The St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Cathedral Houston in Houston was established from a desire in the minds of the Indian immigrants to the Houston area in the early 70’s. They wanted a place to congregate and worship the Almighty God in the traditions and practices of the Malankara Orthodox Church.
On November 17, 1974, a newly formed prayer group invited Rev. Fr. C. O. Vargis from Corpus Christi to celebrate the Holy Qurbana according to the Malankara Syrian Orthodox rite in Houston, Texas. This service was held in the chapel of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Bellaire with 45 believers in attendance. Rev. Fr. C. O. Vargis decided to celebrate the Holy Qurbana in Houston on the third Sunday of every month. On December 15, 1974, after the Holy Qurbana, the first Managing Committee of the new congregation was elected with Rev. Fr. C. O. Vargis presiding. Rev. Deacon Zachariah Vennattukalathil was elected as the President of the new church.
It was, also, decided to affiliate the parish with the Diocese of Outside Kerala of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India. On December 29, 1974, the decision was made to name the church after the patron saint of India, the apostle St. Thomas. Also, the congregation decided to request the Metropolitan of the Diocese of Outside Kerala, His Grace Mathews Mar Athanasius to appoint Rev. Fr. C.O. Vargis as the first Vicar. On February 13, 1975, the Parish became a legal entity through its formal incorporation in Texas as a non-profit organization. The appointment of Rev. Fr. C.O. Vargis as Vicar was communicated by His Grace Mathews Mar Athanasius in the Pastoral Directive (Kalpana) #86/75 dated March 4, 1975. From May 1975 onwards, the Holy Qurbana was celebrated on the first and third Sundays of every month.
In 1979, His Grace Thomas Mar Makarios was appointed as the Diocesan Metropolitan for the newly formed American Diocese. During this same year, St. Gregorios Orthodox Church of India was founded in Houston, Texas with Rev. Fr. Zachariah Vennattukalathil as the Vicar. In the absence of a permanent facility, the services of the St. Thomas Church were held in various locations from 1974 to 1981. These locations included the chapel of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Houston Baptist University, and the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. However as the church kept growing, the decision was taken to build a church and the fund-raising activity started in 1976. In 1981, the dream of owning a permanent facility was fulfilled with the consecration of St. Thomas Indian Orthodox church in the neighborhood of Bridgeport in South-East Houston. From that point on, the Holy Qurbana was celebrated on every Sunday and all Moranaya Feast Days.
A reorganized and revitalized Sunday School program was also started in the new church in 1981. St. Thomas Church became the first Malankara Orthodox Church in the American Diocese to own its own property and permanent building. In 1983, Rev. Fr. M.T. Philip was appointed as the Officiating Priest of the Church by the Diocesan Metropolitan. Rev. Fr. M.T. Thomas started regularly participating in the church services from 1986 onwards. By the end of 1988, the St. Thomas Church had 109 subscribing member families. At this time, Rev. Fr. C.O. Vargis voluntarily vacated the positions of Vicar and President of the Parish.
Consequently, after much persuasion and effort by the Diocesan Metropolitan, Rev. Fr. C.O. Vargis and others, Rev. Fr. Gheevarghis Aroopala agreed to become the Vicar and President of St. Thomas Church. Rev. Fr. Aroopala had been studying and working in Dallas after successfully starting and leading the St. Gregorios Orthodox Church in Chicago for many years. With the appointment of Rev. Fr. Gheevarghis Aroopala on May 15, 1988, the St. Thomas Church became the first church in the American Diocese to have a full-time Vicar. In 1990, a second sister church, the St. Stephens Orthodox Church was started in Houston with Rev. Fr. C.O. Vargis as the Vicar.
The rapid growth of the St. Thomas church body initiated the process of building a larger church or finding a new location for a larger church. Consequently, 8 acres of land was purchased in the Stafford area of Houston and the foundation stone for a new church was consecrated and laid by the then newly appointed Diocesan Metropolitan, His Grace Mathews Mar Barnabas on June 22, 1992. The first Holy Qurbana was celebrated in the new church on March 7, 1993. On Christmas Day of 1993, the newly built Church and Auditorium facility was consecrated by His Grace Mathews Mar Barnabas
In 1997, the church purchased an additional 4 acres to expand the compound to a total of 12 acres of property. Over the next few years, three laymen of our Church were ordained – Rev. Fr. V.C. Varghese in 1998, Rev. Fr. Mathai Alakottu in 1999 and Rev. Fr. Mammen Mathew in 1999. Additionally, Rev. Dn. Binu Mathews was ordained as a Sub-Deacon in 1999 and later priest in 2010.
In 1999, the St. Thomas Orthodox Church of India in Houston celebrated its Silver Jubilee and this occasion was blessed by the presence of the Malankara Metropolitan and Catholicos of the East, His Holiness Moran Mar Baselios Marthoma Mathews II. At this time, our beloved Vicar, Rev. Fr. Gheevarghis Aroopala was elevated to the position of Corepiscopa.
In 2010, Rev. Dn. Jacob Kurian (Jake), was ordained as Full Deacon on Saturday, April 10, by His Grace Alexios Mar Eusebius, Metropolitan of the Diocese of South-West America. Two years later, he was ordained as a priest on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at his home parish, St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Cathedral Houston by His Grace Alexios Mar Eusebius. Rev. Fr. Jacob Kurian was appointed as Assistant Vicar to St. Stephen’s Orthodox Church, Houston.
On April 15, 2011, Rev. Dn. Christopher Mathew, was ordained as Full Deacon by His Grace Alexios Mar Eusebius, Metropolitan of the Diocese of South-West America. One year later, he was ordained as a priest on December 17, 2011, at his home parish, St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Cathedral Houston by His Grace Alexios Mar Eusebius. Rev. Fr. Christopher Mathew serves St. Gregorios Orthodox Church, Elmhurst, Illinois and leads all of the youth in the Chicago region.
Rev. Fr. Joel Mathew was ordained as a priest by His Grace Alexios Mar Eusebius, Metropolitan of Diocese of South-West America on Saturday, June 16, 2012, at his home parish, St. Mary’s Orthodox Valiyapalli, Farmers Branch. On July 1, 2012, Rev. Fr. Joel Mathew was appointed as Assistant Vicar of St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Cathedral Houston.
Today, the Parish has over 260 subscribing member families. All spiritual organizations of the Malankara Orthodox Church, such as Sunday School, Balika Bala Samajam, MGOCSM, FOCUS, Youth Movement, Martha Mariam Samajam and Prarthana Yogams (Area Prayer Groups) are active and flourishing in the Parish. Many of these organizations have pioneered missions and activities that have been role-models and examples for the rest of the American Diocese. As the Parish continues to be a blessed oasis for Orthodox believers in Houston, let us pray that Almighty God’s hand be upon us at all times so that every person and every activity of our Church glorifies His name and spread’s His goodwill.