History of The Syro-Malabar Church

HISTORY OF THE SYRO-MALABAR CHURCHThe Syro-Malabar Church was known as the Church of the St.Thomas Christians until the 18th century because it was founded by St Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. St.Thomas came to India in 52 A.D. He died as a Martyr in a place called Mylapore near the present town of Chennai (Madras). His tomb is still venerated there.
The Church of the St. Thomas Christians had little contact with the Roman or the other Churches within the Empire. It maintained communion with the Church of Rome through the Church in the Persian Empire, which later came to be known as the East Syrian or Chaldean or Babylonian Church. It is believed that Christianity in Persian Empire was introduced by the disciples of St. Thomas.
In the middle of the 4th century or later a group of Christians from these communities under the leadership of a merchant called Thomas of Kinayi migrated to the southern parts of India known as Kerala now. The descendants of this latter group are called Knananites or Southists and the former Northists. Both of them belong the Syro-Malabar Church. Even now they live as two separate communities with their own diocese and parishes.
During the period from 1653 to 1887 many divisions took place in the Syro-Malabar Church mainly in the attempt of the Syro-Malabarians to get rid of the rule of the Latin Bishops who often gave little value to the ancient system of administration of the St.Thomas Christians and their Christian heritage. The missionaries seem to have had the impression that the St.Thomas Christians were not Catholics but Nestorians since they accepted Bishops from the East Syrian Church which officially had adopted Nestorianism.
History tells us that the St.Thomas Christians who gathered at Mattancherry near Fort Kochi under the leadership of the archdeacon to receive a Bishop from Persia took the oath touching the cross there that they would not obey any more the Jesuits who were the main European Missionaries in India at that time; Coonan Cross Oath was a revolt against the oppressive rule of the Europeans and not against the Pope or the Holy See. After the Oath 12 priests at the instigation of one of them laid hands on the head of the archdeacon and "ordained him Bishop". There began the division in the Church of the St.Thomas Christians.
There was strain in the Church because the faithful wanted to keep the true faith but not under the Bishop who was appointed by the Portuguese crown. Some remained in schism while others came back to the obedience of the Latin Bishop. Those who remained under the "pseudo Bishop" later accepted the tradition of the Antiochean non-Catholic tradition and were known as the Orthodox Church. Later because of the missionary work of the Protestants there arose other non-Catholic Churches in India, particularly in Kerala.
There were continuous attempts for reestablishing the lost communion. Finally, in 1930 a group of them under the leadership of their archbishop called Mar Ivanios reestablished their communion with the Catholic Church and the Holy See accepted it as a separate Catholic Church with the name of Syro-Malankara Church.

Those who remained in communion of Pope after the Coonan Cross Oath later came to be known as the Syro-Malabarians. It was a name given by the Roman authorities to refer to the Catholic St.Thomas Christians. The name Syro-Malabar was chosen apparently to avoid confusion with the Malabar rite which existed as a part of the Latin Church in the Coromandel Coast of India.Related Links

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