The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the St. Thomas Christians

How many diocese/eparchies comprise the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church? Also, how many other Indian St. Thomas Christian Catholic Churches are there? Are the Latinizations of the Portuguese being removed?

Also what is the relationship like between the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Syro-Malabar Church?

There are the Syro Malabar and the Syro Malankara Catholics in India. I think it is the Syro Malankara church which is west Syrian, the Syro Malabar church is east Syrian. Maybe I have it backwards. There are also the Knanaya Catholics. I think they are seperate from the other two.

Correction: the Knanaya Catholics are a subgroup of the Syro-Malabar’s.

Are the Kananaya Catholics the ones who have a sort of “Indianized” liturgy and wear saffron robes? I sure don’t know much about any of that, but I have seen pictures of something like that.

The Knanaya’s are an extremely ethnic group. They are pretty much a closed community in that a person can not become knanaya Catholic. They have many Jewish aspects in their tradition. I don’t know anything about their liturgy of their robes.

I think the Syro-Malankaras are very indianized and they have a distinctly Indian tradition. I have a book of prayers from the various traditions of the Oriental Orthodox Church. It mentions in the introduction about the Malankara Orthodox being distinctly Indian.

In one sense I think the Latinizations are being removed - but a lot are still there. In my parish (of course, this may be because we are outside Kerala but I’m told it is not much different from there) there are quite a few Latinisations still - kneeling, ad populum (thoguh they turn to face the cross behind the altar) altar girls (though no female lectors) and so forth. A few of the rites I know have been revised with Latinisations being removed but not many.

Another thing is the whole issue of Indianisation and inculturation. The Syro-Malabar church has not been in the background with this - one can’t really call it a Latinisation though the revised ‘incultrated’ liturgy, largely did not differentiate between Syro-Malabar and Latin. One of the greatest supporters of the inculturated liturgy was the late Cardinal Parekkattil and he was Syro-Malabar. I still remember an incident reported some years back when several clergy brandished signs saying “We are Indians not Chaldeans” in opposition to certain liturgical reforms. There are those in the Church who do not favour getting rid of Latinisations and going back to a Chaldean text. Also some “Latinisations” are prized - like the ad populum position - by new liturgists and liturgical experts -partly for pastoral reasons and partly for the ‘Indianisation’.

Among the Catholic Churches, the Syro-Malabarese (or Syro-Malabar) and Syro-Malankarese (or Syro-Malankara) Churches fall into those ordinarily styled as St Thomas Christians.

The Syro-Malabarese have:

[list]*]1 Major Arch-Eparchy
*]4 Metropolitan Arch-Eparchies
*]21 Eparchies[/list]

All of those jurisdictions are located in India, except for the 1 Eparchy in the US. Of the 4 Metropolitan Arch-Eparchies, 1 is that of Kottayam, which is a particular jurisdiction for the Knaniate Catholics.

If you want stats on the Syro-Malabar Church, see the data on page 5 of this document

As to the Knanya, they are Oriental Catholic and Orthodox descended from 72 families of Christian Jews, comprising about 400 persons, who emigrated to India in three ships about 345 AD under the leadership of Knaithomman or Thomas the Cananite. They are said to have been accompanied by a bishop, named in historical records as Uraha Mar Yausef (Joseph), four presbyters, and deacons.

The Knanaites are a strictly endogenous community, retain particular liturgical, devotional, and cultural practices unique to themselves and, by the Apostolic Brief Universi Christiani, had a personal jurisdiction (now the autonomous Metropolitan Arch-Eparchy of Kottayam) erected for them within the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church by Pope Saint Pius X. (A bit of trivia - Kottayam is, I believe, the sole autonomous metropolia that is without any suffragn jurisdictions.)

In the US, the Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Chicago of the Syro-Malabarese has within it a Vicariate for Knanaya Catholic Community in North America, which is comprised of 10 parishes, last I checked.

Although formal Knanya jurisdictions exist only in the Syro-Malabarese Church and the Syrian Orthodox Jacobite (Indian) Church (their Oriental Orthodox counterpart), there are Knanaites within each of the Indian ecclesial communities (other than the Latin Catholic) and, officially or otherwise, provisions are made to accommodate their praxis in all of the Churches of Saint Thomas Christians. (That includes the two Saint Thomas Churches which are neither Oriental Catholic nor Orthodox; however, I believe the Knanya themselves consider those who belong to Churches outside Catholicism or Orthodoxy to have severed their relationship with the closed ethnic community that they are.)

This produces the strange consequence that the Metropolitan Arch-Eparchy of Kottayam for the Knanya includes 15 parishes that are gathered into an Episcopal Vicariate for Malankara Knanaites (by pastoral agreement with the Malankara Church sui iuris). Those parishes canonically serve the Knanaite Usage of the Malankara Rescension of the Antiochene Rite, within a jurisdiction that is Chaldean in Rite.

My brother and friend, AJV, aptly describes the internal debate conflict within his Church as to the form that the Holy Qurbana should take. In effect, presently, there are 3 “usages” - for lack of a better term, unofficial though they are, a consequence of that debate. I’ve given them “names” the better to discuss them - but these names are strictly of my own imagination/creation:

[list]*]The Assyro-Chaldean Usage is that of antiquity, to which Rome apparently hopes the Church will return (albeit, Rome itself effectively created the situation that resulted in it being initially abandoned).

*]Malabarese Usage is the term that I’ve applied to the heavily latinized Qurbana. Those who support this Usage (and resist the idea of returning to the Assyro-Chaldean Usage) deem this to be “Indianized” - rather than “Latinized”

*]Mixed (Chaldean-Malabarese) Usage seeks to describe a move on the part of some hierarchs and clergy to serve the Holy Qurbana in a way that incorporates some of the more ancient praxis without abandoning all aspects of the latinized form - essentially a hybrid usage. It is debated whether this is a genuine effort to effect compromise or simply a measure hoped to placate Rome and bring an end to its concern.[/list]

AJV has better described details as to the particulars of differences in praxis among the three than I could have done. It is certainly a struggle to keep in mind that “Indianized” - to those seeking to avoid the return to an Assyrian form - is equivalent to “Latinized” - in the minds of their opponents, those who want to see that return happen.

Many years,


Fascinating, albeit lamentable. Does anyone have an idea of what proportion of clergy and parishes support these respective ‘uses’?

Thank you for the generosity Irish Melkite, though I don’t know how well described it was! :slight_smile: Personally, I defer to yours as the one with greater clarity (and format)

I’m not Syro-Malabar- strictly Latin- however, I have had opportunity to attend the Syro-Malabar. Here in the Gulf,as you may be aware, all Catholics, irrespective of which Church they belong to, come under the jurisdiction of the Latin Apostolic Vicar - consequently, in many churches (mine included) the Syro-Malabar in particular are frequently served by Latin clergy with bi-ritual facilities.

I think that the liturgy supported by Cardinal Parekkattil would present a fourth liturgy to your list. This liturgy is sometimes used though technically it has not been wholly approved in many places in India - in some places more in monastic settings - rather than at parish level because especially the the South people are more conservative - and althoguh the Latins use it more frequently, I have heard about it being used by Syro-Malabar. It does get into the murky realms of when “Indianisation” becomes “Hinduisation” - but I suppose that is a topic for another thread.

And then, just when you thought you had things straight, are the Mar Thomites, who are eastern rite Protestants.

Dear brother Semper Fi,

Are you asking about the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, or the Syro-Malabar Orthodox Church?

I’m open to correction - the Syro-Malabar Orthodox Church was a temporary reality within the Syrian Orthodox Church in India. It’s roots are from the first decade of the 20th century when the then-current Catholicose of the Indian Church wanted independence or equality with the Supreme patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church. The Malabarese were mostly in southern India.

Currently, the Catholicose of India signs an oath of allegiance to the Supreme patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church upon installation to the office.

However, there is an independent Malabar Orthodox Church that is a remnant of the old schism, but it is not in communion with any of the other Oriental Orthodox Churches.


Dear Marduk,

The equivalent of the Syro-Malabar church would, I suppose, be those in the communion of the Assyrian Church of the East (and the Ancient Church of the East)

There is, as you note, a “Malabar Independant Syrian Church” which is West Syriac but is not in communion with any of the Oriental Orthodox.

The Indian Orthodox a.k.a. the Malankara Orthodox Syriac Church do not recognize the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch. I think they are the ones you were referring to when you mentioned the split?

The Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church a.k.a. the Jacobites in India are part of the Syriac Orthodox Church under the spiritual guidance of the SO Patriarch of Antioch

Dear brother AJV,

Thank you for the information. However, the official name of the Indian Orthodox who did not recognize the authority of the Syrian Orthoodox Patriarch is the Orthodox Syrian Church of Malabar, not the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church. “Malankara” is a term that has always been attached to those Indian Orthodox in communion with the Supreme Syrian Orthodox Patriarch.

After checking my notes, I realized I was mistaken about attaching the lineage of the Independant Malabar Church to the remnants of the Malabar Orthodox Syrian Church. The Independent Malabar Church began in the 18th century, while the Malabar Orthodox Syrian schism only began in the early 20th century.


Dear Marduk,

Respectfully, I will disagree on this point :slight_smile: “Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church” certainly denotes the Jacobites, but the IO do make use of “Malankara Orthodox Syriac Church”. The name occasionally appears in several banners that I have seen sometimes with “of the East” at the end - the last one being not too many months ago when their bishop was visiting for a special function. Perhaps historically it was not so, but now they do.

As is often the case, experience trumps book knowledge.:bowdown: I guess the IO are getting bolder, claiming the traditional jurisdiction/identity of the Malankara SO?


By the way, the Assyrian Church of the East is known in India as the Chaldean Syrian Church, not to be confused with the Chaldean Catholic Church.

Just thought I’d throw that out to the mix of Church names on this thread.

God bless,


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