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).
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 Thomas 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.
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.
After years of being under the Catholic Church, in 1653 a portion of the St.Thomas Christians had revolted against the Portuguese and proclaimed they would no longer accept the Pope of Rome. The Christians who revolted were eventually brought under the Syriac Orthodox Church and begun to receive bishops. This caused a rift in the community, creating two groups Syrian Catholics and Syrian Orthodox. Out of the 116 churches owned by the Christian community, the Syrian Catholics claimed 84 and the Syrian Orthodox 32.
The two groups continued this way until 1889, when because of the influence of 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”. Later there was a division in the Mar Thoma Syrian Church and a new independent church formed known as the St.Thomas Evangelical Church.
In 1887 the Syrian Catholics for the first time got there own diocese’ and from then on were known as Syro Malabar Catholics. The Syro Malabar hierarchy was restored in 1923 and Mar Augustine Kandathil was installed as the first Metropolitan and head of the church. In 1911 Kottayam Diocese was erected for just the Knanaya Catholics, Mar Mathew Makil was the first Metropolitan and Head of the Knanaya Catholic Church.
The Syrian Orthodox were once again divided in the year 1930, when a section of the church under the leadership of Mar Ivanos and Mar Theophilus regained communion with the Catholic Church. This faction became known as the Syro Malankara Catholic Sui Juris. In Kerala they are nick named “reethakar” which is just a disambiguation for Catholics of a different rite aka “reeth” :p.
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 were known as Jacobite Syrian Christian and those who fought for an independent church became known as Malankara Indian Orthodox. In 1910 Chingavanam Diocese was erected just for the Knanaya Jacobites, Mor Severios Geevarghese was its first Metropolitan and Head of the Knanaya Jacobite Church.
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.
- Syro Malabar Catholic Church - Major Archbishop, Mar George Alencherry
-Knanaya Catholic - Metropolitan Archbishop, Mar Mathew Moolakattu
- Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church - Catholicos, Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas I
-Knanaya Jacobite - Metropolitan Archbishop, Kuriakose Mor Severios
- Malankara Orthodox Church - Catholicos, Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II
- Marthoma Syrian Church - Metropolitan, Joseph Mar Thoma
- St.Thomas Evangelical Church - Representative Body
- Syro Malankara Catholic Church. - Major Archbishop, Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis
I thought I’d share some information