Syro-Malabar Church

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Syro-Malabar Church
Latin Ecclesia Syrorum Malabarensium ,
Syriac ܥܹܕܬܵܐ ܕܡܲܠܲܒܵܪ ܣܘܼܪܝܵܝܵܐ Edtha d'Malabar Suryaya
Malayalam സിറോ മലബാർ സഭ Siṟēā Malabār Sabha
Basic data
Jurisdiction status Grand Archbishop Church
rite East Syrian rite
Liturgical language Malayalam
calendar Gregorian calendar
Establishment date 1st century (united since 1599)
Seat Grand Archbishopric of Ernakulam-Angamaly ( Kochi )
Hierarch Grand Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly Mar George Alencherry
Jurisdictions 33
Believers 4,250,000
Bishops 54
Parishes 2943
Diocesan priest 4318
Religious priest 3628
Permanent deacons 0
Friars 5659
Religious sisters 33,363
Status: 2017
Template: Infobox rite church / maintenance / picture is missing
Syriac Orthodox Kurishu or Nasrani Menorah Cross of the Knananites

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (also Syro-Malabar Catholic Church ) is an Eastern Church in India united with Rome . It is attributable to the Thomas Christians and embodies their ancestral church.


Syro-Malabar Church in Mannam
Residence of the Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church in Changanassery ( Kerala )

The naming is modern and should:

  1. name the [main] distribution area (see Malabar ),
  2. clarify the historical affiliation to Christianity of the Syrian tradition,
  3. but at the same time avoid any current ties to the Chaldean Catholic Church .


It is a ritual church ( ecclesia sui iuris , "church of its own right") with approx. 3.8 million members and is mainly in the Indian state of Kerala , but also in the Indian dioceses of Bangalore , Delhi and Madras - Mylapore , as well as the USA , Canada , Europe and the Gulf region. The Syro-Malabar Church is historically, but not canonically, the Indian branch of the United Chaldean Catholic Church with the East Syrian rite .

The branch of the Thomas Christians of the East Syrian rite not united with Rome forms the metropolis of Malabar and India of the Assyrian Church of the East . It is also known locally as the “Chaldean Syrian Church of the East”. Your earlier split into followers of the Catholicos patriarch Mar Shimun XXIII. and Altkalendarier under the (counter) patriarchs Mar Thomas Darmo and Mar Addai II. was healed under Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV .

In addition to the Syro-Malabar Church, there are six other churches in the Syrian liturgical tradition in South India , including the autocephalous Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (also Indian Orthodox Church ), the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church , the latter a branch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church , all with the West Syrian rite , as well as the Mar Thoma Church , an Eastern Church in faith and communion fellowship with the Anglican Church (see Christian denominations in Kerala ).


Early Christianization

The roots of the Syro-Malabar Church go back to the Apostle Thomas , who is said to have left Jerusalem in AD 40 and - after he met the peoples of the Middle East (today Iran , Iraq , Afghanistan and Balochistan ) - according to legend , he came to India in 53 . The Indian Christian Church could thus be older than most European ones. According to tradition, Thomas traveled along the south-western coast of India (then Malabar , now the state of Kerala) from 53 to 60 and finally came to Madras, where he was fatally struck by a spear. His grave is still venerated there today. The Christian churches he founded in this way regard him to this day as their founder and spiritual father and call themselves “daughters of St. Thomas ”(so-called Thomas Christians ). The name “Syro-Malabar Church” came about very late. It was used in official Holy See documents when local bishops began to be appointed towards the end of the 19th century.

Development to an independent church

As a church outside the Roman Empire , these Indian Christians had no contact with the Roman church for centuries and developed their own authentic rite, which later became Syriac-Chaldean through the later communion with the Catholicos of the "Apostolic Church of the East" in Seleukia-Ctesiphon (→ Assyrian Church of the East ).

Since the eighth century, the Thomas Christians of India had their own metropolitan , who was tenth in the ranking of the Syro-Chaldean Church. Since the metropolitans were sent to India by the mother church and had little or no command of the national language, they actually only acted as a kind of “ auxiliary bishop ”. Until the arrival of the Portuguese, the actual leadership of the church was the responsibility of the “Archdeacon of India”, a local priest from Malabar.

The Knananites

Around the middle of the 4th century, 72 families of Chaldean Jewish Christians moved with their leader, the wealthy merchant Thomas von Kinayi (Cana), from their home in Cana in Galilee south to Malabar. Through them and their bishops, who followed the East Syrian (Chaldean) rite, the Thomas Christians came into contact with the Chaldean Church .

Cheraman Perumal, the ruler of Malabar, welcomed the immigrants in a friendly manner and granted them the right to settle in Kodungallur . They later received princely privileges, which were recorded on copper tablets. Because they settled on the south bank of the Periyar River , they were also called South Christians , while the native Christians who lived on the north bank are called North Christians. This distinction between northern and southern Christians still exists today. The southern Christians living in their own exclusive eparchy Kottayam , who have called themselves Knananites since around 1990 , form a strictly endogamous group within the Syro-Malabar Church.

There are about 300,000 Knananite Christians in India today; 200,000 belong to the Syro-Malabar Church, 100,000 to the Syrian Orthodox Church. In both churches the Knananites form a strictly endogamous ethnic group with their own bishops and their own clergy. This endogamy goes so far that a Syro-Malabar Knananite may marry an Orthodox Knananite, but never a non-Knananite member of his own Syro-Malabar Church. In order to keep their ethnic group pure, the Knanatites do not do missionary work or evangelize - although this actually contradicts the Christian missionary mandate. It is also not possible to become a member of your community by converting or joining.

On August 29, 1911, the apostolic vicariate Kottayam, in which the Knananites live, was re-established by Pius X. with the apostolic letter In Universi Christiani as the exclusive vicariate for the Knananites, after it had merged in the vicariate of Changanassery in 1896 under a Knananite bishop, and on December 21, 1923 by Pius XI. raised to the eparchy (diocese). On May 9, 2005, the Kottayam Eparchy was elevated to an archdiocese.

External control by Portuguese conquerors

When the Jesuit missionary Francisco de Xavier (1506–1552) came to India in the middle of the 16th century on the trail of the Portuguese looking for new trade routes, he found, to his great surprise, a Christian community there. Although the Portuguese were very pleased to find Christians in India and were welcomed as brothers by the Thomas Christians , the centuries-long time of foreign rule and violent Latinization began, as a result of which the Indian Church split into several groups.

From 1534 the Portuguese established their own Roman Catholic church organization in India, which also carried out missionary activities among local non-Christians. The new dioceses were subordinate to the padroado of the Portuguese crown and not directly to the Pope in Rome. In 1558 Goa became an archbishopric with Cochin in Malabar as a suffragan . According to the canonical rule that two bishops may not officiate next to each other on the same territory, the rights of the Eastern Church hierarchy were restricted. Efforts soon followed to "reform" the local Church of the Thomas Christians according to the occidental model and to bring it under European sovereignty. The Portuguese did not shy away from using even questionable funds.

After the death of the last Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Angamaly , Mar Abraham † 1597, Rome appointed Francis Roz SJ as Abraham's successor in Angamaly in 1599, which was demoted to the diocese on December 20, 1599, and Goa and then also the Padroado. F. Roz relocated the seat and title of his bishopric after 1609 to Cranganore, which was subsequently treated as an ordinary Roman Catholic bishopric.

Legitimized by the padroado system and with military force, which did not stop at the abduction of bishops and sea blockades, the Portuguese colonizers began the Thomas Christians under Roman, i.e. H. Portuguese to bring your highness . When the last bishop appointed by the Patriarch of the Syrian-Chaldean Eastern Church , Mar Abraham, died in 1597, the Portuguese grip on Malabar increased. The Latin archbishop of Goa , Dom Menezes (term of office 1595–1610), who was also the political ruler on behalf of the Portuguese viceroy , presented an authorization to Pope Clement VIII , 'took over' the St. Thomas Church, appointed a vicar apostolic and made her subordinate by force of the Latin hierarchy (→ Synod of Diamper , June 20, 1599).

In the centuries that followed, only foreign, mostly Jesuit, bishops appointed by Rome or Goa were installed who cared little about local traditions. The Padroado missionaries did not allow a Syrian-Chaldean bishop to set foot on Indian soil again.

Split and reunification with Rome

The subordination of the Thomas Christians to the supremacy of the Vatican, which was expressed in an extensive Latinization and the disdain for their Eastern Church traditions, ultimately led to a break with Rome. With the Oath of the Crooked Cross ( Coonan Cross ), a group of Thomas Christians around Archdeacon Thomas Palakomatta in Mattancherry near Cochin in 1653 vowed never to tolerate a Portuguese bishop again. Twelve priests consecrated the archdeacon Thomas Palakomatta as Mar Thomas I as archbishop in an "emergency bishop's ordination" . The majority of the Thomas Christians joined the new metropolitan and left the Latin archbishop. The Oath of the Leaning Cross is the beginning of the division of Indian Christians into different groups and churches, which continues to this day. A large part of the Thomas Christians returned to the Roman Church in 1662 after Pope Alexander VII sent Italian Carmelites to reconciliation and became the present-day Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The diocese of Cranganore (formerly Angamaly) was placed under the jurisdiction of the Congregation De Propaganda Fide under mostly Latin Apostolic Vicars ; In 1917 responsibility changed to the newly founded Congregation for the Eastern Churches . In 1896 the Malabars received by Pope Leo XIII. native bishops. In 1923 the proper Syro-Malabar hierarchy was established with Archbishop Augustine Kandathil as Metropolitan.

The Christians who remained in the schism with Rome joined the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch in 1665 and adopted the Western Syrian liturgy. Two bishops of these Syrian Orthodox Thomas Christians, Mar Ivanios and Mar Theophilos , joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1930 with their followers. Two more bishops followed. This group forms today's Syro-Malankar Church .

Organization and structure

The Syro-Malabar Church is a “church in its own right” ( ecclesia sui iuris ). Until 1992, the two archbishops of Ernakulam and Changanacherry were at their head . The Grand Archbishop of Ernakulam- Angamaly has presided over the Church since 1993 . It has five archdioceses and ten dioceses in the state of Kerala , as well as thirteen dioceses outside of Kerala, one of which was established in March 2001 in North America ( St. Thomas of Chicago ) and one in December 2018 in Canada ( Mississauga ), the only dioceses outside India . There are eight Syro-Malabar mission churches in the United States .

The major archbishop has only very limited authority over the eparchies (dioceses) outside his own territory. They are assigned to the neighboring Latin metropolises; only the Chicago eparchy is directly subordinate to the Holy See. Their bishops are full members of the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops, although their decisions - apart from those on liturgical subjects - are not binding on them.

In the dioceses and archdioceses of their own area and the eparchies of Kalyan and St. Thomas in Chicago, the bishop only has authority over the Syro-Malabar Christians, while the bishops of the other dioceses have full authority over all Catholics, regardless of which rite they belong to .

When the Syrom-Malabar denomination was conferred the title of Grand Archbishopric in 1992, the Holy See reserved the right to jurisdiction over the liturgy and the appointment of bishops. After the jurisdiction in the field of liturgy had been transferred to the Syro-Malabar Church in 1998, the Prefect of the Papal Congregation for the Eastern Churches , Cardinal Ignatius Moussa I. Daoud , announced the Syro-Malabar Grand Archbishop on the sidelines of the meeting of Indian bishops in Thrissur (State of Kerala) in January 2004 that the Synod of Syro-Malabar Bishops will in future also be able to decide autonomously on the appointment of its own bishops and the establishment and dissolution of eparchies (dioceses) in its own territory.

With this, the Synod will from now on decide with a majority vote on liturgical questions and the selection of the bishops after appropriate evaluation from various candidates for the episcopate. The names of the bishops are then submitted to the Pope for approval.

As for territorial jurisdiction in India, the Congregation has reserved the right to establish new dioceses outside the state of Kerala. This is to protect the relationships between the three different rites existing in India (Latin rite, Syro-Malabar rite and Syro-Malankar rite).

Organizational scheme

(in brackets the year of construction)


The common courts of the Syro-Malabar Church include:

  • Eparchial tribunals (as general entrance authority)
  • Metropolitan tribunals (as general first instance and second instance for the eparchial courts)
  • the Major Archiepiscopal Ordinary Tribunal (as second and third instance as well as initial instance in certain cases)
  • the Synodal Tribunal and the Synod of Bishops as a whole as Superior Tribunal (in cases in which eparchies or bishops are involved)

In addition, there are administrative tribunals in the eparchies for decision-making in matters of the parish assembly (Palliyogam, cf. can. 295 CCEO ); the second instance is the bishop.


The Syro-Malabar Church has around 4.3 million members in around 2,900 parishes, 30 eparchies and five ore parchies worldwide. It has around 8,000 priests, 3,600 of whom are religious. There are 39 institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life of Syro-Malabar origin for men and nine for women, with over 39,000 members (33,363 women, 5,659 men); also about 2,200 seminarians in 45 seminars.

The Syromalabar Rite

The Syromalabar rite is one of the three rites of the Catholic Church in India alongside the Syromalankar and Roman rites. It belongs to the Chaldean rite family and is deeply rooted in Indian culture, which can be seen, for example, in marriage, the anointing of the sick and the rites associated with birth and death, as well as the architecture of the churches. The Syro-Malabar Church has preserved a particularly rich rite of gestures and customs, including folkloric dances (“Magram Kali”), which depict the evangelization story.

In 1934 Pope Pius XI initiated a process that should bring the meanwhile largely Latinized rites back to their oriental origins. A liturgy restored from the original Syrian sources was given by Pius XII. Confirmed in 1957 and introduced in 1962. Although the main features of this liturgical reform were once again confirmed by the Papal Congregation for the Eastern Churches in 1985, there is still great resistance to this today. Most Syro-Malabar dioceses perform a rite that outsiders can hardly distinguish from the Roman rite. In 1996 Pope John Paul II took part in the opening event of a Synod of Bishops, which was convened with the aim of finally overcoming the decades-long disputes between the “Roman” and “Oriental” factions of the Syro-Malabar Church. Since 1998 the Syro-Malabar bishops have had full authority over all questions of liturgy and rites.

Until 1962, only the eastern dialect of the Syrian language (Swadaya) was used in the liturgy , which is why the church is referred to as the "Syrian" church. The song texts, which were handed down orally and in manuscripts until the middle of the 19th century, have since been distributed in printed form. After 1962, Holy Mass became increasingly regular, today usually in Malayalam , the national language of the state of Kerala. Syriac-language songs in stanzas and with fixed melodies are still sung by choirs that traditionally consist only of men.


One of the peculiarities of Syro-Malabar theology is the great importance of holy places and spaces. In contrast to Roman Catholic theology, the altar consecration is not regarded as a sacramental , but as a sacrament , since the consecrated altar, according to Syromalabarian understanding, is a spirit-filled place and the "throne of the Trinity ".


The Syro-Malabar Church is not only - after the Ukrainian Church - the second largest of the 21 Eastern Catholic churches united with Rome , it is also one of the most active and vital Catholic churches worldwide.

A special feature of this church are the numerous priestly and religious vocations: over 6,000 diocesan priests, 30,000 sisters and thousands of religious priests and lay brothers come from the Syro-Malabar Church and are active in dioceses and congregations of the Latin rite, so that around 70% of all priests ( World and religious priests) and sisters in India (with 17 million Christians and around 1 billion inhabitants) originally belonged to this church.

The church maintains several hundred schools and universities, over a thousand kindergartens and several hundred training and further education centers.

Ordinaries of Ernakulam

Vicars Apostolic of Ernakulam

Archbishops of Ernakulam

Grand Archbishops of Ernakulam-Angamaly

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ The Eastern Catholic Churches 2017
  2. cann. 1063, 152 CCEO; Statutes of the Major Archiepiscopal Tribunal
  3. cann. 1062, 152 CCEO; Statutes of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church, Art. 13 ; Statutes of the Superior Tribunal
  4. Palliyogam procedure rules, n.70
  5. Joseph J. Palackal: Qambel Maram. Syriac chants from South India. Recordings from 1999 and 2000. CD on Pan Records, Leiden 2002 (PAN 2085)
  6. Naiju Jose Kalambukattu: Altar of the Lord: Symbolism and Significance . In: Ephrems' Theological Journal (ETJ). Published by the Ephrems' Theological Association, Satna, India, Vol. 21 (2017), Issue 1, pp. 40–56.
  7. Jose Kochuparambil: The Pontifical Rites of the Sacramentals of the Syro-Malabra Church: Consecration of the altar and blessing of the Oil . In: Ephrems' Theological Journal , vol. 11 (2007), issue 1, pp. 23-27, here p. 24.

Web links

Commons : Syro-Malabar Church  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Coordinates: 9 ° 58 ′ 56.2 "  N , 76 ° 16 ′ 34.7"  E