Orthodox Churches in the Indian Sub Continent †††



Orthodox Churches in the Indian Sub Continent and South East Asia

The Holy Chinese Orthodox Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion
The Holy Chinese Orthodox Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion

The following article tries to discus an account of the presence of Orthodox Churches in India and other Asian countries.

Indian Orthodox Church: Also known as Malankara Orthodox Church or Orthodox Syrian Church of the East, it is the largest Orthodox Church ion India, considered to be the national Church of India. This Church traces its origin to the apostolic mission of St Thomas. The imperial domination of the Roman Catholic Church and its devastating effects lead the Church to come in contact with the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. It uses Syrian liturgy though translations have been made to the local Malayalam language. Catholicate of the Church was established in 1912. The Primate of the Church is address by the title Catholicos of the East on the Apostolic Throne of St Thomas and Metropolitan of Malankara who resides at Develokam, Kottayam, Kerala, India. To this Church belong the world famous Orthodox theologians like Mor Pulose Gregorious, Fr V C Samuel, the first canonized Indian saint, St Gregory of Parumala and also the two church structures originally founded by the St Thomas the, Apostle, (Niranam and Thiruvithamcode) among which the Tiruvithamcode is considered to be the one of the oldest church buildings in the world. The Indian Church has made commendable contributions in the field of education and social change. It manages large number of educational, spiritual and social institutions. The Brahmavar Orthodox community, a reunited group from the Roman Catholic Church to the Indian Orthodox Church is yet another specialty of the this Church. The Latin community got reunited with the Indian Orthodox Church under the auspicious leadership of two saintly personalities, Metropolitan Julius Alvariz of Goa and Padre Rock Lopez Nuronoah. At present there are around 750 families and are organized into a Diocese.

Syrian Orthodox Church in India: Syrian Orthodox Church or the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church in Indian belongs to the Patriarchate of Antioch and All East. The local Primate of the Church in India is addressed by the title ‘Catholicos of India and Metropolitan Trustee’ who is responsible to the Patriarch of Antioch and All East. The Church Headquarters in India is located at Puthenkurishu Patriarchal Centre, Ernakaulam, Kerala. The Syrian Orthodox Church is the second largest Orthodox Church in India. It operates a number of well established spiritual and educational institutions. Manjaniakkara monastery in Kerala holds the mortal remains of St. Ignatius Elias (Patriarch). Large numbers of people from different parts of the globe make annual pilgrimage to the monastery. There are dioceses under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch such as diocese of Middle East, Australia & New Zealand Malankara Archdiocese of Europe which includes Patriarchal Vicarate of Ireland & Patriarchal vicarate of Germany & Central Europe and the Malankara Archdiocese of North America. Simhasana Churches, Evangelical Association of the East and Knanaya Archdiocese also fall under the direct jurisdiction the Patriarch. The Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church ion India is engaged in several missionary works through the St Paul’s Mission of India. Large numbers of missionary and philanthropic activities are performed by this organization.

* The schism between Indian Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox Church in India is similar to that existed between the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches. Though the Coptic and Ethiopian Churches solved the issue, the Churches in India is yet to reach a consensus on the conflict, which is mainly of administration, power and recognition rather than theological. 

Armenian Orthodox Church: The nation of Armenia has age old trade and cultural relations with India, since 2000 BC. At present a handful of Armenian remain in India, especially in Calcutta. They also run the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy (ACPA) in Calcutta where a number of Armenian students from various parts of the globe finish their secondary and higher secondary education with scholarships. The Armenian Parishes in India are namely Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth, Kolkata, Armenian St. Gregory’s Church, Kolkata, Armenian Church at Chennai, St. Peter’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Mumbai, Armenian Church at Chinsurah, Church at Saidabad (renovated), Surabaya St. George’s Armenian Apostolic Church, The Holy Trinity Chapel (Church of Tangra). Also there have been many notable Armenian in India who has served with Mughal Kings and several others. The Armenian Community is striving in India despite of many challenges.

Greek Orthodox Church: The Greek Orthodox Community in India is taken care by the Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Greek Orthodox community has been active in Calcutta and near by areas for more than ten years or may be more. The Greek Orthodox Church is active with her mission and social activities in Calcutta and some parts of Bangladesh. There are a number of Muslim converts to Orthodoxy in Bangladesh. With assistance of Orthodox Christian Mission Centre (OCMC) and several others the Greek Orthodox Church maintains hostels, job training centers, health clinics and also vibrantly engaged in food distribution for the poor and needy. The Saintly Eldress Gabriella (nun) the legendary Greek Orthodox nun was in India for almost three years from 1963 where she lived in Nani Tal.
Russian Orthodox Church: The largest Orthodox Church in the world has opened a parish in India, New Delhi in the year 2010 within the campus of the Russian Consulate. They also operate a parish in Nepal. The Primate of the Russian Church is ‘Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia’. The Russian Church experience growth worldwide especially after the fall of Soviet Union and Church has become one of the most powerful institutions in modern Russia a key moral force for the common man. The Russian Orthodox Church has vibrant missions all over the world with large number of committed clergy and laymen. Russian Church has brought the largest number of people to Orthodoxy.

China: The Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate. It is believed that St Thomas the Apostle founded the first roots of Christianity in 68 A.D. Once the largest Church in the world, the Assyrian Church of East had its presence in China. Also there are evidences of Syrian Christian Mission in the Chinese mainland. The vibrant mission of the Russian Orthodox Church paved way for the opening of around 106 Orthodox Churches in 1949, but got disintegrated during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The Church had around 10,000 followers with schools and orphanages. More than 200 Orthodox members were martyred in the Boxer Rebellion. They are commemorated as remembered on the icon of the Holy Martyrs of China every year in June. At present there are around 15,000 Orthodox Christians in China. There are several active Orthodox congregations in Beijing, in northeast China (in Heilongjiang and elsewhere) and in there are also Orthodox parishes in Shanghai and elsewhere. Two former Orthodox Churches in Shanghai are in the process of being returned to Chinese Church. The Chinese Orthodox Church is yet to be granted formal recognition from the government. The Coptic Orthodox church has built a parish in Guangzhou.

Hong Kong: The Orthodox Church operates freely without much trouble. Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia (OMHKSEA) is a diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which began in the year 1997. The Metropolis of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia looks after the pastoral care of Orthodox Christians in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. The Coptic Orthodox Church of St Thomas is also situated in Hong Kong.

Taiwan: The first Orthodox Church was established in 2003. The Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia oversee the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Taipei, Taiwan.
Japan: The Japanese Autonomous Church was founded by St. Nikolay (Kasatkin) who came to Japan in 1861 on the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church. He founded and headed the Russian Orthodox mission in Japan in 1870. He translated the Holy Scripture and liturgical books into Japanese and built the Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo. The Russian Orthodox Church canonized Archbishop Nikolay in 1970. The Moscow Patriarchate granted autonomy to the Japanese Orthodox Church the same year. The Japanese Church is under the supervision of the Russian Orthodox Church. At present there are more than 30,000 Orthodox Christians in Japan. The Primate of the Church is Metropolitan of All Japan and Archbishop of Tokyo. It has three dioceses, a seminary and publishes books in Japanese language. The Coptic Orthodox Church has a Pariah in Kurayoshi City.

Pakistan: There are Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches in Pakistan, mainly the Greek (Ecumenical Patriarch) and Coptic Orthodox Churches. The first Eastern Orthodox priest Fr John Tanveer was ordained in November of the year 2009,. There are 400 Greek Orthodox faithful in Pakistan who are converts from Muslim and other Christian denominations like Roman Catholicism and various Protestant groups. Due to the lack of Church building, the Divine Liturgy is served in one of the houses. The Coptic Orthodox started its first Mission church in Islamabad in 2006 under the Diocese of Melbourne, West & South Australia, New Zealand and All Oceania. At present there are two church one in Islamabad and the other in Rawalpindi.

Sri Lanka: There are no sources about the presence of Orthodox Christians in Sri Lanka. But earlier there had been a good number of Orthodox Christians and several churches under the Indian Orthodox Church. The missionary works of Mor Rene Villate, the first archbishop of America. But later the entire community disbanded.
Nepal: The Indian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church has congregations in Nepal as per the 2010 reports.

Indonesia: There are Russian and Greek Orthodox (Ecumenical Patriarchate) presence in Indonesia. The Indonesian Orthodox communities are engaged in vibrant mission activities though the number of Orthodox Christians remains limited. There are some noted Orthodox priest like Archimandrite Daniel (Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia – Moscow Patriarchate) and Father Yohanes Bambang (Ecumenical Patriarchate). Archimandrite Daniel played a pioneer and vital role in establishing the foundations of Orthodoxy.
Orthodox Christian Center Surabaya which was opened on the 15th of October 2008 by Father Yohanes Bambang. The head Orthodox Church in Indonesia, St Nikolas is also based in Surabaya. Orthodox Center Surabaya Foundation is engaged in large number of educational and philanthropic activities among the local Indonesian communities. As future activities it aims at establishing Play group, Kindergarten, Elementary School, Junior High School, High School and University in short, middle and long term and also an Orthodox Seminary for religious education. Fr Yohanes Bambang is constantly engaged in Orthodox mission and preaching Orthodoxy to various Protestants and other Christian denominations. The Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia (Moscow Patriarchate) has around 23 parishes and communities in Indonesia.

Mongolia: There was Orthodox presence in Mongolia from the very early times. The first Orthodox Church on Mongolian territory, the Church of St. Troitsky, was established at Khalkha in 1872. A Russian Orthodox Church was built in Ulaanbaatar in the year 2007. The Russian Orthodox Church in Magnolia is limited in numbers but several Protestants and Roman Catholics are getting interested in Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church mission is getting slowly active among the Mongols. A TV programme introducing the basics of Orthodoxy is also broadcasted.

South Korea: The first Orthodox Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the year 1900 by the Russian Orthodox Priest. In the year 1955 the Korean Orthodox Church unanimously decided to be under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical patriarchate. Today the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea comprises of ten parishes with several hundred members in South Korea, as well as one monastery.

North Korea: In 2006 the government of North Korea recognized the establishment of one Orthodox parish (Moscow Patriarchate) in the capital city of Pyongyang.

Singapore: Coptic Orthodox Church, Syrian Orthodox Church (Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church of India), and Indian Orthodox Churches has members in Singapore. There is a historical Armenian Orthodox Church ‘Armenian Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator’ located at Hill Street in the Museum Planning Area, within the Central Area, Singapore’s central business district, which does not have permanent clergy. Armenian and Eastern Orthodox services were held occasionally, on Christmas and Easter, for a number of years. But the Church is now regularly used by the Coptic and Syrian Orthodox communities to serve liturgy. The Armenian Church became a national monument in 1963. A small, but growing number of Eastern Orthodox congregation made up of ethnic Greeks, and Russians also constitute the Orthodox population in Singapore. The Holy Metropolis of Singapore is an Eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate established in 2008 to serve the pastoral needs of Orthodox Christians in Singapore, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Maldives Islands, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.

Thailand: Orthodox Christian Church in Thailand (Russian Orthodox Church) serves both foreign and local Thai believers who are converts to Orthodoxy. In March 2011 the first Orthodox monastery was established in Thailand. The Orthodox Church of Thailand has the Orthodox parish of Saint Nicolas in Bangkok and other congregations in Phuket and Chonburi province. They have translated the liturgy of Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the Orthodox Book of prayer and a book about the history of Russian Orthodox Church into the Thai language. The Coptic Orthodox Church operates two parishes in Thailand.

Malaysia: The Indian Orthodox Church has a cathedral in Malaysia with almost 193 families. The Indian Orthodox Church in Malaysia comes under Diocese of Madras, together with churches in South India outside Kerala, the Andaman Islands, Singapore and Australia. Fr K A George conducted the first Divine liturgy in the moth of August 1956. Metropolitan Mathews Mar Athanasius conducted the consecration service of the church on 6 April 1958. This was the first ever Diaspora Church (outside India) of the Indian Orthodox Church. The Coptic Orthodox Church also operates a parish in Malaysia.

Vietnam: The Russian Orthodox Parish of ‘Our lady of Kazan’ was opened in the year 2002 in Vung Tau where there are many Russian employees of the Russian-Vietnamese joint venture “Vietsovpetro”. In Regular Paschal liturgies are organized in the parish. There shall be more than 500 orthodox members in Vietnam.The Ecumenical Patriarchate has plans to open mission in Vietnam but so far no activities have been reported.

Philippines: The presence of Orthodoxy in Philippines was evident from 1600s Armenian, Greek and Macedonian Orthodox Christians. Later the Russian Orthodox Christian arrived also St. John Maximovitch had established a church for the Russians, but did not preach Orthodoxy in the island. At present there are Greek, Antiochian and Russian Orthodox Churches (ROCR) in the island. There are three Filipino Priests and four nuns within the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Mission in the Philippines was established under the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand. In 2008, two Filipino denominations were received into the Antiochian church, including 32 communities with some 6,000 believers. Some of them later joined ROCOR as Western Rite parishes under St Petroc Monastery Mission Society. Adamson University presently owned by the Vincentian Fathers of the Roman Catholic Church was originally founded by two Greek Orthodox Christians. Alexandros Athos Adamopoulos (Alexander A. Adamson), who was one of the first Greek Orthodox to arrive in the island along with his brother, co-founded the university in 1932.

Australia & News Zealand : Australia has strong presence of Orthodoxy in the form of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches. The Greek Orthodox church of Australia is very vibrant with several numbers of parishes, schools, colleges, theological seminaries, old age homes, orphanages, monasteries and other establishments. The Russian, Serbian, Antiochian, Romanian, Polish and Bulgarian Orthodox churches also have good number of followers and converts and also operate several educational and social institutions. Some of them do not have hierarchy – resident Bishop in Australia. The Russian Orthodox mission has taken up a number of abandoned church buildings from Roman Catholics and various Protestant denominations. The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) has one or two parishes in Australia. The Coptic Orthodox Church is well established in Australia with Seminaries, and other institutions. Also there are Indian, Armenian, Syrian and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches in Australia. New Zealand has Orthodox presence in the form of several Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, especially Greek and Coptic Churches.

Fiji: The Coptic Orthodox Church has two parish Churches in Fiji. The Church has also purchased some acres of land for cultivation and other supportive activities for the local Fijian communities.

Timor: As per June 2010 a new Orthodox Church is being built in West Timor, Indonesia part of the province of East Nusa Tenggara. This is the first Orthodox church to be built in West Timor. The new church will be under the Orthodox Metropolitnate of Singapore of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

*Apart from the above mentioned Churches, there are many main stream and traditional (old calendar) orthodox jurisdictions in different parts of Asia.
*The article includes the details Diaspora and native Orthodox Christians of different Churches
*The Orthodox communities are dynamically engaged in several spiritual, social, educational activities and have developed numerous institutions for the service of humanity.

Special Courtesy: Mithropan
George Alexander
Secretary &Spokesperson
Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE

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