Faith with ancient roots in India finds a new home in Niskayuna


Background: Born in the Indian state of Kerala, he and his family came to this country when he was 10 years old, living first in Putnam County before moving to Floral Park in Queens closer to relatives. He graduated from Bronx High School of Science and Columbia University with an engineering degree. He attended the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kerala and is vicar of St. Paul’s Indian Orthodox Church in Niskayuna. He and his wife, Deepa, live in Albany.

You’re an engineer by training. How did you become the vicar of St. Paul’s Indian Orthodox Church on Hillside Avenue?

During college I joined the Orthodox Christian Fellowship and rediscovered my faith and religious roots. With the youth group, I traveled around the country and felt a calling for preaching and ministry. I graduated in 2002 and worked for two years for the investment bank Credit Suisse as a programmer.

I entered the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kerala in 2004 and studied for five years. I was already a deacon when I was ordained as a priest in March 2012 and that August assigned to lead the Albany-area congregation.

Orthodox Christians have deep roots in India.

The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church traces its origins to the arrival in India of St. Thomas the Apostle in the first century. My seminary in the city of Kottayam is celebrating its 200th year and is the oldest non-Catholic seminary in Asia.

While there I had the privilege of visiting churches that are centuries old. I also was blessed to stay at a church founded by St. Thomas. In the south of India, where I’m from, Christians are 20 percent of the population.

We have been part and parcel of the community for centuries and have fortunately not experienced the persecution that has erupted in India and elsewhere. The Syriac Christians being violently victimized in the Middle East are our brothers.

This is a place where Christianity was vibrant for 2,000 years and home to many of the leading teachers of the faith and spiritually enlightened people of ancient times.

How widespread is your faith tradition in this country?

In the late 1960s and ’70s, there was a wave of migration of Indian Christians to America. My uncle, my mother’s brother, came in 1975. Our family arrived in the late 1980s. There are just over 100 congregations now in the United States, in Houston, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia as well as New York and other cities. Statewide, there are 25 congregations.

You’ve been a vicar now for three years. How’s it going?

The Malankara Orthodox Christians who came to the Capital Region initially worshipped with Christians from Kerala who belonged to various other denominations. This ecumenical group is known as United Christian Fellowship. In 2004 the Malankara Orthodox community formed its own congregation with the leadership of a senior priest, Very Rev. Thomas P. Mundukuzy, who had settled in Albany.

For years the congregation met twice a month. This year, on Feb. 23, we bought the former Lutheran church on Hillside Avenue in Niskayuna. It was on the verge of becoming demolished for a medical building, and we are renovating it for consecration as our home, continuing the building’s role as a place of faith.

We have 18 families, and the congregation also includes some college students and medical residents from Albany Med. On Sundays, we’re likely to have about 50 believers.

Our worship is conducted in Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala, but parts are also in English. I also know Syriac, the liturgical language of our church. (On the subject of languages, I might also mention that Malayalam is longest single-word palindrome in English!)

How does your congregation reach out to the community?

We want to share the love of Christ by reaching out to those in need. This year we participated in the CROP Walk in Schenectady together with sister churches. We conducted a charity lunch which raised funds to aid the victims of earthquake in Nepal.

We are in the middle of a drive to gather school supplies for underprivileged children in Schenectady.

One of the mottoes of our parish is mission and so we feel it is our calling to serve the community that we call our new home.

And now you’ve moved upstate?

These past few years, my wife, who was also born in India and grew up in Philadelphia, and I have been coming here and enjoying the different atmosphere and quieter way of life. Every Sunday we’d head home and often talk about moving here. This summer we decided to take the plunge.

Rob Brill