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Rev. V P Philip
Vicar
Rev. Riju Thomas John
Asst. Vicar


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Untitled Document


Our Heritage
The history of the Mar Thoma Church is divided into three main eras:

Pre-Reformation

St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, is believed to have landed in AD 52 in Cranganore near Cochin, which was, at that time, an important seaport on the Malabar Coast, having trade connections with the Middle East in those days. It is deducted from the accounts in the Book of Kings that even before the time of Christ, there was trade between the Malabar Coast and Palestine in spices and luxury articles like ivory. Therefore, it was quite natural for Thomas to come 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. Through the ministry of the Word and the many miracles which tradition attributes to him, he brought many high caste Hindus to the Christian faith.

It is also believed that he organized seven Christians communities and ordained presbyters from four leading families.
The history of this ancient Church from the 4th to 15th centuries reveals that it had friendly relations with the Church in Persia. There is an old belief that a group of 400 immigrants from Persia arrived in Malabar in AD 345 under the leadership of a merchant named Thomas of Cana, known as Knaye Thommen. Mention is also made of another immigration from Persia in AD 825 under the leadership of a Persian merchant named Marwan Sabriso with two Bishops named Mar Sapro and Mar Prodh. They landed in Quilon. King Cheraman Perumal gave them land and extended special privileges to them, inscribed on two sets of Copper Plates (in Malayalam “Chepped”). Three of these are still in the Old Seminary in Kottayam and two are at the Mar Thoma Church Head Quarters, Tiruvalla.
There was ecclesiastical connection between the Church in West Asia and the Church in Malabar till 16th century. The Bishops who came from Babylonian Patriarchate were Nestorians. Even now there is a Nestorian Church in Trichur, called the Chaldean Syrian Church. They have connection with the Nestorian Patriarch. Though there were such ecclesiastical connections and ministrations, 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 and 17th centuries. This was also a period, which witnessed far-reaching effects of the missionary adventures of the Roman Catholic Church. At this time the Portuguese were powerful in the eastern areas and had control of the sea routes. The Roman Catholic Church wanted to use this opportunity to bring the Church in Malabar under the supremacy of Rome. A powerful Archbishop Alexio-de-Menezes arrived in Goa in 1592. He then convened a Synod at Udayamperoor, south of Ernakulam, in the year 1599, called the Synod of Diamper for commandeering obedience to the supreme Bishop of Rome. The representatives sent from various congregations were forced to accept the decrees read out by the Archbishop. Thus the Syrian Christians of Malabar, (the Malankara Church) were made part of the Roman Catholic Church under the Pope.

The Malankara Church was under Roman Empire for half a century. But many smarted under the Roman yoke. Gradually the power of the Portuguese empire declined and the Christians yearned for regaining independence.
Their dream was finally realised when their Archdeacon, Thomas by name, was duly consecrated with the title ‘Mar Thoma’ in 1665 by Mar Gregorius of Jerusalem who was associated with the Jacobite Patriarchate of Antioch. Thus the Episcopal continuity was restored with Mar Thoma I as the first Indian Metropolitan. Thus began the relation of the Syrian Church with the Antiochene Jacobites. Because of the relationship with the Syrian Church, the Church in Malankara (Malabar) was also known as Syrian Church of Malabar

However, some unscriptural customs and practices crept in over the centuries and there was a nucleus of people in the church who longed for the removal of such practices. 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 Geevarughese Malpan of Puthuppally(1800-1855). Both were teachers in the Syrian Seminary (established in AD 1813 by Pulikottil Mar Dionysius) and had had opportunities to come into close personal contact with the missionaries and to share their insights regarding the Christian life and the nature and function 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.

Reformation Movement
Palakkunnathu Abraham Malpan from Maramon and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan from Kottayam who spearheaded this movement, never wanted to start a separate Church. They wanted the reformation staying within the Church. This group gradually became vocal and approached Col. Fraser, the British Resident, with a memorandum in 1836.
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 from it the prayers for the dead and invocation of saints etc. 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.

He later on removed from the church the wooden image of a saint reputed to have miraculous powers, and in whose honor an annual festival was held that brought in huge income to the Parish. Both at Maramon and at the Syrian Seminary at Kottayam, and in the neighboring Parishes of Pallom and Kollad, Abraham Malpan popularized Bible teaching and preaching. Abraham Malpan and Geevarghese Malpan had to give up their service in the Seminary, in 1840. Since then Abraham Malpan concentrated his attention on the work of reform, holding Bible classes and prayer meetings and instructing the deacons who were loyal to him.

Most prominent elements in the Reformation were:

1. Return to the gospel message of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ;
2. Cleansing of wrong ways of life;
3. Taking up responsibility to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to other;
4. All importance be given to the primacy of the Word of God.


Thus the reformation movement was started. It was a return to the purity of the life and practice of the early Church. The emphasis on preaching the word of God led to revival meetings, which were led both by the clergy and laymen. The domination of the clergy as custodians of grace became a thing of the past. Emphasis was given to the sole mediation of Christ, importance of laity and priesthood of all believers. More and more groups were formed for Bible study; and conventions for preaching and hearing the Word of God became common.

Metropolitan Chepat Mar Dionysius was not prepared to accept such changes. So he refused to ordain the deacons who had undergone training with Abraham Malpan. He also excommunicated Abraham Malpan. So Abraham Malpan went to his mother parish at Maramon. He stood strong in faith and convictions when faced with serious challenges and great difficulties. However the whole parish stood with him. Others who favoured the reforms went to hear his preaching and were strengthed by his exhortations. Some other parishes also decided to adopt the programme of reformation. Abraham Malpan realized that unless he had the support of a bishop who was sympathetic towards his reforms, there was little prospect of the movement gaining ground. So he sent his nephew Deacon Mathew, who was then studying in Madras, to the Patriarch at Mardin in Syria.

The Patriarch, being impressed with the character and ability of the deacon, in due course ordained him as priest and consecrated him as Metropolitan, with the name Mathews Mar Athanasius. The new Bishop arrived in Cochin in 1843 with credentials received from the Patriarch.The new Metropolitan went to Trivandrum and tried to obtain the Royal proclamation declaring him as the Metropolitan of the Malankara Church. Chepat Mar Dionysius opposed this. Mathews Mar Athanasius got the royal proclamation in 1852 declaring him as the Metropolitan of the Malankara Church.

Post Reformation
To know more about the heritage, history, sacraments and practices of the Mar Thoma Church
visit: www.marthomasyrianchurch.org
You can also refer to the book, Roots and Wings - Frequently Asked Questions about the Mar Thoma Church, published by BEMTC


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