Feast of the Assumption celebrated by Syrian Orthodox in Woodside

By Kelsey Durham

The streets surrounding St. Mary’s Malankara Orthodox Church in Woodside rang loudly with music and worship last weekend as hundreds of members of the Syrian Orthodox church gathered to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption.

The celebration is held every year between Aug. 15-17 in honor of what its worshipers, mostly of Indian descent, commemorate as the day St. Mary ascended into heaven, according to Joseph Varughese, program coordinator for the Aug. 17 event.

He said the weekend started with Lent Aug. 15 and ended with Sunday’s celebration that included worship, music, food and a short parade around the block that included about 250 people.

“This is the day we remember and celebrate,” Varughese said. “People can come celebrate and also come to get blessings afterwards.”

Anil Oommen, another member of St. Mary’s, said Syrian Orthodoxy is one of the largest religious denominations practiced in India, mainly in the southern Kerala region. The nearly 24 million people who practice it nationwide make it the third largest religion in India, he said. The church is located at 37-20 61st St. in Woodside.

“People think India is just Hinduism, but there are a lot of Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, too,” said Varghese Alexander, one of St. Mary’s members.

Sunday’s festival opened with a leading of the Eucharist, where hundreds of people packed into the church to offer prayer and sing songs of worship led by their priest. The church welcomed so many people that a large screen was set up in the church’s upstairs portion to accommodate the guests who could not see well.

After the service, the group made their way outside to line up for the processional around the block, led by children in front and followed next by women. The line ended with the priests from St. Mary’s.

Walking alongside the line of worshipers was a small group of musicians who played songs on traditional Indian drums called chenda, which Oommen said are made to mimic the sounds of rain and thunder.

Varughese said the annual Feast of the Assumption celebration has rung through the streets of Woodside since the church opened its doors at its current location in 1970, which he said was one of the first locations in America to practice Syrian Orthodoxy.

In the past four decades, he said he has seen the number of members grow and the celebration get larger.

“This is a big festival for us,” said Alexander. “It’s a big deal for us. A celebration.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurh‌am@cn‌gloca‌l.com.

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