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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 Churches.
  1. '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.


  2. 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 Church.

    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.


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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.


  6. 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.


  7. 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,


  8. 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 the Tharissapalli Cheppeds (Documents on Copper Plates for the Holy Church) in 849 A.D.


  9. 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.


  10. 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.


  11. Marco Polo, who visited Kerala in 1295 writes that he saw Nestorian Christians in South India.


  12. 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.


  13. 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.


  14. 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 Church.


  15. 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 bishops)
Decree 20 - condemned Nestorios and his followers and the heresy of Nestorios and accepted the council of Ephesus (431 A.D)
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.