Part of the series Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
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'Origin of St. Thomas Christians' According to tradition, St. Thomas the Apostle landed at Kodungalloor (Muziris) in 52 A.D. After preaching and establishing Christian communities in different parts of India, he suffered martyrdom at Mylapur in 72 A.D.

Tradition holds that St. Thomas founded seven churches or communities in Kerala; at Kodungalloor, Niranam,Kollam]] Chayal, Kottakkavu, Kokkamangalam and [[Palayoor. Even before the Christian era, there were Jewish colonies in South India and there appeared to be seven churches situated in or near these colonies.

East Syrian Relationship

A Syro Malabar Catholic Church or Nasrani Palli

A Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Kerala, with the Holy of Holies containing the Saint Thomas Cross veiled by a red curtain according to Eastern Christian practice.

From early centuries the Church of St. Thomas Christians came into life-relation with the Christian communities that came to be known as East Syrian Church.[1] .This relationship made the St. Thomas Christians share the liturgical, spiritual and other ecclesiastical traditions with the East Syrian Church (therefore they are grouped under Chaldean Rite). At the same time the Christians of St. Thomas kept their distinctive character especially in Church administration and socio-cultural and ascetic- spiritual life.[2] At least from the 4th century until the end of the 16th century the Bishops of the Church of Malabar were sent from the East Syrian Church, appointed by the Patriarch of the East Syrian Church.[3] While the bishops originally hailing from Persia who arrived here were placed in charge of liturgy, the administration of the church remained under the control of the local Archdeacon, who was also the head of the local community.[2]

The bishops who came from the East Syrian Church, were concerned with spiritual matters. Essentially, the Thomas Christians followed three distinct ways of activity in their religious sphere: their liturgy was of East Syrian Church:their culture was purely Indian:they had their own style of life. The governance of the Church was through Palliyogam, Synod, etc. as was prevalent in Oriental Churches.[4]

Arrival of Portuguese in Malabar

Nazraney Sthambams

Open Air Rock Cross also called Nazraney Sthambams in front of the 3rd Century built Martha Mariam Catholic Church at Kuravilangadu, Kerala

The Portuguese Admiral Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut on 20 May 1498.[5] When Vasco da Gama and the Portuguese missionaries arrived in India in 1498 they found no Christians in the country except in Malabar. The Christians they found were St. Thomas Christians. The Christians were friendly to Portuguese missionaries at first; there was an exchange of gifts between them, and these groups were delighted at their common faith.[6]. Later, due to certain differences mainly in the liturgy, the relations between them became more and more strained. Under the Padroado (patronage) agreement with the Holy See the Portuguese missionaries started to interfere and things took a turn for the worse. They suspected the Indian Christians of heresy and schism and wanted to introduce the Latin customs and Latin manner of ecclesiastical administration, severing the East Syrian connection.[7]

Portuguese started a Latin diocese in Goa (1534) and another at Cochin (1558) in the hope of bringing the St. Thomas Christians under their jurisdiction.[8] In a Goan Synod held in 1585, it was decided to introduce the Latin liturgy and practices among the Thomas Christians. In the Synod of Diamper of 1599, the Portuguese Archbishop, Don Alexis Menezes succeeded in appointing a Latin bishop to govern the St. Thomas Christians. The Portuguese padroado (patronage) was extended over them.[9] The strife between the Portuguese missionaries and the indigenous Christians and their Mesopotamian prelates, was not of a truly doctrinal, but of an ecclesiological and jurisdictional character.[10] Every attempt to resist the latinization process was branded by them as heretical. Under the indigenous leader, Archdeacon, the Thomas Christians resisted. Their efforts sowed seeds of disunity and division in the Indian Church and as a result the once united Church, the Church that was in full communion with the See of Peter at Antioch, ended up in various denominations.[9]

Divisions among Saint Thomas Christians

A protest took place in 1653 with the Koonan Cross Oath. Under the leadership of Archdeacon Thomas, the Thomas Christians publicly took an oath that they would not obey the Jesuit bishops.[11]

Rome sent Carmelites in two groups from the Propagation of the Faith to Malabar headed by Fr. Sebastiani and Fr. Hyacinth. Fr. Sebastiani arrived first in 1655. He began to deal directly with the Archdeacon, Mar Thomas I. Fr. Sebastiani gained the support of many, especially with the support of Alexander Parampil, Alexandar Kadavil and the Vicar of Muttam. These were the three councilors of Mar Thomas I, who were reconciled with Gracia SJ before the arrival of Sebastaini according to Jesuit reports.[11]

Between 1661 and 1662, out of the 116 churches, the Carmelites reclaimed eighty-four churches, leaving Archdeacon Mar Thomas I with thirty-two churches. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syro Malabar Church has descended. The other thirty-two churches and their congregations represent the nucleus from which the Syriac Orthodox (Jacobites & Orthodox), Thozhiyur, Mar Thoma (Reformed Syrians), Syro Malankara Catholics have originated.[12]

In 1665 Mar Gregorios, a Bishop sent by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, arrived in India. The dissident group under the leadership of the Archdeacon welcomed him.[13] Though most of the St. Thomas Christians gradually relented in their strong opposition to the Western control, the arrival of the Bishop Mar Gregory of the Syriac Orthodox Church in 1665 marked the beginning of a formal schism among the St. Thomas Christians. Those who accepted the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioich of Mar Gregory became known as the New Party (Puthankuttukar). The Old Party (Pazhayakuttukar) remained in communion with Rome and later came to be known as Syro Malabar Church.[13]

File:Nasrani Evolution.jpg

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St. Thomas the Apostle
Mar Sapor and Prodh
Thomas of Cana
St. Alphonsa
Blessed Kuriakose Chavara
Fr. Varghese Palakkappillil
Blessed Kunjachan
Blessed Euphrasia
Blessed Mariam Thressia
Blessed Mother Teresa
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St. Gregorios of Parumala
Antonio Francisco Xavier Alvares


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Indian Orthodox Church
Jacobite Syrian Church
Malabar Independent Church
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Church of South India

Restoration of the Syro Malabar Hierarchy

After the split in the church, some priests and laymen have attempted to persuade the hierarchy to improve the identity of the local church and for the appointment of bishops from local priests. To represent their position, Kerala's Syrian Catholics Kariatty Joseph Kathanar and Paremmakkal Thomma Kathanar went to Rome in 1778. While they were in Europe, Kariatty Joseph Kathanar was installed in Portugal as the Bishop of Kodungalloor Archdiocese. While journeying home, they stayed in Goa where Joseph Kariattil died (there is a version that he was poisoned), before he could formally take charge. Before he died, Mar Kariatty appointed Thomma Kathanar as the Administrator of Kodungalloor Archdiocese after him. The new administrator ran the affairs of the church establishing his headquarters at Angamaly. In 1792, the headquarters of the Archdiocese was shifted to Vadayar because of the attacks of Tippu Sultan. In the last four years of his life, Thomma Kathanar managed church administration from his own parish, Ramapuram.

After being under Chaldean bishops earlier and under Latin Rite Roman Catholic bishops from 1599, St. Thomas Christians got their own dioceses from 1887. They came to be known as the Syro Malabar Catholics from that point on, to differentiate them from the Latin Rite Catholics in Kerala. The Syro Malabar Hierarchy was restored on 21 December 1923 with Mar Augustine Kandathil as the first Metropolitan and Head of the Church [14].

Time line of events

Time line of events

  • 1 Ancient Era
  • 2 Portuguese Era
  • 3 Era of Divisions
  • 4 Arrival of the Protestants and further splits
  • 5 Era of Self-governance
  • 6 A Sui iuris Church.

Syro Malabar Identity

&nbsp Syro Malabar identity is unique to the state of Kerala in India and its people. According to Fr. Placid Podipara "they are Hindu or Indian in culture, Christian in religion and Syro-Oriental in worship." The head of the Church of St. Thomas Christians, sent by the Assyrian Church of the East Syrian/Chaldean church assumed the title “The Metropolitan of All India”.


Archbishop's House, Changanassery, Kerala

Archbishop's House, Changanassery

In the second half of 20th century, there was a movement for better understanding of the liturgical rites. A restored Eucharistic liturgy, drawing on the original East Syrian sources, was approved by Pope Pius XII in 1957 and for the first time on the feast of St. Thomas on July 3, 1962, the vernacular, Malayalam, was introduced for the celebration of the Syro-Malabar rite Mass.[15] Currently they celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Addai and Mari in Malayalam, Syriac or English.

The Latinization of the Syro-Malabar rite churches was brought to a head when in 1896 Ladislaus Zaleski, the Apostolic Delegate to India, requested permission to translate the Roman Pontifical into Syriac. This was the choice of the Malabar prelates, who chose it over the East Syrian Rite and West Syrian Rite pontificals. Various problems and concerns delayed the approval of this translation, until in 1934 Pope Pius XI stated that Latinization was no longer to be encouraged among Eastern Rite Catholics.[16] He thus initiated a process of liturgical reform that sought to restore the oriental nature of the Latinized Syro-Malabar rite.[17] A restored Eucharistic liturgy, drawing on the original East Syrian sources, was approved by Pius XII in 1957 and introduced in 1962.

Faith and communion of Syro Malabarians

The St. Thomas Christians got their bishops from the Assyrian Church of the East/Chaldean Church from c. 500 AD till the end of the sixteenth century, until it was stopped by the Portuguese Roman Catholics in 1597, after the death of Mar Abraham.

Liturgical calendar

Syro Malabar Church has its own seasons around the year. They are fixed according to the flow of salvation history. Concentrating themselves on Jesus of Nazareth, i.e., on the historical life of Jesus, the believers are led to the eschatological fulfilment, viz., the heavenly bliss, in this special arrangement of liturgical seasons.[18]

There are nine seasons for the Liturgical Year. They are:

  1. Annunciation (Subara)
  2. Epiphany (Denha)
  3. Great Fast (Sawma Rabba)
  4. Resurrection (Qyamta)
  5. Apostles (Slihe)
  6. Summer (Qaita)
  7. Elijah-Cross (Elijah-Sliba)
  8. Moses (Muse)
  9. Dedication of the Church (Qudas-Edta)

Major Feasts

Major feasts of the Church are,[19]

  • Dukrana of our Father in Faith- Mar Thoma Sliha Commemorated on July 3
  • Marth Anna (Saint Alphonsa)- Commemorated on 28 July
  • Blessed Chavara Kuriakose Elias-Commemorated on 3 January
  • Servant of God Varghese Palakkappillil - Commemorated on 5 October
  • Blessed Euphrasia- Commemorated on 29 August
  • Mar Bartholomeo Sliha- Commemorated on 24 August
  • Martha Simoni and her 7 Children- Commemorated on 21 August
  • The Assumption of Marth Mariam. -Commemorated on 15 August
  • Transfiguration-Commemorated on 6 August
  • Mar Addai and Mar Mari- Commemorated on the Second Friday of Qaita (Summer)
  • The 12 Apostles of our Lord, Iso' Misiha -Commemorated on 19 July
  • The 70 Apostles -Commemorated on 17 July
  • Mar Quriaqos and mother Yolethe-Commemorated on 15 July
  • Mar Aprem- Commemorated on 9 June
  • Blessed Mariam Thresia-Commemorated on 8 June
  • Holy Pentecost- Commemorated on 31 May
Mannam Church

St. Joseph's Monastery, Mannanam, where the mortal remains Blessed Chavara are kept. Saint Thomas cross is seen in the picture on the top of church.

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Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Curia

The curia[20] of the Syro-Malabar Church began to function in March 1993 at the archbishop’s house of Ernakulam-Angamaly. Later, on 27 May 1995, it was shifted to a newly purchased plot of land called Mount St. Thomas. The newly constructed curial building was opened on 3 July 1998.

The administration of the Syro-Malabar Church has executive and judicial roles. The major archbishop, officials, various commissions, committees, and the permanent synod form the executive part. The permanent synod and other offices are formed in accordance with the CCEO. The officials include the chancellor, vice-chancellor, and other officers. Various commissions are appointed by the major archbishop: Liturgy, Pastoral care of the migrant and Evangelisation, Particular Law, Catechism, Ecumenism, Catholic Doctrine, Clergy and Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The members of the commissions are ordinarily bishops. But there are also priests in different commissions. For judicial activities there is the major archiepiscopal ordinary tribunal formed in accordance with CCEO and it has a statutes and sufficient personnel with a president, as its head. The Major archiepiscopal curia functions in the curial building in Kerala, India. They have prepared the particular law for their Church and promulgated part by part in Synodal News, the official Bulletin of this Church. There are statutes for the permanent synod, for the superior and ordinary tribunals. Regarding economo, CCEO c. 122 § 2 is specific in the particular law, that the term of the office shall be five years and the same person shall not be appointed for more than two terms consecutively.[21]

  1. Dr.Placid Podipara, ( 1938) “The Syrian Church of Malabar”
  2. 2.0 2.1 Dr.Placid Podipara, ( 1972) “The Individuality of Malabar Church”
  3. Placid Podipara, ( 1972) “The Malabar Christians”
  4. Placid Podipara, ( 1979) “The Rise and Decline of the Indian Church of the Thomas Christians”
  5. Britannica CD 97, S.V “Gama, Vasco da “
  6. Mathias Mundadan, (1967)y “The Arrival of Portuguese in India and Saint Thomas Christians under Mar Jacob ”
  7. Thekkedath, “History of Christianity in India”, Placid Podipara, “Thomaschristen” Vellian “Beginnings of Latinization of the Malabar Liturgy”
  8. Thaliath, “The Synod of Diamper”
  9. 9.0 9.1 Dr. Xavier Koodapuzha “Faith and Communion of the Indian Church of Saint Thomas”
  10. Dr. Vellian “Beginnings of Latinization of the Malabar Liturgy”
  11. 11.0 11.1 Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, “ Eastern Christianity in India”
  12. Catholic Encyclopedia- “St. Thomas Christians” The Carmelite Period
  13. 13.0 13.1 Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India”
  14. Fr. George Thalian: `The Great Archbishop Mar Augustine Kandathil, D. D.: the Outline of a Vocation', Mar Louis Memorial Press, 1961. (Postscript) (PDF)
  15. The Origin and Progress of the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy By Varkey J. Vithayathil
  16. The Synod of Diamper and the Liturgy Jacob Vellian The Synod of Diamper Revisited, George Nedugatt, ed.
  17. A Study of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy (George Vavanikunnel)
  18. Pathikulangara, Varghese. Mar Thomma Margam, (A New Catechism for the St. Thomas Christians of India), Kottayam: Denha Services, 2004
  19. Syro Malabar Church-Major Feasts, The Nazrani.
  20. Francis Eluvathingal, Patriarchal and Major Archiepiscopal Churches in the Eastern Catholic Legislations based on CCEO Canon 114-125
  21. Francis Eluvathingal, Syro-Malabar Church Since the Eastern Code

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