Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sui Juris Churches XI: The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Antiochene

Primary Liturgical Language: Syriac and Malayalam.

Juridical Status: Major Archiepiscopal

Approximate Population: Between 400,000 and 500,000.

Brief History: The Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Churches are both significant St. Thomas Christian communities; the St. Thomas Christian communities were originally all united, and they all shared what we would call a Chaldean (East Syrian) liturgy due to their links with the Church of the East. So how is it that the Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara churches are now distinct churches in different liturgical families, with one West Syrian and one East Syrian? The answer is the heavy-handedness of the Portuguese.

When the Portuguese began to dominate along the Malabar Coast of India, they became increasingly suspicious of the rites and customs of the Mar Thoma Nasrani communities, and began to take measures to impose the Latin rite. This did not go over well, and famously major leaders of the Mar Thoma community swore an oath to stop cooperating with the Jesuits -- not quite a breaking of communion in itself, but definitely a revolt. Disaster was avoided for the Latin church primarily because the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, concerned with missionary activity in India, immediately saw the danger, and sent missionaries out to try to placate and restore good relations with the Mar Thoma churches. This was a last desperate measure, but the missionaries sent out were actually very good, and they managed in short time to reconcile 84 out of the 116 churches; these reconciled communities are what would become the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The remaining 32 churches were not placated, however, and remained apart (although, again, there was still no official breaking of communion). In 1665, only a very short time after all of this had happened, a different kind of missionary arrived: Mar Gregorios of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. A number of the Mar Thoma congregations were impressed enough with him that they broke communion with Rome and joined communion with the Syriac Orthodox Church.

This group would remain Syriac Orthodox for quite some time. They kept a lot of their own customs, although there was also pressure to conform to the customs and liturgy of Antioch, which is why the Syro-Malankara will end up in a different liturgical family. This all happened quite slowly, and for the most part peacefully. In 1911, however, another crisis arose: the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Ignatius Abded Aloho II Sattuf, came to India. Ignatius, it must be understood was more than slightly controversial. He was a Syriac Orthodox bishop who became Syriac Catholic, apparently because he did not (due to Ottoman interference) become patriarch. He then switched back, apparently under the promise that he would be the next patriarch. This he did, and once he was Patriarchwent about traveling, first to London and then to India. He had spent some time in both places before. While in India, however, he began consecrating bishops on his own initiative. This was a considerable irritation to the bishops of India, and he and the Metropolitan of the Malankara in communion with Antioch, Vattasseril Geevarghese Mar Dionysius, got into a row over it. Ignatius excommunicated Mar Dionysius. Since Mar Dionysius was highly respected and widely considered a holy man (he is a saint on the current Malankara Orthodox calendar), this split the Malankara community into two groups: the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. Tensions between the two groups became quite intense.

In 1930, a new twist arose when two bishops, Geevarghese Mar Ivanios and Jacob Mar Theophilos, who were Malankara Orthodox, joined with Rome. (They had been investigating the possibility of doing so for several years.) The reunion was a grand total of five people -- two bishops, a priest, a deacon, and a layman. But Mar Ivanios in particular was a very important bishop with very important connections, and the reunion movement that began to build around him is the beginning of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, which was officially recognized in 1932 by Pius XI. Over the next few years, a few other bishops would join from the Malankara Jacobite branch of the Mar Thoma Nasrani. Mar Ivanios became Metropolitan Archbishop of the Malankara Catholics, and fulfilled the office magnificently; the church grew impressively during his tenure, and, what is more important, a foundation was laid that would attract Malankara from non-Catholic churches over the next several decades.

In 2005, the juridical status of the church was raised to Major Archiepiscopal; the Syro-Malankarans tend to refer to the head of their church as Catholicos, which is roughly the Church-of-the-East equivalent of a patriarch. From five people to a half a million is certainly significant growth, and its growth looks likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Notable Monuments: St. Mary's Syro-Malankara Cathedral in Trivandrum; St. Mary Queen of Peace Pro-Cathedral in Trivandrum.

Notable Saints: I know of no Syro-Malankaran saints on the general calendar, although there are a number of canonization processes open, most notably for Mar Ivanios himself.

Notable Religious Institutes: Easily the most important religious order in the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is the Order of the Imitation of Christ, also known as Bethany Ashram. It was founded by Mar Ivanios himself while still a bishop in the Malankara Orthodox Church; when he joined communion with Rome, the Bethany Ashram followed him. There is an associated women's order, Sisters of the Imitation of Christ or Bethany Madhom. In addition to other religious orders, there are also many lay societies.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Major Archeparchy of Trivandrum, the Archeparchy of Tiruvalla, and seven eparchies, all in India. In addition there is an exarchate for southern India and an exarchate for the United States. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church. In the Syro-Malankara church this is often traceable through various lay societies, which have historically tended to be the organizing force of the church outside its official jurisdiction.)

Online Sources and Resources:





No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.