Catholicos is the title used by head bishops of regions within the Patriachate of Antioch having self ecclesiastical and autonomus status from the ancient period. The word "Catholicos" means "Universal".

There existed 4 Catholicates within the Patriarchate of Antioh:
1. Catholicate of Echmiadzin
2. Catholicate of East
3. Catholicate of Iberia
4. Catholicate of Caucasian Albania

'Catholicos of the East' was/is the head of the Syrian Church which comprised the region once formed Persian Empire and to the East of that empire. Syriac Churches which includes the Assyrian Churches of Persia, the Chaldean Church and the Orthodox Syrian Church of India, which is also known as the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church or the Indian Orthodox Church calims the lineage of this Catholicate. These Churches believe that Apostle St. Thomas was first in the succession of Catholicoi of the East followed by Saint Mari and then Saint Addai. Later this bishoporic was elevated as a Catholicate by the Patraichate in 410 AD.



Christianity has had a presence in India since its inception in the early centuries. Church tradition holds that St. Thomas the Apostle initially brought Christianity to India in AD 52 and was martyred in Mylapore, now in the modern state of Tamil Nadu. Tradition holds that priests were ordained in seven localities. Pantaenus, the leader of the Alexander Theological school, visited India and found an active Christian Community there in 190 A.D.


In 431, the Council of Ephesus condemned the teachings of Nestorius, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople. After the council, a significant portion of the Church in Persia nevertheless adopted Nestorian teachings concerning the nature of Christ.

In 544, Theodosius, the Patriarch of Alexandria, ordained Bishop Mar Jacob Baradaeus for the expansion of a Syriac Church weakened by Byzantine persecution subsequent to the Council of Chalcedon. In 559, Mar Jacob visited the east and consecrated a Catholicos for Orthodox Christians who accepted the Council of Ephesus and rejected the Council of Chalcedon. Mar Jacob himself was ordained a general bishop by Patriarch Theodosius of Alexandria.


The Indian Orthodox Church holds that the Catholicate was originally instituted by St. Thomas the Apostle, en route to India. The Synod of Markabata, presided over by Catholicos Dadyeshu, confirmed the independence of the Persian church. The Synod proclaimed:

"By the word of God we define: The Easterners cannot complain against the Patriarch to western Patriarchs; that every case that cannot be settled in his presence must await the judgement of Christ...(and) on no grounds whatever one can think or say that the Catholicos of the East can be judged by those who are below him, or by a Patriarch equal to him he himself must be the judge of all those beneath him, and he can be judged only by Christ who has chosen him, elevated him and placed him at the head of his church."

The church recognizes that the Catholicate was briefly brought under the Patriarchate of Antioch, during the Nestorian Persecution and reduced to the position of a 'Maphriyan,' roughly similar to an Arch-Metropolitan, or the Catholic post of "Major Archbishop."

Council of Capharthutha

Even after such reduction of the see, the conflicts between the Patriarch and Maphriyan resulted in the Council of Capharthutha in February 869. This assembly codified eight canons dealing with the Patriarch and the Maphrian of Tigris that the bishops and the monks in the Mar Mathai's Monastery, should submit to and obey the Maphrian whose seat is in Tigris, that the Patriarch should not interfere in the administration of the Church in Tigris, unless when invited. In the same way the maphrian should not interfere in the Patriarchal See.

Also, when the Maphrian is present along with the Patriarch of Antioch, he should be seated immediately at the right hand side of the Patriarch. The name of the Maphrian shall be mentioned immediately after that of the Patriarch, in the liturgy; and he should receive the Holy Qurbana after the Patriarch. When a Maphrian is alive, a Patriarch should not be installed without his concurrence, otherwise, the orientals shall have the right to install the Maphrian by themselves. The question of who should perform the laying on of hands on the new Patriarch - ie, the Maphrian or the President of the Synod, shall be decided by four bishops, two each elected by the orientals and the westerners (Antiochan) respectively.

Other articles include agreement that the mutual excommunications between the orientals and the Antiochans shall be withdrawn, and that a bishop excommunicated by the Maphrian shall also be considered as excommunicated by the Patriarch.

From this can be seen the authority the Patriarch had over the East Syriac Church from these canons, even though the Maphrian probably swore allegiance and obedience to the Patriarch at the time of his ordination. Such oaths were interpreted in the context of these canons. There was no way the Patriarch could practically exercise authority over the Maphriyan's see.

Middle Ages

According to one of the Maphriyans, Mar Gregorios Bar Ebraya (Bar Hebraeus), Apostle Thomas is the first in the Apostolic succession of the East. Bar Ebraya believed that the Eastern Church was an integral part of the Antiochian Church, due to the historical context of the time in which he lived. He defended his rights, as dictated by the church canons. In 1238, the West Syrians installed Mar Philexnos as Patriarch without the concurrence or participation of Bar Ebraya. When Patriarchal delegates arrived at his monastery with apologies, he refused to receive them, rebuking them for their neglect of the canons. The Church in India and the Syriac Church of the East in Persia remained in one faith for many years.

Modern history

The Church believes that this Catholicate, which is in the succession of Apostle Thomas, was re-located to India in 1912 due to the efforts of Ignatius Abdul Masih II, the Patriarch of Antioch and Vattaserill Mar Dionysius, the Malankara Metropolitan. Since the Indian church was under the Ancient Catholicate of Persia, and can be seen as the only remaining part of the Persian church, it is logical for the Catholicate to reside in India.

There have been six Catholicoi in direct succession since establishing the Catholicate of the East in India. The Catholicos has jurisdiction over the dioceses and churches in most parts of India as well as in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Europe, South Africa, Persian Gulf nations, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

The current Catholicos of the Indian Orthodox Church is Catholicos Baselios Mar Thoma Didymos I.[1]

Controversy over legitimacy

The Indian Orthodox Church view is that the Catholicate of the East is autocephalous and in the legitimate succession of St. Thomas the Apostle. This term "throne of St.Thomas" used by the Catholicos is a reference to the church's apostolic origin and heritage. It is not a title that was recently coined by the church. Indian prelates have used it for centuries. For example, the Vatican codex 22 written in Cranganore,1301 AD mentions "Mar Jacob, Bishop Metropolitan, prelate and ruler of the Holy See of the Apostle St. Thomas, namely, our ruler and (the ruler) of the entire Holy Church of the Christians of India." Again, in 1830, when Chepaud Mar Dionysius gave Mar Coorilos of Thozhiyur an Encyclical, it proclaimed that it was ``From Metropolitan Philipose, known as Dionysius, shepherd to the lambs and ewes of Christ in Malayalam under India, father to the Jacobite Christian community, and seated on the throne of our blessed apostle St Thomas…" In light of such evidence, claims that the Thomasine title was "recently fabricated" by Indian Orthodox leadership is ridiculous. Indeed, it is amazing to see to what lengths the Syrian Orthodox Leadership went to crush this title, which in itself demanded the Malankara Church's autocephaly. In the brief peace and unity of 1958, Letters of mutual acceptance were exchanged between the Patriarch and the Catholicos. When the church was unified, all Metropolitans of the Patriarchal group handed in letters of obedience to the Catholicos of the East. The letter of one of them, Paulose Mar Philexinos, mentioned that "I solemnly submit that I will follow the canons of the Church, the Constitution in force, and the directions of Your Holiness.."

In a speech thereafter, the same Mar Philexinos said "We shall remain under the banner of the Catholicate till the moon and stars last. This Catholicate will exist for all time to come. May God Almighty be pleased that we all will stand united under the leadership of this Catholicos who graces the throne.I do not mean political or temporal matters. We have now the privilege of witnessing for our Lord unitedly under the stewardship of one Head. May this unity serve as a signal to all other Churches of India to fall in line under this common Father. We, Metropolitans, will hand in hand serve under the Holy throne of the Catholicate."

Mar Philexinos later led the schismatic Jacobite group that again broke away from the unified church, and was ordained as Paulos I, the first rival Catholicos.

In the exchange of letters, Geevarghese's letter said that he was "seated on the Throne of the East of Apostle St. Thomas." The Patriarch made no objection at that time. Later, during the reign of Mar Baselios Augen, the Catholicos attended the Oriental Orthodox Conference in Addis Ababa, at which the same Patriarch, Ya'kub was present. The Catholicos was addressed as "The catholicos of the ancient see of St. Thomas." Again, there were no objections from Patriarch Yakub. Later, when Augen sent a letter to the Patriarch, in which he named himself as "Catholicos of the apostolic throne of St.Thomas." The Patriarch responded thus:

"...Sometime before your communication I was astonished to read another letter carrying the title `the throne of St Thomas'. Truth be told, ever since the Catholicate was established in the 4th century CE, no catholicos or Maphryan has ever used such a title. Second, the apostle St Thomas has never founded any throne that can be referred to as the throne of St Thomas. As is clear from the Gospel according to St John (20: 21- 24), St Thomas had not been ordained a priest. Without being even a priest, how did he become a high priest? Without being a high priest, how did he establish a throne?…"

The Indian church believed that in this letter, the Patriarch had defied the very Priesthood of St. Thomas in his efforts to deny the Indian church it's Apostolic heritage. This claim that "St.Thomas had not been ordained a priest" would be condemned as heresy by any Orthodox opinion. It is to be noted that the various sources within the Syriac Church have claimed afterwards that the Patriarch did not necessarily reflect the views of the church in that statement.

According to the view of the Malankara Orthodox Church, the Malankara Jacobites Church is a schismatic group which separated in 2002 with a new constitution adopted in the same year against the constitution of 1934. The head of the Malankara Jacobite Church was elected without the permission of the Malankara Association, the largest assembly of the Malankara Church which consisted primarily of lay and priest representatives from Indian Orthodox parishes. The schism started as early as 1970 when Patriarch Yakub III tried to intervene in internal administrative affairs of the Malankara Church and appointed a Syrian delegate violating both the constitution and canons of the Church. A legal entity was organized as the Malankara Jacobite Church by the Syrian delegate and Jacobite bishops who did not accept the Indian Orthodox view. It is disturbing to note that a new trend among Syriac scholars, possibly as a result of closer association with the Roman Catholic Church, is to address their primate as "Prince Patriarch of Antioch," and their Church as the "Universal Syriac Orthodox Church." Articles that contain teachings incredibly similar to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Petrine supremacy such as this one[2] and this one[3] have also begun to surface and are being passed off as "Orthodox" teachings. When the original Persian Catholicate was reduced to Maphriyana and brought under the 'jurisdiction' of the Syrian Patriarch, many Maphriyanas were ordained to the Patriarchate.


The Church is in the Oriental Orthodox family following the Orthodox faith of the three Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus.

The chief primate of the Indian Orthodox Church is called "the Catholicos of the East, Catholicos of the Apostolic throne of St. Thomas, and the Malankara Metropolitan": two titles with separate responsibilities, but always held by the same individual in accordance with the constitution of the Church adopted in 1934.

As Catholicos of the East, he consecrates bishops for the Indian Orthodox Church, presides over the synod, declares and implements its decisions, conducts the administration on behalf of the synod, and consecrates the Holy Mooron (oil).

As Malankara Metropolitan, he is the head of the Malankara Church, the President of the Malankara Syrian Christian Association and the Managing Committee. The prime jurisdiction regarding the temporal, ecclesiastical, and spiritual administration of the Indian Orthodox Church is vested in the Malankara Metropolitan subject to the provisions of the Church constitution adopted in 1934.

Lineage Of Catholicos

Refer to List of Catholicos of the East.


External references