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Syro-Malabar Church: A Historical Perspective
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Posted by: reviewassessor, on 11/15/2008, in category "General News & Articles"
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Location: Kerala, India
Abstract:


The name Syro-Malabar Church was given by Rome to the St.Thomas Christians in the last quarter of the 19th century. This is a Church founded in A.D.52 By St. Thomas, an apostle of Jesus. Its earlier history is shrouded in obscurity. But the reality is that it was a flourishing Church and in Kerala, South India, St. Thomas had established Christian pockets in seven places viz. Kodungallur, Palayur, Kottakav, Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Kollam and Nilakkal.

From 10th century B.C. the Jews had been doing business with these coastal regions and there were synogogues and colonies for the Jews in those places. Their trade language was Aramaic which had been the official language of the Persian ‘Empire from 5th century B.C.. Thomas Christians were known by different names as Marthoma Nazarani, Nazarani Catholic and Syrian Catholics. Their liturgical language was Syriac.

The special feature of the Thomas Christians is that they followed the liturgy of the Syrian Churches of Eastern rites and at the same time they kept up the ultimate linkage with the Holy See. They were having hierarchical relationship with the East Syrian Church and kept up their own administrative system. A local priest leader called the Archdeacon was the head of the community. He had wide-ranging powers.

The bishops who came from the East Syrian church were concerned with purely spiritual affairs. Their realm was exclusively spiritual. In other words, Thomas Christians followed three distinct ways of activities in their religious sphere: their faith was Christianity in communion with the Universal Church with the Pope as its head; their liturgy was of East Syrian Church; their culture was purely Indian. They had their own style of life: austere and humble way of life with high thinking; their governance of Church was through Palliyogam, Synod, etc. as is prevalent in Oriental Churches.

It was only when the Portuguese missionaries arrived in the first half of the 16th century and began to interfere under the Padroado agreement with the Holy See that things took a turn for the worse. They suspected the Indian Christians of heresy and schism and wanted to introduce the Latin customs and Latin manner of ecclesiastical administration, severing the East Syrian connection, which according to them was the source of heresy and schism. Their efforts sowed seeds of disunity and division in the Indian Church which led to further divisions and disunity and as a result the once united Indian Church, the Church that was in full communion with the See of Peter ended up in various denominations. This is the case today.

The Present Syro-Malabar Church is only a fraction of the ancient Indian Church of the Thomas Christians. The disunity within the Church and the suspicion of schism prevented the creation of a common head in line with the tradition of Syrian Easter Churches. It was a period of crisis and to a great extent the Church overcame that crisis by the strong faith and commitment of its forefathers.

When Vasco da Gamma and the Portuguese missionaries arrived in India in 1498 they found no Christians in the country except in Malabar. And the Christians they found were St. Thomas Syrian Christians. Syrian Christians were friendly to Portuguese missionaries at first; but later, due to certain differences mainly in the liturgy, the relations between them became more and more strained.

The differences stressed by the Archdeacon and his followers, along with the insistence on the part of the Portuguese missionaries on Latinization of the Syrian Liturgy created a dangerous tension. In order to settle the differences and to correct the supposed theological and liturgical differences the Synod of Diamper was convoked by the Archbishop of Goa, Alex Menezes, a Spanish Augustinian, but it did not improve matters.

The growing antagonism of the Archdeacon and his followers culminated in an open rebellion of a Syrians against Archbishop Carcia of Cochin and was consummated in the Coonan Cross oath in Mattanchery on January 3, 1653. Thus began the troubled period of the Malabar Syrian Church in which the Carmelites were fully involved from the time of the arrival of the Papal Carmelite Mission in 1656 with Msgr. Sebastiani as official emissary The Carmelite Mission was originally attached to the Syrian Christians. In the last quarter of the 19th century. Rome thought that the moment of the juridical separation for the Syrians had arrived. Msgr. Marcelline was the last Carmelite who ruled over the Syrians.

In 1887 the Propaganda Congregation erected for Thomas Christians the two Vicariates Apostolic of Trichur and Kottayam. In 1896 the Holy See redistributed the Thomas Christians into three Vicariates under the Propaganda, namely Trichur, Eranakulam and Changanacherry which were given respectively as their rulers, Menachery Mar John, Pazheparambil Mar Aloysius and Makil Mar Thomas.

In 1911 a new Vicariate Apostolic was erected at Kottayam for the Southists who were in the Vicariates Apostolic of changanacherry and Eranakulam. Makil Mar Mathew (Southist) was transferred to Kottayam and Kurialacherry Mar Thomas (Northist) was appointed for Changanacherry which had been under Makil Mar Mathew.

Under the indigenous prelates the Thomas Christians made great progress in all directions; and thus the Holy See restored their hierarchy to them in 1923 with Eranakulam as the Metropolis and the other three Sees as Suffragans. In 1956 Changanacherry was raised to an Archdiocese and in 1995 Trichur and Tellicherry were raised to Archdioceses. On December 16, 1992, the Syro-Malabar Church was elevated as a Major Archiepiscopal Church was elevated as a Major Archiepiscopal church by Rome. The three Vicariates Apostolic of 1896 have grown into four archdioceses and 20dioceses. It has an enormous following and a great variety of institutions both in Kerala and outside Kerala.

The Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest Church among the Oriental Catholic Churches. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches came into force on October 1, 1991. The eastern Code has defined the status of the various Oriental Churches. There are four categories of Oriental churches: (1) Patriarchal; (2) Major Archiepiscopal; (3) Metropolitan; (4) a Church entrusted to a hierarch who presides over it as per the norms of common and particular laws. The Universal Church is the communion of different sui juris Churches.

According to the catholic teaching, bishops by their episcopal ordination receive the legislative executive and judicial powers. The Pope has these powers in a supreme way; Patriarchs and Major Archbishops participate in this supreme power. In the apostolic constitution by which the Pope promulgated the Code of canons of the eastern Churches, he says, In the eastern Churches the Patriarchs and Synods are by Canon Law sharers in the supreme authority of the Church.

Though the Major Archbishop governs the Syro-Malabar Church as father and head, he has only executive powers. The other two, namely, legislative and judicial powers, are exercised by the Synod of is hops which is convened and presided over by the Major Archbishop. Even in the administrative field his powers are not absolute. There are several canons in the Code where we find the Major Archbishop requiring either the consent or the counsel of the Synod of Bishops.

The powers of the Major Archbishop are associated with the permanent Synod. It is comprised of the Major Archbishop and four member bishops. It is an administrative organ in order to assist the Major Archbishop in all important matters. There is also a body of representatives of the entire Christian faithful called the Major Archiepiscopal Assembly, which is an advisory body in which the Christian faithful get involved in the affairs of the Church which has to be convened once in five years.

The authority of the Major Archbishop can validly be exercised only within the territory of the Church he presides over. Even the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church is not empowered to exercise fully its powers. The Syro-Malabar Church has yet to go a long way to obtain the highest rank and status of Oriental Churches as envisaged in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.

Tradition has it that the Apostle ordained two bishops, Kepha and Paul, respectively for Malabar and Coromandal (Mylapore). This is supposed to mark the beginnings of the first hierarchy of India. The Church of the Thomas Christians was one of the four great "Thomite Churches" of the East. The three others were the Edessan, the Chaldean (of Mesopotamia or Iraq) with Seleucia-Ctesiphon as its centre, and the Persian (of Persia proper or Iran). These four Churches were "Thomite" in the sense that they looked to St. Thomas as to their direct or indirect Apostle. Among these Churches the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon emerged as the organizational centre, mainly owing to the political importance of this place as the capital of the Persian Empire. The Indian Church retained close contact with these Churches. Later, we cannot say when but certainly in or before 7th century, it became hierarchically subordinated to the Chaldean Church, and the succession of indigenous prelates came to an end. In their place the East Syrian prelates started to rule. The apostolic Church of India was thus reduced to a dependent status. This dependence, which lasted until the end of the 16th century, prevented it from developing an Indian theology and liturgy with an Indian culture.

The Portuguese missionaries who arrived in Malabar by the end of the 15th century, were happy to meet Christians in India in the midst of Hindus and Muslims. But they very soon noticed the differences in ritual and liturgy which were intolerable to them. They wanted "unity in the Kingdom of God", and decided to take measures to achieve this goal. With the rise of Goa as the chief seat of Portuguese political and ecclesiastical power in the East, they converted the Malabar Church, which had become Syrian, into a branch of the Latin Church. Not until 1887, did Pope Leo XIII created the first Vicariates for the Syro-Malabar Church, enacting ritual separation from the Latin Church. In 1896 this Church received indigenous Vicars Apostolic of its own rite. On December 21, 1923 the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy was established by the Apostolic Constitution Romani Pontifices of Pope Pius XI.

Liturgy is essential to the life of the Church. It is through liturgy that the Church expresses herself in the present day situation. Hence reform is inevitable in this area. But some members of the Syro-Malabar Church prefer a total restoration of the old Chaldean Liturgy for their Church, and it has become a major issue in the Church. Those who argue for restoration, want the liturgy to be what it was in the pre-Portuguese period, i.e., they want to bring the Malabar Church back once again to what it was then, a kind of branch of the Chaldean Church. But the Malabar Church in the pre-Portuguese period was Malabar in name only, with no liturgy or spirituality reflecting its rich Indian background. For those who dream about restoring the Chaldean "golden age", just the Latin form of worship is foreign, but the Chaldean form of worship is indigenous to Indian Christians!

The present book is the thesis defended in the University of London by the author for his Ph.D. degree. The author is concerned with the question "restore or reform the liturgy, and his arguments are for reforming it. Reform is a life process. Individuals as well as communities need to undergo reform in order to cope with the changing situation. Because Christian worship is an essential part of the Christian life, reform in this area is unavoidable. Liturgy is a splendid manifestation of the Christian faith; changes and new forms always need to be encouraged, not simply for the sake of variety but in order to remain faithful to the essential purpose of liturgy. Vatican Council II insisted on "returning to the sources" as the guide to reform. This returning should be to imbibe the spirit of the liturgy and not to cling to old forms.

The author divides his work into two parts. The first part, which spans 5 chapters, is an attempt to understand the spirit of the East Syrian liturgy. The second part with its 3 chapters is a study of the recent liturgical development of the Syro-Malabar Church from 1962 until 1989. The author begins the first part dealing with the apostolic tradition of the Church and the socio-religious life of the Thomas Christians. He argues that dependence of the Church on the Chaldean Patriarch was nominal. Though the bishop was sent from the Persian Church, he was the spiritual head administering only the sacraments to the community. Administration was in the hands of the "archdeacon" who was always a priest of the Thomas Christians, with a decisive power over the community. The social customs connected with child birth, marriage and death were similar to those of the natives. The priests did not baptize or say Mass except now and then. The bishop reserved these to himself. So the Liturgy was in Syriac according to the East Syrian rite with local variations, and that's how the Malabar Church became Syrian in Rite. There were restrictions on the clergy in the matter of celebrating the Eucharist. Next the author describes the origin and growth of the East Syrian Church in Persia. The Gospel was first preached there to a community of Jews, and the first converts were Jews. The existing hostility between the Persian and Byzantine empires and the suspicious attitude of the Persian rulers toward the Christians of Persia, eventually forced them to develop a culture of their own. From a very early period the Church used a liturgy known as the "liturgy of the Holy Apostles Mar Addai and Mar Mari". According to scholars, this liturgy was first written in the Syriac language. The author attempts to explain the contributions made to the liturgy by the Fathers and other writers such as Ephrem, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Diodore of Tarsus, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, Narsai, Gabriel Qatraya, Ishoyahb III and Isaac of Nineveh. The author, in separate chapters, also deals with the mystery aspect of the liturgy, the concepts that the Eucharistic altar as an image of the sepulchre of Christ, the earthly liturgy as an image of the heavenly liturgy and the nave and sanctuary as types of the earth and heaven. East Syrian tradition is Semitic in its basic characteristics, but influenced by the Antiochene tradition. Its liturgy of the Word significantly resembled the Jewish Synagogue service. The use of Bema (a raised platform at the centre of the nave) for the liturgy of the Word, the sanctuary veil, separation of sanctuary from nave, etc. are examples of Semitic traditions.

The second part of the book is a study of the recent liturgical development of the Syro-Malabar Church from 1962 until 1969. It starts with a survey of the Syro-Malabar liturgical reform. It is not unreasonable to conjecture that an Indian type liturgy might have been planted and fostered by St. Thomas in India. However, no traces of such a liturgy are left at our disposal. Even though the Persian prelates headed the Thomas Christians in India for nearly a millennium, their contribution to the ecclesial and cultural growth of the Malabar community seems to be insignificant. Nevertheless, by its contact with the Western Church from the 16th century the Thomas Christian community was enriched by Western theological thinking and mission spirit.

After the establishment of the Syro-Malabar hierarchy, a commission was formed for the work of the restoration of the Chaldean Pontifical for the use of the Syro-Malabar Church. However, the Syro-Malabar bishops were not pleased with the restoration of the Chaldean rite. In 1953 the Syro-Malabar bishops conference appointed a committee of five persons for the study and translation of the Syro-Malabar liturgy texts into the vernacular. It was reported that except Fr. Placid Podipara, all others in the committee were against a total restoration of the Chaldean rites for the use of the Syro-Malabar Church. According to Fr. Placid, the Chaldean Rite was the only developed Rite the Malabar Church ever possessed. But according to most of the bishops, the Syro-Malabar Rite was recognized as distinct from the pure Chaldean Rite, and the changes that obstruct the progress and spiritual life, introduced for the sake of going back to the Chaldean liturgy, would not be appreciated very much. The Congregation for the Oriental Churches considered the opinions of the bishops, but the Text that came into use in the Church in 1962 was really a step to restoration. There was no attempt to reform or to adapt from the Indian culture. The clergy and the people criticized this Text, because they wanted a liturgy more reformed and adapted to the modern situation. Meanwhile the Second Vatican Council created a new awareness in the Church, particularly in the realm of liturgy. The implications of the Council Decree Sacrosanctum Concilium on the Latin Church was a spur to the Syro-Malabar for rethinking and better adaptation. Therefore, another liturgical text, with much reform, was promulgated in 1968 as an experiment.

The author also discusses another development in India: a movement for "Indian Liturgy". "The Church in India Today", a seminar conducted in Bangalore in 1969, was an important event in the history of the Indian Church. Sections 37-40 of Sacrosanctum Concilium were used as sources for the seminar members to formulate certain proposals. To start a few experimentation centres for a better adaptation in the liturgy was one of the fruits of the seminar. The Catholic Bishop's Conference of India which represented both Latin and Oriental bishops gave official approval for its liturgical commission to start new experimentation centres with the consent of the local ordinary. Cardinal Parecattil of the Syro-Malabar Church and Dr. Amalorpavadas of the Latin Church were the master minds behind the inculturation movement in the Indian Church. Separate Texts were composed under their guidance, the prayers containing allusions to the classical Hindu Scriptures, such as the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Even though many, both clergy and faithful, appreciated these attempts on an experimental basis, there was much criticism. The intervention of Rome was not very positive, even though in principle it was encouraging. Due to lack of a consensus of opinions and effective follow-up, many of these programs came to be closed down after a few years.

Attempts made by Rome and by the Syro-Malabar Bishop's Conference to finalize the 1968 Missal are well explained by the author. Some had sharply criticized that the reforms made in this Missal were a willful abandonment of the Churches' own tradition and a formal acceptance of Latin customs. Rome emphasized that the liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church must remain absolutely faithful to the Chaldean liturgy. The majority of bishops were, in fact, favourable to a reformed Text, while a minority supported nothing but restoration of the old Chaldean Text. A draft Text of the Mass was submitted in 1981. Rome did not appreciate the reform process undertaken by the Church, and said that many of the changes were a return to Latinizations and in no way Indianisations. The response of the bishops was that the rubrics, such as the celebrant facing the congregation during the Mass, introduction of the theme at the beginning, silent pauses during the Mass or improvised prayers at certain occasions, were introduced not as a part of western imitation, but because they were clearly recommended in Sacrosanctum Concilium which had called for the liturgical renewal. In 1985, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches finalised the Text, and it was inaugurated by the Holy Father in Kerala on February 9, 1986 during his pastoral visit to India. The Text was longer and the language was clumsy. No efforts have been made to make the Text more relevant and indigenous. The goal was to restore the Chaldean Text for the use of the Syro-Malabar Church. The clergy, as well as the faithful, did not very much appreciate the Text. They wished to have a further renewed Text taking the 1968 Text as the basis, with provision for adaptations and options.

In 1987, Cardinal Lourdswamy, the Prefect of the Oriental Congregation, visited the Syro-Malabar dioceses to get an idea of the new situation created by the introduction of the restored Text. Coming back to Rome, he finally drafted a document with the help of those who were concerned and sent it to all Syro-Malabar Bishops in India. It said the good of the faithful, bonum fidelium, was the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation. After explaining the substantial unity of the tradition, the document said that it would not deprive the local ordinary of his right and duty to resolve concrete pastoral issues and authorize local customs in the renewed liturgy within the legitimate limits. Wherever possible, provision was made for options. The restorers strongly criticized this new document of the congregation as a drastic change from the long-standing policy of Rome and did not even hesitate to state that Rome's credibility was shaken. However, the Text of the Mass -- in its solemn as well as simple forms -- was prepared according to the directives, and was approved and came into use on July 3, 1989. The Text still needs many improvements both in its linguistic and in its structural form.

As the author contends, an extreme conservative attitude developed by a minority group of bishops created a gap between the restorers and reformers which affected considerably the progress of the liturgical renewal. One of the main problems of the Syro-Malabar Church in liturgical matters was its lack of internal administration with a Major Archbishop or a Patriarch as its head and a permanent synod of bishops as other Oriental Churches have. This situation created a great tension in the process of liturgical renewal. Since there was no decision making body, all matters concerning liturgy and discipline had to be referred to Rome; even on matters of less importance, Rome's approval had to be awaited. The parameters of the problem have now changed, because the Syro-Malabar Church was erected as a Major Archiepiscopal Church -- with some form of central administration -- on 16th December 1992 by the Apostolic Constitution Quae maiori of John Paul II (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 85[1993], pp. 398-399).

A brief explanation of the goals of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy Renewal in a wider perspective of the ecclesial as well as the religious Indian context is also provided by the author. The spiritual rules of the Syrian tradition which could revitalize the whole liturgical renewal process in the Syro-Malabar Church were also explained. The Western Church has taken much pain in implementing Sacrosanctum Concilium in order to make its liturgy well adapted to the new situation. In author's view, this can be a model for the Oriental Churches to bring about necessary reform in their own liturgies. A readiness to adapt to the actual situation, religious as well as cultural, makes liturgy spontaneous and relevant to the people.

In the last chapter, the author presents certain suggestions regarding the structure and language of the liturgical text, the pastoral implications of certain liturgical rites, and the Oriental attitude which is to be fostered for an authentic liturgical renewal. For the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Syro-Malabar Church at present has only one Anaphora, that of Mar Addai and Mari. In the opinion of the author, the other two traditional Anaphoras of the East Syrian Church, namely, the Anaphora of Mar Theodore and the Anaphora of Mar Nestorius should be restored and reformed. A further number of Anaphoras also would be desirable to be introduced for the celebration of the Eucharist. One of the great defects with regard to the Texts of 1962, 1986, and 1989 seems to be the over emphasis on literal translation of the original Syriac Text. This overstress created long and unintelligible texts which do not correspond to the present situation or interests of the people. A document published in Rome in 1969 gives a number of insights on matters concerning the translation of liturgical texts into the vernacular. It says "the purpose of liturgical translation is to proclaim the message of salvation to believers. [...] The translator must keep in mind that the 'unit of meaning' is not the individual word but the whole passage. [..] The formula translated must become the genuine prayer of the congregation" (CONSILIUM FOR THE PROPER IMPLEMENTATION OF THE CONSTITUTION ON THE SACRED LITURGY, Instruction Comme le prévoit, 25 January 1969, nos. 6,12, and 20, in an English-language translation from the Consilium published in INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION ON ENGLISH IN THE LITURGY [ed.], Documents on Liturgy, 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts, Collegeville, MN, The Liturgical Press, 1982, document no. 123, pars. 843, and 857, pp. 284, 285, and 287).

Regarding the position of the celebrant during the liturgy, the existing situation gives rise to great tension in inter-diocesan relationships. A majority of the dioceses follow the option in which the priest faces the congregation during the whole celebration. In some of the southern dioceses, the bishops impose the second option, in which the priest faces the altar/cross, even though many priests and faithful do not agree with this. The authority to make decisions regarding this remains with the local ordinary. In order to minimise the tension, the author suggests this authority be transferred to each parish, where the parish priest in consultation with the elders of the parish, Palli yogam, could make the decision, depending on the particular situation and tradition of each parish. However, I personally do not support such a step. In my opinion, a parish church is not an individual Church to take such a major option in liturgy. Furthermore, if the bishops and priests of an individual Church cannot reach at an agreement on such important liturgical norms, do we ever experience the unity for which the liturgy itself is celebrated?

The author contends that the reconstruction of the bema at the centre of the nave for the liturgy of the Word, is simply not relevant in the Syro-Malabar liturgy. First of all the bema has no place in the liturgical tradition of the Syro-Malabar Church. The author suggests that the Western Church could be taken as a model in this case, celebrating the introductory rites and the liturgy of the Word at one side of the sanctuary near the rail. Some churches in the Syro-Malabar Rite had a tradition of using the sanctuary veil. The veil was drawn back during the liturgy. The author is of the opinion that this tradition should be restored wherever possible, because it has a deeper meaning in the East Syrian tradition according to its Fathers. According to my observation, most of the Syro-Malabar churches at present do not have sanctuary veils, and installing such veils only makes the liturgy more complicated than making it simple. As the author himself admits, more than external complexities of the celebration or an awesome sense of mystery, what is needed today is a deeper and more personal understanding of, and participation in, the Eucharistic prayers and actions. Concerning the incensing, the author says it is a solemn rite in the Syro-Malabar liturgy, which gives the celebration a sacred splendor. From a practical point of view it is highly necessary that the celebrant priest should have ample time and serenity of mind to perform these rites in gentleness and calm, in the true spirit of the divine worship. If the liturgical text is too long, and its prayers are unintelligible, both the priests and the people may find it difficult to celebrate in true liturgical spirit. Therefore it is better that the Text should be short, and only the relevant and meaningful rites be restored. Those which are restored should be adapted to the mind and taste of the people to whom they are communicated.

The Syro-Malabar Church was limited by the boundaries of the state of Kerala. Only from 1962, dioceses were created outside Kerala. The new Christians or the would-be Christians of these dioceses outside of Kerala are quite different in language and culture from the people of Kerala. If the Syro-Malabar Church impose its own Syrian-type liturgy without any adaptation to the local situation, as the author contends, this will show great disregard for the culture and way of living of the new Christians of these dioceses. When the early Christian Church broke out from its Jewish boundaries and confronted other cultures, many of the local customs and way of living eventually entered into Christian life. In other words, the original Christian Eucharist was enriched by its contact with other cultures. The same process should continue also in the growth of the liturgy.

SYRO-MALABAR CHURCH IN THE CATHOLIC COMMUNION

The Catholic Church is one all over the world with the same faith and the same sacraments as well as the same government. However, in terminology and theology it is a communion of different semi autonomous Churches with their own particular characteristics which are expressed in worship, spirituality, theology and disciplinary laws. In Church law these Churches are called sui iuris Churches or Churches with their own laws. So the Catholic Church is a communion of these different sui iuris Churches.

These Churches fall into two categories: Western and Eastern. At present there is only one Western Church which is known as Roman or Latin spread all over the world. There are twenty one Eastern Churches among which the Syro-Malabar Church is also counted. Originally this distinction was based on the division of the Roman Empire where Christianity took roots in the beginning. The Churches in the Western part were known as the Western Churches and those in the Eastern part were known as the Eastern Churches. Christianity had spread also to countries outside the Roman Empire, namely to Armenia, Persia and India. In the course of time these three Churches also were considered as Eastern. Eventually owing to reasons, both political and religious, the Western Churches were unified under the leadership of the Roman Church and the Bishop of Rome who also is the head of the Catholic Church in as much as he is the successor of Apostle Peter. On the other hand the Churches in the Eastern part grew independently and developed their own characteristics as one finds them today. At the head of the hierarchy of all these Churches there was a figure called Patriarch or Metropolitan. The Bishop of Rome is also the Patriarch of the Latin Church.

In this communion the Church of Rome and its bishop who is the successor of Peter has a special role as the head of the Universal Church. The communion with the Church of Rome and its bishop is considered essential for the orthodoxy of Christian faith. At various points of history owing to dogmatic and other differences the communion of these Churches with the Church of Rome and its bishop was broken. By the year 1054 A.D. all the Eastern Churches except the Church in India went their own ways. Obviously the Western Church as a Church could not have gone out of communion. Even though there were attempts to restore communion they did not succeed. Those who were outside the communion called themselves orthodox which means those who are true Christians. Those under the Bishop of Rome called themselves Catholic which means universal. Gradually both these terms got a denominational meaning as found today.

Though as entire Churches with their hierarchies communion was not restored by these Eastern Churches, at various points of history portions of them did come back to communion with the Roman Church and its bishop while the major part with their hierarchies remained outside communion. Thus we have today Catholic and non-Catholic Eastern Churches. At the same time it should be noted that these Catholic Eastern Churches do not have any more the autonomy which they enjoyed before the break of communion. The bishop of Rome has grown very much in his power as head of the Catholic Church and the Roman Church is spread all over the world while the heads of the Eastern Churches have been very much reduced in their prestige and power. The Catholics hold that there is still a communion, though imperfect, with the non-Catholic Churches.

From the Syro- Malabar Church web site.


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