St Stephen’s Syrian Orthodox congregation Christmas Eve prayers at St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National
Amna Ehtesham Khaishgi
ABU DHABI // More than 1,500 Indians from Kerala make up the congregation at St Stephen’s Syrian Orthodox Church in the capital – and they all came together to celebrate Christmas with prayers around a campfire at the church.
“We celebrate Christmas with great enthusiasm in the UAE,” said Rev Babu Neetumkara. “In the Christian religious tradition and Indian cultural tradition, fire is considered to be the ‘seat of deity’.
“Light implies the divine whereas darkness, the evil.”
More than 20,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians from Kerala live and work in the UAE, according to Shafi Thomas, joint secretary at St Andrew’s Church in Dubai.
“Almost all Christians from Kerala belong to the Syrian Orthodox Church,” he said.
Christianity entered southern India in AD 52, when St Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, established a church in the state. “There are strong traditions in Malankara about the arrival of St Thomas, his mission, death, burial and about the relics of his mortal body,” said Rev Neetumkara.
“The widely accepted belief is that St Thomas visited various places and spread his message across the state. He also established churches at several places in Kerala.
“St Thomas was killed and buried at Mylapore, in Chennai, Southern India. The people of Kerala are very proud to be the ancestors of the family that accepted Christianity through the mission of St Thomas,” said Rev Neetumkara.
St Stephen’s started as a congregation in 1969 and was elevated to parish in 1970. It belongs to the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church of India.
The Syrian Orthodox Church is an integral part of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church.