|Members 5.01 million|
Parishes 2,997 
Founder St. Thomas the Apostle
Website Official site
Independence Apostolic Era
|Recognition from 4th century to 1599 (with the Church of the East); from 1599 ( with the Catholic Church); from 1887 Metropolitan ; from 1992 Major Archiepiscopal to Patriarchate|
Language Malayalam, Syriac, and English
Possessions United States; Canada; Australia; Great Britain; New Zealand; Europe
Primate H. B. Cardinal Mar George Alencherry
The syro malabar catholic church
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (Aramaic: ܥܹܕܬܵܐ ܕܡܲܠܲܒܵܪ ܣܘܼܪܝܵܝܵܐ, Edtha d'Malabar Suryaya; Malayalam: സീറോ മലബാർ കത്തോലിക്കാ സഭ, sīṟēā malabār kattēālikkā sabha) or Church of Malabar Syrian Catholics is an Eastern Catholic Major Archiepiscopal Church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. It is one of the twenty-three sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches in the Catholic communion. The Church is headed by Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry of the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly in Kerala, India. The members of the Church are or have been known at various times as Syro Malabar Catholic, Nasrani, Roman Catholic Syrian Christian (RCSC), Syrian Catholic, Catholicka Kaldaya Suriyani, Catholicka Nasrani, or St. Thomas Christian. It is the largest of the Nasrani denominations with around 5.01 million believers and traces its origins to the evangelistic activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century.
- The syro malabar catholic church
- Origin of St. Thomas Christians
- East Syrian relationship
- Arrival of Portuguese in Malabar and formation of Catholic Church in Malankara
- Divisions among Saint Thomas Christians
- Restoration of the Syro Malabar hierarchy
- Time line of events
- Syro Malabar identity
- Faith and communion of Syro Malabarians
- Restoration of East Syrian liturgy
- Liturgical calendar
- Major feasts
- Syro Malabar major archiepiscopal curia
- Provinces, (Arch)Eparchies and other jurisdictions
- Proper Ecclesiastical provinces
- Eparchies in Latin provinces
- Exempt jurisdictions
- Syro Malabar Religious Congregations
- Within the proper territory
- Outside the proper territory
- Beatified people
- Servants of God
- Prominent Syro Malabar Catholics who worked for unity of Nasranis
- Mar Abraham of Angamaly
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church follows a variant of the East Syrian Rite liturgy, traditionally attributed to saints Addai and Mari, which dates back to 3rd century Edessa, and like the Chaldean Rite is a Syro-Oriental Rite. It is the second largest Eastern Catholic Church, the largest being the Ukrainian Catholic Church. It is one of the two Eastern Catholic Churches from India, the other being the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church which follows the West Syrian Rite liturgy. Saint Alphonsa is the first canonized saint from the Church. Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Euphrasia Eluvathingal are other saints from the church.
Origin of St. Thomas Christians
According to tradition Christianity was introduced to India by Thomas the Apostle, who visited Muziris in Tamilakam in AD 52 and established Christian communities in different parts of India and died at Mylapur in 72 A. D. Traditionally, he founded seven churches or communities in Kerala; at Kodungalloor, Niranam, Kollam, Chayal, Kottakkavu (North Paravur), Gokkamangalam and Paloor(Chattukulangara).
East Syrian relationship
From early centuries the Church of St. Thomas Christians came into communication with the Christian communities that came to be known as the Church of the East. The Christians of St. Thomas kept their distinctive character especially in Church administration and socio-cultural and ascetic-spiritual life. At least from the 4th century until the end of the 16th century the Bishops of the Church of Malabar were sent from the East Syrian Church, appointed by the Patriarch of the Church of the East. While the bishops originally hailing from Persia who arrived here were placed in charge of liturgy, the administration of the church remained under the control of the local Archdeacon, who was also the head of the local community. Ancient prayers and customs of the Syro-Malabar Christians partially deny their alleged Nestorian connection.
The bishops who came from the East Syrian Church, were concerned with spiritual matters. Essentially, the Thomas Christians followed three distinct ways of activity in their religious sphere: their liturgy was of the East Syrian Rite: their culture was purely Indian as their origins, they also they had their own style of life."The governance of the Church was through Palliyogam, Synod, etc. as was prevalent in Oriental Churches.
Arrival of Portuguese in Malabar and formation of Catholic Church in Malankara
The Portuguese Admiral Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut on 20 May 1498. When Gama and the Portuguese missionaries arrived they found no Christians in the country except in the Malabar Coast (modern day Kerala). The Christians they found were St. Thomas Christians. The Christians were friendly to Portuguese missionaries at first; there were exchanges of gifts between them, and these groups were delighted at their common faith.
Later, due to certain differences, mainly in the sacraments including liturgy, the relations between the missionaries and local St. Thomas Christians became increasingly strained. Under the Padroado (patronage) agreement with the Holy See the Portuguese missionaries started to interfere in day-to-day operations of the church and things took a turn for the worse. They accused the Indian Christians of heresy and schism (also see: Schism in Christianity); and attempted to introduce the Catholic Roman Rite customs and Latin Church manner of ecclesiastical administration, severing the East Syrian connection. These reforms included secret confession to priests, a change of the Lent starting day from Sunday to Ash Monday, and the introduction of the veneration of Sts. Syril and Gregory instead of Theodorus and Nestorius, as directed by the Portuguese Archbishop Aleixo de Menezes. Together, these changes made the Malankare church more Eastern and Oriental Orthodox than East Syrian churches.
The Portuguese established a Latin Catholic diocese in Goa (1534) and another in Cochin (1558) with the hope of bringing the St. Thomas Christians under Catholic jurisdiction, misunderstanding and accusing them of Nestorianism. At a Goan Synod held in 1585, it was decided to introduce the Catholic Roman Rite liturgy and practices among St. Thomas Christians. Confessions to priests were introduced. During the Synod of Diamper of 1599, Menezes succeeded in bringing the indigenous church under the Latin Catholic fold and formed a catholic diocese in Malabar. The Malabar church became more Eastern Orthodox and Oriental than East Syrian churches, due to Menezes' directions. He appointed a Catholic bishop in the newly formed Catholic Archdiocese of Angamaly-Kodungallur to govern the St. Thomas Christians. The Portuguese padroado was extended over them. The strife between the Portuguese missionaries and the indigenous Christians and their Mesopotamian prelates was of an ecclesiological and jurisdictional character. Attempts to resist the Latinization process were branded as heretical. Under their Archdeacon, the Thomas Christians resisted, and, consequently, the once united Church in full communion with the East Syrian Patriarch ended up in various denominations. Thus, the Portuguese split the St. Thomas Christian community and brought Catholicism in Malabar.
Divisions among Saint Thomas Christians
A protest took place in 1653 with the Coonan Cross Oath. Under the leadership of Archdeacon Thomas, the Thomas Christians publicly took an oath that they would not obey the Jesuit bishops or Pope of Rome.
Rome sent Carmelites in two groups from the Propagation of the Faith to Malabar headed by Fr. Sebastiani and Fr. Hyacinth. Fr. Sebastiani arrived first in 1655. He began to deal directly with the Archdeacon, Mar Thoma I. Fr. Sebastiani, with the help of Portuguese, gained the support of many, especially with the support of Palliveettil Mar Chandy, Kadavil Chandy Kathanar and Vengoor Geevarghese Kathanar . These were the three of the four counselors of Mar Thoma I, who had been defected with Francisco Garcia Mendes, SJ, Archbishop of Cranganore, before the arrival of Sebastaini, according to Jesuit reports.
Between 1661 and 1662, out of the 116 churches, the Carmelites claimed eighty-four churches, leaving the native metropolitan Mar Thoma I with thirty-two churches. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syro Malabar Catholic Church has descended. The other thirty-two churches and their congregations represented the nucleus from which the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church(Jacobites),the Orthodox Syrian Church, the Thozhiyur Church, Mar Thoma Syrian (Reformed Syrians), Syro Malankara Catholic Church have originated.
In 1665 Mar Gregorios, a Bishop sent by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, arrived in India. The independent group under the leadership of the Archdeacon welcomed him. Though most of the St. Thomas Christians gradually relented in their strong opposition to the Western control, the arrival of the Bishop Mar Gregorios of the Syriac Orthodox Church in 1665 marked the beginning of a formal schism among the St. Thomas Christians. Those who accepted the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch of Mar Gregorios became known as the Jacobites or Puthenkoor; they also continued to use the name "Malankara," the real name of the St. Thomas Christian community for the church. Those who joined the communion of Rome after the Synod of Daimper and remained in the communion even after the oath of bent cross, and those who joined the catholic communion from the Puhenkoor Malankara church during the Carmelite period, came to be known as the Syro Malabar Church from the last decade of the Nineteenth century onwards.Some of the churches not joined in the Angamaly Padiyola(1787) later became Latin churches.e.g.Mathilakom(Pappinivattom),Maliankara,Thuruthipuram etc.One branch of the Syro Malabar Catholic church later left to form the Assyrian Church of the East aligned Chaldean Syrian Church when an Eastern Syrian rite bishop came to evangelize them in 1701.
Restoration of the Syro-Malabar hierarchy
After the split in the church community, the Catholics of the Malabar coast faced an identity crisis and thus some priests and laymen attempted to persuade the hierarchy to improve the identity of the local church and for the appointment of bishops from local priests. To represent their position, Kerala's Syrian Catholics Joseph Kariattil and Paremmakkal Thomma Kathanar went to Rome in 1778. While they were in Europe, Kariatty Joseph Kathanar was installed in Portugal as the Archbishop of Kodungalloor Archdiocese. While journeying home, they stayed in Goa where Kariattil died before he could formally take charge. Before he died, Kariattil appointed Kathanar as the Administrator of Kodungalloor Archdiocese after him. The new administrator ran the affairs of the church establishing his headquarters at Angamaly. In 1790, the headquarters of the Archdiocese was shifted to Vadayar dodging the invasion of Tippu Sultan. In the last four years of his life, Thomma Kathanar managed church administration from his own parish, Ramapuram.
After being under Babylonian Assyrian(Catholic faction of this church is known as Chaldean Catholic church from 1681AD) bishops earlier and under Latin Church Roman Catholic bishops from 1599, Catholics of St. Thomas Christians obtained their own bishops from 1896.They were known as Catholic Chaldean Syrians during the period from around 1787(Angamaly Padiyola) to around 1911. They were known as the Catholic Syrians or Romo-Syrians to differentiate them from the Orthodox Syrians and Latin Church Catholics in Kerala.They came to be known as the Syro Malabar Catholics from 1932 onwards to differentiate them from the Syro-Malankara Catholics in Kerala. The Indian East Syrian Catholic Hierarchy was restored on 21 December 1923 with Mar Augustine Kandathil as the first Metropolitan and Head of the Church with the name Syro-Malabar.
Time line of events
Time line of events
Syro-Malabar Historian and theologian Fr. Placid Podipara describes it as "Catholic by faith, Indian by culture & East Syrian/Syriac/Oriental in liturgy." Today, the Syro-Malabar Church finds herself as the second-largest Eastern Catholic Church in the world with 4.5 million worldwide.
Faith and communion of Syro-Malabarians
The St. Thomas Christians got their bishops from the Assyrian Church of the East/Chaldean Church from ca. 300 AD till the end of the sixteenth century, until it was stopped by the Portuguese Roman Catholics (Catholics) in 1597, after the death of Mar Abraham.
As per the East Syriac tradition, liturgical day of the Syro-Malabar Church starts at sunset (6 p. m.). Also the worshiper has to face the east while worshiping. Not followed after Latinization
According to the East Syriac Orthodox tradition which was prevalent before the induction of Catholicism, the following are the seven times of prayer:
The Holy Mass, which is called Holy Qurbana in East Syriac Aramaic and means 'Eucharist', is celebrated in its solemn form on Sundays and special occasions. During the celebration of the Qurbana, priests and deacons put on elaborate vestments which are unique to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
Restoration of East Syrian liturgy
East Syrian liturgy has three anaphorae: those of the Holy Apostles (Saints Addai and Mari), Mar Nestorius, and Mar Theodore the Interpreter. The first is the most popularly and extensively used. The second was traditionally used on the Epiphany and the feasts of St. John the Baptist and of the Greek Doctors, both of which occur in Epiphany-tide on the Wednesday of the Rogation of the Ninevites, and on Maundy Thursday. The third is used (except when the second is ordered) from Advent to Palm Sunday. The same pro-anaphoral part serves for all three.
In the second half of 20th century, there was a movement for better understanding of the liturgical rites. A restored Eucharistic liturgy, drawing on the original East Syrian sources, was approved by Pope Pius XII in 1957 and for the first time on the feast of St. Thomas on July 3, 1962, the vernacular, Malayalam, was introduced for the celebration of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana. Currently they celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Addai and Mari and the Anaphora of Mar Theodre in Malayalam, Syriac, Tamil,Hindi or English.
Besides the Anaphora of Mar Addai and Mari being used currently in Syro-Malabar liturgy, there are two more anaphorae known as Anaphora of Mar Theodore and Anaphora of Mar Nestorius. That the Anaphora of Mar Theodore which was withdrawn from use after the Synod of Diamper(a large number of churches used it upto 1896) is being used again in Syro-Malabar Church after 415 years is indeed an important historical reality. Pope Pius XII during the process of restoration of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana in 1957 had requested the restoration of the Anaphorae of Mar Theodore and Mar Nestorius. The draft of the Anaphora of Mar Theodore was restored after meticulous study by the Central Liturgical Committee, Liturgical Research Centre, various sub-committees and the eparchial liturgical commissions. Many changes befitting to the times have been made in the prayers maintaining maximum fidelity to the original text of the Second Anaphora. It was this text so prepared that was sent to Rome for the recognition of the Apostolic See in accordance with the decision of the Syro-Malabar Synod. The Congregation for the Eastern Churches gave its approval for using this anaphora on an experimental basis for three years on 15 December 2012.
The Latinization of the Syro-Malabar rite churches was brought to a head when in 1896 Ladislaus Zaleski, the Apostolic Delegate to India, requested permission to translate the Roman Pontifical into Syriac. This was the choice of some Malabar prelates, who chose it over the East Syrian Rite and West Syrian Rite pontificals. A large number of Syro-Malabarians were Assyrian schismatics at that time and various problems and concerns delayed the approval of this translation, until in 1934 Pope Pius XI stated that Latinization was no longer to be encouraged among Eastern Rite Catholics. He initiated a process of liturgical reform that sought to restore the oriental nature of the Latinized Syro-Malabar rite. A restored Eucharistic liturgy, drawing on the original East Syrian sources, was approved by Pius XII in 1957 and introduced in 1962.
The church uses one of several Bible translations into Malayalam.
Syro Malabar Church has its own liturgical year. It is ordered according to the flow of salvation history. It focuses on the historical life of Jesus. There are nine seasons for the liturgical year. They are:
- Annunciation (Subara)
- Nativity of Jesus
- Epiphany (Denha)
- Great Fast (Sawma Rabba)
- Resurrection (Qyamta)
- Apostles (Slihe)
- Summer (Qaita)
- Elijah-Cross-Moses (Elijah-Sliba-Muse)
- Dedication of the Church (Qudas-Edta)
Major feasts of the Church are,
Syro-Malabar major archiepiscopal curia
The curia of the Syro-Malabar Church began to function in March 1993 at the archbishop’s house of Ernakulam-Angamaly. Later, on 27 May 1995, it was shifted to new premises at Mount St. Thomas near Kakkanad, Kochi. The newly constructed curial building was opened on 3 July 1998.
The administration of the Syro-Malabar Church has executive and judicial roles. The major archbishop, officials, various commissions, committees, and the permanent synod form the executive part. The permanent synod and other offices are formed in accordance with the CCEO. The officials include the chancellor, vice-chancellor, and other officers. Various commissions are appointed by the major archbishop: Liturgy, Pastoral care of the migrant and Evangelisation, Particular Law, Catechism, Ecumenism, Catholic Doctrine, Clergy and Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The members of the commissions are ordinarily bishops. But there are also priests in different commissions. For judicial activities there is the major archiepiscopal ordinary tribunal formed in accordance with CCEO and it has a statutes and sufficient personnel with a president, as its head. At present, Rev. Dr. Jose Chiramel is the president. The Major archiepiscopal curia functions in the curial building in Kerala, India. They have prepared the particular law for their Church and promulgated part by part in Synodal News, the official Bulletin of this Church. There are statutes for the permanent synod, for the superior and ordinary tribunals. Regarding economo, CCEO c. 122 § 2 is specific in the particular law, that the term of the office shall be five years and the same person shall not be appointed for more than two terms consecutively.
Provinces, (Arch)Eparchies and other jurisdictions
There are 31 eparchies (dioceses). Five of them are Archeparchies at present, all in southern India: The major Archbishop's see Ernakulam-Angamaly, Changanacherry, Trichur, Tellicherry and Kottayam.
Those have another 13 suffragan eparchies : Bhadravathi, Belthangady, Irinjalakuda, Kanjirapally, Kothamangalam, Idukki, Mananthavady, Mandya, Palai, Palghat, Ramanathapuram, Thamarassery and Thuckalay within the canonical territory of the Major Archiepiscopal Church.
There are 13 further eparchies outside the canonical territory of which Adilabad, Bijnor, Chanda, Gorakhpur, Jagdalpur, Kalyan, Rajkot, Sagar, Satna and Ujjain in India are with exclusive jurisdiction and Kalyan, Faridabad eparchies in India, the St. Thomas Eparchy of Chicago in the United States of America and St. Thomas the Apostle Eparchy of Melbourne in Australia enjoy personal jurisdiction.
Proper Ecclesiastical provinces
Most believers of this church are organized under 5 Metropolitan Archeparchies (archdioceses), all in Kerala, and their suffragan eparchies.
Eparchies in Latin provinces
under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Agra
under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bhopal
under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay (Mumbai)
under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gandhinagar
under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hyderabad
under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Nagpur
under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Rajpur
Outside India :
Syro-Malabar Religious Congregations
The Religious Congregations are divided in the Eastern Catholic Church Law (Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches – CCEO) as Monasteries, Hermitages, Orders, Congregations, Societies of Common Life in the Manner of Religious, Secular Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Active are :
According to the Annuario Pontificio (the pontifical yearbook) for 2008 there were about 3,947,396 members in the Syro-Malabar Church.
Within the proper territory
There are sixteen eparchies in the proper territory of the Syro Malabar Church.
Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly has 510,000 members with 347 parishes, 731 religious/secular priests, 632 male religious and 4935 female religious. Archeparchy of Trichur has 471,328 members with 195 parishes, 418 religious/secular priests, 358 male religious and 3315 female religious. Eparchy of Idukki has 400,000 members with 129 parishes, 119 religious/secular priests, 109 male religious and 1320 female religious.
Archeparchy of Changanacherry has 390,000 members with 266 parishes, 615 religious/secular priests, 534 male religious and 2705 female religious. Eparchy of Palai has 348,128 members with 169 parishes, 502 religious/secular priests, 127 male religious and 3312 female religious. Archeparchy of Tellicherry has 317,782 members with 222 parishes, 293 religious/secular priests, 263 male religious and 1664 female religious. Eparchy of Irinjalakuda has 258,200 members with 128 parishes, 233 religious/secular priests, 132 male religious and 2350 female religious.
Eparchy of Kothamangalam has 217,420 members with 115 parishes, 242 religious/secular priests, 163 male religious and 2210 female religious. Eparchy of Kanjirapally has 192,000 members with 136 parishes, 314 religious/secular priests, 210 male religious and 1840 female religious. Archeparchy of Kottayam has 175,300 members with 149 parishes, 161 religious/secular priests, 107 male religious and 1233 female religious. Eparchy of Mananthavady has 170,100 members with 140 parishes, 413 religious/secular priests, 358 male religious and 1546 female religious. Eparchy of Thamarasserry has 129,600 members with 128 parishes, 247 religious/secular priests, 257 male religious and 1321 female religious. Eparchy of Palghat has 68,004 members with 106 parishes, 167 religious/secular priests, 82 male religious and 1360 female religious.
According to a study conducted, in Kerala about 30 percent of the Syro Malabar Church members lived in the erstwhile Cochin State. The remaining 70 percent lived in Travancore state. In the Travancore state, Meenachil Taluk had the largest proportion, followed by Changanaserry Taluk.
Erstwhile Cochin State, Meenachil and Changanaserry together had 56 percent of the total Syro Malabar population. Kottayam, Muvattupuzha, Kanjirappally, Thodupuzha, Kothamangalam, Cherthala, Mukundapuram (irinjalakkuda-chalakkudy), Wadakkancherry, Thrissur, North Parur, Alwaye, Kunnathunadu, Ambalapuzha, Kuttanad, Peerumedu, Nedumkandam and Devikulam etc. are the prominent taluks.
Outside the proper territory
There are eleven eparchies outside the proper territory of the Syro Malabar Church.
The Eparchy of Kalyan has 100,000 members with 106 parishes, 146 religious/secular priests, 105 male religious and 270 female religious. St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, USA has 85,000 members with 11 parishes, 45 religious/secular priests, 13 male religious and 16 female religious. The Eparchy of Chanda has 14,079 members with 5 parishes, 51 religious/secular priests, 182 male religious and 352 female religious. The Eparchy of Adilabad, has 13,273 members with 25 parishes, 50 religious/secular priests, 41 male religious and 143 female religious. The Eparchy of Rajkot has 12,850 members with 12 parishes, 140 religious/secular priests, 142 male religious and 421 female religious. There is a significant diaspora of Syro-Malabar Catholics in countries not under the jurisdiction of any of the existing eparchies.
Servants of God
Prominent Syro-Malabar Catholics who worked for unity of Nasranis
The Varthamanappusthakam is the first travelogue written in the Malayalam language. It is written by Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar. It describes the history of the Nasrani Church between the years 1773 and 1786 with emphasis on the journey of its author and Malpan Mar Ousep (Joseph) Kariattil from Malabar to Rome via Lisbon and back. Despite attempts by European ecclesiastical authorities to destroy it the major part of this book survived.
Mar Abraham of Angamaly
Abraham of Angamaly (Syriac: ܐܒܪܗܡ ܡܛܪܢ, Mar Abraham died c. 1597) was the last in the long line of Mesopotamin Bishops who governed the Church of Saint Thomas Christians. In spite of the express approbation of the Pope, he was not welcomed by the Portuguese ecclesiastical authorities.
Mar Abrham died in January 1597 at Angamaly and his body was buried in Mar Hormiz Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Angamaly (old Cathedral church).