Marking the 25th anniversary of its founding, the Mar Thoma Church of Staten Island welcomed more than 300 worshippers to a celebration of the Holy Qurbana (Eucharist) February 5 at which the president and preacher was Bishop Christopher Epting, the Presiding Bishop's Deputy for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.
The young pastor, Father Manoj Zacharia, had invited Epting to bring greetings from the wider Church and on behalf of the Episcopal Church, one of the Mar Thoma Church's full communion partners.
The service was an English adaptation of the ancient Liturgy of St. James that included contemporary hymns sung by the congregation and a choir of children and adults.
"It was an honor and privilege to participate in this celebration," Epting said. "I had never celebrated the Liturgy of St. James in the Mar Thoma tradition and found it most moving to be asked to do so."
The Mar Thoma Church traces its heritage back to the evangelistic efforts of St. Thomas the Apostle in southern India and marks its founding date as 52 AD. Its long and complicated history also shows the influence of English and other missionaries to India and might best be described as a kind of "reformed Orthodoxy" with Reformation as well as ancient Eastern roots.
The Episcopal Church's Lesser Feasts and Fasts states, "According to an early tradition mentioned by Eusebius and others, Thomas evangelized the Parthians. Syrian Christians of Malabar, India, who call themselves the Mar Thoma Church, cherish a tradition that Thomas brought the Gospel to India. Several apocryphal writings have been attributed to him, the most prominent and interesting being the 'Gospel of Thomas.'" (LFF, page 100)
"Both of our churches seek to retain our apostolic continuity and heritage while being open to ongoing reformation and renewal," Epting observed. "It is my hope that we can find new ways to make our full communion relationship more than simply an agreement on paper, but to find ways to worship and do mission together in this country and around the world."
In his inaugural address to the congregation's parish meeting, Epting spoke of the prayer of Jesus in John 17 and its implication that the driving force behind church unity is the mission of the church "that the world might believe."
Full communion partners of the Episcopal Church include: the Old Catholic Churches of Europe (1934), the Philippine Independent Church (1961), the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India (1979), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (2001).
Churches resulting from the merger of Anglican churches with other churches include: the Church of Bangladesh, the Church of North India, the Church of Pakistan, and the Church of South India. These are also full communion relationships for the Episcopal Church.
Further information about the Episcopal Church's Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations can be found online at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/eir.htm.