Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church
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|Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church|
Logo of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church
|Founder||Saint Thomas the Apostle.|
|Recognition||Independent Hierarchical Church|
|Primate||His Grace The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan|
|Headquarters||Tiruvalla, Kerala, India|
|Possessions||Australia, Canada, Germany, Middle East (Gulf Region), Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland.|
|Language||Malayalam, English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Syriac (Western).|
|Adherents||1 million (worldwide)|
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The Mar Thoma Church defines itself as "Apostolic in origin, Catholic in nature, Biblical in faith, Evangelical in principle, Ecumenical in outlook, Oriental in worship, Democratic in function, Episcopal in character and is a Reformed Church.
Until the beginning of 20th century Marthomites lived in a few districts of Central Travancore and Kunnamkulam in Kerala. Since that time it has spread with the 20th-century Indian diaspora to North America, Europe, the Middle East, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and currently has around one million members worldwide.. Their mother tongue is Malayalam, the language of Kerala.
DefinitionsMalankara is the ancient name derived from the name 'Maliankara', Maliankara Island on the south-western side of Indian Peninsula. It was between Gokarnam and Kanyakumari the southern point of India. Kerala, the present south-western state of India is only a part of Malankara. It is also thought to be a cognate of this name Maliankara, a place near Muziris, where Thomas the Apostle first landed in Kerala.
Mar Thoma or Marthoma is Aramaic, means Saint Thomas. Members of this church are often referred to as Marthomites.
Syrian Church. The original liturgical language used in Malankara Church was Aramaic and Hebrew. Later this was replaced by Syriac. In 1898 the church decided to continue its old name Malankara Marthoma Church with the addition of Syriac in it.
AdministrationMalankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church has a well defined constitution and has a democratic pattern of administration. There is an ‘Episcopal Synod’, a Grand Assembly known as ‘Marthoma Suryani Sabha Prathinidhi Mandalam’ (House of Representatives), a council to aid the Metropolitan in administrative matters and a Vaideeka Selection Committee, to select candidates for the ministry of the Church.
Each diocese has its own council and an assembly. The assembly members are elected by the individual parishes, and the council members, by the Assembly.
All members of a parish are members of Edavaka Sangham (General Body) and they also have the right to elect their representatives to the Diocesan Assembly and Prathinidhi Mandalam, (Church Parliament).
The title of the head of the Church is “Marthoma” and is addressed as “Marthoma Metropolitan”. He is installed from among the duly consecrated bishops (episcopas) of the Church, the choice being ordinarily that of the senior most among them. The present “Marthoma Metropolitan” is the Most Reverend Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma who resides at Poolatheen at Church Headquarters in Tiruvalla, Kerala.
If the Metropolitan is personally satisfied that he has difficulty to continue to perform the duties appertaining to his office, he may, relinquish the powers and responsibilities as the Metropolitan. Then he becomes the Senior Mar Thoma Metropolitan and is addressed as “Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan”. The present “Marthoma Valiya Metropolitan” is the Most Reverend Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Valiya Metropolitan.
To assist the Metropolitan there are episcopas, the senior most among them is called Suffragan Metropolitan. The present members of the Episcopal Synod are:
- The Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Valiya Metropolitan.
- The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan
- The Rt. Rev. Dr. Zacharias Mar Theophilus Suffragan Metropolitan.
- The Rt. Rev. Geevarghese Mar Athanasius Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Dr. Geevarhese Mar Theodosius Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Dr. Euyakim Mar Coorilos Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Joseph Mar Barnabas Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Thomas Mar Timotheos Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Dr. Abraham Mar Paulos Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Dr. Mathews Mar Makarios Episcopa
- The Rt. Rev. Gregorios Mar Stephanos Episcopa
- The Rt Rev. Dr. Thomas Mar Titus Episcopa
Clergy – ministers‘’Semmasan’’ (Deacons): The Sabha Prathinidhi Mandalam elects a Vaideeka Selection board to select candidates for the ministry of the Church.
‘’Kassessa’’ (Clergy): Persons receiving ordination as ministers shall be duly ordained deacons. They all have had their theological training at the Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Kerala.
Vicars general: From among the clergy who have completed 25 years of service in the ordained ministry and not less than sixty years of age are selected and ordained as vicars general. In the absence of the diocesan bishop, they may be appointed as head of the diocese.
Administrative divisionsFor administrative purpose, the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church is divided into 12 dioceses w.e.f. January 1, 2010, headed by a Metropolitan or by an Episcopa. They are:
- Diocese of Adoor
- Diocese of Malaysia-Australia-Singapore
- Diocese of Chengannur-Mavelikara
- Diocese of Niranam-Maramon
- Diocese of Ranny-Nilackel.
- Diocese of Thiruvananthapuram-Kollam
- Diocese of Kottayam- Kochi
- Diocese of Chennai- Bangalore
- Diocese of Kunnamkulam- Malabar
- Diocese of Delhi
- Diocese of Mumbai
- Diocese of North America-Europe.
First century BCKannoor to Kanyakumari was the land called Cherarajyam, which was ruled by local chieftains. Later this land came to be known as Malabar and (now Kerala). Muziris (now known as Pattanam near Cochin) was the important entry port. After the discovery of Hippalus, every year 100 ships arrived here from various parts of the then known world, including Red Sea ports.
During the time of Moses and King Solomon, the Malabar Coast traded spices and luxury articles with Israel. Excavations carried out at Pattanam from 2005 provided evidence that the maritime trade between Kerala and the Mediterranean ports existed even before 500 BC or earlier. It is possible that some of those traders who arrived from the west, including Jews, remained in Kerala.
While Augustus Caesar (31 BC- 14 AD) was the Emperor of Rome and Herod the Great (37–4 BC) was King of Judea, ambassadors from Malabar visited the Emperor Augustus. Nasranis believe that these ambassadors were The Wise Men From the East, of the Bible. People who believe they are descendants of these Wise Men gather every year in Kerala. In the 1st century map Tabula Peutingeriana (see the map) a temple of Augustus is clearly visible near Muziris showing the close relation between Rome and Malabar in the 1st century BC.
Arrival of Saint ThomasSaint Thomas Christians believe that Thomas the Apostle arrived in Kerala around AD 52. He landed at Muziris (now known as Pattanam, near Cochin on the Malabar Coast). The Jews and a few of the Wise Men, who had been to Bethlehem to worship Jesus listened to his preaching and became followers of Jesus of Nazareth. It is believed that after leaving Malankara, St. Thomas proceeded to the East coast of India and died a martyrs’ death at a place called Mylapore in Tamil Nadu. ?The claim that 'The Wise Men' were from Malabar is ridiculous, unless supported by facts.? However, it must be conceded that the Nazarenes in Malabar were and are either 'Mar Thomites' or Mar Barthomolites, i.e. Nazarenes brought from mainstream Judaism by the missionary efforts of Mar Thoma and Mar Bartholomeu. Pantaneius's reference to the gift of 'Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew' by Mar Bartholomeu to the Nazereans in Malabar is a clear pointer to the fact that Mar Bartholemeu did evangilize Malabar. Possibly the 'tho' in Bartholomeu led to the assumption that Mar Thoma visited Malabar.
The first ChristiansIn early Christian times, 'Nazraanis' were not a separate religion, but a sect in the Jewish community. The term was used to denote followers of Jesus of Nazareth. (Acts. 24:5; 28:22). 'Khristianos' (or Christians) was initially used largely to refer non-Jewish people who followed Christ. In Kerala, the sect was known as 'Nazraani Margam'. Margam in Malayalam means, ‘The Way’. (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:22). Thus, the word Nazraani clearly shows that many who joined them were Jews. But in Kerala this name was replaced by the word 'Christians' in the 20th century.
First 15 centuries
AdministrationThe Malankara Church believes that St. Thomas appointed elders at every place he preached to lead the believers. He prayed and laid his hands upon them, in the same way as the other disciples did. This was the system used till the arrival of Portuguese. By 1500, Malankara Church had Parish elders and a Church leader. Before the arrival of Portuguese, Latin was unknown to Malankara people. In the ‘’Decrees of The Synod of Udayamperoor’’ presented to the St. Thomas Christians in their mother tongue Malayalam, Malankara Mooppen was the name used to refer the Church leader, except on three occasions. For the first time in 1653 the Church leader was given the title Mar Thoma. The present head of the Mar Thoma Church is the twenty first Mar Thoma.
Pantaenus from AlexandriaIn the 2nd century AD, Pantaenus the Philosopher visited India and found that there were many evangelists in India. They had a copy of the Gospel according to Matthew in Hebrew. These evangelists were the early Christians of Malankara Church.
Arrival of Knanaya NazranisDuring the time of King Shapur II (310–379) of Persia, a group of 400 immigrants (72 families) from Persia arrived in Malabar under the leadership of merchant Knai Thomman. They were engaged in trade and settled down in Kodungallur.Another immigration from Persia occurred around 825 under the leadership of Persian merchant Marwan Sabriso, with two Bishops, Mar Sapro and Mar Prodh. Together they were known as Knanaya (Kanahi people. They continued to remain an endogamous group within the Nasrani community. They cooperated with the Malankara Church, attended worship services together but remained a separate identity. By the 10th century, in Malabar there were two Nazrani groups, the St. Thomas Christians and Knanaya community.
Bishops from PersiaFollowing the arrival of Christians from Persia, their bishops, priests or laymen began visiting them. Most of them were not able to return due to financial difficulties and traveling long distances. The Knanaya people were worshipping together with the St. Thomas Christians. So these visitors also attended these services. It is a matter of ongoing dispute between different churches in Kerala whether the Syrian bishops had any administrative responsibility or jurisdiction over the Nazrani Christians.
Persian crossesPersian crosses were in churches once attended by Knanaya Nasranis. Out of five Persian crosses two are in Kottayam Knanaya Valia Palli. According to the archeologists, the earliest one was made in the 7th century. The cross became a symbol of Christianity in the west, during the time of Constantine (272–337). Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar had hardly any contact with other Christians before the arrival of Knanaya people from Persia. Moreover, two of the oldest church buildings that still exist in South India do not have any marking of a Cross on their original structure. So most probably it was during the 7th century that the cross became a symbol of St. Thomas Christians.
Visits corroborating the existence of the Malankara ChurchThe existence of this Church in early centuries is evident in the writings of ancient travelers.
522 AD – an Egyptian Monk, Cosmas Indicopleustes in his writings, ‘’Christian Topography’’ mentions that there was this Church.
883 AD. – Alfred the Great (849–899), King of Wessex, England reportedly sent gifts “in India to St. Thomas and to St. Bartholomew”, through Sighelm, bishop of Sherborne.
1225 AD. – Chau Ju-Kua a Chinese traveller visited Kerala.
1282 AD. – Kublai Khan (1215–1294) Emperor of China sent an emissary to Kollam, It was followed by an emissary from Kollam under the leadership of a St. Thomas Christian.
1292 AD. – Marco Polo (1254–1324) on his return journey from China visited Kerala, mentions that, "The people are idolaters, though there are some Christians and Jews among them".
Collection of deedsThe rulers of Kerala, in appreciation of their assistance, had given to the Malankara Nazranis, three deeds on copper plates. Five sheets of them are now in the custody of St. Thomas Christians.
- Iravi Corttan Deed: In the year 774 AD. Sri Vira Raghava Chakravarti, gave a deed to Iravi Corttan of Mahadevarpattanam.
- Tharissa palli Deed I: Perumal Sthanu Ravi Gupta (844–885) gave a deed in 849 AD, to Isodatta Virai for Tharissa Palli (church) at Curakkeni Kollam. According to historians, this is the first deed in Kerala that gives the exact date.
- Tharissa palli Deed II: A continuation of the above deed was given sometimes after 849 AD.
Portuguese periodBy 1500, Malankara Church was spread from Kannur in the North to Kollam in the South. It included the Saint Thomas Christians and the endogamous group, Knanaya Christians.
The Portuguese started settling in India with the arrival of Vasco da Gama in 1498. For the next 200 years they took control over the sea routes and were powerful in the western parts of India.
Synod of DiamperThe Malankara Church had hardly any contact with the Western Church. The Portuguese used their power to bring the Malankara Church under Latin jurisdiction. A powerful Archbishop Aleixo de Menezes arrived in Goa in 1595. He then convened a Synod at Udayamperoor, south of Ernakulam, from 20–26 June 1599, known as the Synod of Diamper. Here the Archbishop demanded complete submission to the Latin jurisdiction. The representatives sent from various parishes in and around Cochin were forced to accept the decrees read out by the Archbishop.
Oath of the Bent CrossUnder the leadership of their elder Thomas, Nazranis around Cochin gathered at Mattancherry church on Friday, January 24, 1653 (M.E. 828 Makaram 3) and made an oath that is known as the Great Oath of Bent Cross. The following oath was read aloud and the people touching a stone-cross repeated it loudly.
- By the Father, Son and Holy Ghost that henceforth we would not adhere to the Franks, nor accept the faith of the Pope of Rome
Four months after this event, according to the beliefs, 12 elders of the church ordained the elder Thomas as their prelate with the ecclesiastical title Mar Thoma I.
Beliefs and practicesTheir beliefs and practices before the arrival of the Portuguese as evident in the canons of the Synod of Diamper.
- denied the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
- maintained the spiritual presence of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament.
- condemned the adoration of images as idolatrous.
- were not aware of the intercession of the saints.
- were not aware of prayers for the dead.
- had no knowledge of purgatory.
- had no knowledge of extreme unction.
- had no knowledge of auricular confession.
- did not follow celibacy of the clergy.
Dutch periodThe Dutch was on the Malabar Coast from November 11, 1604 1795. Mar Thoma I to Mar Thoma VI were the prelates during this period.
British periodThe English defeated the Dutch in 1795 and took over Cochin during the time of Mar Thoma VI. In 1806, Rev. Dr. Claudius Buchanan, an Anglican missionary visited Malankara and met Marthoma VI . But, soon after this meeting, Mar Thoma VI convened a meeting of representatives of the parishes and declared that the Malankara Church should not follow the teachings of the churches of Rome or Antioch or any other foreign churches. The Bible that was translated from the original Aramaic into Malayalam by two Malpans (Syriac Professors) was printed with the help of Buchanan.
In 1808, a sum of 3000 Star Pagoda (known as Vattipanam) was handed over to Col. Macaulay, the British Resident in Travancore by Mar Thoma VII with the condition that the interest be paid to the Metropolitan of the Syrian Church of Malabar. Col Munro the British Resident in Travancore gave the interest of the deposit to Joseph Ramban ignoring the agreement. In order to avoid the quandary in 1815, Joseph Ramban was consecrated by Mar Philexenos of the Thozhyoor Church and was given the ecclesiastical title Mar Dionysious. To make the Malankara Church accept him as their head, Col. Munroe had to get the rulers of Travancore and Cochin issue Royal proclamations ordering Christians to render obedience to Mar Dionysious.
Ignoring this interference by the British, Mar Thoma VIII consecrated his successor Mar Thoma IX. But soon after, Pulikkottil Mar Dionysious dethroned him. The next two prelates were also selected by Col. Munroe and Royal proclamations were issued to them also.
Cheppad Philipose Mar Dionysius (Mar Thoma XII) did not like the interference of the Anglican Missionaries. So he convened a Synod at Mavelikkara in 1836, in which the Synod declared that, “We, the Jacobite Syrians are under the rule of the Patriarch of Antioch.” But it is historically untenable to assert that the Malankara Church had always been under the Patriarch of Antioch. Abraham Malpan leader of the Reformation did not attend this meeting.
After this the missionaries continued their work on their own. By 1878, CMS Church (Anglican Church) was established in Kerala with those who joined them and with those whom they converted.
Both Mar Thoma Church and the Anglican Church are reformed Churches.
Cleansing of the Church – ReformationFrom 1498 India was under the Colonial rule of three European powers. They all brought in their beliefs, practices and traditions into Malankara Church. Cleansing of the Church was an attempt to eliminate certain such practices and bring back those prevalent in the Church of their fathers’.
The reformation was carried out after a prolonged study by a committee of 12 scholarly clergy, appointed at a meeting of representatives of the Malankara Church by Punnathara Mar Dionysious (Mar Thoma XI) at Mavelikkara on December 3, 1818. No foreigner was involved in this committee or in its deliberations.
Abraham MalpanThough Maramon Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan was conservative in his temperament he never hesitated to introduce reforms in both teaching and practice. He also insisted on a high moral standard of conduct for laity and clergy alike. All this created a ferment in the Malankara Church and its effects are still discernible in the Church as a whole.
- ‘’Changes carried out during reformation’’ :
- Icons, pictures, statues, and drawings of saints were removed from homes, churches, and places of worship.
- All prayers for the dead and to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints were omitted.
- Insisted that Sunday services are to be held in a very reverent and spiritual way. During that time reading and expounding Scriptures is to be done.
- Conducted Worship services including Holy Communion in the mother tongue, Malayalam.
- Holy Communion was not celebrated when there were none to receive.
- Mandated that Communion under both kinds should be distributed separately.
- Considered the practice of praying for the dead and of doing obeisance at their graves with lighted candles as abhorrent.
- Intercession of saints and prayers for the dead were discarded.
- Auricular confession was discontinued.
- Believed that those who come for confession should ask for forgiveness with fasting and prayer, instead of offering oil, incense and candles.
- Insisted that Bishops should ordain only candidates who have been examined by them and the malpans (Syriac professors).
- Repudiated the custom of smearing charcoal on the forehead on Ash Wednesday.
- ‘’Doctrines upheld’’ :
- The Church unequivocally hold the doctrine of the Trinity as interpreted by the creed of Nicea, Constantinople and Ephesus.
- The Church is neither Nestorian nor Monophysite.
Course of eventsThe first printed Malayalam Bible, translated from Syriac was published in 1811. Known as Ramban Bible it contained ony the four Gospels. By 1841, the whole Bible was translated, printed and released. Realizing the need for a thorough cleaning, in 1818 Mar Thoma XI convened a meeting of representatives of the Malankara Church at Mavelikkara. In that meeting a committee was appointed to recommend reforms. Abraham Malpan, Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan, Eruthikkal Markose Kathanar, Adangapurathu Joseph Kathanar were members of this committee. This was the first step in carrying out Reformation in Malankara Church.
On September 5, 1856, the reformation was planned. Strategy was determined by a group of 12 senior clergy under the leadership of Abraham Malpan. They issued a letter describing what they believed were the wrong teachings and a statement listing twenty-four practices of the Church which they believed were "evil" and had crept in by its association with other Churches and religions.
Abraham Malpan on Sunday, August 27, 1837 conducted the Holy Communion service in the mother tongue Malayalam at his home parish at Maramon. Clergy, who supported him also did the same thing in various other parishes on the same day.
Connected with a saint, every year on the first week of October, there was a church festival at Maramon.During that time a wooden image of that saint (they called it ‘Muthappen’) was taken around in procession and people used to venerate that saint by offering prayers and ask for intercession. In 1837, Abraham Malpan took the image and threw it into a well saying, “Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19). So when the festival came there was no image to be taken out for procession.
The use of the revised liturgy and the changes he brought about in practices offended Marthoma XII. So deacons trained under Abraham Malpan were refused priesthood. But Abraham Malpan was not disheartened. He continued with the reforms. He returned to Maramon. Many of his students joined him to continue their studies. All those who believed that the Church need to revitalize also joined him. Members of parishes in Kozhencherry, Kumbanad, Eraviperoor, Thumpamon, Elanthoor, Kundara, Kottarakara, Mavelikkara, Mallapally, and many other places made trips to Maramon to attend the service in Malayalam and listen to his sermons. Doors were also opened for reformation in other places by clergy who supported him.
At this stage he had three choices in front of him. Repent and go back to the old beliefs under Antioch; join the Anglican Church with western beliefs; or go forward with the reformation restoring the Church to what he thought was its pristine position. He selected the third one. Abraham Malpan died in 1845.
Mathen, a nephew of Abraham Malpan also followed his uncle’s steps. He went to Antioch and returned after two years. While there, he was consecrated by the Patriarch of Antioch with the title Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan. After Cheppattu Philipose Mar Dionysius abdicated due to ill health, to collect the interest of the Vattipanam (Fixed Deposit), Mar Athanasius was approved as Malankara Metropolitan by the governments of Kerala and Cochin on August 30, 1852..<Royal Proclamation by Uthram Thirunal Maharaja of Travancore</ref> Mar Athanasius published the liturgy without the prayer to St. Mary. He consecrated Ouseph Mar Koorilos, Metropolitan (bishop) for Malabar Independent Church. These actions angered many clergy and Pulikkottil Ouseph Kathanar went to Antioch in 1864. He returned as Joseph Mar Dionysius in 1865.
Independence of the ChurchJoseph Mar Dionysius and his supporters filed a case on March 4, 1879. (Case O.S.No. 439 of 1054) demanding the possession of the seminary and the control of assets of the Church. Thomas Mar Athanasius was then the Metropolitan.
During the course of this litigation (1879–1889), answering a question Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan said,
- “ The Episcopal throne of Patriarch is the throne of St. Peter, while the throne of Malankara Church is that of St. Thomas. Malankara Church is as old as the Church in Antioch, equal in status, and both are independent.”
- Malankara Church was never under any foreign rule and that he was unwilling to move away from the teachings or give the authority and the Church possessions to a foreign Patriarch.
The Metran Kakshi decided to remain as an independent Malankara Church, and to give primary authority to the Holy Bible. In 1898 this group chose the name Malankara Mar Thoma Suryani Sabha.