New Knanaya church breaks ground in US

June 9, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Connecticut, June 7, 2016: Kerala-based Knananite Syrian Christians June 5 broke ground on its new church in Wethersfield in Hartford County, Connecticut. St. Mary’s Knanaya Church at 648 Russell Ave will open in late 2017.

The church will be about four times bigger than the community’s current house of worship in West Hartford.

The reason, says construction committee Chairman Thomas Chaluparmbil: Emigration from India has swollen the congregation from 18 to 64 families since the parish built its present home in 1996. The community chose to build in Wethersfield because about 30 of its families call neighboring Newington home, he said.

Looking ahead, church leaders expect the growth to continue.

There are about 100,000 Knananite Syrian Christians worldwide.

Founded in India nearly 1,700 years ago, the sect traces its origins to a wealthy Syrian merchant named Knai Thomas. He led 72 families from Syria to southern India in 345 with the purpose of revitalizing the small Christian community there.

The group included people of Jewish origin. Jews already lived in that part of India, having fled the Holy Land after the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. Hebraic influence is still evident in some of the church’s practices, including the use of a wedding canopy similar to a Jewish Chuppah and the eating of unleavened bread at Easter.

The community has endured hundreds of years, facing perhaps its greatest challenge with the arrival of the Portuguese in India in the 1500s. Portuguese missionaries tried to force the Syrian Knananites, whose rituals are mostly Eastern Orthodox, to become Catholics. Many refused and paid a terrible price, church fathers say.

Some converted to Catholicism and today there is a second Knananite community that recognizes the Pope as its spiritual leader, while the Syrian Knananites follow a patriarch once based in Syria who has since moved to Lebanon because of the Syrian civil war.

Today, there are about 1,000 Syrian Knananite families in the United States spread over 13 parishes and two congregations, church leaders say.

The church conducts its services in the southern Indian language of Malayalam, with some use of Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke.
Syrian Knananites are an endogamous community, meaning that both parents must belong to the church for their children to be members. The church does this to maintain its culture and practices, members say.

“We want to make sure our kids also follow it and they also go on with our traditions and culture,” Joseph said.

– hartford courant

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