Mar Thoma Syrian Church
|Mar Thoma Syrian Church|
Logo of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church
|Founder||St. Thomas The Apostle; A.D. 52.|
|Primate||Joseph Mar Thoma, MARTHOMA XXI|
|Polity||Episcopal and apostolic|
|Headquarters||Tiruvalla, Kerala, India|
|Possessions||Australia, Canada, Germany, Middle East (Gulf Region), Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland.|
|Language||Malayalam, English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Syriac (Western).|
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|Christianity in India|
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The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, also known as the Mar Thoma Church, is a Christian denomination based in the state of Kerala in southwestern India. It is one of the Saint Thomas Christian churches tracing its origins to the evangelistic activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century.
Most Christian churches around the world are of either the Western or the Eastern tradition. In turn, Eastern churches are divided into many traditions, one of which is the Syriac tradition, divided into the West Syrian Rite and the East Syrian Rite. The Mar Thoma Syrian Church follows a variant of the West Syrian tradition and bases its teachings on fundamental biblical teachings.
The Mar Thoma Church is an autonomous Oriental church with Syriac High Church traditions and eclectic characteristics from the era of the Reformation. The church defines itself as "Apostolic in origin, Universal in nature, Biblical in faith, Evangelical in principle, Ecumenical in outlook, Oriental in worship, Democratic in function, and Episcopal in character".
The church emerged from a reformation movement, on scriptural principles within the Malankara Church that was inspired through the contacts with British Anglican missionaries. The confluence movement of eastern traditions and western reformation begin in 1836; A Malankara Church clergyman Abraham Malpan abjured his traditional understandings through sharing of ideas with these missionaries and instituted changes independently at his parish in Maramon. He roughly translated the Holy Qurbana service into minimalist form, from the traditional Syriac to the local Malayalam language known as Ara Kurbana and propagated many protestant-influenced doctrines. This led to a rift within the church's hierarchy. While Mar Thoma XII was of ill health, malpan's nephew was sent by Malpan and the reformation group, to be consecrated as a metropolitan bishop by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch. In 1843, nephew returned as the leader of the Malankara Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church which later led in establishing authoritatively an independent church in the order of apostolic succession with indigenous Christian heritage known as the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Kerala. Further reform groups were also evolved from Marthoma Church mainly, the St. Thomas Evangelical Church or generally known as Evangelicals and the Believers Church by individualistic efforts of a former zealous marthomite K. P. Yohannan, they are commonly known as Believers
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 500,000 members in Kerala, and another 50,000 throughout the diaspora. Their mother tongue is Malayalam, the language of Kerala. The members of the Church are known commonly as Nazaranis, Naveekarna Suriyani or as Marthomakkar.
- 1 Definitions
- 2 Administration
- 3 Metropolitans and bishops
- 4 History
- 4.1 First century BC
- 4.2 First 15 centuries
- 5 Portuguese period
- 6 Dutch period
- 7 British period
- 8 Cleansing of the Church – Reformation and Actualization
- 9 Liturgy
- 10 Places of worship
- 11 Organizations
- 12 Ecumenical relations
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 External links
Malankara 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 or Marthoma Syrians.
Syrian Church. The original liturgical language used in Malankara Church was Aramaic and Hebrew. Later it was changed to Syriac. In 1898 during the reign of Titus I Mar Thoma the church decided to extend its name as Malankara Marthoma Syrian Church to comprise its order and heritage.
The Malankara 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 Joseph Mar Thoma who resides at Poolatheen at Church Headquarters in Tiruvalla, Kerala. He is the 21st Marthoma in the line of continuation after the re-establishment of Marthoma episcopacy after oath of Koonan cross (1653).
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 Philipose Mar Chrysostom Valiya Metropolitan, MARTHOMA XX.
To assist the metropolitan there are episcopas, the senior most among them is called the suffragan metropolitan.
For administrative purpose, the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church is divided into 13 dioceses or popularly called as Bhadhrasanams w.e.f. 1 January 2010, headed by a Metropolitan or by an Episcopa. They are:
- Diocese of Adoor
- Diocese of Malaysia-Australia-Singapore-New Zealand
- Diocese of Chengannur-Mavelikara
- Diocese of Niranam-Maramon
- Diocese of Ranny-Nilackel.
- Diocese of Thiruvananthapuram-Kollam
- Diocese of Kottarakkara-Punalur
- Diocese of Kottayam- Kochi
- Diocese of Chennai- Bangalore
- Diocese of Kunnamkulam- Malabar
- Diocese of Delhi
- Diocese of Mumbai
- Diocese of North America-Europe.
Metropolitans and bishops
Present Episcopal Synod
The present members of the Episcopal Synod of Mar Thoma Church are:
- H.G. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Marthoma Valiya Metropolitan.
- H.G. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan
- The Rt. Rev. Zacharias Mar Theophilus Suffragan Metropolitan.
- The Rt. Rev. Geevarghese Mar Athanasius Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Geevarhese Mar Theodosius Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Euyakim Mar Coorilos Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Joseph Mar Barnabas Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Thomas Mar Timotheos Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Isaac Mar Philoxenos Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Abraham Mar Paulos Episcopa.
- The Rt. Rev. Mathews Mar Makarios Episcopa
- The Rt. Rev. Gregorios Mar Stephanos Episcopa
- The Rt Rev. Thomas Mar Theethos Episcopa
Marthoma metropolitans of Malankara throne
- Mar Thoma I (1653–1670)
- Mar Thoma II (1670–1686)
- Mar Thoma III (1686–1688)
- Mar Thoma IV (1688–1728)
- Mar Thoma V (1728–1765)
- Mar Thoma VI (1765–1808)
- Mar Thoma VII (1808–1809)
- Mar Thoma VIII (1809–1816)
- Mar Thoma IX (1816–1817)
- Mar Thoma X (1816–1816), Pulikottil Mar Dionysius
- Mar Thoma XI (1817–1825), Punnathra Geevargis Mar Dionysius.
- Mar Thoma XII (1825–1852), Cheppattu Philipose Mar Dionysius.
- Mar Thoma XIII (1852–1877), Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan
- Mar Thoma XIV (1877–1893), Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan
- Mar Thoma XV (1893–1910), Titus I Mar Thoma Metropolitan
- Mar Thoma XVI (1910–1944), Titus II Mar Thoma Metropolitan
- Mar Thoma XVII (1944–1947), Abraham Mar Thoma Metropolitan
- Mar Thoma XVIII (1947–1976), Juhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan
- Mar Thoma XIX (1976–1999), Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan
- Mar Thoma XX (1999–2007), Philipose Mar Chrysostem Mar Thoma Metropolitan
- Mar Thoma XXI (2007 – ), Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan
For the consecrations, from 1917 onwards bishops from other churches were invited as guests. But the consecration was done only by the metropolitan assisted by the other metropolitans of the Mar Thoma Church and of the Malabar Independent Syrian Church.
- The Rt. Rev. Thomas Athanasius Suffragan Metropolitan, was consecrated by Juhanon Thoma Metropolitan on 23 May 1953, at Tiruvalla. died on 27 November 1984 and was interred at S.C. palli, Tiruvalla.
- The Rt. Rev. Mathews Athenasius Episcopa, was consecrated by Titus II Thoma Metropolitan on 30 December 1937. Died on 23 September 1973 and was interred at S.C. palli, Tiruvalla.
- The Rt. Rev. Easow Timotheos Episcopa, was consecrated by Juhanon Thoma Metropolitan on 8 February 1975. Died on 11 April 1988 and was interred at S.C. palli, Tiruvalla.
Semmasan (deacons): The Sabha Prathinidhi Mandalam elects a Vaidika Selection board to select candidates for the ministry of the church through recommendations (letters from bishops-clergy by the level of exposure in church or by personal sponsorships of bishops or written support pledged from bishops), exams (English, General knowledge and Bible) and pre- and post- theological training interviews (with theological-sociological aspects and scrutiny through psychological and health evaluations).
Following a LDS Church tradition and from diasporic influence, the church is considering a controversial compulsory 12-24 month unpaid missionary service to those who are inclined to be a priest, before selection process as a "Tithe of Youth" program, Additionally this program was challenged in youth meets of the church at the time of its conception on the basis of non-guarantee in entry, fast changing world, career stagnation, and other economic factors and have arrived at a discussion level resolution of implementing this process after the pursual of their theological training and integrating the "Deacon" status during the time period under mentorship, this enables the church to fill up ngo's, projects and mission fields with trained individuals for staff duties and pastoring, thus avoid stress and negligence that would be otherwise imparted on the youth. During the intensive 2+ years field trainings, when the candidate is counted to be worthy for controlled influx in church duties, The trained and experienced Deacon's can be nominated for ordinations as Kassessa's, by each diocese's as the allotment.
Kassessa (clergy): Persons receiving ordination as ministers shall be duly ordained deacons. They all have had their Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Kerala, or from other recognized theological seminaries of India. The wife of a Kassissa is known as "Baskiamma" and is often addressed as "Kochamma" ("big sister").
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 according to their contributions and ordained as vicars general. In the absence of the diocesan bishop, they may be appointed as deputy head of the bishopric.
First century BC
On the south western side of the Indian peninsula; between the mountains and the Erythraean Sea (now Arabian Sea); stretching from Kannoor 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 (near modern day 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 (near Cochin) 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 (Matthew 2:1). People who believe they are descendants of these Wise Men gather every year in Kerala.
Arrival of Saint Thomas
Saint Thomas Christians believe that Thomas the Apostle arrived in Kerala around AD 52. He landed at Muziris (now estimated as Pattanam, near Cochin on the Malabar Coast), after his first mission in the Parthian empire, during the era of King Gondophares to support the spiritual needs of Bene Israel. It is believed that St. Thomas proceeded to the East coast of India from Malankara and died a martyrs’ death at a place called Mylapore-Chinnamalai in Tamil Nadu.
The Nazarenes in Malabar were either proselytized from mainstream Judaism by 'Mar Thomas' or 'Mar Bartholomeu'. Pantaneius's reference to the gift of 'Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew' by Bartholomeu to the Nazereans in Malabar is a clear pointer to the fact that Mar Thomas did evangelize Malabar, It could be further stated that either Mar Nathanael (John 21:2) aided in Mar Thomas' mission in India for a brief time before heading to Armenia or bar-Tau'ma, Son of Thomas assisted in his father's missionary activities,LEV 21:7 which could also explain why most of the priests in the order of St. Thomas were later allowed to be married, which led to the prerogative of sacerdotalism to certain groups/families and to people supported by them.
In 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 (Acts 11:26). 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.
The earliest families within the Jewish community to accept the path of Christianity through St.Thomas, later intermarried with the ethnic local community and brahmins of the 6th century. This led to the upbringing of marginal class or 'sambandham' brahminic family clans like Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri and Kalli to a different socioeconomic status, they are now widely accepted as the first families who adopted an emigre way of life or 'christianity' in Kerala. According to recent DNA research by Dr. Mini Kariappa, a significant number of Syrian Christians and Knanaya's share their ancestral roots with the West Eurasian gene pool of Jews.
First 15 centuries
The 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 Alexandria
In the 2nd century (189-190 AD) AD, Pantaenus, the Philosopher and Missionary sent by Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria to India, found that there were many Christians in India with a Persian Bishop and that they had a copy of the Gospel according to Matthew in Aramaic. These Christians were the early evangelists of Malankara Church.
Arrival of Knanaya Nazranis
During 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/Kanai people. They continued to remain partially in 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 Persia
Following 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 travelling long distances. The Knanaya people were worshipping together with the St. Thomas Christians. So these visitors also attended these services. It was a matter of ongoing dispute between different churches in Kerala whether the Syrian bishops had any administrative responsibility or jurisdiction over the St. Thomas Nazrani Christians.
Persian crosses were in churches once attended by Knanaya Nasranis. Out of five Persian crosses two are in Kottayam Knanaya Valia Palli. According to the archaeologists, 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 Church
The existence of this Church in early centuries is evident in the writings of ancient travellers.
325 AD – It is recorded that there was a Syro-Chaldean bishop John "from India and Persia" who assisted at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.
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 deeds
The rulers of Kerala, in appreciation of their assistance, had given to the Malankara Nazranis, three deeds on copper plates. These are known as Cheppeds, Royal Grants, Sasanam etc. Five sheets of them are now in the custody of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church Headquarters at Thiruvalla.
- 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.
Synod of Diamper
The 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.
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. A faithful group under the leadership of the Archdeacon welcomed him., 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.
Oath of the Bent Cross
Under the leadership of their elder Thomas, Nazranis around Cochin gathered at Mattancherry church on Friday, 24 January 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
(The Missionary Register for 1822 seems to be the earliest reliable document available) Those who were not able to touch the cross tied ropes on the cross, held the rope in their hands and made the oath. Because of the weight it is believed by the followers that the cross bent a little and so it is known as ‘’Oath of the bent cross (Coonen Kurisu Sathyam) ’’
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.
- maintained the spiritual presence of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament.
- had no knowledge of the term purgatory, but prayed for the dead.
- had irregular practice of auricular confession.
- only had a few celibacy clergy in monastic rank, while celibate bishops visited periodically from the Middle East.
The 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 (Rs.10,500) was handed over by Col. Macaulay, the British Resident in Travancore to the Govt. for Mar Thoma VII with the condition that the interest (known as Vattipanam) 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 due to misunderstandings and lack of regularized administration. 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.
Cleansing of the Church – Reformation and Actualization
From 1498 India was under the Colonial rule of three European powers. They all brought in their beliefs, practices and traditions into the Malankara Church. The Cleansing of the Church was an attempt to eliminate certain such practices and bring back those prevalent in the Church of their fore-fathers.
The reformation was carried out in dissidence by the members of a review committee of 12 scholarly clergy, appointed for a thorough study on the "necessary amendments that the church should adopt" at a meeting of representatives of the Malankara Church by Punnathara Mar Dionysious (Mar Thoma XI) at Mavelikkara on 3 December 1818. No foreigner was involved in this plenary committee or in its deliberations.
Though Maramon Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan was bounteous 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, worship, devotion and praise to the Virgin Mary and the saints were omitted.
- All prayers to dead and for dead were omitted.
- Insisted that Sunday services are to be held in a 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 (Meaning:- Syriac scholars).
- 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 creeds of Nicea, Constantinople and Ephesus.
- The Church is neither Nestorian nor Monophysite.
- The Clergy, is dedicated in avoiding benefices other than the regulated salary, as a part of the principle of simple life (a Christian ideal of being poor and humble with unclouded conscientious and to be guarded away from mortal greed) for self and the laity.
Course of events
The first printed Malayalam Bible, translated from Syriac was published in 1811. Known as Ramban Bible it contained only the four Gospels. By 1841, the whole Bible was translated, printed and released. Realizing the need for timely changes, in 1818 Mar Thoma XI convened a meeting of representatives of the Malankara Church at Mavelikkara. In that meeting a review 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 5 September 1836, the reformation was planned. Strategy was determined by a group of 12 clergymen under the leadership of Abraham Malpan. They issued an encyclical describing what they believed were the wrong teachings, 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 and the same as a petition to a British Resident.
On 27 August 1837 (Sunday), then suspended Abraham Malpan conducted the Holy Communion service in mother tongue Malayalam at his home parish at Maramon. Clergymen, who supported him also did the same thing in various other parishes on the same day.
Connected with a saint (Eldho Mor Baselios), every year in the first week of October, there was a church festival at Maramon. During that time a wooden statue of that saint, they called "Muthappen" (Meaning:- Elder father) was taken around in procession and people used to venerate the saint by offering prayers and ask for intercession. In 1837, Abraham Malpan from deeper biblical understandings and of the spiritual scruples surrounding it, took the statue 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 statue to be taken out for procession.
The use of the revised liturgy and the changes he brought about in practices disgruntled Marthoma XII. So deacons trained under Abraham Malpan were refused priesthood. But Abraham Malpan was not disheartened. He continued with his spirited reforms. He returned to Maramon. Many of his students joined him to continue their studies. All those who believed that "The Church" needed a revitalization 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 ministers who supported him.
At this stage he had three choices in front of him. Repent and go to the beliefs under Antioch; join the Anglican Church with western theology and aid; or go forward with the Cleansing and restoring "The Church" to what he thought would bring it to a pristine position, A church uncontaminated by avarice, venality, licentiousness and rapacity. He selected the third one. Abraham Malpan died in 1845.
Mathen, a motivated nephew of Abraham Malpan by his uncle's guidance and spiritual nurturing, went to Antioch and returned after two years. While there, he was consecrated by the Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Elias II 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), through a legal ordeal Mathews Mar Athanasius was approved as Malankara Metropolitan by the governments of Kerala and Cochin on 30 August 1852. Mathews Mar Athanasius published the liturgy without the prayer to St. Mary. He consecrated Ouseph Mar Koorilos, as Metropolitan/Bishop for Malabar Independent Church. The entirety of strong-arm actions incited many clergymen and Pulikkottil Ouseph Kathanar went to Antioch in 1864. He returned as Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysious II in 1865.
Independence of the Church
Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysious II and his supporters filed a case on 4 March 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.”
A meeting was convened by the Maharaja of Travancore, before the final verdict was given, Mar Athanasius testified that,
- 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 final verdict came on 12 July 1889, after ten years, was against the Metran Kakshi (supporters of Thomas Mar Athanasious)
The Metran Kakshi decided to remain as an independent Malankara Church, and to give primary authority to the Holy Bible and continue as the successors of St. Thomas throne. In 1898 this group chose the name Malankara Mar Thoma Suryani Sabha.
The word 'liturgy' is derived from the greek word 'Leitourgia' (Leitos/Loas: people+Ergos: work) which means a service rendered to God and people. When the Bible was not available, the liturgy took the role of the Bible, much of the scripture is formed in the liturgical context. The original liturgical language used by Malankara Church was Aramaic and Hebrew. The Bible that was in use also was in Hebrew. Later when Syriac replaced Aramaic in eastern countries, and the arrival of Knanaya people from Persia in AD 345, Malankara Church began using Syriac. The Bible used in Malankara Church is called the "Peshitta" and was in Estrangelo Syriac. This was the Bible that was in use till Malayalam (language of Kerala) translation was available. The first printed Malayalam Bible, translated from Syriac was published in 1811 by Philipose Ramban with the provision of Claudius Buchanan, known as Ramban Bible it contained the four Gospels. (A copy of this Bible was later presented to Dr. Buchanan and is kept in Cambridge University Library) By 1841, the whole Bible was translated, printed and released by missionary-scholar Benjamin Bailey with the help of Chandu Menon, a tahsildar in the Madras State service. It is interesting to note that even though bishops from Syrian churches visited Kerala, they did not attempt to change the Bible into the newer forms of Syriac or to the native language. In June 1876, Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Pathrose IV, visited Kerala and a majority of Malankara Church accepted him as the head of their Church. But those who did not join them continued to follow their own leaders and kept their peculiar identity garnered from reformation. After Mar Thoma Church had begun to use the liturgy in mother tongue Malayalam, other churches continued to follow the same for a deeper engagement with the laity. A revised version of the ancient and apostolic liturgy known as People's liturgy, The Liturgy of St James (Gal.1:18-19) was adopted in the Church, later the liturgy has been translated into various languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.
There are six other liturgies and the priest can exercise his freedom and comfort in using them, but should satisfy the requirement of 'joint congregation act/involvement'. The 6 other liturgies are - Mar Dionysius Liturgy, Patriach Mar Christos Liturgy, Mar Peter Liturgy, Mar Juhanon Liturgy, Marthoma of Harkalia Liturgy and Mar Ivanios Liturgy.
Places of worship
Those who were converted by St. Thomas in the 1st century continued worshiping in synagogues. Then they moved to their homes and by the 2nd century, they began to build their own churches (called ‘’Palli’’) in various places. It is believed that there were such small gatherings at Maliankara, Piravom, Niranam (Nelcynda) and Nilakkal. St. Thomas Christians in Kerala, still construct their churches following the design of Solomon's temple, and Indian Vastu Shastra. So from outside it looks like a Hindu temple but inside it is like a Jewish temple. Now there is a tendency to follow western architectural designs.
Neither pictures nor statues are in their churches. Until the middle of the 20th century, all worshippers were seated on a mat spread on the floor. Now many churches provide chairs or benches, at least for the aged. During the Passion week services, these are removed, to facilitate worshiping according to their ancient custom. All, including priests and clergy, who take part in any service, look to the east and worship.
The most important festival is the Passion Week ending with the Resurrection day, (Easter). Every week day there will be special services and during which they prostrate a number of times.
Christmas is celebrated by all members of the Church, to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. During this time, parishes will be involved in Christmas carolling and the celebration of Christmas Day services. By the end of last century, Christmas trees and other related celebrations have appeared in many parishes.
Auxiliary Empowerment Organizations
Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association; Mar Thoma Sunday School Samjam; Mar Thoma Yuvajana Sakyam; Mar Thoma Suvishesha Sevika Sangham; Mar Thoma Voluntary Evangelists’ Association; Department of Sacred Music and Communications.
Development Department; Christian Agency for Rural Development (CARD); Mar Thoma Medical Mission; Mar Thoma Sabha Mandiram Fellowship; Social Welfare Institutions; Theological Institutions; Educational Institutions; Technical Institutions; Study Centres; Church Animation Centre; and Camp Centres.
Nine colleges, six higher secondary schools, one vocational higher secondary school, eight high schools, one training school, five technical institutions plus other educational institutions owned and managed by individuals and by parishes.
There are 38 social welfare institutions, 14 destitute homes and ten hospitals. The Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam (established 1926), E.J. Institute of Evangelism, and 5 other institutes cater to the theological education of both the clergy and the laity. Three study centres at Managanam, Kottayam and Trivandrum for arranging regular study programs and to provide opportunities for creative dialogue between Church and society on various ethical, moral, social and religious issues. The religious education of children is looked after by the Sunday School Samajam (organised in 1905) and the work among youth is carried on by the Youth Department, (the Yuvajana Sakhyam organised in 1933). The Church has a Women's Department (the Mar Thoma Suvisesha Sevika Sanghom organised in 1919).
The Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association, the missionary wing of the Mar Thoma Church, is in charge of organising the Maramon Convention, One of the largest annual Christian gathering in Asia. It takes place in Maramon, near Kozhencherry, during February on the vast sand-bed of the Pampa River next to the Kozhencherry Bridge. The first convention was held in March 1895 for 10 days.
The Maramon Convention is principally an assembly of Christians who once a year go there to listen to the gospel as read and expounded by Christian leaders from all over India as well as abroad. This provides a revived ideological and experiential faith in accordance to the need of the laity and period of time. It is in attune with Mathew 6:5. Attendees sit on the sand bed, Old and invalid people are given chairs with separate sponsored or paid seating arrangements. Generally, one session is for ecumenical messages by invited leaders of other churches.
Mar Thoma Church was attending meetings of World Council of Churches from its first meeting in 1948 at Amsterdam. At the WCC meetings held in Evanston, Juhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan was elected as one of its presidents. Since then the Church representatives attended all the General meetings.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Geevarghese Mar Theodosius Episcopa, Bishop of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar was invited for the consecration of Bishop Peter Eaton, Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeastern Florida in 2015. This dignifies a joined new age succession of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church and the Anglican Communion towards possibilities of change and strengthening.
The Mar Thoma Church is in communion relationship with the Anglican Communion. It is also in partial communion with the Malabar Independent Syrian Church (also known as Independent Syrian Church of Thozhiyoor), the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church; but these churches have not accepted each other's doctrines in its fullness. The Mar Thoma Church keeps a multifaceted approach in these relationships by adapting to spiritual and cultural environment of the communions, yet strongly abiding with the Mar Thoma Syrian identity. The Marthoma Church also keeps good ecumenical relations with other Christian Churches around the globe.
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