Mar Thoma History
Before His ascension into heaven, our Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples:
You will receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and
Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1: 8).
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place and the Holy Spirit did come on them.
Thereupon, in obedience to their Master’s call, the disciples dispersed themselves and went out to witness Him, wherever the Holy Spirit led them. In performing this divine mission, many of them became martyred, one after the other.
Among all the apostles, doubting Thomas travelled the farthest and reached as far as Kodungallur, in the west coast of India, in the year 52 AD. He founded the ancient Church in Kerala, whose people have come to be known as St.Thomas Christians. From the west coast of India, he journeyed to China on his divine mission and from there came back to India again, this time to the east coast. In the east coast, he had to confront aggressive detractors. He was eventually speared to death, in the year 72 AD, at a place near Madras (Chennai). This place has since come to be known as St.Thomas Mount.
CONCEPT OF CHURCH
In essence, Church is a fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ. Belief in Jesus Christ means, belief in the sole saving grace of Jesus Christ. This is the prime fundamental tenet of every Christian Church.
Professed faith of every Church includes more doctrines. What is identified and high-lighted, is the core-part of it.
Believers in Jesus Christ, who constitute a Church, not only inter-act individually with Jesus Christ; they also inter-act among themselves, in unison with Jesus Christ. This is the essence of congregational worship, fellowship and communion.
As the fellowship grows, some structures grow with it, so as to regulate the affairs of the fellowship. Generally, we identify this coordinated structure, as the Church.
ST.THOMAS CHRISTIANS – One Native Church
St.Thomas Christians in Kerala remained one, simple, indigenous, independent, undivided Church, for 16 centuries, in blissful ignorance of the nicer christological concepts and consequent differences, that arose, in distant Churches elsewhere. St.Thomas Christians were pastored by their own native ministers, ordained by visiting Prelates from West Asia, irrespective of the theological school of thought, they came from. Apparently, by reason of the language of the liturgy used in the Church, St.Thomas Christians came to be known also as Syrian Christians. Temporal and spiritual administration of the Church was in the hands of the native community and their ministers, headed by the local dignitary, known as Arch-deacon.
ROMAN HEGEMONY and deliverance
About 400 years ago, in the year 1599, consequent upon intervention by the Portuguese power, the Church was absorbed into the Church of Rome, in the historic Udayamperoor Synod. The Church remained in the Roman fold for about 50 years.
During this period, the Church came under the episcopal authority of three successive Romo-Portuguese Prelates viz.,
(1) Bishop (later Archbishop) Francis Ros SJ (1599-1624);
(2) Archbishop Stephen Brito SJ (1624-1641) and
(3) Archbishop Francis Garcia SJ (1641-1659);
all consecrated in Goa, especially for the Church of the St.Thomas Syrian Christians.
Episcopacy of these three Portuguese Prelates, was marred by a great deal of internal strife and dissension, in the Church.
In the year 1653, the Church shook itself free from the Portuguese yoke and renounced its allegiance to the Church of Rome, in the historic event of Coonen Cross. The declaration of independence was sealed by raising Arch-deacon Thomas of Pakalomattom family, as the native Prelate under the title Marthoma-I, at Alangad, in the year 1653 itself, in eschewal of the episcopal authority of Archbishop Francis Garcia.
However much we may desire against it, the fifty years of Roman hegemony and episcopal administration by the Portuguese Prelates, does form part of our history and for that reason, also part of our heritage and roots.
THE FIRST DIVIDE – Pazhayakur Syrians
Following the wholesale exit of the whole body of Syrian Christians from the Church of Rome, Carmelite fathers were dispatched by Rome, to appease the community and bring them back to the Roman fold. Their ceaseless efforts bore fruit. Out of a total of 116 congregations, 84 congregations went back to the Roman Church, by the end of 1657. This section of the St.Thomas christians, have come to be known as Pazhayakur Syrians, in projection of the immediately past (Roman) allegiance, to which they went back.
LINK WITH ANTIOCHEAN CHURCH – Puthenkur Syrians
The balance 32 congregations remained independent, under the leadership of their native Prelate Marthoma-I, who had already been raised to that dignity, in 1653 itself. However, appropriate consecration of Marthoma I, by laying of hands, by another Bishop, in accordance with universally recognised rite of the Church, had to await the arrival of a Bishop from the Syrian Jacobite Church of the Antioch, in the year 1665. This event initiated the native Church’s connection with the Syrian Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch. Although the native Church’s connection with the Syrian Jacobite Church and the Patriarch of Antioch, was only of a very limited nature, nonetheless this section of the native community came to be known as Puthenkur Syrians, in projection of the new Antiochean connection and the Church itself came to be known as the Malankara Syrian (Jacobite) Church.
Nine native prelates, all of them from Pakalomattom family, holding the title of Marthoma I to IX, ruled over the Malankara Syrian Church, for well over 150 years, during the period 1653 to 1817. Of these nine Prelates, Marthoma VI submitted himself to demands by visiting foreign Prelates from Antioch and permitted himself to be re-consecrated a second time, under the new title Mar Dionysius I.
DISPUTES IN THE SYRIAN CHURCH –
Termination of choice of Prelates from Pakalomattom family –
Royal proclamation of Ruling Bishop
Disputes arose in the Malankara Syrian Church, in regard to the validity of the consecration of Marthoma VIII, in 1816 and upon his death soon after, Marthoma IX, also in 1816. This had the potential of dividing the Church again.
At that time, Colonel Munro was the British Resident (1810-1819), accredited to both the States of Travancore and Cochin. He also held the office of Divan of both States, for considerable parts of his tenure as Resident. Colonel Munro was a devout christian. He took a great deal of interest in the welfare of the native Syrian Church and wanted to ensure peace and good government in the Church.
Acting in accordance with the desire of the lay and clerical leaders of the Church, Colonel Munro persuaded Mar Philoxenos II, the head of a small, historic, local church of Syrian christians, based in Thozhiyur, in British Malabar, to move to Kottayam, in the year 1816 and temporarily take over episcopal administration of the Malankara Syrian Church, till such time as a proper person was consecrated to that office.
In order to avoid possible disputes and division, Colonel Munro persuaded the ruling sovereign of Travancore (Regent Rani Lakshmi Bai), to issue a Royal Proclamation, recognising Mar Philoxenos II, as the Head (Metropolitan) of the Malankara Syrian Church.
PRACTICE OF NOTIFYING HEAD OF Malankara Syrian Church – By Royal Proclamation
The Royal Proclamation of 1816 became the first, in a series of Royal Proclamations, issued by the Government of Travancore, notifying the Head (Metropolitan) of the Malankara Syrian Church, as one after other Bishop became inducted into that office, upon his predecessor’s death or relinquishment of office viz., Pulikot Mar Dionysius II (1816), Punnathara Mar Dionysius III (1818), Cheppat Mar Dionysius IV (1825) etc. As a result, it was generally accepted by the community, that the effective installation of the ruling Bishop, required a confirmatory proclamation by the Maharajah.
ENGLISH MISSION OF HELP – 1816 – 1836
Moral and spiritual fibre of the Malankara Syrian Church had come to a very low ebb, by the time the Church came to the notice of the British Residents and the Anglican Bishop in India, in the early part of the 19th century, mainly due to want of facility for reading and learning Scripture, in the absence of a Malayalam version of the Holy Bible and consequent unbecoming and unscriptural practices, that came into vogue, in the Church.
In this background, Church Mission Society of England sent out missionaries to help the local leaders of the Church, to educate the clergy and the laity and root out unbecoming and unscriptural practices.
Provision of Malayalam translation of the Holy Bible and conduct of worship service in Malayalam, the only language understood by the people, were crying need of the time, to which the CMS missionaries, devoted their attention.
The English Mission of help lasted only for a period of 20 years, spread over the episcopal stewardship of Pulikot Mar Dionysius II (1816-17), Punnathara Mar Dionysius III (1818-1825) and the early years of Cheppat Mar Dionysius IV (1825-36). The first two Bishops welcomed and appreciated the English mission of help and the CMS Missionaries had a very good relationship with them.
MAVELIKARA PADIYOLA – 1836
However, when it came to the period of episcopal stewardship of Cheppat Mar Dionysius IV, difference of opinion grew between the Bishop and the Missionaries. At a Synod of the Church, held at Mavelikara, in the year 1836, a formal document was drawn up, opposing the reforms brought in by the English Missionaries and restricting their freedom of action in the Church. This document has come to be known in Church History, as Mavelikara Padiyola. Following Mavelikara Padiyola, the CMS Missionaries withdrew themselves from the Syrian Church and the Mission of Help came to termination in 1836.
ANGLICAN CHURCH IN KERALA
Following termination of the association between the Syrian Church and the CMS Missionaries, a small section of the community chose to leave the mother Church and join the Missionaries. The Missionaries also gave leadership to direct evangelisation in Kerala.
The Missionaries proceeded to establish an Anglican Church in Kerala, for the benefit of the section of the community that came out with them and so also the new christians, that accepted christian faith, by their evangelistic endeavours. The Anglican Church in Kerala remained part of the Anglican Church in India, for well over a century, until it became merged, in Church of South India, in the year 1947.
REFORMATION INSIDE – Malankara Syrian Church
There remained a growing section of the people in the Malankara Syrian Church, that cherished the reformation brought to the Church, by the CMS Missionaries, but nonetheless did not desire to go out of the mother Church and wanted the dead wood to be cleared, in the mother Church itself. This movement was speer-headed by two ministers of the Syrian Church, who were also teachers in the seminary administered by the Missionaries, for imparting training to Syrian Clergy, namely Palakunnath Abraham Malpan and Kaithail Geevarghese Malpan.
MEMORIAL TO THE BRITISH RESIDENT – 1836
A memorial signed by 12 ministers of the Reformist Group, including the aforementioned Abraham Malpan and Geevarghese Malpan, submitted a memorial to Colonel Fraser, the then British Resident in Travancore, in the year 1836, pointing out several unworthy practices in the Church and seeking removal of Cheppat Mar Dionysius IV from office, by withdrawal of the Royal Proclamation, in his favour. No notice was however taken of the memorial, by Colonel Fraser, as he was reluctant to interfere in the internal affairs of the Church.
Nonetheless, this memorial has come down in history, as the starting point of internal reformation in the Syrian Church. After the reformists subsequently attained a separate identity of their own and came to be known as Marthoma Church, centenary of this memorial was observed in the year 1936 and later still, its 150 years jubilee, in the year 1986.
MATHEWS MAR ATHANASIUS- Consecrated Bishop, 1842
Cheppat Mar Dionysius IV declared that he would not give ordination to any one of the students trained for ministry in the Church, by Abraham Malpan and Geevarghese Malpan.
To steer clear of this impasse, Abraham Malpan sent his nephew Mathew, who was already an ordained deacon of the Church, to Mardin, the then seat of the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, to represent to him about the difficulties in the Malankara Church and seek consecration of himself, as a Bishop.
Deacon Mathew was a person of great ability and personal charm. The Patriarch received Deacon Mathew with great regard. The Patriarch invited Deacon Mathew to stay with himself, in his official residence, so that he could make an evaluation of the deacon, for the higher office sought by him. The Patriarch was very much impressed with the ability and sincerity of purpose of Deacon Mathew and he proceeded to confer on him, all successive ordinations from deacon (over again) to Bishop, under the title Mathews Mar Athanasius, in the year 1842.
The Patriarch also proceeded to confer on Mar Athanasius, his official authorisation known as Stathecon, to rule over the Malankara Syrian Church.
MAR ATHANASIUS’ EFFORTS – to assume office
Mathews Mar Athanasius returned to Kerala in 1843. Thereupon, he made efforts to establish himself, as the ruling Bishop of Malankara Syrian Church and more especially to obtain confirmatory Royal Proclamation in that behalf, in his favour, by the Travancore Government. However, many difficulties stood in his way.
Cheppat Mar Dionysius IV was still holding that office and he would not relent, to assumption of office by Mar Athanasius.
Later, Mar Kurilos, a foreign Prelate from the Syrian Jacobite Church, came on the scene, claiming the Patriarch’s authority to take over office of the Ruling Bishop. Thereupon, Mar Dionysius IV abdicated office, in favour of Mar Kurilos.
Both Mar Athanasius and Mar Kurilos projected their respective claims for office, before two successive committees appointed by the Government of Travancore, one after the other, to resolve the dispute. Both Committees declared their verdict in favour of Mar Athanasius. Accordingly, Royal Proclamation was issued, in the year 1852, declaring Mar Athanasius, to be the duly constituted Head (Metropolitan) of the Malankara Syrian Church.
ABRAHAM MALPAN PASSES AWAY – 1845
During the period 1843-’52, Mathews Mar Athanasius was far too much pre-occupied with his efforts, to establish his own authority, as the ruling Bishop. He was also equally anxious to keep together the reformists and the anti-reformists, in the Church, without a split.
Abraham Malpan, his uncle, felt disappointed that Mar Athanasius was not giving adequate leadership to reformation movement in the Church, which had become his mission in life. In this background, Abraham Malpan passed away, (to some extent, a disappointed person), in the year 1845.
MATHEWS MAR ATHANASIUS’ stewardship of the Church –Metropolitan, 1852 – 1872
Once he consolidated his position as the ruling Bishop of the Malankara Church, Mathews Mar Athanasius, gave excellent leadership to the Church, spiritually, socially as well as in many other ways. He also gave active support to reformation movement, initiated by his uncle Abraham Malpan, He also made efforts, to keep the Church, out of a split.
Nonetheless, anti-reformists were determined to oust him from office.
PULIKOT MAR DIONYSIUS V – Consecrated Bishop, 1865
The opponents of Mar Athanasius, dispatched Pulikot Joseph Ramban, a nephew of the late Pulikot Mar Dionysius II, to the Patriarch in Mardin, seeking his consecration as Bishop. The Patriarch consecrated Joseph Ramban as Bishop, under the title Mar Dionysius V, in the year 1865 and also proceeded to issue a kalpana, purporting to appoint him as Head of the Malankara Church, in supercession of Mathews Mar Athanasius.
Mar Dionysius V staked his claim for office, before the Government of Travancore, but no immediate action was taken thereon, by the Government.
In the meanwhile, with another contending Bishop also on the scene, two distinct parties emerged in the Church, one holding allegiance to Mar Athanasius, comprised mainly of reformists and the other, holding allegiance to Mar Dionysius V, comprised mainly of anti-reformists.
THOMAS MAR ATHANASIUS- Consecrated Bishop, 1869
While so, Mathews Mar Athanasius consecrated his cousin, a son of the late Abraham Malpan, as a Bishop of the Church, under the title Thomas Mar Athanasius, to assist him in episcopal administration and eventually succeed him, as Metropolitan.
PATRIARCH INVOLVES HIMSELF directly in the dispute.
The Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch considered the dispute between Mar Athanasius and Mar Dionysius, as one involving his own personal supremacy, in the Malankara Church.
In the year 1875, he sent out a kalpana, purporting to ex-communicate Mathews Mar Athanasius from the Church.
The Patriarch succeeded in getting the Travancore Government, to issue a Royal Proclamation in the year 1875, withdrawing the Royal Proclamation of 1852, in favour of Mathews Mar Athanasius and directing that any dispute in regard to rightful authority in the Church, has to be settled in civil litigation.The Patriarch himself arrived in Travanocre, in the year 1876 and stayed on for almost an year, consolidating his position and power, in the Malankara Church.
PATRIARCH DIVIDES THE CHURCH INTO 7 DIOCESES- The Church splits into two.
At a meeting of the Synod of the Church convened by the Patriarch, at Mulanthuruthy, in June 1876, the Patriarch divided the Malankara Church (comprised of his loyalists) into 7 Dioceses and consecrated 6 more bishops, to hold charge of each Diocese, giving equal authority to all of them, directly under himself.
With this action by the Patriarch, the Malankara Church became finally split, into two divisions viz., the anti-reformists, owing allegiance to the Patriarch (spread over the 7 newly created Dioceses) and the reformists, owing allegiance to Mathews Mar Athanasius.
THOMAS MAR ATHANASIUS- Ruling Bishop 1877 – 1893 Church Litigation
Mathews Mar Athanasius passed away in the year 1877.
Following the demise of Mathews Mar Athanasius, Thomas Mar Athanasius formally took over as the Metropolitan of the Church, in the year 1877. Effectively, only the reformists’ division stood loyal to him.
Dionysius V, the senior Bishop in the patriarchircal division, commenced litigation against Thomas Mar Athanasius, to recover certain movable and immovable properties, held in his custody, as the Metropolitan of the Church. The litigation went through three courts viz., District Court, Alleppey, High Court of Travancore and the Travancore Royal Court of Final Appeal. Successive verdicts of courts went against Thomas Mar Athanasius.
In the final decision rendered by a 3-Judge Bench of the Royal Court of Final Appeal – two against one – the court evolved two principles, to determine the right to episcopal authority over the Church viz.,
(i) Consecration as a Bishop by or under authority of the Patriarch; and
(ii) Acceptance of that Bishop, by the people of the Church.
Dionysius V had been consecrated by the Patriarch and the majority of the people of the Church, (represented by the parish-representatives who met at the Mulanthuruthy Synod in 1876), were held to be with Dionysius V.
It may be recalled here that Malankara Church was an indigenous, independent Church and it had only taken aid from the Syrian Jacobite Patriarch, for consecration of its Bishops. Nonetheless, the Patriarch’s overlordship of the Church was upheld by the two-to-one majority judges of the Royal Court of Final Appeal. This was, however, dissented from, by Justice Ormsby, the only christian Judge on the three-Judge Bench.
The reformists however stood firm with Thomas Mar Athanasius.
TITUS-I MARTHOMA – 1893 – 1910
Thomas Mar Athanasius passed away rather prematurely, in the year 1893, without consecrating a successor.
The section of the Church that had stood firm for reformation and remained loyal to Thomas Mar Athanasius, became placed in a very difficult situation. Without a duly consecrated Bishop to lead them, the Church could become deprived of its apostolic identity.
At this difficult juncture, Mar Kurilos of the independent See of Thozhiyur graciously came to the succour of the reformed section of the Malankara Church. Titus, a younger brother of Thomas Mar Athanasius, who was already a Senior Minister of the Church, was consecrated as Metropolitan, under the title Titus I Marthoma.
With the consecration of Titus I, the reformed section of the Church, came to be known as Marthoma Church and acquired a distinct identity of its own, but rooted in the history and tradition of the past 2000 years.
A list of the succeeding Bishops of the Church, is set out below.
Name of Bishop
Titus II Marthoma
1896 – 1910
1910 – 1943
1917 – 1943
1943 – 1947
Dr.Yuhanom Mar Timotheos
1937 – 1947
1947 – 1976
Dr.Mathews Mar Athanasius
1937 – 1973
Dr.Alexander Mar Theophilus
1953 – 1974
1974 – 1976
1976 – 1999*
Dr.Thomas Mar Athanasius
1953 – 1977
1977 – 1984
Dr.Philipose Mar Chrysostom
1953 – 1977
1977 – 1999
1999 – 2007*
Dr.Joseph Mar Irenaeus
1975 – 1999
1999 – 2007
Easow Mar Timotheos
1975 – 1988
Dr.Zacharias Mar Theophilus
1980 – 2004
Geevarghese Mar Athanasius
Dr.Geevarghese Mar Theodosius
Dr.Euyakim Mar Coorilos
Joseph Mar Barnabas
Thomas Mar Timotheos
Dr.Isaac Mar Philoxenos
Dr.Abraham Mar Paulos
* Voluntarily relinquished Metropolitan’s office
MARTHOMA SABHA CONSTITUTION – I, II & III.
The document that regulates the affairs of the church, is the Constitution of the Church. The Constitution does not make the Church. The Church makes the Constitution, to regulate its affairs.
Marthoma Church framed and promulgated a written Sabha Constitution, to regulate its affairs, in the year 1084 ME, corresponding to the year AD 1909, about the close of the ruling tenure of Metropolitan Titus-1 Marthoma.
The 1909 Constitution was substantially modified and re-framed some time during the early nineteen fifties, during the ruling tenure of Metropolitan Yuhannon Marthoma.
This second Constitution was again substantially modified and re-framed during the ruling tenure of Metropolitan Yuhannon Marthoma himself, in the year 1969.
The 1969 Constitution, (as amended from time to time), is the Constitution, by which the Church is presently governed.
DECLARATION OF FAITH OF MAR THOMA CHURCH
Marthoma Church has declared its faith, in the preliminary part of the present Sabha Constitution. It includes belief in the Triune God, acceptance of Jesus Christ as the savior of the whole world and acceptance of the Holy Bible, consisting of sixty six books, comprised in the old and new testaments, as the basis of all doctrine and faith, all of which are declared to be perpetual and unalterable.
The Church has also professedly retained, for all times to come, the three-fold ministry of deacon, priest and episcopa and so also ancient rites viz., church dedication, holy baptism, holy communion, holy matrimony, unction (anointing) of the sick, funeral service and observance of sunday, lents and dominical feasts.
Dominical feasts are feasts observed, in commemoration of the more important events in the earthly life of our lord Jesus Christ.
Dominical feasts comprise of –
1. Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ (X’mas) ;
2. Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday);
3. Institution of the Lord’s supper by our Lord (Maundy Thursday);
4. Persecution and crucifixion of our Lord (Good Friday);
5. Resurrection of our Lord from the dead on the 3rd day (Easter); and,
6. Ascension of our Lord into heaven on the 40th day.
ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURE OF MAR THOMA CHURCH
Marthoma Sabha Constitution provides for a three-tier organisation viz.,
(i) Sabha or polity of the whole Church;
(ii) Dioceses; and,
POLITY OF THE WHOLE CHURCH
Organisational structure of the polity of whole Church, comprise of.-
(i) The Metropolitan, who is the Supreme Head of the Church;
(ii) Episcopal Synod, comprised of all the Bishops of the Church;
(iii) Sabha Prathinidhi Mandalam, the supreme legislative body of the Church, comprised of clergy members (including Bishops) and lay members, in the proportion 35 : 65; and,
(iv) Sabha Council, the executive body of the Mandalam, comprised of all the bishops and a vast majority of elected members, comprised of clergy and laity.
Dioceses are constituted by the Metropolitan, in consultation with the Sabha Council and the Episcopal Synod.
Organisational structure of the Diocese consists of .-
(i) The Diocesan Bishop, who is the Chief shepherd and Head of the Diocese;
(ii) The Diocesan Assembly, the legislative body of the Diocese,comprised of both clergy members and a vast majority of lay members; and
(iii) The Diocesan Council, the executive body of the Assembly,elected by the Assembly, comprised of both clergy and laity.
Primary unit of the Church is the local parish. The parish consists of members of the Church, meeting together in congregational worship in the parish Church and whose names are borne in the parish register.
Diocesan Bishop holds the power to establish new parishes, divide existing parishes and organize them into new parishes or abolish an existing parish and incorporate the congregation into one or more neighbouring parishes, all subject to previous sanction of the Episcopal Synod.
Organisational structure of the parish consists of:-
(i) The Vicar, who is charged with the responsibility of sheperding the families and members of the parish;
(ii) Assembly of adult members of the Church called Edavaka Sanghom, which functions as the legislative organ of the parish;
(iii) Kaisthana Samithi, which is the executive body of the Edavaka Sanghom, elected by the Edavaka Sanghom.
TRADITION & LAY PARTICIPATION – Harmoniously blent
A very special feature of the Marthoma Sabha Constitution, is its harmonious blending of traditional episcopal and priestly authority, with active participation of the laity, in the life and work of the Church.
MARTHOMA CHURCH Growth of members and parishes
Membership of the Marthoma Church, was basically confined to Central Travancore and some pockets in the northern part of the State of Cochin. Ernakulam and Kochi were not on the map of the Marthoma Church.
Over the past century and more particularly over the past 50 years, Marthoma Church rode into distant out-reaches, not only in what is now Kerala, but also in the rest of India, as well as in the rest of the world.