycle of the sun.

The Julian Calendar Day is made up of six hours, as we see in our Agpeya prayer book.

Friday marked the first day of the Coptic Year of 1726 am. 

In the year 284 AD, a very wicked emperor of Rome named Diocletian led a campaign of terror aimed at stamping out Christianity, wherein genocide was unleashed against the Church of God and so began the great persecution of Christians throughout the known world.

In memory of the honour of the blood of martyrs, we began our calendar at this point.  Consider that the Fathers of the Church never did anything without reason, and this date is no exception.  It is a call to remind us that true Christianity involves taking up one’s cross and denying self.  For some, this led to martyrdom.  Prior to the New Year we celebrated the feast of the martyrdom of St John the baptist, whose own sacrifice for pointing to the truth of the coming Kingdom of the Messiah was continued on in the life of the Church by the Apostles, when, like Christ, they were prepared to lay down their lives because of the great love they had in Christ, as well as their confidence in him.

Consider the witness of the confessors as well.  We mentioned already the apostles who were all except for one martyred. 

IgnatiusWatching some sports like football finals we see passions run high and the competitors give there all in their chosen sport.  The crowd’s passion too is caught up with the immense pressure on the players, and some thousands of people have their lives intertwined with the hopes and dreams of the players and the fellow supporters.  Spectators curse opposition players and referees, and cheer on their own favourite players as if their life depended on it.  Unfortunately, for some people, this is the extent of their lives.  Yet, consider for a moment what it was like in the Ancient Roman Empire.  They too held games, although we know that a great many of them were far more bloodthirsty than our modern sports.  Consider to the Coliseum of Rome.  The ground itself to the very grains of sand is hallowed by the shedding of Christian blood in the most awful of circumstances.  Imagine what they went through, the fear, the pain, the emotions considering their loved ones, and yet with boldness and great love for Christ they gave all for their love of Christ.  Some modern groups think it wrong to honour them, let me say it is wrong to not honour them!  For who could be more Christlike than one who gave up their lifeblood for His sake, just as He poured out His blood for the salvation of the world?

Some people think we worship the saints.  This is a misconception and misunderstanding of the way we act as Christians.  We believe wholeheartedly our family as the body of Christ extends beyond the grave into life eternal, and those holy ones who are part of the mystical body intercede for us before the throne of God.  St Augustine answered critics in his day about this very topic as follows…

Chapter 27.—Concerning the Nature of the Honor Which the Christians Pay to Their Martyrs.

But, nevertheless, we do not build temples, and ordain priests, rites, and sacrifices for these same martyrs; for they are not our gods, but their God is our God.  Certainly we honour their reliquaries, as the memorials of holy men of God who strove for the truth even to the death of their bodies that the true religion might be made known, and false and fictitious religions exposed.  For if there were some before them who thought that these religions were really false and fictitious, they were afraid to give expression to their convictions.  But who ever heard a priest of the faithful, standing at an altar built for the honor and worship of God over the holy body of some martyr, say in the prayers, I offer to thee a sacrifice, O Peter, or O Paul, or O Cyprian? for it is to God that sacrifices are offered at their tombs,—the God who made them both men and martyrs, and associated them with holy angels in celestial honor; and the reason why we pay such honors to their memory is, that by so doing we may both give thanks to the true God for their victories, and, by recalling them afresh to remembrance, may stir opolycarp martyrdomurselves up to imitate them by seeking to obtain like crowns and palms, calling to our help that same God on whom they called. 

Celebration for the commemoration of martyrs in the early Church usually took place at their graves. So the ancient church of Smyrna annually commemorated its bishop St. Polycarp (a disciple of St John the Beloved apostle and evangelist) and valued his bones more than gold and gems, though with the express distinction: “Christ we worship as the Son of God; the martyrs we love and honor as disciples and successors of the Lord, on account of their insurpassable love to their King and Master, as also, we wish Kosheh2to be their companions and fellow disciples.”

The history of martyrdom does not however end in the early Christian centuries.  To this very day the Coptic Church finds blessed and holy martyrs amongst its ranks when Christians are called to die for their love of Christ and receive the eternal crown of martyrdom…

Perhaps this year we can increase our reading of the lives of the Holy Martyrs, Confessors and Anchorites of the Church and our resolve to follow their example in our own lives…