Christianity in India
Thomas Christians of India are one of the most ancient Christian communities in the World. Apostle Thomas founded the Church in India in the first century itself. Tradition says that Apostle Thomas landed at Kodungalloor in AD 52 and founded 7 and half communities in the Malabar coast. Even though there is no solid historical evidence of this, considering the available historical, archaeological evidences and logical thought, many researchers and historians have concluded that the visit of Apostle Thomas is possible. There are solid grounds for believing that there was a Christian community that existed in Kerala in the very early period.
The arrival of Apostle Thomas in North West India is now, an accepted story, especially after the discovery of coins with the name of the Parthian King Gondophoros in the region, which validate the story in the apocryphal Acts of Judas Thomas.1 After a critical study about the apocryphal work ‘Acts of Judas Thomas’ J N Farquhar, who was a Professor of Comparative Religion in Manchester University argues that the legend of Thomas Apostle coming to Musiris where a large number of Jews, Greeks Romans and others lived and preached the Gospel and founded Christian communities among them, or in simple words, the Apostolate of Thomas in South India is on balance of probability, is distinctly on the side of historicity.2
The widespread presence of Pahlavi inscribed granite crosses in south India are the most ancient antiquities available about the history of Thomas Christians in the region. They denote the presence of a Christianity related to Persia. Eminent Pahlavi scholar B T Anklesaria has commented that the most ancient of these crosses, the one found at Alengadu could be of AD 340 or earlier but later than AD 302, (depending on the style of the letters and use of adjuncts, comparing to the styles seen in the ancient coins excavated, manuscripts and inscriptions). As the Pahlavi language died out by AD 650, many of the scholars put the age of these crosses as AD 650. 3
East Syrian Connection
Thomas Christians have always been under the jurisdiction of more advanced Christianity in Mesopotamia and Persia. There are hints from ancient literature that Apostle Thomas had sent letters to the Church in Edessa from India. Cureton in ‘Ancient syriac documents’ comments about Apostle Thomas’ letters received in the Church of Edessa. J N Farquhar, after critically analysing the possibilities, states that as there was a Bishop in Edessa from the time of Mar Addai, and there were no Bishops In India, the Christians would have corresponded with them and recognised the supremacy of Edessa.4
There is plenty of documentary evidence to show the connection of the Church in India to the Church of the East. Alphonse Mingana, after studying numerous ancient documents and manuscripts, commented that “any attempt to speak of early Christianity in India as different from the East Syrian church, is, in our judgement, bound to fail”.5
Early Christian Church.
It is believed that Aramaic was the language of our Lord Isho M’shiha and his disciples. It was the language of early Christians. The early Christians were Syriac speaking. But later, Christianity developed in Jerusalem and Antioch in a Hellenised culture and hence Greek became the official language.8 Greek language and hellenic culture, during the time of Isho M’shiha, was like English language and American culture today. Thus, the development of the primitive church was rooted in Greek language and hellenic culture. Alexandria and Constantinople were the Great Centres of Greek Christianity.
Rome was the centre of the Christianity in Latin. Latin was the language of the West. Irenius preached the gospel in Latin in Lyons. By second and third century, enough writings and documents including translations of the gospel were produced in the west in Latin.
Evolution of East Syriac Church.
Aramaic or Syriac was the language of our Lord Isho M’shiha and his disciples. It was in the same language that the angels spoke to Marth Mariam( Saint Mary), Mar Yawsep ( Saint Joseph), and Zacharias, the father of Yohannan Mamdana( John the Baptist). It was also the same language that broke out from heaven when our Lord Isho M’shiha was baptised in the river Jordan. Thus, Syriac was the language of heaven in which the mysteries of the salvation of human kind was revealed.
Many of the Aramaic words are still preserved in the Bible, even after several translations to translations into different languages and cultures. Examples are ‘Amen’, ‘Maranatha’, calling God almighty as ‘Abba’ (Rom 8:15 and Gal 4:6)and the last words of Our Lord Isho M’shiha on the cross- ‘Eloi, Eloi (actually Elahi) lama sabachthani’ (Mark 15:34)
Syriac Christianity evolved around Edessa and adjacent parts of Mesopotamia. The Syriac school at Edessa and Saint Ephraim of Edessa nurtured the early Syriac Church. All the ancient Syriac churches were founded by either Thomas the Apostle or his disciples. The Assyrian Church in Mesopotamia was one of the very first Churches founded in Apostolic times. Acts of Apostles mentions about the presence of Assyrians on the day of Pentecost . (Acts 2,9) Very ancient Syriac writings such as ‘The Doctrine of Addai’, ‘The Chronicles of Arbela’ and ‘The teachings of the Tweleve Apostles’ mention that Saint Thomas sent Thaddeus and Mari to preach Abgar Ukkama the Black, the King of Assyrians at Osrhoene (Edessa).9 Eusebius, the father of Church history also witnesses in AD 325 that he personally searched the state archives of the Assyrians in the capital city of Edessa and found official records of this Apostolic visit .10 Apostle Thomas is believed to have gone to Parthia and India to evangelise.
The Church of India and The Church of Persia claim to be founded by the Apostle Thomas himself. South Indian tradition supported by a large number of ancient writings talk about the Apostle’s visit to South India. The Church of Fars also claim that their church was founded by Apostle Thomas.11 Thus, the Churches of Edessa, Seleusia-Ctesiphon of Babylon, Persia and India constitute the Thomasine Churches and these Syriac churches consolidated under the banner of the Church of the East due to their linguistic and cultural relationship. They were interlinked from the early period itself.
But the East Syriac Church, the communion of early Syriac churches which happened to be under the Persian empire did not want to be under the Patriarchate of Antioch which was in the Roman Empire. This had political influence due to the feud between Persian and Roman empires. Initially, the Church of the East- the Syriac church was supported by the Patriarchate of Antioch even in the midst of political strifes. But, for survival, the leaders of the Church of the East adopted a nationalistic strategy and declared independence from the Patriarch of Antioch and declared their Catholicose as the Patriarch of the Church.
Evolution of Hierarchy in India
Apostle Thomas might have consecrated Priests and Bishops for Thomas Christians. Tradition names two Bishops Kepa and Paul whom the Apostle consecrated. But no solid evidence available.12
Was there a local congregation and priestly ministry in the early period ?
Photius in his ‘Bibliotheca’ quotes Arian Philostrogius about Theophilus, the Indian in AD 354, ‘Thence he sailed to other parts of India , and reformed many things which were not rightly done among them; for they heard the reading of the Gospel in a sitting posture…..’13 This quote confirms about presence of a faithful congregation, regular celebration of liturgy where Gospels were read and thus, presence of at least a Priestly ministry. We have to assume that the congregation was indigenous on the account of the peculiar practices found among them such as receiving the Gospel reading in sitting posture. Mingana says ‘There is hardly any reasonable doubt , therefore that the Christian community in India in about AD 354 was an indigenous community, not much in touch with the practices prevalent in Graeco Roman Churches , and was somewhat similar to the East Syrian Church before the time of the Catholicose Papa’.14
Cosmas Indicopleustes who travelled during the period AD 520-525 vouches that there were Christian congregations in Taprobane(Ceylon) in the Indian sea and also in the land called Male( Malabar) where pepper grows. He also found Bishops in Kalliana( Kalyan) and Dioscoris(Socotora) who were appointed from Persia.15 The author of Periplus of the Erythrean sea also confirms about the pepper trade from Musiris,(Kodungalloor) Cottonora( Kuttanadu) and Barake (Purakkadu port).16
So there should not be any question about the identity of Male in the writings of Cosmas Indicapleustes. Cosmas Indicapleustes also clarifies that there were Christian Churches among the Indians besides Bactrians, Huns, Persians, Greeks and so on confirming that the Christian community was native Indians. ‘….and also among the Bactrians and Huns and Persians, and the rest of the Indians, and among the Persarmenians and Greeks and Elamites, and throughout the whole land of Persia, there is an infinite number of churches with Bishops and a vast multitude of Christian people , and they have many martyrs and recluses leading a monastic life. Note the usage ‘and the rest of the Indians’. In contrast, Cosmas Indicapleustes clearly states that the native people in Ceylone were different from the Christians.17
Dependence on the Church of Fars for Episcopal Ministry
Chronicles of Seert narrates that Mana, the Bishop of Rewardushir ( Fars- South Persia) wrote religious discourses, canticles and hymns in Pahlavi language and translated the works of Diodore and Theodore of Mopseustia into Syriac and sent them to India and the islands of the sea.18 This shows the ecclesiastical connection of the Indian Church with that of Fars. The recent excavation of Pahlavi Psalter from Turfan in China which is now kept in the museum of Berlin validates this information from Chronicles of Seert.19
Bishop is the English word for the Greek word Episcopa. Bishops are the successors of the Apostles. They are consecrated members of the clergy who oversee a local church. They are teachers of the Doctrine of the Church20, ( Mathew 28:19) priests of the divine worship and ministers of governance.21 In the ancient church, it is narrated that Bishops were elected by the clergy and the community. As the position of a Bishop in the Roman Empire gained importance and even power, this gradually changed and the Emperors started influencing the election of Bishops. As the Bishop of Rome gained importance, the powers and influence exerted by the Emperors shifted to the Popes.
Church of the East was called the Church of Fire due its intense missionary zeal. As missionary activities increased, the church started sending missionaries to other places to spread the gospel, they sent teachers and Bishops from the mother church. The Great Syriac schools were in Edessa (second century) and Nisibis. Thus, the Bishops who are the official teachers of the doctrine of the church would have been from these great centres. This would explain the reasons for the Bishops for the Church of Malabar coming from Babylon and Persia. Examples are seen in western Church also. Archbishop Theodore who was the Archbishop of Canterbury(AD 668-690) was from Tarsus, near Antioch. He was a monk in a monastery in Rome and was consecrated as a Bishop and sent to England.
We can see people from India had gone to Babylon to study in these great Schools. Mingana describes about Daniel, the Indian Priest who was in Edessa, was involved in translation of Pauline Epistles from Greek into Syriac.22 Indian Priest Daniel might have been consecrated as a Bishop in one of the provinces of the Church of the East.
The first Bishop of India seen in historical documents is Bishop David of Basra in about AD 295. Mingana thinks that the seat of Bishop David of Basra could have been somewhere in the Malabar Coast.23 The second bishop seen in the history is Bishop John of Persia and India who attended the council if Nicea (AD 325) Mingana also narrates about Bishop Joseph of Edessa who was sent by the Catholicose of the East to Malabar in AD 345.24
The Church of Fars was elevated as a Metropolitan Church by Patriarch Isaac (AD 399-410) or Patriarch Yahb Alaha (AD 415-420) 25 Thus, the Church of India became under the jurisdiction of the Church of Fars and Bishops were consecrated by the Metropolitan of Fars from time to time since then.
Metropolitan of India
Patriarch Isho Yahb III (650-660) in a letter, accused the Metropolitan of Fars ( South Persia) that he denied Episcopal consecration to Indian church for simony. ‘ Remember with these, O our God loving brother, that as you closed the door of the Episcopal ordination in the face of the many peoples of India and you impeded the gift of God for sake of perishable gains….’26
This letter confirms that there existed in India a regular hierarchy attached to the Church of Fars. This dispute might have been caused by the Metropolitan of Fars asking money for Bishopric consecration. It may imply that, until that time, the prelates were Indian natives and the Indian church community had to pay a lump sum of money to the Metropolitan of Fars to get consecration. Somehow, the Catholicose Patriarch at Selucia-Ctesiphone was informed of this situation that necessitated him to intervene.
Ibn Al Tayib mentions that Patriarch Isho Yahb II (628-643) raised the Indian Church to a Metropolitan Church with some six to twelve suffragans under him, as the number of Christians increased significantly in the region. This would separate the Indian Church from the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Fars, but directly under the Patriarch, as a Metropolitan cannot be under another Metropolitan. The Metropolitan of Fars did not like this idea to detach the Indian Church from his jurisdiction and this could be the reason for the dispute challenging the authority of the Patriarch Isho Yahb III . 27 It seems that the decision could not have been implemented due to the resistance from the Metropolitan of Fars.
To rectify this situation, Patriarch Isho Yahb III or the next Patriarch Sliba Zacha raised Indian Church into a Metropolitanate, independent of the Church of Fars and directly put under the Patriarch.28
Patriarch Thimothy I(780-823) in his letter give us a hint that the Metropolitan was selected locally by the people in the presence of suffragan Bishops and was enthroned by placing the letter of the Patriarch on his head.29 This confirms that Metropolitans were elected and enthroned locally. There is a possibility that they were native Indians.
Independent Metropolitanate- A Particular Church
Synodical canons of Abdisho narrates that the Metropolitans of India, China and Samarkand and other remote lands were exempted from attending the general synods of the East Syrian Church.30 Patriarch Theodosius (852-859) stipulated that the Metropolitans of India and China need report to the Patriarch only once in six years rather than every year for the other Metropolitans.31 These show that the Patriarchate of Seleusia-Ctesiphon seems to have considered the Indian Church as a Particular Church with a certain autonomy.
Metropolitan and Gate of all India ( Metropolitan u-Thara d- kollah Hendo)-The Throne of Saint Thomas
The Metropolitan of the Church of Saint Thomas was called Metropolitan and The Gate of All India- Metropolita u thara d kolla Hendo. The term ‘Gate’ means Great authority.32 The Syriac manuscript written in A D 1301 in Cranganore- the Vatican Syriac Codex 22- use the title ‘The Metropolitan of India’.
‘This holy book was written in the Royal, renowned, and famous city of Shingala in Malabar, in the country of India, in the church of the illustrious martyr Mar Cyriacus- May all the faithful be helped by his prayers ! Amen. …..And in the time of the Bishop Mar Jacob, Metropolitan and director of the Holy see of the Apostle Saint Thomas , that is to say, our director and the director of all the holy church of Christian India…..’ 33
Here, the usages- ‘the director of all the holy church of Christian India’- and ‘Metropolitan and director of the Holy see of the Apostle Saint Thomas’ are important, as they denote the concept of the Throne of Saint Thomas and a Quasi Patriarchal status.
Fr Campori S J wrote in AD 1607- ‘according to the information gathered from several Chaldean books and from well known facts, the Bishop of the Serra ( Malabar) was always an Archbishop and is the oldest in the whole of India. Its Archbishops and Prelates were always called Archbishop Metropolitan of All India and of its confines.’ 34
The last Chaldean Bishop, Mar Abraham who was resident in Angamali used the title ‘All India’ in his letters to the Patriarch. 35 Bishop Francis Ros, the very first Latin Rite Bishop of Saint Thomas Christians and Bishop Palliveettil Chandy, the first native Bishop of Catholic Syrians are also reported to have used the title ‘Metropolitan of All India’.
Metropolitan of Angamali, the ‘Rambba d Kolhon Apeskope u Metropolite’- Superior of all the Bishops and Metropolitans.
When the second Chaldean Patriarch Mar Abdisho appointed Mar Abraham as the Metropolitan of Angamali, he conferred the title ‘Rambba d Kolhon Apeskope u Metropolite’- Superior of all the Bishops and Metropolitans.36 . Mar Abdisho in his decree nominating Archdeacon George of Christ as the Bishop of Palayur and Suffragan to Mar Abraham, seems to have authorised Mar Abraham to assemble all the Metropolitans and Bishops and also to elect and consecrate Bishops.37 By this, the Metropolitan of Angamali was given autonomy and authority over other Prelates. Until then, the Metropolitans did not have an assigned seat. This may be a Roman Catholic influence, as this is the first Bishop appointed by the Catholic Chaldean Patriarch, immediately after its formation. So, now, the seat of Metropolitan and Gate of All India has been fixed at Angamali.
Patriarch of India- the testimony of Joseph, the Indian
Joseph the Indian, the famous Indian Cathanaar who visited Europe and the Pope in AD 1501 with Cabral, talks about the Patriarch of India. Joseph was interviewed by the House of Lords of Venice where he explained the hierarchical structure of the Church of Malabar. ‘They have a Supreme Pontiff called Catholica, twelve Cardinals, two Patriarchs, Bishops and Arch bishop’s. Joseph also mentioned that he was ordained as a Priest by this Catholica. Joseph clearly confirms that this Catholica appoints Patriarchs, one for India and one for China.38
We can see from History that Joseph was ordained by Catholicos Simon, the Patriarch of the East, in AD 1490.The famous Syriac letter of the three Bishops Mar Yohannan, Mar Yakkob and Mar Denha in AD 1504 to the Patriarch of Babylon testifies this fact.39
Here, Joseph is clearly stating the hierarchical relations and structure of the Saint Thomas Christians. Their Supreme Pontiff is the Catholicose at Babylon. Under him twelve cardinals. It is unclear, if this position is called Cardinal exactly, as Cardinal is a title in the Roman Church. We can assume that there was a twelve member council immediately under the Catholicos. This reminds us about the 12 canonists under Paremmakkal Thomman Cathanaar, the Governor of the Catholic Syrians.40
In the history, we can see Mar Ahathalla comes with a claim that he was a Patriarch for Thomas Christians appointed by the Pope in AD 1653.41 Kallada Mooppan- Mar Andrews also arrived in AD 1676 with a claim that he was a Patriarch.42 These two persons were accepted by the community which confirms that such a title was in use in India. G Schurhammer also comments that the head of the Indian Church was sometimes referred to as Patriarch in a wider sense.43
When the Portuguese arrived in Malabar, they found a flourishing Christian community there, lead by Bishops from Babylon. The initial period was friendly but later, they began to find mistakes in the faith of the Thomas Christians and accused heresy . They forced the Thomas Christians to conform with Roman rite. The Thomas Christians resisted against this religio cultural invasion. Even when they yielded with the spiritual authority, they vehemently resisted for any change in their rite. The Portuguese missionaries, as a last resort, convened a diocesan synod at Udayampeeroor( Diamper) in which, they forced the Archdeacon and the Cathanaars to obey to the decisions of the synod which was meant to Latinise the Church of Saint Thomas. Synod of Diamper was definitely a forceful and illegal invasion of Portuguese Missionaries into the affairs of Saint Thomas Christians. The Archbishop of Goa had no jurisdiction over Saint Thomas Christians. Without any special mandate from the Roman Pontiff, he forcefully entered the Archdiocese of Angamali and convened the Diocesan Synod of Diamper. The conduct of the synod was invalid and illegitimate. The Christians were intimidated and threatened with serious punishments to make them obey.44
After this infamous Synod of Diamper in 1599, the Church of Saint Thomas Christians became subjected to Latin rite Bishops and the historic connection with the Patriarchate of Chaldeans was broken. The Portuguese Missionaries downgraded the ancient Church of Christians of Saint Thomas into a mere suffragan of the Archdiocese of Goa of Latin rite. Later, due to the resistance of Saint Thomas Christians, the Metropolitanate was reinstated and Archdiocese of Kodungalloor was created with Western Prelates.45 Even though the Thomas Christians were subjected to Latin rite prelates in Latin Rite hierarchy, the community consolidated under the leadership of the Archdeacons as a separate rite with its own liturgy and traditions. The Missionaries began to Latinise their rite of worship and tried to eliminate the authority and status of the Archdeacon and thereby dishonour the status of their ancient Church of Malabar. The community secretly tried to get Prelates from the Patriarchate of Chaldeans and other Eastern Churches. The missionaries used their political power to prevent Thomas Christians from contacting any Oriental Churches and they even arrested and deported Mar Ahatalla, a Bishop of Syriac Rite who arrived in Mailappore in AD 1653.46
The Great Revolt and the unfortunate Division- Puthencoor and Pazhayacoor
The Thomas Christians rose up and revolted against the Portuguese in AD 1653 in the historic Coonan Cross Oath and consecrated the Archdeacon Palliveettil Thomas as the Bishop of Thomas Christians. This revolt was nearly complete and that shocked the Missionaries.47 Rome intervened and Carmelite Missionaries were sent to win the Thomas Christians back. Carmelites could convince the majority of Thomas Christians that the consecration of the Archdeacon Thomas was invalid as the consecration was conducted not by any Bishops, but by twelve priests only. Rome appointed Carmelite Missionary, Joseph Maria Sebastiani as the Bishop for Saint Thomas Christians. Many leaders of the community rejoined the missionaries. Due to political reasons, Portuguese Missionaries had to leave the country and they consecrated Palliveettil Chandy Cathanaar as the Bishop for the Catholic Thomas Christians in 1663.48 Thus, the majority of Thomas Christians consolidated under the native Bishop Palliveettil Chandy, keeping their Syro Chaldean rite of worship.
As Bishop Palliveettil Chandy was legitimately consecrated as a Bishop, Archdeacon Thomas tried to get a legitimate Bishopric consecration. He sent letters to different Eastern Churches. Due to political reasons, many of them were helpless. Archdeacon Thomas started negotiations with the Jesuites for a submission without humiliation.49 In AD 1665, a Syrian Prelate Mar Gregorius arrived in Calicut. This raised the hopes of Archdeacon Thomas and strengthened his position and he withdrew from the negotiations.
The community became explicitly divided between Bishop Chandy and Archdeacon Thomas. Those who remained in status quo- continued the previous 100 years of communion with the Rome were labelled as Pazhayacoor- the old loyalists and those who aligned behind the new Bishop Mar Gregorius were labelled as Puthencoor- the new loyalists.50
Evolution of the Thomas Christians after the division.
Evolution of Pazhayacoor
The community of the Thomas Christians who continued the status quo- remained in communion with the Rome – the Catholics of Syro Chaldean rite became the Syro Malabar Church. After Bishop Palliveettil Chandy, the Catholic Syrians had to continue under Latin Bishops until 1896. But, they continued their struggle for independence, autonomy and to protect their Syro Chaldean Rite.
Many of the Latin trained cathanars were loyal to the Roman Catholic Authorites and the Missionaries. But the community as a whole was unhappy.
There were several attempts for reinstating the jurisdiction of the Chaldean Patriarch. Several letters and delegations were sent to Babylon. Due to resistance of the Roman Catholic Missionaries, Chaldean Patriarchs were helpless. In AD 1797, a four member delegation was sent to the Chaldean Patriarch (Patriarch of the Chaldean rite) in Bagdad by Paremmakkal Thomman Cathanaar, the Governor of the Catholic Syrians.51 As a result of this, one of the members of the delegation, Paul Pandari was ordained as a Priest and then consecrated as a Bishop with the name Mar Abraham and was sent to Malabar in AD 1798. Later, in AD 1861, Mar Thomas Rokos and in AD 1874, Mar Elias Melus, both were sent from the Chaldean Patriarch in Babylon, on the request of the Catholic Syriac Christians. All these created some minor divisions, but Rome instructed the Patriarch of the Chaldeans to recall these Bishops. Some of the followers of Mar Melus eventually contacted the Patriarch of the non Catholic Church of the East- Patriarch of the Assyrians- and formed the Church of the East in India.
The prominent leaders of the Pazhayacoor were for status quo and were resistant to leave the communion with Rome and hence remained obedient to Rome, as did the Patriarch of Chaldeans. The community continued their struggle to have a hierarchy of its own rite- the Syro Chaldean rite- with native Bishops. Seeing the success of Mar Rokos and Mar Melus, Rome sent a few Apostolic visitors to study the situation. Rev Leo Meurin S J in 1875 and Rev Igantius Pertico in 1876 arrived in Malabar.52 As a result, the Hierarchy of Catholics of the Syro Chaldean rite was restored in AD 1887 with the erection of Kottayam and Trichur vicariates for the Catholic Thomas Christians, separating them from the Latin rite Catholics.53 In 1896, native Prelates were appointed in Kottayam and Trichur vicariates and also in the newly created Ernakulam vicariate.54 In 1923, Ernakulam vicariate was elevated as an Archdiocese and the Church became a Metropolitan Church.55 In 1992, Syro Malabar Church was elevated to a Major Archiepiscopal Church with Padiyara Mar Anthonius I as the first Major Arch Bishop.56 Initially, the Major Arch Bishop of Syro Malabar Church was not given the full powers as specified in the Oriental canon Law due to the differences existed in the church.
The first and second Major Archbishops were nominated by the Supreme Pontiff, the Pope of Rome. During the time of the second Major Arch Bishop Vithayathil Mar Giwargis I, the Holy Synod of Syro Malabar Church was given full powers including election of the Father and Head of the Church.
In 2011, after the sad demise of Vithayathil Mar Giwargis I Bava, the Holy Synod of Syro Malabar Church canonically elected a new Father and Head of the Church and Alencheril Mar Giwargis II Bava was enthroned as the new Major Archbishop. This is the first time, the Syro Malabar Church was executing the powers to elect its Father and head of the Church, thereby recapturing the lost status of ‘Metropolitan and the Gate of All India’.
In this evolution of Syro Malabar Church, one cannot forget the efforts and sufferings of many forefathers of the community. To name some of them, Paremmakkal Thomman Cathanaar, Cariattil Mar Yawsep Metropolita, Nidheerickal Mani Cathanaar and Rev Dr Placid Podipara. The Thomas Christians fiercely fought against the foreign missionaries to preserve their rite and liturgy. During the evolution of Syro Malabar church in a strongly latinised environment, it was Rev Dr Placid Podipara who guided the church and the leaders in the right path to preserve our Apostolic Christianity. As a Consulter of the Holy See, he argued for the legitimate rights of Syro Malabar Church as a Particular Church and the right for expansion of its territory of jurisdiction and for correction of its mutilated liturgy. The Syro Malabar church would have evolved into a mere offshoot of the Latin rite in Kerala without the efforts of Rev Dr Placid. . Without having the awareness of our identity, the Church would have gone to a path of merging with the Latin rite terminating the existence of the Catholic Thomas Christian rite of Malabar.57
Evolution of the Puthencoor- The Jacobite Syrians.
It is believed that Mar Gregorius consecrated Archdeacon Thomas as a Bishop. Thus, a succession of Mar Thoma Metropolitans lead the Puthencoor commmunity. They used the same Syro Chaldean rite. They could reinstate some of the Syrian traditions abolished by the Synod of Diamper, but continued the Latinised Syro Chaldean rite, as people were resistant to change, in a volatile situation of power struggle to control the community by Mar Chandy and Mar Thoma Metropolitans. The new way of celebrating the Liturgy by Mar Gregorius raised dissatisfaction and Archdeacon Thomas had to persuade him to use the local rite.58. Thus, Mar Gregorius was not in a position to introduce the new Antiochian rite among the Puthencoor community.59
Several Prelates from the Patriarchate of Antioch came to Malabar. They wanted to subjugate the Puthencoor to the Patriarchate of Antioch. But the Mar Thoma Metropolitans resisted and wanted to keep their hereditary succession. But they had to yield to the Prelates from Antioch due to political reasons.
1 The Roman Catholic authorities always propagated that the Bishopric consecration of the succession of Mar Thoma Metropolitans were illegitimate.60 The Prelates from Antioch also started bargaining with Puthencoor community and accused that these consecrations were invalid. They wanted full submission of Puthencoor to the Patriarchate of Antioch. Thus, Mar Thoma VI received valid consecration from Antiochian prelates Mar Ivanios and Mar Gregorius who arrived in AD 1751 and received the name Mar Dionysius I, as per the Antiochene tradition. But Mar Dionysius I also was not ready for a full submission.
2.In AD 1705, Mar Gabriel arrived in Malabar from the Patriarchate of Assyrians. A large number of Puthencoor and Pazhayacor joined him as he used the original rite. After his death, all of them returned to their own groups. Mar Gabriel weakened the position of Mar Thoma IV. This might have forced him to seek help from the Patriarchate of Antioch.
3. Later, the Protestant Missionaries influenced the Puthencoor community and caused unrest. To tackle this, the Mar Thoma Metropolitans wanted an affiliation to a Major church. Always their first choice was the Pazhayacoor community, as a united community, it would be a strong force, but due to the strong opposition from the Latin Missionaries, the Pazhayacoor community and the leaders were helpless, not to forget the efforts of Paremmakkal Thomman Cathanaar and Kariattil Youseph Metropolita in the 18th century and Nidheerickal Mani Cathanar in the 19th century.
Thus, the Puthencoor community had to submit to the Church of Antioch and adopt Antichene rite gradually.
The Antiochian Prelates arrived in 1751 tried to create a group among Puthencoor to favour them and used every opportunity for that. They consecrated Kattumangattu Kurian rampan as a rival Bishop with the name Mar Coorillose in AD 1772. This was the beginning of Thozhiyur Church.
The Anglican Missionaries influenced the Puthencoor community. This created some division. In order to get rid of the Protestant influence, Mar Dionysius IV had to accept the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch in Malabar.( Mavelikkara padiyola) Later, some of the Puthencoor community joined the Anglican Church and formed the CMS and then Church of South India. Still, the differences in opinion continued. In 1843, Mathews Mar Athanasius was consecrated as Bishop by the Jacobite Patriarch in Antioch, as a rival to the traditional Mar Thoma Metropolitan Mar Dionysius IV. The subsequent division created Mar Thoma Syrian Church which follow the principles of Protestant reformation.
The Puthencoor community always had differences on the account of the authority of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch. The Mar Thoma Metropolitans did not want to be under the temporal jurisdiction of the Church of Antioch. Mar Dionysius V even negotiated with the Roman Catholic Church for a reunion with Pazhayacoor to form a single church along with Nidheerickal Mani cathanar of Pazhayacoor. They all failed. Patriarch of Antioch Moran Mar Abdulla came to Kerala in 1909 and claimed his jurisdiction over the Puthencoor. Mar Dionysius VI did not agree with it. The Patriarch excommunicated Mar Dionysius VI and consecrated more Bishops on his side. Thus the community split into two.- one favouring the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch and the other opposing to it. Mar Dionysius VI contacted an ex Patriarch Abdul Messiah II who was a deposed Patriarch who arrived in Kerala in 1912 and consecrated a few Bishops and enthroned a Catholicos as the Head of the Church-the Catholicos of the East. Later, both parties had some reconciliation and in 1931, the excommunications were withdrawn and both recognised each other. In 1964, due to differences among the two groups, the Patriarch of Antioch Moran Mar Igantius Yakkub III established a Catholicos for the Jacobite faction also.
In this volatile circumstances, a group of Puthencoor community under the leadership of Mar Ivanios Metropolitan, joined the Catholic Communion in AD 1932. They are called Syro Malanakra Church. They continued to use West Syriac Liturgy. They are now, a Sui iuris Church in the Universal Catholic communion with a Major Archbishop as the head. The Holy Synod of the Syro Malankara Church has decided to call their Major Archbishop, a Catholcos.
The Supreme Hierarchs of Thomas Christians today.
a. The Pazhayacoor-(The Old loyalists, The old Rite-East Syriac Rite)
Syro Malabar Church
The Syro Malabar Church today is a Sui iuris Church in the Universal Catholic Communion. They have a supreme Synod of Bishops who appoint Bishops, make decisions about the liturgy and practices and elects their Father and Head of the church- the Major Archbishop. They accept the Pope of Rome as the supreme Pontiff. They use the Syro Chaldean liturgy today which is one of the most faithful to the ancient East Syriac Liturgy that was in use by Al Quosh Patriarchs before the Chaldean division of AD 1552.61
The Church of the East in India.
They are part of the Church of the East. They use the East Syriac Liturgy. They function as a province of the Assyrian Church of the East with a Metropolitan.
b. The Puthencoor ( The New Loyalists, The New Rite- The West Syriac Rite)
The Jacobite Syrian Church.
They are part of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. The head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in India is named as a Catholicose. They use West Syriac Liturgy. Their supreme Pontiff is the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and the Catholicos as the Father and Head in India.
The Indian Orthodox Church
The Indian Orthodox Church is an autocepahalus Church with the Catholicos as its Universal Father and Head. They use West Syriac Liturgy.
Mar Thoma Syriac Church
An autocephalus Church lead by a Metropolitan. They are reformed Syriac Christians on the Protestant principles. They use modified West Syriac liturgy.
Syro Malanakara Church
This is a Sui iuris Church in the Universal catholic Communion. They have a supreme synod of Bishops who elect their Father and Head of the Church- The Major Archbishop. They have named their major Archbishop as Catholicos. They use West Syriac Liturgy.
The Malabar Independent Syrian Church- Thozhiyur Church
Autocephalus Metroplitan Church in Kerala. They use west Syriac liturgy.
Thus we have 3 Catholicoses now, the Indian Orthodox, the Jacobite and the Syro Malankara. They are claiming the Catholicos position of the East Syriac Church while using West Syriac liturgy and practices. The actual title of the West Syriac rite was Maphriana.
The Syro Malabar Church is lead by a Metropolitan with some quasi Patriarchal powers ( The Major Archbishop) which was the original status.
The Mar Thoma Syrian Church and the Malabar Independent Syrian Church are autocephalus Churches lead by a Metropolitan.
Scope for a Patriarch of Thomas Christians
There are seven denominations of Thomas Christians exist today. Many of these individual churches can declare its hierarchical head as a Patriarch.
It is unlikely that the Jacobite Church in India and the Church of the East in India- The Chaldeans of Trichur consider to declare their head as Patriarch as they are already under their respective Patriarchs- the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Patriarch of the Assyrians.
Syro Malabar Church and Syro Malanakara Churches can have their Pontiffs as Patriarchs as the Universal Catholic Church has Eastern Patriarchs but unlikely in the present scenerio. Moreover, the title of Major Archbishop is almost equal to that of a Patriarch.
The Indin Orthodox Church, The Mar Thoma Syrian Church and the Malabar Independent Syriac Church are autocephalous and can declare their Pontiffs as a Patriarch at any time as they wish.
There is a scope for a Patriarch of Saint Thomas Christians. It is very unlikely that all the different denominations of Saint Thomas Christians would unite together at any time. But, they can come under confederation or communion of Thomas Christians under a single Patriarch with different Catholicoses and Major Archbishops under him. The Churches in Communion with the Universal Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch and different autocephalous churches can be part of this confederation which will be practical move for the unity of Thomas Christians. Let us hope for that day when all the children of Apostle Thomas come under a Patriarch.
By M Thomas Antony