CHAPTER 3. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MALANKARA AND PERSIAN CHURCHES
Church historians agree that the Malankara Church was
founded by St. Thomas, the Apostle. The tradition in the
Persian Church also holds that Church too was founded by
St.Thomas. Therefore it may be legitimately assumed that these
two churches had cordial and strong relationship and
intercommunion. Christians were persecuted in the Persian
Empire during the 4th century. To escape the persecution the
Persian Christians fled to different countries. One such contingent of Christians under the leadership of Thomas of Cana,
who was a leading trader, reached the Kerala coast in 345 AD.
It is only reasonable to presume that such migrants have
helped to bring the Malankara and Persian Churches closer.
And the Kerala Christians had very good and close relationship
With the Persian Church till the arrival of the Portuguese in
the 16th Century. Given below are some of the 'evidences' to
establish the relation between the Malankara and Persian
- 'The Chronicle of Seert' records that during the days of
bishop Shahaluppa and bishop Pope, by about 300 A.D,
bishop David of Bassra left his diocese, went to India
and converted many people into Christianity.
- In A D 345, a group of 400 people from 72 families along
with a Bishop named Joseph came from Persia under the
leadership of a famous merchant 'Knayi Thoma' (Thomas
of Cana) and settled in Kerala. This helped to maintain good
relationship between the Persian church and the Malankara
But the happenings which are told in connection with this
event may not be true. There are some stories in connection with
Knayi Thoma's arrival in Kerala.
One is that the Catholicos of Persia had sent a group of
people to help the church in Malankara. When Knayi Thoma left
Peria, the Persian church was under severe torment. At this time,
about 20,000 believers, many priests, Bishops and three Catholicoses
were killed. So we cannot believe that in this very hour of crisis,
they had sent a group of people to help the Malankara Church.
Second is that the group of people under the leadership of
Knayi Thoma was sent to Kerala by King Abgar of Uraha. But
there is no historical evidence which could prove that King Abgar
ruled over Uraha at that time. Hence it is also unbelievable.
Third is that the group of people under the leadership of
Knayi Thoma was sent to Malankara by Ignatius Patriarch of
Antioch. But there was no such Patriarch named Ignatius in
Antioch at that time. The designation 'Ignatius' was given to the
Patriarch of Antioch only after the 13th century. All the incidents
which are said in connection with Knayi Thoma's arrival are only
legends and cannot be taken in to account as historical evidences.
Actually Knayi Thoma and his group came to Malankara
as refugees from Persia, when the Persian Church was under severe persecution. But it is true that when they came to Kerala,
they were treated very cordially and were given good positions.
- By around 430 A.D, 'Isodas', (Servant of Jesus) a biblical
scholar in the Persian Church prepared an interpretation
for the Epistle to Romans. It is written in the margin
of this book that
this epistle has been translated into
Syriac from the Greek language with the help of Daniel,
an Indian priest.
- It is recorded that the theological books written by Mar
Mana, bishop of Rivard Sheer in Persia near 470 A.D,
were sent to the Church in India.
- During the beginning of the 6th Century, Cosmus
Indicoploitus, the Alexandrian voyager reached the
Malabar coast. In his book
Christian Topography it is
said that there are Christians in Malabar where pepper
is in plenty and that he saw in Kalyan bishops who were
sent from Persia.
- At about this time, Christians in India were bought under
the 'Fars' Archdiocese of Persia. This information is
documented in the letters of Patriarch Ishoyaab who
lived in the 7th century However Ibn-at-Thayib, a canon
scholar says that after a short spell of time, India was
moved out of Fars Archdiocese and was given the status
of an independent Diocese.
- The letters of Patriarch Timothy who lived in the 8th
century throw light on the relationship between India
and Persia. Timothy consecrated bishops from among the
monks in Persian Monasteries and sent some of them
to India. One of these monks who pointed to the financial
burden involved in travelling to the distant India was
told by Timothy that many monks used to
go to India
and China, by the sea with a walking stick and the
begging bowl in their hands,
- After the reign of this Patriarch, two bishops - Prod and
Saphor and a group of people along with them,
migrated to Kerala. They stayed at Kollam and received
Tharissapalli Cheppeds (Documents on Copper
Plates for the Holy Church) in 849 A.D.
- The bishops under the Catholicos of Persia (Patriarch)
were required to present annual reports of their activities
to the Catholicos. However, since India and China were
far off places, bishops in these two countries were
required to give their reports only once in six years, on
orders of Catholicos Theodosius in the 9th Century.
- There are no documents to show whether any Persian
bishop came to India between 9th and 12th centuries.
Historians note that in 1129 A.D. one bishop John was
sent to Malankara by the Catholicos of Persia.
- Marco Polo, who visited Kerala in 1295 writes that he
saw Nestorian Christians in South India.
- A Guidebook for the reading of Scriptures in the Church
prepared at Kodungalloor (Cranganore) in 1301 A.D, says
that it was prepared during the time of the Nestorian
Patriarch Yabaloho V and Mar Yakob who ruled the
Indian Church, sitting on the Throne of St. Thomas.
- In 1490, a three member delegation was sent from
Malankara to Simon, the Nestorian Patriarch of the time
with the request that Malankara Church had the need
of a bishop. One of three died
on the way, the remaining
two reached the Patriarch and submitted the memorandum from Malankara. The Patriarch consecrated both of
them as bishops and sent them back to India along with
two other bishops.
- Mar Elias, the successor to Patriarch Simon, sent three
bishops - Yabalaha, Yakob and Danaha - to India. They
wrote back to the Patriarch regarding the warm welcome
they received in India. A copy of their letter is available
now, which also says that there are 30,000 Christian
families in Kerala who follow the faith of the Persian
- The 'Persian Crosses' in South India are the memorials
of the relationship betweern Indian and Persian Churches.
These crosses engraved on granite stones are available
in Kottayam Valiya Palli, Kadamattom Church, Muttuchfra
Church and at Mylapore. Scholars are of the opinion that
these crosses were engraved during the 8th or 9th
century and are of the same type as the crosses available
in Persia. The Persian Cross bears an inscription in the
Pahlavi language. The generally accepted translation of
this inscription is this:
My Lord Christ, be merciful to
Aphras, son of Khaharbath the Syrian, who engraved
this. This Aphras is supposed to be the Nestorian
bishop Phrod who came to India in he 9th century.
The Portuguese reached the Indian shore in 1498. Along
with them came the Roman Catholic missionaries and
they stalled the visit of Persians to this country. Then
the Portuguese and the Roman missionaries attempted
to bring under the Roman fold the Malankara Church
which was in communion with the Nestorian Church of
Persia. The synod of Diamper of 1599 was the culmination of this attempt. The canons (decisions) of this
synod throw light into the conditions of the Malankara
Christian community of those days.
The 8th Decree of session 3 of the synod says that
Malankara Nazrani community remembers the name of the
Nestorian Patriarch of Babylon in the liturgy and that it is
Wrong. 'Henceforth the name of the Babylonian Patriarch
should never be remembered in the Holy liturgy or any other
occasion of worship - the name of the Pope of Rome should
is used in that place .... whoever acts against this shall be
thrown out of the Church'
Thus it is very clear that in Malankara churches, the name
of the Nestorian Patriarch was remembered during the
divine liturgy till that time.
Session 3, Decree No. 9 says: The decision taken by the
Malankara Nazranis that they will not accept bishops other
than those coming from Nestorian Patriarch shall not stand.
(This decree was made because Malankara Nazranis had
decided not to accept Roman bishops, but only the Persian
Decree 20 - condemned Nestorios and his followers and
the heresy of Nestorios and accepted the council of Ephesus
One major fallout of the Synod of Diamper was that
Malankara Church had to sever its Persian connection and
become part of the Roman Church. This situation continued
till 1653. In 1653 Malankara Nazranis made the "vow of
Coonan (leaning) Cross", and freed themselves from the
Roman yoke and then attempted to reestablish their old
connection with Eastern Churches. As a result bishop Gregorios
of Jerusalem who belonged to the Antiochan Church came to
Malankara and the Church received him.