STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- For the past few years, the congregants at the nation's first Malankara Orthodox church have kept relatively quiet about what they call a pattern of vandalism, harassment, and other abuse at their quiet Indian parish.
But when they showed up yesterday afternoon to find broken glass and rocks littering the pews and the floor in front of their altar, and two side windows smashed, the leaders of the St. George Malankara Orthodox Church in New Dorp Beach decided they'd seen too much.
"What we need is protection. This kind of action should not happen," said Babu Philip, the church's treasurer.
Two summers ago, someone slapped a swastika sticker on one of the outside walls of the Cedar Grove Avenue house of worship, and rather than make an issue of it, the church's leaders said they just painted it over.
Vandals frequently throw eggs at the church, and once, piled up meat and chicken outside the front door, they said.
And earlier this year, during an evening prayer service, three men burst into the church, and blew an air horn "while the worship was going on," said Varughese Mathew, a member of the church board of trustees. "Hundreds of people were inside."
They called the police, but a witness wrote down the wrong license plate number, and the car was long gone when cops showed up.
Two small metal pellets, likely from a pellet gun, rest inside one window frame from another incident, one of them rusted, another still uncorroded.
"Imagine, when they used the pellet gun, if some people were standing there, what would have happened?" said Jacob Mathew, the church's former treasurer. "Being a Christian, forget and forgive, what can we do? But how are we going to forget and forgive on this thing?"
Though they don't know the exact motive, the church officials feel bias may be at the root of the various incidents.
"Because we are different," said Jacob Thomas Vilayil, noting that some members of the congregation have been harassed and mocked in the parking lot across the street from the church.
He added, "We actually believe in the same Christian faith."
The Malankara Orthodox Church traces its roots back to 52 A.D., when the apostle Thomas traveled to India to establish Christianity there.
St. Thomas Christians, also known as Syrian Christians, exist in several denominations, but the majority belong to the Malankara Orthodox Church, which has its headquarters in Kerala State.
The Cedar Grove Avenue church was purchased in 1980 and consecrated during a service on June 8 of that year. It was the first church building owned by a Malankara Orthodox Church of India in the Western Hemisphere.
The congregation began with just seven families, and has since grown to close to 100 families and about 450 members.
John Annese is a news reporter for the Advance. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org