The history of the Syrian church of India dates back to the middle of the first century A.D. Its establishment is attributed to St. Thomas, one among the twelve disciples of Lord Jesus Christ. According to the tradition of Malabar Christians, Apostle Thomas had presented the Gospel here in 52 A.D. He first landed in the city of Kodungaloor preaching to the Jews and then to the heathens. He remained in Malabar (modern Kerala) for three years. The profound and passionate homilies he delivered made many people embrace Christianity, including noble Brahmin families. He founded seven churches in seven different localities, four of which still stand while the rest cannot be traced.
“After sowing the seed of the Gospel in Malabar, St. Thomas entrusted the nascent Church to the clergymen he had ordained. He journeyed to the eastern coast of India and Malacca preaching Christianity. It is also said that he had preached in China.” However, on December 18, 75 A.D. St. Thomas was back to Pandi(present-day Tamil Nadu). Upon reaching Mylapore near Madras (present day Chennai), a pagan priest attacked him, spearing him in the right side. They had him skinned alive on 21st December, and his immaculate soul departed to the heavenly chambers. His blessed body was buried in Mylapore. On July 3rd, 394, his holy remains were transferred to Edessa. A magnificent church was built in his name there. The Syrian church commemorates the transporting of his Holy remains to Edessa viz July 3rd as the ‘Dukhrono’ of St. Thomas. Many church fathers and historians like Bar Hebraeus (he calls Mylapore as Calamina, which in Tamil becomes Chinnamala, present-day St. Thomas Hill), Reubens Duval St. Ephraim, E.M. Philip, confirmed the legend of shifting the Holy remains to Edessa.
Mor Jacob of Serug had composed a beautiful Bovooto(supplication) on St. Thomas and on his venerable tomb.This historical legend throws light to the fact that there had been a Christian community in and around Mylapore from the very outset of the Christian era. However, Christianity might have spread from countries like Iraq, Arabia, and Persia to India, which led to the Christians of this era to be called Syrians.
The See of Antioch had jurisdiction over all the Christians in the East with its different ethnic people. This was confirmed by the sixth Canon of the Council of Nicea in 325 and the second Canon of the Council of Constantinople in 381. Mor Michael Rabo when discussing the countries under the jurisdiction of the four seas said, “…As to greater Asia whose boundaries extend from the shores of that said sea to the utmost parts of the East and whose area approximates that of the former two regions, should be under the jurisdiction of the Sea of Antioch…”
Thus the Syrian Church in India was headed and shepherded by the See of Antioch from the very beginning. However, the penetration of different sects like Nestorians and Romans weakened the strong relation maintained between the Sea of Antioch and the Church of India at times. When the Portuguese colonized India in the 16th century, Latin friars came to India and propagated their faith in many ways. Earlier the Nestorians also penetrated to the Indian church. Both those invasions gave great shocks to the once established Syrian Orthodox entity of the Indian Church.
As stated earlier, a Syrian Christian Community existed in Mylapore from the very beginning of the Christian era. However, penetration of the Romans, especially on the coastal areas, led the faithful to the grip of the Latins in 1669. Mor Gregorius Abd Al Jaleel, (who arrived from Jerusalem after the famous Coonan Cross Oath) wrote a letter to the Syrians of Mylapore, which was addressed to the Syrian bishops, priests, and laymen of Mylapore. This letter was quoted by Patriarch Yacub III in his book, ‘History of the Syrian Church in India,’ which shows that a Syrian Christian Community was prevalent even in the 17th century in Mylapore.
However, the present-day history of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Mylapore and the nearby places begins by the beginning of the twentieth century. Many Syrian Christians from the erstwhile Travancore and Cochin states migrated to the Port City and Madras for employment and for business; and finally, they settled down there. The political atmosphere was also favorable to them as the British were having their headquarters there for the Southern part of India. Naturally, the migrated Syrians formed congregations and held worships in the available churches.
The Syrian Orthodox Community too had their separate worship conducted in The City of Madras, in the Broadway Church. However, the schism fostered by the then Malankara Metropolitan and his group had its natural impact on the Madras Syrian Orthodox parish also. The faithful who owe their allegiance to the Holy See of Antioch approached the blessed Mor Athanasius Paulose (the Malankara Metropolitan of the Patriarch faction) to permit them to have their own parish and worship in Madras city. His Grace directed them to the Antiochian delegate Mor Julius Elias Metropolitan on the plea that the Malankara Metropolitan had jurisdiction over Malankara only. Thus a parish was inaugurated in Madras city, for the worship of Jacobites in Madras city under the Holy See of Antioch, with Mor Julius as the Metropolitan in St. Mathias church, Vepery, in the year 1935.
The first Vicar appointed to this Church was Fr. Thomas Varghese Vayaliparampil(later Mor Gregorius Geevarghese of Ankamaly diocese), followed by eminent priests- Fr. C.M. Thomas (later MorOsthatheos Thomas of Cochin Diocese), Fr. P.J. Paulose (later AboonMor Baselios Paulose II, Catholicose of the East), Fr. K.O. Thomas (Professor CMS College, Kottayam), Fr. Mathew Kottalil (Prof. M.A. College, Kothamangalam). The Vepery Church still continues as a SimhasanaChurch attached to the Metropolitan of Simhasana churches. This was the first Syrian Orthodox Church established outside Kerala in India. As learned from a souvenir published by this Church, the founder members of the Church were led by M/s M.C. Thomas, Mannakuzhiyil, Ayroor; A.C. George, Araparayil, Adoor; A.C. Varghese Kunnankulam, etc.
The truce in the Malankara Church in 1958 continued till 1974, only to split again. The churches established in India and outside after the division in 1974, later came to be known under one diocese namely, ‘Outside Kerala Diocese.’ This diocese for the first time came directly under Aboon Mor Baselios Paulose II, the Catholicose of the East. Later in 1979, Mor Theophilos Thomas was ordained as Metropolitan for outside Kerala Diocese. Mor Theophilos ruled over this Diocese for about 14 years and thereafter, it was taken over by Mor Themotheos Thomas. Mor Themotheos continued for 16 years and a number of churches and congregations were formed and established throughout India and abroad during this period.
In 2009, the churches within India but outside Kerala were divided and brought under three dioceses. Viz. Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore. Again the Bangalore diocese was bifurcated into Mylapore and Bangalore.
Presently the Mylapore diocese has the jurisdiction over the states of Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Andhra, and Telangana. This Diocese has at present 12 Churches and 10 Priests attached to it. The Bishopric office is functioning at St. Mary’s Jacobite Syrian Church, Retteri, Madhavram.
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