St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, is the founder of the ancient church in India. Christian writers and historians from the 4th century refer to the evangelistic work of Apostle Thomas in India, and the Indian Christians ascribe the origin of their church to the labors of the apostle in the 1st century.
"Insistent tradition ascribes the introduction of Christianity to India to the Apostle Thomas, one of the original Twelve."
It is reasonable to believe that the St. Thomas came to India, preached the gospel, established the church and died there as a martyr. It is believed that St.Thomas arrived in Cranganore, Kerala, India, in 52 AD He preached the gospel and founded churches at seven places; Cranganore, Palur, Paraur, Gokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal and Quilon, and appointed prelates and priests. He is believed to have been martyred at Mylapur, Madras, India, around 72 AD . Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church in India is as old as any other ancient Christian communities elsewhere in the world.
South India had trade connections with the Mediterranean and West Asian world since ancient times. This enabled the Church in those areas, particularly Persia, to have knowledge of the existence of a Christian community in India. Many Christians, when they were persecuted in Persian Empire, fled to the southwestern coast of India and found there a ready and warm welcome.
There is no documentary evidence referring to the way the Indian Church was governed during early centuries. According to tradition, the successor of St. Thomas corresponded with the leaders of the Christian Churches in the Middle East; and prelates from that
It is important to mention here that a group of Christians in Kerala, the Thekkumbhagar (Southists), call themselves Jewish Christians. They claim that their ancestors made up of 72 Jewish Christian families from around Baghdad, Nineveh, and Jerusalem came to India under the leadership of one Thomas of Cana (the place where Jesus turned water into wine), a blood-relative of Jesus. These new colonists settled down on the southern shore of the Periyar; hence they received the name "Southists," as opposed to the local "Northist" Christians who lived north of the river in Cranganore.These St. Thomas Christians followed the Aramaic language in their liturgy and were under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Oriental Patriarch of Celusia-Ctesiphon of Persia (Babylon) up until the arrival of the Portuguese in the fifteenth century.
Until that time the Christians of Kerala were very Indian in their culture, though Middle-Eastern in worship. The Portuguese considered it their duty to bring these Oriental Christians under the supremacy of the Pope of Rome by Latinizing their Syrian liturgy and by purging them of their errors or "heresies." Dom Menezes, the Arch-bishop of Goa, convened a Synod at Udaimperur in 1599 for changing the Syrian Christians into "true" Roman Catholics. Dom Menezes persuaded the Synod delegates to pass several decrees which admitted that their Church had been heretical in some tenets and practices. The Synod severed the connection between the Kerala Church and the "heretical" Persian Church and declared their fealty to the Pope of Rome. Oom Menezes then appointed a Portuguese bishop over the Syrian Church. Following the synod, the Indian Church came to be governed by Portuguese prelates. They were as a whole, unwilling to respect the transitions and the integrity of the Indian Church, and a majority of people was not happy about the state of affairs.A large number of the Syrian Christians resented this foreign incursion in the internal affairs of their Church. They wanted their own Syrian bishops. In 1653, Ahatulla, A Syrian bishop,arrived in Kerala, but he was detained illegally by the Portuguese, who - it was rumored - even ssassinated him on his way from Mylapore to Kerala. The enraged Syrian Christians believing the rumors were true, assembled in thousands in front of the ancient cross (koonan kurisu) at Mattancherry and took a solemn pledge with oath that they would never again obey the Latin Archbishop or the Jesuits. These defiant Christians came to be called Puthencoor Syrians and those who remained loyal to the Roman Pontiff came to be called Pazhayacoor Syrians. This basic division, with many subdivisions among the Puthencoor Syrians, persists even today.The party that sought to preserve the Church's freedom stood in need of assistance in restoring its Episcopal succession. It appealed to several eastern Christian centers for help. The Antiochene Syrian Patriarch responded and sent metropolitan Mar Gregorios of Jerusalem to India in 1665. He came to India and confirmed Marthoma I as the bishop and both of them worked together to organize the Church on firm footing. The Malankara Church began to grow steadily.
The Portuguese missionaries introduced the Latin Church in Kerala and made many converts from among the untouchables of the coastal area. Today the Latin Church has several dioceses and parishes in Kerala. Numerically, however, the Syrian Christians -form about 80% of the total Christian population of Kerala, which is about 22% of the total population of Kerala.
Protestant missionaries from England came to Kerala with the English colonists in the seventeenth century. The Church Mission Society of London (CMS) made many converts from among the untouchables and the Syrian Christians. Some Syrian Christians who were impressed by Protestant Christians wanted to introduce like them the vernacular language in the liturgy. For this purpose they formed a reform Church called "The Marthomite Church," which is a very progressive and prosperous Church today. The Christians of Kerala today are divided into several branches: (1) the Latin Catholic Church, (2) the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, (3) the Jacobite Syrian Church, (4) the Nestorian Church, (5) the Anglican Church which is now part of the Church of South India, (6) the Marthoma Syrian Church, (7) the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. In addition, there are also a number of minor Churches and Missions.
The early Christians have, indeed, made significant contributions to the culture of Kerala. The Portuguese missionaries introduced printing in Kerala besides opening several theological seminaries for the education of the clergy. Chavittunatakam is a Portuguese-Christian art form. The Protestant missionaries from Germany and England laid the foundations of western education in Kerala by opening English grammar schools, high schools, and colleges. Some of the early Christian missionaries had performed valuable services for the development of the Malayalam language; the grammatical works and dictionaries by Arnos Patiri (Johann Ernestus Hanxleden), Angelo Francis, Rev. Bailey, Rev. Richard Collins, and Dr. Gundert are substantial contributions to the study of Malayalam.
Kerala (Indian) tradition is that Apostle St.Thomas established Christianity in Malankara in AD 52, and it get organized and prospered with the arrival of Knai Thoma from Syria in AD 345, which happens to be the first known colonization of Syrian Christians and as a result, the Christians of Malankara (Kerala) came to be known as Syrian Christians, as they received the Apostolic benediction from the Syrian Patriarchate and thus started to use the liturgy of the Holy Syrian Church of Antioch. The Church in Malankara continued to be under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch, and his subordinate 'Maphriyono'/'Catholicose' of the East then residing in Mesopotamian region, till the arrival of Nestorian bishops in 1490. Later with the Portuguese aggression of the 16th & 17th century, the Syrian Christians of Malankara came under the influence of Roman Catholics and when they tried to forcibly introduce their faith, the Malankara Syrian Christians revolted and finally re-organized once again under the guidance of the delegate of the Holy See of Antioch and thereby retained the ancient true Apostolic faith of Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. After that in the 19th century, a split occurred in the Church with the introduction of European protestant faith by the British colonists and after that in early 20th century, once again a group of people defied the Holy Church to form an independent faction after much harassment. Even in the midst of such aggressions, the ancient Syrian Orthodox Church, which in India (Malankara) also referred to as Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, still follows the true faith taught by Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles; and our Holy fathers who sacrificed for the cause of Christianity.
In this page the history of the Malankara Church from its beginning is reproduced, the brief history is complied from the articles written by the famous historian and Syriac Scholar 'Very Rev.(Dr.) Kurien Corepiscopa Kaniamparambil', E M Philip Edavazhikkal (author of 'Indian Church History'), Dn. P T Geevarghese (later Mar Ivanios of Syro-Malankara Church - author of 'Were Syrian Christians Nestorians'), Very.Rev.Dr.Adai Jacob Corepiscopa' (the principal of Syrian Orthodox theological Seminary at Udayagiri), Dr.D Babu Paul (Book-'Veni Vidi Vici'), and late Prof.Pankkal E John and late K P John ('Way to Peace').
I. Establishment of Christianity in India
Like all the Christians sects of Kerala, the Syrian Orthodox Church too strongly believes that St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, had established the Church in India. There exists a strong tradition in Malankara about the arrival of St. Thomas, his mission, death, burial and about the relics of his mortal body. No other country or people make such claim about St. Thomas. The widely accepted belief is that St. Thomas visited various places and baptized many Jews and Hindus and thus began the process of establishing the Church. Middle East countries and Kerala had trade relations during the early centuries and and all the evidences, acknowledged by all the historians points to the fact that the Jewish settlers existed in Cragnanore even before the Christian era. So it is very clear that there was a sea route to Kerala coast in those days and St. Thomas traveled to Cragnanore through this.
There is a general presumption that St. Thomas, a Jew himself by birth, may have visited India in search of Jews settled here. As mentioned earlier, there was a flourishing colony of Jews in Muziris (Cragnanore, Kerala). These Jews are said to have arrived with King Solomon's first fleet.
Anyhow as a result of the Apostle's mission, many, other than the Jews also accepted Christianity. Most of the local converts were said to be from higher castes and this helped St. Thomas to preach the Holy Gospel without much opposition, in a later stage. The high caste Brahmin families that adorned Christianity were mainly from Pakaloomattom, Shankarapuri, Kalli and Kaliangala and members from these houses were ordained as priests or chieftains for the community. Besides, he is believed to have founded Christian congregations (churches) at Maliankara, Paloor, Kottaikkavu (North Paravur), Chayal (Nilakkal), Niranam, Kollam and Gokamangalam and celebrated Holy Qurbono. He later went to China to spread Holy Gospel and returned to India and during his mission, he was killed by fanatics, and was buried at Mylapore, in the state of present Chennai (Madras), South India, it is believed. However his relics were taken to Edessa in the 4th century at the instance of the then Patriarch of Antioch.