Indian (Malankara) Orthodox Church

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Thomas the Apostle is credited by tradition for founding the Indian Church in 52 AD[3] This Nasrani faith had many similarities to Judaism, see also Jewish Christianity, and, owing to the heritage of the Nasrani people, developed contacts with the Non-Chalcedonian religious authorities of Edessa, Mesopotamia.

The local church maintained its autonomous character under its local leader. When the Portuguese established themselves in India in the 16th Century, they found the Church in Kerala as an administratively independent community. Following the arrival of Vasco de Gama in 1498, the Portuguese came to South India and established their political power there. They brought missionaries to carry out evangelistic work in order to establish churches in communion with Rome under the Portuguese patronage.

These missionaries were eager to bring the Indian Church under the Pope's control. They succeeded in their efforts in 1599 with the Synod of Diamper.The representatives of various parishes who attended the assembly were forced by Portuguese authorities to accept the Papal authority. Following the synod, the Indian Church was governed by Portuguese prelates. They were generally unwilling to respect the integrity of the local church. This resulted in disaffection which led to a general revolt in 1653 known as The Coonan Cross Oath. This demanded administrative autonomy for the local church. Since it had no bishop, it faced serious difficulties. It appealed to several eastern Christian churches for help. The Antiochene Syrian Patriarch responded and sent metropolitan Mar Gregorios of Jerusalem to India in 1665. He confirmed Marthoma I as the bishop and worked together with him to organize the Church.

Until 1599, it depended on the Assyrian (Persian) Church for prelates to ordain its priests.[6]

Administration

Archdeacon or Arkadayakon in Malayalam was “the prince and head of the Christians of Saint Thomas” and had such titles as Archdeacon and Gate of All India, Governor of India. He was the temporal ruler and administrator of the Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala. The Archdeacon was more of a secular ruler, having sanction of local Hindu rulers and he is said to have carried around a small army of few hundred Syrian Christian soldiers.[7]

The earliest historical documents that shows the existence of Archdeacons is around the year AD 800. The Nestorian Patriarch Timothy I (780-826) wrote to the Archdeacon ( Arken), the Head of the Faithful in India, about the right norms to be followed in the ordination of the priests, bishops, metropolitans and patriarch.[8]

After the arrival of the Portuguese, the records next mention Archdeacons. The following is a known list of Archdeacons in Malankara:[9]

  • Nestorian Patriarch Timothy I calls Archdeacon (Arken), head of faithful of India c.780-826
  • Metropolitan Mar John appoints George Pakalomattam (Ittikuriath) as Archdeacon 1502
  • Followed by Archdeacons Jacob and Alexander according to tradition (Dates unknown)
  • Archdeacon George of Christ (Mentioned in 1552 documents onwards) c.1552-1585
  • Archdeacon John c.1585-1591
  • Archdeacon Jacob appointed by Mar Simon c. 1584-1596
  • Archdeacon George of the Cross appointed by Archbishop Mar Abraham 1593-1640
  • Archdeacon Thomas appointed by elders of Malankara. In 1653, after the Coonan Cross Oath, Archdeacon Thomas was consecrated as Bishop Mar Thoma I, thus the role was changed and his line continued until Mar Thoma VIII in 1815 among the Malankara Orthodox Syrians.[10]

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