Syro-Malabar Church

The Syro-Malabar Church holds a rich and a long tradition over the last 20 centuries of the St. Thomas Christianity in Kerala, the cradle of Christianity in India. The Syro-Malabar Church traces its origin to the arrival of St Thomas, one of the first twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, in India. As the recent excavations at Pattanom (near by Paravoor and Kodungalloor, Kerala) manifest that in the beginning of our Era the natural harbor known as Muziris was marked for the commercial, cultural and religious exchanges between Malabar Coast (Kerala), Persia, Palestine, and Rome. In addition, the existence of Jewish communities at the Malabar Coast might have paved way for St Thomas to come over there in 52 AD. And he established 7 Christian Communities in different parts of Kerala, they are: Kodungaloor, Palayoor, Paravoor, Kokkamangalam, Kollam, Niranam and Nilakal. These Christians came to be generally known in all over the world as the St Thomas Christians or Mar Thoma Nasranis. That means the Christianity in Kerala is as old as Christianity itself.

India, as the homeland, these Christians lived and shaped their life and faith throughout many centuries in the rich and ancient cultural and religious backgrounds in India. Towards the middle of the fourth century onwards they had close contact and intense association with the Christian communities of Persia and Mesopotamia. The famous Christian merchant, Thoma of Kynai, with 72 families came to settle at Muziris (Kodungalloor) in 345 AD. From the sixteenth century onwards they also got in touch with the arrival of merchants like Vasco Da Gama and Christian missionaries like St Francis Xavier from different countries of Europe. This contact was more in political, commercial and ecclesiastical spheres.

For the Thomas Christians who followed the East Syriac tradition in worship, spirituality and administration, remained as the Oriental Rite and who stood in full communion with the Church of Rome, on May 20, 1887, Pope Leo XIII established two Vicariates Apostolic namely Kottayam (areas of today’s Changanacherry diocese and today’s Kottayam diocese) and Trichur (areas of today’s Trichur diocese and today’s Ernakulam diocese) exclusively for the Catholics of the Thomas Christians, who shortly came to be known as Syro-Malabarese or Syro-Malabar Catholics, and appointed Dr. Charles Lavigne (Kottayam) and Dr. Adolph Medlycott (Trichur) as Vicars Apostolic. On 21 December 1923, the Syro-Malabar Church Hierarchy was established. Ernakulam was raised to the status of an Archdiocese with the dioceses of Trichur, Changanacherry, and Kottayam as its suffragants (subordinates). Since then, the Syro-Malabar Church has grown by leaps and bounds, and spread to regions outside Kerala and even overseas. In 1992, the Syro-Malabar Church was given the Major Archiepiscopal status. The Vatican granted the Syro-Malabar Church sui iuris status or self-governing status and from the year 2004 onwards the synod of the Syro-Malabar Church was accorded full powers in deciding on liturgy (worship) and appointing bishops, only needing the Vatican’s ratification.

Today, the Syro-Malabar Church having 31 dioceses (16 in Kerala, 13 in other parts of India, one in Chicago and the other in Melbourne) and one exarchate newly established in Canada is the second largest of the 23 Oriental Churches worldwide, second only to the Ukrainian Church. The Syro-Malabar Church, with its deep-rooted spirituality is considered to be the most vibrant Catholic Church in the world, and has strength of over 4.8 million believers living mostly in Kerala. The missionary spirit of the Syro-Malabar is highly applauded for having sent missionaries to the different countries of four continents. These priests and nuns, who are proud of being Indians and are formed in Indian cultural, religious and democratic values, work generously and selflessly for the progress and advancement of the humanity in all over the world.