Brief History of the Assyrian Church of the East
According to the tradition of King Abgar Uchama, tetrarch of Edessa, which some historians dismiss as mere tradition, Christianity came to Edessa by the decision of Jesus Christ himself. When Abgar Uchama wrote a letter to Jesus Christ inviting him to his little kingdom to cure the illness of his son and live comfortably in his kingdom, Jesus himself replies by a letter stating that his time was up nd so he would not be able to come to Edessa. However his disciples would come and heal the sickness of his son.
After the death of Jesus his disciple Mar Addai went to Edessa and cured the sickness of the son of King Abgar Uchama and evangelized the kingdom of Edessa. Some Scholars think that it is an unhistorical legend and do not give it any historical weight. However, the members of the Assyrian Church of the East believe in this tradition, whether one wants to call it history or tradition.
Eusebius of Caesaria in his Ecclesiastical History states that he has examined the archives in Alexandria and found out that the letter written by Jesus was genuine. This discovery was made in the fourth century. Now the letter is not available and we cannot debate on the genuineness of the letter of King Abgar and the reply, which Jesus sent. Therefore let us rely on what Eusebius of Caesarea, the famous Church historian of the fourth century had recorded. Thus, Edessa becomes the first nation as a whole to become Christian.
The Church of the East believes that it was founded by Mar Addai and Mar Mari. Some believe that Mar Addai is St. Thaddeus, one of the twelve dis-ciples of Jesus. Mar Mari is said to be one of the seventy whom Jesus sent Perhaps Mar Mari was a disciple of Mar Addai. As a modem western scholar Dr. W. A. Wigram is emphatic that Mar Addai and Mar Mari organized the Church in Edessa in the first century itself. On the other hand there were some doubting Thomases that did not pay much attention to the existence of Christianity in Edessa in the first century.
The episcopate of Papa bar Gaggai around 280 AD is considered the start¬ing point of the Church of the East by some scholars. W. A. Wigram clarifies that, “the episcopate of Papa is a definite and important turning-point in the history of the Church, though not the starting-point which they incline to make it.” From about 280 A.D. Mar Papa organized this church, thus Metropolitan seat of Seleucia became the headquarters. Now the city is in ruins, known as SalmanPak, 30 miles from Baghdad.
Seleucia Ctesiphon, near Baghdad, became the headquarters of this Church very soon. Edessa was a buffer city-state between the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire.
During the imperial wars, the people of Edessa suffered heavily in the fourth century. At the time of Mar Aprem (306-373) as a result of the war many Edessans became refugees and Mar Aprem the deacon had to take care of the orphans and the hungry people.
In the fifth century, the Nestorian controversy concerning the unity of the divine and human nature in Christ had far reaching consequences. At this time, the Church of the East was not involved in this controversy. It was a theological dispute within the Roman Empire.
John Nestorius was not an Assyrian nor did he know Syriac language. He was a native of Antioch and Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431 A.D. His rival Cyril was Patriarch of Alexandria. Therefore, the members of the Church say that they do not have anything to do with the Nestorian controversy. It was several years later and even after the death of Nestorius in 451 A.D. that the Christians of the Persian Empire heard about the controversy. They decreed that the stand taken by Nestorius was in agreement with the view always maintained by the Church of the East.
As a result of the persecution of the followers of Nestorius, many Christians had to flee from the now Christian Roman Empire and found refuge among the followers of this Church.
The headquarters of the Church, Seleucia-Ctesiphon, was at a strategic place on both banks of the River Tigris, the center of travel between Europe and Asia. By the middle of the sixth century, the Church had spread into Egypt, Syria, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, Ceylon, China, and Mongolia.
In the history of this Church the Council of Patriarch Mar Dadeesho in 424 AD is an important event. The Synod decided that no appeals would be made to the West. It is a declaration of the autonomy of this Church. For political reasons the Christians in the Persian Empire did not show any af-finity to the people of the Roman Empire. Since the Persian Emperors were Zoroastrians, the Christians of Persia wanted to declare that they were dif-ferent from the Christians of the Roman Empire.
Such an opportunity came with the unfortunate Christological controversy between Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius of Antioch. The Church of the East did not participate in any of the rival Councils held under Cyril of Alexandria; later supported by the legates of Rome or in the rival Council presided over by Bishop John of Antioch supported by Nestorius of Constantinople. The Church in Persia was not involved in this controversy. However, when they later heard about it they supported Nestorius although John of Antioch agreed to accept the expression Theotokos in 433 AD, two years after the rival Councils of Ephesus issued anathemas and counter anathemas.
The birth of Prophet Mohammed in the year 570 AD had serious repercus¬sions for the Church of the East. Since Warqa, cousin of Khadeeja the rich lady and the first wife of the Prophet Mohammed, was a member of this Church it had constant contact with Islam from its inception. Khadeeja consulted her cousin Warqa, when Mohammed had vision of Allah in his sleep. Warqa said that the Ruh Qudsha (Holy Spirit) inspired it. The prophet tolerated Christians.
Patriarch Mar Timotheus I of the 8th century, had close contact with Khalif al Mahdi. The dialogue between the Patriarch and the Khalif al Mahdi is available in Syriac and Arabic. Alfonso Mingana has brought out an English translation of this dialogue.
Professor P.Y. Saeki stated that the leaven of Nestorianism has penetrated the whole of Chinese literature. This church had great missionaries. They expanded rapidly. Asia was widely covered by the missionaries. They had no fund to support their mission stations financially; there were no mission boards to direct their activities like Western missionaries of those days who followed the colonial Empires. It is time to hear from our long-forgotten past the thrilling story of our missionary enterprise during the early centuries of the Christian era. These Christians did not have great material means nor were they able to engage in planning great missionary strategies, computerized and perfected in world conferences, to win the world in our time. Yet they carried the torch of the Gospel all across the vast Asian continent, at the cost of great personal suffering and often martyrdom, for untold numbers of laymen and clergy alike were led by the Holy Spirit to push the frontiers of the Kingdom of God far and wide.
Wherever they went, it was to preach, to teach and cure. At the end of the eleventh century, this church was the single largest Christian denomination at that time.
Origins of Christianity in India.
According to the scholars there are two views regarding the origin of the Christian Church in India. One of the oldest and strongest traditions in church history is that Thomas the apostle brings the gospel and Christianity to India i.e. the tradition of Apostle Thomas. it is questioned by some scholars. But in general, the writers of Indian Church History agree that it is difficult to disprove the tradition, though it is not altogether possible to support it by historical evidence.
The other view is that Christianity was introduced to India by the East Syrian traders who came to the Malabar Coast during the 3rd or 4th Centuries. There are certain historical references to show that there existed a Christian community in Malabar from early centuries of Christian era and that credit goes to Alphonso Mingana who has brought to light some unknown evidence to prove the early history of this Church. This Church also kept a very close contact and hierarchical communion with the Persian Church.
The first historical reference to the Indian Church may be found in the Chronique de Seert that David (Dudi), Bishop of Basra, Assyria, visited India towards the very end of 3rd century. It is written in the Chronique de Seert “That during the Patriarchate of Shahlupha and Papa, say about A.D. 295-300. Dudi (David) Bishop of Basra on the Persian Gulf, and eminent doctor, left his see and went to India, where he evangelized many people.”
In the Council of Nicea of 325 A.D. one John affixed his signature as “Bishop for the Great India and Persia.” According to Mingana, John may have been a Bishop in a town in North India close to Persia.
There are several stanzas found in the prayers of the memorial day of St. Thomas found in Khudra which are used in the East Syrian Churches. These Passages will be enough to prove that the Churches in East Syria in the early centuries knew of the tradition of St. Thomas preaching to the Indians and converting to the teachings of the Jesus Christ.
A Syriac book called Life of Hermit Yonan was written about 390 A.D. by Sadoe who calls himself priest, monk and Archimandrite of the monastery of St. Thomas in India. In that work we read that Mar Yonan came from Anbar (Baghdad) into India to visit the said monastery.
In a colophon to his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Ishodad writes as follows: “This epistle has been translated from Greek into Syriac by Mar Komai, with the help of Daniel the priest, the Indian.” Mingana calls this ‘important passage’. He thinks that it proves that the Church of India was about A.D. 425.
The first clearer historical reference to the Church in South India is a passage in the Christian Topography of Cosmos Indicopleustes, who travelled widely between 520 and 525 and published his book about 535 A.D. This travelogue provides very useful information on the early history of Christianity in India.
Mingana thinks that Patriarch Isho Yabh II (A.D. 628-43) created a Metropolitan See for India with some six to twelve suffragan bishops.Neither Ibn-at-Tayib, nor Mingana names the city or town of the Metropolitan seat in India. Mingana writes: “They have in this respect rendered us a disservice, which we feel reluctant to forgive and forget. It is only from late Syriac and European sources that we even hear of Malabar as a flourishing center of Christianity in South India.
Among the Malabar sources the Rabban Pattu, and Margam Kali Pattu cannot be ignored. Both these accounts, through of a later origin, represent the local tradition. These accounts may be legends with anachronical details. Still they show the beginning of Church in India by Apostle Thomas as well as the connection with the Catholicos of East.
The colophone of the Syriac Ms. No. 25 of Paris, throws some light on the history of Christianity in India around A.D. 1504. Mingana translates it as follows: ….Let it be known also that in the year 1813 (A.D. 1502), at the beginning of the month of September our common father Mar Simon the Catholicos of the East, left this world of miseries. The bishops assembled near our father Mar John, the illustrious Metropolitan, and ordained Elijah Catholicos and Patriarch to the throne of the East and his father Mar Elijah ordained the following bishops for India: Mar Yabh Alaha, and Mar Thomas as Arch-Bishops, and Mar Dinha and me, the humble Jacob, as bishops….
In this passage there is no difficulty in identifying the religious affiliation of the Patriarch Elijah mentioned in the above document because this is prior to the split of 1552 A.D. There was only one Catholicos Patriarch in the throne of the Church of the East. Moreover the prelate named Elijah mentioned here was elected to the Patriarchate of the East Syrian Church in 1502 A.D. as we find in the list of Patriarchs found in the Syriac Marganeetha.
One thing is clear that the arrival of the Portuguese in India in 1498 A.D. there was a Christian Church in Malabar with bishops occasionally coming from Persia or what was usually referred to as Babylon or Mesopotamia and was Nestorian. Two groups of Bishops are Mar John, Mar Yab Alaha, Mar Thomas, Mar Denha, and Mar Jacob, of these, Mar Jacob ruled Malabar until A.D. 1552.
The Church of the East.
The Church of the East which is known by various other names such as the East Syrian Church, The Babylonian Church, The Seleucian Church, The Edessan Church, The Nestorian Church, The Persian Church and the Chaldean Syrian Church. Regarding its origin we can say that there exists a legendary story of King Abgar recorded by the first ecclesiastical historian Eusebius of Caesarea.
From A.D. 410. the bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon began to take the title of Catholicos, under Mar Isaac. In the Synod of Dadisho in A.D. 424 held at Markabta of the Arab it was decided not to appeal to the Western Fathers. The Canon of the Synod reads as follows: Now, by the word of God, we decree that the Easterns will not be permitted to carry complaints against their Patriarch before the Western Patriarchs; and that very cause that cannot be determined in the presence of their Patriarch shall be left to the judgment of Christ.
Seleucia-Ctesiphon was the residence of the Catholicos because it was the capital of the Sassanids. The Patriarchate was shifted to Baghdad when it became the capital of the Arab rule in the 8th century. From 14th century onwards, the patriarchate was in various places such as Marga, Erbil, and Karamlis. From the end of the 14th century to the end of the 15th century it was in Mosul. Then Djizireh became a temporary residence and subsequently Rabban Hormizd became the residence till the middle of the 16th century.
John Sulaqa and the Split in the Patriarchate.
From 1450 A.D. onwards the office of the Patriarch became hereditary from uncle to nephew. In A.D. 1551 Patriarch Simon VII Bar Mama died. His nephew succeeded him as Simon VIII. A group of bishops who were opposed to the hereditary succession elected John Sulaqa and sent him to Rome to get the support of the Roman Church. Pope Julius III recognized Sulaqa as the Patriarch after his profession of the Roman Catholic faith.
The establishment of the Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate is a complicated history. It was not a definite act of submission on the part of a section of the Church to the Pope in A.D. 1552 and continuously following that tradition ever since. The Patriarch who submitted to the Pope changed their allegiance and loyalty so soon and so many times. Even when they submitted they did not wholeheartedly accept the faith and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.
Consequently the Holy See at Rome in 1681 A.D. made one Bishop Joseph a Patriarch at Diarbekir. Thus at the end of the seventeenth century there are three Patriarchs; the two Nestorians living at Rabban Hormizd and Qudshanis, (at this time the Sulaqa line had reverted to its former status leaving no uniate Patriarch) and Patriarch Joseph, the newly created uniate Partiarch at Diarbakir. But in A.D. 1778 the line of Rabban Hormizd and the line of Diarbekir merged, when John Hormizd, nephew of Patriarch Elias XII of Rabban Hormizd united with Rome. When John Hormizd was appointed as the Patriarch by the Holy See at Rome, they did not appoint any to the See of Diarbekir which they had created in 1681 A.D. Thus once again there were two Patriarchs, one Nestorian and the other Catholic Chaldean.
There is an effort among some scholars to belittle the difference and the independence of the Church of the East prior to the union of some Nestorians with the Roman Catholic Church in the time of Sulaqa. It is true that the East Syrians were geographically, politically, culturally, liturgically and canonically different from the rest of Christendom. Fr. Placid Podipara thinks that the Church of the East remained separate until A.D. 1552, not as a deliberate act of separation and it did not accept the Roman Primacy because it was never presented.
Soon after the split in the Patriarchate, the Nestorian Patriarch Mar Simon sent Abraham to Malabar. Mar Abraham reached his destination sometime in 1556. Mar Abraham was unfortunately converted by the Portuguese, who sent him back to Chaldea in 1558. But Mar Abraham escaped from Portuguese custody at Mozambique and went to his country. He
managed to get an appointment to be the Archbishop of Angamaly from the Catholic Chaldean Patriarch Mar Abdisho successor of Sulaqa after Mar Abraham obtained a recommendation from the Pope. Though Mar Abraham was detained in the Dominican monastery of Goa when he reached there in 1568, he managed to escape from there some time later and governed the St. Thomas Christians until his death in A.D. 1597.
Mar Joseph, brother of Patriarch Sulaqa, consecrated by Sulaqa’s successor Abdisho, reached Goa in A.D. 1556 via Mozambiqe. Mar Elias Metropolitan accompanied Mar Joseph to install Mar Joseph as the Metropolitan of India. Both were sent to the Franciscan Monastery of Bassein and kept there for eighteen months.
Mar Simon the Nestorian bishop to India.
It was the Nestorian Patriarch Elias VII (1576-91 A.D.) who sent Mar Simon the Nestorian bishop to India. Obviously the people loyal to their ancient Nestorian tradition accepted the Nestorian bishop. Unfortunately the Nestorian Bishop was arrested by the Portuguese and sent to Goa and to Lisbon. Then he was sent to Rome. In A.D. 1585 he was declared by the Roman Curia as neither a bishop nor a priest. The people banished him to the Franciscan convent of Lisbon where he died in A.D. 1599. With his death, however, Nestorian connection was not lost. He had appointed an Indian priest called Jacob as his vicar General. There are some indications that both Patriarchs, Catholic Chaldean and the Nestorian, continued to send bishops to India.
Both the Patriarchs were interested to send bishops to India. The Nestorian line to retain their former connection and the new line to establish control over the Indian Church. The Indian Church also was only glad to receive them, perhaps not knowing the split that occurred in East Syria in A.D. 1552. It is quite probable that the bishops themselves kept quiet about their change of allegiance in their dealings. For the Catholic Chaldean group, Papal obedience was only secondary. They were Syrians first and foremost.
As we have noted earlier the Catholic Chaldeans had not completely changed their faith and practices. Although the Catholic Chaldean bishops arrived in Malabar one could infer that the Catholic Chaldean bishops were not keen in teaching their new doctrine in Malabar. It is hard to believe that the bishops themselves changed their faith.
Vasco da Gama and the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1498 Vasco da Gama sailed into the port city of Calicut. At his first landing he limited himself to trade but the second and third the Portuguese brought with them more missionaries and canons to conquer India for Pope. The Portuguese missionaries they soon discovered that the St. Thomas Syrian Christians of India were a different kind of Christians. “They recognized the Nestorian Patriarch, in Persia, not the Pope as the head of the Church. Their liturgical language was Syriac, not Latin. Their priests married; the Roman priests were celibate. The St. Thomas Churches had no images; the Portuguese Catholics considered this to indicate a lack of proper reverence to Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. Attributing all this to ignorance rather than to faithfulness to the traditions of the ancient Church of the East in which the Indian Christians had been raised, the Portuguese rather gently, sometimes rudely to press the Indian Christian communities to conform to Western Catholic custom.”
The Synod of Udayamperur and Archbishop Alexio de Menezes.
The year A.D. 1599 is a decisive year in the history of Christianity in India. There is an old Church at a place called Udayamperur (or Diamper), not far from Cochin. The copper plate on the gateway to the church reads that it was there the Synod was held on 20th June 1599. Archbishop chose Diamper because it was closer to the fort where the Portuguese could exercise influence. It was far from Angamalee where the Indian Archdeacon of the Syrian Christians had his headquarters and influence. Moreover, it was on the boarder of the Cochin state of Maharaja of Cochin who was lenient to the unjust demands of the Archbishop.
The Synod under Alexio de Menezes did all what they could to destroy the Nestorian influence in the Indian Church. Menezes succeeded temporarily and the Indian church came for the time being under the Portuguese influence. It is necessary to look at some of the decrees of this synod to get an idea of the main effort of Archbishop Menezes in regard to the Syrian Christians of Malabar.
The influence and force of Archbishop Menezes did not reach all the country-side. In places far from the garrisons of the Portuguese the Syrian Christians of Malabar showed greater courage to resist. They must have succeeded to some extent as one could infer from the preservation of the Syriac manuscript copied In A.D. 1585 without the corruptions of the Portuguese.
Even those who accepted Diamper in A.D. 1599 did not inwardly become Roman Catholics. Outwardly they were forced to sign the decrees of the Council. It is quite possible that these people who subscribed to it unwillingly must have continued in the “Nestorian errors” inwardly.
The first Catholic Patriarch at the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon comes into history only in A.D. 1552. It is from this time onwards one should use the title Chaldean Patriarch to make the distinction between the Nestorian Patri¬arch and the Catholic Chaldean (or Uniate) Patriarch.
Coonan Cross Oath.
The decisions of the Synod clearly demonstrate that the faith and worship of the Church in A.D. 1599 was clearly Nestorian. The Roman Catholic influence evident in the Church due to the Portuguese activities and the signing of the Roman Catholic profession of faith by some of the Syrian bishops in India during the sixteenth century did not alter the faith and practice of the Syrian Church. When the Syrian Christians heard about the arrival of Ahatallah, they came to meet him at Cochin, where he was believed to be coming by ship.
Whether Ahatallah was drowned or burned the Syrian Christians decided for a revolt when they could not meet their newly arrived Bishop. On Friday, January 23rd, 1653 A.D. the Syrian Christians swore, holding the rope on the Coonen Cross (bent or crooked cross) that they and their descendents would never submit to the Pope. To make their liberation complete, they met and held a ‘synod’ at a place called Alangad near Angamalee on 22nd May 1653. Twelve priests ‘consecrated’ their leader Archdeacon Thomas by the imposition of their hands and proclaimed him as their Metropolitan by the name Mar Thomas I. Though there was no precedence for such an action in India, the Syrian Christians did it under adverse circumst¬ances prevalent at that time.
This act also can be interpreted as the act of liberation of the Syrian Catholics from the Latin domination as some Syrian Catholic writers do, although the more generally accepted view is that it was the liberation of the Nestorians who were the earlier Christians, from the yoke of the Portuguese as well as the Roman Catholic faith. James Hough, a Protestant historian, who had made a detailed study of the Syrian Christians.
Arrival of Gregorius of Jerusalem in A.D. l665.
Taking advantage of the decline of the Portuguese power in Kerala, a Metropolitan named Mar Gregorius of Jerusalem arrived in Malabar in A.D. 1665. There is no dispute about his religious affiliation. He was a Jacobite! It puzzles the students of Indian Church history that the Nestorians could accept a Jacobite bishop ignoring the theological difference of these two groups. C.B. Firth makes the following observation regarding this strange acceptance of Mar Gregorius: “It seems at any rate to be true that the Syrians of Malabar were not theologically minded, and that the main object of the dissidents at this period of their history was to get a bishop who was not Roman.”
The Syriac Ms of Kashkol written in A.D. 1585 and preserved without correction at Kothamangalam which is now kept in the Trichur Church, will indicate the existence of such independent groups free from Roman interference. In 1796, there were no Nestorian bishops in Kerala; still several Christians with the Nestorian spirit were there. That must be the descendants of the 30 thousand rebels of A.D. 1599 who probably lived in hills, perhaps Kothamangalam, Palai etc. John Stewart refers to the event of Coonan Cross: ‘Practically all historians on this subject agree in stating that the Coonan Cross secessionists reverted to Nestorianism but nothing is said as to whether the thirty two churches remaining steadfast united with the descendants of the 30 thousand who refused to accept the decrees of the Synod of Diamper or not.’
Edward Gibbon does not agree with the view that Nestorianism died out with the Synod of Diamper. He records: “Since the expulsion of the Portuguese, the Nestorian creed is freely professed on the coast of Malabar.” It is also note¬worthy that the author uses the present tense, which is a testimony to the existence of the Nestorian Church in India at the time of Gibbon. These could be Catholic Chaldean Syrian Churches with the Nestorian spirit.
The East Syrian Bishop, who came to Malabar after the Synod of Diamper, was Mar Simon who reached India in A.D. 1701. He is believed to be a Nestorian. On the basis of unpublished documents in Rome Cardinal Tisserant and Placid Podipara state that Simon was a Chaldean bishop sent to Malabar to work for re-union of the Jacobites with Rome. Whether Nestorian or Chaldean, Simon consecrated one Angelus Francis as Bishop on May 22, 1701.
Mar Gabriel, an East Syrian bishop.
Mar Gabriel, an East Syrian bishop, came in A.D. 1709 to rule the Syrian Christians and by about A.D. 1715 he ruled over 22 churches. He was considered by the Propaganda as a schismatic. As in previous cases his allegiance is also disputed. Mar Gabriel is described as a Nestorian bishop by the Jacobite historian E.M. Philip and the Protestant James Hough. But some Syro-Malabar scholars argue that he was not a Nestorian, but a Chaldean subject to the Pope. Adrian Fortesoue, a Roman Catholic English historian, admits that Mar Gabriel was a Nestorian.
In A.D. 1747 another Nestorian bishop Mar Johanes, crossed over in a Dutch ship from Basra in order to perform the ceremony of consecration of the Indian bishop Mar Thoma 1V, who was a Jacobite. It is said that he stole the silver vessels from the churches, stormed and thundered against the images of Christ and against crosses and therefore was sent away from India without ordaining Mar Thoma. It is evident that in the beginning of the 18th century the non-Catholic Syrians did not break with the Nestorians definitely. The Nestorian bishops were received by the Syrians in general, whether Jacobite, Catholic or Nestorian.
In the second half of the eighteenth century there was not a single Nestorian bishop in Malabar to give leadership for the Syrian Christians. Hence Nestorian influence might have diminished substantially. Moreover, these Syrian Christians were insignificant compared to the powerful Catholic Church organised with the support from the West.
Sakthan Thampuran’s settlement of 52 Christian families in A.D. 1796.
In A.D. 1796 Sakthan Thampuran decided to build a commercial town for the development of trade and commerce in his small kingdom of Cochin, which already enjoyed the advantage of a big port in Cochin, which carried on international trade. The farsighted king, therefore, selected 52 Christian families and started a settlement in the teak forests of Trichur and called it Puthenpetta meaning new town.
At the dawn of the eighteenth century there were these 52 Christian families settled down in Puthenpetta area in the old town of Trichur. But there was no mention of a church for these Christian businessmen to worship. For the few years follow¬ing their new settlement they might have continued to worship in their original churches which must have been within a radius of ten or twenty miles. Or, they might have been busy with building new homes for themselves and establishing business.
Construction of Valiapally.
There are two accounts regarding the construction of this church known as Valiapally (Big Church) and dedicated to Virgin Mary. Formerly it was known as the church of our Lady of Dolours or Vyakula Mathavin Palli in Malayalam. Now it is known as Marth Mariyam Church or Valiapally (Big Church).
The first of the two accounts is based on a theetooram found in the archives of the Valiapally. This is written on palm leaves in ancient Malayalam script known as vattezhuthu. This document has been proved genuine in the court case of 1889 A.D. The document reads in Malayalam as follows: The English translation of the same is as follows: “Theetooram issued to Palayail Abraham Kathanar Archdeacon of our Syro-Chaldeans. Whereas 52 houses have been built in Trichur and the local¬ity has been named Puthenpettah with our sanction and whereas a church has been constructed at the site sanctioned by us for the performance of their rituals and services, and whereas they have come to us and prayed that you be commanded to proceed to the place and initiate the performance of the rituals and services on 4th Meenom, the day fixed therefore, and have them performed thereafter also, and we do hereby command you to go to the said place and have rituals and services performed in accordance with Syro-Chaldean rite on the 4th Meenom and thereafter. Issued from our Royal Residence at Kanayannur, Kumbhom 990, written by Pavathil Kunju.”
It was after the dismissal of this Abraham Kathanar, Sankurikal George was elected as the head out of the four names submitted to the Ecclesiastical Governor Ribamar by Vicar Apostolic Luis Mariam (Sankurikal George, Thottukat Yaco Kuriad Kathanar, Thachil Abraham Ittyra Malpan, brother of Mathoo Tharakan and Plamthottathu Thoma Malpan) in an assembly of all priests and chief laymen at the Alleppey church.
Mar Thoma Rocos first Metropolitan to the Church in Trichur.
Mar Thoma Rocos, the first Metropolitan to serve the Church in Trichur, arrived in India on May 9th 1861. He was consecrated by the Catholic Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, Mar Joseph Audo VI, of Mosul. Although Thomas Rocos stayed in Trichur only about one year A.D. 1861, he has undoubtedly left his impact on the Trichur Church. According to the tradition he was welcomed with great enthusiasm in the Church in Trichur as well as in the neighbouring Churches. He brought with him a MS of Syriac book called Khudra written in A.D. 1588. He presented that valuable manuscript of more than a thousand pages to the Trichur Church, where it is now preserved. This book was produced later as evidence in a court case to establish the faith and worship of this Church at that time.
Mar Thomas Rocos came to India along with priest Anthony Thondanatt who earlier accompanied Denha Beriona to the Middle East. Since Thondanatt had no money with him for the travel expense he made an agreement with the captain of a ship proceeding to Cochin from Basrah that he would pay for him and his companion Thomas Rocos as soon as they reach Cochin. Fortunately when they arrived at Cochin, the parishioners of Kuruvalengat came and presented a gift to the new Metropolitan, which was sufficient to pay the travelling expenses.
Patriarch Mar Joseph Audo VI had sent Mar Elia Mellus in 1874 and Mar Jacob Abraham in 1875 after Mar Thomas Rocos. “When Elia Mellus left India in 1882 A.D. he entrusted his administration to Michael Augustine Cor-Episcopa whom Mellus had brought to India. Mellus also brought Mar Abdisho Metropolitan from Bharananganam, near Palai to Trichur.”
Mar Abdisho Thondanatta Metropolitan.
Nestorian Patriarch of Qudshanis addressed a letter to the members of the Church in Malabar written in A.D. 1862. According to this letter he consecrated Thondanatta as Mar Abdisho as per the request of the congreg-ation in Malabar to get a Metropolitan for them. When Mar Abdisho Thondanatt returned by the end of A.D. 1863 after receiving consecration from the Nestorian Patriarch Mar Ruwel Shimun he was faced with opposition in Malabar from the Roman Catholics. Deserted even by his followers he passed through difficult days. Mar Kurillose, the Jacobite Metropolitan, helped him for some time. Later he returned to his residence in Plassanal.
When Elia Mellus left India that time Mar Abdisho was fighting a civil suit against the Roman Catholics for the possession of the Elamthottam Church. When he lost that civil suit, he was forced to move to Trichur and died in A.D. 1900. He was buried in Mart Mariam Valiappally and later moved to the southern side chapel.
Mar Abimalek Timotheus.
Mar Abimalek Timotheus Metropolitan arrived in Thrissur in February1908. The members of the church expressed their great joy in his arrival but later he had to face a lot of court cases. In 1911 Michael cor-episcopa filed a suit against Mar Timotheus. After fourteen years of fight Mar Timotheus won the case in 1925 and constructed Churches and started one printing press in the name of Mar Narsai and lead the Church to progress till 1945. “He died on Monday after Palm Sunday on 30th April 1945”.
Mar Thoma Dharmo Metropolitan and the split in the Church.
Seven years after the death of Mar Timotheus Metropolitan in 1952 Mar Thoma Dharmo Metropolitan came to Trichur. He built many Churches and in his time many achievements were made. During his period one seminary was started, he ordained many clergy and sent some of them for theological studies, printed the prayer book known as Hudra in Syriac language in three volumes. At the time of Mar Thoma Dharmo H.H. Mar Eshai Shimun Patriarch visited India in 1961 to attend the WCC Meeting. This visit is considered as the first Patriarchal visit to India. There was difference of opinions between Patriarch and Metropolitan and led into the suspension of the metropolitan in 1964. The same year the Patriarch issued a universal order to adopt the Gregorian calendar. All these reasons caused the division in the universal Church of the East. Mar Thoma Dharmo Metropolitan went to Iraq in 1968 and the Govt. supported him to control the church. The Old calendar group became known as Ancient Church of the East. Mar Thoma Dharmo Metropolitan died on 7th September 1969. Mar Addai became the Patriarch of the Old calendar group in February 1972.
Indian Priests Consecrated as the leaders of the Indian Church.
In 1968 Mar Thoma Dharmo Metropolitan consecrated two Indian priests in Baghdad, Mar Poulose Episcopa and Mar Aprem Metropolitan. In 1971 Mar Eshai Shimun Patriarch consecrated Mar Timotheus Metropolitan. There was much litigation in between the two groups till 1995. Mar Eshai Shimun Patriarch was shot dead in 1975 and in 1976 the new calendar group consecrated Mar Khanania Dinkha as the Patriarch of the Church.
In 1991 H.H. Mar Dinkha IV, the Catholicos Patriarch, visited Kerala and negotiations were made for the unity but only in 1995 November it became fruitful. Two groups of the Indian church became one. In 1998 Bishop Poulose Mar Poulose passed away and in 2001 Mar Timotheus Metropolitan too. Now Mar Aprem Metropolitan is guiding the Indian Church.
Year 2010 is blessed and memorable year for the Indian Church because in this year the supreme body of the Church of the East ‘The Holy Synod’ convened here in India the first time and consecrated two priests as bishops Mar Yohannan Yoseph and Mar Awgin Kuriakose.
Now we have a congregation in UAE from 2005 onwards. We have more than 300 members (Assyrians and Indians) living in UAE. Really we need a place for worship every week. Now this congregation is under the Indian Arch Diocese.