From the arrival of St.Thomas till the coonen cross in 1653 the history of the Indian church is common. Therefore, referring to this period the account written by Fr. Dr. Geevarghese Panicker (a priest of the Syro-Malankara Church who accepted the Pope on 20 September 1930) published in the Journal of St. Thomas Christians, Vol. II, and No.2. Oct-Dec 2000 is reproduced below.

Malankara is another name for Kerala, the cradle of Christianity in India. St. Thomas, the Apostle came to Kerala in A.D. 52 and preached the gospel with great success. Not much is known about the early history of these St. Thomas Christians, but two facts stand out clearly. Between the 3rd and the 9th centuries there were waves of immigrants from Mesopotamia to Kerala, and from the early centuries, This Church, with its liturgical center in Edessa, had also claimed its origin from St. Thomas. Thus the East Syrian or Chaldean liturgy was used in Kerala until the 17th century. The Syrian Church (using the Syriac liturgy) in Kerala was undivided until the advent of the Portuguese.
Portuguese Domination

The Portuguese set up their headquarters in Goa early in the 16th century and extended their domain to Kerala. The Archbishopric of Goa, 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 laid them open to 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. The Patriarch and Pope John Paul II signed a Common Christological Declaration on 11 November 1994 in Vatican.

He convened a Synod at Udayamperur in June 1599. Many decrees of the Synod were aimed at bring the Syrian liturgy and practices into conformity with those of the Latin Rite. The Syrians and their leader “Archdeacon” George who were present at the Synod, had to acquiesce to these decisions. The last of the Mesopotamian Bishops had died 2 years before the Synod, and for 40 years after it the Syrians were placed under Jesuit Bishops. Even before the Synod, the Portuguese clergy had tried to impose their customs on the St. Thomas Christians. After the Synod they tried to lord it over them and there was a crisis of confidence.
Syrian Revolt

When Archdeacon George died in 1637 his nephew Thomas assumed leadership, and a spirit of revolt seized the Syrians. The revolt came in 1653 after the arrival in India of a Mesopotamian bishop, Ahatalla. Thousands of Syrians gathered near Cochin, demanding to see the bishop but the Portuguese sent him off to Goa and news spread that he was drowned in the sea. The angry Syrians then and there swore an oath never again to be under the “Paulists” (i.e. Jesuit Bishops and teachers in St. Paul Seminary). “Coonen Cross oath” (as this incident came to be called) was a protest against Latinization and a defiant plea for the Syriac Rite. Four months after this, they declared their leader Thomas, as their Bishop after 12 priests had laid their hands on his head. Some efforts were subsequently made by Rome through the Carmelites to heal this breach. And during the next 12 years 84 Syrian congregations returned to communion with Rome while 32 congregations remained with the “Bishop” Thomas.

After the revolt of Coonen Cross in 1653 AD some Syrian Christians of Malabar accepted Mar Gregorius Abdul Jaleel of Jerusalem who arrived in Kerala in a Dutch ship in 1665. He belonged to the West Syrian Church. The Syrian Christians who took the Coonan Cross oath accepted it. Thus a large section of the Syrian Christians of Kerala became a West Syrian Church, known as the Syrian Orthodox Church. The St. James Liturgy used by the Syrian Orthodox Church replaced the liturgy of the Apostles Addai and Mari.

There were difficulties for the Syrian bishops to arrive in India. Goa was under the control of the Portuguese. They favoured only Catholics. Even the Catholic Chaldean bishops the Portuguese did not allow in India. Bishop Joseph Sulaqa, brother of the first Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Mar Yohannan Sulaqa, had arrived in India in 1556, one year after the murder of Patriarch Sulaqa. Mar Joseph was not allowed to work in India. He was sent to Rome to have his faith examined. Details of his death are not known to history. He is believed to have been buried in Rome. His burial place has not been traced yet. Fortunately the Syriac prayer books he took with him to Rome are preserved in Rome. Many of the prayer books used in India at that time were burned in the Synod of Diamper of 1599 AD. Only 4 manuscripts of the period prior to 1599 AD are known to exist today in India. One of that is a Kashkulcopied in 1585 AD at Kothamangalam copied by an Indian priest. It is preserved in the Metropolitan’s Palace, Trichur.

This situation was changed after the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in 1655 AD. The Dutch were willing to bring to India the Syrian bishops. Taking advantage of that situation Mar Gregorius of Jerusalem arrived in Kerala. Many Christians in India accepted a Syrian bishop without knowing much about the difference between West Syrians and East Syrians.

The Syrian Christians around Angamalee who did not accept Mar Gregorius waited for East Syrian bishops as before. Mar Gabriel came in 1701. He died in Kerala in 1731 and was buried in Cheriapally in Kottayam which is under the control of the Indian Orthodox Syrian Church.

In the 19th century two bishops came to India, They resided in Trichur church that was built in 1814. The Chaldean Patriarch Mar Joseph Audo sent two bishops. Mar Thoma Rocos came in 1861 and was sent away in 1862. Mar Yohanon Elia Mellus reached Trichur on 1874 and was compelled to leave in 1882.

Mar Abdisho Thondanat Metropolitan was consecrated by the Assyrian Patriarch Mar Ruwel Shimun in 1862 after the return of Mar Thoma Rocos to the Middle East. Priest Anthony Thondanat had approached the Chaldean Patriarch Mar Joseph Audo, consecrator of Mar Thoma Rocos, to consecrate him as a metropolitan. The Latin authorities in Mosul did not permit the Patriarch to consecrate a bishop for India. That is the reason why he went to the mountains of Kurdistan, north of Mosul and requested Mar Ruwel Shimun Patriarch to consecrate him. Priest Anthony was consecrated by the name Mar Abdisho in Mar Shallitha Cathedral in Kochanes (spelt Qudshanis).

After his return to Palai in Travancore he had difficult days including his work as a priest in the Catholic Church near Palai. He came to Trichur in the old Cochin state and worked under Mar Elia Mellus in Trichur. After Mar Elia Mellus left India in 1882 Mar Abdisho Thondanat went to work in Elamthottam church near Palai. When he lost the church case in Elamthottam he came to Trichur and died there in November 1900.

Bishop Adolph Medlycott, the first Vicar Apostolic appointed by the Pope for the Trichur vicariate in 1887, filed a suit in 1888 for the possession of the church in Trichur. Bishop Medlycott made an arrangement with the Latin Church and exchanged his small chapel with the Lourdes church that is the cathedral for the Syro-MalabarChurch in Trichur since then. Bishop did not succeed in this suit. During the time of his successor Bishop John Menachery, the appeal on the suit of Bishop Medlycott was decided against him. The Trichur church people immediately sent a memorandum to Mar Benyamin Shimun Patriarch (1903 – 1918) to send a Metropolitan to Trichur, as Mar Abdisho Thondanat had expired in November 1900.

Mar Abimalek Timotheus Metropolitan arrived in Trichur on 27 February 1908. He was an Assyrian from the Mar Bisho village in Turkey. He spoke against the use of images in the altar of the Mart Mariam Big Church. Another suit was filed by Michael Augustine cor-episcopa against the Metropolitan whom he brought to India. In this suit the supporters of Michael Augustine cor-episcopa argued that the Trichur Christians are independent of the Patriarch as well as the Pope. Mar Abimalek Timotheus won this suit. The Award of Political Agent to the Travancore and Cochin governments Mr. C.W.E. Cotton in April 1925 finally settled this suit started in 1911.

After the Cotton’s Award the church in Trichur removed all the statues from the altar. The name of the Church was removed from Vyakulamathavin Church to Mart Mariam valiapally. Those Independents who lost the suit built Vyakulamathavin Church, known as puthanpally, now known as the Basilica, which is the biggest church in India. Some of the statues removed from the church were burned. The most beautiful statue of Madonna was burned in the church premises in November 1951 that created enmity between these communities. Now the relationship gradually improved.

Mar Abimalek Timotheus metropolitan died in Trichur on 30 April 1945. There was a period of seven years without any bishop. In June 1952 Mar Thoma Darmo Metropolitan came to Trichur and assumed the duties of the head of the church of the East in India. He was from Eyyal village near to Mar Bisho from where his predecessor had arrived. Actually deacon Mansur Elisha Darmo was ordained deacon in Baquba refugee camp near Baghdad after the First World War, in 1921. He was working as deacon in Syria in 1951 when he was recommended by Mar Yosip Khananisho Metropolitan (1893 to 1977) to go to America to be promoted and posted to India.

Mar Thoma Darmo was appointed to that post by Mar Eshai Shimun Patriarch, nephew of Mar Benyamin Shimun Patriarch, who had sent Mar Timotheus Metropolitan to India. During the rule of MarThomaDarmo Church in India made significant progress. But difference of opinion developed on the issue of the hereditary succession in the Patriarchal and Episcopal families. The Patriarch suspended the Metropolitan on 10 January 1964. The Church was split in to two groups namely Patriarchal group and the Metropolitan group. Both groups were united again in November 1995 under the leadership of His Holiness Khanania Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos Patriarch of the AssyrianChurch of the East now residing in Morton Grove, near Chicago, USA. The old calendar group accepted the Gregorian calendar. The Patriarchal group had already adopted it in 1964. By mutual acceptance the bishops and clergy the Church of the East in India showed an example to other churches.

The present Metropolitan Mar Aprem, born in 1940, completed 70 years of age on 13 June 2010. His first doctorate thesis was The Study of History, Faith and Worship of the Chaldean Syrian Church in Trichur since 1814 AD. The University of Serampore, India awarded D.Th. (Doctor of Theology) degree in 1976.

The second doctorate for the Ph.D. of Mahatma Gandhi University was The History of the Assyrian Church of the East in the twentieth Century with special reference to the Syriac literature in Kerala. The Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East and the noble nation of India by the grace of God almighty, have been witnessed and blessed by the historic third Patriarchal visit of His Holiness Maran Mar Dinka IV, the Catholicos Patriarch, along with other 8 prelates of the Church of the East from across the world in order to convene the Holy Synod and holy consecration of two Bishops in India, both the Holy synod and Bishop Consecration for the first time in the history of the church of the east in the Indian soil. The Holy Synod was convened from 13th – 19th January 2010, at the Metropolitan’s palace, Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala, is popularly called “God’s own Country” the southern state of India.

By Divine will and unconditional grace, His Holiness Maran Mar Dinkha IV the Catholicos Patriarch of the Church of the East, consecrated the two Arch-Deacons as Episcopas (Bishops) on Sunday 17th January 2010, and thus the country India witnessed one more historical event. Arch Deacon Joju Anto received the name

Mar Yohannan Joseph Episcopa and Arch Deacon Shaju Paulose, named Mar Awgin Kuriakose Episcopa.

Liturgy and Life

The Church of the East in India is using the Liturgy of Addai and Mari. There are two alternate anaphoras. Counting the Addai and Mari as the first anaphora, the second is known as that of Theodore of Mopsuestia (d.428). This is used on Sundays from the Advent season till after the Psalm Sunday. Theodore of Mopsuestia, the Interpreter, wrote this anaphora. This anaphora was translated from Greek into Syriac by Mar Awa Catholicos on the occasion of his visit to the Roman Empire, by the help of Mar Thoma, the teacher of Urhai.

From the Holy Saturday on till the beginning of Advent the first anaphora of Addai and Mari is used. The third anaphora is that of Nestorius. This is slightly longer than the first two anaphora. This third anaphora is used on five occasions namely Epiphany, Memorial of Mar Yohannan Mamdhana, Memorial of Greek Malpans, The Wednesday of the Ba’utha of the Ninevites and Maundy Thursday.

The liturgy has been translated into Malayalam. Most portions of the liturgy are used in the Malayalam translation for the benefit of the worshippers. However most of the priests recite some prayers in the original Aramaic language. The text of the liturgy is printed with two languages.


The church had no written constitution until 1953, but was governed by traditions and precedence. It was the vision of Mar Thoma Darmo Metropolitan to have a constitution to govern the church administration.

After the unity of the church under the leadership of His Holiness Khanania Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos Patriarch of the AssyrianChurch of the East in November 1995, the constitution was amended to meet specific situations and needs. The Constitution upholds the democratic principles strictly.