Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

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Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
(Indian Orthodox Church)
Malankara Emblem.png
Catholicate Emblem
Founder Saint Thomas the Apostle in 52 AD[1]
Recognition Oriental Orthodoxy
Primate Catholicos of the East and the Malankara Metropolitan present Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II; The Head of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
Headquarters Kottayam, Kerala, India
Territory Indian subcontinent, Africa, America, Europe, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania
Possessions India, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, United Kingdom, Australia and the United States
Language Malayalam, Syriac, English, Hindi, Konkani, Kannada
Members 2.5 million[2]
Website Official website
Persian cross, the symbol of Malankara Church @ Kadamattom Church
Malankara Church Sunday School Text Book

The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church[3] also known as Indian Orthodox Church[4][5] is an autocephalous[6][7] Oriental Orthodox church centered in the Indian state of Kerala. It is one of the churches of India's Saint Thomas Christian community, which has its origin in the evangelical activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century.[1] The church is headed by the autocephalous[8]Catholicos of the East and the Malankara Metropolitan; present Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II. Though the constitution of Malankara Orthodox Church defines Malankara Church as a division of the Syriac Orthodox Church,[9] both the churches have been in administrative schism for a very long time.[10] At present, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is an autocephalous community and a member of Oriental Orthodox Churches.[11] The Church accepts the Miaphysite Christology of St Cyril of Alexandria and uses the Malankara Rite, a local variant of the West Syrian Rite.

It is believed that Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar was in communion with the Church of the East from CE 496 to CE 1599.[12] Thereafter, the Christians of Saint Thomas had been influenced by many belief streams at different points of time. These influences have later resulted in serious rifts and in the breaking down of the monolithic apostolic church to different fragments under different faith stream. They were organised as a Church in the 8th century, served by foreign bishops and with a hereditary local chief called Archdeacon. In the 16th century, the overtures of the Portuguese padroado to bring the Saint Thomas Christians into the Latin Rite Catholicism led to the first of several rifts in the community and the establishment of Catholic and Malankara Church factions.Since that time further splits have occurred, and the Saint Thomas Christians are now divided into several fragments viz. Eastern Catholic, Church of the East, Oriental Orthodox, Protestant and Reformed Syrians, each with their own liturgies and traditions.

Saint Thomas Christians were administratively under the single native dynastic leadership of Archdeacon (അർക്കദിയൊക്കൊൻ)( a native ecclesiastical head with spiritual and temporal powers, deriving from Greek term arkhidiākonos ) and was in communion with the Church of the East centered in Persia at least from CE 496.[13][14] The indigenous Church of Malabar/Malankara followed the faith and traditions handed over by the Apostle St. Thomas. During 16th century, the Portuguese Jesuits began deliberate attempts to annex the native christians to the Catholic Church, and in 1599 A.D, they succeeded in their attempt through the infamous Synod of Diamper. Resentment against these forceful measures led the majority of the community under their Archdeacon Thomas to swear an oath never to submit to the Portuguese, known as the Coonan Cross Oath in 1653. Malankara Church consolidated under Mar Thoma I welcomed Gregorios Abdal Jaleel who regularized the canonical ordination of Mar Thoma as a Bishop. Since then the Malankara Church was called ‘Puthenkootukar’ (new loyalists) and the Catholic supporters were called as ‘Pazhyakootukar’ (old loyalists).

Meanwhile the Dutch East India Company defeated Portuguese for the supremacy of spice trade in Malabar in the year CE 1663. Malankara church used this opportunity to escape from Catholic persecution with the help of Dutch East India Company. With the request of the Malankara Church the Dutch brought Gregorios Abdal Jaleel of Jerusalem, a Syrian Orthodox Church Bishop in their trading vessel in CE 1665. Mar Thoma I forged a relationship with the Syriac Orthodox Church and gradually adopted West Syrian liturgy and practices. The church is theologically and traditionally a part of the Syriac Orthodox church. The members of the Church are known as Malankara Nazrani or Puthenkoor Syrians.

Part of a series on
Saint Thomas Christians
മാർത്തോമാ നസ്രാണികൾ
St. Thomas Cross
Saint Thomas · Thomas of Cana · Mar Sabor and Mar Proth · Tharisapalli plates · Synod of Diamper · Coonan Cross Oath
Ancient crosses · Churches · Shrines · Liturgical language · Church music
Prominent persons
Abraham Malpan · Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar · Kayamkulam Philipose Ramban · Kuriakose Elias Chavara · Mar Thoma I · Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly · Sadhu Kochoonju Upadesi · Kariattil Mar Ousep · Geevarghese Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril · Gheevarghese Mar Gregorios of Parumala · Ignatius Elias III · Geevarghese Mar Ivanios · Saint Alphonsa · Yeldho Mar Baselios · Euphrasia Eluvathingal · Thoma of Villarvattom

Margam Kali · Parichamuttukali · Cuisine · Suriyani Malayalam


First seventeen centuries[edit]

The propagation of Christianity was led by apostles St. Peter and St. Paul around the Mediterranean, and by St. Thomas in the East. This Nasrani faith had many similarities to ancient Judaism (see also Jewish Christianity), and, owing to the heritage of the Jewish Christian Nasrani people, developed contacts with the Non-Chalcedonian religious authorities of Edessa, Mesopotamia

Outside of the Roman Empire, Christianity had spread and flourished since its inception, while within the Roman Empire, it was a persecuted sect until the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine I. The patronage of Christianity by Roman emperors from that point, marked the end of the freedom enjoyed by Christianity in Persian Empire and the commencement of persecution there. In CE 345 during the reign of King Shapur-III, Mesopotamian Christians, also known as "Canaanites", migrated to Kerala led by a merchant named Cana Thoma, where they were known as "Thekkum Bhagar", meaning "Southerners." The migration of Cananites took place from C'nana which is in the southern part of Mesopotamia, while early Malankara Nazranis were ecclesiastically linked to Edessa-Selucia, which is northern part of East Syria. Church hierarchy distinctively termed the migrated group as southernists.

In CE 822, a group of people from East Syria, (home of the biblical Magis, who have advanced knowledge of astronomy at that time) migrated to Kerala at Kollam, the southern Cheran capital under two bishops - Mar Sabrisho and Mar Aphrod - formulated a new calendar for the king of Kollam, known as Kolla Varsham (era) which began in CE 825. Syrian Christians were also actively involved in spice trade due to their west Asian connections. As a reward for their unique services, the Syrian Christians were bestowed with many rights in copper plates by the King in the presence of his royal assembly is known as Tarissa Palli Chepped is in the possession of the Malankara Orthodox Church and the hidden first and last page with Reformists. The other important Chepped, ‘Kana Thomman Chepped’ was ferried to Portugal and misplaced there. The spread of aggressive religions and the exhaustive holocaust by Timur during 14th century caused the devastation of the 16-million-strong East Syrian Church, which had more than the combined strength of Latin and Greek Church at that time, to small groups of dispersed minorities.,

The fall of Constantinople, a bastion of Christianity in Asia Minor, to the Islamic Ottoman Empire in 1453 marked the end of the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire, and severed European trade links by land with Asia. This massive blow spurred the age of discovery as Europeans were seeking alternative routes east by sea for the spice trade. One such Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, arrived in Calicut in 1498. The Portuguese came to South India and established their political power there. Simultaneously they aggressively carried out the work to unite the Malanakara Church in communion with Rome under the Portuguese patronage. Even many documents related to the 17th and 18th century also reveals the attachment of Nazranis to Eastern Syria. A memorandum by Malankara Nazranis to Roman Pope against compulsive westernization during 17th Century states that, "All our prayers are written in the Chaldean Syriac of our Apostle father St. Thomas". A Jesuit priest Nunes Barutha of that period states that: "Marthoma Christians believe only in teachings written in Eastern Chaldean Syriac". In 1682, Bartholomew, a West Syrian Malpan from Aleppo was appointed in Verapoly seminary by Carmelites. But Malankara Nazranis strongly opposed the appointment to teach their students by a West Syrian teacher. Canon of Udayamperoor synod (page 79) specifically asked to discontinue the use of Eastern Syriac in liturgy and prayers for native Malayalam. Eastern Aramaic (Chaldean Syriac) was widely used in Malankara up to the 17th century, and all borrowed words and names from Syriac to Malayalam are still phonetically in Eastern Syriac.

Christianity witnessed India's major socio-religious transition during its two thousand years of existence. St. Thomas preached in south India to a community that comprised Jewish diaspora, native Dravidian majority, small groups of Jains, Buddhists and migrant Vedic Indo-Aryans (Brahmins). But St. Thomas Christians were reluctant to divulge their faith to others before the arrival of European missionaries. Malankara Nazranies also formulated a script (Karshoni) to write Malayalam after making certain changes in east Syrian script, even though ‘Vattezhuthe /Grantha’ the old script of the land was normally used by Nazranies. Aarthat Padiyola in copper plate (preserved at University Manuscript Library, Trivandrum), declaring the sovereignty of Malnakara Church in CE 1806 was written in old Malayalam script. Early scripts, Brahmi & Kharoshti (used in emperor Ashoka edicts) prevailed in ancient India was also developed from eastern Syriac, which helped to decipher identical edicts written in India's original but defunct Prakrit languages. The present day Malayalam script was formulated and used by Indo-Aryan settlers on the lines of their Devnagari for the translation of their Epics to Malayalam after the 12th century.

At the time of the arrival of Vasco da Gama at Cochin in CE 1502, Metropolitan Mar Yahb Alla assisted by Mar Denha, Mar Yacob and Mar Yuhanon sent by Babylonian Patriarch ministered from Ankamaly along with dynastically descended Arkidhyaquana from native Pakalomattom family. Church sources as well as Cardinal Tisserent in his book ‘Eastern Christianity in India’ states that even after the arrival of Portuguese, Babylonian Primates, continued to send prelates and they ministered in Malanakara viz. Mar Yacob (CE 1503-49), Mar Joseph and Mar Elias (CE 1556-69), Mar Abraham (CE 1568-97) and thereafter Mar Simeon. Most of them were detained by Portuguese under Goan Inquisition and sent to Bassein (Vasai), Lisbon or Rome for orientation in Latin language, tradition & liturgy.

Portuguese were eager to bring the Indian Church under the Pope's control through Latin ecclesiastical hierarchy. They succeeded in their efforts in CE 1599 with the Synod of Diamper during the regime of Geevarghese Arkidhyaquana. Royal order issued under the pressure of Goan bishop Menezis, the representatives of various parishes who attended the assembly were forced by Portuguese authorities to accept the Papal authority. In CE 1601, Menezes consecrated Fr. Francis Roz as bishop of Ankamaly, which marked the beginning of Roman Catholic hierarchy in Malankara. In CE 1652, Mar Ahathalla, a prelate from East Syria reached Mylapore (place of martyrdom of Apostle Thomas, which is most emotive place in India for East Syrian in early times) and the news of his detention and torture by Portuguese, caused the great uprising of 1653. It was a historical proclamation of freedom in human history, centuries before French revolution and American Boston Tea party from Colonial rule. Even the Indian freedom struggle started 200 years after this emancipation proclamation. Under the leadership of Arkidhyaquana Thomas, Nazranis gathered at Mattancherry church on Friday, 24 January 1653 (M.E. 828 Makaram 3) and sworn an oath known as the Great Oath of Bent Cross. The following oath was read aloud and repeated by people touching a stone cross: "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[29]". Those who were unable to touch the cross tied ropes to it, which they held as they swore the oath. Because of the enthusiasm of believers, the cross bent a little and so it is known as "Oath of the bent cross (Coonen Kurisu Sathyam)". They wanted to combat aggressive catholic hierarchy and to regain the spiritual and administrative autonomy of the Church, hence 12 elderly priests laid hand on Thomas Arkidhyaquana and elevated him as Metropolitan. It appealed to several eastern Christian churches to defend its identity from Latin intrusion. Mar Gregorios of Jerusalem came to India in 1665 in a Dutch ship. He confirmed Marthoma I as the Metropolitan and worked together with him to re-organize the Church. Until CE 1599, it depended on the Assyrian (Persian) Church for prelates to ordain its priests.[15]

The Malankara Church lost many early traditions with the colonial Christianity brought by Roman Empire Churches, consisting of Catholics, Antiocheans, and Protestants. Early period Nazranis sought the intercession of Apostolic father St. Thomas who was described in tradition as well as in Liturgy as a great healer of sicknesses and it was zealously solicited by a traditional annual fast of 8 days which is unfortunately discontinued now.

Divisions among Saint Thomas Christians[edit]

Saint Thomas Christian Church - Divisions- History

Due to widespread complaints against Jesuits in Malankara, Rome sent Carmelites in two groups from the Propagation of the Faith to Malabar headed by Fr. Sebastiani,Fr. Hyacinth and Gracia. They gradually gained support especially with the help of Palliveettil Chandy Kathanar, a cousin of Mar Thoma I and succeeded in wooing 3 of the 4 councilors of Mar Thoma I, according to Jesuit reports.[16] Kerala‘s long water ways helped the Portuguese soldiers to directly intervene in coastal churches, while geographically interior churches spared due to lack of roads at that time. They asked Kochi, Vadakkumkoor, Thekkumkoor and Ambalapuzha kings to put diktats to their Syrian subjects to join Catholicism. According to Thomas Whitehouse, Portuguese distributed rice snacks hidden with gold coins to make large turnout of people for their introductory meetings. By CE 1662, out of the 116 churches, the Carmelites claimed eighty-four churches, leaving Archdeacon Mar Thoma I with thirty-two churches. The thirty-two churches and their congregations represented the nucleus from which the Malankara Syrian Church ( Orthodox & Jacobites), Thozhiyur, Mar Thoma (Reformed Syrians), Syro Malankara Catholics have originated. The 84 churches from which Syro Malabar and Chaldean Syrian Church was formed.[17]

The indigenous group under the leadership of the Marthoma-I welcomed Mar Gregorios Abdul Jaleel, a Bishop under Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch.[18] Those who struggle to defend the Malankara Church from European rule, had no other way but to accept the patronage of the west Syrian hierarchy, having slight difference from east Syrian traditions. Henceforth, the native Church began to be called "Jacobites" (earlier called "Nestorians"). Both terms are misconception of Westerners, as most of the old Kerala churches are consecrated in the name of St.Mary, which is not conform to Nestorianism and Jacobites denote the followers of Mor Yacob Burdhana who fought the Roman imperial church.

Malankara Metropolitans - 1 to IX of Pakalomattom family continued from the linage of Arkadiyaqon, however earnestly led the Church since CE 1653 to another 150 years and they made many attempts to regain the Roman faction under eastern tradition. The Dutch period put an end to the direct interference of Portuguese, but Latinism grafted on Syrianism survived with Roman support. In CE 1795, English appeared the scene and Principal of Fort College, Rev. Claudius Buchanan visited the Church in 1806. His meeting with Marthoma VI and Fr. Joseph Pulikkottil (his ascendancy to the Metropolitanate caused the eclipse of Pakalomattom dynasty) changed the destiny of the Church in the 19th century to a great extent. The military expeditions of Tipu Sultan during 1789-92 destroyed the administrative and priest training centre existed at Ankamaly from early centuries and the Church was in search for new centre in the state of Travancore. The Church was not in a position to purchase a prime plot and to construct necessary buildings. The British Resident was ready to help and in a position to influence the Travancore Rulers. Under the persuasion of English in 1813 the Queen allotted a plot of 16 acre land and Rs. 27,000 to construct a Seminary at Kottayam (most of the temples at that time were constructed using royal grants). The Anglican faculty who joined the Seminary in 1816 used the opportunity to sow the seeds of Anglicanism among Syrian Christians and the relation reached a breaking point in 1836. Under Cochin settlement, Syrian Christians were allowed to retain the land and building but had to compensate the Anglicans by cash payment of the amount received for Seminary from Travancore Government and abroad and Manroe Thuruth (island) .

Many times, the demise of Metropolitans without anointing a successor put the Church in a fix. In these critical times, the Church even sought the Apostolic hand from estranged Thozhiyoor Church. Cheppad Mar Dionysus and his two predecessors were anointed by Thozhiyoor Church. Meantime, Reformists secretly sent deacon Mathew to West Syrian Patriarch at Mardin (later the See shifted to Homes and now in Damascus) and get him consecrated as Mar Athanasius in order to seize the Church from its top for Anglican reformation movement. It was the first time that an Indian directly went to Antioch and pleaded for ordination. In a hurry to subject the Malankara Nazranis, the Patriarch did not even consult the reigning Metropolitan Cheppad Mar Dionysius. The callous act not only defeated the effort of Cheppad Mar Dionysius to contain the reformists by Mavelikkara Synod, but also put the whole Church under Reformists. Mar Athansius reached Malankara and claimed the crown seat of Malankara Metropolitan, arguing that only the consecration from Patriarch was valid and the consecration of Cheppad Mar Dionysius from Thozhiyoor was not valid. Exploiting the dispute, Patriarch sent an Antiochean prelate Yuyakim Mar Kurilos, who came and took over the position of Malankara Metropolitan and deposed Cheppad Mar Dionysius. Now the tussle started between Syrian national Mar Kurilos and Mar Athanasius. Government appointed a high power committee of its officials to settle the dispute. However, the decision of the committee known as ‘Quilon award’ (1848) advised Government to pronounce Mar Athansius as Malankara Metran as they were doubtful about the authenticity of the Patriarchal letter presented by Mar Kurilos and they observed that there was no tradition of a foreigner in the seat of Malankara Metran. In order to win back the Church from Protestants, Church was compelled to bring Mor Pathrose Patriarch from Antioch in 1875. Patriarch cancelled the ‘Stathicon’ given to Mar Athanasius and subsequently Government de-recognized him in 1876. But he and his successor continued to stay at Pazhaya Seminary. Finally, Metropolitan Mar Pulikkottil –II in 1889, evicted them from Pazhaya Seminary (Church Headquarters) and parish churches after a long civil litigation. Many of the affidavits submitted to the court as well as the deliberations of Mulunthuruthy Synod convened by Patriarch in 1876 were really harmful to the very goal of independence, but it was unavoidable in such a situation to freed the Church from the clutches of western colonialism. Thus the help sought from British Raj to influence the Travancore government for a financial grant to set up a Seminary for priest training in the year 1813, resulted the formation of CMS Church in 1846 and subjugation to Antiochean Church in 1876 and formation Marthoma Church in 1889.

Antioch was also keen to introduce their liturgy, customs in Malankara Church and given name & dress code of dignitaries. Marthoma -V was advised to get re-consecrated upon the name Dionysius by Antioch. But he was not ready to heed the demand. At the time of Marthoma VI, however the visiting dignitaries re-consecrate him and changed his name to Mar Dionysius and given West Syrian vestments which marked the beginning of Greek names and Antiochean dress code for Episcopas in Malankara.

Politically western powers withdrew from eastern colonies but in the sphere of Church, they are still pursuing colonial ambitions. The struggle of independence initiated by Geevarghese Arkidhyaquana in 1599 from western domination still continuing after more than 400 years even many apex court verdicts uphold the independence of Malankara Church.


The church had no written constitution until 1934, but was governed by consensus, traditions and precedence. It was the vision of Mor Dionysius, Vattasseril to have a clearly defined uniform constitution to govern the church administration. He initiated action in this regard and appointed a sub-committee with O. M. Cherian as convener to submit a draft constitution. The committee members had discussed the fundamental issues with the Metropolitan in several rounds. However, it was not finalized and passed (materialized) in his lifetime.

After his demise, the constitution was presented in the Malankara Christian Association meeting of 26 December 1934, held at M. D. Seminary. It was adopted and brought to force. Three times the constitution was amended to meet specific situations and needs. It only shows that the church is alive to meet the challenges that arise from time to time. The validity of the constitution was challenged by the Patriarch party in the Court, but the Supreme Court has given its final verdict declaring the validity of the Constitution. Every member of the Church is bound by the rules and regulations laid down in the Constitution.

The Constitution upholds the autonomy and autocephaly of the Malankara Orthodox Church. It is Episcopal in its (polity) and not congregational. At the same time it upholds democratic principle by safeguarding the rights and privileges of the lay people. It was framed at a time when the Patriarch of Antioch was held in high esteem and hence his limited role is included.

The constitution enshrines the fundamental features of the Church, provides direction for its internal administration and preserves its integrity and autonomy. The essential features of the Church are provided in the preamble. The first article emphasizes the bond of relationship between the Church of Syria and Malankara. The second article deals with the foundation of the Malankara Church by St. Thomas and the primacy of the Catholicos. The third article refers to the name of the church and the fourth about the faith, traditions etc., and the fifth about the canons governing the administration of the Church.

The whole constitution conceives the Malankara Church as self –sufficient in all her requirements, be it temporal, ecclesiastical or spiritual in nature and upholds that the Malankara Orthodox church is rightly autocephalous in character.

19th century[edit]

Kottayam Cheriapally A pencil drawing 1835
Church of the Syrian Christians in India (p. 115, October 1855)[19]

In 1795, the British captured Malabar, Kerala. In 1806 Claudius Buchanan, an Anglican priest, visited the ancient Church of St. Thomas in India. In March 1815 Malankara Church opened a Seminary at Kottayam, and in the next year Anglican missionaries arrived to join it.[20][21] However, in 1835, the missionaries began to impose Protestant doctrines on the seminarians.[22] As a result, the Malankara church discontinued their association with the Anglicans.

The London Missionary Service was active in India. Bishop Norton inaugurated the first Anglican Church in Kerala at Thalavady in the house of one Itty Matthan Panickar. This church was later known as Christian Missionary Service and after Indian Independence it became the Church of South India. Lore says that Bishop Norton was tutored in Malayalam by Itty Matthan Panickar. Later the same person tutored Bishop Benjamin Bailey in Sanskrit & Malayalam, and was presented the chair on which the Bishop sat as a gift. Later in the 19th century, À reform movement led by Abraham Malpan led to the formation of the Mar Thoma Church.

This eventually gave rise to the division of the community into three bodies.

  • A group of people of the Malankara Church opted to join with the missionaries and be absorbed into the Anglican Church, and they became CSI (Church of South India) by the union of many churches.
  • One of them set out to bring about major reforms in the liturgy and practices of the Church, including independence from foreign control. After a final litigation outcome in 1889 which was not in their favour, they formed the Independent Syrian Church, which was later known as the Mar Thoma Church .
  • A large majority of the community continued in the Malankara Orthodox Church without accepting the reforms remained under Patriarch of Antioch.[23]

From 1817 to 1825 to Mar Dionysius III (Mar Thoma XI) was Malankara Metropolitan. During 1825-1855, Cheppad Philipose Mar Dionysiusled the Malankara Church. In between Patriarchal legate, Yuyakim Mar Koorilos who claimed the position, lost his case in Royal court to reformers' (Metran)group, Palakkunnath Mathews Mar Athanasius and he was succeeded by Thomas mar Athanasius. Then Mar Dionysius V regained the Church from reformers and retained the beliefs of Jacobite church under The Patriarch of Antioch.

20th century[edit]

Geevarghese Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril who ascended the throne of Malankara Metropolitan in 1908 played a significant role together with the other clerical nad lay leaders of Malankara in re-establishing the Catholicose of the East in India in 1912. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church wanted to retain its autocephalous nature. It appealed to the deposed Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Mor Ignatius Abdul Masih II. He ordained Murimattathil Paulose Mar Ivanios as Baselios Paulose I, as Catholicos of the East on the Apostolic throne of St. Thomas. The ceremony was held at St. Mary's Church, Niranam on 15 September 1912.[24] The church in 20th century remained the most favored and strong denomination to be fully eligible for St. Thomas heritage. The lineage of St. Thomas is preserved based on two grounds. Firstly, the founder and first primate of the Church is St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ; and secondly, the church has no dependence on or is under any foreign churches outside India (in short, autonomous and autocephalous).

St Thomas Orthodox Church, Yonkers, New York

The history of immigrant community of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of the East in the U.S.A. begins approximately in the mid-20th century. During this period, a number of priests and laity came to the U.S.A. for higher studies and training. Mathews Mar Coorilos Metropolitan (later Moran Mar Baselius Mar Thoma Mathews II) stayed at the General Theological Seminary in 1963 and returned to India in 1964. Mar Coorilos celebrated Holy Qurbana occasionally during his stay here. Fr. K.M. Simon looked after the Church service after Mar Coorilos left for India. This service was ecumenical in nature; Malayalees of any denomination participated.

In 1965, the United States Congress passed a bill which cleared the way for thousands of professionally qualified individuals to immigrate to the US. Many Malankara Orthodox Christians came to the United States during this time. In 1968 Fr. G. John (John Geevarghese), an Ecumenical Fellow at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, started celebrating the Holy Qurbana every Sunday in the Seminary chapel, thus organizing the first congregation on America soil. After 1970, the Malankara Orthodox Church gradually spread to many major US cities, with increasing numbers of clergy and laity. In 1976, the Holy Synod decided to establish more dioceses in various parts of the world. At this time the numerous churches in America were placed under the authority of the Metropolitan of the Bombay Diocese, Thomas Mar Makarios. On 14 July 1979, Mar Makarios was given authority over the new American Diocese under the authority of the Catholicos of the East, Baselius Mar Thoma Mathews I. In 1991, Mathews Mar Barnabas took charge of the Diocese. In 2002, Zacharias Mar Nicholovos joined the Diocese. In 2009, the 'American Diocese' was split into the Northeast American Diocese and the Southwest American Diocese. As of 2013, the Northeast American Diocese had more than fifty parishes, and more than forty priests, 14 deacons and seminarians.

Hierarchy, distribution and doctrine[edit]

The spiritual regional head of the church is the Catholicos of the East and the temporal head over church assets is the Malankara Metropolitan. Since 1934, both the titles vest in one person. The official title of the head of the Church is the "Catholicos of the East and the Malankara Metropolitan". Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II was enthroned as Catholicos of the East on 1 November 2010 at Parumala Church by the Holy Synod, the 91st Catholicos of the East in the lineage of Apostle Thomas, the eighth after reinstatement in India, and the twentieth Malankara Metropolitan.

Oriental Orthodox Churches, including the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, accept only the first three Ecumenical Synods.

The church primarily uses the liturgy of Saint James, as does its sister church, the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. The Church in India was connected to the Church of East through the Catholicos of the East, existed in Edessa, Selucia, Tigris and Mosul at various times. Today the Church conducts liturgy in West Syriac, Malayalam, Hindi, and English.

The church has theological seminaries at Kottayam and Nagpur, and dioceses and churches in most parts of India, the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Western Europe, Africa, Persian Gulf nations, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

The name Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church refers to St. Thomas Christians of India that come under the Catholicate of the East whose supreme head is the Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan, with its headquarters at Devalokam, Kottayam, Kerala, India.


Since the 17th century, the Malankara Church uses the Syrian Orthodox Liturgy, which belongs to the Antiochene liturgical tradition. The East Syrian (Persian), Byzantine, Armenian, Georgian, Maronite liturgies also belong to the same liturgical family. In the first half of the 5th century, the Antiochene Church adopted the anaphora of Jerusalem, known under the name of St James, the disciple. In the 4th and 5th centuries, the liturgical language of Jerusalem and Antioch was Greek. Therefore, the original form of St James liturgy was composed in Greek.

Following the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Eastern Church was divided into two, one group accepting the council and the other opposing it. Both groups continued to use the Greek version of St James. The Byzantine emperor Justin (518–527) expelled the non-Chalcedonians from Antioch and they took refuge in the Syriac speaking Mesopotamia on the Roman-Persian Border (modern Eastern Syria, Iraq and South East Turkey). Gradually, the Antiochene liturgical rites were translated into Syriac. New elements such as Syriac hymns were introduced into it.

Mar Gregorios of Jerusalem came to Malankara in 1665 and introduced Syriac Orthodox liturgical rites. The most striking characteristic of the Antiochene liturgy is the large number of anaphoras (Order of the celebration of the Eucharist). About 80 are known and about a dozen are used in India. All of them have been composed following the model of Liturgy of St James.[25]

  • The ritual service (liturgy) is called the Holy Qurbana, which is derived from the Aramaic word korban (Hebrew: קרבן), meaning "sacrifice".
  • The Holy Qurbana is mostly conducted and prayers recited in Malayalam. However, some parts of the Holy Qurbana are sung in Syriac. During the 20th century, the 'Qurbana-kramam' i.e. the 'book containing the order of worship', was translated into English, for the benefit of worshipers who lived outside Kerala, who did not know to read or write Malayalam.

The Catholicate[edit]

The word "Catholicos" means "The General Head". It can be considered as equivalent to "Universal Bishop". There were only three ranks of priesthood in the early Church: Episcopos (Bishop), Priest, and Deacon. By the end of the 3rd century, certain bishops of certain important cities in the Roman Empire gained pre-eminence over other bishops and they came to be known as Metropolitans. The Ecumenical councils of the 4th century recognized the supreme authority of these Metropolitans. By the 5th century the bishops in major cities such as Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch etc. gained control over the churches in the surrounding cities. Gradually they became the heads of each independent regional church and were called Patriarch which means common father. The same rank in the Churches outside the Roman Empire was called Catholicos. There were four ancient Catholicates in the Church before the 5th century. They were the Catholicate of the East, the Catholicate of Armenia, the Catholicate of Georgia and the Catholicate of Albania. None of these ranks and titles are the monopoly of any church. In Orthodox tradition, any Apostolic and autonomous national church (often referred to as local Church) has the authority to declare and call its head, Catholicos, Pope, or Patriarch.

St. Thomas established the church in India and is recognized as its first Head or Catholicos.

The reign of the Archdeacons started from the 4th century and lasted until the 16th century. The third stage started when the archdeacon was elevated to the position of a Bishop by the community with the name Marthoma I in 1653. Since then the head of the community was the Marthoma Metrans and later the position was developed to Malankara Metropolitan with more recognition.

In 1912, the Catholicate of the East was relocated to India, and Baselios Paulose I was seated on the Honorary Apostolic Throne of St. Thomas as the Catholicos of the East. The Headquarters of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is the Catholicate Palace located at Devalokam, Kottayam, in Kerala state of India. It is the official headquarters of the Catholicos Of The East who reigns on the Supreme Throne of St. Thomas the Apostle. This seat of the Primate of the Church was consecrated on 31 December 1951. Mar Elia Cathedral, Kottayam is the Thronal Cathedral of the Catholicos of the East.

The new Aramana (palace) which was built in 1961 was inaugurated by the visiting Armenian Catholicos Vazgen I.

Holy relics of St. Thomas the Apostle are kept in the Catholicate Chapel. The mortal remains of Baselios Geevarghese II, Baselios Augen I, Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews I, and Thomas Mar Makarios Metropolitan are entombed in this chapel.

List of Catholicos of the east[edit]

To see the lineage of Catholicos: List of Catholicos of the East

The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church was founded by St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, who came to India in A.D. 52.

At least from the fourth century the Indian Church entered into a close relationship with the Persian or East Syrian Church. From the Persians, the Indians inherited East Syrian language and liturgies and gradually came to be known as Syrian Christians.

In the sixteenth century Roman Catholic missionaries came to Kerala. They tried to unite the Syrian Christians to the Roman Catholic Church and this led to a split in the community. Those who accepted Catholicism are the present Syro-Malabar Catholics. Later Western Protestant missionaries came to Kerala and worked among Syrian Christians; The first few decades of cooperation was cordial, but dogmatic differences and colonial nature of the missionaries created certain splits in the community.

In the seventeenth century, the Church came to a relationship with the Antiochene Church which again caused splits. As a result of this relationship the Church received West Syrian liturgies and practices.

The Church entered into a new phase of its history by the establishment of the Catholicate in 1912.

At present the Church is using the West Syrian liturgy. The faith of the Church is that which was established by the three Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381) and Ephesus (A.D. 431).

The Church is in communion with the other Oriental Orthodox Churches namely, Coptic, Armenian, Syriac, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches. The Church is in good ecumenical relationship with the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.

At present the Church has over 2 million faithful with 30 dioceses all over the world.

Saints of the Church[edit]

Saint Geevarghese Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril Malankara Sabha Bhasuran (The Sun of Malankara) Saint Geevarghese Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril
  • Parumala Thirumeni (Geevarghese Mor Gregorious, Entombed in Parumala Church) (Declared by the Holy Synod, in 1947, by Catholicos Baselios Gheevarghese II)
  • Geevarghese Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril (Entombed in Old Seminary) (Declared by the Holy Synod, in 2003 by Catholicos Baselios Marthoma Mathews II)

Current Metropolitans[edit]

List of Bishops AD 1653-2014[edit]

  • Marthoma I
  • Marthoma II
  • Marthoma III
  • Marthoma IV
  • Marthoma V
  • Marthoma VI
  • Kattumangattu Abraham Mar Koorilos I (1771-1802)
  • Kattumangattu Geevarghese Mar Koorilos II (1802-1807)
  • Marthoma VII
  • Joseph Mar Ivanios, Kaniavalli
  • Skaria Mar Philexenos I (1807-1811), Cheeran
  • Marthoma VIII
  • Geevarghese Mar Philexenos II (1811-1829), Kidangan
  • Joseph Mar Dionosius II, Pulikottil I
  • Marthoma IX
  • Geevarghese Mar Dionysius I, Punnathra
  • Philipose Mar Dionysius IV, Cheppattu
  • Geevarghese Mar Koorilos III (1829-1856), Kuthoor
  • Mathews Mar Athanasius, Palakunnathu
  • Joseph Mar Koorilos IV (1856-1888), Alathoor
  • Joseph Mar Dionasius V, Pulikottil I I
  • Thomas Mar Athanasius, Palakunnath
  • Geevarghese Mar Yulios, Konattu,
  • Paulose Mar Athanasius, Kadavil
  • Geevarghese Mar Coorilos, Ambattu
  • Geevarghese Mar Gregorios, Chathuruthil
  • Semaoon Mar Dionosius, Karottuveettil
  • Paulose Mar Ivanios, Murimattathu
  • Antonio Francisco Xavier Alvaris Mar Eulios
  • Rene Vilati Mar Thimothiose
  • Geevarghese Mar Dionosius, Vattasseril
  • Paulose Mar Coorilose, Kochuparampil
  • Paulose Mar Athanasius, Kuttikkattil
  • Geevargese Mar Sevoriose, Idavazhikkal
  • Geevarghese Mar Gregoriose, Kallassseril
  • Yuyakkim Mar Ivaniose
  • Geevarghese Mar Philoxenos, Kizhakkethalakal
  • Geevarghese Mar Ivaniose, Panikkar
  • Mikhayel Mar Dionysius
  • Thomas Mar Dioscoros
  • Augen Mar Thimothios
  • Kuriakose Mar Gregoriose
  • Yakob Mar Theophilose
  • Geevargese Mar Philoxinos
  • Joseph Mar Severiose
  • Alexiose Mar Thevodosius
  • Thoma Mar Dionasius
  • Geevarghese Mar Gregorios
  • Paulose Mar Severios
  • Abraham Mar Clemis
  • Paulose Mar Philoxinos
  • Pathrose Mar Osthathios
  • Mathews Mar Ivanios
  • Mathews Mar Athanasius
  • Daniel Mar Philoxinos
  • Mathews Mar Coorilos
  • Philipose Mar Theophilos
  • Yuhanon Mar Severios
  • Thomas Mar Thimothios
  • Geevarghese Mar Osthathios
  • Paulose Mar Gregoriose
  • Sthepanose Mar Theodosius
  • Thomas Mar Makkariose
  • Joseph Mar Pakkomiose
  • Yakob Mar Policarpose
  • Sakharia Mar Dionasius
  • Mathews Mar Barnabas
  • Geevarghese Mar Dioscoros
  • Yuhanon Mar Athanasios
  • Abraham Mar Severios
  • Mathews Mar Epiphanios
  • Philiipose Mar Eusebius
  • Thomas Mar Athanasius
  • Geevarghese Mar Ivanios
  • Paulose Mar Milithios
  • Thomas Mar Athanasius
  • Yuhanon Mar Milithiios
  • Kuriakose Mar Clemis
  • Job Mar Philoxinos
  • Sakharia Mar Anthonios
  • Mathews Mar Severios
  • Geevargese Mar Coorilos
  • Zachariah Mar Nicholovos
  • Paulose Mar Pakkomios
  • Yakob Mar Irenios
  • Dr Gabriel Mar Gregorios
  • Augen Mar Dionasius
  • Dr Sakharias Mar Theophilos
  • Dr Yuhanon Mar Chrysostomos
  • Yuhanon Mar Polycarpos
  • Mathews Mar Theodosius
  • Dr Joseph Mar Dionysius
  • Abraham Mar Epiphanios
  • Dr Mathews Mar Thimothios
  • Alexios Mar Eusebius
  • Dr Yuhanon Mar Dioscoros
  • Dr Yuhanon Mar Dimithrios
  • Dr Yuhanon Mar Thevodoros
  • Yakob Mar Elias
  • Joshua Mar Nicodemos
  • Dr Zacharias Mar Aprem
  • Dr Geevarghese Mar Yulios
  • Dr Abraham Mar Seraphim

Theological Seminaries[edit]

A number of seminaries are present in the Church. Most of them which currently serve as monasteries functioned in full capacities at one time or the other. At present, the two seminaries that offer bachelor's and master's degrees in theology include:

Ecumenical relations[edit]

The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church was a founding member of the World Council of Churches.[26]

Various theologians were involved in negotiations between the Oriental Orthodox and the Byzantine churches. The Indian Orthodox Church participated in the Ecumenical Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches held in Addis Ababa, in 1965. The contributions of theologians including Paulos Mar Gregorios, Geevarghese Mar Osthathios, Fr. Dr. V. C. Samuel to ecumenism and theological dialogue are respected across the Christian world.

Other organizations to which the church belongs are

Churches with historical importance[edit]


  1. Thiruvananthapuram Diocese
  2. Kollam Diocese
  3. Kottarakkara Punaloor Orthodox Diocese
  4. Adoor Kadampanad Diocese
  5. Thumpamon Diocese
  6. Nilakal Diocese
  7. Mavelikara Diocese
  8. Chengannur Orthodox Diocese
  9. Niranam Orthodox Diocese
  10. Kottayam Diocese
  11. Kottayam Central Diocese
  12. Idukki Diocese
  13. Kandanad West Orthodox Diocese
  14. Kandanad East Diocese
  15. Kochi Diocese
  16. Angamaly Diocese
  17. Thrissur Diocese
  18. Kunnamkulam Diocese
  19. Malabar Diocese
  20. Sulthan Bathery Diocese
  21. Brahmavar Diocese
  22. Bangalore Diocese
  23. Madras Diocese
  24. Mumbai Diocese
  25. Ahmedabad Diocese
  26. Delhi Diocese
  27. Kolkata Diocese
  28. UK, Europe and Africa Orthodox Diocese
  29. Malankara Orthodox Diocese of Northeast America
  30. Malankara Orthodox Diocese of South-West America

Malankara Association[edit]

Malankara Association is the elected body consisting of members from parishes to manage and control the religious and social concerns of the church. Traditionally convened as Malankara Palli-yogam (മലങ്കര പള്ളി യോഗം, meaning Parish assembly of Malankara), the modern form of the Association is believed to have been established in 1873 by Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysious II by convening a meeting of the parish representatives in Parumala. In 1876 Mulanthuruthy Synod, an elected body in the name of Malankara Association officially took charge.[33] Church constitution details the powers and responsibilities of the Association.

The Malankara metropolitan is the president and the Diocesan Metropolitans are the vice-presidents of the association. The Association elects the Malankara metropolitan, Catholicos of the East, Metropolitans, priest trustee, lay trustee, Association Secretary and Managing Committee Members. Each parish is represented in the Association by a priest and lay people elected by the parish general body proportionate to the strength of each parish.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 5 by Erwin Fahlbusch. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing - 2008. p. 285. ISBN 978-0-8028-2417-2.
  2. ^ Official Website
  3. ^ Thomas Arthur Russell (2010). Comparative Christianity: A Student's Guide to a Religion and Its Diverse Traditions. Universal-Publishers. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-59942-877-2. The Malankara(Indian)Orthodox Church of India(also called by a variety of names, such as the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, or the Syrian Church in India). It is located in Kerala, India. 
  4. ^ John; Anthony McGuckin (November 2010). The Encyclopedia Of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, 2 Volume Set. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwells. p. 878. ISBN 978-1-4443-9254-8. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, also known as Indian Orthodox Church, is one of the oldest churches in India. The church is believed to have been founded by the Apostle St.Thomas in 52 CE 
  5. ^ Gregorios; Paulos; Roberson; Ronald G. (2016). The Encyclopedia Of Christianity Online (Syrian Orthodox Churches in India). Netherlands: Brill Online Reference works. ISBN 9789004169678. The Oriental Orthodox churches, part of the worldwide family of Eastern Christians, comprise the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicate of Holy Etchmiadzin and Catholicate of Sis), Coptic Orthodox Church, Eritrean Orthodox Church (Eritrea 2), Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (sometimes referred to as the Indian Orthodox Church; Syrian Orthodox Churches in India), and the Syrian (Syriac) Orthodox Church of Antioch (including the Catholicate of Indi… 
  6. ^ Lucian N. Leustean (2010). Eastern christianity and the cold war, 1945-91. New York: Routeledge Taylor&Francis Group. p. 317. ISBN 0-203-86594-4. India has two main Orthodox churches, the autocephalous Malankara Syrian Church and autonomous Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church under jurisdiction of Syrian Patriarchate....On 21 January 1995 the Supreme Court of India stated the existence of one orthodox church in India divided into two groups and recognised spiritual authority of the Syrian Patriarchate, acknowledging at the same time the rights of the autocephalous Church 
  7. ^ Fahlbusch; Lochman; Mbiti; Pelikan (November 2010). The Encyclopedia Of Christianity, Volume 5 S-Z. Gittingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck&Rupercht. p. 285. ISBN 978-0-8028-2417-2. The autocephalous Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is governed by Holy Episcopal Synod of 24 Bishops presided over by His Holiness Moran Mar Baselios Mar Thoma Didimos catholicos of the east 
  8. ^
  9. ^ MOSC. Constitution:First clause. 1 The Malankara Church is a division of the Orthodox Syrian Church. The Primate of the Orthodox Syrian Church is the Patriarch of Antioch. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ John; Anthony McGuckin (November 2010). The Encyclopedia Of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, 2 Volume Set. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwells. p. 878. ISBN 978-1-4443-9254-8. Today the Malankara Church is an autocephalous community and a member of Oriental Orthodox Churches 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Frykenberg, p. 93.
  14. ^ Wilmshurst, EOCE, 343
  15. ^ Page 618, Sabha Vijnanakosham (Church Encyclopaedia)
  16. ^ Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, "Eastern Christianity in India"
  17. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia profile of "St. Thomas Christians" - The Carmelite Period
  18. ^ Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India"
  19. ^ "Church of the Syrian Christians in India". Wesleyan Juvenile Offering (London: Wesleyan Missionary Society) XII: 115. October 1855. Retrieved 12 November 2015. 
  20. ^ Cheriyan, Dr. C.V. Orthodox Christianity in India.2003. p. 235, 238.
  21. ^ N. M. Mathew, Malankara Marthoma Church History. (Malayalam) Vol I, 2006. P.241.
  22. ^ Dr. Samuel Nellimukal, ‘'social Changes in Kerala’’ (Malayalam), p. 104. Pub: K.C.S. Books, Kottayam. 2003.
  23. ^ See verdict of Royal Court in 1899, all churches except 3 were vested with the Malankara Church. Also see discussion under "total population" title on the talkpage of Marthoma Church
  24. ^ "About the church". Niranam St. Mary's Orthodox Syrian Church. 2009. Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  25. ^ "Malankara Orthodox Church - Holy Qurbana". Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  26. ^ The Encyclopedia of Christianity by FAHLBUSCH, Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley page 285
  27. ^ [2] Archived 18 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ "Pilgrim center of St. Mary (St.Mary's Orthodox Church Kallooppara)". Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  29. ^ "Puthuppally Pally - Welcome to official website of St. George Orthodox Church, Puthuppally". Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  30. ^ [3] Archived 12 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
  31. ^ [4] Archived 16 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  32. ^ "St. John's Orthodox Church, Kadammanitta". 15 September 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  33. ^ "Malankara Association". Retrieved 22 October 2012. 


External links[edit]