Chaldean Syrian Church
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The Chaldean Syrian Church is an Indian Christian church that is currently an archbishopric of the Assyrian Church of the East. Its members are part of the St. Thomas Christian community, who trace their origins to the evangelical activities of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century. They are almost exclusively based in the state of Kerala, with the church's cathedral located in Thrissur. Despite carrying the "Chaldean" title in its name, the church is distinct from the Chaldean Catholic Church of the Middle East, an Eastern Catholic church in communion with the Pope.
Historically, the St. Thomas Christians were united in liturgy and hierarchy, and were part of the Church of the East, centred in Persia. However, the actions of the Portuguese padroado in India led to a series of splits and schisms from 1653. That year the community was permanently split into a Malankara faction, which eventually aligned with the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, and a Catholic faction, later known as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The modern Chaldean Syrian Church emerged from a subsequent split in the Syro-Malabar hierarchy, and later aligned with the Assyrian Church of the East.
Today, the Chaldean Syrian Church is one of four archbishoprics in the Assyrian Church of the East, and has about 15,000 members in and around Thrissur. Its cathedral is the Mart Mariam Cathedral, Thrissur's first Christian church. The members of the Church are known as Nazaranis or Marthoma Suriyani Nazarani.
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The St. Thomas Christians trace their origin to Thomas the Apostle, who is said to have evangelized in India in the 1st century. By the 3rd century India's Christian community was part of the Church of the East, led by the Patriarch of the East in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, Persia. In the 7th century India was designated its own ecclesiastical province. In 1499 the Portuguese arrived in India, and forcefully attempted to bring the St. Thomas Christian community fully into the Latin Church of the Catholic Church. The actions of the Portuguese padroado ultimately caused part of the community to follow the archdeacon Thomas in swearing the Coonan Cross Oath in 1653. The faction that followed Thomas were known as the Malankara Church, and eventually entered into communion with the Syriac Orthodox Church. The Catholic faction eventually became known as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
The Chaldean Syrian Church's current Metropolitan, Mar Aprem Mooken, has argued that the church represents a direct continuation of the ancient Church of the East hierarchy in India. However, Mathias Mundadan sets the church's origin within the 19th century autonomy movement within the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. For over two hundred years the Syro-Malabar Catholics were under the authority of the Latin Archbishop of Goa. This arrangement led to resentment from some members, who wanted more autonomy for their local church, resulting in a formidable and sustaining autonomy movement. In the 19th century this movement's leaders made repeated pleas to both the Pope and the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic church in communion with the Pope) for their own bishop and liturgy. The Assyrian Church of the East in India is known as the Chaldean Syrian Church. Outside India the name Chaldean Church refers to that branch of the Church of the East which has a separate existence from 1553 AD when Pope consecrated a monk named John Sulaqa as the Patriarch of the Chaldeans of Babel. The head of Chaldean Church is Patriarch Cardinal Immanuel Delli who resides in Baghdad. The Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East is His Holiness Khanania Mar Dinkha IV who resides in Chicago where a lot of Assyrians from Iran and Iraq have migrated during the 20th Century.
The Chaldean Syrian Church in India is based in Trichur. The history of this church in the early centuries is the same as the history of the other Syrian churches in Kerala. From the arrival of St. Thomas till the coonen cross in 1653 the history of the Indian church is common. Therefore, referring to this period the account written by Fr. Dr. Geevarghese Panicker (a priest of the Syro-Malankara Church who accepted the Pope on 20 September 1930) published in the Journal of St. Thomas Christians, Vol. II, and No.2. Oct-Dec 2000 is reproduced below.
Malankara is another name for Kerala, the cradle of Christianity in India. St. Thomas, the Apostle came to Kerala in A.D. 52 and preached the gospel with great success. Not much is known about the early history of these St. Thomas Christians, but two facts stand out clearly. Between the 3rd and the 9th centuries there were waves of immigrants from Mesopotamia to Kerala, and from the early centuries, This Church, with its liturgical center in Edessa, had also claimed its origin from St. Thomas. Thus the East Syrian or Chaldean liturgy was used in Kerala until the 17th century. The Syrian Church (using the Syriac liturgy) in Kerala was undivided until the advent of the Portuguese.
The Portuguese set up their headquarters in Goa early in the 16th century and extended their domain to Kerala. The Archbishopric of Goa, backed by the Portuguese, claimed jurisdiction over the Syrian Christians of Malabar. The East Syrian liturgy and the Mesopotamian connection of the St. Thomas Christians laid them open to suspicion of Nestorianism and Archbishop Menezes of Goa, who arrived in Kerala in December 1598 was determined to bring them into the Latin way of worship.
Divisions among Saint Thomas Christians
Rome sent Carmelites in two groups from the Propagation of the Faith to Malabar headed by Fr. Sebastiani and Fr. Hyacinth. Fr. Sebastiani arrived first in 1655. He began to deal directly with the Archdeacon, Mar Thoma I. Fr. Sebastiani gained the support of many, especially with the support of Parambil Mar Chandy, Alexandar Kadavil and the Vicar of Muttam. These were the three councilors of Mar Thoma I, who were reconciled with Gracia (SJ)[who?] before the arrival of Sebastaini, according to Jesuit reports.
Between 1661 and 1662, out of the 116 churches, the Carmelites reclaimed eighty-four churches, leaving Archdeacon Mar Thomas I with thirty-two churches. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syro Malabar Church has descended. The other thirty-two churches and their congregations represented the nucleus from which the Syriac Orthodox (Jacobites & Orthodox), Thozhiyur, Mar Thoma (Reformed Syrians), Syro Malankara Catholics have originated.
In 1665 Mar Gregorios, a Bishop sent by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, arrived in India. The dissident group under the leadership of the Archdeacon welcomed him. Though most of the St. Thomas Christians gradually relented in their strong opposition to the Western control, the arrival of the Bishop Mar Gregory of the Syriac Orthodox Church in 1665 marked the beginning of a formal schism among the St. Thomas Christians. Those who accepted the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch of Mar Gregory became known as the Jacobite, The Syrian Catholics remained in communion with Rome and later came to be known as the Syro Malabar Church.
In response these pleas, the Chaldean Patriarch Joseph Audo sent a request to Pope Pius IX for the Syro-Malabar Catholics to be placed under his authority. Without waiting for a reply, he dispatched Elias Mellus, Bishop of Aqrah, to India in 1874. Mellus had substantial success convincing Syro-Malabar Catholics in Thrissur to recognize him as their bishop. By 1877 24,000 followers had joined his group, based in Our Lady of Dolours Church (now Mart Mariam Cathedral) in the parish of Thrissur. In response the Pope dispatched Latin Catholic leaders to rein in Mellus, who was sent back to Mesopotamia in 1882. By then, however, he had established the infrastructure for an independent church.
Many of Mellus' followers returned to the Syro-Malabar Church. About 8,000, however, maintained their demand for autonomy, and took their requests for an independent bishop to non-Catholic churches. In 1904 they made one such request to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but were declined. They subsequently made an equivalent request to Shimun XXI Benyamin, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East in Qochanis. Simon consented, and dispatched Abimelek to serve as their metropolitan bishop. Abimelek introduced Nestorian dogma and East Syrian liturgy to the Thrissur church. These reforms caused more followers to break away and rejoin the Syro-Malabar Church, but the Thrissur church survived.
In 1964, during the reign of Mar Shimun XXIII Eshai, a dispute over hereditary succession and church calendars caused the Metropolitan of the Church of the East in India to break away. However, in 1995 Eshai's successor, Mar Dinkha IV was able to heal the rift, and the Chaldean Syrian Church returned to his jurisdiction. It now constitutes one of the four Archbishoprics of the Assyrian Church of the East. Its followers number around 15,000. The present Metropolitan, Mar Aprem Mooken (ordained in 1968), is headquartered in Thrissur City and is a noted author. His seat is the Marth Mariam Valiyapalli . The Chaldean Syrian Higher Secondary School is also affiliated with the church.
- Vadakkekara, pp. 101–103.
- Mar Aprem, The Assyrian Church of the East in the Twentieth Century (Kottayam: SEERI, 2003), pp. 49-51, 65 & 70.
- Mathias Mundadan, "19th Century 'Autonomy' Movement Among Syrian Catholics," Indian Church History Review 8 (1974), pp.111-130. Vadakkekara, note to pp. 101–102
- Vadakkekara, p. 101.
- Vadakkekara, pp. 101–102
- Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, "Eastern Christianity in India"
- Catholic Encyclopedia profile of "St. Thomas Christians" - The Carmelite Period
- Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India”
- Vadakkekara, p. 102
- Vadakkekara, p. 103
- Vadakkekara, Benedict (2007). Origin of Christianity in India: a Historiographical Critique. Media House Delhi.
- Church of the East – India
- History and Description of the Church of the East in India
- Current Organization of the Church of the East in India
- Mar Aprem Mooken, The Chaldean Syrian Church in India, (Trichur: Mar Narsai Press, 1977).
- Mar Aprem Mooken, Church of the East, (St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia, Trichur: 1973).