History of the MTOC - ARCHBISHOP ASHE & THE MTOC
1996 - PRESENT DAY
In 1996, a young Protestant Pastor named Veron Ashe joined the Federation of St. Thomas Christians. After many years of travel, study, and ecumenical dialogue, Fr. Ashe was ordained into the Holy Priesthood and came under the jurisdiction of Mar Narsai.
Prior to his entry into the Orthodox faith, Veron Ashe had become well known in the Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Prophetic movements. His dynamic preaching and teaching brought him to some very prominent pulpits and Christian television venues. He preached powerful messages such as "There's Got to Be More!" at Bishop T.D. Jakes' Potters House, as well as at Azusa Conference as an honorary guest of Bishop Carlton Pearson. To this day many seek out his messages online and many have worked to preserve them.
Fr. Ashe soon proved himself to be a proficient scholar of the orthodox tradition and he established his congregation as St. Mary of Magdala in Fresno, California. Fr. Ashe had previously been an overseer of several other churches in the United States and the West Indies.
On January 25th, 1997 he was consecrated as Bishop Mar Enoch into the Thomasine lineage by Mar Narsai with co-consecrator Mar Melchizedek (Greek Orthodox). Mar Enoch immediately began working to strengthen his congregations into the orthodox faith, and he was very zealous to appropriate the Syriac tradition, specifically that of the Malankara Orthodox tradition of India. He was befriended by the late Dr. Thomas Mar Makarios and Chorepiscopa Fr. K.C. Mathew (Malankara Orthodox Church) both of whom instructed Mar Enoch in the Syriac liturgy and history. Mar Makarios, was the Senior Metropolitan of America and Metropolitan of Canada and Europe for the Indian Orthodox Church.
Mar Makarios brought Mar Enoch to Kerala, India in 1997 to meet with H.H. Baselios Mar Thoma II, Catholicose for the Malankara Orthodox Church. During this same trip, Mar Enoch traveled to Thozhiyur where he met H.E. Joseph Mar Koorilose of the Malabar Independent Syrian Church. Mar Enoch was received warmly by the Indian Churches and recognized as a serious ecumenical representative of the Independent Thomasine church of America. Despite many cultural differences, a new relationship was growing between the Mar Thoma Orthodox Church and the Mother Church of India.
After returning to the United States, Mar Enoch organized ecumenical conferences at St. Mary of Magdala Orthodox Cathedral in Fresno, CA. Among the guest lecturers were Dr. Thomas Mar Makarios and Joseph Mar Koorilose, who instructed the clergy on Oriental Orthodox spirituality.
Many of Mar Enoch’s congregations came from a Protestant background, so there were great pastoral challenges he had to consider as he led the flock into a new tradition. With the counsel of Dr. Thomas Mar Makarios, he instituted an English translation of the Holy Qurbana, according to the rites and customs of the West Syrian tradition. The Malankara representatives frequently visited and observed the transitions implemented by Mar Enoch. Mar Makarios and Fr. K.C. Mathew both celebrated Holy Qurbana at St. Mary’s and complimented the work of the Mar Thoma Orthodox Church.
In 2003, H.E. Mar Koorilose (Thozhiyur Sabha) was the distinguished guest at St. Mary’s and established an ecumenical center with Mar Enoch. He was attended to by Bishop Avi Mar Abraham Penhollow (then Deacon Severus) and Dr. Jacob Mar Mathew Olasael of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church. Mar Koorilose lectured on the Syrian tradition and exhorted the people to continue in establishing positive relations with the Indian Churches. At the same time, the Archbishop acknowledged that there would be many cultural challenges on both sides as the two churches worked toward full communion.
Mar Koorilose traveled with Mar Abraham to Santa Cruz to meet with the head of the Federation of St. Thomas Christians, Mar Narsai, who was supportive of these new relationships with the Thomasine Churches of India. Mar Koorilose responded with enthusiasm to this historic meeting and he graciously offered his thoughts on how the churches should work to resolve their historical and theological differences.
The Mar Thoma Orthodox Church has continued to send ecumenical delegates to India as an integral part of its mission and identity in the Western context. Avi Mar Abraham Penhollow served as a Deacon and assistant to Mar Enoch. Prior to joining the Mar Thoma Orthodox Church, Avi served as a Protestant minister with an academic background in Religious Studies and Education. Along with Mother Naomi Windom and other clergy at St. Marys, Fr. Penhollow often traveled with Mar Enoch on his ecumenical visits. Avi was ordained a priest in 2004 and served parishes in California and Denver, Colorado. During his time serving at St. Mary’s Cathedral, he traveled to India in 2003. There he met with several hierarchs of the Indian Churches including his friend Mar Koorilose of Thozhiyur.
The Mar Thoma Orthodox Church Today
On January 18th, 2014 Mar Enoch entered into his eternal rest in San Francisco, California. Prior to his passing he was attended to by Avi Mar Abraham, who for several months discussed the issues facing the Mar Thoma Orthodox Church today.
The bishops confirmed that The Mar Thoma Orthodox Church should remain self-governing while continuing its ecumenical work with the Malankara Church and other Christian jurisdictions. Mar Abraham agreed to carry on the vision of reconciling the MTOC with the Church of India, without neglecting the unique pastoral needs of the American congregations. This includes continuing the work of Mar Enoch in outreach to other American churches interested in learning about the ancient faith.
Mar Abraham presided over the Holy Qurbana at the Interfaith memorial service for Mar Enoch on February 13th, 2014. The service was attended mostly by Protestant Christians who were deeply impacted by the preaching ministry of Mar Enoch.
In March of 2014, the bishops of the Mar Thoma Orthodox Church reaffirmed the mission and published the canons for this independent jurisdiction. The MTOC acknowledges itself as an ambassador church to all Churches and jurisdictions worldwide. The House of Bishops also confirmed Her Grace, Mar'ta Naomi Windom-Davis as Co-adjutor of the Archdiocese. Mar'ta Naomi served for many years as a priest in the MTOC and she is widely known as a dynamic voice in the Church today. She was ordained by the late Mar Enoch and her epicopacy affirmed by His Beatitude, Joseph Mar Narsai, Ph.D in Santa Cruz, CA.
The Mar Thoma Orthodox Church is convinced that women are to be full participants at all levels of church leadership and that the feminine voice is essential for the true witness of the gospel throughout the world. We are fully aware that this progressive perspective is not the accepted practice of other Orthodox jurisdictions, and we respect their right to maintain the traditions they uphold. We pray that one day our affirming presence will be the universal practice of the Church.
The Mar Thoma Orthodox family is an international community who embrace the rich Eastern Christian traditions within the modern global context. We are eternally grateful for our pioneering Archbishop Veron Ashe (Mar Enoch) for having the courage to embrace the ancient faith while remaining faithful to our pentecostal, charismatic, and prophetic roots. Our growing community will always hold him deep in our hearts.
Archbishop Veron Ashe signing an ecumenical agreement with the late Joseph Mar Koorilose of India (Thozhiyur Sabha). at St. Mary of Magdala Cathedral in Fresno, CA. Indian Orthodox bishops and priests assisted Mar Enoch in his vision to establish an American church. The MTOC is very grateful to their contributions and support over the years.
The House of Bishops oversee the MTOC in America. From left to right: Bishop Robert Mar Ephrem Lopez (Oakland, CA), Archbishop Cheryl Mar'ta Naomi Windom Davis (Los Angeles, CA), and Archbishop Avi Mar Abraham Penhollow (Hawaii). Each of these bishops worked directly under Mar Enoch at the original MTOC Cathedral in Fresno, CA.