Kerala (Indian) tradition is that Apostle St. Thomas established Christianity in Malankara in AD 52; it got organized and prospered with the arrival a group of Syrian Christians (Knanaites) from Urhoy (Edessa) in AD 345. The leadership of these Antiochean missionaries gave the local Christian community a new life, the Church in Malankara (Kerala) thereon adopted the rites & liturgies of the Syrian Church of Antioch and became a part of that ancient Patriarchal See.Thus the early Christian converts (St.Thomas Christians) along with the new Christian settlers (Knanaites), came to be called 'the Syrian Christians'. The Church in Malankara continued to be under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch, and his subordinate in the East, the Catholicos/Maphriyono, till the arrival of Nestorian bishops in 1490. Later with the coming of Portuguese in the 16th century, the Syrian Christians of Malankara came under the influence of Latin Catholics, but when they tried to forcibly introduce their teachings, the Malankara Syrian Christians revolted and finally re-organized once again under the guidance of the delegate of the Holy See of Antioch, thereby retaining the true Apostolic faith. In the 19th century, another split occurred in the Church when a group sided with the rich and influential European missionaries. Again in the early 20th century, another group defied the Holy Church to form an independent faction claiming to be of nationalistic structure, after much harassment. Even in the midst of such great trials and tribulations, by God's grace the ancient Syrian Orthodox Church, which in India (Malankara) also referred to as the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, continues to exist in this part of the world with its distinct identity, ardently practicing the true Apostolic faith taught by its Holy fathers.
In this page the history of the Malankara Church from its beginning is reproduced; the brief history is complied from the articles written by the famous historian and Syriac Scholar Very Rev. (Dr.) Kurien Corepiscopo Kaniamparambil, Mr. E M Philip Edavazhikkal (author of 'Indian Church History', 1906), Dn. P T Geevarghese (later Mar Ivanios of Syro-Malankara Church - author of 'Were Syrian Christians Nestorians'), Very.Rev. (Dr) Adai Jacob Corepiscopus' (the principal of Syrian Orthodox Theological Seminary at Udayagiri), Dr. D Babu Paul ('Veni Vidi Vici'), and late Prof. Pankkal E John and late K P John ('Way to Peace'.
I. Establishment of Christianity in India
Like all the Christians sects of Kerala, the Syrian Orthodox Church too firmly believes that St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, had founded the Church in India. There exists a strong tradition in Malankara about the arrival of St. Thomas, his mission, death, burial and about the relics of his mortal body. No other country or people make such claim about St. Thomas. The widely accepted belief is that St. Thomas visited various places and baptized many Jews and Hindus and thus began the process of establishing the Church. Middle East countries and Kerala had trade relations during the early centuries and and all the evidences, acknowledged by all the historians points to the fact that the Jewish settlers existed in Cragnanore even before the Christian era. So it is very clear that there was a sea route to Kerala coast in those days and St. Thomas traveled to Cragnanore through this.
There is a general presumption that St. Thomas, a Jew himself by birth, may have visited India in search of Jews settled here. As mentioned earlier, there was a flourishing colony of Jews in Muziris (Cragnanore, Kerala). These Jews are said to have arrived with King Solomon's first fleet.
Anyhow as a result of the Apostle's mission, many natives other than the Jews, also accepted Christianity. Most of the local converts were said to be from higher castes and this helped St. Thomas to preach the Holy Gospel without much opposition in a later stage. The high caste Brahmin families that adorned Christianity were mainly from Pakalomattom, Shankarapuri, Kalli and Kaliangala families and members from them were ordained as priests or chieftains for the community. In Kerala, St. Thomas is believed to have founded Christian congregations (churches), at Maliankara, Paloor, Kottaikkavu (North Paravur), Chayal (Nilakkal), Niranam, Kollam and Gokamangalam and celebrated Holy Qurbono. He later went to China to spread Holy Gospel and returned to India and during his mission here, he was killed by fanatics, and was buried at Mylapore, in the state of Tamil Nadu (Madras), South India. In the 4th century the Syrian Christian missionaries who came to India transferred the relics of their Apostle to Edessa and was installed at the St. Thomas church at Urhoy (modern Edessa/Urfa in SE Turkey).
Christianity in Kerala in the first 3 centuries
Both the Jewish as well as the local converts were in the beginning mentioned as St.Thomas Christians or 'Nazaranis' (being followers of Jesus who was a native of Nazareth). One of the earliest references to Christianity in India mentions the visit of Alexandria's leading Theologian, PANTENUS to the Indian Christians at their invitation in AD 190. However this visit is contradicted by Eusebius, a 3rd century Christian Historian, who says Pantenus visited the Arabian regions, which were part of greater India (India Magnum). Any how the general belief is that the Christians existed in Kerala from the second half of the 1st century itself and it was St.Thomas the Apostle who established the Christian faith in India.
In the course of time the infant Church established by St.Thomas is supposed to have been weakened. The community had to pass through many difficulties primarily because of the lack of ecclesiastical assistance from the mother Church. Finally the situation has reached a point where there was none to succeed for those who were appointed by St.Thomas and the Christian population had been like a fold without a Shepherd.
WORLD CHRISTIANITY UPTO 4TH CENTURY
The Christianity that was gaining considerable influence in the 1st three centuries among the Jews and others in the middle east, had to face the continuous wrath of Romans, probably out of fear of it loosing the powers to control the whole Empire. The Roman Officials persecuted many of the Christian fathers. This continued for about three centuries. By the beginning of the 4th century, with the conversion of the then Roman Emperor 'Constantine', Christianity becomes the official religion of the Empire.
In AD 325 on the request of the Church fathers, the Emperor convened a Synod of the entire Christian community at 'Nicea' and a general norm for the administration of the whole of Christianity was formulated. Accordingly, the entire Christian Community all over the world formed as three distinct groups and each group came under the authority of the three Patriarchates then in existence, namely Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. (Constantinople Patriarchate was established only in AD 381, as per the decision of the 2nd Universal Holy Synod convened by the Empire). As per the decision of the Synod, the Eastern hemisphere, which included Indian Sub-continent, continued to be under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch.
A Persian bishop by name Yohannan is said to have represented India in that Synod, the veracity of which is evident from his signature in the Nicea Synod. But some believe that the India mentioned here was actually Greater India that extended up to the boundaries of the present North India and Malankara (Kerala) was not part of it, and none represented Kerala Christians, as the Christianity then existed here was very weak and not known to many.
Establishment of the Catholicate of the East
Though the Christian Church in Persian empire was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch from its beginning, in due course it become impossible for the Church members to go to Antioch and receive ordination due to geographical & political reasons. Under the circumstance, the Patriarch of Antioch used to appoint a Archbishop entitled CATHOLICOS to administer the Eastern Dioceses (parts of Persian Empire) beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The second universal Holy Synod held at Constantinople in AD 381 (Canon 2), reconfirmed the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch over the Archbishop (Catholicos) of Selucia (later in Tigris).
In due course, the Catholicos of Selucia adopted Nestorian faith and defied the authority of Patriarch and declared independence. Yet, there were Maphriyono's under the the Syrian Jacobite Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, who as eastern Catholicos used to administer the Church in the Persian Empire. Later at the instance of the Patriarch of Antioch, the Indian Church was administered by these Maphriyono's and Metropolitans.
II. Syrian Colonization of Malankara in AD 325
Meanwhile the Church at Malabar (Kerala) established in the 1st century, weakened during the period of about 300 years succeeding the Apostle's death, mainly because there had been none to succeed the priests ordained by St.Thomas. It was while the Christians of Malabar remained in this unsatisfactory condition that Mor Joseph the Bishop of Edessa (a place in the eastern border of the Roman Empire), had a dream regarding the sad situation of the Church at Malabar. He informed this to the Bishop-Patriarch of Jerusalem who consulted the other Bishops as to what should be done in this matter. (It was in consideration of the importance of the Holy City of Jerusalem, the Metropolitan of Jerusalem came to be known as the 'fifth Patriarch of Christendom', who was a subordinate to the Patriarch of Antioch as mentioned in the Universal Synods). The Jerusalem Metropolitan deputed one Thomas a native of Cana, a respectable merchant then living at Jerusalem to ascertain the condition of the Christians of Malabar. This Thomas on reaching the Malabar Coast found a good number of Christians wearing the badges of their religion and from them he ascertained about their condition. On his return he explained about the Christians at Malabar and all what he saw, to the Bishop of Jerusalem.
Consequent to this, the Church Synod held under the Patriarch of Antioch & all the East, immediately decided to send a delegation to Malabar (Kerala) and accordingly in AD 345, around 400 odd persons from 72 families comprising men, women and children, reached Cragananore (Kodungalloore) under the leadership of the merchant, Thomas of Cana. The group consisted of the Bishop Mor Joseph of Edessa as well as some priests and deacons.
This Syrian Christian delegation from Edessa, was from a sect of Jewish Christians from different places of then Canaan land (later called Palestine, now Israel). They settled as a Colony on the southern side of the Kodungalloor Palace street, with the permission of Perumals, the then rulers of the region.
Meanwhile the native Christians converted by St.Thomas, who were called Marthoma (St.Thomas) Christians lived on the northern part of the street. While the descendants of the former were called as 'Southists' or Knanaites, after their leader Knai Thoma (Thoma of Cana), the 'Marthoma Christians' lived on the northern part were, from then onwards started to be mentioned as 'Northists'. The name Malankara Church, is also supposed to be mentioned as such, for the entire Christian Church of Kerala, from this period.
It was as a consequence of this Syrian migration of Knanaites, the entire Christians in Kerala, came to be called SYRIAN CHRISTIANS, as they came under the Syrian Patriarch of Antioch who had jurisdiction over all the East and thus began using the rituals and liturgies of the Syrian Church of Antioch.
Relics of St. Thomas transferred to Edessa
History tells that in AD 394, the relics of St.Thomas was taken to Edessa, a place that was under the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch. There it was entombed in a church built in his venerated memory. July 3 is celebrated as St.Thomas day by the Eastern Churches commemorating this hallowed event.
The Persian Crosses
There is a controversy about the existence or influence of the Assyrian Church of East (Nestorians) in Malabar (Kerala) before the 15th century. Some argue that this Church (Nestorian) had been in India, as early as 4th century itself. But the Nestorian heresy had its influence in the Assyrian Church of East, only by the end of the 5th century and it was only in the subsequent years, the Christology of this Assyrian Church of East spread beyond the Persian Empire. So it is very clear that the Syrian faith that was in Malankara, before the 5th century was not Nestorian.Again those who tries to establish the 'Nestorian influence in Malabar' in the middle ages, mentions about the existence of the 'Persian' crosses of the 7th century, found in the 'Knanaya Valiappalli' at Kottayam and in two other Churches in Kerala. But the facts proves opposite. The inscriptions in 'Extrangela Syriac' and 'Phalvi' on them revealed their workmanship was Persian and at the same time, the Phalvi inscriptions hints that they were made by the Syrian Jacobites. The interpretation of the inscriptions in Pahalavi by Dr. Burnnel (former Archaeological Director of India) reads as follows-
"In punishment by the cross (was) the suffering on this one; He who is true God and God above, and Guide ever Pure."
These inscriptions are against the basic faith of Nestorians, who believed that the God was never crucified (punished) in the Cross and only the Jesus the man was crucified. Moreover Phalvi was never, the language of Persian Nestorians. Further these crosses could not be taken as evidences of an ecclesiastical relationship with Nestorian Church only. There are nearly two dozen crosses. St.Andrews cross was 'X'. Different nations used different types. The Persian type was not a monopoly of the Nestorians. It had been used by the Nestorians as well as the Syrian (Jacobite) Church. Estrangela Syriac too was used by both Churches. The oldest dated manuscript (AD 464) and another of the 5th century are in the British museum -nos.14425 & 14451. Another of the 7th century (from the Septuagint by Paul, bishop of Tella - no.14442) and yet another 'Isiah' identified with that of Philoxenos of Mabug (AD 485-519, no. 17106) are also preserved there. All these are in Estrangela Characters and written by Syrian Jacobites.
III. The 2nd Syrian Colonization of AD 825
In early 9th century the Syrian fathers Mor Sabor and Mor Apfrot reached Malankara with a group of immigrants, at the then famous trade centre in South Kerala, Kollam. On arrival they were accorded certain privileges and rights by the local Ruler. That they were saintly persons amply proven by the fact that there were many churches in their names which is corroborated by the records of the decisions of the 'Synod of Diamper (Udayamperoor)'.
There is a view that these fathers were Nestorians. This is only because, the Holy fathers were mentioned as Nestorian heretics at the Synod of Diamper convened by the Romans in 1599. But the fact is that Nestorians too, don't recognize them as one among them. The names of these fathers do not figure in the list of Nestorian bishops sent abroad during the period, given by historian Assemani. Also Fr. Placid, the Roman Catholic historian and M V Paul who attempted a history of the Church of the East, do not include the names of these two Bishops in the list of Nestorian bishops who visited Malabar. Till now, their venerated memory of these Holy fathers are being celebrated by the Jacobite Syrian Christians only. While Roman Catholics disowned them and the Nestorians disclaim them, the Malankara Syrian Church had their annual festival celebrated on the 2nd October every year, in the Mor Shabor & Mor Aphrot church at Akaparambu, in the diocese of Angamali.
According to one tradition, the Malayalam Calendar era (Kolla Varsham) started with these holy fathers who settled at Kollam in AD 825.
Malankara Church between 10th and 15th Centuries
During the 10th and the 11th centuries the Malankara Church was within the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch. This is authenticated in the Travancore State Manual as also in other books, such as that authored by the protestant historian Huff. Unfortunately, falling prey to some Roman Catholics propaganda to promote their own history and also to disseminate some vested interests, some in Malankara recently are propagating a new version that the Malankara Church had connections only with the Persian Nestorian Church till the 17th century. But all the circumstantial evidences and history proves otherwise.
As for the 12th century, there is an authoritative record now safely maintained at Cambridge University, which clearly indicates the ties of Malankara Church with that of the Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch in the period. This is the Bible written in Estrangela script during the time of the great Patriarch Michael (1199). This book, which was in Malankara from the 13th century, was presented to Dr. Claudius Buchannan, one of the earliest protestant missionaries who came to Kerala in 1807, by the then Malankara Metropolitan Mor Dionysius the Great. It contained special Gospel portions for reading on the feasts of the Mother of God and the Gospel readings for the Holy Mass on Saturdays in lent. There are in the notes contained in the book, very respectful references to Mor Sevarios, the famous Patriarch of Antioch. All these would show that this book was not Nestorian because they do not venerate Mor Sevarios, nor do they call St. Mary as Mother of God.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, it can safely be assumed that the Malankara Church continued to stay within the Syrian Orthodox belief. In the 14th century, a Roman Bishop named John de Marinjoli is believed to have landed in Kollam. But he had no connection with the Malankara Church. In 1328 Pope John XXII had ordained the Friar Jordanoos as Bishop of Kollam and deputed him to India, but he does not seem to have reached India.
In short, from all the circumstantial evidences, it has to be believed that between 4th and 15th centuries the Malankara Church remained as part of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church. This fact is recalled in the scholarly work of Arch Bishop Mar Ivanios of Syrian Catholic Church (Fr. P T Vargheese), "Were Syrian Christians - Nestorians". It says "Thus from internal - external and circumstantial evidences, it is evident that the church in Kerala was nothing but Jacobite before the 15th century". Again late Paulose Mar Gregorios of Indian Orthodox Church (Methran Kakshi) says (ref. Shema Vartha, 1968 Oct) "We in India belong to this Patriarchate even if we have our own Catholicos and are autonomous (not autocephalous). We have no other source from which to receive our ancient tradition - except the tradition of Antioch, of the great Syrian Church which once had spread through the length and breadth of Asia right up to China and Korea".
IV. Nestorian influence
From the 14th century onwards, the Syrian (Jacobite) Patriarchate of Antioch, gradually become weak following the continued persecution by the Romans, Mohammedans and also because of internal squabbles. In this period of serious crisis, the Patriarchate was not in a position to send any dignitaries to Malankara. By the 15th century, the Episcopal ties, which the Malankara Church had with its parental church at Antioch, was completely broken. So when the Nestorian bishops landed here in AD 1490 for the first time, they were received by Malankara Christians without any opposition. Moreover, since there was certain similarities in the liturgy and rituals of both the Jacobites and Nestorians, Malankara Syrian Christians who until then followed the Jacobite faith, were not reluctant to accept these Nestorian bishops.
To prove that the Church in Kerala was not Nestorian before 1490, it is only to recall a Nestorian bishop who came to Malankara in this period. He wrote to the Nestorian 'Catholicos-Patriarch' that, he was well received by Christians, that there are about 30,000 Christian families here and that the name of the area was Malabar. Obviously he was writing to a Patriarch who did not know much about Malankara.
From AD 1490 till 1599 Malankara Church had received Metropolitans from the Nestorian patriarchs of Persia. Yet it cannot be assumed that the entire Malankara Church took to Nestorian faith, this presumption is supported from the decisions of Synod of Diamper in which it is recorded that, before the arrival of Portuguese, there were people who held Dioscorous, who was revered holy father of the west Syrian Church, in reverence and that Western Syriac was in use here in addition to the use of Chaldaya Syriac and that the liturgy of baptism used by the Jacobite Syrians was in operation. Yet it may be supposed that from 1490 till 1599, when the Synod Diamper was convened and the Malankara Christians were forcefully drawn to the Roman catholic Church, the Church may have been under the suzerainty of Nestorians.
V. Introduction of Roman Catholic faith in Malankara
The Roman Catholic faith started to had its foothold in Malankara with the arrival of Vasco De Gama, the famous Portuguese sailor in 1498. Initially the Portuguese Priests concentrated on the poor people living on the sea coast of Kerala and Goa and converted many to the Latin Catholic faith, some times even forcibly. But later they tried to introduce their faith among the Syrian Christians of Kerala. For that they even adopted some unholy practices.
On June 20, 1599 the Roman Catholic Archbishop Menezes, with the help of local rulers, convened the historical Synod of Diamper (Udayamperoor) and thereafter started forcibly converting the Syrian churches as Latin, burned all the historical documents, and thereby terrified the Syrian Christians. The Malankara Church had to suffer servitude and indignities under the Roman Catholic bishops. "
Finally in response to the continuous appeal of the Thomas Arkadiyakon (archdeacon), who was then giving leadership to Malankara Church; from the Patriarchate of Antioch came Mor Ignatius Ahattula in 1653. The tradition is that the Portuguese arrested him, tied him up and cast him in the Ocean. Consequently, the Syrian Christians get agitated and as a result, a large gathering of about 25,000 assembled at Mattancherry and took Oath at 'Koonan Cross' which happens to be known as the historical 'Koonam Kurisu Sathayam' in 1653 and declared that they and their future generations will ever be loyal to the throne of Antioch and also vowed to fight against the atrocities of the Roman/Latin Catholics.
The Malankara Church sent request to the Patriarch of Antioch again and in 1665 Saint Gregorios of Jerusalem was deputed to Malankara. The link between Malankara and Antioch that was broken and remained separated for about 150 years was re-established with the arrival of this holy father. Saint Gregorios ordained, Arakadiyakon as Bishop who assumed charge as MarThoma I. And once again, Malankara Church become the integral part of the Syrian Orthodox Church, adopting its rituals, rites and liturgy as before.
VI. Formation of the Malabar Independent Syrian Church of Thoziyoor
During the time of Mor Dionysius I (the sixth successor to MarThoma I), Mor Gregorios, one of the two representatives of the Holy See then in Malankara, who had earlier consecrated Mor Dionysius I, consecrated Kattumangat Abraham Ramban as Mor Kurilose at the Mattancehrry Church in December 1772. Since this consecration was not acceptable to 'Mor Dionysius I' or 'Mor Ivanious' (the other representative of Patriarchate), there started a rift. Both the Rajas of Travancore and Cochin finally decided against Mor Kurilose (Kattumangattu) and so he has to withdrew to Thozhiyoor (Anjoor, near Kunnamkulam) in British Malabar, where he laid the foundation of an independent Church in 1774.
VII. Protestant faith in Malankara
With the establishment of British East India Company, missionaries from Britain started their work in India. These missionaries gradually tried to control the Syrian Orthodox Church, by introducing their reformed teachings. In spite of the interference of powerful agents of the British Government, the Malankara Church rejected the western influence and stuck to its connections with the Holy See of Antioch. Thereafter the Syrian Church in Malankara had to face a series of internal dissensions.
It was around that time, Palakunnath Abraham Malpan, a prominent priest of Malankara Church sided with the European missionaries and modified the liturgy to suit the Protestant views. Later his nephew, Deacon Mathews, went to the Patriarchate and producing a false record, which showed the authorization of Malankara Syrian Church, get ordained himself as Mor Athanasius.
Earlier Mor Dionysius IV, the then Metropolitan of Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church had sent various petitions to the throne of Antioch praying for sending more Bishops. In one such letter he says that despite 11 petitions since 1825 no Metropolitan came and consequently the Malankara Church had spiritually deteriorated and that if a Metropolitan was not sent now the Patriarch will be answerable.
But the Patriarch was of the opinion that it was better to ordain people from Malankara itself. It was in this context that when Deacon Mathews of palakunnath from Malankara who actually had a protestant view, reached the Patriarchal Monastery at Turkey and producing a false record of authorization of Malankara Church, got himself ordained as Mor Athanasius. After Palakunnath Mor Athanasius returned to Malankara, the Association of representatives came to know about the malicious act of Mor Athanasius, so they wrote to the Patriarch about the Protestant inclinations of Mor Athanasius. The Patriarch felt very sad on being cheated, and consequently he send a representative, Mor Kurilose Yuyakkim on the request of Malankara Syrian Church. On his arrival, Mor Dionysius IV who was then very old, handed over the administration of Malankara Church to the delegate Mor Kurilose Yuyakkim and he as per the wishes of Malankara Church and under the order of the Patriarch, excommunicated Mor Athanasius of Palakunnath. But with the help of British authorities, Mor Athanasius was able to move freely and majority of the Church properties and most of the parishes in Kottayam and its southern belt, came under him. All the time, the northerners (places north of Kottayam) were able to effectively block the Protestant aggression on its fundamental faith. Hence the European missionaries or Palakunnath Metropolitan and his aides were not able to have much influence there, except in parts of Kunnamkulam.
Later Pulikottil Fr. Joseph with the consent of the entire Malankara Church went to the Patriarchate at Mardin in Turkey and was ordained as Mor Dionysius Joseph by the Patriarch Mor Ignatius Yakub II. On his return he together with Mor Kurilose Yuyakkim made efforts to get the royal proclamation in favour of deposed Metropolitan Palakunnath Mor Athansius, cancelled, but could not succeed.
It was then, at a Malankara Church meeting held in 1872 under the leadership of Ramban Geevarghese (St. Gregorios of Parumala), requested for the immediate help of the Patriarch of Antioch, to save it from the serious crisis. Consequently, in 1875, Patriarch Ignatius Peter III (IV), in spite of his old age traveled to India. Just before reaching Malankara, the Patriarch went to England and convinced the British authorities about the real problems pertaining in the Malankara Church and on being convinced, the British authorities in England, gave orders to the British government in Kerala, to not interfere in the internal matters of Malankara Church. On reaching Malankara, the Patriarch held series of discussions with the Malankara Syrian community, and finally decided for the formation of six new dioceses and also a Malankara Syrian Christian Association, for the effective administration of Malankara Church. The entire Malankara Church was happy at these and in August 1876, a Synod was held at Mulunthuruthy and at that historical meeting, with almost all the representatives of Malankara Church, decided in favour of the decision of the Patriarch. Saint Gregorios (Parumala) who was then a Ramban, was the personal secretary of the Patriarch and it was with his help the draft for the 'Mulunthuruthy Synod' was formulated. The historical 'Mulunthuruthy Padiyola' adopted at the Synod, besides explaining about the history of Malankara Church since its evolution, once again recalled the services of the great See of Antioch and thanked the Patriarch for his sincere efforts that helped to continue the ancient true faith of the Malankara Church. As per the decision of this Synod, Pulikottil Mor Dionysius Joseph was appointed as the Malankara Metropolitan and he assumed the title 'Mor Dionysius V' . The Patriarch also consecrated 'Holy Moron' for the first time in Malankara. His Holiness before completing his historical Apostolic Visit to Malankara, ordained six new Metropolitans, including Saint Gregorios of Parumala, who was his closest aide and private secretary. It was then for the first time in Malankara, a group of native Metropolitans was there to administer the affairs of the local Church. Thus with the help of the Patriarch of Antioch, the Malankara Church was able to recoup its lost glory.
Later the Malankara Jacobite Syrian community won the litigation that continued in the local courts and 'Mor Dionysius V' was accepted as the legitimate head of the Malankara Church under the Holy See of Antioch.
This finally resulted in the separation of a group of people with protestant views under the leadership of Mor Athanasius Thomas, the cousin of Mor Athanasius Mathews who was earlier excommunicated by the Malankara Church and they organized themselves as Marthoma Syrian Church of Malabar.
VIII. The third major split in the Malankara Church
In 1902, the Holy Episcopal Synod of Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church held under the then Malankara Metropolitan, Pulikottil Mor Dionysius, selected two Metropolitan-designates and in 1908 they were ordained as Mor Kurilose Paulose (Kochuparambil) and Mor Dionysius Geevarghese (Wattesseril) by the Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius Abded'Aloho II. The next year the Malankara Metropolitan Pulikottil Mor Dionysius V, who led the Kerala Church in one of its most difficult period, died and in his position the newly ordained Metropolitan Mor Dionysius Wattesseril was instituted with the title 'Mor Dionysius VI'. But unfortunately within a short period, the new Malankara Metropolitan trustee Mor Dionysius VI had differences of opinion with his two other co-trustees, the renounced Syriac scholar 'Konatt Mathen Malpan' (Priest trustee) and C J Kurien (lay trustee). Within a short tome, this conflict become so serious, and thus started challenging the age old relationship, that the Malankara Church have with the Patriarchal See of Antioch. Finally in 1911, when Wattasseril Mor Dionysius VI started to defy even the orders of his spiritual supreme, the Patriarch Mor Ignatius Abed'Aloho II, the bishop was excommunicate d. A year later in 1912, Wattesseril Mor Dionysius managed to bring to Kerala, Abdul Mesiha, a former Patriarch who was dethroned by the Holy Synod because of his un-canonical practices and get ordained a Catholicos for his group. The Syrian Christians argued that a important order like the Catholicate that was abolished in 1865 as per the decision of a Holy synod, can be reinstated only through another Episcopal Synod and above all in this particular issue the Abdul Mesiha who was supposed to be ordained a Catholicose in Kerala was an un-canonical Patriarch, dethroned by a Synod.
The fact that Abdul Mesiha was not a Patriarch is strengthened with further evidences, when it is considered that Wattasseril Mar Dionysius went to Patrirach Mor Abded'Aloho (Abdulla) II for his ordination as Metropolitan, who had succeeded Abdul Mesiha, although Abdul Mesiha was living there at that time. If Abdul Mesiha was the canonical Patriarch, as claimed by the Methran group, then why did Wattasseril Mor Dionysius, the father of the Methran group went to Patriarch Abded'Aloho II, the successor to Abdul Mesiha to get ordained, is very mysterious. This was the contention of the Jacobite Syrians.
Formation of Methran's Party which subsequently adopted the name 'Orthodox Syrian Church of Malabar'
Within a short period, the schisms in the Malankara Church reached a flash point and brought forth the unfortunate division in the Jacobite Syrian Church. While many from the three southern dioceses sided with Wattessril Mor Dionysius, almost the entire northerners continued to be the part of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church under the Holy See of Antioch. The group led by the Wattasseril Mor Dionysius came to be called as 'Methran Kakshi' (Bishop's Party) and the those who continued to be faithful to the Holy throne of Antioch were mentioned as 'Bava Kakshi' (Patriarch's Party). While the 'Bava Kakshi' continued to be known as Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church, the 'Methran Kakshi' by the middle of 1920's adopted the name first as 'Orthodox Syrian Church of Malabar' and then 'Orthodox Syrian Church' after the adoption of a constitution in 1934, for their group.
After the split in 1911, Kochuparambil Mor Kurilose Paulose who was ordained together with Wattesseril Bishop, was elected as the Malankara Metropolitan of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church of Kerala and after him Mor Athanasius Paulose the Great (entombed at Thrikkunnathu Seminary) was chosen as Malankara Metropolitan and his Grace continued to be in that privileged position till his demise.
Though many peace negotiations were going on from the days of the split, it become more significant with the arrival of Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius Elias III in 1931. He created a favourable atmosphere by canceling the excommunication of Wattesseril Mor Dionysius and tried his best to heal the breach. His Holiness did not spare any effort to bring about peace in Malankara but unfortunately he passed away before fulfilling his desire and was buried at Manjinikkara and his tomb church is now a major pilgrim centre of Malankara Syrian Christians.
Peace in 1958
The negotiations for a long standing peace continued in spite of the Patriarchal sides complete victory in the various Courts of Travancore-Cochin states in late 1940's and 1950's. When Moran Mor Ignatius Yakub III become the Patriarch, he in his very first bull, expressed his desire for the unity of the Church in Malankara. This was at a time when the Patriarch's side had won the case in the High Court and he made many sincere efforts, which is even now recalled by many. But unfortunately even then, the Methran faction was not willing for peace until they felt strengthened by the Supreme Court verdict which went in their favour albeit on a purely technical and legalistic point. On 16th December 1958, following a series of discussions that was continuing for many years, the Patriarch and the then supreme administrator of Methran group, the Catholicos, accepted each other. The Catholicos however, in his letter of acceptance, on the last minute added a clause that he accepted the Patriarch "subject to the constitution of Malankara Church" (a constitution formulated by the Methran Kakshi in 1934). This was contrary to the understanding reached earlier and was a real shock for the peace loving people of Malankara. Anyhow the Patriarch tried his best to pacify the Malankara Jacobite Syrian community, hoping that a complete peace and harmony would become a reality in a near future in the Malankara Church.
But almost immediately after the accord of 1958, the Catholicos and his group took some steps which not only wounded the sentiments of the Syrian Christians, but also gave the impression that they would not give the Patriarch or the Jacobite Syrian community, due respect. Most of the people and clergy and all the Metropolitans, unhappy as they were, remained silent resigned to their "fate". However after a series of aggression, such as that happened in Arthat Simhasana Church, Kallumkathra Church, Kattapurathu Church etc., many of the faithful were forced to react and as a direct consequence to this, a meeting of the representatives of the various parish churches, who were in favour for the continuation of the Apostolic faith, was convened at Manarcad in 1960. The large gathering assembled there protested against the forceful entry of the Catholicos to many churches and for the introduction of his factions faith, contrary to the agreement reached with the Patriarch earlier. On the request of the faithful assembled there, Mor Philixinose went to Damascus to call on His Holiness and submit their grievances. But His Holiness who was against another split in the Church, sent back Mor Philixinose with instructions to co-operate with the Catholicos to the maximum, in spite of any such ill-treatments. Patriarch Mor Ignatius Yakub III tried his best to to keep the accord of 1958 and avoided for maximum, any of the provocation of erstwhile Methran group. But still the Catholicos suspended Mor Philixinose Paulose from the Episcopal Synod of the united Church on 17th June 1960, there by paved way for the continuation of enmity among the Syrian Christians.
In spite of many such difficulties and mental agony, the Jacobite Syrian community under the instruction from the Patriarch, continued to co-operate with the united Church. The Patriarch's firm belief was that the time will wound the healing.
Consecration of the Catholicos in 1964
In 1964, Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Yakub III arrived in Malankara and ordained Mor Augen as Catholicos of the East-'Mor Baselius Augen I'. Thus, the Catholicate was established in India with its administrative jurisdiction limited to this nation, as per the decision of Universal Episcopal Synod held at Kottayam, presided by the Patriarch Ignatius Yakub III of Antioch and attended by all the bishops of the Syrian Orthodox Church in India, and bishops from the Middle East who had accompanied the Patriarch.
A new era of peace and unity started with it, which continued for some years. But by the seventies, Catholicos Mar Augen under pressure from the extremists in his group, began to claim that he was sitting on the throne of St. Thomas and declared equality with his superior, the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. And also fundamental changes were made in the history and faith of the Malankara Church that was followed for centuries, in order to suit their needs, particularly in the Sunday Schools and other such organizations. These new twisting to the facts, hurt not only the Syrian Christians of Malankara but also the Patriarch who had brought peace to the Church in India.
The people who were eager for the continuation of its Holy Apostolic faith, organized themselves and worked tirelessly for the revival of the true faith. Finally due to the continued requests of the bishops, clergy and the vast number of people, the Patriarch had to convene the Universal Synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church in 1975 and had to take necessary action against the defiant Catholicos. Because of the stubborn attitude of the opponents, the Patriarch was forced to excommunicate the Catholicos Augen I, in order to safeguard the true faith of Malankara Church, after giving ample time to correct his stand.
Ordination of the Catholicos Aboon Mor Baselios Paulose II
Consequently the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church elected Mor Philexinos Paulose as the new Catholicos-designate and in 1975 he was ordained as Catholicos Mor Baselios Paulose II for the Indian Church. In the 2000 year long history of the Holy Church, Catholicos Mor Baselios Paulose II was the first prelate from Malankara, who had the opportunity to lead the ordination ceremony of the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas in 1980. His Beatitude continued as chief prelate of the Malankara Church till his demise on 1st September 1996 and was entombed at the famous Malecuriz Dayro, near Ernakulam, where the Holy relics of many saints including that of Saint Gregorios (Parumala) is interred.
IX. Enthronement of a new Catholicos & the present administrative setup of the Malankara Church
On 27th December 1999, H.E. Mor Dionysius Thomas (Cheruvallil), the president of the Holy Episcopal Synod in India and Metropolitan of Angamali, the largest diocese in Malankara, was elected as the new Catholicos-designate of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church under the Holy See of Antioch. On 26th July 2002, H.E. was enthroned as the Catholicose (Maphriyano) Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas I by His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iywas, the Patriarch of Antioch & all the East. It was after a gap of 6 years, a new Catholicos was appointed for the Church in India in the East. Mor Baselios Thomas I succeeds Mor Baselios Paulose II (died in 1996) as the Catholicos (Maphriyono) of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church. Two weeks before the historical consecration ceremony, a new constitution was adopted for the Church in India namely 'Jacobite Syrian Christian Church Association' and was registered as per the Indian Charitable Trust Act. As per this constitution, the Catholicos will also function as the Metropolitan-Trustee. The other main office Bearers of the Association are, a Priest-Trustee (Very. Rev. Dr. Kurian Corepiscopa Kaniamparambil), a Lay-Trustee (Mr.George Mathew Thekkethalakkal), and an Association Secretary (Mr.Thambu George Thukalan). A working committee comprising of 18 members and a managing committee of 120, were also elected from the 3960 representatives that participated in the Association from 700 odd parishes in Kerala, India. The Holy Episcopal Synod of Church in India also ratified its earlier decision to reappoint Metropolitan His Grace Mor Gregorios Joseph as its secretary.
In the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Antioch & all the East is the spiritual supreme, but the temporal powers of the local Church in India rests with an association, elected from among the representatives of Parishes of Malankara, and is to be administered under guidance from its Chief prelate, the Catholicos of India. While the Chief Prelate of Malankara Church has powers to administer the general affairs of the Church in India, he has limited authority over individual parishes.
The most important part of the administrative set up of the Church is that, each individual parishes has power to take any decisions related to them on their own and no external body can interfere in their internal administrative structure. The Church is of the view that these individual parishes, particularly almost all the ancient churches, have been established by the desire of the parishioners and the central structure of the Church participated only in spiritual guidance. This is so in the cases of new parishes also, except otherwise mentioned. In short, while the Bishops gave guidance to the spiritual matters and administer the few common properties of the dioceses, it is with the parishioners the administration of the individual churches rest. Thus a complete democratic structure exists in the Jacobite Syrian Church which makes its so unique. This administrative structure came into existence in Malankara with the approval of Mulunthuruthy Synod, that was held in AD 1876 under the leadership of the spiritual supreme of Malankara Church, the Patriarch of Antioch & all the East, His Holiness Mor Ignatius Peter IV.
Besides this, there are other churches/associations, independent of each other, that came into existence in the last century, established on the desire of the laity and are under the direct jurisdiction of the Patriarch. They are the Simhasana (Thronal) Churches, the St. Antony's congregation and Honawar Mission based at Mangalore (founded by Mor Julius Alwarez), the Evangelical Association of the East ('Pourasthya Suvisesha Samagam') and the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Greater India (comprising of Outside Kerala dioceses-in India). All of these are administered by Metropolitans appointed by the Patriarch of Antioch. Also there is a Knanaya diocese that was established in early 20th century for the migrant Knanaites and is under the administration of a Metropolitan. All of the above dioceses have their own associations and decisions pertaining them are taken by themselves and with the approval of the Patriarch of Antioch. For the proper training of the clergy, a Theological Seminary functions at Udayagiri (Vettickal), near Mulunthuruthy. The new Administrative Headquarters functions at Puthencuriz and is expected to be fully functional by the end of 2002.
The Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church, though in its long history, had to put up with stiff challenge, trials and tribulations, by God's grace, even now it continues to, practice the true Apostolic faith taught by its Holy fathers and be a part of the ancient Universal Syriac Orthodox Church with its distinct identity.
History of the 'The Jacobite Syrian Christian Church of India' compiled by
John Philip Kottapparambil, Kottayam - 686 004