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Brief History of the Church
A Brief History of the Syriac Orthodox Church
The foundation of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch can be traced back to the very dawn of Christianity. It is the first established church in Christendom which gathered, converted Jews and Gentiles in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and second church after that of Jerusalem.
According to ecclesiastical history and tradition, St. Peter the Apostle established a bishopric in Antioch and became its first bishop and was succeeded by Evodius for the converted Jews and St. Ignatius the Illuminator for the converted Gentiles. After the martyrdom of St. Peter in Rome, he was succeeded by St. Evodius and St. Ignatius respectively. Likewise, St. Peter was succeeded by a line of distinguished Patriarchs, most of whom amazed the world with their sanctity, wonderful writings and other accomplishments in many fields. The See of Antioch then becomes the first, the oldest, and the most famous Church in Christianity. It was the foundation of the Christianity in the East and mother of the gentile churches and the headquarters of Christianity in Asia. It is proud to be the origin of the word Christian; it was in Antioch, after all, that the followers of Jesus Christ were called Christians as we are told in the New Testament, “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26).
In the mid of the 5th century, the Bishop of Antioch, and his counterparts in Alexandria, Byzantium and Rome, were called Patriarchs. The Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch used to be known by his own name; however, since 1293 the Patriarchs of Antioch adopted the name Ignatius, after the Illuminator. The See of Antioch continues to flourish till this day, with His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I, being the 121st in the line of legitimate Patriarchs.
The Patriarchate was forced to move from Antioch in ca. A.D. 518, after a period of turbulent history, to various locations in the Near East until it settled in the monastery Dayro d-Mor Hananya (also known as Kurkmo Dayro, Deir az-Za'faran--Syriac and Arabic respectively for Saffron Monastery) in Mardin, Turkey, during the 13th century. After another period of heinous violence during and after World War I, which took the lives of a quarter million Syriac Orthodox faithful, the Patriarchate was transferred to Homs, Syria, in 1933, and later to Damascus in 1959.
The Syriac Orthodox Church is quite unique for many reasons. Firstly, it presents a form of Christianity, which is Semitic in nature, with a culture not far from the one Christ himself experienced. Secondly, it employs in its liturgy the Syriac language, an Aramaic dialect akin to the Aramaic spoken by Christ and the Apostles. Thirdly, its liturgy is one of the most ancient, and has been handed from one generation to another. Fourthly, and most importantly, it demonstrates the unity of the body of Christ by the multiethnic nature of its faithful: A visit to your local Syriac Orthodox Church in Europe or the Americas would demonstrate, for example, the blend of Near Eastern and Indian cultures in the motifs and vestments of clergy. The Syriac Orthodox faithful today live primarily in Middle Eastern countries, Europe, Australia, USA, Canada, South America and the Indian State of Kerala, with many communities in the diaspora.
The Syriac Orthodox Church has been a member of the World Council of Churches since 1960, and is one of the founding members of the Middle East Council of Churches. The Church takes part in ecumenical and theological dialogues with other churches. As a result of these dialogues, the Church has issued two joint declarations with the Roman Catholic Church and another with the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
In Syriac, the proper name of the Church is 'ito suryoyto Orthoduksoyto d-Antiokhiya'. In the past, the name of the Church had been translated to English as “Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch”. The Holy Synod of the Church approved the translation “Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch” for use in English speaking countries in its session of March 28-April 3, 2000.
Throughout Syria and Mesopotamia, Aramaic, in its many dialectical forms, was the language of the land, and Syriac, originally the Aramaic dialect of Edessa in Northern Mesopotamia, must have been the most influential literary form of Aramaic. When we speak of Syriac Christianity, we refer to Christians whose native tongue was Syriac and those who employed Syriac as their liturgical language.
Syriac Christianity was not centered just in Antioch, the Roman capital of Syria. In fact, Syriac Christianity can be traced further East in Mesopotamia. As local tradition tells us, Christianity was received in Edessa during the time of the Apostles. This is reported in a number of documents including Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History. He gives us the text of a correspondence between the city's king, Abgar Ukomo, and none other than Jesus Himself:
“Abgar Ukomo, the toparch, to Jesus the good Savior who has appeared in the district of Jerusalem, greetings. I have heard concerning you and your cures, how they are accomplished by you without drugs and herbs ... And when I heard of all these things concerning you I decided that it is one of two things, either that you are God and came down from Heaven to do these things, or are the Son of God for doing these things. For this reason I write to beg you to hasten to me and to heal the suffering which I have ...”
The reply from Jesus to King Abgar, according to the same tradition, was carried by a certain Ananias and read:
“Blessed are you who believed in me, not having seen me ... Now concerning what you wrote to me, to come to you, I must first complete here all for which I was sent, and after thus completing it be taken up to Him who sent me; and when I have been taken up, I will send to you one of my disciples to heal your suffering and give life to you and those with you. “
The story continues to describe how one of the Seventy Disciples, named Adai, was sent to King Abgar to heal his disease.
Historical literary sources tell us that by the second half of the second century there was an established church in Edessa, though probably most of the inhabitants remained pagan. The Chronicle of Edessa tells us that in the year 201, a disastrous flood destroyed the church of the Christians in the city. However, it took only about a century until most of the city was under the umbrella of Christianity. Edessa, home of the Syriac form of Aramaic, indeed prides itself as the first kingdom that officially accepted the new faith.
Syriac Christianity has had a long history in India. According to tradition, Christianity in India was established by St. Thomas who arrived in Malankara (Kerala) from Edessa in A.D. 52. The close ties between the Church in Malankara and the Near East go back to at least the fourth century when a certain Joseph of Edessa traveled to India and met Christians there. The church in India today is an integral part of the Syriac Orthodox Church with the Patriarch of Antioch as its supreme spiritual head. The local head of the church in Inida is the Catholicos of the India, consecrated by and accountable to the Patriarch of Antioch.
Syriac Christianity spread rapidly in the East. The Bible was translated into Syriac to serve as the main source of teaching as early as the second century. Till our day, the antiquity of the Syriac biblical versions is upheld with high esteem by modern scholars. In the words of Dr. Arthur Vööbus, “In our search for the oldest translation of the Greek original [of the New Testament] we must go back to the Syriac idiom” (Studies in the History of the Gospel Text in Syriac, p. 1). The Syriac Church Fathers made no less than six translations and revisions of the New Testament and at least two of the Old Testament. Their scholarship in this domain has no equal in Church history.
The Church of Antioch was thriving under the Byzantine Empire until the fifth century when Christological controversies split the Church. After the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, two camps of the one Church emerged: The Greek Church of Byzantium and the Latin Church of Rome accepted Chalcedon, but the Syriac and Coptic (later Armenian as well) Churches rejected the council. The former group professed that Christ is in two natures, human and divine, whilst the latter adopted the doctrine that Christ has one incarnate nature from two natures. It is worth noting that the drafts of the Council were according to the position of the Syriac and Coptic Churches. The final resolution, however, was according to the doctrine of the Western Churches and was rejected by the Syriac Church. This schism had sad consequences on the Syriac Church during the next few centuries.
As the Emperor supported the Chalcedonian camp, the Syriac Church came under much persecution. Many bishops were sent to exile, most notably Patriarch Mor Severius, who was later given the epithet togho d-suryoye, ‘Crown of the Syriacs’. Mor Severius died in exile in 538. By the year 544, the Syriac Church was in an abysmal situation with only three bishops remaining. It was at this time that Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono (Jacob Baradeus) emerged to rejuvenate the Church. Mor Ya`qub traveled to Constantinople for an audience with Empress Theodora, the daughter of a Syriac Orthodox Priest from Mabbug according to Syriac Orthodox sources, and wife of Emperor Justinian. Theodora used her influence to get Jacob ordained as bishop in 544. Later, Mor Ya`qub would travel across the entire land reviving the Church. He managed to consecrate 27 bishops and hundreds of priests and deacons. For this, the Syriac Orthodox Church honors this saint on July 30 of every year, the day of his death in 578. A few centuries later, adversaries labeled the Syriac Orthodox Church ‘Jacobite’ after St. Jacob. The Syriac Orthodox Church rejects this belittling label which wrongly suggests that the Church was founded by Mor Ya`qub.
Aside from their ecclesiastical role, Syriac Churchmen have contributed to world civilization. As early as the fourth century, academies and schools were set up in monasteries throughout Syria and Mesopotamia. Monks and scholars where busy studying the sciences of the Greeks, commenting on and adding to them. It is no surprise that when the Arabs, who conquered the Near East at the end of the seventh century, wanted to acquire Greek knowledge, they turned to Syriac scholars and churchmen. Arab caliphs commissioned Syriac scholars to translate the sciences of the Greeks into Arabic. In his film Forgotten Christians, Christopher Wenner describes the impact of Syriac scholars and Churchmen when he describes the school at Deir az-Za'faran monastery, “It was through the monks here that the Arabs received Greek learning, and it was the Arabs of course who passed it back to Europe. Had it not been for the Syriac monks, we in Europe might never have had a renaissance.”
The Syriac Orthodox Church survived under the dominion of many empires in the centuries that followed. Under the Arabs, Mongols, Crusades, Mamluks and Ottomans, the Syriac Orthodox Church continued its survival. Neither intimidation nor oppression could suppress the faithful, but the Church diminished in size to a fraction of what it was.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Syriac Orthodox Christianity was confined mostly to mountainous rural areas, such as Turabdin, and various towns in the Ottoman Empire. The worst of the persecutions was yet to come. During World War I, massacres and ethnic cleansing befell the Syriac Orthodox Christians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks and the neighboring Kurds. The year 1915 is known in Syriac by sayfo, or ‘[the year of the] sword’. It is estimated that a quarter of a million perished; villages were emptied; monasteries and Churches were destroyed. This resulted in what the Syriacs call (in Turkish) sefer berlik ‘the collective exodus’, a migration to the newly established countries of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine. Some left the Middle East all-together, forming new communities in the Americas.
As a result of further immigration that ensued, the Syriac Orthodox Church today has faithful not only in the Middle East and India, but in Europe, the Americas and Australia as well.
Schisms in the Church of Antioch
(Source: The Syrian Orthodox Church at a Glance by Patriarch H.H. Ignatius Zakka I )
The Church of Antioch (Syriac Church) endured in its history many painful incidents that divided its flock into several sects at different times. These incidents, a few of which will be briefly discussed, weakened the church in many ways.
In 431 AD the Council of Ephesus rejected the teachings of Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who claimed that there were two separate persons and natures in Christ. Patriarch Yuhanna of Antioch supported him. He was succeeded by his nephew Domnos who unfortunately accepted that same heresy. He was deposed in the year 449 AD by the second council of Ephesus and was replaced by Maximus. The teachings of Nestorius were accepted by some Syrians in the Persian Empire, some parts of Syria, Palestine and Cyprus. Those formed a church breaking away from the See of Antioch in 498 AD. They chose a leader for themselves who called himself Catholicos. Their first Catholicos was Bavai who had his headquarters in Selucia, Near Madaen in Iraq. This was later transferred to Baghdad in the year 762 AD. At the beginning of the 15th century it was shifted to Al-Kosh and in 1561 to Erumia,1 both in Iraq.
As a result of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, the four great sees were split into two groups and confusion dominated over the church weakening its discipline. Illegal interference took place in several bishoprics and fishing in troubled waters was considered a great gain. The Roman See was able to win a Nestorian bishop called Timotheos, Bishop of Cyprus. In 1445 AD he joined the Catholic Church with a group from his church. It should be remembered that this group comprised members of the Syriac Church who had already embraced the Nestorian ideas. Pope Eugenius IV declared: "It is henceforth forbidden to treat those Syrians who had left Nestorianism and joined the Roman Church as heretics, but they have to be distinguished with the particular name of Chaldeans." Five years later in 1450 AD, they returned to their Church. But disputes soon arose in that church when Patriarch Shemoun's Synod passed a resolution to the effect that no Patriarch should be installed from outside his own tribe. When this decision was taken by Shemoun's Synod, a rebel synod which opposed Shemoun was convened in Mosul. A great number left Shemoun and joined the Roman See in 1553. Accordingly, Pope Julius III consecrated for them Patriarch Yuhanna Sulaqa. This split did not last long since Patriarch Yuhanna Sulaqa was killed in 1555 AD and the relation with the Roman See was severed.
Until 1827, there were two patriarchs for the Chaldeans, one of whom was called Patriarch of Amed, and the other, Patriarch of Babylon. In that same year, the distinction between the two Patriarchates of Amed and Babylon was abolished by Pope Leo XII. As of 1830, that is from the time of Patriarch Yuhanna Hermezd, there was only one patriarch who was called the Patriarch of Babylon. Yuhanna Hermezd was the first patriarch of the united Patriarchate of Bayblon. In the middle of the 19th century, Patriarch Yousef Odo who, unlike his predecessors, was known to have liked the Oriental Church and its ancient traditions, was installed as the Patriarch of Babylon.
Turning back to the See of Antioch, we shall see that since the time of Maximos (449 A D. - 512 AD) it was usurped by patriarchs who had followed the formulation of the Council of Chalcedon and by others rocking from one side to the other. During this critical period, the famous Patriarch Peter II the Fuller was installed to the Holy See of Antioch.
In 512 A.D. Mor Severius was enthroned as the Patriarch of Antioch succeeding Philipianos who was deposed because of his unsteadiness of faith. Mor Severius ruled the Holy See in peace until 518 when he was sent into exile. When the Orthodox Emperor Anastas died, he was succeeded by Justinos I who was a supporter of the Council of Chalcedon.
He sent into exile most of the orthodox bishops including Patriarch Mor Severius who died in the year 538 while in exile in Egypt. Mor Sergius succeeded Mor Severius to the Holy Throne of Antioch. Through all these great storms, the See of Antioch struggled hard to keep the succession of its Patriarchs to this day.
The followers of the Council of Chalcedon seized the opportunity of the exile of Mor Severius to install from among themselves Patriarchs with the title of "Patriarch of Antioch". From this time (518 AD) the series of Byzantine Patriarchs started. The most famous of these patriarchs was Ephrem of Amed. Most of those Byzantine Patriarchs were Syrians and others from Greek colonies. Those Patriarchs and their followers were called "Melkites", i.e., 'followers of the king.' They were called so since they followed the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon which was upheld by the then king. They used the Syrian rites until the 10th century when they changed to the Greek rites. But, because of their ignorance of Greek, they used the Syriac translation of the Greek rites. In later centuries, after they learned Greek, they started to use the Greek rites both in Greek and Arabic. They collected the Syriac codices, which were preserved in the library of St. Mary's Monastery (a Syrian Monastery which the Greeks later occupied), in the village of Saidnaya, near Damascus and burned them.
At the beginning of the 7th century, a dispute arose among the followers of the Council of Chalcedon within the jurisdiction of the See of Antioch, because of the emergence of a new dogma of two wills in Jesus Christ. It resulted in a division among the Maronite monks in Lebanon leading to the establishment of a separate Patriarchate. In the 12th century, they joined the Roman See and started calling their Patriarchate the "Patriarchate of Antioch".
There were further new Patriarchates of Antioch splintered from the original Patriarchate of Antioch. At the beginning of the 17th century, through the influence of some Capuchin monks, and with the assistance of the French Consul, a group in Aleppo, Syria, left the Holy See of Antioch. They approached a Maronite bishop in 1657 to consecrate for them an Armenian priest by the name Andraos Akhijian of Mardin as bishop whom they called patriarch. The Syrian Catholic Patriarchate started with him. They also called their patriarch "Patriarch of Antioch".
At the beginning of the 18th century, a split took place among the Greek Orthodox, which led some to abandon their Patriarchate and follow the Roman See. They established for themselves a separate Patriarchate which they called 'Patriarchate of Antioch'. They are known as Greek Catholics.
In the last quarter of the 18th century, a group of Syriac Orthodox in Iraq was compelled to join the Roman See, through the connivance of the French Consul, who advised the Ottoman ruler to impose heavy taxes on the Syriac Orthodox people. The Consul encouraged the Dominican missionaries who had already spread roots in Iraq to persuade the simple-minded Syriac Orthodox people to ask for French protection in order to reduce the burden of taxes. But when they approached the French officials for help, they were told that unless they followed the Pope of Rome, no help would be provided. This is how Catholicism spread in Iraq. The first group to embrace it were the inhabitants of Karakoush in 1761 AD. Later, in the middle of the 19th century, other groups from Bartelleh and Mosul followed suit.
Faith and Doctrine
The faith of the Syriac Orthodox Church is in accordance with the Nicene Creed. It believes in the Trinity that is one God, subsisting in three separate persons called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three being of one Essence, of one Godhead, have one Will, one Work and one Lordship. The special aspect of the First Person is His Fatherhood, that of the Second Person His Sonship, and that of the Third Person His Procession.
The Syriac Orthodox Church believes in the mystery of Incarnation. That is, the Only Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, took to Himself a body and became man. It further believes that at the time of Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit came upon her and cleansed her of all natural impurity, filling her with His grace. Then the Only Son of God came down and entered her immaculate womb, and took to Himself a body through her, thus becoming a perfect Man with a perfect Soul. After nine months, He was born of her and her virginity was maintained contrary to the laws of nature. It further believes that His true Godhead and His true Manhood were in Him essentially united, He being one Lord and one Son, and that after the union took place in Him, He had but one Nature Incarnate, was one Person, had one Will and one Work. This union is marked by being a natural union of persons, free of all separateness, intermixture, confusion, mingling, change and transformation.
The Syriac Orthodox Church calls Mary yoldath aloho, ‘Bearer of God’, because she gave birth to Christ, God truly incarnate.
The Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the death of Christ was the separation of His soul from His body, but His deity did not at any time leave either His body or His soul. It further believes that by His death for us, He conferred upon us salvation from eternal death and reconciliation with His Heavenly Father.
The Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Spirit of Truth, proceeding from the Father. The Holy Spirit is equal with the Father and the Son. (Note. The word for ‘spirit’ in Syriac, ruho (which is also the word for ‘wind’), is grammatically feminine. Holy Spirit is referred to with the feminine pronoun in almost all early Syriac writings, though later writings refer to it in the masculine.)
Concerning the Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church believes the Church is the body of true believers in Christ, and that the Head of the Church is Our Lord God Jesus Christ. The Chief Bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church is the Patriarch of Antioch.
With regards to Sacraments, the Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Sacraments are tangible signs designated by the Lord Christ to proclaim divine grace, which He gave for our sanctification. The Sacraments of the Church are: Holy Baptism, Holy Confirmation, Holy Confession, Holy Eucharist, Holy Matrimony, Holy Priesthood, Anointing of the Sick. Holy Sacraments are offered by the Bishops and the Priests. Only believers can receive the Sacraments. All but four of the Sacraments are essential for salvation: Baptism, Confirmation, Repentance and Eucharist. Of the sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation and the Priesthood may be received only once.
The Syriac Orthodox Church conforms to the teachings of the Three Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381) and Ephesus (A.D. 431). It rejects the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451).
Form of Worship
In accordance with Psalm 119, verse 164, “Seven times in the day have I praised thee for thy judgments, O Righteous One,” the Syriac Orthodox Church set the times for prayer to seven: Evening or ramsho prayer (Vespers), Drawing of the Veil or Sootoro prayer (Compline), Midnight or lilyo prayer, Morning or saphro prayer (Matins), the Third Hour or tloth sho`in prayer (Prime, 9 a.m.), the Sixth Hour or sheth sho`in prayer (Sext, noon) and the Ninth Hour or tsha` sho`in prayer (Nones, 3 p.m.). The Midnight prayer consists of three qawme‘watches’ (literarily ‘standing’).
The ecclesiastical day begins in the evening at sunset. For example, Monday starts at sunset on Sunday evening. Hence, Monday's evening (ramsho) and compline (sootoro) prayers, are actually performed on Sunday in our modern reckoning. Today, even in monasteries, the evening and compline prayers are said together, as also the Midnight and Morning prayers, and the Three, Six and Nine O'Clock prayers, reducing the times of prayer to three.
During prayers, the worshipper stands facing the East, holding his hands stretched out. (For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man - Matthew 24:27.)
The sign of the cross is made with the right hand. The thumb, first finger and second finger are brought together and the first finger is extended further than the thumb and second finger, indicating that Christ is the One and Only Savior. The sign of the cross is drawn starting from the forehead, down to the breast and then from the left to the right shoulder. This tradition symbolizes that the Lord Christ, came down to earth from the heights, and redeemed our earthly body from the gloomy paths of darkness (left), to the paths of truth and light (right).
Public prayer is important in Syriac Christianity. Traditionally, the Holy Qurbono, i.e. Eucharist, is celebrated every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Presently, only monasteries and some churches observe the Wednesday and Friday Holy Qurbono, and daily prayers known as shhimo ‘simple [prayers]’.
Apart from sermons, all prayers are sung in the form of chants and melodies. Thousands of tunes and melodies existed, most of which are unfortunately lost. Still hundreds of melodies remain and these are preserved in the Treasury of Tunes known in Syriac as Beth Gazo. Since a musical notation system was not developed, the tunes were transmitted down the ages as oral tradition. As a result a few schools of music emerged, most notably Mardin, Edessa, Turabdin, and Kharput, to name a few.
During the celebration of the Eucharist, Priests and Deacons put on elaborate vestments which are unique to the Syriac Orthodox Church. Whether in the Middle East, India, Europe, the Americas or Australia, the same vestments are worn by all clergy.
The Supreme Head of the Syriac Orthodox Church is the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. He also presides over the Holy Synod, the assembly of all bishops.
The local head of the church in Malankara (India) is the Catholicose of India. The Catholicose is under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch and is accountable to the Holy Synod and the local Malankara Synod. He is ordained by the Patriarch. He presides over the local Holy Synod in India.
The local head of every archdiocese is an Archbishop. He is under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch and is accountable to the Holy Synod. The Archbishop is ordained by the Patriarch and at least two bishops. Some archdioceses are ‘Patriarchal Vicarates’; the Patriarchal Vicar, regardless of ecclesiastical office, is accountable directly to the Patriarch.
The Malankara Achdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church in North America is a Patriarchal Vicariate directly under the jurisdiction of His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius, the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, with Archbishop Mor Titus Yeldho as its Patriarchal Vicar.
Each parish is assigned a vicar. He is under the direct jurisdiction of his Archbishop and is directly accountable to him. The parish is run by a board of trustees (or a committee) which is elected by the parishioners and approved by the Archbishop.
Deacons assist the priest in the administration of the liturgy. Each archdiocese may have one archdeacon who is called “the right hand of the bishop.” Only qualified and learned deacons are elevated to this office.
There are three ranks of Priesthood in the Syriac Orthodox Church:
· Episcopate: Within it there are the ranks of Patriarch, Catholicos, Archbishop, and Bishop.
· Vicarate: Within it there are the ranks of Chor-episcopos and Priest or qasheesho.
· Deaconate: Within it there are the ranks of Archdeacon, Evangelical-deacon (M’shamshono), Subdeacon (Apodyaqno), Reader (Qoruyo) and Singer (M’zamrono).
· Brock, Sebastian and David G.K. Taylor (ed.s), The Hidden Pearl: The Syrian Orthodox Church and Its Aramaic Heritage. (Rome: Trans World Film Italia, 2001).
· Patriarch Ignatius Aphram I Barsoum, The History of Syriac Literature and Sciences. tr. Matti Mousa. (Pueblo, CO: Passeggiata Press, 2000).
· Mor Clemis Eugene Kaplan, The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch: A Brief Introduction. (Unpublished manuscript, 1996).
· Witowski, Witold, The Syriac Chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre. (Uppsala: Studia Semitica Upsaliensia, 1987).
Source: http://sor.cua.edu and Syriac Orthodox Church history
A Brief History of
The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch in India
Kerala (Indian) tradition is that Apostle St. Thomas established Christianity in Malankara in AD 52, and it got organized and prospered with the arrival of Knai Thoma from Syria in AD 345, which happens to be the first known colonization of Syrian Christians and as a result, the Christians of Malankara (Kerala) came to be known as Syrian Christians, as they received the Apostolic benediction from the Syrian Patriarchate and thus started to use the liturgy of the Holy Syrian Church of Antioch. The Church in Malankara continued to be under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch, and his subordinate 'Maferyono'/'Catholicose' of the East then residing in Mesopotamian region, till the arrival of Nestorian bishops in 1490. Later with the Portuguese aggression of the 16th & 17th century, the Syrian Christians of Malankara came under the influence of Roman Catholics and when they tried to forcibly introduce their faith, the Malankara Syrian Christians revolted and finally re-organized once again under the guidance of the delegate of the Holy See of Antioch and thereby retained the ancient true Apostolic faith of Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. After that in the 19th century, a split occurred in the Church with the introduction of European protestant faith by the British colonists and after that in early 20th century, once again a group of people defied the Holy Church to form an independent faction after much harassment. Even in the midst of such aggressions, the ancient Syrian Orthodox Church, which in India (Malankara) also referred to as Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, still follows the true faith taught by Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles; and our Holy fathers who sacrificed for the cause of Christianity.
In this page the history of the Malankara Church from its beginning is reproduced, the brief history is compiled from the articles written by the famous historian and Syriac Scholar 'Very Rev. Dr. Kurien Corepiscopa Kaniamparambil', E M Philip Edavazhikkal, Dn. P T Geevarghese (later Mar Ivanious of Syro-Malankara Church), 'Very Rev. Dr. Adai Jacob Corepiscopa' (the principal of Syrian Orthodox theological Seminary at Udayagiri), Dr. D Babu Paul (Book-'Veni Vidi Vici'), and late Prof. Pankkal E John ('Way to Peace').
I. Establishment of Christianity in India
Like all the Christians sects of Kerala, the Syrian/Syriac Orthodox Church strongly believes that St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, had established the Church in India. There exists a strong tradition in Malankara about the arrival of St. Thomas, his mission, death, burial and about the relics of his mortal body. No other country or people make such claim about St. Thomas. The widely accepted belief is that St. Thomas visited various places and baptized many Jews and Hindus and thus began the process of establishing the Church. Middle East countries and Kerala had trade relations during the early centuries and all the evidences, acknowledged by all the historians’ points to the fact that the Jewish settlers existed in Cragnanore even before the Christian era. So it is very clear that there was a sea route to Kerala coast in those days and St. Thomas traveled to Cragnanore through this.
There is a general presumption that St. Thomas, a Jew himself by birth, may have visited India in search of Jews settled here. As mentioned earlier, there was a flourishing colony of Jews in Muziris (Cragnanore, Kerala). These Jews are said to have arrived with King Solomon's first fleet.
As a result of the Apostle's mission, many, other than the Jews also accepted Christianity. Most of the local converts were said to be from higher castes and this helped St. Thomas to preach the Holy Gospel without much opposition, in a later stage. The high caste Brahmin families that adorned Christianity were mainly from Pakaloomattom, Shankarapuri, Kalli and Kaliangala and members from these houses were ordained as priests or chieftains for the community. Besides, he is believed to have founded Christian congregations (churches) at Maliankara, Paloor, Kottaikkavu (North Paravur), Chayal (Nilakkal), Niranam, Kollam and Gokamangalam and celebrated Holy Qurbono. He later went to China to spread Holy Gospel and returned to India and during his mission, he was killed by fanatics, and was buried at Mylapore, in the state of present Chennai (Madras), South India, as it is believed. However his relics were taken to Edessa in the 4th century at the time of the then Patriarch of Antioch.
Christianity in Kerala in the first 3 centuries
Both the Jewish as well as the local converts were in the beginning mentioned as St. Thomas Christians or Nazarenes (being followers of Jesus who was a native of Nazareth). One of the earliest references to Christianity in India mentions the visit of Alexandria’s leading Theologian, PANTENUS to the Indian Christians at their invitation in AD 190. However this visit is contradicted by Eusebius, a 3rd century Christian Historian, who says Pantenus visited the Arabian regions, which were part of greater India (India Magnum). The general belief is that the Christians existed in Kerala from the second half of the 1st century itself and it was St. Thomas the Apostle who established the Christian faith in India.
In the course of time the infant Church established by St. Thomas is supposed to have been weakened. The community had to pass through many obstructions and so many oppositions, main reason being the “lack of ecclesiastical assistance”. During the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries, there were no priests here and the Christian population had been like a fold without a Shepherd. There had been none to succeed for those who were appointed by St. Thomas.
World Christianity up to 4th century
The Christianity that was gaining considerable influence in the 1st three centuries among the Jews and others in the Middle East had to face the continuous wrath of Romans, probably out of fear of it loosing the powers to control the whole Empire. The Roman Officials persecuted many of the Christian fathers. This continued for about three centuries. By the beginning of the 4th century, with the conversion of the then Roman Emperor 'Constantine', Christianity became the official religion of the Empire.
In AD 325 on the request of the Church fathers, the Emperor convened a Synod of the entire Christian community at ‘Nicea’ and a general norm for the administration of the whole of Christianity was formulated. Accordingly, the entire Christian Community all over the world formed as three distinct groups and each group came under the authority of the three Patriarchates then in existence, namely Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. (Constantinople Patriarchate was established only in AD 381, as per the decision of the 2nd Universal Holy Synod convened by the Empire). As per the decision of the Synod, the Eastern hemisphere, which included Indian Sub-continent, continued to be under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch.
A Persian bishop by name Yuhannun is said to have represented India in that Synod, the veracity of which is evident from his signature in the Nicea Synod. But some believe that the India mentioned here was actually Greater India that extended up to the boundaries of the present North India and Malankara (Kerala) was not part of it, and none represented Kerala Christians, as the Christianity then existed here was very weak and not known to many.
Establishment of the Catholicate of the East
Though the Christian Church in Persian Empire was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch from its beginning, in due course it become impossible for the Church members to go to Antioch and receive ordination due to geographical & political reasons. Under the circumstance, the Patriarch of Antioch used to appoint a Archbishop entitled CATHOLICOSE to administer the Eastern Dioceses (parts of Persian Empire) beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The second universal Holy Synod held at Constantinople in AD 381 (Canon 2), reconfirmed the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch over the Archbishop (Catholicose) of Selucia (later in Tigris).
In due course, the Catholicose of Tigris adopted Nestorian faith and defied the authority of Patriarch and declared independence. Yet, there were Maferyono's under the Syrian (Jacobite) Patriarch of Antioch, who as eastern Catholicose used to administer the Church in the Persian Empire. Later at the time of the then Patriarch of Antioch, the Indian Church was administered by these Maferyono's of the East and Metropolitans.
II. Syrian Colonization of Malankara in AD 325
Meanwhile the Church at Malabar (Kerala) established in the 1st century, weakened during the period of about 300 years succeeding the Apostle’s death, mainly because there had been none to succeed the priests ordained by St. Thomas. It was while the Christians of Malabar remained in this unsatisfactory condition that Mor Joseph the Bishop of Edessa (a place in the eastern border of the Roman Empire), had a dream regarding the sad situation of the Church at Malabar. He informed this to the Bishop-Patriarch of Jerusalem who consulted the other Bishops as to what should be done in this matter. (It was in consideration of the importance of the Holy City of Jerusalem, the Metropolitan of Jerusalem came to be known as the 'fifth Patriarch of Christendom', who was a subordinate to the Patriarch of Antioch as mentioned in the Universal Synods). The Jerusalem Metropolitan deputed Thomas a native of Cana, a respectable merchant then living at Jerusalem to ascertain the condition of the Christians of Malabar. This Thomas on reaching the Malabar Coast found a good number of Christians wearing the badges of their religion and from them he ascertained about their condition. On his return he explained about the Christians at Malabar and all what he saw, to the Bishop of Jerusalem.
Consequent to this, the Church Synod held under the Patriarch of Antioch & All The East, immediately decided to send a delegation to Malabar (Kerala) and accordingly in AD 345, around 400 odd persons from 72 families comprising men, women and children, reached Cragananore (Kodungalloore) under the leadership of the merchant, Thomas of Cana. The group consisted of the Bishop Mor Joseph of Edessa as well as some priests and deacons.
This Syrian Christian delegation from Edessa was from a sect of Jewish Christians from different places of then Canaan land (later called Palestine, now Israel). They settled as a Colony on the southern side of the Kodungalloor Palace street, with the permission of Perumals, the then rulers of the region.
Meanwhile the native Christians converted by St. Thomas, who were called Mar Thoma (St. Thomas) Christians, lived on the northern part of the street. While the descendants of the former were called as ‘Southists’ or Knanaites, after their leader Knai Thoma (Thoma of Cana), the ‘Mar Thoma Christians’ lived on the northern part were, from then onwards started to be mentioned as ‘Northists’. The name Malankara Church, is also supposed to be mentioned as such, for the entire Christian Church of Kerala, from this period.
It was as a consequence of this Syrian migration of Knanaites, the entire Christians in Kerala, came to be called SYRIAN CHRISTIANS, as they came under the Syrian Patriarch of Antioch who had jurisdiction over all the East and thus began using the rituals and liturgies of the Syrian Church of Antioch.
Relics of St. Thomas transferred to Edessa
History tells that in AD 394, the relics of St. Thomas were taken to Edessa, a place that was under the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch. There it was entombed in a church built in his venerated memory. July 3 is celebrated as St. Thomas day by the Eastern Churches commemorating this hallowed event.
The Persian Crosses
There is a controversy about the existence or influence of the Assyrian Church of East (Nestorians) in Malabar (Kerala) before the 15th century. Some argue that this Church (Nestorian) had been in India, as early as 4th century itself. But the Nestorian heresy had its influence in the Assyrian Church of East, only by the end of the 5th century and it was only in the subsequent years, the Christology of this Assyrian Church of East spread beyond the Persian Empire. So it is very clear that the Syrian faith that was in Malankara, before the 5th century was not Nestorian.
Again those who tries to establish the 'Nestorian influence in Malabar' in the middle ages, mentions about the existence of the 'Persian' crosses of the 7th century, found in the 'Knanaya Valiappalli' at Kottayam and in two other Churches in Kerala. But the facts prove opposite. The inscriptions in 'Extrangela Syriac' and 'Phalvi' on them revealed their workmanship was Persian and at the same time, the Phalvi inscriptions hints that they were made by the Syrian Jacobites. The interpretation of the inscriptions in Pahalavi by Dr. Burnnel (former Archaeological Director of India) reads as follows-
"In punishment by the cross (was) the suffering on this one; He who is true God and God above, and Guide ever Pure."
These inscriptions are against the basic faith of Nestorians, who believed that the God was never crucified (punished) in the Cross and only the Jesus the man was crucified. Moreover Phalvi was never, the language of Persian Nestorians. Further these crosses could not be taken as evidences of an ecclesiastical relationship with Nestorian Church only. There are nearly two dozen crosses. St. Andrew’s cross was 'X'. Different nations used different types. The Persian type was not a monopoly of the Nestorians. It had been used by the Nestorians as well as the Syrian (Jacobite) Church. Estrangeloyo Syriac too was used by both Churches. The oldest dated manuscript (AD 464) and another of the 5th century are in the British museum -nos.14425 & 14451. Another of the 7th century (from the Septuagint by Paul, bishop of Tella - no.14442) and yet another 'Isaiah' identified with that of Philoxenos of Mabug (AD 485-519, no. 17106) are also preserved there. All these are in Estrangeloyo Characters and written by Syrian Jacobites.
III. The 2nd Syrian Colonization of AD 825
In early 9th century the Syrian fathers Mor Sabor and Mor Aphrot reached Malankara with a group of immigrants, at the then famous trade center in South Kerala, Kollam. On arrival they were accorded certain privileges and rights by the local Ruler. That they were saintly persons amply proven by the fact that there were many churches in their names which is corroborated by the records of the decisions of the 'Synod of Diamper (Udayamperoor)'.
There is a view that these fathers were Nestorians. This is only because, the Holy fathers were mentioned as Nestorian heretics at the Synod of Diamper convened by the Romans in 1599. But the fact is that Nestorians too, don't recognize them as one among them. The names of these fathers do not figure in the list of Nestorian bishops sent abroad during the period, given by historian Assemani. Also Fr. Placid, the Roman Catholic historian and M. V. Paul who attempted a history of the Church of the East, do not include the names of these two Bishops in the list of Nestorian bishops who visited Malabar. Till now, the venerated memory of these Holy fathers is being celebrated by the Jacobite Syrian Christians only. While Roman Catholics disowned them and the Nestorians disclaim them, the Malankara Syrian Church had their annual festival celebrated on October 2nd every year, in the Mor Shabor & Mor Aphrot church at Akaparambu, in the diocese of Angamali.
According to one tradition, the Malayalam Calendar era (Kolla Varsham) started with these holy fathers who settled at Kollam in AD 825.
Malankara Church between 10th and 15th Centuries
During the 10th and the 11th centuries the Malankara Church was within the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch. This is authenticated in the Travancore State Manual as also in other books, such as that authored by the protestant historian Huff. Unfortunately, falling prey to some Roman Catholics propaganda to promote their own history and also to disseminate some vested interests, some in Malankara recently are propagating a new version that the Malankara Church had connections only with the Persian Nestorian Church till the 17th century. But all the circumstantial evidences and history proves otherwise.
As for the 12th century, there is an authoritative record now safely maintained at Cambridge University, which clearly indicates the ties of the Malankara Church with that of the Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch in the period. This is the Bible written in Estrangeloyo script during the time of the great Patriarch Michael (1199). This book, which was in Malankara from the 13th century, was presented to Dr. Claudius Buchannan, one of the earliest protestant missionaries who came to Kerala in 1807, by the then Malankara Metropolitan Mor Dionysius the Great. It contained special Gospel portions for reading on the feasts of the Mother of God and the Gospel readings for the Holy Mass on Saturdays in lent. There are in the notes contained in the book, very respectful references to Mor Severios, the famous Patriarch of Antioch. All these would show that this book was not Nestorian because they do not venerate Mor Severios, nor do they call St. Mary as Mother of God.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, it can safely be assumed that the Malankara Church continued to stay within the Syrian Orthodox belief. In the 14th century, a Roman Bishop named John de Marinjoli is believed to have landed in Kollam. But he had no connection with the Malankara Church. In 1328 Pope John XXII had ordained the Friar Jordanoos as Bishop of Kollam and deputed him to India, but he does not seem to have reached India.
In short, from all the circumstantial evidences, it has to be believed that between 4th and 15th centuries the Malankara Church remained as part of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church. This fact is recalled in the scholarly work of Arch Bishop Mar Iwanis of Syrian Catholic Church (Fr. P T Varghese), "Were Syrian Christians - Nestorians". It says "Thus from internal - external and circumstantial evidences, it is evident that the church in Kerala was nothing but Jacobite before the 15th century". Again late Paulose Mar Gregorios of Excommunicated Indian Orthodox Church (Methran Kakshi) says (ref. Shema Vartha, 1968 Oct) "We in India belong to this Patriarchate even if we have our own Catholicose and are autonomous (not autocephalous). We have no other source from which to receive our ancient tradition - except the tradition of Antioch, of the great Syrian Church which once had spread through the length and breadth of Asia right up to China and Korea".
III. Nestorian influence
From the 14th century onwards, the Syrian/Syriac (Jacobite) Patriarchate of Antioch, gradually became weak following the continued persecution by the Romans, Mohammedans and also because of internal squabbles. In this period of serious crisis, the Patriarchate was not in a position to send any dignitaries to Malankara. By the 15th century, the Episcopal ties, which the Malankara Church had with its parental church at Antioch, was completely broken. So when the Nestorian bishops landed here in AD 1490 for the first time, they were received by Malankara Christians without any opposition. Moreover, since there were certain similarities in the liturgy and rituals of both the Jacobites and Nestorians, Malankara Syrian Christians who until then followed the Jacobite faith, were not reluctant to accept these Nestorian bishops.
To prove that the Church in Kerala was not Nestorian before 1490, it is only to recall a Nestorian bishop who came to Malankara in this period. He wrote to the Nestorian 'Catholicose-Patriarch' that, he was well received by Christians, that there are about 30,000 Christian families here and that the name of the area was Malabar. Obviously he was writing to a Patriarch who did not know much about Malankara.
From AD 1490 till 1599 the Malankara Church had received Metropolitans from the Nestorian patriarchs of Persia. Yet it cannot be assumed that the entire Malankara Church took to Nestorian faith, this presumption is supported from the decisions of Synod of Diamper in which it is recorded that, before the arrival of Portuguese, there were people who held Dioscoros, who was revered holy father of the west Syrian Church, in reverence and that Western Syriac was in use here in addition to the use of Chaldaya (Chaldean) Syriac and that the liturgy of baptism used by the Jacobite Syrians was in operation. Yet it may be supposed that from 1490 till 1599, when the Synod Diamper was convened and the Malankara Christians were forcefully drawn to the Roman Catholic Church, the Church may have been under the suzerainty of Nestorians.
IV. Introduction of Roman Catholic faith in Malankara
The Roman Catholic faith started to have its foothold in Malankara with the arrival of Vasco De Gama, the famous Portuguese sailor in 1498. Initially the Portuguese Priests concentrated on the poor people living on the sea coast of Kerala and Goa and converted many to the Latin Catholic faith, some times even forcibly. But later they tried to introduce their faith among the Syrian Christians of Kerala. For that they even adopted some unholy practices.
On June 20, 1599 the Roman Catholic Archbishop Menezes, with the help of local rulers, convened the historical Synod of Diamper (Udayamperoor) and thereafter started forcibly converting the Syrian churches as Latin, burned all the historical documents, and thereby terrified the Syrian Christians. The Malankara Church had to suffer servitude and indignities under the Roman Catholic bishops.
Finally in response to the continuous appeal of the Thomas Arkhidyakon (archdeacon), who was then giving leadership to Malankara Church; from the Patriarchate of Antioch came Mor Ignatius Ahattula (Ahadullah) in 1653. However, the Portuguese arrested him, tied him up and cast him in the Ocean. Consequently, the Syrian Christians got agitated and as a result, a large gathering of about 25,000 assembled at Mattancherry and took Oath at 'Koonan Cross' which happens to be known as the historical 'Koonam Kurisu Sathayam' in 1653 and declared that they and their future generations will ever be loyal to the throne of Antioch and also vowed to fight against the atrocities of the Roman/Latin Catholics.
The Malankara Church sent a request to the Patriarch of Antioch again and in 1665 Saint Gregorios of Jerusalem was deputed to Malankara. The link between Malankara and Antioch that was broken and remained separated for about 150 years was re-established with the arrival of this Holy Father. Saint Gregorios ordained, Arkhidyakon as Bishop who assumed charge as Mar Thoma I. And once again, Malankara Church becomes the integral part of the Syrian Orthodox Church, adopting its rituals, rites and liturgy as before.
V. Formation of the Malabar Independent Syrian Church of Thoziyoor
During the time of Mor Dionysius I (the sixth successor to Mar Thoma I), Mor Gregorios, one of the two representatives of the Holy See then in Malankara, who had earlier consecrated Mor Dionysius I, consecrated Kattumangat Abraham Ramban as Mor Kurilose at the Mattancehrry Church in December 1772. Since this consecration was not acceptable to 'Mor Dionysius I' or 'Mor Ivanious' (the other representative of Patriarchate), there started a rift. Both the Rajas of Travancore and Cochin finally decided against Mor Kurilose (Kattumangattu) and so he has to withdrew to Thozhiyoor (Anjoor, near Kunnamkulam) in British Malabar, where he laid the foundation of an independent Church in 1774.
VI. Protestant faith in Malankara
With the establishment of British East India Company, missionaries from Britain started their work in India. These missionaries gradually tried to control the Syrian Orthodox Church, by introducing their reformed teachings. In spite of the interference of powerful agents of the British Government, the Malankara Church rejected the western influence and stuck to its connections with the Holy See of Antioch. Thereafter the Syrian Church in Malankara had to face a series of internal dissensions.
It was around that time, Palakunnath Abraham Malpan (Malfono), a prominent priest of Malankara Church sided with the European missionaries and modified the liturgy to suit the Protestant views. Later his nephew, Deacon Mathews, went to the Patriarchate and producing a false record, which showed the false authorization of Malankara Syrian Church, to get ordained as Mor Athanasius.
Earlier Mor Dionysius IV, the then Metropolitan of Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church had sent various petitions to the throne of Antioch praying for sending more Bishops. In one such letter he says that despite 11 petitions since 1825 no Metropolitan came and consequently the Malankara Church had spiritually deteriorated and that if a Metropolitan was not sent now the Patriarch will be answerable.
But the Patriarch was of the opinion that it was better to ordain people from Malankara itself. It was in this context that when Deacon Matthews of palakunnath from Malankara who actually had a protestant view, reached the Patriarchal Monastery at Turkey and producing a false record of authorization of Malankara Church, got himself ordained as Mor Athanasius. After Palakunnath Mor Athanasius returned to Malankara, the Association of representatives came to know about the malicious act of Mor Athanasius, so they wrote to the Patriarch about the Protestant inclinations of Mor Athanasius. The Patriarch felt very sad on being cheated, and consequently he sent a representative, Mor Kurilose Yuyoqim on the request of Malankara Syrian Church. On his arrival, Mor Dionysius IV who was then very old, handed over the administration of Malankara Church to the delegate Mor Kurilose Yuyoqim and he as per the wishes of Malankara Church and under the order of the Patriarch, excommunicated Mor Athanasius of Palakunnath. But with the help of British authorities, Mor Athanasius was able to move freely and majority of the Church properties and most of the parishes in Kottayam and its southern belt, came under him. All the time, the northerners (places north of Kottayam) were able to effectively block the Protestant aggression on its fundamental faith. Hence the European missionaries or Palakunnath Metropolitan and his aides were not able to have much influence there, except in parts of Kunnamkulam.
Later Pulikottil Fr. Joseph with the consent of the entire Malankara Church went to the Patriarchate at Mardin in Turkey and was ordained as Mor Dionysius Joseph by the Patriarch Mor Ignatius Yakub II (1847-1871). On his return he together with Mor Kurilose Yuyoqim made efforts to get the royal proclamation in favour of deposed Metropolitan Palakunnath Mor Athansius, cancelled, but could not succeed.
It was then, at a Malankara Church meeting held in 1872 under the leadership of Ramban Geevarghese (St. Gregorios of Parumala), requested for the immediate help of the Patriarch of Antioch, to save it from the serious crisis. Consequently, in 1875, Patriarch Ignatius Peter III (IV) 1872-1894, in spite of his old age traveled to India. Just before reaching Malankara, the Patriarch went to England and convinced the British authorities about the real problems pertaining in the Malankara Church and on being convinced, the British authorities in England, gave orders to the British government in Kerala, to not interfere in the internal matters of Malankara Church. On reaching Malankara, the Patriarch held series of discussions with the Malankara Syrian community, and finally decided for the formation of six new dioceses and also a Malankara Syrian Christian Association, for the effective administration of Malankara Church. The entire Malankara Church was happy with this and in August 1876, a Synod was held at Mulunthuruthy and at that historical meeting, with almost all the representatives of Malankara Church, decided in favour of the decision of the Patriarch. Saint Gregorios (Parumala) who was then a Raban, was the personal secretary of the Patriarch and it was with his help the draft for the 'Mulunthuruthy Synod' was formulated. The historical 'Mulunthuruthy Padiyola' adopted at the Synod, besides explaining about the history of Malankara Church since its evolution, once again recalled the services of the great See of Antioch and thanked the Patriarch for his sincere efforts that helped to continue the ancient true faith of the Malankara Church. As per the decision of this Synod, Pulikottil Mor Dionysius Joseph was appointed as the Malankara Metropolitan and he assumed the title 'Mor Dionysius V'. The Patriarch also consecrated 'Holy Moron' for the first time in Malankara. His Holiness before completing his historical Apostolic Visit to Malankara, ordained six new Metropolitans, including Saint Gregorios of Parumala, who was his closest aide and private secretary. It was then for the first time in Malankara, a group of native Metropolitans was there to administer the affairs of the local Church. Thus with the help of the Patriarch of Antioch, the Malankara Church was able to recoup its lost glory.
Later the Malankara Jacobite Syrian community won the litigation that continued in the local courts and 'Mor Dionysius V' was accepted as the legitimate head of the Malankara Church under the Holy See of Antioch.
This finally resulted in the separation of a group of people with protestant views under the leadership of Mor Athanasius Thomas, the cousin of Mor Athanasius Mathews who was earlier excommunicated by the Malankara Church and they organized themselves as Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar.
VII. The third major split in the Malankara Church
In 1902, the Holy Episcopal Synod of Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church held under the then Malankara Metropolitan, Pulikottil Mor Dionysius, selected two Metropolitan-designates and in 1908 they were ordained as Mor Kurilose Paulose (Kochuparambil) and Mor Dionysius Geevarghese (Wattesseril) by the Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius Abdeh-d'Aloho II 1906-1915. The next year the Malankara Metropolitan Pulikottil Mor Dionysius V, who led the Kerala Church in one of its most difficult period, died and in his position the newly ordained Metropolitan Mor Dionysius Wattesseril was instituted with the title 'Mor Dionysius VI'. But unfortunately within a short period, the new Malankara Metropolitan trustee Mor Dionysius VI had differences of opinion with his two other co-trustees, the renounced Syriac scholar 'Konatt Mathen Malpan' (Priest trustee) and C. J. Kurien (lay trustee). Within a short time, this conflict become so serious, and thus started challenging the age old relationship, that the Malankara Church has with the Patriarchal See of Antioch. Finally in 1911, when Wattasseril Mor Dionysius VI started to defy even the orders of his spiritual supreme, the Patriarch Mor Ignatius Abdeh-d'Aloho II 1906-1915, the bishop was excommunicated. A year later in 1912, Wattesseril Mor Dionysius managed to bring to Kerala, Abdul Mesiha, a former Patriarch who was dethroned by the Holy Synod because of his un-canonical practices and got ordained as Catholicose for his group. The Syrian Christians argued that an important order like the Catholicate that was abolished in 1865 as per the decision of the Holy Synod, can be reinstated only through another Episcopal Synod and above all in this particular issue the Abdul Mesih who supposedly ordained a Catholicose in Kerala was an un-canonical Patriarch, who was dethroned by the Holy Synod.
The fact that Abdul Mesih was not a Patriarch is strengthened with further evidences, when it is considered that Wattasseril Mar Dionysius went to Patriarch Mor Abded'Aloho (Abdullah) II for his ordination as Metropolitan, who had succeeded Abdul Mesih, although Abdul Mesih was living there at that time. If Abdul Mesih was the canonical Patriarch, as claimed by the so called Indian Orthodox group (Methran), then why did Wattasseril Mor Dionysius, the father of the Methran group go to the true Patriarch Abdeh d'Aloho II, the successor to Abdul Mesih to get ordained. This is very mysterious. This was the argument of the Jacobite Syrians.
Formation of Methran's Party which subsequently adopted the name 'Orthodox Syrian Church of Malabar'
Within a short period, the schisms in the Malankara Church reached a flash point and brought forth the unfortunate division in the Jacobite Syrian Church. While many from the three southern dioceses sided with Wattessril Mor Dionysius, almost the entire northerners continued to be the part of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church under the Holy See of Antioch. The group led by the Wattasseril Mor Dionysius came to be called as 'Metran Kakshi' (Bishop's Party) and the those who continued to be faithful to the Holy throne of Antioch were mentioned as 'Bava Kakshi' (Patriarch's Party). While the 'Bava Kakshi' continued to be known as Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church, the 'Methran Kakshi' by the middle of 1920's adopted the name first as 'Orthodox Syrian Church of Malabar' and then 'Orthodox Syrian Church' after the adoption of a constitution in 1934, for their group.
After the split in 1911, Kochuparambil Mor Kurilose Paulose who was ordained together with Wattesseril Bishop, was elected as the Malankara Metropolitan of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church of Kerala and after him Mor Athanasius Paulose the Great (entombed at Thrikunnathu Seminary) was chosen as Malankara Metropolitan and his Grace continued to be in that privileged position till his demise.
Though many peace negotiations were going on from the days of the split, it become more significant with the arrival of Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius Elias III in 1931. He created a favourable atmosphere by canceling the excommunication of Wattesseril Mor Dionysius and tried his best to heal the breach. His Holiness did not spare any effort to bring about peace in Malankara but unfortunately he passed away before fulfilling his desire and was buried at Majanikkara and his tomb church is now a major pilgrim centre of Malankara Syrian Christians.
Peace in 1958
The negotiations for a long standing peace continued in spite of the Patriarchal sides complete victory in the various Courts of Travancore-Cochin states in late 1940's and 1950's. When Moran Mor Ignatius Yakub III become the Patriarch 1957, he in his very first bull, expressed his desire for the unity of the Church in Malankara. This was at a time when the Patriarch's side had won the case in the High Court and he made many sincere efforts, which is even now recalled by many. But unfortunately even then, the Metran faction was not willing for peace until they felt strengthened by the Supreme Court verdict which went in their favor albeit on a purely technical and legalistic point. On 16th December 1958, following a series of discussions that was continuing for many years, the Patriarch and the then supreme administrator of Metran group, the Catholicose, accepted each other. The Catholicose of the Methran group however, in his letter of acceptance, on the last minute added a clause that he accepted the Patriarch "subject to the constitution of Malankara Church" (a constitution formulated by the Metran Kakshi in 1934). This was contrary to the understanding reached earlier and was a real shock for the peace loving people of Malankara. Anyhow the Patriarch tried his best to pacify the Malankara Jacobite Syrian community, hoping that a complete peace and harmony would become a reality in a near future in the Malankara Church.
But almost immediately after the accord of 1958, the Catholicose and his group took some steps which not only wounded the sentiments of the Syrian Christians, but also gave the impression that they would not give the Patriarch or the Jacobite Syrian community, due respect. Most of the people and clergy and all the Metropolitans, unhappy as they were, remained silent resigned to their "fate". However after a series of aggression, such as that happened in Arthat Simhasana Church, Kallumkathra Church, Kattapurathu Church etc., many of the faithful were forced to react and as a direct consequence to this, a meeting of the representatives of the various parish churches, who were in favour for the continuation of the Apostolic faith, was convened at Manarcad in 1960. The large gathering assembled there protested against the forceful entry of the Catholicose to many churches and for the introduction of his factions faith, contrary to the agreement reached with the Patriarch earlier. On the request of the faithful assembled there, Mor Philixinose went to Damascus to call on His Holiness and submit their grievances. But His Holiness who was against another split in the Church, sent back Mor Philixonse with instructions to co-operate with the Catholicose to the maximum, in spite of any such ill-treatments. Patriarch Mor Ignatius Yakub III tried his best to keep the accord of 1958 and avoided for maximum, any of the provocation of erstwhile Metran group. But still the Catholicose suspended Mor Philixinose Paulose from the Episcopal Synod of the united Church on 17th June 1960, there by paved way for the continuation of enmity among the Syrian Christians.
In spite of many such difficulties and mental agony, the Jacobite Syrian community under the instruction from the Patriarch, continued to co-operate with the united Church. The Patriarch's firm belief was that the time will wound the healing.
Consecration of the Catholicose in 1964
In 1964, Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Yakub III arrived in Malankara and ordained Mor Augen as Catholicose of the East 'Mor Baselius Augen I'. Thus, the Catholicate was established in India with its administrative jurisdiction limited to this nation, as per the decision of Universal Episcopal Synod held at Kottayam, presided by the Patriarch Ignatius Yakub III of Antioch and attended by all the bishops of the Syrian Orthodox Church in India, and bishops from the Middle East who had accompanied the Patriarch.
A new era of peace and unity started with it, which continued for some years. But by the seventies, Catholicose Mar Augen under pressure from the extremists in his group began to claim that he was sitting on the throne of St. Thomas and declared equality with his superior, the Patriarch of Antioch and All The East. And also fundamental changes were made in the history and faith of the Malankara Church that was followed for centuries, in order to suit their needs, particularly in the Sunday Schools and other such organizations. These new twistings to the facts, hurt not only the Syrian Christians of Malankara but also the Patriarch who had brought peace to the Church in India.
The people, who were eager for the continuation of its Holy Apostolic faith, organized themselves and worked tirelessly for the revival of the true faith. Finally due to the continued requests of the bishops, clergy and the vast number of people, the Patriarch had to convene the Universal Synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church in 1975 and had to take necessary action against the defiant Catholicose. Because of the stubborn attitude of the opponents, the Patriarch was forced to excommunicate the Catholicose Augen I, in order to safeguard the true faith of Malankara Church, after giving ample time to correct his stand.
Ordination of the Catholicose Aboon Mor Baselios Paulose II
Consequently the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church elected Mor Philxinose Paulose as the new Catholicose-designate and in 1975 he was ordained as Catholicose Mor Baselius Paulose II for the Indian Church. In the 2000 year long history of the Holy Church, Catholicose Mor Baselious Paulose II was the first prelate from Malankara, who had the opportunity to lead the ordination ceremony of the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas in 1980. His Beatitude Mor Baselius Paulose II continued as chief prelate of the Malankara Church till his demise on 1st September 1996 and was entombed at the famous Malekurisu Dayro, near Ernakulam, where the Holy relics of many saints including that of Saint Gregorios (Parumala) is interred.
VIII. Enthronement of a new Catholicose & the present administrative setup of the Malankara Church
On December 27, 1999, H. E. Mor Dionysius Thomas (Cheruvallil), the president of the Holy Episcopal Synod in India and Metropolitan of Angamali, the largest diocese in Malankara, was elected as the new Catholicose-designate of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church under the Holy See of Antioch. On July 26, 2002, Mor Dionysius Thomas was enthroned as the Catholicose (Maphriyono) Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas I by His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, the Patriarch of Antioch & All The East, Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church. It was after a gap of 6 years, a new Catholicose was appointed for the Church in India in the East. Mor Baselios Thomas I succeeds Mor Baselios Paulose II (+1996) as the Catholicose (Maferyono) of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church. Two weeks before the historical consecration ceremony, a new constitution was adopted for the Church in India namely 'Jacobite Syrian Christian Church Association' and was registered as per the Indian Charitable Trust Act. As per this constitution, the Catholicose will also function as the Metropolitan-Trustee. The other main office Bearers of the Association are, a Priest-Trustee (Very Rev. Dr. Kurien Corepiscopos Kaniamparambil), a Lay-Trustee (Mr. George Matthew Thekkethalakkal), and an Association Secretary (Mr. Thambu George Thukalan). A working committee comprising of 18 members and a managing committee of 120, were also elected from the 3960 representatives that participated in the Association from 700 odd parishes in Kerala, India. The Holy Episcopal Synod of Church in India also ratified its earlier decision to reappoint Metropolitan His Grace Mor Gregorious Joseph as its secretary.
In the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Antioch & All The East is the Supreme Head, but the temporal powers of the local Church in India rests with an association, elected from among the representatives of Parishes of Malankara, and is to be administered under guidance from its Chief prelate, the Catholicose of India. While the Chief Prelate of Malankara Church has powers to administer the general affairs of the Church in India, he has limited authority over individual parishes.
The most important part of the administrative set up of the Church is that, each individual parish has power to take any decisions related to them on their own and no external body can interfere in their internal administrative structure. The Church is of the view that these individual parishes, particularly almost all the ancient churches, have been established by the desire of the parishioners and the central structure of the Church participated only in spiritual guidance. This is so in the cases of new parishes also, except otherwise mentioned. In short, while the Bishops gave guidance to the spiritual matters and administer the few common properties of the dioceses, it is with the parishioners the administration of the individual churches rest. Thus a complete democratic structure exists in the Jacobite Syrian Church which makes it so unique. This administrative structure came into existence in Malankara with the approval of Mulunthuruthy Synod, that was held in AD 1876 under the leadership of the spiritual supreme of Malankara Church, the Patriarch of Antioch & all the East, His Holiness Mor Ignatius Peter IV.
Besides this, there are other churches/associations, independent of each other that came into existence in the last century, established on the desire of the laity and are under the direct jurisdiction of the Patriarch. They are the Simhasana (Thronal) Churches, the St. Anthony's congregation and Honawar Mission based at Mangalore (founded by Mor Julius Alwarez), the Evangelical Association of the East ('Pourasthya Suvisesha Samajam') and the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Greater India (comprising of Outside Kerala dioceses-in India). All of these are administered by Metropolitans appointed by the Patriarch of Antioch. Also there is a Knanaya diocese that was established in early 20th century for the migrant Knanaites and is under the administration of a Metropolitan. All of the above dioceses have their own associations and decisions pertaining to them are taken by themselves and with the approval of the Patriarch of Antioch. For the proper training of the Clergy, a Theological Seminary functions at Udayagiri (Vettickal), near Mulanthuruthy.
Administrative Headquarters for the Syriac Orthodox Church in India
A new Administrative headquarters for the Syriac Orthodox Church in India was constructed at Puthencuriz in Ernakulam District and named the Patriarch Ignatius Zakka-I Iwas Centre (Patriarch Centre). The central office of the Malankara Catholicate is situated here. Puthencuriz, being the meeting point of three major dioceses of the Church, is an important place for the Syriac Christian community. The vast majority living here are the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Christians. Malecuriz Dayro, where the mortal remains of Catholicos Mor Baselios Paulose II Bava are interred is a few minutes away from the Patriarchal centre.
The Church headquarters in the past centuries functioned in places where the Chief Metropolitans resided. The Malankara Church in those days never thought of a permanent central office nor there was any need for that as a decentralized form of administrative structure was existing in Malankara then. When Pulikottil Mor Divanasios Thirumeni was the chief of the Malankara Church, the Syrian (Old) seminary at Kottayam was his headquarters and later when Valiya Thirumeni (St. Athanasius Paulose) assumed the responsibility, Thrikkunnathu Seminary at Aluva became the central office. This was later shifted to Muvattupuzha when Catholicos Baselios Paulose II Bava headed the Indian Church from 1975 to '96. Due to the various trials and tribulations in the past century, the Church was not able to develop any of these centers as permanent headquarters until the present Catholicos Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas I took the initiative to develop the Church centre at Puthencuriz. Also with the change of times it became an absolute necessity for the Church to have a permanent headquarters complex to fulfill the various and manifold services and for the effective and prompt functioning of its administrative system.
Thanks to the many faithful of the Syrian Orthodox Church, especially the members of the Malankara Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church in North America who generously contributed to building the Patriarchal Centre in Puthencruz, Kerala. For the hundreds of parishes and about more than one million faithful, the new complex at Puthencuriz was a long cherished dream for the faithful in India.
The Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church, though in its long history, had to put up with stiff challenges, trials and tribulations,…. by God's grace, even now it continues to, practice the true Apostolic faith taught by its Holy fathers and be a part of the ancient Universal Syriac Orthodox Church with its distinct identity.