Malankara World

History of Church

History of The Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church in India

Compiled by: K. C. Varghese (Sunny Kochukudy)

Jesus said, “ And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will loosed in heaven”. (Mathew 16:18-19). Thus, the Church began.

Few Christian denominations can claim the antiquity of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, whose foundations can be traced back to the very dawn of Christianity. The Church justifiably prides itself as being one of the earliest established apostolic churches. It was in the city of Antioch (modern day Antakya in southeast Turkey) that the followers of Jesus were called Christians as we are told in the New Testament, “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26). According to church tradition, Saint Peter established the church in Antioch, and was the city's first bishop, before going to Rome to found the Church there. Patriarch of Antioch is a traditional title held by the Bishop of Antioch. As the traditional "overseer" (επισκοπος, episkopos, from which the word 'bishop' is derived) of the first gentile Christian community, the position has been of prime importance in the church from its earliest period. This diocese is one of the few for which the names of its bishops from the apostolic beginnings have been preserved.

In Roman times, Antioch was the principal city of Syria, and the fourth largest city of the Roman Empire, after Rome, Ephesus and Alexandria. According to ecclesiastical tradition, the Church of Antioch is the second established church in Christendom after Jerusalem, and the prominence of its Apostolic See is well documented. In his Chronicon (I, 2), the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea tells us that St. Peter the Apostle established a bishopric in Antioch and became its first bishop. He also tells us that St. Peter was succeeded by Evodius. In another historical work, Historia Ecclesiastica, Eusebius tells us that Ignatius the Illuminator, “a name of note to most men, [was] the second after Peter to the bishopric of Antioch” (III, 36).

In the mid of the 5th century, the Bishop of Antioch, and his counterparts in Alexandria, Byzantium and Rome, would be called patriarchs. The Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch used to be known by his own name; however, since 1293 the patriarchs of Antioch adopted the name Ignatius, after the Illuminator. The See of Antioch continues to flourish till our day, with His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I, being the 122nd in the line of legitimate patriarchs.

The patriarchate was forced to move from Antioch in A.D. 518, after a period of turbulent history, to various locations in the Near East until it settled in the monastery Dayro d- Mor Hananya (also known as Kurkmo Dayro, Deir az- Za'faran--Syrian and Arabic respectively for Saffron Monastery) in Mardin, Turkey, during the 13th century. After another period of heinous violence during and after World War I, which took the lives of a quarter million Syrian Orthodox faithful, the patriarchate was transferred to Homs, Syria, in 1933, and later to Damascus in 1957.

The Church of Antioch was thriving under the Byzantine Empire until the fifth century when Christological controversies split the Church. After the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, two camps of the one Church emerged: The Greek Church of Byzantium and the Latin Church of Rome accepted Chalcedon, but the Syrian and Coptic (later Armenian as well) Churches rejected the council. As the Emperor supported the Chalcedonian camp, the Syrian Church came under much persecution. Many bishops were sent to exile, most notably Patriarch Mor Severius, who was later given the epithet togho d-suryoye, ‘Crown of the Syrians’. Mor Severius died in exile in 538.

By the year 544, the Syrian Church was in an abysmal situation with only three bishops remaining. It was at this time that Mor Yacqub Burd`ono (Jacob Baradeus) emerged to rejuvenate the Church. Mor Yacqub traveled to Constantinople for an audience with Empress Theodora, the daughter of a Syrian Orthodox priest from Mabbug according to Syrian Orthodox sources, and wife of Emperor Justinian. Theodora used her influence to get Jacob ordained as bishop in 544. Later, Mor Yacqub would travel across the entire land reviving the Church. He managed to consecrate 27 bishops and hundreds of priests and deacons. For this, the Syrian Orthodox Church honors this saint on July 30 of every year, the day of his death in 578.

The Syrian Orthodox Church survived under the dominion of many empires in the centuries that followed. Under the Arabs, Mongols, Crusades, Mamluks and Ottomans, the Syrian Orthodox Church continued its survival. Neither intimidation nor oppression could suppress the faithful, but the Church diminished in size to a fraction of what it was.

The political barriers between the Persian and Roman Empires and the bitter rivalry of its rulers made intercommunications between the two regions much more difficult and dangerous. There were instances where clergy from Persia who were ordained by the Patriarch of Antioch were put to death alleging to be spies. It therefore, became necessary for the Patriarch to vest authority in an ecclesiastical dignitary to carry on the administration in the Persian region. In AD 410, an historic Synod of the churches in Persia was held under the auspices of Bishop Mor Marutha of Muipharqat (delegate of the Antiochean Patriarch), which recognized the primacy of the Metropolitan of Seleucia for the first time. Thus MOR ISHAQ (Issac), the bishop of Seleucia becomes the head of the Persian Church. He is the one who is acknowledged as the first "CATHOLICOS", with jurisdiction over the entire Persian Empire. He assumed this title at the Synod of Seleucia held in AD 410. The Bishop/Catholicos of Seleucia acted as the deputy of the Patriarch of Antioch, in the Persian Empire, with some exclusive privileges to consecrate bishops on behalf of the Patriarch. 'CATHOLICOS OF THE EAST' was originally the title conferred to the ecclesiastical head of the Christian congregation in the erstwhile Persian Empire that extended from Mesopotamia in the west, to the boundaries of the present day Afghanistan and Northern India in the east.

Later in the eleventh century, the title came to be known as the Maphryono (literally "one who bears fruit" or "consecrator"). He was elected by the eastern bishops, just as the Patriarch was elected by those of the west, but was ordained by the Patriarch. Later, this office gained such importance that Maphryonos ordained the Patriarchs, but at the same time, the Maphryonos ceased to be elected and from 793 (with the Maphryono Sarbelios) they were nominated by the Patriarchs. Among the Maphryonos, was the illustrious author Mor Gregorius Bar `Ebroyo (1264-1286). Dayro d-Mor Mattay in Mosul served as the seat of the Maphryono in many periods of history. Later, the Maphryono took residence at the Patriarchate in Mardin. The last of the Maphryonos passed away in 1848 and the position became defunct.

In 1860 the office of Maphrianate was abolished as per the decision of the Syrian Orthodox Church Synod held at Deyrul' al Zafran Monastery (Kurkkumo Dayro) under Patriarch Mor Ignatius Ya`qub II. The same was reestablished in India in 1964 by the Universal Synod held at Kottayam, presided by Patriarch Mor Ignatius Ya`qub III.

Syrian Christianity has had a long history in India. According to tradition, Christianity in India was established by St. Thomas who arrived in Malankara (Kerala) from Edessa in A.D. 52. The close ties between the Church in Malankara and the Near East go back to at least the fourth century when a certain Joseph of Edessa traveled to India and met Christians there. The church in Malankara today is an integral part of the Syrian Orthodox Church with the Patriarch of Antioch as its supreme spiritual head. The local head of the church in Malankara is the Catholicos of the East, consecrated by and accountable to the Patriarch of Antioch. The local head of every archdiocese is an archbishop. He is under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch and is accountable to the Holy Synod. The archbishop is ordained by the Patriarch and at least two bishops. Some archdioceses are ‘patriarchal vicarates’; the patriarchal vicar, regardless of ecclesiastical office, is accountable directly to the Patriarch.

The supreme head of the Syrian Orthodox Church is the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. He also presides over the Holy Synod, the assembly of all bishops. The local head of the church in Malankara (India) is the Catholicos of the East consecrated by and accountable to the Patriarch of Antioch. The Catholicos is under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch and is accountable to the Holy Synod and the local Malankara Synod and presides over the local Holy Synod.

Fulfilling the wishes of the countless faithful in India, the Patriarch of Antioch Moran Mor Ignatius Ya`qub III consecrated Paulose Mor Philoxenos as the CATHOLICOSE OF THE EAST under the title 'MOR BASELIOS PAULOSE II', at the Patriarchal Cathedral in Damascus on 7th September 1975. ('Paulose I' was the 'Maphrian of the East' who lived in the 8th century). His Beatitude since then assumed the responsibility as the HEAD OF THE HOLY SYNOD OF THE CHURCH IN INDIA. Following the enthronement, the Universal Synod was held at Patriarchal Cathedral under His Holiness Ignatius Yakoob III and appointed Metropolitans for the dioceses in Malankara in consultation with the new Catholicose and with due regards to the requests of the clergy and laity.

On 26th June 1980, Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius Ya`qub III who consecrated Mor Baselios Paulose II as the Catholicose of the East, left for his heavenly abode. H.H was one of the most brilliant, intelligent, far sighted, able and peace-loving Patriarchs reigned on the Throne of St. Peter at Antioch. He had been an authority on par with the Scholar Patriarch Michael Rabo, and the versatile genius Mor Gregorios Bar Hebraeus. His unbounded scholarship in the History, Doctrines and canons of the Church, was unequalled, and his researches in every branch of ecclesiastical literature were really wonderful. He might be regarded as the first Patriarch who imprinted the stamp, the name and fame of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Europe and the States, and throughout the entire Christendom. His Holiness loved the Malankara church and did sacrifice himself for its peace and glory under the age-old historical and filial submission to the Holy See of Antioch. Unfortunately, those who could not understand the greatness of the Holy Father, split the Malankara Church.

On 11th July 1980, the Universal Synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church assembled at the Patriarchate in Damascus under the president-ship of His Beatitude Mor Baselios Paulose II Catholicose of the East to elect Patriarch, the successor of St. Peter on the Apostolic Throne of Antioch - a historical occasion after centuries when a Maphrian (Catholicose) of the East, and the first of its kind, a Catholicose of the East from Malankara, the daughter of the Holy See, presiding over the Universal Synod to elect Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. Besides the Metropolitans from the Middle East, Europe and U.S.A; Mor Clemis Abraham who had been at the Patriarchate, Mor Theophilios Thomas and Mor Ivanios Philipose who had accompanied H.B. the Catholicose, attended the Episcopal Synod.

After the Holy Qurbono, the Metropolitans submitted their votes one by one in chalice placed on the Main Altar, and praised the Lord; H.B. the Catholicose proclaimed that Archbishop Mor Sevarious Zakka Iwas was chosen unanimously as the successor of St. Peter on the Throne of Antioch.

On September 14, 1980, His Beatitude made history by consecrating Mor Severious Zakka, Archbishop of Baghdad, as the Patriarch of Antioch & all the East. THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME IN THE LONG HISTORY OF THE SYRIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH THAT A CATHOLICOS FROM MALANKARA OFFICIATED IN THE ENTHRONEMENT OF A PATRIARCH OF ANTIOCH.

After serving the Malankara Church as its Metropolitan for almost 44 years and as the Catholicose of the East for 21 years, Mor Baselios Paulose II Bava passed away on Sunday the 1st September, 1996 at the tender age of 83. He was then residing at Piramadom Dayro. The funeral of Bava Thirumeni on the next day was attended by tens of thousands of people—a testimony to the affection that he commanded in the Church and society. The remains of Catholicos Mor Baselios Paulose II were interred in a tomb in Malecuriz Dayro near Puthencuriz in Ernakulam District, Kerala in accordance to his last wishes.

On July 26, 2002, Mor Dionysius was consecrated Catholicos by name Baselios Thomas I in a rite officiated by Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and Supreme Head of the Syriac Orthodox Church at Ma`rat Sayyidnaya, Damascus. As the head of the Church in India the Catholicos presides over the Holy Episcopal Synod of Malankara Church which includes all the Metropolitans of the Syrian Orthodox Church in India. He is also the Metropolitan Trustee of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church.

Sources:

A Brief Overview of the History Patriarchate of Antioch and Catholicate of the East http://sor.cua.edu/Intro/index.html

http://www.syrianchurch.org/MalankaraSyrianChurch/MalankaraHistory.htm

See Also:

A Brief History of The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch

Brief History of The Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch in India

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