By ERICA SCHMITT
NEW BRITAIN — Sunday morning service at St. Thomas Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East was out-of-the-ordinary as church members hosted a very special guest.
His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, patriarch, traveled here last Wednesday from church headquarters in Chicago to visit the parish and will be departing Monday.
“He tries to come yearly, but it’s been two years since he last visited,” said Jonathan Oushan, a New Britain resident and one of the church’s younger members.
Joining the Patriarch in the city this week was Bishop Mar Paulus Benjamin and Quasha Antwan Latchin.
St. Thomas is the only Assyrian church in the state, with the next closest parish in Yonkers, N.Y.
There are about a dozen Assyrian parishes in the Eastern United States Diocese and about 15 more in California, which has a separate diocese. Church members hail from Iraq and Iran, with most of the families at St. Thomas originally from Iran.
Sunday’s service is always held in a modern-day version of the ancient Aramaic language, of which most of the younger generation doesn’t have a firm understanding.
“Not too many people can still read and write it,” Oushan explained. “But they try to teach the kids in Sunday school,” he added.
City residents may be familiar with the church by its flag, which flies in Central Park downtown for two weeks beginning April 1, the start of the Assyrian New Year.
“We are recognized by that in the entire United States — flying the flag in New Britain,” Karolin Betoushana, who had the rare opportunity to host Mar Dinkha IV in her family’s New Britain home Friday morning, for breakfast.
“Having him here means the whole world to us,” she said. “It’s an honor and a privilege.”
The Patriarch’s sermon – given in Aramaic – focused on God, the Apostles, living righteously and peace on earth, according to Betoushana.
“He always makes sure to tell us, you have to obey the law of the country you live in; that’s very important.”
Following Sunday’s service, church members joined His Holiness in their banquet hall next door for a traditional breakfast.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at (860) 225-4601, ext. 210, or firstname.lastname@example.org.