Syro-Malabar Catholic Church

Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
ܥܹܕܬܵܐ ܕܡܲܠܲܒܵܪ ܣܘܼܪܝܵܝܵܐ
The Mar Thoma Sliva or Saint Thomas Cross (also known as the Nasrani Menorah), the symbol of the Syro-Malabar Church
Founder St. Thomas the Apostle
Independence Apostolic Era
Recognition first century (with the Church of the East)
1599 (with the Catholic Church)
1887 (autocephaly)
1923 (Patriarchate)
Primate Mar George Alencherry, Major Archbishop (traditionally Metropolitan of Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly)
Headquarters St. Thomas Mount, Kochi, Kerala, India
Territory India
  • United States
  • Canada
  • Australia
Language Syriac and Malayalam
Members 4.6 million[1]
Bishops 57
Parishes 3,224
Website Official site

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly in Kerala, India. The members of the Church are known as Mar Thoma Nasranis or Syrian Catholics. It is the largest of the Nasrani denominations with around 4.6 million believers and traces its origins to the evangelistic activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century.[1][2][3][4][5]

The Syro-Malabar Church follows the East Syrian Rite liturgy, traditionally attributed to saints Addai and Mari, which dates back to 3rd century Edessa,[6] and like the Chaldean Rite is a Syro-Oriental Rite. It is the second largest Eastern Catholic Church, the largest being the Ukrainian Catholic Church.[7] It is one of the two Eastern Catholic Churches from India, the other being the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church which follows the West Syrian Rite liturgy. Saint Alphonsa is the first canonized saint from the Church.

Part of a series on
Saint Thomas Christians
മാർത്തോമാ നസ്രാണികൾ
St. Thomas Cross
Alternate names
Nasrani · Mar Thoma Nasrani · Syrian Christians
Saint Thomas · Thomas of Cana · Mar Sabor and Mar Proth · Tharisapalli plates · Synod of Diamper · Coonan Cross Oath
Ancient crosses · Churches · Shrines · Liturgical language · Church music
Prominent persons
Abraham Malpan · Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar · Kayamkulam Philipose Ramban · Kuriakose Elias Chavara · Mar Thoma I · Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly · Sadhu Kochoonju Upadesi · Kariattil Mar Ousep · Geevarghese Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril · Gheevarghese Mar Gregorios of Parumala · Geevarghese Mar Ivanios · Saint Alphonsa · Yeldho Mar Baselios · Euphrasia Eluvathingal · Thoma of Villarvattom

Margam Kali · Parichamuttukali · Cuisine · Suriyani Malayalam


  • History 1
    • Origin of St. Thomas Christians 1.1
    • East Syrian relationship 1.2
    • Arrival of Portuguese in Malabar 1.3
    • Divisions among Saint Thomas Christians 1.4
    • Restoration of the Syro-Malabar hierarchy 1.5
    • Time line of events 1.6
    • Syro-Malabar identity 1.7
    • Faith and communion of Syro-Malabarians 1.8
  • Liturgy 2
    • Restoration of East Syrian liturgy 2.1
    • Liturgical calendar 2.2
    • Major feasts 2.3
    • Syro-Malabar major archiepiscopal curia 2.4
  • Saints, Blesseds, Venerables and Servants of God 3
    • Saints 3.1
    • Beatified people 3.2
    • Venerables 3.3
    • Servants of God 3.4
  • List of (Arch)Eparchies 4
    • Metropolitan archeparchies 4.1
    • Eparchies 4.2
    • Exarchate 4.3
  • Statistics 5
    • Within the proper territory 5.1
    • Outside the proper territory 5.2
  • Syro Malabar Religious Congregations 6
  • List of prominent Syro-Malabar Catholics in history 7
  • Prominent Syro-Malabar Catholics who worked for unity of Nasranis 8
  • Varthamanappusthakam 9
    • Shared history with other Saint Thomas Christians 9.1
  • Mar Abraham of Angamaly 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13
    • References and bibliography 13.1
  • External links 14


George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church

Origin of St. Thomas Christians

It is believed that St. Thomas the Apostle (Mar Thoma shleeha) landed at Kodungalloor (Muziris)[8] in 52 A. D. and established Christian communities in different parts of India and died at Mylapur in 72 A. D.[9] According to tradition, he founded seven churches or communities in Kerala; at Kodungalloor, Niranam, Kollam, Chayal, Kottakkavu (North Paravur), Kokkamangalam and Palayoor.[10][11][12]

East Syrian relationship

From early centuries the Church of St. Thomas Christians came into communication with the Christian communities that came to be known as the Church of the East.[13] This relationship made the St. Thomas Christians share the liturgical, spiritual and other ecclesiastical traditions with the Church of the East (therefore they are classified as being of the East Syrian Rite). The Christians of St. Thomas kept their distinctive character especially in Church administration and socio-cultural and ascetic- spiritual life.[14] At least from the 4th century until the end of the 16th century the Bishops of the Church of Malabar were sent from the East Syrian Church,[15] appointed by the Patriarch of the Church of the East.[16] While the bishops originally haling from Persia who arrived here were placed in charge of liturgy, the administration of the church remained under the control of the local Archdeacon, who was also the head of the local community.[14]

The bishops who came from the East Syrian Church, were concerned with spiritual matters. Essentially, the Thomas Christians followed three distinct ways of activity in their religious sphere: their liturgy was of the East Syrian Rite: their culture was purely Indian: they had their own style of life. [17]"The governance of the Church was through Palliyogam, Synod, etc. as was prevalent in Oriental Churches.[18]

Arrival of Portuguese in Malabar

Open Air Rock Cross also called Nasrani Sthambams in front of the 3rd Century built Marth Mariam Syro-Malabar Catholic Church at Kuravilangad, Kerala
Marth Mariam Syro-Malabar Catholic Church at Arakuzha, Kerala is an ancient Nasrani church established in 999
A Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Kerala, with the Holy of Holies containing the Saint Thomas Cross veiled by a red curtain according to Eastern Christian practice

The Portuguese Admiral Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut on 20 May 1498.[19] When Gama and the Portuguese missionaries arrived they found no Christians in the country except in Malabar Coast (modern day Kerala). The Christians they found were St. Thomas Christians. The Christians were friendly to Portuguese missionaries at first; there were exchange of gifts between them, and these groups were delighted at their common faith.[20][21]

Later, due to certain differences, mainly in the liturgy, the relations between the missionaries and local St. Thomas Christians became increasingly strained. Under the Padroado (patronage) agreement with the Holy See the Portuguese missionaries started to interfere in day-to-day operations of the church and things took a turn for the worse. They accused the Indian Christians of heresy and schism (also see: Schism in Christianity); and attempted to introduce the Latin Rite customs and Latin Rite manner of ecclesiastical administration, severing the East Syrian connection.[22]

The Portuguese established a Roman Catholic (Latin Church) diocese in Goa (1534) and another in Cochin (1558) with the hope of bringing the St. Thomas Christians under Latin Rite Catholic jurisdiction. At a Goan Synod held in 1585, it was decided to introduce the Latin Rite liturgy and practices among St. Thomas Christians. During the Synod of Diamper of 1599, the Portuguese Archbishop, Don Alexis Menezes, succeeded in appointing a Latin bishop in the East Syrian Catholic ArchDiocese of Angamaly- Kodungallur to govern the St. Thomas Christians. The Portuguese padroado (patronage) was extended over them.[23] The strife between the Portuguese missionaries and the indigenous Christians and their Mesopotamian prelates was of an ecclesiological and jurisdictional character.[24] Attempts to resist the Latinization process were branded as heretical. Under their Archdeacon, the Thomas Christians resisted, and, consequently, the once united Church in full communion with the East Syrian Patriarch ended up in various denominations.[23]

Divisions among Saint Thomas Christians

Relationship of the Nasrani groups

A protest took place in 1653 with the Coonan Cross Oath. Under the leadership of Archdeacon Thomas, the Thomas Christians publicly took an oath that they would not obey the Jesuit bishops.[25]

Rome sent Carmelites in two groups from the Propagation of the Faith to Malabar headed by Fr. Sebastiani and Fr. Hyacinth. Fr. Sebastiani arrived first in 1655. He began to deal directly with the Archdeacon, Mar Thoma I. Fr. Sebastiani gained the support of many, especially with the support of Parambil Mar Chandy, Alexandar Kadavil and the Vicar of Muttam. These were the three councilors of Mar Thoma I, who had been reconciled with Francisco Garcia Mendes, SJ, Archbishop of Cranganore, before the arrival of Sebastaini, according to Jesuit reports.[25]

Between 1661 and 1662, out of the 116 churches, the Carmelites reclaimed eighty-four churches, leaving Archdeacon Mar Thomas I with thirty-two churches. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syro Malabar Church has descended. The other thirty-two churches and their congregations represented the nucleus from which the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church(Jacobites).the Orthodox Syrian Church, the Thozhiyur Church, Mar Thoma (Reformed Syrians), Syro Malankara Catholics have originated.[26]

In 1665 Mar Gregorios, a Bishop sent by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, arrived in India. The dissident group under the leadership of the Archdeacon welcomed him.[27] Though most of the St. Thomas Christians gradually relented in their strong opposition to the Western control, the arrival of the Bishop Mar Gregory of the Syriac Orthodox Church in 1665 marked the beginning of a formal schism among the St. Thomas Christians. Those who accepted the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch of Mar Gregory became known as the "Malankara Syriac Orthodox Christians" or Puthenkoor. The Syrian Catholics remained in communion with Rome and later came to be known as the Syro Malabar Church,or Pazhayakoor, a name which became a common epithet only in the nineteenth century. It literally means Syrian Christians of the Malabar Coast (Kerala).[27]

Restoration of the Syro-Malabar hierarchy

After the split in the church community, some priests and laymen attempted to persuade the hierarchy to improve the identity of the local church and for the appointment of bishops from local priests. To represent their position, Kerala's Syrian Catholics Joseph Kariattil and Paremmakkal Thomma Kathanar went to Rome in 1778. While they were in Europe, Kariatty Joseph Kathanar was installed in Portugal as the Archbishop of Kodungalloor Archdiocese. While journeying home, they stayed in Goa where Kariattil died before he could formally take charge. Before he died, Kariattil appointed Kathanar as the Administrator of Kodungalloor Archdiocese after him. The new administrator ran the affairs of the church establishing his headquarters at Angamaly. In 1792, the headquarters of the Archdiocese was shifted to Vadayar dodging the invasion of Tippu Sultan. In the last four years of his life, Thomma Kathanar managed church administration from his own parish, Ramapuram.

After being under Chaldean bishops earlier and under Latin Rite Roman Catholic bishops from 1599, St. Thomas Christians obtained their own bishops from 1896.They were known as Catholic Chaldean Syrians during the period from around 1787(Angamaly Padiyola) to around 1886. They were known as the Catholic Syrians to differentiate them from the Orthodox Syrians and Latin Church Catholics in Kerala.They came to be known as the Syro Malabar Catholics from 1932 onwards to differentiate them from the Syro-Malankara Catholics in Kerala. The Indian East Syrian Catholic Hierarchy was restored on 21 December 1923 with Mar Augustine Kandathil as the first Metropolitan and Head of the Church with the name Syro-Malabar.[28]

Time line of events

Time line of events

  • 1 Ancient Era
  • 2 Portuguese Era
  • 3 Era of Divisions
  • 4 Arrival of the Protestants and further splits
  • 5 Era of Self-governance
  • 6 A Sui iuris Church.

Syro-Malabar identity

While modern Syro-Malabar identity is rooted in the Mar Thoma Margam or the sacred tradition of the Ancient Church of St. Thomas Christians - Syro-Malabar Historian and theologian Fr. Placid Podipara describes it as "Catholic by faith, Indian by culture & East Syrian/Syriac/Oriental in liturgy." Today, the Syro-Malabar Church finds herself as the second-largest Eastern Catholic Church in the world with 4.5 million worldwide.

Faith and communion of Syro-Malabarians

The St. Thomas Christians got their bishops from the Assyrian Church of the East/Chaldean Church from ca. 500 AD till the end of the sixteenth century, until it was stopped by the Portuguese Roman Catholics (Latin Church) in 1597, after the death of Mar Abraham.


As per the East Syriac tradition, liturgical day of the Syro-Malabar Church starts at sunset (6 p. m.). Also the worshiper has to face the east while worshiping.[29]

According to the East Syriac tradition, the following are the seven times of prayer:

  • Ramsha or the Evening Liturgy (6 p. m.)
  • Lelya or the Night Liturgy (9 p. m.)
  • Qala d-Shahra or the Vigil Liturgy (3 a. m.)
  • Sapra or the Morning Liturgy (6 a. m.)
  • Quta'a or the Third Hour Liturgy (9 a. m.)
  • Endana or the Noon Liturgy (12 p. m.)
  • D-Bathsha Shayin or the Ninth Hour Liturgy (3 p. m.)

The Holy Mass, which is called Holy Qurbana in East Syriac Aramaic and means 'Eucharist', is celebrated in its solemn form on Sundays and special occasions. During the celebration of the Qurbana, priests and deacons put on elaborate vestments which are unique to the Syro-Malabar Church.

Restoration of East Syrian liturgy

Crowning during a Syro-Malabar Catholic wedding by bishop Mar Gregory Karotemprel.

East Syrian liturgy has three Anaphorae; those of the Holy Apostles (Saints Addai and Mari), Mar Nestorius, and Mar Theodore the Interpreter. The first is the most popularly and extensively used. The second was traditionally used on the Epiphany and the feasts of St. John the Baptist and of the Greek Doctors, both of which occur in Epiphany-tide on the Wednesday of the Rogation of the Ninevites, and on Maundy Thursday. The third is used (except when the second is ordered) from Advent to Palm Sunday. The same pro-anaphoral part serves for all three.

In the second half of 20th century, there was a movement for better understanding of the liturgical rites. A restored Eucharistic liturgy, drawing on the original East Syrian sources, was approved by Pope Pius XII in 1957 and for the first time on the feast of St. Thomas on July 3, 1962, the vernacular, Malayalam, was introduced for the celebration of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana.[30] Currently they celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Addai and Mari and the Anaphora of Mar Theodre in Malayalam, Syriac or English.

Besides the Anaphora of Mar Addai and Mari being used currently in Syro-Malabar Liturgy, there are two more Anaphorae known as Anaphora of Mar Theodore and Anaphora of Mar Nestorius. The fact that the Anaphora of Mar Theodore which was withdrawn from use after the Synod of Diamper is being used again in Syro-Malabar Church after 415 years is indeed an important historical reality. Pope Pius XII during the process of restoration of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana in 1957 had requested the restoration of the Anaphorae of Mar Theodore and Mar Nestorius. The draft of the Anaphora of Mar Theodore was restored after meticulous study by the Central Liturgical Committee, Liturgical Research Centre, various Sub-Committees and the eparchial liturgical commissions. Many changes befitting to the times have been made in the prayers maintaining maximum fidelity to the original text of the Second Anaphora. It was this text so prepared that was sent to Rome for the recognitio of the Apostolic See in accordance with the decision of the Syro-Malabar Synod. The Congregation for the Eastern Churches gave its approval for using this Anaphora on an experimental basis for three years on 15 December 2012.[31]

The Latinization of the Syro-Malabar rite churches was brought to a head when in 1896 Ladislaus Zaleski, the Apostolic Delegate to India, requested permission to translate the Roman Pontifical into Syriac. This was the choice of the Malabar prelates, who chose it over the East Syrian Rite and West Syrian Rite pontificals. Various problems and concerns delayed the approval of this translation, until in 1934 Pope Pius XI stated that Latinization was no longer to be encouraged among Eastern Rite Catholics.[32] He initiated a process of liturgical reform that sought to restore the oriental nature of the Latinized Syro-Malabar rite.[33] A restored Eucharistic liturgy, drawing on the original East Syrian sources, was approved by Pius XII in 1957 and introduced in 1962.

The church uses one of several Bible translations into Malayalam.

Liturgical calendar

Syro-Malabar liturgical calendar

Syro Malabar Church has its own liturgical year. It is ordered according to the flow of salvation history. It focuses on the historical life of Jesus.[34] There are nine seasons for the liturgical year. They are:

  1. Annunciation (Subara)
  2. Epiphany (Denha)
  3. Great Fast (Sawma Rabba)
  4. Resurrection (Qyamta)
  5. Apostles (Slihe)
  6. Summer (Qaita)
  7. Elijah-Cross (Elijah-Sliba)
  8. Moses (Muse)
  9. Dedication of the Church (Qudas-Edta)

Major feasts

Major feasts of the Church are,[35]

  • Dukrana of the Father in Faith - Mar Thoma Shliha Commemorated on July 3
  • Marth Alphonsa - commemorated 28 July
  • Mar Kuriakose Elias Chavara - commemorated 3 January
  • Mar Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly – commemorated 5 October
  • Saint Euphrasia - commemorated 29 August
  • Mar Bartholomeo Sleeha - commemorated 24 August
  • Marth Shmoni and her 7 Children - commemorated 21 August
  • The Assumption of Marth Mariam(Shoonaya) - commemorated on 15 August
  • Transfiguration(Geliyana) - commemorated 6 August
  • Mar Addai and Mar Mari - commemorated on the Second Friday of Qaita (Summer)
  • The 12 Apostles of our Lord, Iso' Misiha - commemorated 19 July
  • The 70 Apostles - commemorated 17 July
  • Mar Quriaqos and mother Yolethe - commemorated 15 July
  • Mar Aprem- Commemorated - commemorated 9 June
  • Blessed Mariam Thresia - commemorated 8 June
  • Holy Pentecost - commemorated on 31 May
  • The Ascension of our Lord, Iso' Misiha(Sulaqa) - commemorated 21 May
  • Mar Addai Shliha - commemorated 10 May
  • Mar Geevarghese Sahada - commemorated 24 April
  • New Sunday - commemorated 19 April
  • All Saints Day - commemorated on the first Friday of the Season of Resurrection
  • Entry of our Lord, Iso' Misiha into Jerusalem - Oshana Sunday
  • The Annunciation of Marth Mariam(Subara) - commemorated 25 March
  • Remembrance of all Departed Faithful( Kol Anidhe) - commemorated on Last Friday of Denha
  • The feast of Denha, the Epiphany - commemorated on 6 January
  • The Nativity of our Lord, God and Saviour Iso M'siha (Yaldha) - commemorated 25 December
  • Mar Thoma Sliba - commemorated 18 December
  • Immaculate Conception of Marth Mariam - commemorated 8 December
  • Mar Augustinose Kunjachan - commemorated 16 October
  • Passover Feast (Pesha)

Syro-Malabar major archiepiscopal curia

Syriac inscription at Syro-Malabar Catholic Major Archbishop's House, Ernakulam.

The curia[36] of the Syro-Malabar Church began to function in March 1993 at the archbishop’s house of Ernakulam-Angamaly. Later, on 27 May 1995, it was shifted to new premises at Mount St. Thomas near Kakkanad, Kochi. The newly constructed curial building was opened on 3 July 1998.

The administration of the Syro-Malabar Church has executive and judicial roles. The major archbishop, officials, various commissions, committees, and the permanent synod form the executive part. The permanent synod and other offices are formed in accordance with the CCEO. The officials include the chancellor, vice-chancellor, and other officers. Various commissions are appointed by the major archbishop: Liturgy, Pastoral care of the migrant and Evangelisation, Particular Law, Catechism, Ecumenism, Catholic Doctrine, Clergy and Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The members of the commissions are ordinarily bishops. But there are also priests in different commissions. For judicial activities there is the major archiepiscopal ordinary tribunal formed in accordance with CCEO and it has a statutes and sufficient personnel with a president, as its head. At present, Rev. Dr. Jose Chiramel is the president. The Major archiepiscopal curia functions in the curial building in Kerala, India. They have prepared the particular law for their Church and promulgated part by part in Synodal News, the official Bulletin of this Church. There are statutes for the permanent synod, for the superior and ordinary tribunals. Regarding economo, CCEO c. 122 § 2 is specific in the particular law, that the term of the office shall be five years and the same person shall not be appointed for more than two terms consecutively.[37]

Saints, Blesseds, Venerables and Servants of God

Syro-Malabar saints[38]
St. Joseph's Syro-Malabar Dayra Church, Mannanam, where the mortal remains of Mar Kuriakose Chavara are kept. Saint Thomas cross is seen in the picture on the top of church


Beatified people


  • Mar Thomas Kurialachery - Archeparchy of Changanassery - First Bishop of Changanassery (1872-1925)
  • Mar Mathew Kadalikattil (1872-1935)

Servants of God

List of (Arch)Eparchies

Syro-Malabar bishops at the Generalate of S. D.

There are 31 eparchies. Five of them are Archeparchies at present – Ernakulam-Angamaly, Changanacherry, Trichur, Tellicherry and Kottayam. There are other 13 eparchies – Bhadravathi, Belthangady, Irinjalakuda, Kanjirapally, Kothamangalam, Idukki, Mananthavady, Mandya, Palai, Palghat, Ramanathapuram, Thamarassery and Thuckalay within the canonical territory of the Major Archiepiscopal Church. There are 13 eparchies outside the canonical territory of which Adilabad, Bijnor, Chanda, Gorakhpur, Jagdalpur, Kalyan, Rajkot, Sagar, Satna and Ujjain in India are with exclusive jurisdiction and Kalyan, Faridabad eparchies in India, the St. Thomas Eparchy of Chicago in the United States of America and St. Thomas the Apostle Eparchy of Melbourne in Australia enjoy personal jurisdiction.[39]

Metropolitan archeparchies

The believers of this church are organized under 5 Archeparchies. All five are in Kerala.

Mar Varkey Vithayathil former Major Archbishop.