Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar
The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church traces its origin to the evangelistic activity of St. Thomas, the Apostle and disciple of Jesus Christ in India. He is believed to have landed Cranganore near Cochin, India in AD 52. St. Thomas came to India with the Gospel as the disciples went to different parts of the world in accordance with the commission given to them by Jesus Christ. In the true apostolic tradition he preached first to the Jewish settlers in and around Cochin, and then worked among the Hindus. It is believed that he organized 7 Christian communities, and ordained presbyters from four leading families. The seven churches were: Cranganore (Malankara), Chavakad (Palur), Parur near Alwaye, Gokamangalam, Niranam, Nilakkal (Chayal) and Quilon (Kalyan). It is believed that St. Thomas preceded to the East coast of India and died a martyr’s death at a place now called St. Thomas Mount, and was buried at Mylapore in Madras.
The history of this ancient Church during 4th to 15th centuries reveals the fact that it had friendly relations with the Church in Persia. There was ecclesiastical connection between the Church in West Asia and the Church in Malabar till 16th century. The Church in Malabar was independent in administration under its own Archdeacons.
The Portuguese started settling in India with the coming of Vasco De Gama in AD 1498. They established their power in the 16th & the 17th centuries. The Roman Catholic Church wanted to use this opportunity to bring the Church in Malabar under the supremacy of Rome. They convened a Synod of Diamper(Udayamperoor) in the year 1599. The representatives sent from various congregations were forced to accept the supremacy of Rome. Thus the Syrian Christians of Malabar, (the Malankara Church) were made part of the Roman Catholic Church under the Pope. After 54 years of submission, Malankara Church declared their independence and shook off the Roman supremacy with the ‘Oath of Coonen Cross’ in AD 1653. Malankara Church was also influenced by the Persian, Nestorian and The Jacobite churches.
There was a nucleus of people in the church who longed for the removal of unscriptural customs and practices which had crept into the church over the centuries. They envisioned a reformation in the Church in the light of the Gospel of our Lord. There were two outstanding leaders in this group; one was Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan of Maramon (1796-1845) and the other, Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan of Puthuppally (1800-1855). Both were teachers in the Syrian Seminary and had opportunities to come into close personal contact with the missionaries. They shared their insights regarding the Christian life and the nature and functioning of the Church as depicted in the New Testament and to imbibe the ideas of the Western Reformation. The group led by these two was very much concerned about the need of a revival in the Church. They spearheaded this movement, but never wanted to start a separate Church. They wanted the reformation, staying within the Church. But since nothing came of it, Abraham Malpan decided to take action in his own parish of Maramon, which was sympathetic towards his ideas of reform.
He translated the liturgy of the Holy Qurbana into local language Malayalam from Syriac and also eliminated prayers for the dead and invocation of saints etc to name few. He celebrated Holy Qurbana in his church using the revised St. James liturgy on a Sunday in 1836. This was tantamount to firing the first shot of the reformation.
Most prominent elements in the Reformation were: Return to the gospel message of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ; Cleansing of wrong ways of life, and Taking up responsibility to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to other; all importance be given to the primacy of the Word of God.
Even though the reform party lost their hereditary and rightful possession, it became the occasion for the people to turn to God and to go forward in faith, trusting in the power of God. This led to a spiritual revival and great joy in spite of difficulties. The object and Mission of the church is to keep and safeguard the faith by Christ and taught by the apostles, to promote the spiritual life of the faithful life of the faithful through the administration of the sacraments and the preaching of the word, and to proclaim the gospel to all nations and bear witness as per the instructions received by the faithful.
The Mar Thoma Syrian Church is a global Church, at present blessed by the able leadership of 13 Bishops and is headed by Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan who is 21st Malankara Metropolitan to occupy the holy apostolic Throne of St. Thomas. Now the Church have 13 diocese which includes 1200 parishes and congregations, about 1000 clergy who administer to the needs, spiritual and otherwise, of the laity which number approximately 1.5 million members.
The faithful community is nurtured and nourished through various organizations like the Mar Thoma Evangelistic association (1888), the Mar Thoma Sunday School Samajam (1905), the Mar Thoma Suvishesha Sevika Sangham (1919), the Mar Thoma Voluntary Evangelistic Association (1925), the Mar Thoma Yuvajana Sakhyam (1933), the Mar Thoma Students Conference (1910), and the Department of sacred music and communications (1969). The Maramon Convention (Evangelistic Meeting) was started in the year 1896. The famous Maramon Convention which we have been holding annually for over a century is a source of great spiritual power and inspiration for innumerable people. The Malankara Sabha Tharaka serves as the official organ of the Mar Thoma Church.
The Mar Thoma Church is Eastern in worship, Episcopal In tradition, Orthodox in doctrine, democratic in administration, oriental in worship practices and ecumenical in vision. Some of its salient features are the strong bible emphasis, evangelical outlook, missionary zeal, theological concerns and social commitments. Through the centuries, the Mar Thoma Church has always engaged in social, political and religious issues which affect the people, and has overcome great trials and tribulations, since its infancy till the present, while staying true its calling, faith and heritage, ever upholding its motto; Lighted to Lighten.
(Courtesy: Sabha Website; http://marthoma.in/)