History of the SyroMalabar Catholic Rite

The SyroMalabar Church finds her roots in the legacy of St.Thomas the Apostle and her traditions from one of the first apostolic communities in the world: the Church of St. Thomas Christians. The Church of St Thomas Christians is an apostolic Church founded in India by St. Thomas, one of the twelve Apostles of Christ. Based on ancient, strong and continuous tradition, St. Thomas landed on the Malabar Coast in 52 A.D. After preaching and establishing Christian communities in different parts of India, he suffered martyrdom at Mylapore, India in 72 A.D.

The Church of St. Thomas Christians later came into an ecclesial relationship with the Christian communities which came to be known as the East Syrian Church. This relationship made the St. Thomas Christians share liturgical, spiritual and other ecclesiastical traditions with the East Syrian Church. At the same time, Christians of St. Thomas kept their distinctive character especially in regards to Church administration and socio-cultural and spiritual life. The sum total of this Christian life was called the Law or the Way of St. Thomas (Mar Thoma Margam).

In the 16th century, Portuguese Missionaries who reached India under explorer Vasco De Gama encountered the St. Thomas Christians. Initially the encounter was cordial, but it quickly devolved because of a failure to accept a Christian life which differed from the European tradition. The missionaries launched a program to systematically make the St. Thomas Christians conform to western Christian life. They attempted to execute this program through the decrees of the 1599 Synod of Diamper, which was unauthorized by the Holy See. Soon after Diamper event, the Church of St. Thomas Christians was brought under the Portuguese missionaries. The St. Thomas Christians were internally unprepared to accept the changes brought about by the decrees of the synod and their reaction erupted in a protest or the Bent Cross Oath of 1653 against foreign missionary rule. This resulted in the division of the St Thomas Christians.

Those who remained in full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the Catholic Church became the SyroMalabar Church. Those outside the communion with the Bishop of Rome became the Orthodox Church, which is now split between the Holy Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Holy Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church (of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch). Those in the Anglican Communion became the Holy Mar Thoma Syrian Church. In the early 1900s, Malankara Orthodox Archbishop Geevarghese Mar Ivanios began a movement towards communion to the Universal Catholic Church which was perfected in September 20th 1930. This group of new Catholics who retained their full Malankara Christian liturgical and spiritual tradition became the Holy Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

At this period, the Holy See intervened and introduced direct jurisdiction over the SyroMalabar Church. Attempts for the reunion of all the St. Thomas Christians was made, but efforts were not fruitful. Finally in the late 1890s, the Holy See granted separate SyroMalabar vicariates (quasi-dioceses): Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry. By the end of 1956, the number of SyroMalabar dioceses had increased and the steady of the growth continued.

After the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law for Eastern Churches, Saint Pope John Paul II raised the SyroMalabar Church to the status of Major Archiepiscopal self-governance (other Eastern Catholic self-governance statuses by order include patriarchal, metropolitan and self-governance itself) with the title of “The SyroMalabar Catholic Major Archiepiscopal Church of Ernakulam-Angamaly.” This led Ernakulam, India Archbishop Mar Antony Padiyara to be named the first-ever Major Archbishop of the SyroMalabar Church. Since the development of the SyroMalabar Church with all the faculties and powers of her Major Archiepiscopal status, the Church today has over thirty dioceses around the world. By the grace of God, the Church is blessed with fruitful vocations of priests and religious, a vibrancy of her ancient faith, dynamic communities outside of India and a greater encounter with our Lord & our God Jesus Christ.