Sunday, November 27, 2011

Leadership in the Mar Thoma Church – Do we need further reformation or should we question the authenticity of the prevalent one?

This article is an attempt to shed light about facets and facts, hidden and perhaps unknown, existent about the origin and evolution of the leadership within the Marthoma Church and/or other churches of Malankara church.  Through this article, the author would like to bring out, what the writer feels, are factors influencing the ecclesiological administration of the Mar Thoma Church and perhaps other Malankara churches in Kerala.

There are certain traditions that need deeper scrutiny to verify its authenticity:
1.  The St. Thomas tradition and the brahmanic connection.
2.  The Syrian connection in the history of the Malankara church.

It is traditionally believed that St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, came to India in A.D. 52 and established a church in the Malabar coast.  In this statement lies two contentious hypothesizes that needs verification.  The first is whether the Apostle did really come to the Malabar coast and the second more contentious hypothesis is the brahmanic roots of the origin of this church.

To my mind certain facts that point to the probability that St. Thomas could have come to the Malabar coast are:
1.  There was a trade route from the Middle East to the Malabar coast, the veracity of which is testified by the scriptures.
2.  There was a Jewish community in the Malabar coast and DNA tests done on Syrian Christians in Malabar, though still inconclusive, alludes to this fact.

Other traditions about St. Thomas arriving to the Malabar coast, unless proved otherwise, may be set aside by objective historians as tradition or even mythology.  There is no conclusive proof to authenticate the arrival of St. Thomas to the Malabar coast and will need objective research to establish this claim.  However, tradition and other writings do point to the fact of a very early Christian presence in Kerala.

Mar Thoma Alexander Metropolitan in his book "The Marthoma Church – Heritage and Mission" wrote thus:  It has been believed from very early days that Thomas established seven churches on the Malabar coast at (1) Cranganore (Malankara) (2) Chavakad (Palur) (3) Parur near Alwaye (4) Gokamangalam (5) Niranam (6) Nilakkel (Chayal) (7) Quilon (Kalyan).

Church historians have gone by tradition in establishing a brahmanical origin to these churches with the clergy coming from four brahamnical families.  The four families ordained as clergies were supposedly from the Brahmin families of Pakalomattom, Kalli, Sankarapuri and Kalikavu.  Tradition also believed that high priests (bishops) were the exclusive rights of Pakalomattam family.  However, the fact that brahmins existed in Kerala before 6th century A.D. is highly debatable.  Secular historians are of the view that the earliest brahmanical presence in Kerala was in the 6th century A.D.  The assumption that the earliest Christians in the Malankara church were brahmins is almost akin to the assumption that St. Thomas arrived to the Malabar coast and is yet to be proved conclusively.  However, between the two probabilities, St. Thomas would steal a march over the Brahmins.

In light of the above, the theory that the leadership was from families such Palamattam or Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, Kalli and Kalliankavu suggests that this is a later addition that was craftily woven into the tradition of the Malankara church history suggesting a superimposition of the above theory into the history of the Malankara church by a more dominant culture at a much later period.  The factors that make this an ecclesiological reality continue to have dominion over the ecclesiological order, both domestic and foreign.

As mentioned above, the fact of early Christian presence is known through different sources and establishment of its authenticity is not the aim of this writer at this present juncture.

This is a section that is steeped in obscurity and will need much objective research to establish its claims and it is the writer's aim to seek to bring to light as much facts as possible in order to make this comprehensible.

As previously mentioned, the early Christian presence led to the church in Malankara having continued connection with Persia, with even bishops arriving from the Middle East to the Malankara church through the centuries, and the church is Malankara had its local administration done by way of archdeacons.

However, there are certain problems that need to be ironed out concerning the church that existed in Syria.  One is the apostolic origin of the early church in Antioch.  The Petrine origin of the church in Antioch is a subject steeped in mystery and the pages of history and early Christian writings are still too obscure to forcefully establish its authenticity.  Another is the evolution of the Nestorian and monophysitic theologies that have influenced the Indian Orthodox and Jacobite Syrian Orthodox churches in Kerala.

An extract from Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan's book "The Marthoma Church – Heritage and Mission" would throw more light, "Very little is known of the condition of the church in those early days.  There was connection with the church in the Middle East from where bishops came and rendered spiritual ministrations and ordained priests.  The local administration was by the Archdeacons.  One sign of the Persian connections is the existence of Persian crosses, one of which is to be seen at the Valiayapally at Kottayam with an inscription in the Pahlavi language.  As a commercial community the Christians were not very much concerned about the theological nuances of the bishops who came from the Middle East, some of whom were Nestorians in their views.  Some others held monophysite doctrine regarding the person of Jesus Christ.  Irrespective of such differences they were welcomed for such help as they could render.  There is an interesting quotation given by Dr. Juhanon Mar Thoma in his book "Christianity in India and a brief history of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church" (page 6).

"The Malabar Church suffered practical isolation with the rise of Islam and the dominance of the Indian seas by the Muslims.  The Syrians, however, clung tenaciously to their traditions and made desperate attempts to get bishops from Western Asia.  Of the geography of Western Asia they knew little; of the theological niceties that rocked the ancient center of Christianity, perhaps less.  What they apparently wanted was a bishop of Western Asian appearance; and as long as a person of this description came to them by sea they were not interested in his doctrines or his bonafides."  (The condition is not very much different now than it was then – author's comment).

The writer proposes to list other reasons that led to the transformation within ecclesiastical authority in the Malankara church in ancient Kerala:
1.  The growing influence of familial ties in the ecclesiastical order.
2.  The consolidation of influence of families by affiliation with political powers in Kerala (kings, dewans and political parties).
3.  The desire of families to increase their status through marital interconnections.

It is uncertain whether the Brahmanical influx after 6th century A.D. led to these changes.  However, a cross-analysis of the Malankara church history and the secular history in Kerala could bring more clarity to the above.

Even today, the influence of familial interconnection holding sway in Kerala is evident from a certain E-mail message the writer received.  Extract of the E-mail is produced below.

"This is to inform all concerned the news of the above a grand rally covering those ancient “Ezharappally” in Kerala namely Nilakkal, Niranam, Kollam, Palayur, Kottakkavu, Kokkamangalam, Kodungallur and Thiruvankod.  It starts from Pakalomattom(Kuravilangad) “Arkadiyakkon Nagar” on 18th January, ends at same place on 21st, covering all these centers and a few other like Kanjirappally, Trivandrum, Ernakulam, Edappally, Malayattur, etc.

This effort is in the auspice of those ancient Christian families like Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, Kaali, Kaliyankal, Chothirikkunnel, Kottakkali, Nedunthali, Vazhappally, Payyappilly, Thayyil, Erali, Madathilaan, Bhatamukku, Tharisathekkethil, etc and descendant family members.  It is a multi-sect endeavor to rekindle the subdued glory of Nasrani of past, in times of Arkadiyakons(Archdeakons), and thru the combined effort to refute the concocted theory that St. Thomas in Kerala and Nasrani-Jewish origin is a myth by vested interests.

The 20-member Committee consists of Syro-Malabar Catholic, Orthodox, Jacobite, Malankara Syrian Catholic, Marthomite, Assyrian, etc."

At this juncture, the author would like to provide factual evidence for some or all of the above factors coming into play in the ordination of bishops of Mar Thoma Church with supposedly a connection with bishops who were ordained before the reformation and breakaway of the Mar Thoma Church.

This extract is taken from the history of the Pakalomattam Ayrookuzhiyil family as put in the Internet.
Marthoma Bishops - 1653 to 1816 AD.  All Marthoma Bishops belonged to the Pakalomattam family.

Marthoma - I - Archdeacon Thomas became Marthoma I. He belonged to the Vadakkedam branch of Pakalomattam. Paulions call him "parambil Thommi", which cannot be true. The general expression of uncle of Bishop Alexander De Cempo, must have confused the Europeans. After a tumultuous life, he expired on 1670 April 22. He was buried in Ankamali St. Mary's Church.

Marthoma -II - He was the son of the brother of Marthoma I. He died at Niranam on 1686 April -13. He was buried in St. Mary's church Niranam.

Marthoma - III - He was the brother of Marthoma-II. After being bishop for 2 years, he died on April 19, 1688 at Kadampanad church and was buried in St. Thomas church, Kadampanad.

Marthoma -IV - He belonged to Pakalomattam Arackal branch. He was vicar of Kuravilangad church and became Marthoma on compulsion. He was bishop for 40 years. He died on March 24, 1728. He was buried in Kandanad St. Mary's Church.

Marthoma - V - He belonged to Andoor branch of Pakalomattam. His father served as administration chief of Vadakkamkur kings. He was ordained in 1728. He ruled for 37 years and died on May 8, 1765. He was buried at Niranam St. Mary's Church.

Marthoma - VI - He ruled from 1755 to 1808. He was the only son of Mathew Tharakan elder brother of Marthoma V. His real name was Ipe. He retitled himself as Valia Mar Dionysius. His remains are in Puthenkavil St.Mary's Church.

Marthoma - VII - He belonged to Palli Vadakkadathu family Kurichithanathu Kannokunnel. He was the son of Ouseph, brother of Marthoma VI. He was ordained as Marthoma VII at Kandanadu. On July 4, 1809 he died at Kolencherry and was buried at Kolencherry church.

Marthoma - VIII - He was son of Kuriala, the paternal uncle of Marthoma VII. He ruled from Kandanadu for 5 years. He died on January 23, 1816 and was buried at Puthenkavu St. Mary's church

Marthoma - IX - He could not function effectively. He was the Ipe Priest who was the brother of Kuriala Kadamattathu Thekkilakattil uncle of Marthoma VIII. Pulikkottil Ittoop Remban with the help of resident dewan Munroe of Travancore, ordained himself as Mar Dionysius -II and captured power. He died in 1817 and was buried in Kandamattam church. After abdication he took sanyas and lived at Kandamattam till death. With him the Marthoma bishops from Pakalomattam ended. In 1812 Marthoma VIII wrote a letter to Madras Governments in which he says that for 1308 years continuously Pakalomattam family headed the church. Now there are bishops in many branches of the Pakalomattam family.

Information on Marthoma X-XII not available.

Below is the full list taken from Wikipedia:
Mar Thoma I (1653–1670)
Mar Thoma II (1670–1686)
Mar Thoma III (1686–1688)
Mar Thoma IV (1688–1728)
Mar Thoma V (1728–1765)
Mar Thoma VI (1765–1808)
Mar Thoma VII (1808–1809)
Mar Thoma VIII (1809–1816)
Mar Thoma IX (1816–1817)
Mar Thoma X (1816–1816), Pulikottil Mar Dionysius

The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma has taken the title of Mar Thoma XXI.  The first 12 metropolitans of the Malankara Church belonged to the Vadakethu branch of the Pakalomattom family.  Abraham Malpan’s real name is Abraham Panamkuzhy Pakalomattotil and Panamkuzhy is another branch of the Pakalomattom family.  The first four bishops of the Mar Thoma Church have come from this family.  The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma is the fifth member of the family.  It has been openly reported in the Malayalam Manorama, in an edition during the Maramon Covention last year, that Abraham Mar Thoma and Juhanon Mar Thoma have connections with the Palakunnathu family and indirectly the Pakalomattom family.  Alexander Mar Thoma hailed from Kuriannor, Ayroor.  Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan belongs to the Sankaramangalathu family.

So for us in this age will have to look more objectively into the reformation that took place within the Mar Thoma Church and especially the leadership.  There are certain questions the writer would like to raise to the readers:
1.  In the leadership succession in the Malankara church, is familial polity playing a continuing role in the establishment of bishops in the Mar Thoma Church?
2.  Can we detect desire to build family influence, power and status through the position of bishop in the Mar Thoma Church?
3.  Was there a power struggle within the Pakalomattom family that led to the breakaway?
4.  What is the position of the common believer in this game, if there is one?

Taking into consideration all that has been written above and trying a psychoanalysis into the thought process of the reformers, certain pertinent questions arise:
1.  Were the reformers not aware of the anomalies existent in the issue of the Petrine origin of the church at Antioch and therefore its apostolic origin?
2.  Were the reformers not aware of the heretic component that existed within the ecclesiological growth of the church at Antioch?
3.  Was the need for an Eastern church and desire for episcopacy influenced by the familial ties that existed in the Malankara Church?
4.  Does a caste bias exist within the leadership of the church?

I would conclude this article asking the reader to analysis the data and come to their own conclusions and explanations and ask ourselves whether we have unwittingly become prisoners to powers that are mighty and are prey to forces beyond our powers to control?

CLAIMANT AND CLAIM:  The author of this article is a B.D. graduate from the United Theological College, Bangalore.  The opinions expressed in this article are the result of research and close study and observation by the author and are opinions solely his own, subject to both debate and correction, if proved otherwise.  The sources are from books, the Internet, and personal experience.  All material and ideas in this article are the property of the claimant and should not be copied, borrowed or plagiarized without the consent or knowledge of the writer.

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