Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Note about membership:
*Of which 100,000 in North America.
The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church traces its origins back to the work of the Apostle St Thomas in the south-west region of India (Malankara or Malabar, in modern Kerala). According to the tradition, St Thomas arrived in 52 AD and during a twenty year stay converted several Brahmin families to faith in Christ and established seven centres of worship. From the 3rd century onwards, Kerala Christians had spiritual and trade relations with churches in the Persian empire. The Indian Church of the Apostle Thomas was deeply rooted in the social and cultural traditions of the country and maintained its apostolic traditions and administrative freedom. The arrival of the Portuguese in Kerala in 1498 inaugurated the colonial period. The Portuguese Catholic missionaries began to exercise control over the ancient Indian church and latinized it by force. In 1653 in a historic and dramatic protest at the "Bent Cross" in Cochin, the church pledged against Portuguese and Roman Catholic authority and declared its freedom. Indian Christians were persecuted by the colonial authorities who succeeded in dividing the church. One group turned to Roman Catholic allegiance.
During the Portuguese persecution, the Indians who wanted to maintain their eastern and apostolic traditions appealed to several Oriental churches. Thus started the connection with the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, in 1665. It was a spiritual connection between sister churches at first, but gradually Syrian Patriarchs of Antioch began to exercise control and claim jurisdiction over the Indian church. Again the Indian Christians protested against foreign domination. Thus, in 1912, as a symbol of freedom, autocephaly and apostolic identity, the Catholicosate was established and an Indian Orthodox metropolitan was elected as the head (Catholicos) of the Malankara Church. A group continued to maintain allegiance to the patriarchal claims and therefore litigation in courts occurred. In 1958 the Supreme Court declared its final verdict recognizing the Indian Catholicos as the rightful head of the church, and validating his legal rights as well as the constitution of the church. However, some of the old patriarchal loyalists continued to create division, though the church seeks reconciliation and peace.
The MOSC, sharing the nation's history for 20 centuries, is fully integrated in the socio-cultural setting of India. Contributing to the field of education and health care, the church runs reputed medical and engineering schools in addition to hundreds of schools and technical institutes. It has two major seminaries with faculties at university level and has a 200-year old well-known lay theological education programme. The theological seminary in Kottayam runs a liturgical music school and other programmes in addition to its graduate and post-graduate courses in theology. The church has very active student and youth organizations. With a national mission board, the MOSC is very active in missionary and social witness, running homes for orphans, leprosy and HIV/AIDS patients, and bringing relief to victims of natural catastrophes.
Member of regional and local ecumenical bodies, the MOSC has always been very supportive of ecumenical initiatives. The church maintains official dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church. Through the Oriental Orthodox family, it is in dialogue with other church bodies also.