The Indian Orthodox Church was found by St. Thomas, the Apostle around 52 AD. It is eastern in origin and Asian-African in its moorings. It is recognized by all the Christian denominations, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches-along with the World Council of Churches as an independent, indigenous, autocephalousChurch. St. Thomas was believed to have established Churches at Kollam, Kodungalloor, Paaloor, Paravoor, Gokhamangalam, Chayal and Niranam and had ordained Bishops from the family of Shankarapuri, Pakalomattam, Kalli and Kaliyangal. He attained martyrdom on 21st of December 72 AD at Mylapore in Madras.
Early history of the Indian Christians
The Church established by St. Thomas in the Malabar coast remained as a small community with their own practices and way of life. Around the year 345 AD, a group of around 400 Persian Christians under the leadership of Thomas of Cana came to India. Although the immigrants claimed that they had come to India to help the dying India Church, but most of the Scholars believe that they came to escape the terrible persecution of King Saphron II of Persia. The descendants of these people are known as Knanaya Christians of Kerala. These immigrants helped the Indian Churches to come into closer contact with the Persian Churches. This relationship gave the Indian Churches its ‘Eastern characteristics’. The Persian Bishops helped the Indian Church to be more organized. The Liturgical language of the Persian Church was Syriac. Gradually it was introduced into the Indian Churches. The relationship continued till the end of the 16th century. During this period many Persian Bishops came to Malabar, but the Church was completely autonomous. The Archdeacons, who were the religious, social and political leader of the community, carried out the administration of the Church. A priest of the Pakalomattom family traditionally held the position of the Supreme Head of the Church.
The non-Christian kings always appreciated the loyalty of the Syrian Christians and the strength of the Army was considered according to the number of Christian soldiers they possessed. Their social status was equivalent to that of high caste Brahmins. Their dress and appearance were similar to that of Hindu Bretheren.
There is a tradition that the Indian Christians in the southern India had a dynasty of their own kings which was called Valliyarvattom. When the last king of the dynasty died without leaving an heir, it is said that the kingdom was taken over by the neighboring Hindu kings. Indian Christians who were eagerly looking to regain their lost glory, sought the help of Portuguese.
The Potuguese helped in the arrival of Jesuits and other Latin missionaries to India, who at first were very friendly with the native Christians. With the Apostolic blessings and permission from Rome, these people started carrying missionary activities among the Christians and the non-Christians. They gradually penetrated into the local Churches and accursed the native Christians of holding the heretic teachings. They criticized the marital status of the married priests and insisted on celibacy. The Portuguese tried to bring the entire Indian Christian Church under their authority. Goa was declared an Arch Diocese in 1534 and the entire Indian (from South India) Christians were brought under this Arch Diocese. The Portuguese who had control over the sea route, prevented the arrival of Persian Bishops to India. Many Syrian Bishops were arrested and persecuted. By the end of 16th century Arch Bishop Alexes de Menezes was appointed as the Arch Bishop of Goa. He convened a meeting of priests and lay people at Udayam Peroor on 20th June 1599 and imposed the western Roman Catholic practices on the Indian Church. The synod also known as Dyamper Synod established the Roman doctrine and acknowledged the faith of Romans. The Indian Christians repudiated their allegiance with the Patriarch of Babylon and accepted Pope of Rome and the Roman Catholic Church. For about 54 years the Indian Church was under the rule of Roman Catholics. Attempts were made to abolish Syriac language from Liturgy and to introduce Latin rites. During this critical period, the Indian Christians requested the Eastern Patriarchs to help them expel the newly introduced doctrine from their Churches. The then Arch Deacon wrote letters to Babylonian, Coptic and Syrian Patriarch of Antioch, asking for a Bishop to be sent to Malabar. In 1652, a foreign bishop named Ahatallah arrived in India who was arrested by the Portuguese. As the news spread that their Eastern Bishop was detained by the Portuguese, the infuriated Indian Christians took an oath touching the Cross at Mattancherry in Cochin, renouncing all their allegiance with the Roman catholic Church. This historic oath taken on 3rd January 1653 is known as Coonen Kurish Sathyam “Bowed Cross oath”. Amongst the Indian Christians 400 remained with the Roman Catholic Church and their descendants are known as “Syro-Malabar Christians”.
12 priests laid their hands on Fr. Thomas of Pakalomattam family who lead the Bowed Cross Oath and consecrated him as the Arch Bishop with the title Marthoma I. Four priest were elected to assist Marthoma I. Later this ordination was regularized by Mar Gregorios of Jerusalem. After being in India for about 6 years Mar Gregorios died on 28th April 1671 and is buried at Paravur.
Carmelites were sent to heal the wounds which Vatican thought was created by the rash action of Jesuits. Carmelites divided the people loyal to Marthoma I through their divide and rule policy and persecutions.
The British Rule
By the beginning of 19th century, the East India Company captured Malabar and brought it under their control. At that time Marthoma VI was the Metropolitan of the Indian Church. Rev Claudius Buchanan, an Anglican high priest conducted research into the life of the ancient Church of St. Thomas. He strongly desired to bring the Indian Church and Church of England into closer contact. The Church missionary Society (CMS) in England began to show interest in the Indian Church. With the view of imparting Biblical education and uplifting the illiteracy of the Indian Christians CMS started its mission in Travancore and Cochin in 1914. They translated the Bible and for the first time the four Gospels were printed in Malayalam. The Metropolitans permitted the missionaries to preach in the Churches. They were given the complete charge of the Seminary. The Indian Christians will always remember with gratitude the works of the early missionaries, namely Rev. Joseph Fenn, Rev. Benjamin Bailey, Rev. Henry Baker and Rev. Thomas Norton. They were sincere in the total upliftment of the Indian Christians. But the later ones with their reformist background, they started criticizing the symbols, rituals, Liturgical elements of the Church and questioned the prayers for the faithful departed, invocation of Saints and Veneration of St. Mary. They organized a group in the Indian Christians, who would help them to clamor for reformation of the Indian Church along the lines of the European Protestant reformation. This led to the further division of the Indian Church. Church of South India (CSI) has got its roots with this division.
The Metrpolitan of the Indian Church prohibited its faithfuls from following the Anglican form of worship at the Synod of Mavelikkara.
Formation of Marthoma Church
The seeds of dissension, sowed by the CMS missionaries, remained in the Church, even after their separation. Some of the priests and laity in the Church demanded a reformation in the Liturgy of the Church. Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan was the leader of the reformist group. He made a revision of the Syrian Liturgy by removing all the prayers for the departed and invocation of saints and St. Mary. His nephew (Mathews Mar Athanasius) got ordained as a Bishop by the Patriarch of Antioch. In 1875, he got excommunicated and the formed a new Church called the Marthoma Church, Protestant in faith and Eastern in form.
The Indian Christians started their association with Church of Antioch only by the arrival of Mar Gregorios in 1665. It was a friendly relation between the two sister Churches. The relationship between the two churches continued for another two centuries without much problem. Eventually the Indian Christians were known as Syrian Christians, Jacobite Christians etc. The Portuguese had cut off the Persian relationship, and the Indian Christians wanted the help of an Eastern Church to fight for its identity against the Romans. The Thomas Christians of India would have accepted the support of any Eastern Church from Alexandria, Persia, Armenia or Greece. But the Antiochians came first and they got a warm reception.
The Malankara Christians were never happy to give up their autonomy. In the history of Malankara Christians, while the Dyamper synod tried to bring this ancient Church under the supremacy of Pope of Rome, Mulanthuruthy synod of 1876 tried to bring it under the supremacy of Patriarch of Antioch. If after the Udayamperoor, the Syrian Christians took up the “Coonen Cross Oath”, after the Mulanthuruthy synod, there was no second “Coonan Cross" to break away the chains of the Antiochene supremacy. The Church again got divided and is still… Both of them Eastern in faith, Eastern in origin, Eastern in form…