Mar Thomma Sleeha’s (Apostle St Thomas’) Malankara Church or The Indian Orthodox Church
Compiled by: Kunnil Idicula Zachariah
It was deemed necessary, to include a brief history of “Our Mother Church”, in the official website of Fujairah “St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church”, being designed in accordance with the decisions of the Managing Committee, as well as the General Body of the Parish. It was a tiresome and herculean task bringing to minimize and limit the long detailed history of about 2000 years of the Church into few pages. However, the author has depended on the following authentic books in order to muster the required datas, viz, ‘Indian Orthodox Church – History and Culture’ (Indian Orthodox Church – Charithravum Samskaravum - the latest complete historical book of the Church), ‘Malankara Orthodox Church History Vol 1,2,3’ (Malankara Orthodox Sabha Charithram), ‘Malankara Syrian Church Brief History’ Vol 1, 2 (Malankara Suriyani Sabha Charithra Samgraham), Catholicoses of Malankara (Malankarayile Catholicamar), Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church – A Study (Malankara Orthodox Suriyani Sabha Oru Padhanam) and Niranam Grandhavari.
By heeding to the above Last Commandment of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Apostles started off to all the known corners of the earth. Our Father,St Thomas- who at one point of time- openly expressed his willingness to ‘die along with Him’, came to India, considered at that time to be a mysterious land drowned in cultural darkness.
As per legend, St Thomas came by land to North India first and then travelled by sea to the South (Kerala) reaching Muchiri or Muziris near Chavakkad in AD 52. Consequential as well as historical evidences affirm that both the presumptions are true. Much before the arrival of St Thomas to South India (Kerala), many Jewish emigrations had taken place in the land where Jewish temples had already been established. Moreover, the ports in Kerala had trade relations with the Middle Eastern countries even before. Therefore, St Thomas had to confront with rather culturally enriched people in the South (Kerala), in contradiction to the people of other areas in India.
There is no clear evidence to assume or to believe that; St Thomas baptized Nampoothiris. But it would not have been difficult to introduce Jesus Christ to those Jews having a background of Mosai’c Laws from among the people living there influenced by Budha, Jaina and Jewish religions. Therefore it would be reasonable to believe that the Jews were the first converts who accepted Christianity through St Thomas. There are no references to the Brahmin race in any of the literary works of Kerala in the first 4 centuries.
According to tradition, St Thomas established seven and a half churches in Kerala. There are evidences that he would have established a church at Palur which became known as the Head Church later. Till the time when the Church expanded and Ankamaly became the centre, Chattukulangara – Palur church in the name of the Mother of God was the centre and Head Church of all Christians of Kerala. Some church historians are of the opinion that the word Malankara derived from “Malliankara”, where the Saint established the first church.
Later on, Apostle travelled by the eastern coast till China, proclaimed the Good News and came back. On his return, he attained martyrdom on Dec 21, AD 72 when he was pierced with a lance by fanatics on a hill (St Thomas Mount) near Mylapore in Madras. His bones were afterwards transferred to Eddessa (Urahai or Urfa in Modern Turkey) in AD 165. July 3rd is set aside as St Thomas day worldwide in commemoration of the incident.
In the second century, Panteneus, an Alexandrian High Priest, came to Malankara, combined the works of St Thomas and continued the gospel work initiated by him, as per records available at Alexandrian Church. It is also recorded in their history that he had seen a copy of the Gospel according to St Mathew written in Aramaic in Malankara. For about two centuries that followed, church had a slow voyage .The situation changed tremendously with the emigration of Cnai Thoma and group in AD 345 from Persia. Cnai Thomman, a very successful merchant and skilled personality, who brought great business development to the country, was greatly appreciated by the local authorities. Christians were awarded ‘Cnai Thomman Copper Plates’ by the rulers granting them 72 privileges.
During the period from 4th to 8th century known to the historians as “Sangha Kaalam”, many writings and scripts highlighting the religious concepts of Arya’s and Dravidian’s were successfully established. The most interesting part is that, all those books reflected the teaching and preaching of the “thorahs, proverbs, psalms,and gospels” of the old version Bible.
Many examples to prove this fact can be taken from “Thirukural, Chilappathikaram, Vanchikandam” etc.
But we, the orthodox christians still believes that; the arya-dravida religions are much ancient than that of ours; where as in fact it is not. A remarkable observation to this was extended by
J.J.Moris in his book “Religion and Faith in Sangha Kalam” published by Kerala History Association.
A second emigration under the leadership of “Sabariso”, arriving at Kollam in AD 823, also brought honor to the Christians who were given another set of Copper Plates entitling them for a number of privileges. It is almost similar to Cnai Thomman Copper Plates and known as “Thereesa Pally Copper Plates”. One must be aware of these privileges as these were awarded to people belonging to the higher social status and was also in recognition by the rulers; there by equalizing the Christians with the upper class Hindus in a cast ridden society existing at that time.
Christians were financially sound and also this higher social status enjoyed by them were the reasons for their excellence in the society till 13th century. In the meantime they selected a person from the illustrious Villiarvattam family and made him their ruler. He ruled his people with his head quarters in Kochi and was known as “King Thomma”. That was the beginning of the Villiarvattam dynasty. The dynasty came to an extinct later. It is believed that the crown and scepter of the last king were preserved and were gifted to Vasco Da Gama
There are clear evidences proving visits of Bishops and clergy from Persia who helped in maintaining faith of the church and emigrations continued till 17th century. Even today, Persian crosses and writings in Persian languages are evident in many of our old churches. It is a known fact that especially after 8th century, there had been many emigrations from Persia to escape persecutions. By then, Islam had emerged and was progressing in the Persian empire and other parts of middle east.
Christians had accepted their name as ‘Nazranees’ as a common name for their community. There was a total change in the course of Christian history by the arrival of Vasco Da Gama in 1498. Archedayakons from Pakalomattam family who were powerful handled the administrative affairs of the church while Bishops from Persia helped in the spiritual jurisdiction. Archadeyakon wielded so much power that he was looked upon as the unchallenged leader and symbol of all Christians.
The Syrian Christians -as they were also called due to the use of Eastern syriac language of the Persian church remained as one church under the able leadership of the Archadeyakons. The catholic bishops and priests who accompanied the Portuguese colonialisation considered the faith and practices in Malankara to be heretic. Two incidents that happened in 1599, viz, arrival of Bishop Menezes and Synod of Diamper gave great blow to the church, bringing it under the yoke of Roman Catholics in order to establish Catholic faith among Syrian Christians. This paved the way to the Coonen Cross Oath in 1653. An immediate after effect was that the then Archadeyakon was consecrated as Bishop with the name Marthoma I. There were at least 8 successors to him from Pakalomattam family who took up same title while assuming office till Marthoma IX.
The new generation should not be unaware of the persecutions and sacrifices that our church fathers had to undergo during the Portuguese period. We are really the inheritors and successors of those bold church fathers who proclaimed during the Coonen Cross Oath that, ‘we and our children will not have any contact with this sect as long as the sun and moon exist’.
Those who sided with the catholics were called “Pazhayakoottukar” since they continued to be under the Roman yoke which started off with the Synod of Diamper in 1599 continued for about 54 years till the oath at Coonen Cross. It is a contrast that those who deviated came to be known as “Pazhayakoottukar” After the Coonen Cross oath, Syriyan Christians came to be known as ‘puthenkoottukar’
The word puthenkoottukar should not be used or heard with such ease. The self Esteem of Malankara was getting lost, since we did not deviate from the spotless virgin faith handed over to us by St Thomas.
Soon after the oath at Coonen Cross, Marthoma 1 was enthroned by 12 priests which was a temporary arrangement and then regularized in later years. Mar Abdul Jaleel Gregorios from Jerusalem, came to Malankara in 1665 and regularized the consecration of Marthomma 1.That marked another important milestone in the history of the church since that was the first time Malankara came in direct contact with the Antiochean Orthodox church. The eastern syriac language (Chaldean syriac-the worship language of the Persian church) that had been in use from the beginning till the 17th century got replaced by western syriac, the worship language of the Antiochean church.
Arrival of the Dutch who were protestants by faith broke the horns of the Portuguese. Malankara Church had reasons to be jubilant. However, that state of affairs did not last long It is true that peace prevailed during the time of Dutch.
With the advent of the British East India Co, a new era started, which can be named as Missionary era or reformist era of Malankara Church which was very eventful. But one cannot deny the fact that there existed some beneficial elements too. The British had in their mind to spread protestant belief. To get materialized these effects they brought along with them the Low Church missionaries as well. By the time the British had strengthened their stand, the rule of the Pakalomattam Metrans had come to an end. Death of Marthoma VII and the enthronement of Marthoma VIII had stirred up controversies. Philipose Ramban and Malpan Pulikkottil Ittoop Ramban had objected to the consecration of Marthoma VIII. Representatives from about 55 churches met at Kandanad Church on Chingam 1st, 1809 and took some crucial decisions. Those decisions came to be known in history as Kandanadu padiyola.
The emergence of Kottayam Seminary (Old Seminary) was during the same period. It got materialized due to the strenuous efforts of Ittoop Ramban. It also coincided with the start of English education in Malankara. In 1815, the Seminary started functioning by getting 25 students enrolled. Later there was a legal battle between the missionaries and the Church leadership for the control and custody of the Seminary. The peace accord reached between the warring parties in 1840 is known as ‘Cochin Award’. A synod was convened in 1836 by Cheppad Mar Dionisious with the cooperation of Thozhiyoor Geevarghese Mar Coorilos at Mavelikkara basically to end the hostile interference of the reformists and to proclaim undoubtedly the rights and powers of the Malankara Church. The decisions of the synod were known as Mavelikkara Padiyola.
Although it was assumed that the Mavelikkara Synod would curtail the growth of reformists, what happened was to the contrary. Sickness of Mar Dionisious and the arrival of Palakkunnathu Mathews Mar Athanasius who had been excommunicated by him earlier, but who managed to get consecrated in a foreign country without the approval or consent of the Malankara Association, were issues that strengthened the reformists. In his old age, Mar Dionisius was subjected to accusations as well.
In 1852, Mar Athanasius was declared Malankara Metropolitan vide a Travancore Royal decree. However, Pulikkottil Ittoop Ramban (later Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionisius) who had vehemently objected his reformist ideas after years of hectic efforts became the Malankara Metropolitan and convened the famous Malankara Suriyani Association and Parumala Synod.
Actually the basic architect of the constitution of the church, which we call as the 1934 constitution was Mar Joseph Dionisius Pulikkottil. He was not only entrusted with protecting the Malankara church and its assets from the missionaries, but to ensure that
true Orthodox faith prevailed in the church and got protected. He had maintained a modern view in the administrative affairs and had an inclination to make it more democratic. He had in mind Mar Gregorios (Parumala Kochu Thirumeni) as his successor.
Parumala Thirumeni’s sudden and unexpected demise on Nov 2nd 1902, debilitated Mar Dionisius mentally and physically. However, we can be proud and jubilant that St Vattasseril Mar Geevarghese Dionisius who succeeded him worked with the spiritual power of Parumala Thirumeni and demonstrated the wisdom of Pulikkottil Thirumeni. During his tenure which was very eventful he had to withstand the Antiochene dissident group’s threats and accusation as well as indulge in court cases. He got the distinct status of a Saintly personality who set aside his whole life fighting for the freedom of the Church. The Church appropriately called him Malankara Sabha Bhasuran.
In 1912, as a result of his strenuous efforts, Catholicate was reestablished in Malankara. The former Catholicate prevalent in Tigris had become extinct. While we are at present preparing ourselves to celebrate the centenary of that historical event, we should be well aware of the trials and tribulations that the church fathers had to undergo.
Catholicoses of Malankara
The first Catholicos of Malankara was H.H. Baselios Paulose I who was enthroned on 17th Septemnber 1912 by H.H. Abdel Masiah Patriarch. He expired on May 2nd, 1913, after reigning for about seven and a half months. Since then the position was vacant for about 12 years. The second catholicate enthronement was also an acumen of the brilliance of St Vattasseril Thirumeni. H.H. Geevarghese I was installed as second Catholicos on April 30th 1925 at Niranam. He breathed his last on Dec 17th , 1928.
Baselios Geevarghese II was enthroned as 3rd Catholicos of Malankara on February 15th 1929. Peace was restored in Malanakara in 1958. Patriarch and Catholicose mutually accepted each other in accordance to the terms and conditions stipulated in 1934 constitution. The famous Puthencavu meeting was convened after the incident. He left for his heavenly abode on Jan 3rd, 1964.
H.H. Baselios AugenI who got enthroned on May 22, 1964 by H.H. Patriarch Yacoub III at Elia Cathedral, Kottayam. He participated in the conference of the Heads of Eastern Orthodox Churches at Adis Ababa in 1965. A portion of the relics of St Thomas was brought from Mosul to Malankara and was installed at Kottayam Catholicate Chapel by him. He expired on Dec 8, 1975.
H.H. Baselios Marthoma MathewsI became the fifth Catholicos of Malankara on Oct 27,1975. The name Marthoma was added to the name of Catholicos during his time. He visited Russia, brought the concept of Indian Orthodox Church and re constituted dioceses during his tenure. He expired on Nov 8, 1996.
H.H. Baselios Marthoma Mathews II was enthroned sixth Catholicos on April 29, 1991. The next day he consecrated 5 metropolitans. H.H. Baselios Marthoma Didimos I is the seventh Catholicos of Malankara.
Faith and Traditions
The Holy Church teaches about the One true Triune God. The Church has accepted the Nicene Creed and believes that the church is one, holy, apostolic and catholic. Church has adopted the stand that realization of Almighty is through the heavenly worship – The Holy Qurbana. In the Holy Qurbana all supplications have been incorporated that are required for human life. The Holy Qurbana is a time when all departed, living ones and those who are yet to be born join together. They are all remembered along with the rulers, authorities, nations, all religions, all tribes and the nature during the prayers. Therefore our worship is complete in all senses. We do not have the habit of issue based prayers. We are known as the rightly worshipping community since our prayers are complete. Fujairah St Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church and its members also form part and parcel of the rightly worshipping orthodox Syrian Christians worldwide.