AL AIN // The UAE's biggest Indian Orthodox church, with a capacity of 1,500, was consecrated this weekend in two days of ceremonies that drew 6,000 worshippers from across the country. The Al Ain St Dionysius Orthodox Church has been a long time in the making and will now serve as the country's primary location for Christians of all denominations to come and worship during big festivals such as Christmas and Easter.
It is the sixth Indian Orthodox church to be built in the country. The others are in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Fujairah and RAK.
The parish priest, Father Saji Abraham, said: “All the people from around the emirates can come together here. We expect more than 500 families from the local area to become members but many of our other sister congregations don’t have the facilities like this so this will enable everyone to worship together.”
He said those from the likes of the Syrian and Egyptian Orthodox churches will share major festivities but even those churches the Indian Orthodox has in other emirates are overcrowded.
“We don’t have the space we need, it’s very limited,” he said. “They are struggling to accommodate the communities so our aim is that for any kind of general functions relating to all the churches, this is a place for everyone to come together. We have almost 2.5 acres of land so there is plenty of parking as well.”
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth, and Social Development, was at Thursday evening’s initial inauguration before the main event on Friday. Other dignitaries included the Indian ambassador and Dr George Mathew, a member of the congregation but also medical advisor at the Diwan of Al Ain, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Mohammed’s office
The church was allocated the plot in 2010 by Sheikh Khalifa and approvals for the project were granted in 2012.
The Dh13 million project was funded by donations from members and local and international benefactors. Sister churches in other emirates have also been major contributors.
The church held its first service in Al Ain in 1969 as a branch of St George Orthodox cathedral in Abu Dhabi. Officially established in 1974 but not declared a parish until 2002, the church has grown to about 700 members.
In 2003, the church was the first to be named for Vattasseril Geevarghese Mar Dionysius, on the same day he was canonised a saint.
Worshippers had previously gathered at the parsonage for evening prayers and services and special events were held at other churches in the city, including St Mary’s Catholic church.
* The article has been amended since it was first published to reflect that the Al Ain St Dionysius Orthodox Church is the sixth Indian Orthodox church to be built in the UAE and to correct Dr George Mathew's official designation.