Assyrian Church of the East in India
Dr. Mar Aprem Metropolitan, Trichur, Kerala, India
TheChaldeanSyrianChurch in India is based in Trichur. The history of this church in the early centuries is the same as the history of the other Syrian churches in Kerala. 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-MalanakaraChurch which 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.
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 WestSyrianChurch. The Syrian Christians who took the Coonan Cross oath accepted it. Thus a large section of the Syrian Christians of Kerala became a WestSyrianChurch, 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 IndianOrthodoxSyrianChurch.
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 MartMariamChurch. 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 fromVyakulamathavinChurch to Mart Mariam valiapally. Those Independents who lost the suit built VyakulamathavinChurch, 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 MartThomaDarmoChurch 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 inMorton 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 Catholicos Patriarch of the AssyrianChurch of the East His Holiness Mar Khanania Dinkha IV was enthroned in England on 17 October 1976. The consecration ceremony was in the Anglican Church of St.Barnabas in Ealing near London,England. The majority of the Assyrians who migrated to England live in the Ealing area. The Assyrians had no church of their own in England at that time.
The Catholicos Patriarch who had been the bishop of the AssyrianChurch in Iran since 11 February 1962 had abundant ecumenical experience. Over a century the Assyrian church was very close to the Church of England. Archbishop Benson of Canterbury had established the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Mission to the Assyrians in June 1886. After the First World War of 1914-18 the mission in the Kurdistan had ceased to function. Still some old missionaries like the Rev.W.A.Wigram continued their friendship with the AssyrianChurch of the East and its leadership. The present Catholicos Patriarch Mar Khanania Dinkha IV was present at the installation of the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr.George Carey.
The Anglicans were interested in establishing inter communion with the AssyrianChurch of the East. Referring to the Lambeth Conference of 1908 AD Bishop Christopher Hill quotes from the speech of Bishop John Wordsworth of Salisbury,
Dr. J.F. Coakley, senior lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization atHarvardUniversity, rightly points out the fact that we owe a debt to the pioneers like the Revd. George Percy Badger (1815-88) and to Rev. William Ainger Wigram (1873-1953), both Anglican clergymen who had worked among the Assyrian Christians and laid “some of the intellectual ground work” for the present theological agreement. Coakley comments:
Referring to the content of the Common Christological Declaration, and the contribution of W. A. Wigram in that direction Coakley opines:
After the Lambeth Conference of 1920, the Assyrians were more concerned about finding a homeland or some refugee camps for those who had fled from Turkey. Thus the theological discussions did not have any priority.
The last Lambeth Conferences in 1988 as well as in 1998 did receive official delegate of the AssyrianChurch of the East. But the Church of the East did not show much interest to develop an official relationship with the Church of England.
The AssyrianChurch of the East in recent decades believes that it finds more comfortable ties with the Roman Catholic Church rather than Anglicans who have women priests. A decision of the Lambeth Conference of 1988 permits even lady bishops.
Signing Of The Common Christological Declaration.
In 1978 Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV attended the installation of Pope John Paul II in Vatican. On November 7 to 9, 1984 Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV made an official visit to Vatican. As a result it was decided to have official dialogue with the Vatican. There were five meetings in the following ten years. As a result the Common Christological Declaration was signed by Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV and Pope John Paul II. It was an important ecumenical news welcomed by many churches. There were similar agreements between the Vatican and the Coptic Orthodox Church in 1973, Syrian Orthodox Church in 1984 and Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church in 1990.
The Pope and the Patriarch concluded their Common Christological Declaration with the following practical and positive note.
Living by this faith and these sacraments, it follows as a consequence that the particular Catholic churches and the particular Assyrian churches can recognize each other as sister Churches. To be full and entire, communion presupposes the unanimity concerning the content of the faith, the sacraments and the constitution of the Church. Since this unanimity for which we aim has not yet been attained, we cannot unfortunately celebrate together the Eucharist, which is the sign of the ecclesial communion already fully restored.
Nevertheless, the deep spiritual communion in the faith and the mutual trust already existing between our Churches entitle us from now on to consider witnessing together to the Gospel message and co-operating in particular pastoral situations, including especially the areas of catechesis and the formation of future priests.
In thanking God for having made us rediscover what already unites us in the faith and the sacraments, we pledge ourselves to do every thing possible to dispel the obstacles of the past which still prevent the attainment of full communion between our two Churches, so that we can better respond to the Lord's call for the unity of his own, a unity which has of course to be expressed visibly. To overcome these obstacles, we now establish a Mixed Committee for theological dialogue between the Catholic and the AssyrianChurch of the East.
.As a result of the signing of the Common Christological Declaration a Mixed Committee for Theological Dialogue was appointed by the two Churches. The MCTD has met in 1995, 96, 97, 98, and 99. The latest meeting took place in Arezzo near Florence,Italy on 12-14, October, 2000. In this meeting the name of Mixed Committee for Theological Dialogue (MCTD) was changed into Joint Committee for Theological Dialogue (JCTD).
Mar Narsai Press
The significant contribution of the Church of the East in India as far as the Syriac literature is concerned, is two-fold. The first is the preservation of over 80 Syriac Manuscripts; some of them go back to the period prior to Synod of Diamper of 1599 AD. In spite of the persecutions and the burning of the Syriac books it is surprising that the Church of the East is able to preserve for posterity some valuable Syriac Manuscripts. All Syriac books in the 16th century in India were manuscripts, as there were no printed books at that time.
Attention was drawn to these Syriac manuscripts at Trichur through a paper presented in the 3rd Syriac Symposium held at Goslar,Germany in 1980. Ever since it is published the Syriac scholars have visited Trichur to refer to these Manuscripts. As the climate is not good in India for the safety of the Manuscripts, the CentralEuropeanUniversity,Budapest,Hungary along with SEERI, Kottayam undertook to copy all these manuscripts into CD ROM and make it available to the scholarly world. The project, which began by February 2000 AD, is almost complete in October, at the conclusion of this dissertation. Sample CD ROMs were distributed in the 8th Symposium Syriacum held in Sydney,Australia in June 2000.
The second significant contribution of this Church in Trichur is in the field of printing the rare Syriac books. The Archbishop of Canterbury's Assyrian Mission had established a Mission Press in which several Syriac books were printed. The American Presbyterian Mission also had printed some books.
The First World War (1914-18) made both the English and the American Missions to close their operations among the Assyrians. This made a necessity to start a printing Press in Iraq or in India. As a matter of fact in 1924 an Assyrian Mission Press was started by the efforts of Deacon Joseph Kellaita (later made priest in 1927). The same scholar was responsible for starting the Mar Narsai Press in Trichur.
Joseph Kellaita was a Syriac scholar. He belonged to the Kellaita family (distant cousin) of Mar Abimalek Timotheus Metropolitan of Malabar and India. Mar Timotheus who visited Iraq in 1919 and in 1920 to help the settlement of the Assyrian refugees who were in the Baquba camp near Bagdad brought Deacon Joseph Kellaita to Trichur. He spent nearly two years in Trichur writing the Syriac types for the smiths and carpenters to make the 'mould' for casting the metal types for printing.
Around 1923 or so Deacon Joseph Kellaita took all the types (fonts) he had prepared in Trichur toMosul in Iraq to start a printing Press in Iraq. Mar Timotheus Metropolitan was not disappointed. He worked for another set of the similar Syriac types and started in 1926 AD, Mar Narsai Press in the building adjacent to the clergy quarters at the MarthMariamChurch.
Mar Narsai Press, Trichur printed many Syriac books. During 1929 - 1933 a brilliant Syriac student of Rev. Joseph Kellaita namely Deacon Benjamin Geevarghese of Ashitha came from Mosul and assisted the Syriac printing as well as teaching students Syriac language.
Isaac Simon, a bearded layman from Mosul, helped Mar Timotheus to print some books. Mar Timotheus had plans to print Hudra, the prayer book for evening and morning prayers. But he could not find time and resources to undertake such a heavy work.
Hudra was printed during 1960 -1962 by Mar Thoma Darmo, who was Metropolitan in India during 1952 - 68. This is the first time the AssyrianChurch of the East printed the precious prayer book. Upto this time some Churches were using the Chaldean (Catholic) Hudra edited by Paul Bedjan and published in Leipzig,Germany.
Now throughout the Church of the East, whether in Iraq or in Australia the name of the town of Thrissur (old English spelling in Trichur) is known by all the Assyrians because Hudra, Qurbana Thaksa, Burial books, Marriage books, D’Qdam Vadvathar, Blessing of the House (Boorakh Bathe),Thurgame, etc. are printed at Mar Narsai Press.
At present some of these books are not available at Mar Narsai Press. A reprint of Hudra (3 volumes) was made in 1993 by Mar Narsai Press. It was printed at Ebenezer Press in Trichur as Mar Narsai Press had not bought offset machine, it is difficult to find type setters in Syriac, Mar Narsai Press in not printing new books. As it has an offset machine now, it is possible to reprint the existing books. It is also planning to print Syriac books after composing the matter by Computer, as Syriac fonts are available. But there are no Assyrians in India. Even the Indians who have learned this language know only lishana atieqa (old language) which is used in the liturgy. The modern spoken Assyrian is slightly different.
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 priests recite some prayers in the original Aramaic language. The text of the liturgy is printed with two languages.
This church accepts all the decisions of the first two ecumenical councils namely, council of Nicea in 325 AD and the council of Constantinople in 381 AD. As for the third ecumenical council that was held in 431 AD at Ephesus the Church of the East opposed it because it was stage-managed by Cyril of Alexandria, arch rival of Nestorius of Constantinople. Even now Patriarch Schenuda of the Coptic Orthodox Church, successor of Cyril of Alexandria, is opposing any ecumenical contact with the Church of the East.
On other theological issues there is no serious difference with other eastern or ancient churches.
Parishes; 28 (23 in Kerala and 5 other states (Coimbatore,Madras, Bangalore,Bombay and Delhi.
Mission parish. One (Kottayam)
Sub deacons 2
The members 30,000
A parallel College for girls 1
Higher Secondary School 1
High School 2
Lower Primary 3
Old People’s Home 1
(There is an orphanage and a hospital cum a Home for the Aged under the charitable society registration with the Metropolitan as the head. The memberships in the administration are restricted to the members of the Church. There is also a higher secondary school (MarThomaHigherSecondary School in Madras-111), which is run by a charitable registered society with the Metropolitan as the head.
At present there is one Metropolitan. Mar Aprem is the head of the Church as Metropolitan of all India.
Mar Timotheus Metropolitan was the Patriarchal Delegate. He died after completing 80 years of age. The AssyrianChurch of the East has passed a decree in their holy Synod held in Sydney, Australia in 1994 suggesting the prelates to retire at the age of 75.
The present Metropolitan ,born in 1940, completed 62 years of age on 13 June 2002. His first doctorate thesis was The Study of History, Faith and Worship of the ChaldeanSyrianChurch 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 AssyrianChurch of the East in the twentieth Century with special reference to the Syriac literature in Kerala.
The nine Central Trustees elected every three years carry on the administration and the Representative Council elected by all men and women above the age of 21. All vicars of the parishes are ex-officio members. The metropolitan nominates ten percent of the number of the elected members of the Representative council. At present there are 141 members. Each parish has a parish council and two kaikars elected for three years at the same time as the Central Trustees.
There is an active Youths Association for young men. Young girls join the Mahila Samajam, ladies society. There is an evangelistic association and active prayer groups. There is a bi-monthly magazine entitled Voice of the East in English. The Malayalam monthly is called Pourasthia nadam.
The ChaldeanSyrianChurch of the East has taken membership in the Kerala Council of Churches as well as in the National Council of Churches. It is also a member of the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action known as CASA.
The name Chaldean is used only in India. Outside India the name Chaldean denotes the Christians in Iraq who are under the Pope. The members of the Church of the East use the general term AssyrianChurch.
The majority of the priests are married. The bishop is selected from among the celibate clergy. Monastic order as much is not in practice in the Church of the East these days.
 His predecessor Mar Eshai Shimun (1908 - 1975) too was consecrated Patriarch in an Anglican Church, namely St.George in Bagdad, Iraq.
 John Wordsworth in W.A. Wigram’s Doctrinal Position Of The Assyrian Or East Syrian Church, London, 1908, p.56 (quoted from Microfilm 10075, Reel 3, ITEM 37, The British Library, London).
 Dr. Coakley believes that the Rev. George Badger was “the first to make a serious case that its doctrine was not, from a Catholic point of view, heretical.
 Rev. Wigram was the most energetic worker of his day in the cause of theological understanding between the Church of the East and the Church of the West.
 J.F. Coakley, Voice from the East, Chicago, January - April, 1999, p.5.
 Ibid., p. 5.
 Archdeacon Yonan Y. Yonan of London. The Old Calendar group was represented by Mar Aprem in 1988.
 Full text of the Common Christological Declaration is given as Appendix 2 in this dissertation.
 It was one year after Marth Mariam Big Church was handed over to Mar Timotheus Metropolitan as the court receivers had to leave after the 'Award' of Mr. C.W.E. Cotton, British Political Agent.
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