Thursday, 10 October 2013

Who are the St. Thomas Christians?

St. Thomas
Ancient Era
Thomas Cross
In the year AD 52, St.Thomas the Apostle of Jesus Christ, in order to fulfill his missionary purpose evangelized many parts of India. His works greatly laid an impact especially on the southwestern state of Kerala. As his legacy a small Christian community had formed and the local peoples begun to call them Nasranis or followers of Jesus of Nazareth. For centuries after the apostles death, the Christian community prospered and made a connection with Church of East (from whom which they received their bishops). The community began following the East Syriac Tradition and the Holy Qurbana of Mar Addai and Mari.




Knai Thoma
 Later in the year AD 345, in order to strengthen the the St.Thomas Christians a group of Early Christians migrated from Asia Minor. This group composed of 72 Early Christian families, a bishop of the Church of the East known as Urha Mar Yoseph, many priests, deacons, and their leader Knai Thoma or Thomas of Cana who was an enterprising merchant who often did trade between Kerala and Asia Minor. On reaching Kerala, Knai Thoma and his people were accepted graciously by the local king and were granted privileges and land to settle. They soon erected three churches, one in the name of our Lady Mariam, one in the name of Mar Thoma Sleeha, and one in the name of Blessed St. Kuriakose. This group of settlers became known as the Knanaya Christians, and according to their tradition of endogamy, they did not enter into Holy Matrimony with the native Christians and maintained their separate identity and culture.

Period of Portuguese Rule
For centuries the St.Thomas Christians and the Knanayas (though there was some strife between the groups) lived in a common peace with each other. The Christian community had prospered and was living in harmony under the Church of the East. After the year 1499 things began to change as the Portuguese took control of Kerala. The Portuguese were at first astounded to have found Christians in India but after taking a further look at these Christians, thought their Church of the East teachings to be heresy. They soon hosted a synod with the Christian community in which they took control of the St.Thomas Christian and Knanaya Churches and transferred them all under the Catholic diocese they erected in India. The Portuguese had known of the St.Thomas Christian connection with the Church of the East and made sure the Eastern bishops could not reach the community.


Leaning Cross Oath
After years of being under the Catholic Church, in 1653 a portion of the St.Thomas Christians had revolted against the Portuguese in an act known as the Leaning Cross Oath and proclaimed they would no longer accept Portuguese Dominance. The Leaning Cross Oath was an act of independence when the revolting St. Thomas Christians joined together at Mattancherry Church and tied a rope to the outdoor cross there. The Christians held the rope while pledging to no longer adhere to the Jesuit Portuguese Bishops. It is said that the pressure of that many individuals pulling on the cross made it lean thus this event is known as the "Leaning Cross Oath". The Christians who revolted were eventually brought under the Syriac Orthodox Church and began to receive bishops. This caused a rift in the community, creating two groups, Syrian Catholics and Syrian Orthodox. After the event, out of the 116 churches owned by the Christian community, the Syrian Catholics claimed 84 and the Syrian Orthodox 32. 

Modern Era
Mar Augustine Kandathil
The two groups continued this way until 1889, when because of the influence of European Anglicanism some Syrian Orthodox broke off from their mother church and claimed independence. This divided group begun to call their independent church the "Mar Thoma Syrian Church" which was a mix between Anglican and West Syriac Tradition. Later there was a division in the Mar Thoma Syrian Church and a new independent church formed known as the St.Thomas Evangelical Church. Today the Mar Thoma Syrian Church is noted as being a member of the Anglican Communion of Churches.

In 1887 the Syrian Catholics for the first time got their own diocese' and from then on were known as Syro Malabar Catholics. The Syro Malabar hierarchy was restored in 1923 when Mar Augustine Kandathil was installed as the first Metropolitan and head of the church. In 1911 a separate diocese known as Kottayam Diocese was erected just for the Knanaya Catholics under the Syro Malabar Church, Mar Mathew Makil was the first Metropolitan and Head of the Knanaya Catholic Church. Today the Syro Malabar Church is recognized as a Major Archieparchial Church of East Syriac Tradition and Origin, it is one of the twenty-two Eastern Catholic Churches.
Mar Mathew Makil

Mar Ivanios
 The Syrian Orthodox were once again divided in the year 1930, when a section of the church under the leadership of Mar Ivanios and Mar Theophilus regained communion with the Catholic Church. This faction eventually became known as today's Syro Malankara Catholic Church. In Kerala they are nick named "reethakar" which is just a disambiguation for Catholics of a different rite aka "reeth". The Syro Malankara Church is recognized as well as a Major Archieparchial Church but of West Syriac Tradition and Origins, also being one of the twenty-two Eastern Catholic Churches. 

The Syrian Orthodox had one more division in the years 1912-1975 over the supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch. Two factions arose, one known as the Patriarchs Party and the other known as the Bishops Party. One party supported being under the Patriarch of Antioch and the other wanted an independent Indian Orthodox Church. In 1975 the factions officially split and those who remained under the Patriarch remained as Jacobite Syrian Orthodox and those who fought for an independent church became known as Malankara Indian Orthodox. Similar to the Syrian Catholics, in 1910 a separate diocese known as Chingavanam Diocese was erected just for the Knanaya Jacobites under the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Mor Severios Geevarghese was its first Metropolitan and Head of the Knanaya Jacobite Church. Today the Jacobite Syrian Church and the Malankara Indian Orthodox Church are noted as being churches of Oriental Orthodox (West Syriac) Background and are members of the Oriental Orthodox Communion.

Throughout the centuries the St.Thomas Christians had many splits and many new churches formed but to regain a sense of unity, an ecumenical council was created for all the St.Thomas Churches. I'll share a few pictures at the end of the post of the different churches and their leaders.
A Common St. Thomas Christian Church

All Divisions - Current Hierarchs

1. Syro Malabar Catholic Church - Major Archbishop Mar George Alencherry
-Knanaya Catholic - Metropolitan Archbishop Mar Mathew Moolakattu
2. Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church - Catholicos Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas
-Knanaya Jacobite - Metropolitan Archbishop Kuriakose Mor Severios
3. Malankara Orthodox Church - Catholicos Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II
4. Marthoma Syrian Church - Metropolitan Joseph Mar Thoma
5. St.Thomas Evangelical Church - Representative Body
6. Syro Malankara Catholic Church. - Major Archbishop Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis

 Pictorial of the St. Thomas Christians Today
  Ecumenical Council Meeting of the St. Thomas Christian Churches
Major Archbishop of the Syro Malabar Church
Maran Mar George Alencherry

Knanaya Catholic Metropolitan
Mar Mathew Moolakkattu

Catholicos of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church
Mor Baselios Thomas I

Knanaya Jacobite Metropolitan
Kuriakose Mor Severios

 Catholicos of the Malankara Orthodox Church
Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II
 Head of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church
 Metropolitan Bishop Joseph Mar Thoma

Major Archbishop of the Syro Malankara Catholic Church
Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis

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