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Catholicos of the East

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Catholicos is a title used by Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches to denote the head of a Church or a dignitary of the highest order. There are two perspectives from each of two churches.

One is that of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Indian Orthodox Church). The other represents the viewpoint of the Syriac Orthodox Church and its local body, the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church.

Each of these primates administer approximately 2 million faithful. The Syriac Orthodox Church, including the Indian Orthodox Church, includes perhaps 2.5 million members worldwide.

Viewpoint of the Indian Orthodox Church (Malankara Orthodox Church.)


Catholicos is the title of the primates of various Apostolic churches traditionally used outside the Byzantine empire. The word "Catholicos" means "Universal".

The Catholicos of the East is the head of the Eastern Syriac Churches. Eastern Syriac Church 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. It is a tradition for these Churches to believe that Apostle St. Thomas was the first in succession of Catholicoi of the East. The Syriac Orthodox Church claims to have "established" the Catholicate in 410, to administer to the spiritual needs of Christians in the area. The minutes of the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (also known as Synod of Mar Issac), however, tell a different story. This synod was convened in 410 AD, under the presidency of Mar Isaac, the Archbishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. It conferred the title "Catholicos" on the Archbishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon and made him the head of the bishops of the east.

Christianity has had a significant presence in India since its inception in the early centuries. Church tradition holds that St. Thomas the Apostle initially brought Christianity to India in 52 AD and was martyred in Mylapore, a place in current Tamil Nadu state. 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 AD.


The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church believes that Apostle Thomas founded the Church in India, a tradition strongly held by the Church from ancient times. 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 Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (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.

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, dispelling any doubts. 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 does recognize 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".

Even after such reduction of the see, the conflicts between the Patriarch and Maphriyan resulted in the Council of Capharthutha in February 869 AD. This assembly codified 8 canons dealing with the Patriarch and the Maphrian of Tigris. The canons are given below:

  1. The bishops and the monks in the Mar Mathai's Monastery, should submit to and obey the Maphrian whose seat is in Tigris.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The Archdiocese of Kurdu, Beth-Sabdaya and also Najran, provided, the Arabs agree to it, shall vest with Tigris administration.
  6. The mutual excommunications between the orientals and the Antiochans shall be withdrawn.
  7. A final decision was taken about the three bishops consecrated by the Patriarch in the see of the Maphrian.
  8. A bishop excommunicated by the Maphrian shall also be considered as excommunicated by the Patriarch.

One can see just how much 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.

According to one of the most famous Maphriyans, Mar Gregorios Bar Ebraya (Bar Hebraeus), Apostle Thomas is the first in the Apostolic succession of the East. Bar Ebraya did believe 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 did, however, vigorously defend 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. In 431, the Council of Ephesus condemned the teachings of Nestorius, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople. After the Ecumenical council of Ephesus, a significant portion of the Church in Persia 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, 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 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 Baselios Mar Thoma Dydymos[1]

The Indian Orthodox Church view is that the Catholicate of the East is autocephalous and in the legitimate succession of St. Thomas the Apostle. The 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 stated that he was "seated on the Throne of the East of Apostle St. Thomas". Patriarch Ignatius Ya'qub III made no objections 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 III was present. The Catholicos was addressed as "The catholicos of the ancient see of St. Thomas". Again, there was no objection 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:

"...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 catholicoi 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 felt the Patriarch had defied the very Priesthood of St. Thomas in his efforts to deny the Indian church it's Apostolic heritage. 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 Jacobite Syrian Christian Church (Malankara Jacobite Syrian 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 Syrian 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 Ignatius Ya'qub III tried to intervene in internal administrative affairs of the Malankara Church and appointed a Syrian delegate which they held violated both the constitution and canons of the Church. A legal entity was organized as the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church by the Syrian delegate and Jacobite bishops who did not accept the Indian Orthodox view.

The Indian Orthodox were disturbed when they felt they detected a new trend among Syriac scholars to address their primate as "Prince Patriarch of Antioch", and their Church as the "Universal Syriac Orthodox Church". The Indian Orthodox felt that this move suggested a move towards Roman Catholicism[2][3] 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.

Lineage Of Catholicos

Syriac Orthodox Church's view

File:Catholica Bava.jpg

Catholicos of the East is the title of primates of various denominations currently or historically associated with the Syriac Orthodox Church, one among the group of Oriental Orthodox Churches. Nowadays the term Catholicos of India is the official title for the Catholicos/Maphrian of Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church (Jacobite Syrian Christian Church).


The Syriac Orthodox Church is a mother Church in Christendom.[4] The ancient seat of its Patriarchate, Antioch, was the third most prominent city in the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus. As the Holy Bible's Acts of the Apostles records, Christians were first so labelled in Antioch. The Apostles Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint Barnabas, and their disciples spent considerable time teaching there. The church historian Eusebius reports how Peter consecrated a successor in Antioch before travelling to Rome. This succession is believed to continue to the present, although the Patriarchal seat has been moved several times.

The Church continued through the time of Constantine I and beyond, sending missionaries into Asia Minor, Persia, India, and even to the border of China. Syriac Christianity has had direct influence in Southern India from at least the 4th century, supported by missionary activity and jurisdiction over "all the East" granted by the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Saint Thomas the Apostle, the first missionary to India, is venerated as India's Patron Saint.

As outlined below, the term Catholicos began to be employed in the church for a local hierarch with expanded territorial authority. The term means "universalist" or "generalist".

Over time, eastern and western Syriac traditions developed. East Syriac Churches which continue to employ the title "Catholicos of the East" include the Assyrian Churches of Persia and the Chaldean Church.

Two factions of the Oriental Orthodox Church in India, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (also known as the Orthodox Syrian Church of India or the Indian Orthodox Church) and the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church(also known as Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church) also employ the term "Catholicos" for their leaders.

Both of these groups are Western Syriac in liturgy and ethos. The Indian Orthodox is autocephalous. The Jacobite Syrian is in close hierarchical association with the Patriarch of Antioch, the supreme head of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Origins and development of the Catholicate in India

File:Hh ordination.jpg

As the political rivalries were great between the Roman and Persian Empires, the Syriac Church thought it wise to create a local head in Persia to facilitate communication to Christians under Roman rule. A "Catholicate of the East" was established in AD 410 by the Patriarch of Antioch and the Persian Synod under the auspices of Mar Marutha of Muipharqat, the Patriarchal delegate. Earlier, at least one other Persian bishop, Mar Papa, tried unsuccessfully to create a Catholicate. Mar Issac, bishop of Seleucia, became the first canonical Catholicos, empowered to exercise authority over the Church's Persian jurisdictions excluding India. When the Persian church embraced Nestorian beliefs (after A.D.431), the association between the majority of Persian Christians and the main body of Christendom was broken. Known now as the Assyrian Church, these Christians sought to better establish themselves by claiming that the Apostle Thomas not only evangelized their territories and ordained presbyters, but gave authority to specific successors to govern the Church. This teaching contradicted the teachings of Nicaea. To maintain Orthodoxy, patriarchs continued to ordain local Orthodox catholicoi.[5]


The office of the Syriac Orthodox Catholicate was officially abolished in the 1860s by the Synod presided over by Patriarch Ignatius Jacob II.

The title and concept was resurrected, re-located from Persia, and established in India by the then deposed[6] Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Abdul Masih II in 1912. The Persian Christians were not consulted, nor was the Synod of the Syriac Orthodox Church. At this time, Basileus Paulose I was consecrated the first Catholicos of what has become the Indian Orthodox Church at St. Mary's Orthodox Syrian Church, Niranam (Niranam Valiyapally).

This ordination and subsequent ecclesiastical succession was not accepted by the Syriac Orthodox Church, although some Malankara faithful chose to become "Indian Orthodox" over time. A reconciliation movement gathered momentum in the 1950s and culminated in the consecration of Mar Augen I by the Bishop's Synod presided over by the Patriarch Ignatius Ya'qub III (Jacob III), canonically establishing the Catholicate as the spiritual and temporal head of the Church in India under the Holy See of Antioch (1964) as it had been. The camps later split again in 1975 with Augen I favoring autocephaly and "Thomasine" hierarchical succession. See Mar Augen's oath of office along with pictures of his ordination below.

The Catholicate of the East was continued with the consecration of Mor Baselios Paulose II by Patriarch Ignatius Ya'qub III in 1975. After Baselios Paulose II's demise in 1996, the office remained vacant for several years to accommodate reconciliation attempts, which were unsuccessful.

In 2002 Baselios Thomas I was consecrated by Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas to be the local head of all Syriac Christians in India. Though most often called "Catholicos of the East", his official title was made Catholicos of India'.' due to the region of his jurisdiction. He functions at an ecclesiastical rank second only to the Patriarch, having the privilege to preside over the consecration of new patriarchs. The Catholicos has been greeted alongside the Patriarch at ecclesiastical and ecumenical functions, and hosted the Patriarch during a state visit to India in 2005.

This Catholicate is headquartered at Puthencruz, Kerala, India and functions in a similar manner to the Indian Orthodox Catholicate within India. The Catholicos of India presides over the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Association, the legal entity of Malankara parishes that supports remaining within the Antiochian Patriarchate. This entity, recognized by the High Court of Kerala, was formed in 2002 to guard against Indian Orthodox hierarchs claiming the property of parishes where Jacobite parishioners are the overwhelming majority.

The Catholicos is not authorized to consecrate Holy Mooron[clarification needed] independently. The jurisdiction of the Jacobite Catholicos is limited to India only, although he is often invited to preside over Jacobite functions abroad.

The Syriac Orthodox Church believes it is the mother Christian church in South India and that the Indian Orthodox Church is a schismatic faction. The Indian Orthodox Catholicate remains under excommunication for dividing the church — leading to numerous legal actions, boarded churches, and broken faith experiences.[7] The claim of autocephaly and Thomasine succession is especially onerous since both camps accept that Jacobite Petrine Patriarchs were involved in maintaining Indian ecclesiastical leadership, and as noted in both "viewpoints", it was a deposed Antiochian Patriarch that initially established the non-canonical Catholicate.

To underscore the point, the Supreme Court of India unequivocally declared that the Indian Orthodox Catholicate is part of the Syriac Orthodox Church and is not autocephalous in 1995. The current constitution of the Indian Orthodox Church (1934) continues to acknowledge the Patriarch of Antioch as that group's supreme head.

Lineage Of Indian Catholicos

Other Churches employing the title Catholicos

Besides the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, other churches employ the title "Catholicos", most notably:

Eastern Orthodox
Eastern Catholic

See also


  1. Catholicos India site
  4. "Syriac" here refers to the language of Aramaic, a dialect of which was spoken by Jesus Christ
  5. this exposition.
  6. T.A. Mathai Shemmashan (Later Baselios Augen I), 'Malankara Edavaka Pathrika' 1906
  7. Consequences of split

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