The Mar Thoma Church is a Christian denomination from Kerala, the South Western State of India. The church is independent and indigenous. Members of this Church are from Kerala and diaspora, and the church's tradition draws on ancient Jewish and Dravidian customs, Syriac Christianity (as the basis of liturgy) and Anglican theological method (19th-century theological training). The liturgy is in Malayalam with fossilised phrases drawn from Syriac.
The Mar Thoma Church defines itself as "Apostolic in origin Universal in nature, Biblical in faith, Evangelical in principle, Ecumenical in outlook, Oriental in worship, Democratic in function, and Episcopal in character.
It claims that the original Malankara Church was established by Thomas the Apostle at the same time as Saint Paul established the church in Corinth. During the course of time some of them joined the Catholic Church (after 1599), Patriarch of Antioch (1875) and C.M.S. Anglican Church (1878). Those who remained, later chose the name Mar Thoma Church. The Church is an independent, autocephalous church under local control, and is in communion with a number of member churches of World Council of Churches including the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The Church currently has around one million members. The membership of the Church is centred in the southern Indian state of Kerala but it has spread with the 20th-century Indian diaspora to North America, Europe, the Middle East, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, this in addition to a sizeable population in the rest of India.
Along with the Ukrainian Lutheran Church and the Georgian Baptist Church, the Mar Thoma Church is one of the few protestant churches to adhere to an Eastern Rite liturgy.
Malankara Mar Thoma Suryani Sabha (Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church) is the official name of the Church.
‘’Malankara.” Maliankara, a place near Muziris
, where Thomas the Apostle first landed in Kerala, was the headquarters of the Church from the 1st century. (Malankara is cognate of this name Maliankara).
"Mar Thoma” or “Marthoma” is Aramaic, and means Saint Thomas.
‘’Eastern Syriac’’ is used in liturgy of the Mar Thoma Church. So Syriac words in this article is given in the Eastern Syraic. Note that this is different from the Western Syriac (Antiochan Syriac).
“Sabha” means a place where God is worshipped. In modern English, it is the Church, a word originated from the Greek 'ekklesia'.
The building where worship services are held is called "Palli".
The title of the head of the Church is “Marthoma” and is addressed as “Marthoma Metropolitan”.
First century BC
On the south western side of the Indian peninusula; between the mountains and the Erythraean Sea (now Arabian Sea); stretching from Kannoor
was the land called Cherarajyam, which was ruled by local chieftens. Later this land came to be known as Malabar
or ‘God’s Own Country’). Muziris
(now known as Pattanam
) was the imortant entry port. After the discovery of Hippalus
, every year 100 ships arrived here from various parts of the then known world, including Red Sea ports.
Even before the time of Christ, during the time of Moses and King Solomon, there was trade in spices and luxury articles between Malabar Coast and Palestine. Excavations carried out at Pattanam in 2008 are giving more evidences to the maritime trade between Kerala and the Mediterranean ports. During the second exile (586 BC) some of the Jews came and settled in Kerala. They were known as Bene Israel. (Most of them have returned to Israel by twentieth century. While Augustus Caesar (31 BC- 14 AD) was the Emperor of Rome and Herod the Great (37-4 BC) was King of Judea, ambassadors from Malabar visited the Emperor Augustus. These ambassadors were called The Wise Men From the East in the Bible. Even today, the descendants of these Wise Men gather every year at a place in Kerala.
Arrival of Saint Thomas
It was to this country Kerala
, Thomas the Apostle
, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ
arrived in the first century, (believed to be in 52 AD). He landed at Muziris
(now known as Pattanam
, near Cochin
on the Malabar Coast
). During his stay some among the Jews and the Wise Men became followers of Jesus of Nazareth. They were called Nazranis
, meaning “followers of Jesus of Nazareth
.” By twenty-first century they called themselves as Christians
It is believed that the Malankara Church was established by Thomas the Apostle at the same time as Saint Paul established the church in Corinth. After leaving Malankara, St. Thomas proceeded to the East coast of India and died a martyrs’ death at a place called Mylapore in Tamil Nadu.
First 15 centuries
The Most Rev. Dr. Juhanon Mar Thoma
Metropolitan concludes the chapter on the St Thomas tradition in his book Christianity in India and a Brief History of the Mar Thoma Church
, as follows:
The History of the Christian Church in the first century does not depend entirely on historical documents. Tradition is often more true and more compelling than plain historic proof. In this sense St Peter’s founding of the Roman Church and St Thomas founding of the Malabar Church, may be said to stand on the same footing. Both are supported by traditions which are sufficiently early and sufficiently strong.
Those who were converted by St. Thomas continued to attend the worship in synagogues. Then they moved to their homes and by the second century, they began to build their own churches in various places. We may assume that there were such small gatherings at Maliankara, Piravom, Nilakkal and Niranam (Nelcynda).
Pantaenus from Alexandria
the Philosopher visited India and found that there were many evangelists in India
with them he found a copy of the Gospel According to Matthew in Hebrew.. These evangelists were the first Christians of Malankara Church in Kerala.
Arrival of Knanaya Nazranis
There is a tradition that during the time of King Shapur II
(310-379) of Persia
, a group of 400 immigrants (72 families) from Persia
arrived in Malabar under the leadership of a prominent merchant Knai Thomman
(قناي تامن). They were engaged in trade and settled down in Kodungallur
. The Knanaya (Kanahi
: ക്നാനായ) continued to remain an endogamous group within the original Nasrani community. Their descendants are known today as Knanaya Nasranis
Mention is made also of another immigration from Persia in the year 825 under the leadership of a Persian merchant named Marwan Sabriso with two Bishops named Mar Sapro and Mar Prodh. They cooperated with the Malankara Church, attended worship services together but remained a separate identity.
Bishops from Persia
Following the arrival of Christians from Persia, their bishops or priests or laymen visited them. Most of them were not able to return due to the difficulties in traveling. These visitors had neither administrative responsibilities nor had any jurisdiction over the original Nazrani Christians. They went round visiting and teaching Syriac. Probably it was at this time, Syriac became the liturgical language of the early Christians.
Out of five Persian crosses two are in Kottayam Knanaya Valia Palli. According to the archeologists, the earliest one was made in the seventh century. This smallest (75 x 58 cm) cross is kept on the North side of the sanctury. The inscriptions are in Sasanian Pahlavi
language. Second one is larger (220 x 103 cm) on the South side and includes an additional verse in Estrangelo Syriac language. These Persian crosses were in churches attended by Knanaya Nasranis. Most probably it was during this period, cross became a symbol of St.Thomas Christians.
883 AD. – Alfred the Great
(849-899), King of Wessex, England sent gifts to Mar Thoma Christians of India through Sighelm, bishop of Sherbon.
1225 AD. – Chau-Ju-Kua a Chinese traveller visited Kerala. In his writings he described the dress of a St. Thomas Christian bishop.
1282 AD. – Kublai Khan (1215-1294) Emperor of China sent an emissary to Kollam, It was followed by an emissory from Kollam under the leadership of a St. Thomas Christian.
1292 AD. – Marco Polo (1254-1324) on his return journey from China visited Kerala, mentioned that there were Christians and Jews in Kerala.
Collection of deeds
The rulers of Kerala
, in appreciation their assistance, gave to the Malankara
Nazranis, three deeds on copper plates. Five sheets of them are now in the custody of St. Thomas Christians.
- Iravi Corttan Deed: In the year 1225 AD. Sri Vira Raghava Chakravarti, gave a deed to Iravi Corttan of Mahadevarpattanam in 774 (?). Two Brahmin families are witness to this deed showing that Brahmins were in Kerala by the eighth century. According to history of Brahmins they started arriving in Kerala by the third century.
- Tharissa palli Deed I: Perumal Sthanu Ravi Gupta (844-885) gave a deed in 849 AD, to Isodatta Virai for Tharissa Palli (church) at Curakkeni Kollam. According to historians, this is the first deed in Kerala that gives the exact date.
- Tharissa palli Deed II: Continuation of the above, given after 849 AD.
During the first fifteen centuries, each parish appointed its own elders (Idavaka Mooppen). These elders met together and elected their Elder (Malankara Mooppen). Laying of hands on the Malankara Mooppen was by twelve Idavaka Mooppens. By 1500, Malankara Church was spread from Kannur
in the North to Kollam in the South.
At the Synod of Diamper, Archbishop Menezes used the word ‘Malankara Mooppen’ a number of times, but the Latin word Archidãconus was used only three times, because the Latin word was not familiar to Malankara people.
Arrival of the Portuguese
started settling in India with the arrival of Vasco Da Gama
on Sunday, May 20
. From that time the Portuguese were powerful in the western parts of India and had control over the sea routes. The Malankara church at this time included the original Nasrani community and the endogamous group, Knanaya Nasranis.
Synod of Diamper
The Malankara Church
had hardly any contact with the Christians of Europe. Many of them did not even know that there was a Pope in Rome. But the Portuguese used their power to bring the Malankara Church
under the supremacy of Rome. A powerful Archbishop Aleixo de Menezes
arrived in Goa
in 1595. He then convened a Synod at Udayamperoor
, south of Ernakulam, from 20–26 June, 1599. This is known as the Synod of Diamper
. Here the Archbishop demanded obedience to the supreme Bishop of Rome. The representatives sent from various parishes in and around Cochin
were forced to accept the decrees read out by the Archbishop. Thus those parishes of the Malankara Church
were made part of the Catholic Church under Pope of Rome. But the remaining churches continued their original Apostolic beliefs and practices.
The Great Swearing
Under the leadership of Malanakra Mooppen Thomas, Nazranis
gathered at Mattancherry
church on Friday, January 24
(M.E. 828 Makaram 3) and made an oath that is known as Oath at the crooked Cross.
After the Swearing, out of about 200,000 persons about 400 joined the Catholics. Their language of worship was Latin while that of Malankara Church
. So the Roman Catholics started using the name Latin Christians for Catholics and Syrian Christians for the Malankara Church.
After The Great Swearing in Ceremony, the parish elders (Idavaka Mooppens) of the Church met together and elected Kuravilangad
Parampil Thomas Kathanar as Malankara Elder (Malankara Mooppen). Following the ancient custom. twelve Idavaka Mooppens laid their hands on him and appointed him as Malankara Mooppen. The Catholics considered this illegitimate, because this was not their practice. So the Marthoma Nazranis were forced to send letters to various other eastern Churches asking to send a bishop. In 1854, Mar Gregorios Abdul-Jaleel, Patriarch of Jerusalem arrived. Thus began the relation between the Malankara Church and the Antiochian Jacobite
Mar Thoma I. - In 1653, Malankara Mooppen Thomas, was consecrated with the title Mar Thoma by Mar Gregorios. The throne used for this consecration in 1653 is still in the possession of the Mar Thoma Church and kept in the Poolatheen, the residence of the Malankara Marthoma Metropolitan at Tiruvalla. It has been used in the installation of every Mar Thoma Metropolitan, to this day, so that the continuity of the throne of Mar Thoma is ensured. Mar Thoma survived a number of assassination attempts. He died on April 25, 1670 and was interred in Ankamali Marthommen Palli. (church).
Mar Thoma II. – (1670-1686) Consecrated by Mar Thoma I and Mar Gregorios. Died on April 14, 1686 and was interred at Niranam Palli.
Mar Thoma III. – (1686-1688) Consecrated by Mar Ivanios Hirudyathulla (from Antioch), died on April 21, 1688. Laid to rest at Kadampanad, Near Adoor.
Mar Thoma IV. - (1688-1728). Consecrated by Mar Ivanios Hirudyathulla. Died on March 24, 1728 and was interred at Kandanad Palli.
Mar Thoma V. - (1728-1765) – Consecrated by Mar Thoma IV. Died on May 8, 1765 and laid to rest at Niranam Palli.
Mar Thoma VI. – (1765-1808) Consecrated by Mar Thoma V. Died on April 8, 1808 and laid to rest at Puthenkavu palli.
- On June 1770, to avoid a split in the Church, he accepted re-consecration and the title Dionysius from Antiochan bishops.
- Mar Thoma VI did not approve the appointment of Kattumangattu Abraham Mar Coorilos as a metropoiltan by a bishop from Antioch. This was the beginning of Malabar Independent Syrian Church.
- Forced to conduct a service according to Catholic rites, but escaped during a rebellion in Travancore under Velu Thampi.
- Rev.Dr. Claudius Bucahanan visited and made arrangement for the translation of the Bible into Malayalam. Marthoma gave him the manuscript of the Bible written in the oldest Syrian. This manuscript was deposited in the public library of the University of Cambridge.
Mar Thoma VII. – (1808-1809) Consecrated by Mar Thoma VI in 1796. During his time on December 1, 1808, a sum of 3000 Star Pagoda (in 2002 one Star Pagoda coin had a market value of £475) was given as loan in perpetuity to the British resident Col. Maccaulay. This is known as Vattipanam. MarThoma died on July 4, 1809 and was interred at Kolencherry palli.
Mar Thoma VIII. – (1809-1816) Consecrated on July 2, 1809 by Mar Thoma VII. During his time Kottayam Suryani Seminary was opened and modern education began in Kerala. He was able to receive the interest of the loan (Vattipanam) given to the Government. He was able to lay the foundation stone of the Syrian Seminary at Kottayam in 1813. Mar Thoma died on January 26, 1816 and was interred at Niranam palli.
Mar Thoma IX. – (1816-1817). Consecrated by Marthoma VIII without the consent of the people. So he retired to Kadamattom palli and spent the rest of his days in prayer and fasting.
Mar Thoma X. – (1816-1816). Also known as Pulikottil Mar Dionysius, was consecrated by Mar Philoxenos II, of the Malabar Independent Syrian Church (Thozhiyoor Sabha). Mar Thoma died on November 25, 1816 and laid to rest at Seminary palli.
- At this time Mar Thopma IX was also alive. Both of them had a claim to the interest of the Vattipanam. (Fixed Deposit). Because Mar Thoma X was the one approved by the people, Rani Gouri Parvathi Bhai, ruler of Travancore issued a Royal Proclamation declaring that Pulikkotil Joseph Mar Dionysus as Malankara Metropolitan. He was the first Metropolitan to be recognised by the Government as Malankara Metropolitan
- In 1815 Classes began in Kottayam Suryani Seminary. He appointed the teaching staff.
- Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) missionaries arrived in 1818 to teach there.
Mar Philoxenos II. – of the Malabar Independent Syrian Church. (November 25, 1816 – October 10, 1817). Due to the sudden demise of Mar Thoma X, Mar Philoxenos II took charge of the Malankara Church. Because there were no other Metropolitans in Malankara at this time Mar Philoxenos was accepted as Malankara Metropolitan and the government issued a Royal Proclamation.
Mar Thoma XI. – (1817-1825) Also known as Punnathra Geevargis Mar Dionysius. Consecrated by Malakara Metropolitan Mar Philoxenos II on October 10, 1817. The Reformation of the Malankara Church began during his time. MarThoma XI, died on May 17, 1825 and was interred at Kottayam Cheria palli.
Mar Thoma XII. – (1825-1852). Also known as Cheppattu Philipose Mar Dionysius. To select a successor representatives of the parishes met together. So they proposed the names of three clergies. After prayer they cast votes. The cast fell to Philipose Kathanar and he was consecrated as Mar Thoma on August 27, 1825. After the demise of Mar Philoxenos II on February 4, 1829, (for the purpose of giving interest of the Vattipanam), Mar Thoma XII was approved by the governments as Malankara Metropolitan on March 20, 1829.
- Problems arose with C.M.S. Missionaries. So he convened a meeting of the representatives of the parishes at Mavelikara (January 16, 1836) and proclaimed allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch. He did not support Reformation of the Church. Abraham Malpan and many other leaders of reformation did not attend this meeting.
- C.M.S. missionaries formed C.M.S. Church. By a government award known as Cochin Award, they were given a few properties of the Malankara Church. From this time Malankara Church was also called The Jacobite Church.
- He was not able to consecrate a successor. But Palakunnathu deacon Mathews, nephew of Abraham Malpan went to Anitoch and was consecrated at Mardin on February 17, 1842 as Mathews Mar Athanasius by the Patriarch of Antioch.
Cheppat Mar Dionysius (Mar Thoma XII abdicated in 1852 as the Malankara Metropolitan. Died on October 9, 1855 and laid to rest at Cheppat palli. The funeral service was conducted by Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan.
Mar Thoma XIII. – (1852-1877). Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan was consecrated by Moran Mar Elias Patriarch of Antioch at Mardin on February 17, 1842. After Cheppattu Philipose Mar Dionysius abdicated due to ill health, the Governments of Kerala and Cochin issued a royal proclamation on August 30, 1852 accepting him as Malankara Metropolitan, (for the purpose of issuing interest of the Vattipanam). During his time Reformation of the Church became strong. Pulikottil Ouseph Kathanar from Kunnamkulam, who was against Mathews Mar Athanasius went to Antioch and was consecrated as Joseph Mar Dionysius on April 3, 1865. After his return, those who opposed Mathews Mar Athanasius invited the Patriarch of Antioch. The large majority of the people were conservative and the reform party was a very small minority. Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan died on July 16, 1877 and was interred at Maramon palli. Funeral service was conducted by Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan and Ouseph Mar Koorilose of Malabar Independent Syrian Church.
Mar Thoma XIV. – (1877- 1893). Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan was consecrated by Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan on June 1, 1868.
During his time Joseph Mar Dionysius made a claim to be the Malankara Metropolitan and demanded the possession of the Seminary and the control of assets of the Church. Mar Dionysius and his supporters filed a case on March 4, 1879. The final verdict came after ten years. Before the verdict was made known, Maharaja of Travancore called the two Metropolitans and two represetntives from both sides. In that meeting Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan testified that Malankara Church was never under any foreign rule and he was unwilling to move away from the traditional teachings and give away the authority and Church possessions to a foreign Patriarch. The Church was split into two. The majority under the leadership of Mar Dionysius and six Metropolitans appointed by Antioch chose to be under Antioch. The reform party decided to remain as an independent Malankara Church.
Without a place to live except his own house, Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan returned to Maramon, Died on August 10, 1893 and was interred at Maramon palli.
Mar Thoma XV. – (1893-1910). Titus I Mar Thoma Metropolitan was consecrated by Ouseph Mar Athanasius assisted by Geevarghis Mar Coorilos both of Malakara Independent Syrian Church on January 18, 1894 at Kottayam Cheria palli. Died on October 2, 1909 and was interred at S.C. palli, Tiruvalla.
Mar Thoma XVI. – (1910-1944). Titus II Mar Thoma Metropolitan was consecrated by Titus I Mar Thoma Metropolitan assisted by Geevarghis Mar Coorilos of Malankara Independent Syrian Church at Puthencavu palli. During his time the reform party chose the name Malankara Mar Thoma Suryani Church. Died on July 6, 1944 and was interred at S.C. palli, Tiruvalla.
Mar Thoma XVII. – (1944-1947). Abraham Mar Thoma Metropolitan was consecrated by Titus I Mar Thoma Metropolitan on December27, 1917 at Tiruvalla. Died on September 1, 1947 and was interred at S.C. palli, Tiruvalla.
Mar Thoma XVIII. – (1947-1976). Dr.Juhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan was consecrated by Titus II Mar Thoma Metropolitan on December 30, 1937 at Tiruvalla. He was a great social reformer and was the one of the Presidents of World Council of Churches (1954-1961). On January 26, 1961, a few members of the clergy and their followers formed Saint Thomas Evangelical Church of India. Dr. Juhanon Mar Thoma died on September 27, 1976 and was interred at S.C. palli, Tiruvalla.
Mar Thoma XIX. – (1976-1999). Dr. Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan was consecrated by Dr. Yuhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan on May 23, 1953, at Tiruvalla. Was installed as Valia Metropolitan on November 23, 1999 and handed over the responsibilities of the Church to Mar Thoma XX. Died on January 11, 2000 and was interred at S.C. palli, Tiruvalla.
Mar Thoma XX. – (1999 – 2007). Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostem Mar Thoma Metropolitan was consecrated by Dr. Yuhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan on May 23, 1953, at Tiruvalla. Was installed as Valia Metropolitan on October 2, 2007, and handed over the responsibilities of the Church to Mar Thoma XXI.
Mar Thoma XXI. – (2007- ). Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan was consecrated by Dr. Yuhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan on February 8, 1975 at Tiruvalla. Was installed as Mar Thoma Metropolitan on October 2, 2007.
For the consecrations, from 1917 onwards bishops from other Churches were invited as guests. But the consecration was done only by the Metropolitan assisted by the other Metropolitans of Mar Thoma Church and of Malabar Independent Syrian Church.
- Rt.Rev.Mathews Mar Athanasius Suffragan Metropolitan was consecrated by Most Rev.Titus II.
- Rt.Rev. Dr. Thomas Mar Athanasius Suffragan Metropolitan, was consecrated by Dr. Yuhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan on May 23, 1953, at Tiruvalla. Passed away on November 27, 1984 and was interred at S.C. palli, Tiruvalla.
- Rt.Rev. Dr. Zacharias Mar Theophilus Suffragan Metropolitan, was Consecrated by Dr. Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan on May 1, 1980 at Tiruvalla.
- Rt.Rev. Dr. Mathews Mar Athanasius Episcopa, was Consecrated by Titus II Mar Thoma Metropolitan on December 30, 1937 at Tiruvalla. Died on September 23, 1973 and was interred at S.C. palli, Tiruvalla.
- Rt. Rev. Easow Mar Timotheos Episcopa, was Consecrated by Dr. Yuhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan on February 8, 1975 at Tiruvalla. Died on April 11, 1988 and was interred at S.C. palli, Tiruvalla.
- Rt.Rev. Geevarghese Mar Athanasius Episcopa, Rt.Rev. Dr. Geevarhese Mar Theodosius Episcopa and Rt.Rev. Dr. Euyakim Mar Coorilos Episcopa were consecrated by Dr. Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan, on December 9, 1989 at Tiruvalla.
- Rt.Rev. Joseph Mar Barnabas Episcopa, Rt.Rev. Dr. Thomas Mar Timotheos Episcopa and Rt.Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos Episcopa were consecrated by Dr. Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan, on October 2, 1993 at Tiruvalla.
- Rt.Rev. Dr. Abraham Mar Paulos Episcopa was consecrated by Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostem Mar Thoma Metropolitan on May 14, 2005 at Tiruvalla.
Purification Movement (Reformation)
Mar Thoma Church uses the Malayalam word “Sucheekarana Prasthanam” which means Purification Movement. But in English, the word Reformation is used which has a slightly different meaning.
Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan
was a strong Churchman, loyal to the best traditions of his Church. He wanted only to effect such reforms in the Church as were consistent with the apostolic and truly evangelical traditions of the Church. This he tried to do by translating and revising the liturgy and by doing away with the unscriptural practices which had crept into the Church and by restoring the Church to what he considered to be its pristine position before the Synod of Diamper. .. .. .. He also insisted on a high moral standard of conduct for laity and clergy alike. All this created a ferment in the Church and its effects are still discernible in the Syrian Church as a whole”.
During the time of Marthoma VI, Rev.Dr. Claudius Buchanan
, an Anglican missionary visited Malankara. He met Marthoma in 1806. With his help, the Bible was translated from the original Aramaic language and was distributed to the parishes. Soon after his meeting, representatives of the parishes met at Aarthattu church and declared (Aarthattu Padiola) that the people should not follow the teachings by Rome, Antioch or other foreign Churches. This meeting can be considered to be the beginning of 'Purification Movement' in Malankara Church.
Mar Thoma XI, (Punnathra Mar Dionysius) convened a meeting of representatives of the Malankara Church at Mavelikkara, on December 3, 1818. In that meeting a committee was appointed to recommend reforms in the Church. Abraham Malpan, Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan, Eruthikkal Markose Kathanar, Adangapurathu Joseph Kathanar were members of this committee. This was the first step in carrying out Reformation in Malankara Church.
Mar Thoma XII, (Cheppattu Mar Dionysius) did not like the interference of the Anglican Missionaries. So he convened a Synod at Mavelikkara on January 16, 1836, in which the Synod declared that, “We, the Jacobite Syrians are under the rule of the Patriarch of Antioch.” Abraham Malpan did not attend this synod.
On September 5
, the battle cry for reformation was sounded. Strategy was formed by a group of 12 senior clergy under the leadership of Abraham Malpan. They issued a letter describing the wrong teachings and a statement listing twenty-four evil practices of the Church which crept in by its association with other Churches and religions.
- Gave first preference to the Open Bible.
- Worship services including Kurbana (Holy Communion) were conducted in Malayalam, the vernacular language.
- Kurbana was not celebrated when there were none to receive.
- Distributing the Holy Communion during Qurbana was mandated to be in both elements, separately.
- Prayers to the saints and prayers for the dead were discarded.
- Auricular confession was discontinued.
- Icons, pictures, statues, and drawings of saints were removed from homes, churches, and places of worship.
- Changes were made in the liturgical books emphasizing the study of the Bible.
Reformation in action
Abraham Malpan on Sunday, August 27, 1837 conducted the Holy Communion service in Malayalam at his home parish at Maramon. Clergy, who supported him also did the same thing in various other parishes on the same day.
Every year on the first week of October, there was a church festival at Maramon, connected with a saint who died in 1685 at Kothamangalam. During that time a wooden image of that saint (they called ‘Muthappen’) was taken around in procession and people used to venerate that saint by offering prayers and ask for intercession. In 1837, Abraham Malpan took the image and threw it into a well saying, “Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19). So when the festival came there was no image to be taken out for procession.
The use of the revised liturgy and the changes he brought about in practices offended Marthoma XII. So deacons trained under Abraham Malpan were refused priesthood. But Abraham Malpan was not disheartened. He continued with the reforms. He returned to Maramon. Many of his students joined him to continue their studies. All those who believed that the Church need to revitalize also joined him. Members of parishes in Kozhencherry, Kumbanad, Eraviperoor, Thumpamon, Elanthoor, Kundara, Kottarakara, Mavelikkara, Mallapally, and many other places made trips to Maramon to attend the service in Malayalam and listen to his sermons. Doors were also opened for reformation in other places by clergy who supported him.
At this stage he had three choices in front of him. Repent and go back to the old beliefs under Antioch; join the Anglican Church with western beliefs; or go forward with the reformation restoring the Church to what he thought was its original purity. He chose the third choice. Abraham Malpan died in 1845.
Mathen, a nephew of Abraham Malpan also followed his uncle’s steps. He went to Antioch and returned consecrated by the Patriarch of Antioch as Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan. After Cheppattu Philipose Mar Dionysius abdicated due to ill health, to collect the interest of the Vattipanam (Fixed Deposit), Mar Athanasius was approved as Malankara Metropolitan by the governments of Kerala and Cochin on August 30, 1852. Mar Athanasius published the liturgy without the prayer to St. Mary. He consecrated the bishop for Malabar Independent Church. These actions angered many clergy and Pulikkottil Ouseph Kathanar went to Antioch in 1864. He returned as Joseph Mar Dionysius in 1865. During the time of Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan, Mar Dionysius demanded the possession of the Seminary and the control of assets of the Church. Mar Dionysius and his supporters filed a case on March 4, 1879. During a meeting convened by the Maharaja of Travancore, Mar Athanasius testified that Malankara Church was never under any foreign rule and that he was unwilling to move away from the teachings or give the authority and Church possessions to a foreign Patriarch. The final verdict came after ten years was against the reform party.
The Metran Kakshi (supporters of Thomas Mar Athanasious) decided to remain as an independent Malankara Church to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as it was before 1500 CE., and to give primary authority to the Holy Bible. Later this group chose the name Malankara Mar Thoma Suryani Sabha.
History of the name
It is necessary to understand how the name Malankara Marthoma Syrian Church evolved.
Malankara now known as Kerala is the name of the place in South India where these Christians lived from the first century. Only in the twentieth century they began to move out of Kerala.
In the first century,the name was Malankara Sabha (Group of believers in Malankara). The people were known as Nazranis
(followers of Jesus of Nazareth). They were not called Christians because Apostle Thomas left for India before the Greeks were called Christians. Mar Thoma literally means Saint Thomas. This is because gospel was first preached in Malabar by Saint Thomas the disciple of Jesus Christ
The word Syrian in the name of the Church is very often misunderstood by people of foreign origin. It does not mean that the Mar Thoma Christians were Syrians (people who came from Syria) or the Church is under a Syrian Church.
The origianl liturgical language used by Malankara Church was Aramiac. The Bible that was in use was in Hebrew. Their traditions was also Jewish as was in first century churches. Later when Syriac replaced Aramiac in eastern countries, Malankara Church also started using Syriac. Their Bible during that period was Estrangelo Syriac. This was the Bible that was in use till Malayalam (language of Kerala) translation was available. It is interesting to note that even though bishops from Syrian churches visited Kerala regularly, they did not change the Bible into one of the new forms of Syriac. In June 1876, Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Pathrose IV, visited Kerala and a majority of Malankara Church accepted him. They recognized the relationship with the Antiochan Syrian Church and were known as Jacobites. Those who did not join them kept their identity and became the members of the Mar Thoma Church. Note that the Mar Thoma Church continued to use the Eastern Syriac, while the others started using the Western (Antiochan) syriac. Because Syriac is still used sparingly in its liturgy, Mar Thoma church also is called a Syrian church.
Now the Church has the liturgy translated into various languages including Eastern Syriac, Malayalam, English, Hindi, Tamil, etc. Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church was never under any of the Syrian Churches. They have a combination of Jewish and Indian traditions.
After the arrival of the Portuguese, they converted a number of Nazranis in and around Cochin to Roman Catholic faith. In 1599, at the Synod of Udayamperoor, Roman Archbishop Alejo-de-Menezes referred the original Christians as Marthoma Nazranis or Malankara Nazranis. Nowhere it was mentioned that they were Syrians or Christians. The language of liturgy of the Roman Church was Latin and that of Nazranis was Syrian (Aramiac). To distinguish these two groups, later the Roman Catholics called themselves Latin Christians and the other Malankara Nazranis, Syrian Christians.
In the synod of Diamper Marthoma Nazranis were referred as Pazhaya Margam (Old path) and Catholics, Puthya Margam (New path). It is after 1758 when Roman Bishop of Verapoly wrote to the Dutch Company, that the Marthoma Nazranis were new to Malankara, the Puthenkootu (New House) came into use.
After the Cochin Award in April 1840, some of the Nazranis joined the Anglican missionaries and formed the C.M.S. Church. The C.M.S. called the remaining Malankara Nazranis "Jacobites
When the 'Purification Movement' (Reformation) began there were two groups in the church known as Methran Kakshi and Bava Kakshi. By a court verdict on July 12
Methran Kakshi lost all the properties. Just before the verdict was given, on 5 September 1888
, 12 members of the Methran Kakshi met at the Kadavil Malika
and formed a missionary group called “Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association”. The Metran Kakshi met together in 1909 and decided to accept the name Malankara Mar Thoma Suriyani Sabha (Syrian Church), combining the original name with the names that Malankara Nazranis received in the course of time. It is now generally known as Mar Thoma Church.
Independence of the Church
During the course of a litigation (1879-1889), answering a question Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan said, “ The Episcopal throne of Patriarch is the throne of St. Peter, while the throne of Malankara Church is that of St. Thomas. Malankara Church is as old as the Church in Antioch, equal in status, and both are independent.”
Mar Thoma church has a well defined constitution. His Grace the Metropolitan is the supreme head of the Church. It has a democratic pattern of administration with a Legislative assembly (Prathinidhi Mandalam), an executive body of the Mandalam (Sabha Council) and an Episcopal Synod. Its regular work as well as special projects are almost entirely financed by contributions from its members at home and abroad.
For administrative purpose, the Church is divided into 12 Dioceses headed by a Metropolitan or by an Episcopa. They are:
- Diocese of Adoor
- Diocese of Chengannur_Mavelikara
- Diocese of Niranam-Maramon
- Diocese of Ranny-Nilackel
- Diocese of Thiruvananthapuram-Kollam
- Diocese of Kottayam-Kochi
- Diocese of Kunnamkulam-Malabar
- Diocese of Chennai-Bangalore
- Diocese of Mumbai & Central India
- Diocese of Delhi
- Diocese of Malaysia-Singapore-Australia
- Diocese of North America-U.K. & Europe
Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association; Mar Thoma Sunday School Samjam; Mar Thoma Yuvajana Sakyam; Mar Thoma Suvishesha Sevika Sangham; Mar Thoma Voluntary Evangelists’ Association; Department of Sacred Music and Communications.
Also there are: Development Department; Christian Agency for Rural Development (CARD); Mar Thoma Medical Mission; Mar Thoma Sabha Mandiram Fellowship; Social Welfare Institutions; Theological Institutions; Educational Institutions; Technical Institutions; Study Centres; Church Animation Centre; and Camp Centres.
The Church has been active in the field of education and owns 9 colleges, 6 higher secondary schools, 1 vocational higher secondary school, 8 high schools and 1 training school plus other educational institutions owned and managed by individual parishes. It has 5 technical institutions.
The Church has 38 social welfare institutions, 14 destitute homes and ten hospitals. The Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam (established 1926), E.J. Institute of Evangelism, and 5 other institutes cater to the theological education of both the clergy and the laity. Further, there are three study centers at Managanam, Kottayam and Trivandrum for arranging regular study programs and to provide opportunities for creative dialogue between Church and society on various ethical, moral, social and religious issues. The religious education of children is looked after by the Sunday School Samajam (organized in 1905) and the work among youth is carried on by the Youth Department, (the Yuvajana Sakhyam organized in 1933). The Church has a Women's Department (the Mar Thoma Suvisesha Sevika Sanghom organized in 1919).
The Maramon Convention is the largest annual Christian gathering in Asia,organized by the Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association, the missionary wing of the Mar Thoma Church. It takes place at Maramon, during the month of February on the vast sand-bed of the Pampa River next to the Kozhencherry Bridge.
Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association.
On 5 September 1888
, 12 members of the Methran Kakshi formed a missionary group called “Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association”. These 12 members are considered to be the founding fathers of the Maramon convention. The names of these 12 members are:- 1. Kottarathil Thomas Kasseessa, Chengannur 2. Edavamvelil Mathai, Eraviperoor. 3. Kottooreth Yohannan, Chengannur 4. Chempakasseril Kadavil Abraham, Kallissery 5. Chakkalayil Cherian Upadesi, Puthencavu 6. Chempakasseril Kadavil Mathew, Kallissery. 7. Azhakinal Thommi, Kallooppara 8. Nathaniel Upadesi, Chengannur 9. Kurichiath (Vattadiyil) Ittiyavara, Niranam 10. Arangat Philipose, Maramon 11. Ottaplammoottil Kunju Mathew, Kallissery 12. Kochumannil Skariah, Edayaranmula.
They met at the Kadavil Malika in Kallissery, the house of Kadavil Abraham and Kadavil Mathew. This house was built by their grandfather Unnithan Kathanar and father C. Abraham in the early 1800s. (This historic Kadavil Malika was reclaimed by the Marthoma church and has recently been renovated and recommissioned on Saturday, 10 September 2005.)
The first convention was held in 1895 March, for a period of 10 days. The convention tent has a seating capacity in excess of 150,000 and is made of interwoven coconut leaves by the parishners of nearby churches. All around the tent there are temporary sheds and tents for various purposes related to the Convention. Stalls for the sale of religious literature, Church offices and restaurants run by charity organizations are allowed to operate in the vicinity of the tent under the strict control of the Church authorities.
The Maramon Convention is pre-eminently an assembly of Christians who once a year come here for listening to the gospel as read and expounded by leaders of Christian thought from all over India as well as abroad. But those who attend sit on the sand bed, (old & invalid people are given chairs) men on one side and ladies on the other. Without caste, creed, colour or age they come and listen to the messages. One after noon session is for ecumenical messages from invited leaders of other Churches.
The Church actively participates in the programs of the World Council of Churches
, the Christian Conference of Asia
, the National Council of Churches
and the Kerala
Mar Thoma Church was attending the meetings of World Council of Churches from its first meeting in 1948. At the WCC meeting held in Evanston, Dr. Juhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan was elected as one of its presidents. Since then the Church representatives attended all the General meetings.
The Mar Thoma Church is in communion relationship with the Independent Syrian Church of Thozhiyoor, although the doctrinal positions are not mutually accepted in full.
Customs and traditions
Marthoma Church still follows some of the ancient customs. One of them is given below:
Ceremony at the church is in two parts. First is Betrothal or blessing of the ring. This is to make sure that the bride agrees to the wedding. The groom passes a ring to the officiating priest who examines it and hand it over to the bride requesting her to accept it. If she accepts the ring, wedding ceremony will continue. If it is returned the wedding will not be held. The value of the ring should not be more than what the poorest in the community can pay for, although this is not strictly observed in modern times. Before seventh century it was the practice for the groom to give copper coins, ‘from his earnings,’ to the bride through a third party. Now coins have been replaced by a ring. A Marthoma lady will wear her wedding ring till the end of her life.
Because they are going to be the heads of a new family, they are to be crowned as king and Queen of the new home. The crown used is a golden chain, the one used by the earlier generations. Then the husband ties a gold pendant, known as minnu on his wife’s neck. Pendant is in the shape of a banyan tree leaf. A Marthoma lady will wear her pendant till the end of her life. To show that the husband is capable of protecting her, he clothes her in a new dress known as manthrakodi. Soon after the wedding ceremony, she changes to her new dress. Traditionally, a Marthoma lady keeps this dress till the end of her life and at her death, the body is dressed in her Manthrakodi.
After the wedding ceremony, there is traditionally a function at home with immediate relations and close friends. The couple gives gifts (Dakshina) to their first teacher and elders of the family, although this may take place before the wedding ceremony. The groom gives a sari to the bride's mother.
- Juhanon Marthoma Metropolitan, The Most Rev. Dr. (1952). ‘’Christianity in India and a Brief History of the Marthoma Syrian Church’’. Pub: K.M. Cherian.
- Mathew, K.V. Dr. (1985) The Faith and Practice of The Mar Thoma Church.
- Mathew N.M. (2003). ‘’St. Thomas Christians of Malabar Through Ages’’, C.S.S. Tiruvalla. ISBN 81-4821-008-8 and CN 80303
- Pothen, S.G. (1963). ‘’The Syrian Christians of Kerala’’. Asia Publishing House, London.
- #Zac Varghese Dr. & Mathew A. Kallumpram. (2003). ‘’Glimpses of Mar Thoma Church History’’. London, England. ISBN 81/900854/4/1
- Chacko, T.C. (1936) Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charithra Samgraham. (Concise History of Marthoma Church), Pub: E.J. Institute, Kompady, Tiruvalla.
- Daniel, K.N. (1924) Malankara Sabha Charitravum Upadesangalum, (History and Doctrines of Malankara Church). M.C.Chacko, R.V.Press, Tiruvalla.
- Daniel, K.N. (1952). Udayamperoor Sunnahadosinte Canonukal. (Canons of Synod of Diamper) Pub: C.S.S., Tiruvalla.
- Eapen, Prof. Dr. K.V. (2001). Malankara Marthoma Suryani Sabha Charitram. (History of Malankara Marthoma Syrian Church). Pub: Kallettu, Muttambalam, Kottayam.
- George Alexander, Rev.(Ed). “Maramon Convention Sathapdhi Valum-’95.”
- George Kassessa, Rev.M.C. (1919). Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan. (Biography in Malaylam), CLS, Tiruvalla.
- Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan. (1857). Mar Thoma Sleehayude Idavakayakunna Malankara Suryani Sabhaudai Canon. (Canon of the Malankara Syrian Church of Saint Thomas). Printed at Kottayam Syrian Seminary.
- Mathew, N.M. (2007). Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charitram, (History of the Marthoma Church), Volume 1.(2006), Volume II (2007). Volume III (2008) Pub. E.J.Institute, Thiruvalla
- Varughese, Rev.K.C., (1972). Malabar Swathantra Suryani Sabhyude Charitram (History of the Malankar Independednt Suryani Church)
- Mar Thoma Sabha Directory. (1999) Pub. The Publication Board of The Mar Thoma church, Tiruvalla, Kerala, India.