Timeline of Oriental Orthodoxy in India (St. Thomas Christianity)

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This is a timeline of Oriental Orthodoxy in India. Thomasine Christianity is found in the southern Indian state of Kerala. These churches trace their roots back to St. Thomas the Apostle who arrived along the Malabar Coast in the year AD 52. In the Syriac tradition, St. Thomas is referred to as Mar Thoma Sleeha which translates roughly as Lord/Saint Thomas the Apostle.

St. Thomas Christians (52-1498)

Ancient Era (52-424)

  • 52 Arrival of St. Thomas the Apostle in Muziris (near Kodungalloor) in the Indian state of Kerala, founding the Church in India; St Thomas established 7 churches at: Kodungalloor; Palayoor; Paravur; Kokkamangalam; Chayal; Niranam; and Kollam.
  • 72 Martyrdom of St. Thomas the Apostle, in the neighborhood of Mylapore, city of Chennai, state of Tamil Nadu.
  • 105 Church established at Kuravilangad (St. Mary’s Forane Church).
  • 189 Arrival of Stoic Philosopher Pantaenus from Alexandria, who visited the Malankara Church[note 1] at the request of the Malankara Christians (reported by Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome); according to Eusebius, Pantaenus was for a time a missionary preacher, traveling as far as India, where it was reported that he found Christians who were using the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew.
  • 196 Bardaisan writes of Christians amongst the Parthians, Bactrians (Kushans) and other peoples in the Persian Empire .
  • 290 Brief persecution of Persian Christians under Bahram II.
  • 325 First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea; Syriac St. Jacob of Nisibis, Bp. of Nisibis in Mesopotamia and spiritual father of Ephrem the Syrian, attended the First Ecumenical Council, as did Persian Bp. John (Mar Yohannan), presiding over the churches "in Persia and India".
  • 327 Apparition of Theotokos at Kuravilangad.
  • ca.4th-6th c. Severe persecution of Christians in Persia (Sassanid Empire).
  • 337-379 The Persian Church faced several severe persecutions, notably during the reign of Shapur II (309–79), from the Zoroastrian majority who accused it of Roman leanings.[note 2]
  • 340-360 The Nasranis were granted special rights and privileges by the edict Thazhekad Sasanam; the edict was written on stone and provides proof of the early existence of St. Thomas Christians in Kerala.
  • 345 A small group of K'nanaim merchants travelled to the Jewish trade posts at Kodungallur in Kerala and settled there; their descendants are today known in Kerala as Knanaya Nasranis (Saint Thomas Christians); they were under the leadership of Thomas of Cana (Thomas of Kynai), with Bishop Joseph of Edessa (Bp. Uraha Mar Yausef), four priests, several deacons, and 72 Syro-Aramaic Jewish families who migrated from Edessa (about 400 people).
  • 354 Theophilos the Indian was sent by Emperor Constantius II on a mission to south Asia via Arabia, where he is said to have converted the Himyarites and built three churches in southwest Arabia; he is also said to have found Christians in India, along the Malabar Coast, as recorded by the Anomoean (Arian) Church historian Philostorgius.
  • 379-402 Continuation of the Great Persecution of the Persian church.
  • 409 Permission was formally given by the Zoroastrian King Yezdegerd to Christians to worship openly and rebuild destroyed churches, though they were not allowed to proselytize (some historians call this decree the Edict of Milan for the Assyrian Christian church).
  • 410 The Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, also called the Council of Mar Isaac, met in AD 410 in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, capitol of the Sassanid Empire of Persia, extending official recognition to the Empire's Christian community, (known as the Church of the East after 431 AD), and established the Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon as its Catholicos, or leader, declaring him to be supreme among the Bishops of the East; this established a hierarchical Christian Church in Iran, with a patriarchate at Ctesiphon and metropolitans in the capitals of five Persian provinces; it also declared its adherence to the decisions of the Council of Nicea and subscribed to the Nicene Creed.

Persian (Nestorian) Era (424-1498)

  • 424 Schism begun: Formal separation of the Assyrian Church of the East ("East Syrian Church", "Persian Church", "Chaldean Syrian Church", or "Nestorian Church"), from the See of Antioch: the Synod of Dadyeshu met in Markabata of the Arabs, under the presidency of Mar Dadyeshu, proclaiming the independence of the Iranian Church from Byzantium, deciding that the Catholicos should be the sole head of the Church of the East and that no ecclesiastical authority should be acknowledged above him, referring to him for the first time as Patriarch, answerable to God alone (thus also reassuring the Sassandid monarchy that Persian Christians were not influenced by the Roman enemy).
  • 431 The Third Ecumenical Council is held in Ephesus, condemning Nestorianism.
  • 484 The Catholicos-Patriarch of the Church of the East Babowai (457–484) was executed by Sassanid king Peroz I, for his pro-Byzantine leanings, for which he was often in conflict with other members of the anti-Byzantine Church of the East (i.e. such as Barsauma).
  • 484 Schism finalized: Synod of Beth Lapat is convened under the Metropolitan of Nisibis Barsauma, declaring Nestorianism as the official theology of the Assyrian Church of the East, effectively separating the Assyrian church from the Byzantine church, pleasing the Zoroastrian Persian kings, who were at constant war with the now Christian Byzantine Empire.
  • 522 Byzantine monk Cosmas Indicopleustes (literally "who sailed to India") visits the Malabar Coast and Ceylon, writing about Christian Communities in his book Topografia Christiana.
  • 708 Death of Bp. Jacob of Edessa, one of the most distinguished Syriac writers.
  • 715 Very first Muslim invasion of India occurred, as Umayyad general Muhammad bin Qasim conquered the Sindh and Punjab regions along the Indus river (now a part of Pakistan).
  • ca.800 The Church of St. Sebastian in Thazhekad is founded, one of the oldest in Kerala, dating back to AD 800; it is currently the largest pilgrimage center in the Roman Catholic Syro-Malabar Diocese of Irinjalakuda.
  • 825 Copper-plates known as the Tharisapalli plates were given by a Venad Indian King to the Nestorian Bishop Mar S(abo)r Easho, documenting a land grant near "Kollam" to Nestorian Christians who had taken the then famous Red Sea route to the state of Kerala; the plates give information about the arrival of Monks from Persia, led by the Marwan S(abo)r iso .
  • 869 Council of Capharthutha was held in February to resolve the differences between the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East (Syriac Orthodox Church) and the Maphriyan (Exarch) in Persia and India; it aimed to regulate the relationship and resolve frequent difficulties arising between the two positions, codifying eight canons dealing with the Patriarch and the Maphrian of Tigris.
  • ca.1100-1125 The Mulanthuruthy Marthoman church is constructed, being among the ancient and famous churches of the Malankara Church and a pilgrimage center for St. Thomas Christians, containing a relic of St. Thomas, which was brought from Mosul.[note 3]

Era of Divisions (1498-1912)

Portuguese Colonial Era (1498-1653)

Jacobite Era (1653-1912)

  • 1653 January 3, Coonan Cross Oath at Mattancherry, Cochin, by which all connections with the Portuguese Roman Catholics and Jesuits (Roman Catholic supremacy) was rejected by the St Thomas Christians; about 25,000 Saint Thomas Christians and 633 clergy led by Archdeacon Thomas declared independence against the foreign aggression, by holding on to a rope which was tied around the stone cross in front of the church in Mattancherry, and taking an oath rejecting and pubicly avowing the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church over them; Archdeacon Thomas was consecrated by 12 priest elders as Mar Thoma I, the first bishop of the Malankara Church.[note 4]
  • 1665-1681 In India, Oriental Orthodox Metr. of Jerusalem Mar Gregorios Abdul Jaleel played a crucial role in the defense of the Oriental Orthodox faith and Suryani tradition following the Koonan Kurishu Sathyam; (glorifed April 4, 2000 by His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I of the Syrian Orthodox Church).
  • 1772 Schism: West Syrians under the leadership of Abraham Mar Koorilose, Metropolitan of Malankara, formed the Malabar Independent Syrian Church, splitting from the main body of India's Malankara Church over concerns about the authority of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch.[note 5]

Arrival of the Protestants - Further Splits (1813-1912)

Modern Era (1912-Present)

Indian Orthodox Church: Autocephalous Era (1912-Present)

See also



  1. Malankara is a cognate word of the place name Maliankara, a place near Muziris, where St. Thomas the Apostle first landed, in the Indian state of Kerala. It was the headquarters of the Church from the first century. The original liturgical language used in the Malankara Church was Aramaic and Hebrew; later this was replaced by Syriac.
  2. In 337 Shāpūr sent his forces across the Tigris River, the uneasy frontier, to recover Armenia and Mesopotamia, which his predecessors had lost to the Romans. Until 350 the conflict raged in northern Mesopotamia, with neither side a clear-cut victor. Shortly after 337, Shāpūr took an important policy decision. Although the state religion of the Sāsānian Empire was Mazdaism (Zoroastrianism), Christianity flourished within its boundaries. The Roman emperor Constantine the Great had granted toleration to Christians in 313. With the subsequent Christianization of the empire, Shāpūr, mistrustful of a potential force of a fifth column at home while he was engaged abroad, ordered the persecution and forcible conversion of the Christians; this policy was in force throughout his reign.
  3. The Mulanthuruthy church was the venue of the famous Mulanthuruthy Synod in 1876 convened by the Patriarch of Antioch Peter III. Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Yakoob III also visited this church in 1964. And the present Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas visited the Church twice, during 1982 and 2000.
  4. Before that the Malankara Church was ruled by Malankara Mooppens (elders).
  5. At the close of the 19th century, some of them fell under the influence of Anglican missionaries and established the [[w:Mar Thomite Church, which introduced many doctrinal and liturgical changes of a Western Protestant character.
  6. The very first Anglican ordination was a native of Ceylon, ordained for work in Ceylon (Sri Lanka); the second, Abdul Masih, was therefore the first Indian ordained for work in India.
  7. Two strong groups were in the church at this time: the one owed allegiance to Metropolitan Thomas Mar Athanasius (1877-1893), and supported independence and purification of the church (the Metran Kakshi faction); the other under the control of Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysious II (1865-1909), spearheaded Orthodoxy and subservience to the Patriarch of Antioch (the Bava Kakshi. faction).
    In 1877 Metropolitan Thomas Mar Athanasius thus became the first Metropolitan of the new Mar Thoma Church (1877-1893), a group that split from the Malankara Church and was originally known as "Reformed Jacobites", of the West Syrian Rite (i.e. Protestant Oriental, in communion with the Anglican Church).
  8. Mar Thoma or Marthoma is Aramaic, meaning Saint Thomas. Members of this church are often referred to as Marthomites.
  9. The reasons for this break with the papacy were political rather then religious. From the sixteenth century there had existed a concordat between the Holy See and the King of Portugal which allowed the latter to nominate Bishops to the diocese of Latin Rite India, as well as other colonies which had formally been Portuguese colonies. The arrangement was known as the Patrondo (Patronage). By the second half of the nineteenth century it had become obvious that it was high time for Patrondo to be abolished.
  10. "On January 2, 1887, Pope Leo XIII set up a new Latin hierarchy for India and Ceylon, with the bishops (except for the province of (Goa) directly dependent on the Congregation of Propaganda. This change aroused considerable indignation because there still existed strong sentimental link between Indian Catholics and Portugal. Many native priests were indignant at being transferred to jurisdictions of French or Italian bishops.
    Thus came into being what was called the 'Patrando Association'. Its leaders petitioned King Luis I of Portugal, to use his influence at Rome to have the royal patronage restored. On February 10, 1888, a Goan priest, who had been a Brahmin, Antonio Francisco-Xavier Alvarez, was elected by the Association as first bishop of the schismatic church. He applied to Mar Dionysios V, Jacobite Metropolitan of Malankara since 1865, to consecrate him, but with no result. His appeal to Mar Ignatius Peter III, Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch was more successful." (Old Catholic Church of the United States. Credo: The Catechism of the Old Catholic Church. iUniverse, 2004. p.391.)
  11. Patriarch Ignatius Abded Aloho II (1906-1915) had deposed Patriarch Ignatius Abdul Masih II (1895-1905) and usurped the Patriarchal See of Antioch from him. In 1911 Patriarch Ignatius Abded Aloho (Mar Abdulla) came to Malankara, and excommunicated Malankara Metropolitan Vattasseril Mar Divannasios. To ward off the undue interference of Patriarch Abdulla in the administration of the Indian Church, Fr. P.T. Geevarghese with the blessing of Vattasseril Mar Divannasios, contacted Patriarch Abded M’siha, the Patriarch of Antioch from whom Mar Abdulla usurped the Patriarchal See of Antioch, and invited him to visit Malankara and to establish a Catholicate there. This created a split in the church in 1912, into the two groups, with some claiming that the relocation of the Catholicate to India was without authority from the Universal Syriac Orthodox Synod, thus causing the century long dispute in the Malankara Church. (See 1958).
  12. The Indian Orthodox Church view is that the Catholicate of the East is autocephalous and in the legitimate succession of St. Thomas the Apostle, citing use of the term "Throne of St. Thomas" in documents since at least 1301 AD, and that this was a period of religious turmoil where the Patriarch of Antioch interfered and suspended the Malankara Metropolitan, demanding complete surrender, leading to this event; two factions thus emerge from the Malankara Church (Indian Oriental Orthodoxy): the Malankara Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church (Patriarchal, "Jacobite", or Bava Faction) and Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Catholicos, or Methran Faction).

Further reading


Christianity in India

See also: Thomapedia. 2000. ISBN 9788187132134 (The Thomapedia is the Enlarged 2000 Edition of the 1973 2nd Volume of the St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India (STCEI), both edited by Prof. George Menachery.)
By Indian historian Anant Priolkar. Provides the most comprehensive account of the Goa Inquisition held by Portuguese colonialists in Goa, India in the 16th century and details the wholesale massacres of Hindus, Muslims, Indian Jews and non-Catholic Indian Christians by the Portuguese inquisitors.

Christianity In Persia


External Links


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