Syro Malabar Church

The designation 'Syro-Malabar', created by Rome, has been used consistently only from the end of the nineteenth century. It derives from the original liturgical tradition of this Church, that is, the East Syrian; while 'Malabar' (probably of Arabic derivation) is the name that came to be applied to its original territory, the western coast of South India, properly called Kerala. Today, there is a movement to restore the Church's original name, 'Saint Thomas Christians'. In Kerala, a territory approximately 50 miles wide and 250 miles long, the overwhelming majority of Christians are Syro-Malabars. In India as a whole, where only slightly more than 1 per cent of the population is Catholic, Syro-Malabars make up approximately a third of that number.

History A firmly entrenched tradition has the apostle Thomas founding a Church on the south-west coast of India. A group of East Syrian (Chaldean) Christians from Persia, led by a certain Thomas of Cana, are said to have arrived in Kerala in the fourth century, followed by another group of East Syrians in the ninth. This explains the provenance of the Church's liturgy, as well as the fact that until a century after the arrival of the Portuguese in 1498, the metropolitan of the Church was always appointed by the Assyrian (Chaldean) patriarch, and was inevitably a foreigner. Effective governance of the Church, however, lay in the hands of an archdeacon - always a local, who knew Syriac - along with the yogam, a representative body of clergy and laity from the entire

Church. The Portuguese takeover of the Church began slowly with the founding of a Latin-Rite seminary around 1550. By 1597, when the Assyrian-appointed metropolitan died, a new appointment was blocked and two years later the Thomas Christians were summoned to a synod at Diamper. This initiated the destruction of virtually all of their written monuments, which were believed by the Portuguese to be tainted with Nestorianism. An ethnically foreign, Roman-Rite hierarchy was imposed until 1896, when Rome allowed three Indians to exercise episcopal authority, although regular Syro-Malabar dioceses were not created until 1923. This legacy has caused the Syro-Malabars to be the most Latinized of the Eastern Churches. In 1992, John Paul II raised the Church to major archepiscopal status. Until then, Syro-Malabars had two metro-politanates without a primatial centre.

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