"With out understanding the past, we are unable to understand ourselves, for in a sense the past still lives in us and influence, who we are and how we understand the Christian message." - Justo L. Gonzales

Parish History

Brief History Of The Cheppad Mar Thoma Parish

The Naveekaranam Movement of mid19th century was implemented in Cheppad St. George Malankara Jacobite Church by Kannampallil Koshy Mathai Kathanar, who became the leader of the minority 'Methran' faction against the majority 'Bava' faction,under heavy odds, following the split in the Malankara Church. The defeat in the 'Seminary Case' resulted in the expulsion of the Kathanar, prompting him to found Cheppad Mar Thoma parish in 1894 with a few families, under approval by H. G. Titus-1.The first Church was built of bamboo poles, followed by another one with teak poles in 1904. The Kathanar died in 1906, was succeeded by his son-in-law, Purackel Achen. The Parish having stood the test of times for 125 years in the service of God has a strength of 250 families now on its rolls. The Vicar of the Parish in 2019 is Rev. John.T.George.

The History of the Malankara Syrian Church in India

The following is a sketch of the history of the Malankara Syrian Church in India. At first we shall have a glance of the origin and development of the Malankara Syrian Church in India over the centuries and the migrations of the Persians in the 4th and the 9th centuries. Then the influence of the Roman Church in India with the heyday of the Portuguese Colonial Power in the 16th and the 17th centuries will be dealt with. We shall then discuss the arrival of the Anglican Church Missionary Society in India in the beginning of the 19th century, triggering the Naveekaranam Movement in the Malankara Sabha in the mid-nineteenth century with the ininitiative of Abraham Malpan. Following this we shall later focus on the Naveekaranam Movement at Cheppad St. George Malankara Syrian Jacobite Church, which led to the formation of Cheppad Mar Thoma Parish in 1894. The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church traces its Apostolic origin to A. D. 52.

The Malankara Mar Thoma Church is one of the historic Churches of Christendom, and belongs to the family of The Lesser Eastern Churches. In fact, the origin of the Syrian Church in India is shrouded in obscurity. The first authentic piece of evidence on record as to the existence of a Church on the Malabar coast is found in the writings of Cosmas , a Christian merchant from Alexandria, sailed to India and Ceylon through the Arabian Sea and later became a monk in the Sinai peninsula. He wrote a book on the basis of his travels, Universal Christian Topography; giving a clear reference to the Church in Malabar, which he is believed to have visited about the year A. D. 522. [2] For the purpose of recording, however, it is an important fact that there was a Church in 'Malabar' in the early years of the 6th century which had connections with the Church in Persia. As to the Apostolic origin of the Church, there is a strong tradition in Malabar of the arrival in A. D. 345 of a body of 400 Persian immigrants under the leadership of one Thomas the Merchant from Cana, which the Syrians used to refer 'Knaye Thommen'. One section of the present day Syrians called Knanaye Christians trace their origin to this group of immigrants. As there was a persecution of Christians in the reign of Sapor 11 of Persia (310-379A. D.) there is a very strong likelihood of this tradition having a historical basis.[3]

There is a also reference to a certain Bishop John who was present in the council of Nicaea (A. D. 325) as Metropolitan of Persia and of Great India. Way back in A. D. 189, Pantaenus of Alexandria found in India a Gospel of St. Mathew in Hebrew which he took back with him to Alexandria. These references substantiate the historicity of the Malankara Church back to the 2nd century A. D. As to the traditional belief that St. Thomas the Apostle of Jesus Christ had visited India and planted seven Churches in the Malabar coast about the year A. D. 52, scholars are divided on this issue of the Apostolic origin of the Church in India and of the Apostle's connection with Malabar.

Passing on to the Middle Ages we hear of another immigration from Persia about A. D. 825, under the leadership of Marwan Sabriso, a Persian merchant, and two bishops named Mar Sapro and Mar Prodh. Landed in Quion, the party was received by King Cheraman Perumal. Sabriso built a Church in Quilon and grants were made to the Church in two sets of Copper Plates, five of which are still in existence; three in the Old Seminary, Kottayam, and two in the Poolathin of the Mar Thoma Metropolitan in Thiruvalla. The date of these charters is believed to be A. D. 878. A similar charter was granted at Cranganore to a certain Iravi Korttan of that city. Among other extant monuments of the Church's Persian Connection may be mentioned of a Persian Cross with an inscription in the Pahlavi language to be found in the Church at Kottayam called Valliyapalli and similar crosses discovered at Kadamattom and Muttuchira. What little we know of the status of the Church in Malabar from the 12th century to the 15th century is from the travel records of Western Travelers, notably the great Venetian Marco Polo (1293), a Fransiscan friar (1292/3),Friar Jordanus a Dominican (1321-23) and others who reached Quilon about Easter 1348 and stayed there for about a year and four months.[4]

During the long period from very early times down to the 15th century the Church in Malabar, it may be assumed, was in friendly contact with the Church in Persia. The Church in Persia was a Missionary Church having sent preacher of the Gospel to distant places like China, North and Central India. This East Syrian Church was also called the Chaldean Church or the Nestorian Church, now represented in Kerala by a small community of Christians living in the areas of Trichur.[5]

In the 16th and the 17th centuries the influence of the Portuguese colonial power grew in India. It was a period of great missionary activity on the part of the Roman Catholic Church with Veteran Jesuit missionaries like Francis Xavier (the Apostle of the Indies), Robert de Nobili and Father Joseph Beschi were in the forefront. The missionary efforts of the Roman Church were mainly directed towards winning the Syrians over to the obedience of the Pope of Rome. [6]

The Synod of Diamper (1599) (Udayamperur Sunnahadose)

The missionary efforts continued over a period of years culminated in the Synod of Diamper (Udayamperur Sunnahadose) held in 1599, convened by Achbishop Alexio de Menezies of Goa and Archdeacon George of the Syrian Church. The Archdeacon was a tool in the hands of the Archbishop owing to the circumstances of the time. The decrees passed by the Synod were calculated to bring the faith and practices of the Syrian Church into conformity with those of the Church of Rome are important historical documents indicating, by inference, the faith and practices of the Syrian Church prior to the Synod. The threat and persuasion of the Archbishop intended to silence opposition and making the Syrians acknowledge, outwardly at least, allegiance to the Pope continued for about half a century. In the mean time the Leaders of the Syrian Church made frantic efforts to get a bishop from one of the Eastern Churches. The Patriarch of Babylon sent a bishop named Ahatalla in 1653 to Malabar. But the Portuguese seized him on his arrival and deported him to Goa where he was tried by the Inquisition and eventually burnt at the stake.

The Oath of the Coonen Cross (1653) (Coonen Kurisu Satyam)

When the Syrians heard of the burning incident of the bishop they were roused to furious anger against the Portuguese and they assembled in their thousands in front of a Church at Mattancherry and took an oath to have nothing to do with the Portuguese any more. This is known as the "Oath of the Coonen Cross", because the granite cross around which the people had assembled was inclined to one side. This event marks an important turning point in the history of the Syrians. While the large majority turned away from the Roman Church, a small faction stuck to it and became known as the 'Rome Syrians'. In course of time, the latter grew in numbers and became the majority. Archdeacon had in the meanwhile passed away, and was succeeded by Archdeacon Thomas. A prelate, Mar Gregorius, closely connected with the Jacobite Patriarchate of Antioch, arrived in Malabar in 1665. Heartily welcomed everywhere, he consecrated Archdeacon Thomas as bishop and continued to remain in India till his death in 1685.

The significance of the consecration of Archdeacon Thomas by Mar Gregorius is that by this action the Syrian Church was brought into communion with the Jacobite Church of Antioch which was supposed to hold the monophysite doctrine about the person of Christ. Recent research, however, is inclined to accept the Church as really Orthodox in its teaching. From this time onwards, the Syrians had their own bishops under the title of Mar Thoma, Archdeacon Thomas being Mar Thoma-1. They were consecrated either by their predecessors or by visiting Bishops connected with the Jacobite Patriarchate of Antioch.[7]

A Historical Glance on the 19th Century

The conditions of the Church at the beginning of the 19th century will be discussed hereafter. The State of Travancore was in a state of political turmoil facing invasion by Tippu Sultan of Mysore, when Mar Thoma VI took the title of Mar, Mar Dionysius was the Head of the Syrian Church from 1765 to 1808.The Travancore State was taken into subsidiary alliance by the British and Colonel Macaulay was appointed the Resident. This was followed by Cochin also being brought under the control of the East India Company. A schism took place during this period which resulted in the creation of the independent See of Thozhiur (Thozhiur Sabha) which later on was able to help the Syrian Church as a whole and the Mar Thoma Sabha in particular by consecrating bishops for them. In 1806-07 Claudius Buchanan a Chaplain of the East India Company from Calcutta visited various part of Travancore and Cochin. On his initiative the four Gospels were translated into Malayalam and printed in Bombay in 1811.

Colonel Macaulay was succeeded by Colonel Munro as the Resident (1810-19) and the latter took a keen interest in the welfare of the Syrians. It was through his help that Ittoop Ramban of Kunnamkulam was able to establish in 1813 a school in Kottayam which is known as the "Old Seminary". Further through his good offices the Church Missionary Society sent out a 'Mission Help' to induct new life into the Syrian Church. The three prominent members of the 'Mission Help' arrived in 1816-17, were Benjamin Bailey, Joseph Fenn and Henry Baker. With the co-operation of the Metropolitan they set to work, teaching the children, preaching the Gospel in the churches and educating the clergy. Bailey set up a printing press at Kottayam and got the New Testament translated and published in Malayalam (1829) and later the whole Bible (1841). "The Mission" was able to make a spiritual impact upon the Church in the direction of the purification of the life of its members in accordance with the Christian standards, and everything went well with during the episcopacy of Pulikot Mar Dionysius (1817-18) and Punnathra Mar Dionysius (1818-1825). But at the time of Cheppad Mar Dionysus tension developed between the Metropolitan and the Missionaries, especially the new missionaries who showed impatience at the slow response of the Church to their work. Matters came to a head when a synod of the Church which met at Mavelikara in 1836 decided not to accept certain proposals for the reformation of the Church sent in by the Missionaries. This led to a parting of ways and the missionaries turned their attention to work amongst the non-Christians of Travancore and Cochin. With the converts they gained and with the Syrians who joined with them eventually a branch of the Church of England was formed known as the Diocese of the Travancore and Cochin (1878).

The Beginning of Naveekaranam in the Malankara Church

There was a nucleus of people in the Church who longed for removal of the unscriptural customs and practices which had crept into the Church over the centuries, and for a reformation (Naveekaranam) of the Church in the fight of the Gospel of our Lord, and to restore the Church to what was considered to be its pristine position before the Udayamperoor Sunnahadose. There were two outstanding leaders in this group; one was Palakunnathu Abrham Malpan of Maramon (1796-1845) and the other Kaithayil Geevarughese Malpan of Puthuppally. This group gradually became vocal and approached Colonel Fraser, the British Resident, with a memorandum in 1836 although nothing came of it.

Infusion of the Naveekaranam Ideals

Abraham Malpan translated the liturgy of the Holy Qurbana in to Malayalam and also eliminated from it prayers for the dead, auricular confession, invocation of saints and unhealthy veneration of sacraments. Another important practice was the reintroduction of giving Holy Communion to the people in both kinds. Malpan deciding to take action, celebrated the Holy Qurbana in his own church using the revised liturgy on a Sunday in 1837 and removed from the church a wooden image of a saint reputed to have miraculous powers. He then popularized Bible teaching and preaching both at Maramon and at the Old Seminary at Kottayam, and the neighboring parishes and also gave up his appointment in the Old Seminary, which aroused the Metropolitan. Knowing that he needed the support of a bishop who would be sympathetic towards his reforms, he sent his nephew, Deacon Mathew to the Patriarch at Mardin in Syria. The Patriarch in due course consecrated deacon with the title of Mathews Mar Athanasius, who returned to be the Malankara Metopolitan, concurrently with Dionysius-IV already here. This created a complicated situation in the Malankara Church. Malpan passed away in 1845. In order to establish himself as the Metropolitan of the Malankara Church, Mathews Mar Athanasius (1843-1877) secured an order in 1852 from the Government of Travancore, giving him recognition as the Metropolitan. The opponents of Mathews Mar Athanasius, seeking the support of the Patriarch, consecrated Pulikkottil Kathanar as the Joseph Mar Dionysius-V Metropolitan. This prompted Mathews Mar Athanasius to consecrate Thomas Mar Athanasius, son of Abraham Malpan, to be his successor. During the time of Thomas Mar Athanasius, in 1876 when the Mulanthuruthy Synod was held, the Antochean Patriarch tried to tighten the control over the Malankara Church, which was stiffly resisted by the Reformers (Naveekarana Faction). The litigation, popularly known as "Seminary Suit" by Pulikkottil Mar Dionysius-V against Thomas Mar Athanasius at the Alappuzha District Court, lasting over ten years, regarding his title of the possession of the 'Old Seminary' and allied properties of the Church, was finally heard at the Royal Appeal Court in Thiruvananthapuram and the court verdict went against the Reformers on July 12, 1889. The result of the judgment in the 'Seminary Case' was that the Church was divided into two sections, one calling itself the Jacobite Church and the other the Mar Thoma Church, considering itself as the one carrying on the original traditions of the Malabar Church of Apostolic Tradition, reformed in accordance with the teaching of the New Testament. In the meanwhile, the Mar Thomites (Reformers) having lost their claim to property had to start from scratch, founding parishes, making church buildings and organizing themselves as an independent body. [8]

Naveekaranam in Greater Cheppad Malankara Church

The Cheppad Mar Thoma Parish was formed out of the Malankara Sabha Naveekaranam in the mid-nineteenth century. Before the split, the Cheppad Malankara Church had the following Priests in service: Puthenveettil Philipose Kathanar, Kannampallil Koshy Mathai Kathanar (ordained by Mathews Mar Athanasius), Kaimaveettil Achen, Patamalathu Achen, and Naranathu Achen.[9] Following the spread of Naveekaranam ideals, a split came about in the Malankara Sabha, forming two schools of thought; the majority Bava faction and the lesser Methran faction, of which Kannampallil Koshy Mathai Kathanar was the leader in Cheppad St.George Jacobite Church. (The Cheppad Malankara Church had jurisdiction as far as Veeyapuram, Payippad, Karichal, Arazhi of Harippad, Pallippad, Muttom, Cheppad, Muthukulam , Ramapuram and Parimanom, although later on Pallippad, Karichal and Arazhi made own Churches and seceded from Cheppad Malankara Church). During the period of schism, from the Sunday to Saturday, both factions shared the facilities of the Church, turn by turn, for worship and other requirements. However, the defeat in the verdict of the Royal Appeal Court (Thiruvananthapuram) in the Seminary Case ( in 1064), was a set back for the Reformists and Kathanar was expelled from the Church. A compensation of British Rupees 200/- was given, about which Kathanar wrote to H. G. Titus-1.

Formation of Cheppad Mar Thoma Parish

In 1894 Kannampallil Kathanar founded Cheppad Mar Thoma Parish, the first in the area, under approval of H. G. Titus-1. Following this a meeting was conducted at Munjanattu House on Vruchigam 8, 1076, for the collection of funds for purchasing the land and making a Church building. Accordingly, 60 cents of land was purchased, for British Rupees 294.50 (Rs.Two hundred ninety four and half), from Pallithekkathil Sri. Chandy Thomas, in the names of Velentethu Sri. Geevarghese Varkey and Parappallil Kizhakethil Sri. Varkey Chandy[10] and constructed the first Church with bamboo poles under heavy odds and constraints, followed by teak poles in 1079 (1904). Following the death of Kathanar, on Nov.29, 1906, the son-in-law of Kathanar, Purackel Achen ( Purackel Divya Sree P. V. Zachariah), ordained earlier and assisted the Kathanar for two years, took over as the vicar. During Purackel Achen's tenure, although the foundation of the present church was laid in 1908, the construction of the building could start only in 1918 and dragged on, due to financial constraints for completion and then consecrated in 1938. The present Church as on date is 74 years old. It is worth mentioning that during the construction of the present Church when the financial condition was acute, the then trustee, Poonthuruthiyil Sri. Ittiyavira, pledged his property to find the source of money for the parish. The important sequences of history of the Parish until the present and The Clergy List will be separately listed. The Parish as a whole thank God for the His Providence in sustaining the Parish thus far. (It is worth mentioning here that three other Mar Thoma priests had served Cheppad Mar Thoma Parish 106 years back for brief periods as per details of tradition and the Idavaka Suvenir Records of 1969, to remember them and say a few words for their contributions to be in His Service. One is Thayyil Thomas Koshy Achen, a newphew of Kathanar (Cheppad), although ordained by H. G. Titus-1 and appointed in the Cheppad Mar Thoma Parish to assist Kathanar, who (Thayyil Achen) had crossed over to the Cheppad St. George Jacobite Church. The others are under the approval of the Metropolitan, Punthala Thoppil Vadakkethil Thomas Kassissa and Kuzhiyampattathu Zachariah Kassissa who had visited our Parish to assist Kannampallil Kathanar during his last years, until Purackel Achen was given full charge). The Vicar and the Parish take this opportunity, on this auspicious occasion, to remember the sacrifices and services in various forms of all the priests served and all the members of the Parish, before and now, for upholding the great legacy of the Church in the Apostolic Tradition for the Glory of God in Christ. Thank God for all His blessings!

Prepared by Dr.Mohan Philip Mathew, Kannampallil (SCEPTRE).

Reviewed by Rev. Abraham Mathew, Vicar, Cheppad Mar Thoma Church (2012-Present)

[1] Mar Thoma Suriyani Sabha, Vaideeka Directory, 1999, p119
[2] Mar Thoma Sabha Clergy Directory, 2007, p 57
[3] C. B. Firth, An Introduction to Indian Christianity (Bangalore: ISPCK, 1961) p22
[4] Mar Thoma Sabha Directory, 1999, p20
[5] Mar Thoma Sabha Directory, 1999, p 20-21
[6] C. B. Firth, An Introduction to Indian Christianity (Bangalore: ISPCK, 1961) p 2
[7] C.B. Firth, p109..
[8] Mar Thoma sabha Directory, 1999, p 22-23
[9] History of the Mar Thoma Church, Mar Thoma Sabha Directory, 1999, p 21-24
[10] Velentethu Kudumabyogam History (1997) p 84
[10] Cheppad Mar Thoma Church Souvenir, 1969, p ii-iii

Quotable Quotes

"If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next"-C. S. Louis

"Every renewal of the Church, every great age in its history, has been grounded on a renewal reading of history." - Justo L. Gonzales

"The Bible is God preaching" - Dr. J. I. Packer