A brief history of The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church was founded by St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, who came to India in A.D. 52. The Supreme Head of the Church and the present Catholicos is H.H. Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II. H.H:s residence and the Head-quarters of the Church is in Kottayam in the Kerala State of the South-West India. The Church as a whole is divided into 30 ecclesial units called dioceses and each diocese is served by a bishop, administratively and spiritually.
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
At least from the fourth century, the Indian Church entered into a close relationship with the Persian or East Syrian Church. From the Persians, the Indians inherited The East Syrian language and liturgies, and gradually came to be known as Syrian Christians. In the sixteenth century Roman Catholic missionaries came to Kerala. They tried to unite the Syrian Christians to the Roman Catholic Church and this led to a split in the community. Those who accepted Roman Catholicism are the present Syro-Malabar Catholics. Later, Western Protestant missionaries came to Kerala and worked among The Syrian Christians. This also created certain divisions in the community. In the seventeenth century, the Church came in to relationship with the Antiochene Church, which again caused splits. As a result of this relationship, the Church received West Syrian liturgies and practices. The Church entered into a new phase of its history by the establishment of the Catholicate in 1912.
At present, the Church is using the West Syrian liturgy. The faith of the Church is that which was established by the three Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381) and Ephesus (A.D. 431).
The Church is in communion with the other Oriental Orthodox Churches namely, Syriac, Alexandrian, Armenian, Eritrean and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches. The Church is in good ecumenical relationship with the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.
The Constitution of the Malankara Orthodox Church
The church had no written constitution until 1934, but was governed by consensus, traditions and precedence. It was the vision of Mor Dionysius, Vattasseril to have a clearly defined uniform constitution to govern the church administration. He initiated action in this regard and appointed a sub-committee with O. M. Cherian as convener to submit a draft constitution. The committee members had discussed the fundamental issues with the Metropolitan in several rounds. However it was not finalized and passed (materialized) in his life time.
After his demise, the constitution was presented in the Malankara Christian Association meeting of Dec 26, 1934, held at M. D. Seminary. It was adopted and brought to force. Three times the constitution was amended to meet specific situations and needs. It only shows that the church is alive to meet the challenges that arise from time to time. The validity of the constitution was challenged by the Patriarch party in the Court, but the Supreme Court has given its final verdict declaring the validity of the Constitution. Every member of the Church is bound by the rules and regulations laid down in the Constitution.The Constitution upholds the autonomy and autocephaly of the Malankara Orthodox Church. It is Episcopal in its (polity) and not congregational. At the same time it upholds democratic principle by safeguarding the rights and privileges of the lay people. It was framed at a time when the Patriarch of Antioch was held in high esteem and hence his limited role is included.The constitution enshrines the fundamental features of the Church, provides direction for its internal administration and preserves its integrity and autonomy. The essential features of the Church are provided in the preamble. The first article emphasizes the bond of relationship between the Church of Syria and Malankara. The second article deals with the foundation of the Malankara Church by St. Thomas and the primacy of the Catholicos. The third article refers to the name of the church and the fourth about the faith, traditions etc., and the fifth about the canons governing the administration of the Church.The whole constitution conceives the Malankara Church as self –sufficient in all her requirements, be it temporal, ecclesiastical or spiritual in nature and upholds that the Malankara Orthodox church is rightly autocephalous in character.
The Canon Law of the Malankara Orthodox Church
The Canon Law accepted and followed by the Orthodox church of Malankara was collected and codified by Mar Gregorios Bar Hebraeus, Catholicos of Edessa (AD. 1226-1286) in the thirteenth century. He was a versatile genius who wrote about thirty books on a variety of subjects. He was a great scholar in church History and Canon Law of the Church. Having carefully and judiciously scrutinized the verdicts of the Church Fathers and the decrees of the provincial and ecumenical councils he collected them, edited and classified under different heads. The original work in Syriac contains forty chapters and is called by the name ‘hoodoyo canon’. The word ‘hoodoyo’ means “explanations”.
The original syriac manuscript was edited and printed in Paris in 1898 by Paul Bedjan. The Pampakuda Konat Library possesses a copy of this ancient canon which in every detail agrees with the Paris publication.
The Patriarch party in Malankara maintains a varied version of this Canon which was prepared here to give more power and claims to the Patriarch of Antioch. The original Syriac canon contains forty chapters of which the first ten chapters have been translated into Malayalam by the late lamented Malpan Fr. Abraham Konat. In his editorial note it is mentioned that the remaining thirty chapters contain subjects that are irrelevant for the Malankara Church, but connected with the Middle East society of that period. The author of the ‘Hoodoyo canon’ has simply presented the verdict of different church fathers and early councils, but he does not make any positive and conclusive pronouncements.
Certainly the Canon needs revision and updating to meet the challenges and needs of the Malankara Church in the modern times. The Church leaders who framed the constitution of the Malankara Orthodox Church have used this Canon as a basis.
The ten chapters contain matters related to church politics, sacraments, feasts and fasts, burial rites etc.
The Holy Episcopal Synod
The Episcopal Synod with the Catholicos as its president is the apex body of all bishops. The authority of the synod is final and binding. It has exclusive rights and privileges in the matter of upholding the faith of the church, its discipline and order of Apostolic Succession. As regards temporal matters the church is guided by the Malankara Syrian Christian Association.
The bishops lead the diocese assigned to them by the synod. Presently there are 27 bishops including H.H, The Catholicos .
Section 102 to 109 0f The constitution of Malankara Orthodox church deals about the Episcopal Synod .It is as follows 102. There shall be an Episcopal Synod in Malankara. 103. All Prelates in Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church who have been duly approved as per the constitution shall be members of this Synod. 104. The Catholicos shall be the President of the Synod. 105. The Catholicos shall convene the Synod and preside over the Synod 106. When there is do Catholicos or if there is any accusation against the Catholicos and the Catholicos does not convene the Synod for considering such accusation, the Senior Metropolitan shall convene the Synod and preside over the Synod.
107.The Episcopal Synod shall have the authority to decide matters concerning faith,_ order and discipline. When the Synod shall meet for this purpose the Synod ma' select such persons as the Synod may deem needed for consultation.
108. No one shall have the right to alter-the faith of the Church. But in case there, may arise any dispute as to what is faith, the Episcopal synod above said may decide the matter and the final decision about this shall vest with the Ecumenical Synod. 109. The Episcopal Synod may in consultation with the Association. Managing committee appoint subcommittees for the purpose of Theological Education, Mission Work, Sunday school and similar matters.
Catholicose & Malankara Metropolitan
H.H. Baselius Mar Thoma Paulose I
- H.G. Zachariah Mar Nicholovos (North East America)
- H.G. Dr. Thomas Mar Athanasius (Kandanad East)
- H.G. Yuhanon Mor Meletius (Thrissur).
- H.G. Kuriakose Mar Clemis (Thumpamon)
- H.G. Zachariah Mar Anthonios (Kollam)
- H.G. Dr. Mathews Mar Severius (Kandanad West) Secretary of the H.Episcopal Synod
- H.G. His Grace Dr. Yuhanon Mar Dimitrios (Delhi)
- H.G. Geevarghese Mar Coorilos (Mumbai)
- H.G. Dr. Yakoob Mar Irenius (Kochi)
- H.G. Dr. Gabriel Mar Gregorios (Tiruvananthapuram)
- H.G. Dr. Zachariah Mar Theophilus (Malabar)
- H.G. Yakoob Mar Elias Metropolitan ( Brahmavar)
- H.G. Yuhanon Mar Theodorus Metropolitan ( Kottarakkara –Punalur )
- H.G. Dr. Yuhanon Mar Chrisostomos (Niranam)
- H.G. Yuhanon Mar Polycarpos (Ankamali)
- H.G. Mathews Mar Theodosius (Idukki)
- H.G. Joseph Mar Dionysius (Calcutta)
- H.G. Abraham Mar Epiphanios (Sulthan Battery)
- H.G. Dr. Mathews Mar Timotheos (UK-Europe-Africa)
- H.G. Alexios Mar Eusebius (South-West America)
- H.G. Dr. Yuhanon Mar Dioscorus ( Chennai )
- H.G. Dr. Geevarghese Mar Yulios (Ahmedabad )
- H.G. Dr. Abraham Mar Seraphim ( Bangalore)
- H.G. Dr. Joshua Mar Nicodimos (Nilackal Diocese)
- H.G. Dr. Zacharias Mar Aprem Metropolitan ( Adoor –Kadampanadu)
- H.G. Dr. Youhanon Mar Dioscoros (Chennai)
It was in the Mulamthuruthy synod summoned by the patriarch peter III in 1876 that resolved to have an elected body called the Malankara Syria Christian Association to manage and control all the religions and social concerns of the whole church.
The constitution has clearly defined the composition and representation of the association. In article 71: a priest two laymen elected by each parish general body and the members of the existing managing committee shall be members of the association. This was later amended in time with Supreme Court directive. Now the representation of the lay people is based on the number of parishioner The Malankara metropolitan is the president and the bishops having administrative charge of Diocese shall be vice-presidents of the association. The association is the body that elects the members of the managing committee, bishops and the Catholicos Malankara metropolitan.
THE MANAGING COMMITTEE
In the Mulamthuruthy synod which formulated the Malankara association had laid down the provision for the managing committee, a smaller body to look into the financial and other administrative matters. The members are elected by the association, two priests and four lay people representing each Diocese are elected for a period of five years. Other than the elected members, a proportionate number of members are nominated to the Managing Committee by the Malankara Metropolitan. The members of the Working Committee are also members of the Managing Committee.
THE WORKING COMMITTEE
It is a small body of members nominated by the Malankara Metropolitan. This body prepares the agenda for the Managing Committee and helps the Malankara Metropolitan in his administrative functions. The same body is also known as the Advisory Council.
THE DIOCESAN GENERAL BODY
Every diocese will have a Diocesan Assembly. The Diocesan bishop presides over the meetings. All matters related to the Diocese is discussed and decided in the General body assembly including the budget and accounts. If necessary the Malankara Metropolitan can also convene the diocesan General body. The representation of the lay people is based on the number of parishioners. The term of members will be five years.
THE PARISH MANAGING COMMITTEE
The members of the Parish Managing Committee excluding the priests will be elected by the Parish Assembly and their term of office will be one year. Every Parish Managing Committee will have a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 15 members excluding the Priests. The Parish Assembly will decide the required number of members with in these limits. In the event of any vacancy arising in the Parish Managing Committee, the remaining members of the committee may fill up such vacancy by co-option from the members of the Parish Assembly. If in any circumstances special to any Parish, it is found necessary to extend the term of the Parish Managing Committee, the Parish Assembly may with the special permission of the Diocesan Metropolitan extend the term of office of that Parish Managing Committee to a period for three years.
THE PARISH GENERAL BODY
Every parish is within the frame work of the church constitution. It is neither outside the umbrella of the constitution nor an independent entity.
Each Parish has a general body. The membership is confined to all male and female members above the age of 21 and who have made their annual confession and communion, and who are not defaulters in the parish dues for more than six months. All matters related to the parish are discussed and decided by this body. This general body elects the ‘church managing committee’, ‘the secretary’, and the ‘lay trustee’. The parish managing committee, the trustee and the secretary are elected every year.