The Syro-Malankara Church

The St. Thomas Christian Community, founded in India by the year 52 AD., was further strengthened by a group of Christians immigrated from Persia in 345 AD., paving the way for further relationships with the Churches in the Persian Empire, some of which were founded by close disciples of St. Thomas. Hence both the Church in India and those of Persia were in close relationship with each other and in communion with other early apostolic communities.

This situation continued till the 16th century, when the Church in the West began to come in contact with the Indian Church through the Portuguese merchants and missionaries. These contacts were cordial in the beginning, but conflicts of different natures ensued later, as a result of which the early community of Indian Christians in 1653 broke off their relationship with the Portuguese missionaries. The majority of them restored ecclesial relationship with the Portuguese hierarchy (Malabar-Church) and the rest formed themselves into an independent ecclesial community and gradually got into an ecclesial relationship with the ancient Christian Church of Antioch (Malankara-Church).

From the Malankara Church there had always been attempts to restore communion with the Holy See of Rome and after 300 years of strenuous efforts, they, were crowned with success only in the first half of the 20th century.

In 1926 the Episcopal Synod of the Church of the “New Party” held at Parumala delegated Metropolitan Mar Ivanios to enter into negotiations with Rome in order to effect a reunion with the Catholic Church under the condition that the ancient and venerable traditions of the Malankara Church would be retained and kept intact. Pope Pius XI graciously accepted the conditions and welcomed the reunion.

Accordingly, on September 20, 1930 a representative group, headed by Archbishop Mar Ivanios and followed by Mar Teophilos, Rev. Fr. John Kuzhimepurath OIC, Deacon Alexander (later Fr. Seraphion OIC) and Mr. Chacko Kilileth, made their Profession of Faith and were duly received into the Catholic Communion by His Excellency Most Rev. Dr. María Benziger, Bishop of Quilon, who was especially delegated by the Holy See for this purpose. The following day two Rembans, Most Rev. Joseph Pulikottil and Most Rev. Philipose Cheppad, also made their Profession of Faith and were likewise received into the Malankara Catholic Church.

In 1932 His Garce Mar Ivanios made his official visit to the Holy See of Rome and His Hiloness Pope Pius XI invested him with the Sacred Pallium. With the Apostolic Constitution “Christo Pastorum Principi” of June 11, 1932 Pope Pius XI erected the Syro-Malankara Catholic Hierarchy comprising the Metropolitan Eparchy of Trivandrum and the Eparchy of Tiruvalla.

The Metropolitan Eparchy of Trivandrum was inaugurated on May 11, 1933and His Grace Mar Ivanios was installed as its first Metropolitan. The Eparchy of Tiruvalla was inaugurated on November 6, 1933 and Most Rev. Jacob Mar Theophilos was appointed as its first Bishop.

The reunion of Archbishop Mar Ivanios with the Church Catholic was a historical event in the Church, which inspired many of the Malankara Thomas Christians including many bishops of the Orthodox Church. On November 29, 1937 Most Rev. Joseph Severios of the Orthodox Church and on November 12, 1939 Most Rev. Thomas Dioscorus, Metropolitan of the Knanaya Jacobite Church, were reunited with the Catholic Church.

Under the spiritual, intellectual and pastoral leadership of Archbishop Mar Ivanios the Malankara Catholic Community was greatly strengthened in India and abroad. After a period of 22 years of strenuous and exhausting service to the Malankara Catholic Church Mar Ivanios fell sick for more than one year. During this time he consecrated His Excellency Most Rev. Benedict Gregorios as his auxiliary on January 29, 1953. Mar Ivanios, the pioneer of the reunion movement, passed away onJuly 15, 1953.

On January 27, 1955 Most Rev. Benedict Gregorios was installed as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Trivandrum and the Head of the Syro-Malankara Hierarchy. At this time large numbers of people from other non-Catholic Malankara Curches reunited with the Catholic Church, and several parishes, missions, convents, schools, hospitals, orphanages and other institutions were established in different places. His Excellency Most Rev. Paulose Philexinos, the Metropolitan of the Malabar Independent Church, was received into the Catholic Church as the Titular Bishop of Chayal on August 28, 1977. His Excellency Most Rev. Lawrence Ephraem was appointed Auxiliary to the Metropolitan Archbishop of Trivandrum on November 6, 1980 and was consecrated on December 27, 1980.

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church has been steadly growing and spreading throughout India. The Eparchy of Bathery was rected on October 28, 1978, bifurcating the Eparchy of Tiruvalla. Most Rev. Cyril Baselios was appointed as the first Bishop of the new Eparchy.

After 41 years of dedicated service, Archbishop Benedict Gregorios, Head of the Malankara Catholic Church, passed away on October 10, 1994. His Excellency Most Rev. Cyril Baselios, the then Bishop of Bathery, became the Apostolic Administrator of the Church. On November 6, 1995 he was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Trivandrum and Head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. His installation took place on December 14, 1995.

Bifurcating the Metropolitan Eparchy of Trivandrum, the Eparchy of Marthandom was erected on December 16, 1996 and Most Rev. Lawrence Ephraem, the then Auxiliary Bishop of Trivandrum, was appointed as its first Bishop.

Thus in 1930, a small community from the Malankara Church regained communion with the Holy See and was recognized as the Malankara Catholic Church. It has today one Archdiocese and four dioceses, 6 Bishops, about 500 priests, 1200 Religious men and women and 400.000 of faithful, leaving about 3 million people still in the Malankara non-Catholic Church.

Since the Malankara Church had entertained ecclesia relationship with the Antiochen Church, it has adopted the Antiochene Liturgy and canonical traditions, which, in turn, are very ancient and rooted in the apostolic traditions of the early oriental Churches. The ancient Antiochene Liturgy has been shaped on the Anaphora of St. James, which was in use in the Church of Jerusalem, where in fact our Lord held his Last Supper. The use of the Antiochene Liturgy for long in the MalankaraChurch has deeply influenced and shaped the ecclesial and spiritual life of the Malankara Church and one can say that liturgical celebration is central in its spirituality. The faithful of the Malankara Church, both Catholic and the non-Catholic, are spread all over India and outside.

On February 10, 2005, His Holiness Pope John Paul II has raised the Syro-Malankara Metropolitan Church sui iuris to the rank of Major Archiepiscopal Church and has promoted H.E. Cyril Mar Baselios Malancharuvil to the dignity of Major Archbishop.

After his death, on 18 January 2007, the first Holy Episcopal Synod was convoked to elect the new Major Archbishop. Pope Benedict XVI, on 9 February 2007, confirmed the election of H.B. Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, as new Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church.