The Mar Thoma Church in India

For a comprehensive understanding of this article, first read:
Apostle Thomas in India
Early Christians of India
Western Influence on Thomas Christians
Orthodox Churches in India
The Syro-Malankara Church

Towards the end of the 18th century and in the beginning of the 19th century the Jacobite Church of Malabar (Malankara Church) was in utter confusion, and it was in a state of decline. Life within the State and the Church was grievously disturbed by varying factors such as political, social and theological issues. Lack of leadership qualities, absence of theological insights, poor knowledge of the Bible, loose moral life, enforced celibacy of the priests, unscriptural doctrines, etc., weakened the Church day by day. Besides, all sorts of superstitious beliefs that were rampant among the people caused a fatal break in their spiritual life. Consequence of all these was that the place and value of faith was taken over by unscrupulous observances of rituals and such other practices. There were divisions and fights for power and authority. It is at this opportune time the Anglican Church of England extended support.

The English displaced the Dutch from Cochin in 1795 and with the arrival of the English, the foreign domination of South India changed hands. The East India Company under which the English operated in India, appointed a British Resident for Cochin and Travancore. The first two Residents, Colonel Macaulay and Colonel John Monroe were men of strong Christian convictions and they were prepared to help the Syrian Christians. The Malankara Metropolitan Mar Dionysius I was deeply interested in instituting schools in the parishes. Towards the close of Mar Dionysius I's life, Dr. Claudius Buchanan, Principal of Fort William College, Calcutta visited Malabar in 1806-1807. He had received a special commission from Lord Wellesley, Governor General of India, to study and report on the Malankara Church. Later, Dr. Buchanan reported the needs of the Church to Lord Wellesley. On his return to England, Dr. Buchanan warmly advocated the cause of the Syrian Christians and as a result, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) under the patronage of the Church of England, provided the services of Rev. Thomas Norton, Rev. Benjamin Bailey, Rev. Joseph Fenn and Rev. Henry Baker.

The first Anglican mission (CMS) started to work in Kerala in 1816. A number of Jacobites came under their influence and reforms were introduced on Anglican lines. Leadership for this reform group was provided by Palakunnath Abraham Malpan and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan, the two professors of the Syrian Seminary at Kottayam.

The first synod of the Indian Jacobites was celebrated in 1836 and it decided to sever all ties with the Anglicans. But Abraham Malpan and his party continued to carry on the reforms already started, for which they were excommunicated by Dionysius IV in 1837. There followed a period of confusion. Mathew Mar Athanasius, who had been consecrated bishop by the Jacobite patriarch in 1842/43 emerged as the leader of the reform group. The tussle continued for some time more, and in 1875 Mathew Mar Athanasius was deposed by Ignatius Mar Peter IV, patriarch of Antioch, who visited India that year. Consequent to this excommunication, Mar Athanasius and his followers were deprived of all the churches and properties. The Church plunged into a litigation known as the 'Seminary Case'. Finally, in 1889, with help of the CMS, they organized a new Church - the "Mar Thoma Church".

The Mar Thoma Church is an amicable blending of two characteristic tracts, namely, the Orthodox Church features and reformation (Protestant) ideals, or in other words, blending of Eastern and Western forms. This nature of the Church points to its uniqueness when compared to other Churches. The supreme authority of the Church is the General Assembly which is consisted of the bishops, the clergy and elected representatives of the local parishes.

The conventions convened time and again enriched the spiritual life of the people. Of all the conventions the Maramon convention which began in 1896 ranks first with respect to the large number of people attending it every year. There are around half a million members in this Church.

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