Mar Thoma Church celebrates heritage, looks into the future

elo_98011_marthoma_md1.jpg[Office of Ecumenical Relations] A recent festive Eucharist honored the legacy of the retired Primate of the Mar Thoma Church, the Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom and marked the first official visit to the U.S. of his recently consecrated successor, the Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan.

The June 1 event drew more than 2,000 participants to Dewitt High School in the Bronx. The Rev. Dr. Eyuakim Mar Coorilos, Bishop of the Mar Thoma Diocese of North America and Europe was the host.

The Mar Thoma Church is one of the oldest ecumenical partners of the Episcopal Church. The full Communion agreement was signed in 1979. Since then, the links between the two churches have continued to evolve.

Chrysostom Mar Thoma, 91, was given the honorary title of Valiya Metropolitan in recognition of his ministry. He had been in charge of several dioceses in Bangalore, India and served as a president of the National Christian Council of India. He participated in several Assemblies of the World Council of Churches as well as the Second Vatican Council. To mark his 90th birthday in April 2007, he inaugurated the building of 1,500 houses for the homeless in Kerala, India.

His successor received his education at the United Theological College, Bangalore and at the Virginia Tehologcal Seminary (D.D.). He has served as the president of the National Council of Churches in India.

The Mar Thoma Church refers to the Apostle Thomas as its founder and has been historically situated mainly on the southwestern coast of India in what today is the State of Kerala. Presently, the Mar Thoma Church has about one million members, and the number of its members and parishes in North America has been growing. The church combines ancient tradition and the Eastern Syriac language of worship with renewal, as witnessed in the Reformation or Purification movement of the mid-19th century.

The Episcopal Church’s official representative at the June 1 service, the Rev. Alexei Khamin, offered the primates a gift edition of the Book of Common Prayer. “The Episcopal Church celebrates the unique heritage of the Mar Thoma Church. In doing so we celebrate one of the most ancient Christian churches, its gift of combining profound spirituality and social ministry, its ability to withstand conquests and colonization, and its genius of bringing the salvific message of the Gospel to its flock worldwide,” he said in his remarks honoring the retired primate and his successor.

In response, Khamin was given flowers and a glass memorial plaque with the date of the reception engraved on it, to be given to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church.

At the event, Khamin and the Most Rev. Zahariah Mar Nicholovas, assistant metropolitan of the American Diocese of the Mlankara Orthodox Syrian Church, a graduate of General Theological Seminary, discussed clergy education in the Syrian church. Khamin delivered to the Mar Thoma Metropolitans and Bishop Coorilos a message of support and encouragement on behalf of the Episcopal Church, and personal greetings from its ecumenical officer, Bishop Christopher Epting.

Other speakers summarized the gifts of the retired primate (including his profound spirituality and sense of humor), offered words of encouragement to the church during a time of transition and highlighted some of the challenges that the Mar Thoma Church faces in the U.S. One of those challenges is how to keep young people active in a church that is rooted in a language and culture very different from what they experience outside. While the Mar Thoma Church in the U.S. is growing due to the influx of immigrants from Kerala, retaining the second generation seems to be a challenge.

Reflecting on his six decades of ministry, Chrysostom Mar Thoma called himself “a very fortunate creature of God.” He charged his church to “carry the love of God to the world, because God is love.”

The full text of Khamin’s remarks follows.