Church History

The Orthodox Christians of India
The gift of Christ’s love reached the shores of India in 20 years of His death. The reality of His redemption has, eversince, inspired and guided the small community of early Christians in Southwest India, what is now Kerela. Remaining rooted in the positive aspects of indigenous culture, they have constantly tried to live by the original apostolic faith, revisiting reform or revision true to the spirit of the concept, Orthodox, which means The right Glorification of God.The unbroken continuity of this living tradition of nearly 2000 years can be traced to where it began. Appearing to the 11 disciples, gathered in Galilee, the Risen Christ said: Go out to the whole world, proclaim the gospel to all creation.(Mark 16:15) Thomas,for his part, took the eastern route, past the Roman empire, traveling by land, river and sea, across the continent of Asia. He preached the gospel in west and central Asia, In the Indo-Parthian kingdom in the northwest of India, beyond the coast of peninsular India and in China, before returning to India, to die a martyr near Chennai, in A.D 72.

St Thomas Christians in Asia
Among all the churches founded by St Thomas, in the course of his epic journey, the Church of the East, in the Persian empire, concen trated in the Iraq of today, spread, despite periodic persecution to be the largest church outside the Roman empire, with an extensive missionary wing. By the seventh century, it suffered a split consequent on Christological controversies. Under the Arab rule, there came to be two churches; The Patriarch of the East at Seleucia, and thereafter Baghdad; and the Catholics of the East at Tagrit, established under Antiochean inspiration. But the assault of the Mongols (1263)and by Timur (1394) led to a steady decline and near extinction of both under Islamic rule. Today, there is a scattered minority of orthodox Christians in Iraq. Linked to the Syrian orthodox church who venerate St Thomas as their Patron Saint. Not much is known about the church in China founded by St Thomas, except that Parsian records of the seventh mention the metropolitan of China. The presence of Parsi missionaries around 635 is seen from the Sin-Gnam-Fu Monument in Shensi provice of middle China. Christian communities, linked to the(Persian) Church of the east, are known to have existed in the North and west of India, until the Islamic conquest. Significantly, the archeological museum in Taxila records the visit of St Thomas to the town in AD 40; it was the capital of Parthian king, Gondoforus, as well as the ancient Buddhist learning centre, Takshashila, of Ashoka’s time. Compared to the outer churches founded by St Thomas, the one that established soon after he arrived at the port of Kodungallur in A.D 52, has had exceptional continuity escaping the fate of persecution or annihilation, which the other churches faced through their life. The worst that the Indian church suffered, and that too in recent centuries, was the repeated depletion, on the exertions of rather aggressive western colonial missionaries. Traditionally known as The Malankara Church, it has remained active and vibrant to this day, in the peace and traditional socio-cultural harmony of Kerela

The Early Church In India
Until the 16th century when the Portuguese, followed by the British, came to India with ambitions of religious as well as colonial expansion, there was only one undivided church in India, mainly in Kerela. It grew out of the original 7 churches raised by St Thomas in Kerela. These were located at Maliankara, Palayur,north Paravur, Gokamangalam, Niranam, Chayal and Kollam. Of the same pattern adopted by the other Apostels, each local church was self-administered ,guided by a group of presbyters and presided over by an elder priest and bishop. The early church in India remained at peace, treasuring the same ethnic and cultural characteristics of the local community. Its members enjoyed the goodwill of the other religious communities as well as the political support of the Hindu rulers. The Thomas Christians welcomed missionaries and migrants from west Asian churches, some of whom sought to escape persecution in their own countries. The language of worship in the early centuries must have been the local language mingled with east Syriac, received through the church of the east, in the context outlined below. Its history is happily intertwined, with that of the smaller Indian Church

The Church Of The East
At the beginning of the Christian Era, the Roman empire and the Persian empire were traditional enemies. Major Christian centers like Rome and Constantinopole, Alexandria and Antioch were in the Roman Empire. The church in the Persian Empire was known as The Church of The East, loosely referred as the Persian Church. The liturgical language of The Church of The East was East Syric, as distinct from West Syric used by the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. Both these variants are derived from Aramaic, the language of the time of the Christ. After establishing a missionary base in Edessa, St Thomas, with the help of disciples like St Addai, St Haggai and St Mari, evangelised Persia, Mesopotamia, media, Assyria, Parthia, Kurdistan, Babylonia, and other parts of West and central Asiia.By the end of the second century, these churches were on a firm footing ( given the non-interference of the Parthian emperors).

The Catholicos of the East (Seleucia)
By A.D 226, when the Persians were back in power, several bishoprics had come up in the region. To coordinate them and to check the likely interference by churches in the Roman Empire, especially neighbouring Antioch, the metropolitan at the capital of the Empire-the twin cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon on either side of the river Tigris-assumed the little of the Catholics of the East.Surviving prolonged persecution in the fourth century, the church grew. A Synod of this Church in A.D 410 affirmed the faith of the Council of Nicea(of AD 325) and formally acknowledged the Metropolitan of Seleucia- Ctesiphon as the Catholicos. In A.D 424, a Synod of the Church found it necessary to reaffirm its full autonomy and gave the Catholicos the title of the Patriarch of the East, subject to none, but God.

Persian Links
With India During these centuries,the relations between the Indian Church and the Church of the East was friendly and functional; they belonged together. Prayers and songs and other religious literature reached India, through the Persian route, translated from Greek and other Western languages. East Syriac mingled with the local liturgical language. During 415-420, a Metropolitan was appointed for India. India was under neither the Persian Empire nor the Roman Empire, and the Indian Church remained distinct and free.

Controversies and Consequences
Not long after, the peace of the universal church began to be disturbed-starting with the Christological controversy at the Council of Chalcedon (451) and resulting in the split (536) within the Roman empire-between the western wing (Rome and Constantinople)and the eastern wing(Alexandria and Antioch). The former believed in the dual nature Of Christ(human and divine). Under Alexandrian leadership, the latter upheld the one united nature of Christ.This, it must be clarified, is different from the teaching of Eutycheus, ‘one nature, one person' sometimes called ‘monophysitism’. Also, the doctrine, ‘two natures, two sons’ supported by Nestorius, was not very different from the pre-Chalcedon stand of Antioch. (Nestorius was an Antiochean monk, later metropolitan of Constantinople, and ex-communicated by the Council of Ephesus, AD 431).

The Church of The East Asserts
As the Alexandrian-Antiochean doctrine of the one united of nature gained wide acceptance, the Church of the East had two apprehensions: a) the unwelcome influence of Antioch on its members; and b) the emperor should not disturb the doctrinal distinctiveness of the Church of the East from the neighboring churches in the hostile Roman empire. At a synod in 468, the Church reacted to the perceived threat from Antioch by formally accepting the dual nature (in one person) of Christ. As if to drive this home, the Synod also accepted Nestorius, among other old-school Antiocheans, as a father of the Church. Unfriendly Churches soon began to brand the Church as Nestorian which was neither correct nor fair, as the Church had its proper name, the Church of the East. Under the Patriarch, the Church grew. After the Arab conquest (640) of the Persian empire, its missionaries began to move eastward into India, central Asia, China and elsewhere, associating these countries with the with the work of St Thomas. Their base was the then flourishing theological school of Nisibis. Around this time, the church moved its Patriarchate from Seleucia to the Arab capital of Baghdad. The formal name of its head became Patriarch of Babylon. By the seventh century, specific reference to the India church began to appear in Persian records. The Metropolitan of India and Metropolitan of China are mentioned in the consecration records of the Patriarchs of the East. At one stage however, the Indian church was claimed to be in the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Fars, but this issue was setteled by Patriarch Sliba Zoha (714-728)who recognized the traditional dignity of the autonomous Metropolitan of India.

The Catholicos of the East
Meanwhile, a movement was building up within the church in Persia against its accepted Christological doctrine and in support of the one united nature propounded by the Alexandrian-Antioch an side. This was the West Syrian Group active well before the church declared the its official stand in AD 486. As Syria and Persia were in the same caliphate under Arab rule, it became easier for the Syrian Church of Antioch to support them. Thus a renaissance of the pre-Chalcedon faith began within the church in Persia. Availing the equable political climate, a Maphrianate of the anti-Chalcedonians was established in Tagrit by AD 628. The first Catholicos of this (West Syrian) Church of the East was a Persian, Mar Marutha. The jurisdiction of this Catholicos at Tagrit extended to 18 episcopal dioceses in Mesopotamia and further east, but significantly, not to India. This Church flourished for several centuries and produced several great scholars.A notable leader of the movement for establishing it was the Syrian Orthodox bishop of Edessa, Jacob Baradeus. The second council of Nicea (787)imposed the term "Jacobite" to qualify this new church, rather pejoratively.

Eastern Churches Decline
Christianity in Persia and much of West Asia began to decline steadily, from internal causes as well as impact of Islam, affecting both the East Syrian Patriarchate (Seleucia-Babylon)and the West Syrian Catholic ate (Tagrit). The latter was re-established in India (Kottayam) in 1912, after it remained dormant with the death of the 81st Catholics, Benham IV in 1895; and, in similar circumstances, the former was transplanted to America by the young Patriarch Mar Shimeon in 1940.

Colonial Impact
On the life of the church in India during the first 15 centuries, the balance of historical evidence and the thrust of local tradition point to its basic autonomy sustained by the core of its own faith and culture. It received with trust and courtesy missionaries, bishops, and migrants as they came from whichever Eastern Church-Tagrit or Babylon, Antioch or Alexandria, but not from the more distant Constantinople or Rome. There were times in this long period when the Christians in India had been without a bishop and were led by an Archdeacon. And requests were sent, sometimes with success, to one or another of the Eastern prelate to help restore the episcopate in india. The post-Portugese story of the Church in India in the 16th century is relatively well-documented. In their combined zeal to colonize an proselytize, the Portuguese might not have readily grapsd the way of life. Of the Thomas Christians who seemed to accommodate differing stands of Eastern Christian thought and influence, while preserving the core of their original faith. The response of the visitor was to try and bring them under Romo-Syrian prelates, apart from the new converts in the coastal areas under Latin prelates. Finding that the Thomas Christians used an east Syrian liturgy, the Portuguese began calling those sticking to it, and not the Latin liturgy, as Syrian Christians, a term which entered and remained in government records for a long time. Pushed beyond a limit, the main body of Thomas Christians rose in revolt against the Portuguese and took a collective oath at the Coonen Cross in Mattancherry in 1653, resolving to preserve the faith and autonomy of their Church and to elect its Head.Accordingly, Archdeacon Thomas was raised to the title of Mar Thoma, the first in the long line upto Mar Thomas IX-till 1816. At the request of the Thomas Christians, the Syrian bishop, Mar Gregorios of Jerusalem came to India in 1664, confirmed the Episcopal consecration of Mar Thomas I as the head of the orthodox Church, as it happened, in explicit support of the traditional autonomy of the Indian Church. History repeated itself in anther form when the British presence in India encouraged ‘reformation’ within the orthodox church, partly through Anglican domination of the Theological Seminary in Kottayam, besides attracting members of the church into Anglican congregations since 1836. Finally, the reformist group broke away to form the Mar Thomas Church. This crises situation was contained with the help of Patriarch Peter III of Antioch who visited India (1875-77). The outcome was twofold; a reaffirmation of the distinctive identity of the Orthodox church under its own Metropolitan and, at some dissonance with this renewal, an enlarged influence of the Patriarch of Antioch in the affairs of the Indian church. Thus a relationship which started for safeguarding the integrity and independence of the Orthodox church in India, against the misguided, if understandable, ambitions of the Roman Catholic and Angelic Protestant churches, opened a long and torturous chapter in which concord and conflict between the Indian and Syrian Orthodox Churches have continued to alternate, to this day. Three landmarks of recent history, however, lend hope that peace and unity might yet return to the Orthodox community, riven rather unnaturally by divided loyality. First, the relcation in India in 1912 of the Catholicate of the East, originally in Seleuucia and later in Tagrit and the conseration of the first Indian Cathelicos, Moran Mar Baselios Paulos, in Apostolic succession to St Thomas, with the personal participation of Patriarch Abdul Messiah of Antioch; second, the coming into force in 1934 of the Constitution of the Orthodox Church in India as an autocephalous Church linked to the Orthodox Syrian Church of the Patriarch of Antioch, and third, the Accord of 1958, by which Patriarch Ignatius Yakkoub III affirmed his acceptance of the Catholics as well as the Constitution. The fact that the Christian church first appeared in India, as elsewhere, as a fellowship of self-governing communities, belonging to the same body and born into the same life, may yet light the path to a future of peace, within and beyond the Orthodox community.

A Living Faith
As in the other Eastern Churches, the Orthodox faith is founded in a harmonious understanding of the Bible, the Liturgy and the life and the works of the Fathers of the Church. Starting with the Apostles of Christ and their direct disciples like Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome and Polycarp of Smyrna, the Fathers include other pre-Nicene Fathers of the second and third centuries like Clement of Alexandria, Irenus of Lyons and Hermas, the author of The Shepherd. The fathers of the three Ecumenical councils-the Synods of Nicea (325) Ephesus (381) and Constantinople (431), as well as the Fathers who lived and taught during the period 300-450 AD, even if they were not present at these councils, are among the founders of the Orthodox Faith. They include Mar Athanasius (ca 296-373), Mar Baselios (ca 330-379) Mar Gregorios Nizianzen (329-389), Mar Gregorios of Nyassa (330-395) Mar Kurillos (died 444) and Mar Ivanios (died 407). Of this period 325-451, mention must be made of Alexander of Alexandria, Mar Eustathius of Antioch, Mar Eusebius of Kcascaesarea, Mar Kurillos of Jerusalem, and Mar Dioscoros of Amexandria. Many of these names are commemorated in the intercessory prayers of the Eucharistic liturgy, the last of them remembered in the fifth thoob-den, is Mar Jacob of Edessa (died 708) and Mar Isaac of Nineveh (died 700). Without attempting an exhaustive list of the father’s of the church, the great asset tradition of the monastic fathers like St Antony, St Pachamios, St Makarios, St Simon, Stylites and St Ephrem must be remembered as a bedrock of the orthodox faith. The articles of the faith based on the conclusion of the three great council of the early church are contained in the orthodox Creed, an essential part of the daily prayers of the faithful. The orthodox venerate St Mary as the mother of God, believe in the 7 sacraments, communion of the saints, prayers for the departed. They observe five seasons of lent, view the Churches a divine established body, except the 69 books in the Bible as well as the Holy Tradition sustain the three-fold system of ministry and uphold the Alexandrian doctrine of the ‘ One united Nature’ of Christ.

The Ethos Of Church
The witness of the church is a quiet one. It is founded more on a life of worship, of love, and of service then on preaching and proselytizing. This worship-orientation is its basis for all thought and action as well as the reason for its survival through recurrent terms of trial. For the orthodox, tradition is ever alive and is indeed the witness of the Holy spirit, his unceasing revelations of Good tidings. For the living members of the church, tradition is not so much an outward historical authority as the continual voice of God, not just the voice of the past, but the call of eternity. There is no better guarantee for the members of the Church that they are following the right path than for them to preserve the organic unity with the saints, the holy men and women of the past generations who are known to have lived in communion with the Holy Spirit. The principle of Apolistic succession upheld by the orthodox church has to be grasped in this light, as a living bond between church members, preserving the unity of first hand life, in spite of the constant flow of time. It is this concept of unity in which the individual voluntarily merges his or her life in the wider fellowship of the whole body, which has helped the orthodox to preserve the truth of the Christian revelation. The identification with the familiar community, rather than discipline through centralized authority, is the life breadth of the church. From this flows the communitarian ethos of the church and the fine balance achieved between democratic functioning and Episcopal maturity. The role of the Bishop is to sanction in the name of the church an action performed by the Holy Spirit expressed as the unanimous will of all the members of the church, present and invisible, gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. This principle sustains the Democratic orientation of the Orthodox community indeed of all eastern churches. Nothing exemplifies the ethos of the orthodox more than the life and work of the only canonized saint of the Indian church: Mar Gregorious of Parumala, 1848-1902. It is neither possible nor necessary to appraise the life of this man of God; but a lesson can be drawn from his example-whenever the world became too much, even for him, he drew closer to God. His life was a pure offering, his work an uninterrupted prayer.

The Structure of Governance
The Constitution of the Orthodox Church in India (which has retained the traditional name, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church)was brought into force on 26 December 1934, with some amendments made later in 1951 and 1967. Article 4 defines membership of the church: “ All men and women, who have received Holy Baptism and believe in the divinity of the Holy Trinity, the incarnation of the Son, the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father, The Holy Church, and the application of the Nicene Creed, three-in-all, the divine inspiration of the Holy Traditions, the intercession of the Mother of God and the Saints, the commeration of the departed ones, the administration of the seven sacraments and the canonical observances like fasting and have accepted the obligation to observe them, will be members of the Church". The Constitution defines the institutional structure of the Church for preserving its integrity and autonomy and for administering its spiritual, ecclesiastical and temporal functions.It upholds the historical tradition that the Patriarchate of Syria and the Catholicate of the East freely function,each in its own sphere,mutually respecting and not interfering in each other's domain.The Church is self-governing under the ethical and spiritual guidance of its ecelesiastical head. The representative basis of self-governance is assured at all the three levels-the parish, the diocese and the church as a whole. The Parish Assembly of all its members elects the managing committee each year from among the lay members. The vicar, appointed by the Diocesan Metropolitan is the joint steward, together with the elected lay trustee of the assets of the parish, and presides over the managing committee and the parish assembly. Like wise, the diocese is administered through the Diocesan Council representing all the parishes. It is presided over by the Diocesan Metropolitan and assisted by the Diocesan Secretary. At the apex, the Church has a representative Association, by the traditional name of Malankrs Syrian Association. It consists of the priest and two lay members elected by each Parish Assembly. The Church managing Committee is drawn from among the members of the Association. The Catholics, as the Malankara Metropolitan, presides over the Association and the Managing Committee. Those prelates having administrative charge of a diocese are vice-presidents of the Association.

The Catholicos of the East

"I am the good shepherd: The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep". This verse (John 10:11), recited at the consecration of the Catholicos, echoes the essence of the Christian calling, personified by him. The Catholicos is the supreme head of the Orthodox Church in India. The present Catholicos is the 91st chronological successor to the Catholicate of the East, founded by St Thomas the Apostle in Seleucia, later in Tagrit, and relocated in 1912 in Kottayam. The prime jurisdiction regarding the temporal, ecclestical and spiritual administration of the church is vested in him, in his capacity as the Metropolitan of the Malankara Archdiocese. He is the trustee of the central assets of the church, together with two elected co-trustees, a priest and a lay member of the Association. The Malankara Metropolitan, as all Metropolitans, is elected by the Malankara Association and approved by the Holy Episcopal Synod. The Cathelicos presides over the Holy Episcopal Synod which is the supreme authority in all matters concerning faith, order, and discipline in the Church.

The present CatholicoseHis Holiness Baselios MarthomaPaulose II was enthroned as the Catholicos of the East & Malankara Metropolitan (the Supreme Head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India) on Monday, 1st November 2010.

The orthodox church in India is one of the 37 Apostolic Churches dating from the time of Christ’s disciples. Nine of them were in Europe and 28 in Asia and Africa. Today, the India Church belongs to the family of five Oriental Orthodox Churches,which Include Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia and Armenia, and to the wider stream of the world’s orthodox churches, having in all over 150 million Eastern Christians.This Church now consists of about 3.5 million members, who are spread all over the world, though the majority reside in Kerala state. The Supreme of the Church and the present Catholicos is H.H. Baselios Mar ThomaPauloseII.His residence and the Head-quarters of the Church is in Kottayam in the Kerala State of the South-West India. The Church as a whole is divided into 30 ecclesial units as dioceses and each diocese is served by a bishop, administratively and spiritually.