Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

The Malankara Orthodox Church (MOC) proudly claims to have been founded by St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Christ. From the early centuries of the Common Era, the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala had intermittent relationship with the Syriac communities in the ancient Persian Empire. Regular contacts were rather difficult, because of the Arab-Muslim control of the trade route in the Arabian Sea.

In the 15th cent. the relationship with the E.-Syr. Church was apparently strong, but this was abruptly broken by the Portuguese presence in the Indian subcontinent. In the so-called Synod of Diamper (1599), Dom. Alexis Menezis, Archbishop of Goa, with the support of the king of Cochin, was able to bring the St. Thomas Christians under the authority of Rome. In 1653 the great majority rejected the forced union with Rome at the famous Coonan Cross. As they wanted to retain Syriac language and liturgy, and above all the ecclesiastical independence, they wrote letters to various Eastern patriarchates requesting to send them a bp. Thus in 1665, in a Dutch vessel Mar Gregorios, the Syr. Orth. bp. of ‘Jerusalem’ reached Kerala and consecrated Mar Thoma I, as the bp. of the St. Thomas Christians. In 1685, Mar Baselios Yaldo and Mar Ivanios Ḥidayatallah, two more Antiochian prelates, arrived. However, the Syr. Orth. liturgy and the Serṭo script were widely used only much later. E.-Syr. influence is evident from the fact that the six bishops who headed the community between 1665 and 1765 took the title Mar Thoma I to VI.

In 1751, the arrival of a Syr. Orth. delegation consisting of Baselios Shakrallah, Mar Gregorios, Ramban Yoḥannan, and a few deacons, marks the beginning of the introduction of the Serṭo script and the Syr. Orth. liturgy in the Malankara Orthodox Church. Mar Thoma VI (consecrated by his predecessor in 1765), the head of the Syrians, after much hesitation, consented to be re-consecrated by the Antiochian bishops under the name Mar Dionysios I (in 1770).

Meanwhile in 1772, the Antiochian bp. Mar Gregorios consecrated a native bp. named Mar Koorilose. Mar Dionysios I (alias Mar Toma VI) used his political influence to expel the rival bp. to Thozhiyur, in the kingdom of Cochin. This marks the origin of the so-called Malabar Independent Syrian Church (or ‘Thozhiyur Church’).

In 1815 Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysios (consecrated by Mar Philoxenos, the second bp. of Thozhiyur) founded the Old Seminary (the present Orthodox Theological Seminary) with the generous support of the British Resident Col. Munro. Following the death of Mar Dionysios (in 1816), the English missionaries assumed the direction of the Old Seminary and modern education started in Kerala for the first time. The missionaries had the dream to train native clergy and to reform the liturgical practices of the Malankara Orthodox Church. The native clergy were opposed to it, and in 1836 the missionaries left the Seminary. However, they did convert a few Syrian Christians to the Anglican Church.

Meanwhile, some of the Syrians favourable to the reforms, sent a deacon to Mardin and in 1843, Patr. Mar Eliya II consecrated him under the name Mathews Mar Athanasios. He was the first Indian bp. consecrated by a Syr. Orth. patr. On his return to India, he led the efforts for reforms with some success thanks to the support of the English missionaries and the local rulers. Cheppattu Mar Dionysios, the head of the Malankara Orthodox Church unwilling to fight against the reformers, abdicated in favour of a visiting Antiochian prelate named Yoyakim Mar Koorilose. Though he could not provide effective leadership for the community against the reformers, during his 20 years stay in Kerala, Mar Koorilose visited parishes and completed the introduction of Antiochian liturgical practices. In 1864, the Patriarch Yaʿqub II consecrated a native prelate named Joseph Mar Dionysios (d. 1909). Being unable to contain the progress of the reformers, he appealed to the patr. to visit India. Thus Patr. Peṭros III visited Malabar and during his two-year stay (1875–77), he brought the Malankara Orthodox Church under the Syr. Orth. Patriarchate of Antioch. In 1876, the patr. convened a synod in Mulanthuruthy (near Cochin) and established an administrative structure. The parishes over which the ‘Malankara Metropolitan’ had little or no control were organized under six dioceses, and six bishops were consecrated. Thus the system of a single metropolitan for the entire Church came to an end.

A few years later, the royal court of Travancore made a verdict in favour of Mar Joseph Dionysios and the Malankara Orthodox Church. The reformed group established themselves as an independent church, known as ‘the Mar Thoma Syrian Church’.

In the first decade of the 20th cent., the relationship between the Patr. Mar ʿAbdullāh II and Mar Geevarghese Mar Dionysios became tense on the question of authority over properties of the Malankara Orthodox Church. This led to the excommunication of Mar Dionysios and the division of the Malankara Orthodox Church into two groups, one accepting the supreme authority of the patriarch and the other rejecting it. The group led by Mar Dionysios invited Patr. ʿAbdulmasīḥ II, who was deposed by the Turkish authorities. In 1912, he consecrated Baselios Pawlos I (d. 1914), the first cath. of the Malankara Orthodox Church. Thus began the major division and a series of litigations which lasted for four decades. In 1934, the General Assembly of the Malankara Orthodox Church adopted a Constitution and endorsed the claims of autocephaly. In 1958, the Supreme Court of India made a verdict in favour of the cath. Thanks to the initiatives of the Patriarch Ignatius Yaʿqub III and the Catholicos Geevarghese II (1929–64), the two groups were united. In 1964, Patriarch Yaʿqub III presided over the consecration of the Catholicos Augen I (d. 1975).

Unfortunately the unity did not last for more than 12 years. The patr. consecrated bishops and finally in 1975, a Cath. (‘Maphrian’) for the group which accepted his authority. Now the Malankara Orthodox Church remains divided under two Catholicoi and two synods.

The Malankara Orthodox Church has a membership of about 1 million, 1100 parishes, 1200 priests, and 18 bishops. There are several schools, Colleges, Engineering and Medical Faculties, hospitals and orphanages under its administration. The Malankara Orthodox Church follows the Syr. Orth. Liturgy (Mosul tradition). But the liturgical language is Malayalam. Hindi and English are, however, also used in North India or outside India.

See Fig. 66.


  • C. Chaillot, The Malankara Orthodox Church (1996).
  • D. Daniel, The Orthodox Church of India. A History (1972).
  • M. K. Kuriakose (ed.), Orthodox Identity in India. Essays in Honour of V. C. Samuel (1988).

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