Historical Divisions of Mar Thoma Nasranis

Historical Divisions of Nasranis (chart)

The Saint Thomas Christians of India, known as Mar Thoma Nasranis, simply Nasranis or Syrian Christians, are an ethnic Christian community that traces its origin to Apostolic times. Tradition says that the ancestors of Nasranis were baptised by Saint Thomas the Apostle, one of the disciples of our Lord Isho Mishiha (Jesus Christ). The language used in the liturgy by these Christians was East Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic – the language of our Lord. Since there were trade links between Malabar (South-West Coast of India) and Kingdoms of Middle East, Greek, Persian and Roman Empires, it was not difficult for Saint Thomas the Apostle to travel to Malabar in the first century. There are numerous evidences to show that there was active and continuous trade between the aforementioned Kingdoms even several centuries before Christ. Since Aramaic was the lingua franca of trade in Asia until the eighth century, it is plausible that there were Aramaic-speaking communities in Malabar in the first century. It is natural that St Thomas used Aramaic and it eventually became the liturgical language of Mar Thoma Nasranis.

Until the aftermath of Coonan Cross oath in 1653 AD, the Thomas Christians were united under a community head called Arkadiyokkan (Archdeacon or Jaathikku Karthavan) - "the head of the caste," bearing the title "Archdeacon and Gate of All India". The Archdeacon held all characteristics of a King or a modern secular leader. He was normally escorted by a group of Nasrani soldiers. By sending bishops (Methran) spiritual guidance was given by the Catholicos-Patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon-the Church of the East (CoE). Though there were occasions when more than one bishop from CoE was present in Malabar at the same time, there was only one Arkkadiyokkan-the head of the Church-made decisions for temporal matters of the Church. Bishops from CoE had the role to give spiritual guidance and they never intervened in the financial and communal matters of Mar Thoma Nasranis. Thus the Church in Malabar was united under the leadership of Arkadiyokkan until the aftermath of Coonan cross oath.

When traders from Portugal came from 1498 AD onwards, there were also Roman Catholic missionaries accompanying them. Relation between Mar Thoma Nasranis and Portuguese in the early years (until AD 1550s) of their visits were friendly since the Portuguese had to depend on the Nasranis for reasons of trade and military help. Gradually the power and influence of Portugal increased in India and they demanded power on the churches of Mar Thoma Nasranis, thinking that they could gain control on the spice trade. Portuguese managed to get support of the King of Kochi as well, a Kingdom that had supported them for several centuries. As a result Portuguese missionaries held a meeting in 1599 AD, which they call "Udayamperoor Sunhados". The so-called Sunhados declared the authority of Portuguese over the Church of Saint Thomas Christians and appointed a Bishop of Portuguese origin to govern the Malabar Church. Thus the Portuguese colonised the Church of Malabar that has apostolic origin. Fearing the cruel inquisition chambers and lack of support from even local Kings, our ancestors failed to respond to the Portuguese threat. The unfortunate divisions and decay of the Saint Thomas Christians began from this point onwards. Since then it was unfortunate events and further divisions among the Saint Thomas Christians.

By the end of sixteenth century the Portuguese had control of all major ports in Persia too. The officials in harbours of Persia were given instructions to block Bishops heading for India. The order was strictly executed and it was no longer possible to get Bishops from CoE. Even after the so-called Sunhados of Udayamperoor, the Saint Thomas Christians were united under the leadership of Arkadiyaokkan. Unlike the bishops from CoE who were only spiritual leaders, the Latin bishops began to forcefully exercise political and social authority on Mar Thoma Nasranis thereby reducing the freedom of Arkkadiyokkan and his assembly (Palli Yogam). Several Latin traditions were imposed on the Nasranis. Celibacy of priests, introduction of statues, Latinisation of liturgy etc. are few among them.

Fifty years after the so-called Sunhados of Udayamperoor, through the Coonan Cross oath, Nasranis revolted against the Portuguese in 1653 AD. This is an important event in the history of Nasranis. However, the events after the revolt were not positive; Nasranis split into two factions and in the later centuries into many more denominations. At present they are divided into seven denominations. A pictorial representation of these divisions is given above.

The so-called Udayamperoor Sunhados

On June 20, 1599, for commandeering obedience to the supreme Bishop of Rome, the Portuguese Archbishop Menezes of Goa summoned a synod at Udayamperoor. They sought the help from the Rajah of Kochi (Cochin). The Rajah of Kochi and local Hindu Chieftains threatened those who refused to attend the Sunhados, as commanded by the Portuguese. The Rajah had even declared that all assets of Mar Thoma Nazrani Churches that stay away from the Sunhados would be forfeited. The delegates (153 priests and 660 faithful), headed by Archdeacon Giwargis d'Sleeva (George of the cross), who attended the Sunhados were forced to accept the decrees read out by the Archbishop Menezes as the military of Portuguese and Kochi Rajah surrounded the Church. Thus Mar Thoma Nasranis were subjugated under the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Goa. A Church that had origins from Saint Thomas the Apostle with unrestricted jurisdiction became a mere suffragan under the Latin archdiocese of Goa.

Under the disguise of subjecting the Nasrani Church to the Pope of Rome, what Dom Menezes actually did was to subject the Mar Thoma Nasranis to the authority and jurisdiction of Goa. He tactfully endeavoured to eliminate Bishops sent by the CoE Patriarch of Babylon who gave spiritual guidance to the Nasranis. To achieve this, a false impression that the CoE Patriarch was Nestorian and therefore, a "heretic" and "opposed to Rome”. This impression was inculcated in the minds of the Nasranis. Dom Menezes was successful in this deceitful.

Here we should remember the division of the Church of East (CoE) and the creation of the Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate of Babylon. Due to difference in opinion about the hereditary succession of Patriarchal position in the CoE, Monk Yohannan Sulaqa in 1552 AD, went to Rome to be consecrated and installed Patriarch. Pope Julius III installed him as Patriarch in 1553 AD. His successors till the end of the sixteenth century were 'Abdiso' (1555-1571), 'Aithalla' (1578-1580), and 'Denha Simon' (1581-1600). Abdiso visited Rome and obtained confirmation and the Pallium. Aithalla owing to old age could neither visit Rome, nor did he get confirmation from Rome before his death. Denha Simon got confirmation and the Pallium from Rome. It was this Patriarch who was in open communion with Rome that was condemned by Dom Menezes as “heretic” in the Udayamperoor Sunahados. Since the arrival of Mar Yousef Sulaqa, the brother of Yohannan Sulaqa, in Malabar in 1555 AD as a prelate, the Malabar Church became in direct communion with the Church of Rome.

It is also worth mentioning few more facts about the relation that the CoE and the Mar Thoma Nasranis had with the Latin Catholic Church of Rome. Because the Church of the East was located inside the Persian Empire and further East, it had the independence to ordain bishops without informing any of the other Christian Patriarchates, all of whom were located inside the Roman Empire. This privilege was in existence by the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. In 410 AD the bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon took the title of Catholicos-Patriarch and became the Head CoE.

However there were many dialogues between the Church of the East and that of Rome (in AD 1247 by Patriarch Sabrisho V and by Mar Jaballaha III in 1288).  Moreover during the time of crusades, many cultural exchanges happened. Rabban Sauma and Monk Markose went to Rome and celebrated the East Syriac Qurbana there and made a deposition to the Pope "With the pardon of my faults and sins which I have received thee, O Father, I desire of thy fatherliness, O' Holy Father that I may receive communion from thy hands, so that I may have complete forgiveness."

Pope Julius III said that the discipline and liturgy of the Chaldeans had already been approved by his predecessors, Nicholas I (858-867), Leo X (1513-1521) and Clement VII (1523-1534) at the time of confirming of Yohannan Sulaqa as Chaldean Patriarch in 1553 AD. The same letter also mentions the former Patriarch, Simon Mama, of good memory, as Patriarch of the Christians in Malabar.

Moreover, at least a faction of CoE had communication with and sometimes even influences from, the Latin Church. For example, the Mysteries of ancient Church of the East are unique. It presents an alternative list of sacraments with distinct theology, which exist alongside the sacramental theologies of Greek and Latin Churches. Later in fourteenth century, one can see a list of seven Mysteries. This is due to the interaction of Church of East with Latin Church through missionaries. The Dominican missionary Rocoldo de Monte preached in the Churches of Baghdad in 1290 AD.

From the documentary evidences, one cannot say that Mar Thoma Nasranis had ever rejected the Primacy of the Pope. Some authors consider it as an advantage to portray that Nasranis were part of the Catholic Church since beginning of Christianity. There is no clear evidence to show the relation between the see of Rome and the Church of Nasranis prior to the arrival of Mar Joseph Sulaqa in Malabar. Nevertheless one can definitely say that Nasranis were subjects of Pope at the time of the Sunhados since it was after more than 40 years of Catholic communion!! Considering these, we can conclude that the Sunhados was conducted not to correct the schism of Mar Thoma Nasranis, but to gain control of their Church and thereby monopolise the trade and power in Indian territories.

Coonan cross Oath and aftermath events

The frustration of the St. Thomas Christians reached its zenith in 1653 with the 'Coonan cross oath'. The Coonan Cross Oath was the revolt by Nasranis against the Portuguese as a result of the dominance that they have exerted on the Church of Nasranis since the so-called Synod of Udaymperoor in 1599. It took place on 3 January 1653 at Mattancherry in Cochin. At the time of Coonan cross oath, only 400 out of 3,00,000 Saint Thomas Christians stood with the Portuguese missionaries (Jesuits). Result of the Coonan Cross oath was that an Independent Church under the leadership of the Arkkadiyokan was formed.

Twelve Kathanaars of Nasranis consecrated Arkkadiyokan as a Metropolitan at Edappalli on 22 May 1653. Kalliseril Anjilimoottil Itty Thomman Kathanaar, Kaduthuruthy Kadavil Chandy Kathanaar, Angamaly Vengoor Giwargis Kathanaar and Kuravilangad Palliveettil Parampil Chandy Kathanaar were appointed as his advisors.

After the oath the Portuguese missionaries attempted for reconciliation with Nasranis. They failed as the Archdeacon and other leaders were not interested in any type of negotiations. Therefore the Portuguese missionaries informed Rome the issue. Rome sent Carmelite Missionaries under the leadership of Fr Joseph Maria in AD 1657, and Fr Vincent of Hyacinth in AD 1658 for reconciliation with Mar Thoma Nasranis. The Portuguese missionaries succeeded in convincing a group of Nasranis, including Palliveettil Chandy Kathanaar and Kadavil Chandy Kathanaar that the consecration of Arkkadiyokan as metropolitan was not legitimate. When the illegitimacy of the consecration of Arkkadiyaokkan gained publicity, the Arkkadiyaokkan started loosing his followers. Carmelite delegate Joseph Maria returned to Rome and got consecration from Pope as the Bishop of Mar Thoma Nasranis as Joseph Sebastiani 1659.  Sebastiani was able to win 40 churches within a year. By 1663, another 44 Churches came under the obedience of Rome and only 32 remained with the Arkkadiyaokkan.

In 1663, the Dutch defeated the Portuguese and declared that, all Portuguese missionaries had to leave Malabar. For this reason Sebastini who was leading the negotiations, had to leave Malabar immediately. Before leaving he consecrated Palliveettil Chandy Kathanaar as the Bishop of Saint Thomas Christians and Vicar Apostolic of the Archdiocese of Angamali on 1 February 1663. The community was thus divided into two factions: one, under the leadership of Palliveettil Chandy Methraan, with a legitimate Bishopric consecration and the other under the leadership of Arkkadiyaokkan or Mar Thoma I, without a legitimate Bishopric consecration. These two groups later became to be known as Pazhayakoor (old alliance, those who continued the alliance with Rome) and Puthenkoor (new alliance, those who rejected the authority of Rome). Illegitimate Bishopric consecration of Mar Thoma I made it easy for Palliveettil Chandy Methraan to win more people to his side.

Pazhayakoor faction

Knowingly or unknowingly Carmelites succeeded in dividing the community. Also they won in removing the historical title of Arkkadiyokan from Pazhayakoor faction-the group that continued their alliance with Rome. They appointed a bishop for Pazhayakoor, who traditionally for Nasranis was taking care of spiritual matters only. Some argue that it was only Portuguese who gave a native bishop for the Nasrani community. However, there are several circumstantial evidences from the early centuries to prove that there were native bishops for Mar Thoma Nasranis. Moreover it was not due to their generosity, but due to the political situation that the Portuguese allowed to consecrate an indigenous Bishop for Pazhayakoor.

It was only due to the political situation that the Pazhayakoor faction got a native bishop Palliveettil Chandy Methraan. Otherwise Sebastini would have continued in his position. It is interesting to note that Rome tactfully did not continue the indigenous bishopric of Malabar after the death of Palliveettil Chandy Methran in 1687 AD. If they were sincere, we would have seen more indigenous bishops immediately after the death of Palliveettil Chandy Methraan. The Church had to wait until 1896 AD to get their first indigenous bishop, although the original see of the Church (Angamaly) was suppressed to wipe out any trace of an independent Church with unrestricted jurisdiction.

The Pazhayakoor faction was never happy with the ecclesial support they received from the Latin delegates who continued imposing more Latin traditions that were foreign to the Malabar Christians. Also, there were instances of European Latin missionaries’ illtreatment on Nasrani priests and laymen. One such priest, Ikkako Kathanar of Edapally was kidnapped and brutally murdered by the Carmelites at Varappuzha. Four priests including Kariyattil and Paremmakkil Kathanaars undertook a dangerous trip to Rome after assembly of Nasranis at Angamaly. Although Kariyattil was appointed as the archbishop of Malabar, he failed to reach Kodungallur. He had died in the custody of Portuguese in Goa. It is alleged that he was assassinated. Rome or Latin delegates in India never bothered to replace the position of Mar Kariyattil. Kariyattil was also authorised to oversee the reunion of Puthenkoor. The Latins sabotaged all re-union efforts.

If the line of Palliveettil Chandy Methran was continued immediately afterwards, or Kariyattil had an immediate successor after his death, the alliance of Pazhayakoor faction with Rome would have been meaningful and the reunion with Puthenkoor faction would have become a reality.

In accordance with the Angamaly Padiyola, later centuries also Pazhayakoor faction sent petitions in large volumes to the Chaldean Patriarch. In response to some attempts, two bishops sent by the Chaldean Patriarch Joseph VI Audo, Mar Thomas Rocos (in 1862 AD) and Mar Mellus (in 1874 AD), reached Malabar. Both bishops managed get support from the faithful as they were eagerly waiting for prelates who followed their rite. However their arrival resulted in a division within Pazhayakoor faction.

Father Chavara Kuriakose, being a saintly person fell into the trap of the Latin prelates. Thus Mar Thoma Nasranis lost another opportunity to re-unite themselves to the Catholic Patriarch of CoE. Mar Rocos tried to win Father Chavara over, and offered him Bishop's position, but Father Chavara humbly refused the offer. On September 5, 1861, as a reply to Father Chavara's petition to Rome, a letter was received saying that Mar Rocos came to Malabar without the permission from Rome. Later, Patriarch Joseph VI Audo himself requested Mar Rocos to return back to Mesopotamia.

However pro-Rocos Pazhayakoor faction was not ready to return back to Latin delegates after Rocos went back. They sent a priest named Anthony Thondanat to the Chaldean Patriarch to consecrate him as a metropolitan. The Latin authorities in Mosul did not permit the Patriarch to consecrate a bishop for India. Eventually, the Assyrian Patriarch (non-Catholic faction of CoE) Mar Ruwel Shimun consecrated Mar Abdisho Thondanat Metropolitan in 1862 (the non-Catholic Patriarch) and this was the beginning of the Chaldean Syrian Church of the East (also known as Surais of Trichur).

During Mellusian schism, Rome sent a messenger to Malabar and followed by that, the Chaldean Patriarch had to call Mar Mellus back. Mellus, returned only by 1882 AD, but by the time of his return, he managed to get support from a sizeable number of Nasranis. When the news of Papal intervention spread in Malabar, a significant number of faithful returned back to being under the Latin delegates. The work of Mar Mellus enabled Mar Abdisho Thondanat to begin functioning as Metropolitan of India. In 1904 AD, they have received a confirmation from the Assyrian Church of East that their Episcopal ministration would be uninterrupted.

Eventually the Pazhayakoor faction received an indigenous bishop, but they did not continue the leadership of Archdeacon at any time in their history as a separate group. Moreover, in the later centuries their importance had again reduced to the status of a saffragan group under in the Bishopric of Varappuzha. The Carmelites who were in charge of the Church continued the process of Latinising. It was only in the late 19th century that Rome realised its “mistake” that they had latinised the Eastern churches (another example, Chaldean Church of Iraq) that accepted the alliance of Pope. It was late, because many of the native traditions and practices were wiped off by then. In 1887, Pope named the Church as "Syro-Malabar Church" and two independent vicariates (Kottayam and Thrissur) were formed. Prior to this they did not forget to suppress traditional see of Nasranis in Angamaly. Also, in 1886 AD, they created a new symbolic position called “Patriarch of East Indies” in Goa.

From the chart it can be seen that Syro-Malabar Church and Chaldean Syrian Church of the East have derived from the Pazhayakoor faction. Syro-Malabar Church is in full communion with the Rome. It is one of the 22 sui iuris Oriental Churches with its own particular characteristics in terms of worship, spirituality, theology and disciplinary laws. The head of the Syro-Malabar Church is the Major Archbishop. The Chaldean Syrian Church of the East is a metropolitan see of the Assyrian Church of the East. Its head is a metropolitan residing in Thrissur.

Puthenkoor Faction

From the chart given above, it can be seen that the Puthenkoor faction is divided into five Churches: The Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Mar Thoma Syrian Church, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, and Malabar Independent Syrian Church. Brief histories of undivided Puthenkoor faction and these Churches are given below.

After the united Malabar Church under Arkkadiyokkan got divided into the Puthenkoor and Pazhayakoor factions, former faction anxiously looked for getting the patronage of an Oriental Church. Their leader, Mar Thoma I who was consecrated by 12 priests immediately after the Coonan cross oath, contacted other oriental churches. In 1665 AD, Mor Gregorios, reached Malabar with the help of Dutch navigators. The Puthenkoor faction enthusiastically welcomed him, although he was following a rite that was foreign to Nasranis. Initially liturgy of Puthenkoor faction was not different from that of Pazhayakoor faction, i.e., East Syriac.  Later, the Dutch brought 3 Jacobite bishops from the Middle East and they introduced the West Syriac (part of Antiochene liturgy). West Syriac liturgy was introduced, but the writing system continued as East Syriac. Even after the introduction of West Syriac, East Syrian liturgy was not continued to be in use. By the fourth quarter of 19th century, Puthenkoor faction adopted West Syriac language and liturgical traditions. Thus, although through a gradual process, a new liturgical tradition has been introduced among Nasranis. This made it even more challenging for a re-union of the Nasrani Churches under a single head.

In 1772 AD, Mar Thoma VI had received ordination from the Jacobite Bishop, Mar Gregorios who visited Malabar. He accepted the new title Mar Dionysius. It is not clear why Mar Thoma VI received ordination again from Mar Gregorios as he received all holy orders (from first tonsure to Episcopal ordination), for the second time. Some claim that the predecessors of Mar Thoma VI might not have been really ordained. Therefore, the Episcopal ordination of the Mar Thoma I and his five successors is still in question since it is not clear whether Mor Gregorios had ordained Mar Thoma I.

First Split within Puthenkoor faction: Formation of Malabar Independent Mar Thoma Church

As mentioned above Mar Thoma VI had received ordination from the Jacobite Bishop, Mar Gregorios who visited Malabar. Due to private reasons, Mar Gregorios executed a second Episcopal ordination in secret in the Mulanthuruthy Church, elevating Rabban Kattumangatt Kurien as Mar Koorilos. The ordination took place without the consent or knowledge of other Bishops. However, strict interpretation of canon law indicates that the ordination was valid.

Mar Gregorios died in 1773 AD leaving all his assets to Mar Koorilos. Mar Koorilos was recognised by the Rajah of Cochin and he claimed jurisdiction of churches near Cochin area. Mar Dionysius found Mar Koorilos as a threat to the existence of his position. He approached the British Government for help and with the help of the Kochi Rajah Mar Diosynius jailed Mar Koorilos. Mar Koorilos succeeded in escaping from prison and withdrew from the area that was under control of the Rajah of Cochin. He established himself in Thozhiyoor, a small village under the control of Zamorin at the time. His Church later came to be known as Thozhiyoor Mar Thoma Church or Malabar Independent Syrian Church. The liturgical traditions followed by this Church are of West Syrian.

Second Split with Puthenkoor faction: Formation of Mar Thoma Syrian Church

In the later half of Eighteenth century, the British gained the control on parts of Malabar Coast. During this period, they gave an Anglican stamp to the Puthenkoor faction. Followed by the visit of Claudius Buchanan, they succeeded to win about 40 of the 150 priests from the Puthencoor faction and encouraged them to get married. In 1836 AD, the Anglican Bishop Wilson of Calcutta visited Malabar and proposed a number of reformatory actions to be taken by the Anglican sympathisers. To neutralise this, Mar Dionysius IV called for a synod at Mavelikara. At this synod, it was acknowledged that the Jacobite Church had jurisdiction over Malabar Church. Those who opposed the decisions of synod left the Church and joined the Anglicans. But this group itself was later divided. A group continued to stay with Anglicans while the other decided to stay with Puthencoor faction, but did not rejoin the mainstream. The leadership of latter group sponsored Deacon Mathew from among its followers and sent him to the Jacobite Patriarch who ordained him priest and then bishop. He returned back in 1843 AD to Malabar as Mathew Mar Athanasius and declared himself as the head of the Church.

Mar Dionysius had to defend his position. He publicly accused Mar Mathew Athanasius with embracing Anglicanism. On hearing this, the Patriarch sent Euyakim Mar Koorilos Metropolitan for in the role of trouble-shooter. Accepting the proposal of Mar Koorilos, Mar Dionysius resigned from his office. But this did not end the rivalry between the groups. Each groups competed for winning more adherents. Mathew Mar Athanasius passed on his Episcopal ordination to his nephew and he accepted the title Thomas Mar Athanasius. Meanwhile, Mar Koorilos sent one of his loyal priests to the Patriarch and got him ordained as Mar Dionysius V. In 1875 AD, Patriarch Peter III Ignatius visited Malabar. He realised that the popularity of his followers were decreasing because of Mathew Mar Athanasius. He excommunicated Mar Mathew Athanasius and Thomas Mar Athanasius. Soon, Mathew Mar Athanasius died and his successor Thomas Mar Athanasius challenged the power of Patriarch in the civil court. The court was in favour of the excommunication and from thereon, the followers of Thomas Mar Athanasius styled themselves as ‘reformed Jacobites’ or ‘reformed Orthodox’. They came to be known as Mar Thomites. At present Mar Thoma Syrian Church is a Church that is in communion with the Church of South India, the Church of North India, the Anglican Church and the Thozhiyoor Mar Thoma Church.

The Jacobite Syrian Christian Church and Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

The mainstream Puthenkoor faction currently operates as two independent Churches: Jacobite Syrian Christian Church and Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. The dispute between them is still going on and therefore a short description their historical events are treated under the same heading as given below.

In 1906 AD, a Jacobite Synod or the Government of Turkey dismissed Patriarch Abdel-Messih and installed Abdalla in his place. In 1909, Patriarch Abdalla visited Malabar and claimed his power on the temporalities of the Church as well. However, Mar Dionysius VI challenged the claim of the patriarch. As a result, the Patriarch excommunicated Mar Dionysius VI and nominated Mar Kurilos as his successor. The excommunicated group of Mar Dionysius VI invited Patriarch Abdel-Messih to Malabar. Upon his arrival, he created bishops and elevated the most senior among them, Paulose Mar Ivanios, as the Catholicos of the East. He also authorised his supporters from Malabar to ordain Catholicos whenever the office fell vacant. This in effect, allowed the relocation of the post of a Patriarch to Malabar.

Meanwhile in 1930 AD, a group of Puthenkoor members submitted themselves to Rome under the leadership of Mar Ivanios. The effort for reunification started with the consent of his fellow bishops, but in the end he was left alone with his suffragan Mar Theophilos.

The group that recognised the power of Patriarch is popularly known as 'Bava Kakshi' or 'Patriarch’s party'. The group that attribute the power of patriarch on only spiritual matters only is known as ‘Bishop’s Party’ or ‘Methraan Kakshi’. Since early twentieth century, the two groups are fighting each other in Indian civil courts. Both groups won and lost alternatively. Several attempts for settling the issues between the groups occurred, but none was successful. In 1959, Supreme Court of India legitimised into Bishop’s party. This verdict enabled both groups to come to reconciliation. In 1974, Bishop’s party stayed away from a Synod held in Damascus. The synod decided to terminate the position of Catholicos and other heads. However it was difficult to implement the decisions of the synod in the far away land Kerala, an alternative arrangement was made. The patriarch’s party also was granted a position of Catholicos. Since then, both groups operate separately.

Syro-Malankara Catholic Church

Syro-Malankara Church was derived from Puthenkoor faction and therefore its history until its foundation is the same as that of Jacobite Syrian Church. Separate history of this Church starts with the reunion of a group of Puthankoor to the Pazhayakoor through their communion with Catholic Church. Since the separation of Malabar Church in 1663, there were several attempts for reunification. However, none were fruitful and in 1930 AD, a group of Puthenkoor members submitted themselves to Rome under the leadership of Mar Ivanios. The effort for reunification started with the consent of his fellow bishops, but in the end he was left alone with his suffragon Mar Theophilos. In 1932, a new hierarchical setup was designated as “Syro-Malankara Church”. The Church continued their West Syrian liturgical tradition that they received during their communion with Jacobite Church. The Syro-Malankara Church also constitutes those priests and laity who joined the Catholic Church along with the leadership of Paulos Mar Philexenos III (the head of Malabar Independent Syrian Church of the time) in 1977 AD.

Nasranis of Other Denominations

It should be mentioned also here that a number of Nasranis are part of Latin Catholic Church, Church of South India and numerous Pentecostal movements. Some Syro-Malabar churches were taken over by the Latin dioceses since the arrival of Portuguese. Arthumkal, Koonamavu etc. are few examples. Church of South India has a diocese that is exclusive for Nasranis and they are in full communion with Mar Thoma Syrian Church. During the past few decades a number of Pentecostal movements have gained significant growth in Kerala, particularly in the Northern districts. This is partly due to the fights within the Churches.

Summary and Conclusions

The attempts of the Latin missionaries to dominate and latinise the Apostolic Nasrani community of Malabar eventually resulted in numerous divisions and gradual decay of the Nasrani's ancient way of life and their liturgical practices (East Syriac rite).

The Syro-Malabar Church is the largest denomination of the Nasrani community. This Church is struggling against Latinisation while desperately clinging on to whatever is remaining of the ancient East Syriac rite that was once common to all Mar Thoma Nasranis. They did not continue the historical position of Arkadiyokkan, the title that once reflected their pride and independence of Nasranis.

The Syro-Malabar Church is in communion with the Latin Church of Rome. The Latin hierarchy prevents the Church from establishing new dioceses or even provide pastoral care to its migrants outside the proper territory which is mostly limited to Kerala. This is the fate of a Church with Apostolic origins and whose Metropolitans and Archdeacons once had the Titles of 'Director of the See of Saint Thomas' and 'Archdeacon of All India' respectively!

The Puthenkoor faction of the Nasranis, eventually gave up their ancient East Syriac rite and adopted the West Syrian (Antiochian) rite of the Jacobites. The Jacobites were brought into the scene by the Dutch and after re-union attempts with the Pazhayakoor faction failed, the Puthenkoor eventually accepted the new rite. The historical title Arkkadiyokkan was renamed into the "Throne of Mar Thoma", the metropolitan of the Church, although its traditional meaning has diluted. This title "Mar Thoma" at present is followed by Mar Thoma Syrian Church and Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.

Tensions grew within the Jacobite community over the level of authority of the Jacobite Patriarch into the matters of their Church in India. This led to further divisions in the Jacobite community and today two major factions are literally fighting on the streets to gain control of each other's property.

Whatever the reasons for divisions, it caused the degradation of Mar Thoma Nasranis. Most of the divisions were due to power struggles among the leaders. The laymen of ancient Nasranis had significant role in Church-related matters. At present, Syro-Malabar Church members are not aware about their own rich traditions and struggles of ancestors to preserve their identity. The leaders of various factions and denominations are responsible for the ignorance of their people and do not take up attempts for unity of the Nasrani Churches seriously. We, the members of the Syro-Malabar Church have the most ancient practices and faithful liturgy of Mar Thoma Sleeha. Therefore it is our collective responsibility to preserve our unique identity. Let us work and pray for the unity of Nasranis.

The author can be reached at sungeoal 'at' gmail 'dot' com.

Selected Bibliography

B. Vadakkekara (2007) Origin of Christianity in India: a historiographical critique, Media House Delhi.

J. Thekadathu (1972) The troubled Days of Francis Garcia S. J. Archbishop of Cranganore (1641-1659)

C. J. Costa, (2009) Apostolic Christianity in Goa and in the West Coast, Pilar Goa, Xaverian Publication Society.

M. T. Antony (2009) Catalogue of ancient Nasrani Churches, their affiliations and population statistics in the background of division and attempts of Reconciliation – A review of Literature, NSC Network, www.nasrani.net, accessed on September 14, 2011.

A. E. Medlycott (2005) India and the Apostle Thomas: an inquiry, with a critical analysis, Gorgias Press 2005.

P. Maniyattu (Ed.) (2007), East Syriac Theology, an introduction, Ephrem's Publications, Satna.

P. Malekandathil (2008) St. Thomas Christians: A Historical Analysis of their Origin and Development up to 9th Century AD, from St.Thomas Christians and Nambudiris Jews and Sangam Literature: A Historical Appraisal, edited by Bosco Puthur.


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