The Syrian Church in India is the oldest of all the Christian communities in the Indian subcontinent. It has a history from the 1st century AD with the arrival of Saint Thomas, one among the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ into India.
For the administrative convenience, for the countries to the East, outside the Roman Empire, a head bishopric by name Catholicos of the East was created in 410 AD under the Patriarchate of Antioch. This Catholicos was given all the powers enjoyed by the Patriarch in its jurisdiction.
The political enmity of the Persian and Roman empires, made the Catholicate separate from the Patriarchate in 424 AD. When the Nestorian Schism was rejected in 431 AD, by the Patriarch of Antioch, canonising the rejected teachings, the Catholicos started functioning independently.
When the Catholicos started functioning independently accepting Nestorian teachings, some were not ready for a compromise. In 559 AD, an "Orthodox Catholicos" was enthroned in the Persian land, for those who rejected the Nestorian schism with the blessings of the Patriarch of Antioch.
While the Assyrian Catholicate functioned independently, the Orthodox chruch was loyal to the Patriarchate of Antioch. The Hudaya Canon, wrote in 869 AD, shows the relationship and contacts of the Patriarchate of Antioch and the Orthodox Catholicate of the East.
The Church in India had its ecumenical ties with both the Catholicates of East, ever since its establishment. Both the Catholicos, used to send bishops and ordain priests to serve in the Indian Church.
Ever since the great schism of 1054 AD, between the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and Pope of Rome, Pope was eyeing on the Eastern part which was canonically under the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and the Catholicates of Georgia, Armenia and that in Persia at that time. It led to lot of conflicts in Christianity in the Eastern world with the creation of many Uniate Catholic Churches. European Colonial rule boosted this struggle.
In 1552 AD, the Assyrian Church of the East split into two. A set of bishops and men joined to form a Assyrian Uniate Catholic Church by accepting the Roman Pope. This Church was elevated to a Catholicate by the Pope of Rome.
This was not acceptable to the church in India. Latin was strange to them, as they were having Syrian in their liturgy. In order to convert old Christians of India to Catholic fold, the Patriarch of Rome made arrangements with the Portuguese and the Assyrian uniate Catholicos, for sending Syrian speaking Uniate bishops to India. Ever since the arrival of Uniate bishops Joseph and Elias to India in 1556 AD, the church in India was driven to a confusion.
To eradicate this division, with the patronage of Portuguese Colonists, the Catholic Archbishop of Goa, convened a synod in 1599 AD in Diamper, Near Cochin, Kerala. It was in this synod, it was decided to accept the Patriarch of Rome, as the canonical head of the church in India. Thou, it was acceptable for the latins, it was unacceptable for the Syrian community. But, fearing the Portuguese rule, none of them were ready to oppose.
But, this suppression did not last long. With the arrival of Dutch into India, the fear of the Syrian Christians against the Portuguese vanished. They were ready for a revolt as Dutch were predominantly Protestant.
In 1653 AD, taking advantage of this situation, the old Christians started revolt against the hierarchy created and against the decisions of the synod of 1599 AD. The result of which was the Oath taken by the old Christians, that they would not accept the Patriarch of Rome as their head.
Thou, there was a group of Portuguese converted Christians in India, the old Syrian Christians remained under the local head known as Archdecon. He had temporal powers over the matters of the Syrian church in India. In 1653 AD, the Syrian Christians organised a meeting, and decided to ask the Catholcoses and Patriarch for ordaining the Archdeacon as a bishop for the Old Christian community in India.
Dutch government ordered eviction of all Portuguese officials from India in 1665 AD. Portuguese frustrated with the revolt by Syrian Christians and the Dutch support to them, tried all their ways to split the Syrian Christians. Their most successful act in their last days in India was the ordination of a bishop by name Chandy from among the Old Christian community.
Thus, crowned by Latin bishops, Bishop Chandy was ordained for the Syrian Christians in India. Another interesting thing to be considered here is that this Chandy was the first cousin of the Archdeacon. Many of the members supported Bishop Chandy. This fraction supported the Patriarch of Rome as insisted by the Portuguese as later came to be known as a set known as Syro- Malabar Uniate Catholic Church. They followed the East- Syrian liturgy of the Catholicoses of the East.
The Archdeacon and his supporters were angry. The main reason was that Bishop Chandy was also there in all endeavours with the Archdeacon including the meeting the Archdeacon was selected as a Bishop candidate. Further, Bishop Chandy was one among the four priests posted to serve the Archdeacon to function in his church.
the Archdeacon did not stay idle. He brought Mar Abdul Jaleel Gregorios of Jesusalem, with the patronage of Patriarch of Antioch and got ordained. The rivalry of cousins made the ancient church in India divided.
Orthodox Church in India was placed directly under the Patriarchate. Thou, this church was accepting the Patriarch of Antioch, the Catholicos were used to rule the church in India, ever since the establishment of Catholicate of East in 410 AD. Further, the situation of Christians in Persia was worse due to Islamic rule. The Catholicoses were not able to send any bishops to India at that time. Since, the Patriarchate was following West-Syrian liturgy, the Orthodox church in India shifted from East-Syrian Liturgy to West-Syrian Liturgy.
Thus by 1665 AD, the following christian communities existed in India
Roman Christians (converted) - Under the Pope of Rome
Syro Malabar Uniate Church - Under the Pope of Rome
Orthodox Church of East - Under the Patriarch of Antioch
The following churches comprises of the Syrian Christian community in the modern days:
Syro-Malabar Catholic Church joined the Catholic communion in the year 1663 AD. The current head of the Syro-Malabar Uniate Chruch is Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil.
Syro-Malankara Catholic Church joined the Catholic Communion in the year 1930 AD. The current head of the Syro-Malankara Uniate Church is Major Archbishop Baselius Clemis.
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is an autonomous church in the Oriental Orthodox Communion. This church recognises Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas Ist as its Spiritual head and Catholicos of East as its supreme head. The current head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is Baselius Mar Thoma Didymos 1st.
Jacobite Orthodox Syrian Church is a semi-autonomous church under the Syriac Orthodox Church. This church recognises Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Moran Mor Igantius Zakka Iwas 1st as its Supreme head and Catholicos Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas I as their regional head. The church has 26 metropolitans and billions of faithfull in India and abroad.
Malabar Independent Syrian Church is a fraction that got split from the main Orthodox christian body in 1856. The current head of the this Church is Metropolitan Cyril Baselius.
Knanaya Archbishop appointed by the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch rules the Knanaya Archdiocese of this semi-autonomous part of the Syriac Orthodox church. The chief metropolitan of the community is Mor Severios Kuriakose Edavazhikkal.
Assyrian Church of India is known as Chaldean Syrian Church in India. This church accept the primacy of Patriarch of Baghdad. The head of the Chaldean Church is Archbihop Mar Aprem Mooken
Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church joined the protestant congregation since 1876 AD.
The Protestant churches are in ecumenical communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.