many of the thousands of the young and not so young men
and women, who attained the Holy Qurbana in the forty
and more parishes of the Diocese of Delhi may be aware
of the beginnings of the Orthodox Church of Northern India
in our own times.
since the Catholicate of the East was transferred to
and established in India, in 1912, the Church felt all
the more its absence in the national capital. The number
of Orthodox Christians in Delhi however remained small-compared
to Madras, Calcutta and Bombay, though their strength
was gradually growing. Though they occasionally attended
the services in one of the other churches and met, together
with together Malayalees, at the annual Onam festivities.
Those were days when no one inquired about the religious
denomination to which one belonged.
it happened, the Second World War provided an opportunity
in 1942 to start liturgical worship in Delhi. In the
face of the Japanese onslaught in South East Asia, the
British were forced to retreat. Calcutta suffered sporadic
bombing, Within another year, Imphal fell to the invaders.
Many offices were moved out of the city and so was the
Bishops College which shifted to Kathauli in Uttar Pradesh,
a few hours journey from Delhi.
Mathews, the present Catholicos, Moran Mar Baselios,
Mar Thoma Mathews II, was then a student at the Bishop's
college. He came over to Delhi twice amongst to celebrate
the Holy Qurbana; the remaining he celebrated the Eucharist
at the college in Kathauli, where the congregation consisted
of students from Kerala belonging to various Christian
denominations, accommodating Fr Mathews overnight at
Delhi was easy as his habits were simple and his needs
in 1938, the Churches outside Kerala had been grouped
into a new Diocese. And, Alexios Mar Theodosios was
consecrated the same year as the Bishop of Kollam and
the "Diocese outside Kerala". His Grace visited
Delhi in 1944 to consider the means of establishing
a Church in Delhi. But building a church in Delhi was
not easy as there were only about 15 families and some
150 persons living away from their families in Kerala,
in the Orthodox community in the city at the time. All
the same, hopes remained alive.
worship continued more or less regularly. Also in 1944
Metropolitan Thomas Mar Dionsius halted in Delhi on
his way back from the Eastern war front and celebrated
the Holy Qurbana at the Church at the Redemption. After
the service, His Grace gave a graphic account of his
impressions of the troops on the frontline. He also
recalled the interest taken by an earlier British Viceroy,
Lord Irwin, in bringing peace between the Church in
India and the Patriarch of Antioch and also his attending
the Holy Qurbana In the St George's Orthodox Church
on a visit to Thiruvananthapuram.
Diocesan Metropolitan Alexios Mar Theodosios revisited
Delhi in 1952,celebrated the Holy Qurbana in the Chapel
attached to the Lady Hardinge Hospital and baptized
two infants. A group met with His Grace at the residence
of Mr M.M. Thomas (later, advisor to the Union Public
Service Commission) and discussed the support needed
for a priest in Delhi. This meeting was a turning point
in that it decided to go ahead and take steps to construct
a Church in the capital.
important resolve was prompted by several influences.
A visit by the missionary Bishop, Pathros Mar Osthathios
had prepared the mind of the congregation on the basic
need of a Church of their own in Delhi. The 19th centenary
of the arrival of St Thomas in India provided the inspiration
to formally launch the parish in Delhi in 1952 with
that help of Fr T. G Koshy from Bombay. Indeed, this
rare celebration, jointly organized by all the Christians,
was enriched by the participation of the President of
India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, as well as the Prime Minister,
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, both of whom spoke warmly to
the St Thomas tradition as a national legacy. In the
words of the President, at the St Thomas Day celebration
on 18th December 1952: "Those Indians who trace
their Christianity to St Thomas have a longer history
and a higher ancestry than that of Christians of the
European countries. And it is really a matter of pride
to us that it so happened'. The spiritual and political
encouragement was reinforced by the offer by Mr. C.
P Matthen, Member of Parliament, to meet any deficit
in the funds required for constructing the Church.
next step was to choose a priest who would be satisfied
with a modest living allowance. The Diocesan metropolitan
Mar Theodosios selected Father K. C. Thomas (at present
metropolitan Thomas Mar Makarios of the Diocese of America).
Fr Thomas lived at the YMCA, sharing a room and cheerfully
putting up with considerable inconvenience. He served
the Parish for about 11 years.
Holy Qurbana was being regularly conducted for a time
in the St Thomas Church on Reading Road (now Mandir
Marg) and thereafter for many years in the Saint James
Church at Kashmiri gate by the courtesy of the Cambridge
1961, the Delhi Orthodox Syrian Church society was set
up as a registered body with the three fold aim of establishing
a worship for the parish and an educational institution
and a health care facility for the public. The effort
to mobilize resources started in earnest and intensified
during 1964-1968. By the end of this period, the Saint
Mary's Orthodox Church (now Cathedral) was completed,
thereby laying the foundation for the new Diocese of
Delhi, which came into being in less than another decade.
could a small congregation of a few faithfully achieve
this ambition? The contributing factors were many. With
the coming of independence, the Orthodox Church felt
the urge, even more strongly than before, to express
the national identity of its ancient faith, through
an active socio-cultural presence in the cultural capital
of India. His Holiness, the Catholicus, Moran Mar Baselios
Geevarghese II, who guided the Church for 35 years,
and till 1964 ardently wished and prayed for this to
happen. His successor, His Holiness Baselios Augen I
is strongly supported the initiative of the Delhi Parish.
Also, there was peace within the Church, following the
1958 accord between the Catholicos and the Patriarch
of the Antioch. This explains the happy event in 1964,
when the patriarch Moran Mar Ignatius Yakkoub III laid
the foundation stone of the St Mary's Church, with the
participation of the Diocesan Bishop Mathews Mar Athanasios
(who later became Catholicos as Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews
I). Further the public support of the President and
the Prime Minister of India, from the very beginning,
for the role of the Orthodox Christian Community, in
the renewed socio-religious life of India was invaluable
and continued through the powerful goodwill expressed
by their successors, Presidents, Doctor S. Radhakrishnan
and Dr Zakhir Hussain and Prime Minister Lal Bahadur
Shastri and Shrimati Indira Gandhi.
There was international solidarity as well. In its formative
years, the Delhi perish had the good fortune of welcoming
spiritual leaders, like the Catholicos of Armeania,
His Holiness Vuzgen I and the head of the Ethopian Church,
His Holiness Abba Theophilus. His Imperial Majesty,
Haile Sellassie, Emperor of Ethopia, who had visited
India and the Church in 1956 (incidentally, Mr Paul
Varghese, now the Diocesan in Metropolitan, Paulos Mar
Gregorios soon after became his personal Aide and Advisor)-gifted
a sum of Rs 50,000 to the Church building fund at a
critical stage in 1966. The emperor also paid a memorable
visit to the St Mary's Church in 1968, within a few
days of its consecration by the Diosesan Metropolitan
Mathew's Mar Athanasios.
Financial support for constructing the future Saint
Mary's Cathedral came from varied, sometimes unexpected
sources. The citizens of Delhi, prominently including
members of the sister Churches and several business
houses contributed willingly through participation in
fund-raising fetes and buying advertisement space in
publications, which became regular feature. A major
part of the building fund came from voluntary contribution
of months salary by the members of the Parish. There
were contributions also from Kerala such as from the
Kottayam Cheria Palli.
resources generated were managed with efficient care,
on financial matters by Mr A. V Paulose (who subsequently
became Secretary to Government to the Ministry of the
Railways). And on the engineering aspects by Mr P.K
Thomas (later Chief Engineer, Roads, Ministry of Transport).
Besides them, the Church Society had the benefit of
the mature leadership of the presiding vicars, Father
C.V Samuel who succeeded K.C Thomas and, from 1965,
Father K.A George. Mr. A. M Thomas Minister of state
for defense production was an unfailing source of support.
Mrs Achamma John Matthai, ( wife of India's Minister
of Railways and thereafter Finance Minister ) was another
staunch supporter of the Church Building project. Senior
members of the Parish like Mr P.C Mathew, secretary,
Ministry of Labor, and Dr K.C Thomas, Secretary in the
Ministry of Irrigation and Power and many others in
and outside the government, but consistently helpful
in realizing the collective vision.
as progress was maintained in the construction of the
Church at the headquarters of the future Diocese, care
was taken by the Vicar and the parishioners to ensure
the regularity of the Holy Qurbana as well as allied
activities for spiritual growth through Prayer Meetings,
Martha Mariam Samajam, Youth League and Bible Class.
Though limited in resources, the Delhi Parish extended
spiritual and material support one way or another, to
congregations such as of Ambala, striving to come into
their own, emulating the Delhi example.
nothing would come in the way of congregations organizing
themselves, Parishes being established and Churches
being built by relatively small groups of Orthodox Christians
in other cities and towns in North India.
momentous trend signified the return to the North of
the Faith of the Saint Thomas Apostle who according
to historical tradition, had spread the gospel in places
such as Takshashila (Taxila near Islamabad in Pakistan),
the ancient Buddhist university center, clearly this
good fortune came as a Divine gift, expressed as unprecedented
goodwill of men and women within and well beyond the
The Dioces Today
the nucleus of the Orthodox Church in North India was
formed in the capital of the country, the growth of
Parishes in adjacent centers was rapid and the establishment
of the Diocese of Delhi followed in a few short years.
Today, there are seven parishes in and around Delhi
alone-Hauz Khas, Janakpuri, Tughlaqabad, Mayur Vihar,
Rohini, Ghaziabad and Faridabad. Overall, there are,
at the beginning of 1995, some 46 parishes looked after
by 22 priests and spread over Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan,
Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and the United Arab Emirates.
1975, the Delhi Diocese was constituted by the Holy
Synod, along with the four other new Diocese of Madras,
Bombay, Calcutta and America. The next year, His Grace,
Dr Paulos Mar Gregorios took charge as the Metropolitan
of Delhi. By 1985, the Diocesan headquarters moved to
its own building. The Delhi Orthodox Center in Tughlaqabad
in South Delhi.
And architecturally distinctive three storey building,
the center was dedicated by His Holiness Catholicos
Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews I and inaugurated by the
Vice President of India Sri R. Venkatarman in November
1984. With the St Thomas Chapel in the middle, the Center
is the residence of the metropolitan and houses, besides
the secretariat of the Diocesan Council, a library,
a publication unit, the People's Education Society,
Sophia Society, Sarva Dharma Nilaya, Dhyan Mandir and
Niti Shanti Kendra, engaged in a variety of complimentary