St. Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ and known for his rational thinking, came to India in A. D. 52, as widely believed. He reached “Malyankara” (Malankara/Malabar) in Kerala and preached the divine gospel of Christ Jesus to the local population. The people began believing the gospel and were known as “Nasranis” – followers of Jesus of Nazareth. According to the ancient tradition, St. Thomas established “seven and a half churches”, called the Ezharappallikal, on the Malabar Coast at the following locations for enabling the believers to worship God. They are:
- Malankara (Kodungaloor)
- Palayoor (Ghavakadu)
- Kumbakkayal (Paravoor)
- Gokkamangalam (Thekkenpallipuram)
- Nilalkkal (Chayal)
‘Thiruvithancode Arappally’ is the ‘half church’ in southern Tamil Nadu. St. Thomas (Mar Thoma), engaged in the divine mission of preaching and propagating gospel and building up ‘Worshipping Communities’, was killed by ‘religious-intolerants’ in A. D. 72 at Mylapore, in Chennai. He was killed for the sake of gospel and thus became a ‘Martyr’ (Sahada). Undoubtedly, St. Thomas is the Saint of Malankara (Malankara Sleeha).
It is of great importance to comprehend the following:
- Church in India (Christianity) began at the same period as in the case of Church in Rome
- Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar is the part of One, Catholic and Apostolic Church
- The Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar is the reformed section of the ancient St. Thomas Church in India.
The Journey by Faith of the Mar Thoma Christians from First Century till the 19th Century is conspicuous of divine interventions regarding future course, several historical events, Ecumenical / Episcopal relationships, Archdeacon governance of the Church, to list a few. The Very Important Mile-Stones in the Journey are listed below:
A.D. 52 to 4th Century: Early stages of Mar Thoma Christians known as Nasranis – the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
A. D. 325: Bishop John Attended the Council of Nicea as the Metropolitan of Persia and of great India.
A. D. 345: Immigration of 400 Christians under Knaya Thommen.
A. D. 825: Immigration from Persia under Marvan Sabriso.
A. D. 1599: Udayamperoor Sunnahados.
A. D. 1653: Oath of the ‘Coonan Cross’ at Mattancherry in Kochi and Consecration of Mar Thoma I by 12 priests Subsequent Period: Establishment of links with Church in Antioch.
A. D. 1665: Re-Consecration of Mar Thoma I by Mar Gregorios Metropolitan and beginning of relationship with Syrian Church of Antioch.
A. D. 1816: Church Missionary Society (CMS) in London sent Rev. Thomas Norton to Malabar.
A. D. 1836: Trumpet Call of Reformation under the leadership of Palakkunnathu Abraham Malpan and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan, both teachers of the Old Seminary; in the light of Bible and their association with C. M. S. Missionaries translated Liturgy in to Malayalam and used revised liturgy in Malayalam in the Churches of Maramon, Kottayam, Kollad and Kunnamkulam.
A. D. 1840: Separation of Missionaries from the Syrian Church.
A. D. 1843: Abraham Malpan sent his brother’s son Deacon Mathew to Patriarch of Antioch and he was consecrated as Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan, the 13th Mar Thoma.
A. D. 1878: Anglican Diocese of Travancore and Kochi, a branch of the Church of England formed.
A.D. 1879 to 1889: “Old Seminary Case” filed by Pulikot Mar Dionysius against Thomas Mar Athanasius and Royal Court Judgment by which the Marthomites lost the Old Seminary and the Vartipanom and other assets.
A. D. 1889: Separation of the Syrian Church of Malabar in to Jacobite Syrian Church and Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar.
A. D. 1893: Consecration of Titus I Metropolitan by the Metropolitan of Independent Syrian Church of Thozhiyur.
Salient Features of the Syrian Church of Malabar:
The Syrian Church of Malabar;
- Never accepted the Papal supremacy
- Denied the Doctrine of Transubstantiation
- Condemned the adoration of images
- Not believed in prayers for the dead
- Did not practice the intercession of the Saints
- Did not use the Holy Oil in Baptism
- Looked with horror on auricular confession
- Did not practice the celibacy of the clergy
- Recognized only two orders, the priesthood and the deaconate
- Believed in the Holy Spirit in the consecration of the elements in the Holy Communion
- Had Communion in kinds
- Admitted members of other Churches to the Communion
- Accepted three Sacraments: Baptism, the Eucharist and Holy Orders
Accepted the authority of the sacred Scripture as decisive in all questions of doctrine
The Reformed Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar:
The reformation in the Syrian Church of Malabar resulted in the formation of the MAR THOMA SYRIAN CHURCH OF MALABAR (MALANKARA MAR THOMA SURIYANI SABHA), which has the identity as an inclusive church drawing valued culture and traditions of the Eastern Churches faith and practices based on the scripture in the Holy Bible. It upholds Eastern Traditions, Western Theology and Oriental Liturgies. It is a biblically based movement, which is evangelically motivated, oriented and practically grounded. The motto of the Church is “Lighted To Lighten”.
Reformation in the Church is not just a onetime incident or a divine intervention that happened once, but a continuous divine movement where by believers are exposed to interpretation of the scripture and Bible which are guided and blessed by the Holy Trinity. The Church therefore, engages its flock with deeper Biblical and Theological comprehension, ecclesiastical wisdom and extension of Godly love and care to the needy. This makes the Church witness Christ Jesus every now and then thus proclaiming Salvation, Hope and Eternity. The above Reformation-thrust began by Abraham Malpan, Geevarghese Malpan and many other enlightened members of Clergy and Laity is further strengthened by the blessed leadership of Bishops from the 13th Mar Thoma, Most Rev. Mathews Mar Athanasius till the present Metropolitan, Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma. These Metropolitans assisted by other Bishops and the Clergy, so far could up hold the freedom, independence, the divine Vision and Mission, above all the Biblical vision and the Evangelical Mission of the Church.
Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar and The Ecumenical Movement:
The Mar Thoma Church continues to be an active member, participant and leader of World Council of Churches (WCC), Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), Kerala Council of Churches (KCC), The Bible Society of India. Today Mar Thoma Church is in communion with CSI and CNI Churches, in Ecumenical link with Communion of Churches of India (CCI) and involved with Inter-denominational organizations like C A S Compassion and Holistic Child Development in India.
- Metropolitans of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar since Reformation:
- Most Rev. Mathews Mar Athanasius, The XIII Mar Thoma (1843 – 1877)
- Most Rev. Thomas Mar Athanasius, The XIV Mar Thoma (1877 – 1893)
- Most Rev. Titus I Mar Thoma, The XV Mar Thoma (1893 – 1910)
- Most Rev. Titus II Mar Thoma, The XVI Mar Thoma (1910 – 1943)
- Most Rev. Dr. Abraham Mar Thoma, The XVII Mar Thoma (1943 – 1947)
- Most Rev. Dr. Juhanon Mar Thoma, The XVIII Mar Thoma (1947 – 1976)
- Most Rev. Dr. Alexander Mar Thoma, The XIX Mar Thoma (1976 – 2000)
- Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma, The XX Mar Thoma (2000 – 2007)
- Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma, The XXI Mar Thoma (2007 – Till date)
Sacraments in Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar:
Seven Sacraments are celebrated in the Church. They are as follows:
- Holy Baptism
- Holy Communion
- Extreme Unction.
Out of the above, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are considered as Dominical Sacraments as they are administered in the church as per the direct command of the LORD.
Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, today:
The journey of the Reformed Mar Thoma Church from day one was firmly entrenched on the factors of Word Of God, Holy Scripture, Open Bible, Unquestionable Faith in the Hope and Eternity promised by Jesus Christ, The Church follows the tradition of Apostolic and Catholic fabric, respecting and loyal to Episcopacy with active involvement and participation by both clergy and laity precipitating democratic values and practices. This makes the Church more sensitive to the contemporary society. The Church leaves no stone unturned to reach out to people both in their prosperity and sorrow and to witness Jesus Christ.
The Mar Thoma Church is deeply involved and propagates Reformation. The Mar Thoma Church is the first Church in India to begin Mission activities to achieve Evangelization. The Suvisesha Prasangha Sanghom (Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association) has its network of Evangelists and other developmental activities spread over cities, towns and remote villages in almost all States. Dioceses and Parishes have their activities of Evangelization and development programs. Mar Thoma Church has established its presence felt in Evangelization, Developmental Mission and Auxiliary Mission through its activities, services and ministry in the fields of Education, Social Intervention, Uplifting of the poor and down-trodden, Medical, Palliative Care, Child Development, Human Values and Dignity, H R D & Management, C A R D Initiative etc. to name a few. Today the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar is spread across the entire globe and the membership figure touches over 1.6 million. The Church has over 1235 Parishes included in 13 Dioceses.
Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar is blessed with leadership of God’s chosen people. The Church is further blessed with an exceptionally active Valiya Metropolitan the Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom nearing 100 years of age and has over six decades of ministry as a bishop. Thirumeni is well respected for his ecclesiastical wisdom, knowledge and leadership. Today, this Church is headed by Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan with blessed abilities of administration and knowledge bestowed by God’s Grace.
This Church deeply mourns the unexpected passing away of Senior Suffragan Metropolitan Rt. Rev. Dr. Zacharias Mar Theophilus Thirumeni. He was taken into Eternal Rest on December 27, 2015 and the Funeral was held on 29 December 2015 at Mar Thoma Sabha Head quarters, Thiruvalla. As an outstanding visionary with deep concern for the sick and suffering Thirumeni contributed the best for the expansion of God’s Kingdom through a number of projects of compassion.
Today the Metropolitan is assisted by one Suffragan Metropolitan and nine Episcopas. God blessed this church abundantly. God answered the prayers of our parents. Let us rededicate ourselves once again for the glory of God, for the expansion of His kingdom and may the Holy Spirit give us the mission and vision as a church to be the light of this world.