Dubai: As the nation turns 46, a church in Dubai is celebrating the 50th year of beginning its congregation here, symbolising the peace, harmony and tolerance existing in the UAE even before the Union.
The St Thomas Orthodox Cathedral in Oud Mehta is kick-starting a year-long celebration of the golden jubilee of the congregation this weekend along with the UAE National Day celebration.
Under the slogan “Glory to God; Gratitude to the Great Nation,” the golden jubilee of the cathedral, the Mother Parish of all the Orthodox churches across the emirates, will be celebrated by thousands of families, vicar Fr Ninan Philip Panackamattom told Gulf News.
“It is a big coincidence that the first congregation of the Orthodox faithful here officially began exactly two years before the federal unification of the emirates.”
Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, the Supreme Head of the Indian Orthodox Church will inaugurate the 50th anniversary celebrations of the congregation along with other dignitaries and Indian diplomats on Friday.
The Vicar said it was on December 2, 1968, the then Vicar of Bahrain Orthodox church, Rev Fr K. K. Punnoose, visited Dubai and conducted a Holy Qurbana (offering), establishing the first official congregation of Orthodox faithful.
The cathedral is a part of the Malankara Orthodox Church in India founded by St Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, in the year AD 52.
The congregation in Dubai, which began with four families in 1958 and grew to 35 families when it became the congregation, now has more than 3000 families.
As members increased, the Women’s Society Hall in Deira became the venue for the congregation to meet in 1970.
“Prayer meetings were conducted in this hall every Sunday and Holy Qurbana was celebrated once every two months as per the availability of priests,” the vicar said.
In September 1970, the Dubai congregation was elevated as a Parish.
Another turning point in the history of the cathedral, however, had taken place in December 1969.
The visiting church officials met with the then Ruler of Dubai late Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum during which a request for land to build a church was made, to which he consented.
“An order was issued on April 25, 1972 by the gracious Ruler making a magnanimous gift in the form of a plot of land measuring 68,000 sq. ft. in Zabeel East Plot No. B.21, to the Indian Orthodox Church,” the vicar said.
Subsequently, the new church was consecrated on December 31, 1976.
“The main altar was consecrated in the name of St Thomas, while the two other side altars in the names of Holy Virgin Mary as well as of St Gregorios of Parumala.”
However, it was only on April 16, 2006 that the church, which also built a parish hall and underwent renovations over the years, was proclaimed as a cathedral by the head of the Indian Orthodox Church.
The cathedral has been working hand in hand with the local authorities and communities, the vicar said.
On November 22, 2013, a multi-storied complex with auditorium and mini conference hall was built in the cathedral.
“The very existence of our cathedral here shows that the UAE, especially Dubai, is a perfect example for others and the synonym of tolerance” the vicar said.
“We have four services in a week. In the past, we assisted the authorities in various humanitarian efforts including arrangements made for food, cloth and medicine kits for Haiti earthquake victims.”
It has also supported the sick and the needy in the UAE and in India, he said.