Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church Jacobite Syrian Christian Church

The W.-Syr. Church in India which is an integral part of the Syr. Orth. Church. The Syr. Orth. patr. of Antioch is its spiritual head, and the cath. of India (Maphrian) is the regional head. The cath. presides over the regional Synod, and, in the role of Malankara Metropolitan, presides over a democratic body of elected parish representatives, responsible for temporal administration.

Though direct evidence is scant, tradition attributes the origins of the Church to the Apostle Thomas. The long history of trade between the south-western coast of India and the Middle East and the presence of a Jewish community of traders in this part of India makes this apostolic connection plausible. The earliest indirect evidence, cited by Eusebius and Jerome, suggesting the presence of Christians in India, is from the alleged mission of Pantaenus of Alexandria to India in ca. 190 where he is said to have encountered natives who were acquainted with the Gospel of Matthew.

While the dominant view is that the Thomas Christians were continually in communion with the Ch. of E. under the Cath.- patr. of Seleucia-Ctesiphon until the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th cent., the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church holds that Thomas Christians held in great esteem the ecclesiastical authority of the patr. of Antioch over the ‘East’, laid down in the canons of the Council of Nicaea (325) and the Council of Constantinople (381), ‘East’ being interpreted to include Persia and India. They received bishops from Persia, who, at least until the late 5th cent., acknowledged the ecclesiastical position of the patr. of Antioch. As late as the 16th cent., when the ecclesiastical relation with the Ch. of E. was in ascendancy, the recognition of the canonical pre-eminence of Antioch in Malankara is attested in the ‘Narratives of Joseph the Indian’ (1507), although incorrectly identifying the cath. as the successor of St. Peter at Antioch. It further argues that the fragmented evidence concerning the pre-Portuguese period is insufficient to establish the doctrinal confession of the Malankara Church as that of the Ch. of E. or preclude at least intermittent relations with the non-Chalcedonian Patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch. However, it concedes continuous relations with the Ch. of E. between the 14th and 16th cent.

The history from the 15th cent. onward is well-documented (see Thomas Christians). The community that rejected the authority of Rome in 1653 gravitated to the Syr. Orth. Patriarchate of Antioch by 1665, and this relationship was then nurtured by bishops who were delegated from Mesopotamia. Schisms within the community seeded the current Malabar Independent Church (ca. 1772), Church of South India (1836), Mar Thoma Church (1889), Malankara Orthodox Church (1912/1975), and Malankara Catholic Church (1930) leaving the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church alone under the Syr. Orth. Patriarchate today.

The first head of the Church, after it asserted a Syr. Orth. identity, was Archdeacon Parambil Thomas (1637–70), the chief protagonist of the ‘Coonan Kurishu Satyam’ of 1653 (Oath at the Leaning Cross, Mattanchery); shortly thereafter, he assumed episcopal dignity with the name Mar Thoma I and was subsequently consecrated canonically by the first Syr. Orth. delegate, Mor Gregorios ʿAbdel al-Jaleel, who arrived in 1665. He was succeeded by eight indigenous metropolitans who assumed the same titular name, ending with Thomas  IX (d. 1817). In the interim, Mar Thoma VI, fearing the invalidity of his first consecration by the hands of his predecessor, was re-consecrated as Mar Dionysius I in 1770 by Mor Gregorios Yuḥanon, Patriarchal delegate, but his successor resumed the line as Mar Thoma  VII. The Dionysios line was resumed in 1815 with the consecration of Dionysios II as a rival to the Thomas line. Mar Athanasios Mathews was the first to be consecrated by a patr., in 1843 at Mardin, but lapsed into schism over Anglican-inspired reforms. In 1876, Patr. Petros III/IV consecrated six bishops to administer newly formed dioceses along with the Malankara Metropolitan Dionysios V (consecrated in 1865). Dionysios V was followed by other Malankara Metropolitans, prominent among whom are Dionysios VI (excommunicated in 1911), Mar Kurillos Paulose, and Mar Athanasios Paulose. In 1964, Patr . Ignatius Yaʿqub III consecrated Mar Baselios Augen as ‘Cath. of the East’, only to excommunicate him in 1975 and replace him with Mar Baselios Paulose II (d. 1996). In 2002, a ‘Cath. of India’ was consecrated with the name Baselios Thomas I.

Many bishops and monks were delegated from Mesopotamia to Malankara from the 17th cent. onwards. Prominent among them are Mor Gregorios ʿAbd al-Jaleel, bp. of Jerusalem (arrived 1665, died 1671, interred at North Parur), Maphrian Mor Baselios Yaldo (arr. and d. 1685, int. Kothamangalam), Mor Ivanios Ḥidayatallah (arr. 1685, d. 1693, int. Mulanthuruthy), Maphrian Mor Shakrallah Baselios (arr. 1751, d. 1764, int. Kandanad), Mor Gregorios Yuḥanon (arr. 1749, d. 1773, int. Mulanthuruthy), Mor Ivanios Yuḥanon (arr. 1751, d. 1794, int. Chengannur), Mor Dioscoros Yuḥanon (arr. 1806, departed 1809), Mor Athanasios ʿAbd al-Masīḥ (arr. 1825, dep. 1827), Mor Kurillos Yuyakim (arr. 1846, d. 1874, int. Mulanthuruthy), Mor Athanasios Stephanos (arr. 1849, dep. 1851), Mor Athanasios Shemʿoon (arr. 1849/1881, d. 1889, int. Kottayam), Mor Ostatheos Ṣleebo (arr. 1881, d. 1930, int. Kunnamkulam), Mor Elias Malke (arr. 1909/1927, d. 1962, int. Manjinikkara), Rabban ʿAbd al-Aḥad (later Patr. Yaʿqub III) (arr. 1933, dep. 1946), Rabban Mushe Salama (arr. 1951, dep. 1959), Rabban Aphrem Paulose (arr. 1960, dep. 1964), and Mor Timotheos Aphrem Aboodi (arr. 1965, dep. 1973). Patr. Petros III/IV was the first patriarch to visit India (arr. 1875, dep. 1877) and began a tradition of visits by all subsequent patriarchs with the exception of Patr. Ignatius Afram Barsoum.

The Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church has today 17 dioceses and more than 600 churches in India and several educational and medical institutions as well as social service organizations. Nearly 80 parishes have been established in North America, Europe, the Persian Gulf, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. A few of the churches in India are also claimed by the autocephalous Malankara Orthodox Church and are often uneasily shared under court direction or are closed for worship. Since 2002, the Catholicate is at Puthenkurishu, near Kochi. In addition to the cath. there are 29 bishops. The number of faithful is estimated to be over a million; the vast majority are concentrated in the dioceses of Ankamaly, Kochi (Cochin), Kandanad, and Kottayam — all in central Kerala.

The Cath. of India exercises authority over 15 dioceses as well as institutions under the Malankara Synod which has 17 bishops. Churches of the diaspora outside India are directly under the patr. but administered by bishops of Indian origin. The Knanaya archdiocese of the ‘Southist’ endogamous community — with its origins from a Mesopotamian emigration, by tradition dated to 345 — has an archbishop, independent of the Catholicate, with three suffragans, over 70 churches, and a sizeable diaspora in Europe and North America. Since 1920, churches have been established in India directly under the temporal authority of the patr. and administered by the Patriarchal delegate to Malankara; today these parishes are under a Patriarchal Vicariate called the ‘Simhasana’ (‘Throne’) Churches and Institutions with four bishops including the Patriarchal delegate and about 30 churches. The major monasteries of the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church at Manjinikkara, Piramadom, and Malekurishu fall under this Vicariate. The Evangelical Association of the East — the missionary arm of the Church, established in 1924 — has three bishops, one of whom presides over the autonomous Honovar St. Antony’s Mission; the Association has about 45 churches, 10 educational institutions, and other charitable organizations. Since 1990, the Seminary of the Church, now headed by a bp., has functioned at Udayagiri where a four-year Bachelor’s degree in Theology is offered. The Church has lay organizations for youth, students, women, and Sunday School. The Church has an active laity-sponsored presence on the internet with a number of general as well as parish websites, discussion groups, radio, and TV sites.

The Church curiously retains ‘Jacobite’ in its name, even though the Syr. Orth. Church rejects this appellation as pejorative. Thomas Christians were known as ‘Nazranis’ in the era prior to European influence. The Christians who asserted a Syr. Orth. identity in the 17th  cent. were called the ‘Puthenkoor’ (‘New Allegiance’), but this gave way to the term ‘Jacobite’ under European influence. The term appears to have been adopted without recognizing its negative connotations elsewhere; its continued formal usage results from the distinct historical identity it confers and is encouraged by a popular misconception that it is the antique name of the Church.

Historically, the liturgical language of the Thomas Christians is Syriac. Syr. Orth. liturgies were adopted from Mesopotamia over a long period of time and liturgical practices evolved, progressively conforming to Syr. Orth. traditions, but with notable local adaptations. Malayalam translations of the Peshitta Gospels were first printed in 1811. The first ever print of the Syriac Šḥimo (Simple Prayer) in linotype was published in 1861. The late 19th/early 20th cent. saw the advent of the Syriac printing press and the publication of several liturgical texts in Syriac and Malayalam by V. Rev. Malpan Matta Konat at Mar Julius Press, Pampakuda; these editions became the authorized versions, de facto. The Reformist movement in the 19th cent. prompted worship services in the vernacular Malayalam, although it was only in the early 20th cent. that manuscripts and prints of translations came into vogue. Today, liturgical services are conducted predominantly in Malayalam, although with some remnants of Syriac, primarily in liturgical formulas. Most clergymen today have, at best, a rudimentary knowledge of Syriac. The musical system based on the Beth Gazo has been influenced by various malphone from Mesopotamia, most recently, Mor Yulios Elias Qoro and Rabban ʿAbd al-Aḥad (later Patr. Yaʿqub III); thus the fusion of different Middle Eastern schools of music with local adaptations resulted in a unique musical tradition. However, since the 1970s, secular music influenced by the indigenous Carnatic as well as Western genres has altered liturgical music indiscriminately and, today, the octoechos is known only to the connoisseur. The Malankara Syr. Orth. influence on Syr. Orth. churches across the world is most visible in the liturgical vestments and clothes produced in Kerala, with a distinct style.


For references, see entry on Thomas Christians and the citations below.

  • (V. Rev.) Kaniamparambil Curien, The Syrian Orthodox Church in India and its Apostolic Faith (1989).
  • (Rev.) P. T.  Geevarghese, ‘Were the Syrian Christians Nestorians?’ in Four historic documents, ed. (V. Rev.) Kuriakose Moolayil (2002), 107–64.
  • E. M.  Philip, The Indian Churches of St. Thomas (1908, repr. 2002).
  • Joseph Ittoop (Writer) Pukadiyil, Malayāḷathuḷḷa suryāni kristiyānikaḷuṭe sabha charithram (History of the Syrian Christians of Malayalam) (1869, repr. 2004).
  • W. H. Taylor, Antioch and Canterbury: The Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of England 1874–1928 (2005).
  • Ignatius Yacoub III (tr. Matti Moosa), History of the Syrian Church of India (2009).

How to Cite This Entry

Thomas Joseph , “Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Thomas Joseph , “Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Joseph, Thomas. “Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018.

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