Sunday School


As early as the 1950’s, the presence of Malankara Orthodox Christians was established in the U.S. with the arrival of a handful of priestly scholars seeking to advance in their theological studies in American universities.   In the mid 1960’s, with U.S. legislation paving the way for many qualified professionals to immigrate to the U.S., Malankara Orthodox Christian laity began their arrival in the U.S. to take advantage of greater opportunities for prosperity.  By the early 1970s, many more of our faithful and their young families have arrived with increased regularity, and having lived in various cities in our motherland, found adaptation to the new surroundings  with some ease. The need to adapt also came with the need to preserve the integrity of our culture, and more importantly to maintain and strengthen our faith within our developing community.

Our needs to safeguard the oneness of our faith and worship in our mother tongue were met, by the grace of God, under the leadership of the early settling priests, and the subsequent arrival of additional priests and their families.  The steady stream of arriving faithful provided both the desire and resources, joining hands with available priests, to establish temporary places of worship.  Our very own congregation took root in one of these temporary places of worship, under the leadership of Rev. Fr. A.K. Cherian.  On the first Sunday of November 1972, close to the Feast Day of Mar Gregorios of Parumala, we celebrated our first Holy Qurbana at 1800 Grand Concourse, Bronx, New York and soon we were recognized as St. Mary’s Orthodox Church of India, Bronx, New York.

It was evident from the humble beginnings of our parish, that the teaching ministry of our parish was not only necessary but also critical to the growth, development and preservation of our fledgling congregation.  Even before the formation of an official regional diocese, our Sunday School was organized and functional.  Despite severe constraints and space limitations, and without central organizational support, we managed to administer grade level curriculums across the board.  This was an achievement that would not have been possible without God’s abundant provision of experienced, God- fearing teachers from the inception of our Sunday School.  The late Mr. K.K. Varghese of St. John’s Orthodox Valiayapally, Pathichira, along with the late Mr. A.M. Thomas of St. George Orthodox Church, Karakkal, a long time teacher of ours, jointly handled the affairs of our Sunday school until the 1976 school year.

In the 1976-77 academic year, His Grace Youhanon Mar Demetrios, then Mr. Revi John Mathews of St. Thomas Cathedral, Quilon took over the leadership reins of the Sunday School, becoming the first ever official Headmaster of our parish.  Despite many hardships and limited resources of curriculum materials, Thirumeni managed to keep our children regularly active in the Sunday School.  The future of our parish, and that of our children, grew even more promising when we permanently relocated and formally established our new home at 360 Bedford Park Blvd, Bronx, New York in September of 1981. Under Thirumeni’s tutelage, general sessions and grade level instructions were promptly established.  Parish level talent competitions in singing, elocution, Biblical stories and Bible verse competitions were later added. As the years went by and the children grew up through the Sunday School, we began to recognize the graduates with Sunday School completion certificates and awards in a graduation ceremony. God’s favor was not only with our Sunday School in those early years as it continued to grow in strength, with student enrollment reaching as high as 189, but was also with our first headmaster as he was elevated to deacon and subsequently to priesthood in the church and conferred with a doctoral degree from Fordham University. God’s plans for our dear headmaster took him on a spiritual journey which required him to take leave from us in October 1987 to pursue an assignment to become a professor at our theological seminary at Kottayam.  When we reflect on the early success of our parish and its Sunday School, it is also important to remember the contributions of our late Dn. Thomas Schweitzer who, alongside our first headmaster, inspired us with his eloquence in the pulpit and instruction in the classes.

After the formation and establishment of the American Diocese, our Sunday School became a member of the Sunday School Association of the American Diocese.  We began to receive guidelines and syllabi from the directorate. Our Sunday School teachers began attending the annual Association meetings and our students whole heartedly took part in organized annual talent show programs. We soon adopted the curriculum prescribed by the committee of the Oriental Orthodox Churches.  May the memories and prayers of our departed spiritual father, Very Rev. Fr. Thomas P. Mundukuzhy, the long time Sunday School director, be a stronghold for our Sunday School. We must also never forget the blessed memory of our late holy father, His Grace Thomas Mar Makarios, our leader through hard times, and the first metropolitan of our American diocese.

The next two decades were of great importance to our Sunday school. In September of 1987, Mr. K.V. Varghese, of St. Mary’s, Vallamkulam, was appointed as the next headmaster in place of then, Rev.Fr. John Mathews.  Despite the great void left by Rev. Fr. Mathews, Mr. Varghese graciously accepted the challenge with the support and cooperation of the Sunday School staff and students. Mr. Varghese introduced the inclusion of the Bible Quiz in the annual talent competitions, an important feature of our Sunday School program and a highly competitive item both at district and diocesan levels. Above all, Mr. Varghese maintained the integrity of our Sunday School by working closely with all three levels of administrations – the parish administration, the Sunday school directorate and the diocesan office.

At the end of the 1992-93 academic year, Mr. Varghese stepped aside to pave the way for our then new Deacon, Rev. Dn. Ninan Easo of St. Mary’s Orthodox Church, Venmony, to assume the headmaster’s role which he did at the beginning of the 1993-94 academic year.  Although the numerical strength of the student body began to recede, our academic strength was at an all time high. Semassen worked closely with faculty and students to maintain the vigor of the program and worked very hard to introduce the Orthodox Vacation Bible School into the American Diocese. As a result of his efforts, the first ever Vacation Bible school in the US, the tri-state “Orthodox Vacation Bible School”, became a reality and was held in our parish in July 1996. Since then it has matured to the status of a separate entity and is now administered by its own appointed director in the diocese.

On January 1, 1996, Rev. Dn. Ninan was elevated to priesthood in our parish by our Diocesan Metropolitan, His Grace Mathews Mar Barnabas. At the meeting, His Grace announced my appointment as headmaster to the vacated position. At the time, it was my fifteenth year as a teacher in our Sunday School under the aforementioned Headmasters.  Our vicar, faculty and students wholeheartedly supported my efforts to teach and practice English worship hymns during our Sunday School general sessions. In 1997, our parish began using English liturgy on the first Sunday of every month, which we continued until we reached a level of proficiency.  As a devoted disciple of those great mentors and teachers who trained  and instilled in me a strong Orthodox faith, my heart was committed to all issues concerning our children. I humbly served as the first Coordinator of Centralized Examinations and Talent Competitions, a role in which I served for eleven years, from 1998 to 2009. As I review our records, it is both encouraging and uplifting to see the number of great people who have lent their hands to develop the Sunday School system to today’s higher level.  The Sunday School system of our diocese and particularly its individual units have stretched and challenged the minds and capabilities of our students. We look forward to the bright future of our Church when this young generation becomes the teachers and clergy that assume the offices of governance and spiritual leaders.

May the Lord God grant comfort and strength to our ailing senior metropolitan, His Grace Mathews Mar Barnabas, the great architect of our diocese, whose prayers and relentless effort brought not only the American Diocese but also our Sunday School to the prestigious and respected standing it holds today. We pledge our allegiance to our Metropolitan His Grace Zachariah Mar Nicholovos and pray for continuous blessings and guidance from above for the smooth running of our diocese.

George Samuel,
Sunday School Principal