The Orthodox Syrian Church of the East

The Universal Orthodox Syrian Church of the East was established by St. Thomas, one of the twelve Apostles of Lord Jesus Christ, with Edessa as the centre. In course of time the centre of the church was moved to Selucia, Tigris and Mousul and there occurred a situation where there was no right heir to the throne by the end of 19th century. By 1912 the Catholicosate of the East was re-established in Malankara (India) which was a part of the previous centres.

Church of Malankara (India)

The Malankara Church of the East traces its origins back to the work of the Apostle St Thomas in the south-west region of India (Malankara or Malabar, in modern Kerala). According to the tradition, St Thomas arrived in 52 AD and during a twenty year stay converted several Brahmin families to faith in Christ and established seven centres of worship.

At least from the fourth century the Indian Church entered into a close relationship with the Persian Church of the East. From the Persians, the Indians inherited East Syrian language and liturgies and gradually came to be known as Syrian Christians.

The Indian Church of the Apostle Thomas was deeply rooted in the social and cultural traditions of the country and maintained its apostolic traditions and administrative freedom. The arrival of the Portuguese in Kerala in 1498 inaugurated the colonial period. The Portuguese Catholic missionaries began to exercise control over the ancient Indian church and latinized it by force. In 1653 in a historic and dramatic protest at the "Bent Cross" in Mattancherry in Kochi (Cochin), the church pledged against Portuguese and Roman Catholic authority and declared its freedom. After the Bent Cross Oath (Coonan Cross Oath), Archdeacon Thomas became the Bishop as St. Mar Thoma I of Malankara in 1653.

Indian Christians were persecuted by the colonial authorities who succeeded in dividing the church. One group turned to Roman Catholic allegiance. Those who accepted Catholicism are the present Syro-Malabar Catholics.
During the Portuguese persecution, the Indians who wanted to maintain their eastern and apostolic traditions appealed to the Church of the East. The Orthodox Catholicos of the East, St. Baselius Abdul Masih I, responded and sent metropolitan St. Gregorios Abdul Jaleel of Jerusalem, an ethnic Assyrian, to India in 1665. He confirmed St. Marthoma I of Malankara as the bishop and worked together with him to organize the Church. Thus the Malankara Church of the East started the connection with the Orthodox faction of the Church of the East, in 1665.

History repeated itself in another form when the British in India encouraged 'reformation within the Orthodox Church' Partly through Anglican domination of the theological seminary in Kottayam, besides attracting members of the church into Anglican congregations since 1836. Finally the reformist group broke away to form the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar. This crisis situation was continued with the help of Mar Ignatius Peter III, the Orthodox Syrian Patriarch cum Catholicos, who visited India in 1875-77.

Councils of Deyrul' al Zafran and Mulanthuruthi

In 1860, the office of Catholicosate of the Orthodox Syrian Church of the East was merged into the Orthodox Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch as per the decision of the Synod held at Deyrul' al Zafran Monastery (Kurkkumo Dayro) under the Orthodox Syrian Patriarch of Antioch, Mar Ignatius Ya`qub II. The Orthodox Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch took over the autonomous Malankara Archdioceses of the Orthodox Syrian Church of the East in 1876 at the Mulanthuruthi Council (Synod) convened by the Patriarch Mar Ignatius Peter III.

After the death of Patriarch Ignatius Peter III in 1895 St. Ignatius Abdul Messih took over the throne of Patriarch of Antioch. However, he was deposed by the Sultan Abdul Hamid II of Ottoman Empire (1876 - 1909) in 1905 due to Political reasons and Rival Patriarch Mar Ignatios Abdulla II was appointed in his place.

In the year 1895 both St. Abded Messiah and Mar Abdulla (Bishop Mar Gregorios Abdullah) contested for the Patriarchal elections. Abded Messiah was elected as the next Patriarch of Antioch. After that Abdulla left for the Roman Catholic Church. In the year 1906, Mar Gregorios Abdullah, who had returned to the Orthodox Syriac faith from his Roman Catholic sojourn, was elevated to the Rival Patriarchate with the name Ignatius Abdullah II (Ignatios 'Abded-Aloho II Sattuf, 1833–1915).

In 1910 the Rival Patriarch Mar Abdulla II visited Malankara and destroyed the peace of the Church. He demanded power over the temporalities of the Church which the Malankara Metropolitan, Mar Dionysios VI Vattasseril refused. Thereupon the Rival Patriarch excommunicated him, set up Mar Koorilos as Metropolitan of Malabar and consecrated Mar Poulose Athanasius as his assistant. He also created a new diocese for the Southists (Knanites) and consecrated for them a Metropolitan in the person of Mar Severios.
This resulted in formation of groups within the Church - one supporting the Bishop or the Malankara Metropolitan (Methran Party) and other supporting the Rival Patriarch (Bava Party). Mar Dionysios Vattasseril stood against him and wanted to keep up the independence of Malankara Church. Mar Koorilos (Cyril) was the leader of the Rival Patriarch group.

Re-establishment of the Catholicosate of the East

When the news of the excommunication reached the canonical Patriarch Abdul Messiah, he proclaimed it to be invalid. The fact that temporal govt. withdrew his (Abdul Messiah's) recognition cannot affect the spiritual standing and position of Abdul Messiah (The Ruling of the Judge Parameswaran Pillai in the Vattipanam Case [1913] quoted by Justice Jeevan Reddy of the Indian Supreme Court in his majority judgment in 1995).
He expressed his willingness to come to India and help the Church. Patriarch Abded Messiah came to Kerala on 13th June 1912. After his arrival the managing committee of the Church met and officially requested the Patriarch to re-establish the Catholicate of the East in India and elevate Murimattathil Mar Ivanios of Kandanadu diocese as the Catholicose. Accepting this, the Patriarch sent letters informing all parishes. On Sept 10th, the Patriarch in cooperation with Mar Dionysius and Muriamattathil Mar Ivanios consecrated Punnose Remban as Metropolitan Geevarghese Mar Gregorios. He later became the 3rd Catholicose of India. On Sept 17th, in Niranam Church, the Patriarch along with Mar Dionysius and Mar Gregorios elevated Mar Ivanios Poulose Murimattathil - the only survivor of the Metropolitans consecrated by Patriarch Peter III- as the Catholicos of the East with the title Moran Mar Baselios (Catholicose Baselius Paulose I of India).

Following the consecration, the Patriarch issued two bulls with regards to this, first one dated 17th Sept 1912 and the second one dated 24th Feb 1913. In the first bull he said:
“In response to your request, we have ordained our beloved Ivanios with name Baselius as Maphrian or Catholicose of the East, for the See of Apostle St Thomas in India and elsewhere.”
The Catholicose was given right to ordain Metropolitans, consecrate the Holy Moroon and perform all functions necessary for the Church. The second bull said that when a Catholicose passes away the native bishops have the authority to ordain another person in his place. The Patriarch and the Catholicose jointly ordained two other bishops, Geevarghese Mar Philexinos (2nd Catholicose) and Yuyakim Mar Ivanios on February 10th 1913. The Patriarch left Kerala on March 3rd 1913. He passed away in his at Kurkuma Dayara on August 30th 1915.

Litigation started in 1913 ended in a Verdict of the Supreme Court of India in 1958. The Supreme Court of India declared its final verdict recognizing the Catholicos of the East as the rightful head of the church, and validating his legal rights as well as the constitution (1934) of the church. On 16th December 1958, the two factions united and became one Church. Patriarch Mar Ignatius Yacob III and Catholicos Mar Baseliose Geevarghese II accepted each other and 1934 Constitution was adopted in the unified Church.

The reign of Catholicose Mar Baseliose Geevarghese II of India (1929-64) marks an important chapter in the chequered history of this Indian church. During his time the Orthodox introduced a church constitution won final victory in legal battle against the patriarchal faction in the supreme court of India in 1958 and following this a reconciliation tools place etc. In his later years he became a well-known figure on the Indian scene. Moreover he enabled his church to associate with the world council of churches from its very start in all its functions. He sent representatives to Amsterdam (1948), Evanston (1954) and New Delhi (1961). This catholicose personally with other delegates of his church attended the Edinburgh faith and order world conference in 1937. Mar Theophilos, Mar gregorios, Fr. K.C. Joseph, Miss Sarah chacko, Fr.V.C. Samuel etc from his church were deputed to service in various functions of the WCC from time to time.

A meeting of the Malankara Syrian Christian Association was held on 17th may 1962 at St. Mary’s church Niranam in which Augen Mar Thimothios was selected as Catholicos designatic. HH Patriarch Mar Ignatius Yacob III was invited by the Holy Synod of Malankra Church as the Chief Celebrant for the installation of HH Mar Baselius Augen I as the fourth Catholicos of the East in Malankara on 22nd May 1964.

1960s can be considered as the Golden Age of the Church. The unified Malankara Church honoured the Patriarch of Antioch with the Primacy of Honour as the First among Equals and gave him all the privileges mentioned in the Church Constitution of 1934. Both the Orthodox Syrian Church of Antioch and the Orthodox Syrian Church of the East participated in the Oriental Orthodox Heads of Churches Conference held at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 15 – 24 January 1965, as two independent, interdependent and autocephalous Churches. The Catholicose paid a visit to the west Syrian Patriarch at Damascus on 2nd February 1965.

From 1958 to 1972, all parishes in the Malankara Church continued to enjoy the unity under the leadership of Catholicos of the East in compliance with the constitution of 1934. Thereafter, in defiance of the constitution, the patriarch of Antioch Yocob III consecrated Bishops and created a rival force. In addition, a controversial Kalpana that St .Thomas had no Apostolic succession of priesthood was issued.

But in 1975 Mar Ignatius Yacob III, the Orthodox Syrian Patriarch of Antioch excommunicated and deposed the Catholicos of the East and appointed a rival Catholicos of the East, His Beatitude Baselius Paulose II (1975-1996), an action that resulted in the community splitting yet again.

The factional issue in the church was settled by the Supreme Court of India in a landmark judgment in 1995 and election to the Malankara Syrian Christian Association was held on March, 20, 2002 with former Kerala chief justice V.S. Malimath as the observer.

On 20 June, 1995 the Supreme Court of India rendered a decision that (a) upheld the Constitution of the church that had been adopted in 1934 and made it binding on both factions, (b) stated that there is only one Syrian Orthodox church in India, currently divided into two factions, and (c) recognized the Orthodox Syrian Patriarch of Antioch as the supreme spiritual head of the Orthodox Syrian Church, of which Malankara Church is a division, while affirming that the autocephalous Catholicos has legal standing as the head of the entire church, and that he is custodian of its parishes and properties. The excommunication of Catholicos by the Patriarch is invalid for the reason that the grounds or charges on which the excommunication has been effected are not permissible or relevant grounds. The Orthodox Syrian Patriarch of Antioch is spiritually superior to the Catholicos though he does not, and indeed never did, enjoy any temporal powers over the Malankara Church or its properties. The judgment shows that the Patriarch and the Catholicos are equals and, of course, the Patriarch is the first among equals.

The Supreme Court of India in its 1995 verdict had ordered the conduct of a Malankara Syrian Christian Association meeting to be attended by both factions after appropriate modifications to the constitution of 1934. The court also appointed an independent counsel to observe the Malankara Association election. Mar Dionosius Thomas of Angamaly West diocese and other three Bishops (Mar Philexinos Yuhanon of the Malabar diocese, Mar Themotheos Thomas of the Kottayam diocese and Mar Gregorios Joseph of the Kochi diocese) of the Patriarch faction decided to boycott the Malankara Association meeting. But the meeting was convened in March 2002 with all Bishops of the Catholicos faction and the four Bishops —Thomas Mar Athanasius of the Kandanad diocese, Yoohanon Mar Milithios of the Thrissur diocese, Abraham Mar Sevarios of the Angamaly East diocese and Zacharias Mar Nicholaos of the American diocese—of the Patriarch faction, priest and lay representatives from each parish. With an overwhelming majority, the Association decided Catholicos of the East Moran Mar Baselious Mar Thoma Mathews II as Malankara Metropolitan. On 12th July 2002, the Supreme Court of India approved it with the ruling that the position of the Primate of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of the East cannot be further challenged in any Court or any other forum.

The Church constitution

The Church is now administered as per the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church constitution adopted on 26th December 1934 which was passed by the Malankara Syrian Christian Association. The Association is a fully representative body of the church with elected members -priests and laymen -from all the Parish Churches. One priest and laymen 1 to 10 depending on the number of members in each parish are the members of the Association. There are about 1400 parishes under the Church. It is the Association which elects the Catholicos of the East and the Malankara Metropolitan of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and also the Bishops.

At present the Church is using the West Syrian liturgy. The faith of the Church is that which was established by the three Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381) and Ephesus (A.D. 431). The Church is in communion with the other Oriental Orthodox Churches namely, Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Eritrean and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches.

Headquarters and Supreme Pontiff of the Church

The Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Orthodox Syrian Church of the East is Catholicos of the East.

St.Thomas is recognized as its first Head or Catholicos. The lineage of the Catholicos of the East starts from the Apostle Thomas, continuing with the bishops of Edessa and Archbishops in Selucia-Ctesiphon. In 410 AD, Mar Isaac first used the title Catholicos of the East. Since then, the Catholicos has claimed jurisdiction over all Christians of the East outside the Roman Empire.

The Orthodox Catholicosate of the Syrian Church of the East was then moved to Tigris and Mosul in Iraq following the Nestorian Schism in the church. In 1860, the office of Catholicosate was merged into the Orthodox Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch as per the decision of the Synod held at Deyrul' al Zafran Monastery under the Orthodox Syrian Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Ya`qub II.

The Catholicosate of the East was revived and re-established by St. Ignatius Abdul Masih II, the Patriarch of Antioch in the year 1912 AD. The present headquarters of the Orthodox Syrian Church of the East is at Devalokam (Kottayam), in the Indian state of Kerala. The present Catholicos-Patriarch His Holiness Baselius Mar Thoma Paulose II, was enthroned to the Apostolic throne of Saint Thomas in 2010 and is the 109th Catholicos of East. It has around 30 Million faithful worldwide with thirty Metropolitan Dioceses.


The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church has two major seminaries with faculties at university level and has a 200-year old well-known lay theological education programme. The Orthodox Theological Seminary at Kottayam was founded in 1815 and now has about 140 students. New facilities have recently been built, including the Sophia Centre for the theological training of lay men and women, and a School for Liturgical Music affiliated with Kottayam’s Mahatma Gandhi University.

The St. Thomas Orthodox Theological Seminary was opened in Bhilai in 1995 to train priests to serve parishes and missions in north India. It moved to Naghpur in July 1999.

Contributing to the field of education and health care, the Church runs reputed medical and engineering schools in addition to hundreds of schools and technical institutes. The church also operates 24 arts and sciences colleges, three engineering colleges, 240 schools, 30 hospitals and 35 orphanages, and several mission centers.

The church has very active student and youth organizations. With a national mission board, the Orthodox Church of the East is very active in missionary and social witness, running homes for orphans, leprosy and HIV/AIDS patients, and bringing relief to victims of natural catastrophes.


This church also has a modest monastic tradition. There are four communities of men that follow a monastic rule and eleven for celibate priests and laity without a definite monastic order. Altogether there are 18 monasteries with a total of 210 monks. There are also 13 convents where a total of 200 nuns live a dedicated life of service and worship.


Member of regional and local ecumenical bodies, the Orthodox Syrian Church of the East has always been very supportive of ecumenical initiatives. The church maintains official dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church. The Church is in good ecumenical relationship with the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches. Through the Oriental Orthodox family, it is in dialogue with other church bodies also.

Based in: India Location: India, small diaspora
Present in: United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland
Primate: Baselius Mar Thoma Paulose II (born 1946, enthroned 2010)
Title: Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan
Residence: Kottayam, Kerala State, India
Bishops: 30
Priests: 1500
Deacons: 42
Dioceses: 30
Congregations: 1600
Member of:
World Council of Churches (WCC) (1948)
Christian Conference of Asia-CCA
National Council of Churches in India-NCCI
Periodicals: Malankara Sabha (monthly) and Orthodox Youth (biweekly, both in Malayalam)
Membership: 3,000,000
Website: http://www.malankaraorthodoxchurch.in/
Website: http://malankaraorthodoxchurch.in


Verdict of the Supreme Court of India in 1995

Most. Rev.P.M.A. Metropolitan & ... vs Moran Mar Marthoma Mathews & ... on 20 June, 1995, Author: B J Reddy.J. (majority judgment)
Most. Rev. P.M.A. Metropolitan & ... vs Moran Mar Marthoma & Anr on 20 June, 1995, Author: R Sahai.J.
Supreme Court verdict on Malankara Association Election

The Church constitution
The Canon Law
The Church constitution(amendment)

Orthodox Herald
The Malankara Orthodox Church
Gregorian News
Catholicate News
Catholicate News English edition

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