As an independent Church


The Thomas Christians as a whole who had freed themselves in 1653 from their enforced enslavements under Rome, stood for sometime together under their leader Mar Thoma, who was elevated by the community to the status and function of bishop. But the Portuguese-Roman Catholics were not willing to accept the defeat and were not ready to allow the Thomas Christians to move so freely on as they desired. As the result they tried to disturb the Thomas Christians invariably then onwards till now primarily intending the resubmersion ultimately under the Roman Catholicism. But the Thomas Christians, who strongly stood with Mar Thoma, even after the defecting of a larger section from among them to Rome, desisting all such submersion attempts from time to time strengthened more and  more, in their stand as independent church and they are Orthodox church of India now. From 1663 though the political change was decidedly unfavouarble , the political  climate was helpful to them because as during the time of the Portuguese there remained no custom of colonial and  royal powers entering into the religious field and forcing people one way or the other to embrace, during the Dutch dominion. It is a fact that during the Dutch the Roman Catholics were powerful and as such the Dutch had promised to support them than their dead opponents like Mar Thomas and their adherents. Though the Dutch did not openly persecute the Mar Thoma and followers, on the whole the Dutch policy was to ignore that section as a neglected community. Out of such situation the Roman side took much more advantages.

With the arrival of the Dutch though the Padroado rule of Portugual ended, then onwards the Propaganda missionaries who came directly under the jurisdiction of papacy began to dominate ecclesiastical scenario in Malabar. All of them had only one aim with reference to the Thomas Christians. That was not to bring them closer to the early culture and history, and make them a strong community in India, but to make them owe allegiance to Rome and Roman Catholicism with or without the Portuguese Crown. Although the Dutch rule did not allow the Portuguese to continue their government for long, it did not allow the growth of a free church tradition in Kerala that reject Roman supremacy.

It was, in such a sort of contrary political situation prevalent the Orthodox Thomas Christian under a series of bishops known as Mar Thoma stepped into defend their freedom as a church against all undoings of the Roman Catholics. Among Mar bishops Mar Thoma I, IV, V and VIth were great leaders of this church and indeed builders of this church.

From 1665 under Mar Thoma I a relationship with the west Syrian Patriarchate was established when there arrived at their request a certain Gregorios. Again in 1685 two bishops of that persuasion came. From 1751 also present three bishops from there. These West Syrian bishops’ presence was helpful to preserve and strengthen the Malankara Orthodox Church’s desire for Syrian identity and internal freedom as an Indian church against the encounters of the Roman  Catholicism Romanization. But, on the other hand, this relation in the cause of time became harmful to that church similar like that had happened during the Portuguese period through Roman Catholicism. That church since 1653, which was continuing in East Syrian ecclesiastical qualities was damaged and taken over to the West Syrianization through the presence and actions of the West Syrian bishops. Moreover, the West Syrian Patriarch seeing the plightful condition of this church tried, several times to have control over it like papacy, especially in church jurisdiction thus endangering its desire to preserve national freedom and administrative independence. But till 1876 the leaders of this Indian church was able to desist all such attempts. As the result from time to time there were divisions, quarrels etc. Therefore, the West Syrian connection of Malankara Orthodox Churches did not help much the latter to develop and strengthen as a free church in Kerala with its own national identity. The West Syrian church too due to its centuries oppressed conditions under Muslim rule had lost appropriate vision of Christianity. Hence all the troubles in their relation with the Indian Orthodox church. Now we shall brief into the various conditions of this church particularly under the Mar Thoma bishops.

Orthodox Church Under Mar Thomas

From 1653 till 1816 the Orthodox Church was led by 8 bishops and their common name is Mar Thoma. Their period of service and important events those took place etc are separately mentioned in another section. These bishops were virtually indigenous, who by honour of heredity and tradition of the Thomas Christians were archdeacons and from the ancient priestly family of Pakalomattam and in power and authority “the Gate of All India”. Together with these they were also bishops and metropolitians of their own independent church according to the episcopal tradition introduced and prevailed in Kerala since 1653. Although the office of bishop was there, it had not developed in such a way as it was found in the Latin or West Syrian churches’ tradition. They maintained it in its traditional pattern.

They were deadly against the Roman Catholics and in that respect also against those Romo Thomas Christians who defected from them for Rome. Particularly on the issue of the church autonomy was concerned no compromise was allowed. When Rome did not permit them to continue in their free status and when they were continuously scandalized they sought other means to be strengthened. Hence the connection with the Syrian Christianity. Mar Thoma I was the inaugurator of this connection and a new era begun in the history of that section of the St. Thomas Christians who were with him. The basic cause to this the Roman Catholics and all troubles from them in Kerala.

Although the clear division of the Thomas Christians between Roman and Orthodox was of a later stage, it was labelled as two as New party (Puthnekoor) and old party (Pazhayakoor) by the Roman side from earlier atleast since 1665 with the arrival of the West Syrian bishop Gregorios. By these appellations what the Roman Thomas Christians meant was that they were the orginal, legitimate and true church and the dissidents were revolters, rebellious, schismatics, heretics, peoples after false bishops and new party in creed and allegiance with West Syrianism. For more than a century they labelled that the bishops Mar Thoma were illegitimate bishops. The intention was undoubtedly the submersion of the dissidents with the Roman side.

Under the Mar Thoma I, who led the Orthodox between 1653 an 1673, monumental achievements were these:

  1. The ultimate fulfilment of the concern that was proclaimed at the oath taken at the Bent Cross 1653, that the Roman Catholics’ ecclesiastical power deliberately and under unappreciable means which had been imposed upon under the iron hand policy of the Portuguese colonial power must be ended for ever.
  2. The realization of the strong determination to remain as a free and indigenous church under the local and traditional leadership within the church set-up of oriental Christianity which is Syriac.
  3. Against the constant allegations from the Roman side and the particularly from his own cousin brother Parambil Chandy, that Mar Thoma was false bishop, Mar Thoma I sought remedy by inviting, the West Syrian bishop into the midst of his adherents and in this way he confirmed the legitimacy of his office as bishop so that his adherents might not have least doubt about its office and his validity.
  4. Mar Thoma I along with the Gregorios worked together for more than 5 years and they strengthened their flocks against the Roman Catholics. Hence was started a new relationship in the history of St. Thomas Christians with the West Syrian Christianity. This relation so established developed in the our of time to become this section of the Thomas Christians, orthodox and a church in the family of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and in identity with the West Syrian Christianity. Thus the East Syrian church identity in the our of time weakened and in that place the West Syrian was replaced. Mar Thoma I is esteemed by his church as it “greatest soldier” because of his non compromisive stand against the Romo- Portuguese in achieving the freedom of his Indian church. He fought courageously as a hero for his flock taking all sorts of risks even ignoring his own life. Thus the founder of the Malanakara Orthodox Churches I was he. On 22nd April 1673, two years after the death of Mar Gregorios(24th April 1671), Mar Thoma I the great son of the Malankara church passed away and was entombed at St. Mary’s church in Angamaly. No one in the whole history of the church of Thomas in India had lived with such a dedicated, committed and courageous qualities than this magnificent leader, Mar Thoma I.
Mar Thoma I was suceeded by Mar Thoma II (1673-86) and III (1686-88). Of these Mar Thoma III served the church only for a short period (he died in April, 1688 and entombed at Marthoma Church Kadambakad) but Mar Thoma II for thirteen years, Important events during their times were these:
 One, another arrival of West Syrian bishops in 1685 and further strengthening of the Orthodox against the Roman Catholicism ecclesiastically and episcopally. Those West Syrian bishops were Yaldho Mar Baselios and Hidayuthulla Mar Ivanios. Of them Yaldho Baselios being quite old, died within a fort night of his arrival and entombed at the little Orthodox Church in Kothamangalam. He could not accomplish anything in the Orthodox church of India. But his companion Ivanios did do remarkable service till his death in 1693. He was entombed at St. Thomas Orthodox church Mulanthuruthy. It was he who advanced the work which Gregorios had started by trying to bring in the faith and traditions of the West Syrian church about which we shall deal later on.
It is held that he introduced further the doctrinal, liturgical and other ecclesiastical disciplinary things into the Orthodox and stabilized these against the Roman Catholicism.
It is also held that he had the rare opportunities of conscerating as bishops Mar Thoma III and IV.
Marthoma II after serving the Church especially in strengthening its autonomous stand against the attacks of the Roman Catholics died in 1686(April-13) and entombed at the Orthodox Church in Niranam.
We have evidence that bishop Chandy, the leader of the Romo-St.Thomas Christians and archdeacon Mathew his nephew, had high respect for Mar Thoma II. Chandy died in 1687. Before his death as he had been disappointed with the propaganda missionaries with regard to the issue of his successor had a desire to have MarThoma II consecrated as his successor and thus to unite the two sides. But the Carmelites foiled fall in the move in that direction.
Marthoma IV succeded Mar Thoma III and he led his church for forty years (1688 to 1728). It was during his time that Mar Gabriel came to Kerala .He was an East Syrian bishop sent by the Catholiocs-Patriarch from Babylon to reclaim his lost flock in India due to the  the high handed measures of the Roman Catholics under the Portuguese. Marthoma IV had to encounter this bishop all along doctrinally and administratively. In confronting Mar Gabriel Marthoma IV found himself in- competent and he sent several appeals to the West Syrian Patriarch asking for help. But no reply. He died in 1728(March 24) and entombed at St.Mary’s Orthodox Church, Kandanadu. But before his death he had appointed his Successor Marthoma IV. This Marthoma too served the Church for 35 years (1728-1765). He also had to encounter Mar Gabriel till his death in 1731. More over regarding his status as a bishop, there was a dispute in the Church. So some people refused to accept him and this rejection led to the invitation of West Syrian bishop once again and as the result two West Syrian bishops arrived in 1751 at the request of Mar Thoma V. And these bishops were Mar Sakralla Baselios and Mar Gregorios. They were accompanied by a group of clerics from the West Syrian Church. The patriarch of the West-Syrian church had given intimation through his bishops to reconsecrate Mar Thoma V under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch with the title Dionysius. But Mar Thoma refused to do so seeing in it a plot to subdue him and his autonomous church under the Patriarch. Against him a metropolitan with the name Mar Ivanios, who had accompanied the West Syrian bishops, was consecrated by the high handed action of Mar Baselios. Even then Mar Thoma V did not yield. He refused to accept the West Syrians and to pay their travel expense to the Dutch, who had carried them to Kerala. At once the Dutch asked Mar Thoma V to pay Rs.12000/- as travelling expenditure otherwise threatened with that he be imprisoned and deported. Since he could not raise such a huge amount at once he was imprisoned. In that circumstance his own flock at Niranam hearing the trouble of their Metropolitan rose and one man raised the required amount and released the bishop as well as the West Syrian bishops.
Again the West Syrian bishops continued to project the reconsecration of Mar Thomas to which he, however, did not yield. There was no rapproachment between him and the West Syrian bishops in his life time in this regard. He himself and alone consecrated his successor, without seeking co-operation of the foreigners, as Marthoma VI in 1760.  In 1765 Mar Thoma V died and was entombed at the Orthodox Church, Niranam. The conflict extent between him and the foreigners still continued during the ruling period of Mar Thoma VI. In 1772, however, a sort of diplomatic agreement was reached. On that basis Mar Thoma VI agreed to undergo a sort of confirmation ceremony at the hands of two remaining West Syrian bishops- Mar Gregorios and Mar Ivanios. Mar Baselios had already died in 1764 (October 20) and entombed at St Mary’s Orthodox Church, Kandanadu.
After the confirmation ceremony of Mar Thoma VI was given a new Episcopal insignia as Dionysius. He served his church thereafter till his death on April 8th 1808. He is known in his church as Dionysius the Great.
Apart from the incident above given there occurred several other important and events during his period in his church. The formation of an Independent Church in Thozhiyur. Reunion attempts with the Roman Catholics, invasions of Tippu Sultan and devastation of many Christians and churches from Koodungallur to Kunnamkulam and forced conversions of Thomas Christians to Islam, Dionysius’ captivity to the plots of Tachil Mathoo Tharakan a prominent Romo-Thomas Christian, an agreement with Mar Ivanios the remaining West Syrian bishop to follow in his Church certain traditions  of the West Syrian Church along with the prevalent East Syrian traditions, the consecration of his successor by himself and that too with the name Mar Thoma, the change in colonial  scenario- the extinction of the Dutch and the advent of  the British East India Company’s power’ the visits of two Anglican clergy men Richard Kerr and Claudius Buchanan and the Establishment of Trust Fund etc. Thus opening a new era in the history of his Church Dionysius passed away. He was entombed at St Mary’s Church, Puthenkavu, Chengannur. His successor, who was consecrated in 1796 (My 5), known as Marthoma VII took up the responsibility of the church. Unfortunately the metropolitan had a very short span of life as metropolitan. The only events worth recording are the deposit of the Trust Fund money with the East India Company and withdrawal of the interest thereon for the first time. He died in 1809 and was buried at Kolencherry. Marthoma VIII succeeded him in 1809 but from the very beginning of his office there began to take place bitter quarrel on the issue of invalidity of his office as bishop. Soon after assuming office Marthoma VIII convened a meeting of the church at Kandanad in which he was acknowledged as their metropolitan. It also appointed Pulikottil Joseph Kathanar and Philipose Kathanar of Kayamkulam (both to be elevated as Ramban) to function as advisers to the Metropolitan.
Unfortunately, the Metroploitan and advisors broke off within two years. There arose two parties in the church in their favour and against and complaints were lodged by Rambans and party against the Metran before the then British residents. , Macaulay and Munro. But they took no serious actions. In the meantime, Joseph Ramban influencing Munro explored the possibility of establishing a clergy training Seminary at Kottayam and getting help from him the proposed Seminary was established in1813. The establishment of Seminary and the rise of Pulikootil Joseph Ramban weakened the prestige and power of Mar Thoma considerably. Mar Thoma expired in Jan 1816 and entombed at St.Mary’s Church Puthenkavu. Thus came to an end centuries leadership of the Pakalomattam family in the St.Thomas Christians. Thereafter, new leadership began. It may however, be stated in all fairness that the Pakalomattam family presented to the Malankara Church a long line  of indomitable and highly devoted leaders who were admirably able to lead the church during very critical and turbulent days and show the future generation a definite and clear path for its survival and progress.
Before, concluding this section of the study we have to look into the ecclesiastical strength and characteristics of Orthodox while Mar Thoma bishops were ruling. Moreover what was the nature of their connection with the West Syrian Patriarchate and his church?
Eccelesiastical Characteristics and Strength of the Orthodox
It is a fact that the Thomas Christians were followers of the East Syrian Church’s traditions doctrinally, liturgically and other issues related with eccelesiastial disciplines, feasts and fasts etc, till the synod of Udayamperoor. Although this synod desired to Latinize everything in accordance with Roman systems that did not practically work out. However some traditions of the Roman Catholics had been imposed upon the Thomas Christians which they in 1653 at the Coonen Cross event had thrown out and thereafter, they desired to revive and continue in East Syrian traditions. But that hope too did not realize due to unfavourable context to maintain contacts with that tradition and due to divisions and unsettled positions prevalent within the Thomas Christians. Only the office of the Archdeacon was revived among the non-Romo Thomas Christians which their opponents did not allow to retain and develop. In those circumstances access to the West Syrian Christianity was made by Mar Thoma bishops from 1665.
West Syrianization
The West Syrian bishops who had been present among the Orthodox Thomas Christians from 1665 gradually introduced their Church traditions among them. Exploiting the severe opposition mentality prevailed within the Orthodox against the Roman Catholics the West Syrians tried to introduce doctrinal, liturgical and other Church disciplinary measures among them. This was not too difficult to achieve, though it needed time for people to accept the change. From the time of Mar Gregorios in 1665 he had obviously begun to work on it and those who came after him continued on what he had done. However it was from the middle of the 19th cent. West Syrianization process was speeded up in the Orthodox.
Substantial affinities prevalent in languages, traditions, disciplines, except in the case of sub title theological differences, between the East Syrian and West Syrian traditions were condusive to the introductions of West Syrian traditions among Orthodox of India. Moreover different acute situations prevalent from time to time also speeded up West Syrianization. But it should be observed another thing here. While accepting the services of Mar Gregorios the Orthodox of Malabar was not coming into the jurisdictional set up of the Antiochene Syrian Church. In order to impart services of Mar Gregorios’ to the Orthodox of India, with which the Patriarch of the West Syrian Church had no connection till then, that Patriarch had to get a thing done at once. It was necessary that the Indian church formally accept that Patriarch as the Supreme head of the church. As the Portuguese had done in 1599 by extracting submission to Rome from the Indian church the West Syrian Patriarch from the beginning of the Indian Church’s relationship with him desired similar submission of the Indian church to him. But to fulfill this intention, it was not easy: Mar Gregorios does not seem to have taken any step to promote it. After his time those two West Syrian dignitaries who came in 1685 intended to achieve the Patriarchal destination. But unfortunately they achieved nothing, because of the death of one soon after their arrival. Mar Ivanios lived for about nine years and there were two opportunities before him opened to exercise the patriarchal demand because it was he who conferred episcopal positions on Mar Thoma III and IV. Some historians suggest that he had made such demand but Mar Thomas abruptly rejected such claim. Hence till 1751 the patriarch sent no bishops to Mar Thomas inspite of repeated request from them. Moreover the West Syrian delegation which came in 1751 had clear motivation to implement the intention of their patriarch with regard to the Indian church. When Mar Thoma V refused a rival metran was consecrated against him getting a group of supporters from the adherents of Mar Thoma V. In 1772 the appointment of Thozhiyoor metran secretly by Gregorios was another attempt in the same direction. But Mar Thoma V & VIth foiled all these attempts and the Patriarch’s jurisdictional claim remained unrealized while all Mar Thoma metrans were serving thair church. But a party within the followers of Mar Thomas, who were favourably disposed to the West Syrian bishops and to their patriarchs realization of jurisdictional claims over the Indian Church, had been formed during the middle of the 18th century. Mar Thomas V, VI and VII were seriously troubled by this party from time to time. This party was very active while the Indian Church was involved in collaboration with the Anglican mission between 1816 and 1836 and the major factor behind the collapse of that co-operation was again the activities of that party. This we shall analyse in the forthcoming section.
The Final Attempt to reinforce East Syrianism It should be also observed here before entering into other issues of the Thomas Christians who were under the Mar Thoma bishops, their East Syrian Church identity. Between 1709 and 1731 a bishop named Mar Gabriel from the East Syrian Patriarch had arrived into Kerala to reclaim his flocks with which from the time of 1599 that Patriarch had lost all relation. Seeing the changed political condition of South India took place this arrival of Mar Gabriel. At this arrival a number of churches and considerable body of Thomas Christians, both from the non-Romo and Romo-Thomas Christians accepted him. He died at Kottayam and was buried at Cheriapally, which later on came under the Orthodox where his anniversary feast used to be celebrated every year till the end of the 19th cent. This event shows that during the 18th and 19th centuries, till the Orthodox were fully identified with the West Syrian Church, they were also remaining identified eccelesiastically with the East Syrian Christianity. The Eastern Syriac they were following as their liturgical language and this practice prevalent till Western Syriac was imposed upon them from 1876 after the Synod of Mulanthruthy. It is a fact with the arrival of Mar Gabriel it was not possible full reintroduction and reinforcement of East Syrian Christianity among the Thomas Christians. Because the Thomas Christian were remaining in a divided state: one under the Roman Catholics and the other under Mar Thoma bishops. Mar Thoma bishops IVth and Vth were not ready to receive Mar Gabriel, but they clashed with him both theologically and administratively. As the Mar Thomas found themselves poorly equipped to meet challenges from Mar Gabriel and this partisans, they appealed to the West Syrian Patriarch for help. This led to the strengthening of that patriarchal ties with Orthodox. Mar Gabriel since died without a successor his hopes upon the future of his church’s continuation remained unrealized. Thus with this event the connection of the Indian church with the East Syrian church came to an end forever. Although the Indian Church continued basically in the East Syrian Church traditions along with the West Syrian ones, which were newly introduced, hold of the East Syrian ones, gradually began to be declined. There were two basic causes behind: The Portuguese all along had condemened the East Syrian Church as Nestorian a dreadful hereby and they had accomplished a substantial amount of spade work and the Malabar church had began to assimilate with this stand point. The West Syrian contact with the Orthodox of India also opened an era of denouncing the East Syrian Christianity as heretical. In these situations gradually the Indian Orthodox had to quit off their East Syrian identity, instead   as substitute to it were forced to embrace West Syrian identities.
Strength of the Orthodox
With regard to the strength, number of churches and headquarters of the Orthodox since 1653 to 1816 these could be observed. During the period of our observation all the churches of the Thomas Christians were not subjected to division between Orthodox and Roman Catholic. Whenever the Roman Catholics could enforce political with ecclesiastical power the majority of a parish stood with them but that situation did not imply that there were no minority who stood for Orthodox in those churches. The latter as the result of pressurizing of the majority would have succumbed to in the course of time with the majority. According to the accounts of the Roman Catholics the number of churches with Mar Thomas all through were 32 and by the end of 18th Cent.there were only 5 churches which were shared by each division. According to Mar Thoma IV there were over 100 churches and the Portuguese have captured half of all churches.
The strength of the Orthodox is considered about 50,000 in the 18th cent. Coming to the beginning of 19th cent. the Orthodox were numbered, according to Ricahrd Kerr, between 30,000 and 80,000, and their churches Buchanan reports as 55. Mar Thoma VIII in his reply to the questionaires of the Madras Govt. in 1812 also mentions the number of churches as 55. Most of these churches were in a deeayed state without repairs and maintenance. They also had several churches in common with the Romo-Thomas Christians. eg. One each at Kottayam, Changanaserry, Alleppey and Piravam. In 1820 dispute over these Churches was solved by giving two each side. Piravam and Kottayam Viliyapalli were given to the Orthodox, while Changanaserry and Alleppy churches were given to the Roman Thomas Christians.
It is said that two churches in Kottayam Manarcad and Puthuppally joined Mar Thoma IV in 1701 leaving the Roman side in the protest of the appointment over Romo-Thomas Christians of John Ribeiro as bishop Cranganore. The Churches of Malayattur and Karingachira were partioned in 1753 by the Dutch commander A maten giving the former to the Roman and the latter to the Orthodox.
However, one community consciousness of the Thomas Christians could not have been possible to break down by Roman and Orthodox divisions. Marriages between the sections a common feature. Similarly sharing and participation in cultural and church heritages could not be separated.
Both Sections had followed, more or less, the Chaldean-Romo Church traditions without substantial changes. Although in the beginning of connection with the West Syrian Christianity some doctrinal elements have entered into the Orthodox yet these were not stabilized. In liturgy and canonical offices and in the use of the Syriac language it was the post-Diamper features maintained. The West Syrian liturgy had not become popular compulsory of celebary remained and the tradition of the married clergy was not popular. The liturgical vestments enforced upon from the Latin rite were discarded. In Eucharist leaven bread way used. The Orthodox clergy never accustomed to wear cap on their head.
Residence of the Orthodox bishop
During the time of Marthoma I the headquarters of the Orthodox was at Angamaly, which however, he had to abandon because under Joseph Sebastiani the Romo-Thomas Christians occupied it. The Raja of Kochi had sold it, to Sebastiani for a 1000 fanam. And had ordered to capture Mar Thoma I to be handed over to that bishop. It appears for a considerable time Kothamangalam Kuruppampady became headquarters of Mar Thoma II and III. But in the 18th Cent. all along Kandanad was the centre of Mar Thoma. For a time Niranam too becamae centre. It was in 1816 the residence was changed to Kottayam forever.