Chaldean Syrian Church

This article is about Assyrian Church of the East in India known as Chaldean Syrian Church. For Chaldean Church in the Middle East, an Oriental Catholic church in communion with Rome, see Chaldean Catholic Church.
Assyrian Church of the East (of India)
Founder St. Thomas the Apostle, according to its tradition
Independence Apostolic Era
Recognition Church of the East
Primate Metropolitan, Mar Aprem Mooken (under the authority of Gewargis III Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East)
Headquarters Thrissur, Kerala, India
Territory India
Language Malayalam, English, Hindi, Syriac
Members  India 25,000
Part of a series on
Saint Thomas 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 · Saint Alphonsa · Sadhu Kochoonju Upadesi · Kariattil Mar Ousep · Geevarghese Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril · Gheevarghese Mar Gregorios of Parumala · Ignatius Elias III · Geevarghese Mar Ivanios · Saint Alphonsa · Yeldho Mar Baselios · Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly · Euphrasia Eluvathingal · Thoma of Villarvattom · Gregorios Abdal Jaleel

Margamkali · Parichamuttukali · Cuisine · Suriyani Malayalam

Saint Thomas Christian's - Divisions- History
Marth Mariam Valiyapalli, Thrissur
Inside view of Thrissur Marth Mariam Cathedral
Pushpam @ Marth Mariam Big Church Thrissur

The Chaldean Syrian Church is an Indian Christian church which is currently an archbishopric of the Assyrian Church of the East. Its members are a part of the St. Thomas Christian community, who trace their origins to the evangelical activities of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century. They are almost exclusively based in the state of Kerala, with the church's cathedral located in Thrissur. Despite carrying the "Chaldean" title in its name, the church is unrelated to the Chaldean Catholic Church of the Middle East, an Eastern Catholic church in communion with the Pope.

The Chaldean Syrian church is the modern day continuation of the East Syrian Rite Assyrian Church of the East in India, after the majority of its followers were converted to Catholicism or West Syrian Rite Churches. The Church of the East controlled the entire area up until 1599, when the Autonomous East Syrian Indian Church was subjugated by the Portuguese and forced to follow Catholic doctrines due to the Synod of Diamper, in addition to the destruction of all their existing holy books and getting cut off from the Assyrian Church of the East. However, when a new patriarch was elected a few decades later named Mar Thoma I, the Coonan Cross Oath of 1653 was made stating that the Church of India would break off from the Catholic Church. This was largely because a request for reunification with the Church of the East in the Middle East was declined, resulting in a bishop who was to reunite the churches named Ahatallah being tortured and killed by the Portuguese in 1652. As a result, Thoma formed his own independent church and waited for a bishop from the Assyrian Church of the East to come and officially reunite them. However, unbeknownst to him, a Syriac Bishop came, and because he unknowingly thought he was an Assyrian Bishop, ended up allowing the Syriac Bishop to unite the Indian Church with the west Syrian Rite Syriac Orthodox Church, forming the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. Soon after, Many members of that church joined a Portuguese sponsored Church known as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church that implemented reforms in an effort to make them return. However, some of the members of Mar Thomas Church knew the Syriac Bishop was not of the East Syrian rite, and waited for a Bishop to come from the Assyrian Church of the East. When Mar Gabriel, The Assyrian bishop finally arrived in 1701 the Chaldean Syrian Church was established, and broke off from the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church which they joined temporarily.[1][2] Later, in the 1890s, the Syro Malabar Catholic Church had reforms which restored various Assyrian practices destroyed after the Synod of Diamaper, restoring the Syro Malabar Catholic Church to an East Syrian rite Oriental Catholic church, Similar to the Chaldean Catholic Church.

Today, the Chaldean Syrian Church is one of four archbishoporics in the Assyrian Church of the East, and has about 15,000 members in and around Thrissur. Its cathedral is the Marth Mariam Cathedral, the first Christian church in Thrissur. The members of this Church are known as Nazaranis or Marthoma Suriyani Nazarani.


Early History

St. Thomas Christians trace their origin to Thomas the Apostle, who is believed to have evangelized in India in the 1st century. By the 3rd century India's Christian community was part of the Church of the East, led by the Patriarch of the East in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, Persia. In the 7th century India was designated as its own ecclesiastical province, and functioned as such until the Portuguese entrance into the region in the 1500s.

Portuguese era and the schism of 1653

In 1599 the Portuguese arrived in India and used intimidation to force the St. Thomas Christian community into becoming an Eastern Catholic Church under the jurisdiction of the Archbishopric of Goa, and as a result their Church was Latinized, their Holy books were burned, and their connection to the Church of the East in Mesopotamia was severed in what is known as the Synod of Diamper. The Portuguese set up their headquarters in Goa early in the 16th century and extended their domain to Kerala. The , backed by the Portuguese, claimed jurisdiction over the Syrian Christians of Malabar. The East Syrian liturgy and the Mesopotamian connection of the St. Thomas Christians lead open them to a suspicion of Nestorianism ; And Archbishop Menezes of Goa, who arrived in Kerala in December 1598 was determined to bring them into the Latin way of worship.

However, The coercive actions of the Portuguese padroado system ultimately caused a faction in the community to follow Archdeacon Mar Thoma I in a rebellion against the Portuguese in 1653 which they called the Coonan Cross Oath, in which they stated they would refuse to obey the Jesuites.[3] The faction that followed Thomas were known as the Malankara Church, and However, as a response to this Rome sent a different group known as Carmelites in two groups from the "Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples" to Malabar headed by Friar Sebastiani and Friar Hyacinth. The Friars first arrived in 1655, and began to deal directly with the Archdeacon, Mar Thoma I. Although he was unable to sway the Archdeacon, Fr. Sebastiani gained the support of many, including Parambil Mar Chandy, Alexandar Kadavil and the Vicar of Muttam, the three councilors of Mar Thoma I.[3]

As a result of this, Between 1661 and 1662, out of the 116 churches, the Catholic Carmelites reclaimed eighty-four churches, leaving Mar Thoma I with thirty-two churches. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syro Malabar Catholic Church has descended, while The other thirty-two churches and their congregations represented the nucleus of the Malankara Syrian Church,[4] which was eventually turned into a West Syrian rite church in around AD 1665 when 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, mistaking him for a East Syrian Rite Bishop sent by the Church of the East.[5] Though most of the St. Thomas Christians gradually relented in their strong opposition to the Western control, the arrival of the Bishop Mar Gregorios 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 Gregorios became known as Jacobites, while The Syrian Catholics remained in communion with Rome and later in the 19th century came to be known as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.[5] The Chaldean Syrian Church originates form the faction which stayed with the Catholic Church.

History post Schism

The Chaldean Syrian Church's current Metropolitan, Mar Aprem Mooken, has argued that the church represents a direct continuation of the Ancient Church of the East hierarchy in India.[6] However, Mathias Mundadan sets the church's origin within the 19th century autonomy movement within the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.[7] For over two hundred years the Syro-Malabar Catholics were under the authority of the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa.[8] This arrangement led to resentment from some members, who wanted more autonomy for their local church, resulting in a formidable and sustaining autonomy movement. In the 19th century this movement's leaders made repeated pleas to both the Pope and the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic church in communion with the Pope) for their own bishop and liturgy.[9]

In response these pleas, the Chaldean Patriarch Joseph Audo sent a request to Pope Pius IX for the Syro-Malabar Catholics to be placed under his authority. Without waiting for a reply, he dispatched Elias Mellus, Bishop of 'Aqra, to India in 1874. Mellus had substantial success convincing Syro-Malabar Catholics in Thrissur District(from Chalakudy to Palayur(Chavakkad)) and some churches in Kottayam District to recognize him as their bishop. Although the churches and God's People were called by the name Syro-Malabar( also known as Chaldean Syrians at that time) churches and nation, the actual situation is that from Irinjalakuda to northwards and south of Bharathapuzha River and some churches in Meenachil taluk,the Syro-Malabarians( also known as Chaldean Syrians at that time) were half Catholic-half Nestorian with East Syrian liturgy. Nevertheless, By 1877 24,000 followers had joined his group, based in Our Lady of Dolours Church (now Marth Mariam Cathedral) in the parish of Thrissur . In response the Pope dispatched Latin Catholic leaders to remove Mellus from the country, and sent him back to Mesopotamia in 1882. By then, however, he had established the infrastructure for an independent church, which was named the Chaldean Syrian Church.[10]

The majority of Mellus' followers returned to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, and the ancient Palayur church was returned to the Catholic Church after the Death of the Chaldean Syrian Patriarch Mar Mikhail Augusthinos in 1911. However, About 8,000 followers maintained their demand for autonomy, and took their requests for an independent bishop to non-Catholic churches. In 1904 they made one such request to the Archbishop of Canterbury to get an East Syrian Bishop sent, but were declined. They subsequently made an equivalent request to Shimun XXI Benyamin, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East in Qochanis who consented, dispatching Bishop Abimelek to serve as their metropolitan bishop. Mar Abimalek Thomotheus soon revived East Syrian practices and reintroduced Nestorianism to the Thrissur church. These reforms caused even more followers to break away and rejoin the Catholic Church, but through the reforms the original Assyrian-oriented Church of India was revived as it was prior to the Synod of Diamper in 1599.[11]

In 1964, during the reign of Assyrian Patriarch Shimun XXIII Eshai, a dispute over hereditary succession and church calendars caused the Metropolitan of the Church of the East in India to break away from the Assyrian Church of the East joining itself with the Ancient Church of the East. However, in 1995, Eshai's successor, Mar Dinkha IV was able to heal the rift, and the Chaldean Syrian Church returned to his jurisdiction.

The Chaldean Syrian Church in India now constitutes one of the four Archbishoprics of the Assyrian Church of the East. Its followers number around 15,000.[11] The present Metropolitan, Mar Aprem Mooken (ordained in 1968), is headquartered in Thrissur City and is a noted author. His seat is the Marth Mariam Valiyapalli 10°31′6″N 76°13′2″E / 10.51833°N 76.21722°E / 10.51833; 76.21722. The Chaldean Syrian Higher Secondary School is also affiliated with the church.

St Thomas Christian denominations


  2. Vadakkekara, pp. 101–103.
  3. 1 2 Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, "Eastern Christianity in India"
  4. Catholic Encyclopedia profile of "St. Thomas Christians" - The Carmelite Period
  5. 1 2 Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India”
  6. Mar Aprem, The Assyrian Church of the East in the Twentieth Century (Kottayam: SEERI, 2003), pp. 49-51, 65 & 70.
  7. Mathias Mundadan, "19th Century 'Autonomy' Movement Among Syrian Catholics," Indian Church History Review 8 (1974), pp.111-130. Vadakkekara, note to pp. 101–102
  8. Vadakkekara, p. 101.
  9. Vadakkekara, pp. 101–102
  10. Vadakkekara, p. 102
  11. 1 2 Vadakkekara, p. 103


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