Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Puthencoor and Pazhayacoor- Tragic Division of Thomas Christians of Malabar


The ancient Apostolic Christianity of India- the Nasranis are divided into several denominations today. They were a united community under the Patriarch of the East using East Syriac liturgy. Now, they are divided into several denominations with different liturgies. There are groups in Universal Catholic communion besides a few autocephalous churches and sections remaining as part of the Syrian Church of Antioch and the Assyrian Church of the East.  Broadly they use two different families of liturgies- the East Syrian Liturgy and the West Syrian liturgy. So, we can classify them as East Syrian Churches and West Syrian Churches of Malabar.
The Coonan Cross oath and the aftermath of it, caused the first division of Nasranis the group led by the Archdacon Parampil Thomas and the group led by Cathanar Parampil Chandy. The group led by Parampil Chandy was called Pazhayacoor (the old loyalists) and the group led by Archdeacon Thomas was called Puthencoor (the new loyalists). The religio political situation existed then, forced the Puthencoor to get affiliated to the Syrian Church of Antioch and to adopt the West Syrian liturgy gradually. Thus, the Puthencoor community became West Syriac Church of Malabar and the Pazhayacoor remained the East Syriac Church of Malabar.
There has been some recent discontent about the validity of these terminologies.Some argue that it was the Archdeacon's party that is the official group and hence, they should be called Pazhaycoor or old loyalists. The other opinion is that it was the Archdeacon's party who were revolted against the existing system and hence they are the newly formed party-Puthencoor.
This terminology was accepted in the past. Edavalikkel Philippose Kathannar in his book 'The Syrian Christians of Malabar: otherwise called the Christians of Saint Thomas', James Parker and Co, Oxford and London, 1869 comments about this terminologies. The Niranom Chronicles also use the terminology.
The terminolgy Puthencoor and Pazhayacoor was about the loyalty towards the authority of Jurisdiction rather than the rite. Archdeacon's party erected a rival jurisdictional authority against what prevailed since AD 1554, about 99 years. That was why the term Puthencoor applied to them. Eminent Indian Orthodox Historian Dr M Kurian Thomas also comments about this in his book about the Niranam Chronicles and agrees with this fact.
In AD 1554, Mar Joseph Sulaqa arrived in Malabar, appointed by Mar Abdisho, the Chaldean Patriarch. Mar Joseph received pallium from the Pope of Rome. This was the beginning of the explicit communion of Thomas Christians with the Pope of Rome. Even before, Mar Jacob, one of the Bishops arrived in AD 1504 was reportedly lenient towards the Portuguese Missionaries.
The initial relations of Thomas Christians with the Portuguese Roman Catholics were friendly. The Portuguese Missionaries were allowed to preach in our churches. They even set up a seminary in Cranganore to train our clergy. It was only when they tried to wipe out the Syriac Christianity that our forefathers resisted.
The seminary at Cranganore was a failure due to theresistance of the Thomas Christians. Then the Portuguese stepped back and tried different tactics to win the Thomas Christians, like influencing the Kings and showing their power etc. Synod of Diamper was also a similar effort. Our leaders accepted it. That was why, both groups used the latinised East Syrian rite and Latin elements like statues in their churches.
To sum up, in AD 1653, at the time of Coonan Cross oath,the whole of Thomas Christians were in explicit communion with the Pope of Rome. The Churches were filled with statues and murals and using latinised East Syrian liturgy. Among the Thomas Christians at that time, there would have been no one clergy or laity alive who was borne and brought up in the community before the beginning of this explicit communion with the Catholic Church- that is 99 years. So, the whole generation of clergy and laity were trained in a latinised way and practicing their faith modified according to the norms of the Roman Catholic Church and remembering the name of the Pope in the Holy Qurbana.
It has been documented that Mar Thomas Parambil ( Mar Thoma I ) discouraged Mar Gregorius from celebrating Holy Qurbana in his own rite, in a fear that it might cause dissatisfaction in the community and he might lose the flock. It is clearly documented that the Puthencoor community continued the Latin elements for more than 100 years after this division. In the Chronicles of Niranam, there are mentions about the celebration of ash wednesday as in Latin rite by the Puthencoor community.This itself is a proof that the whole of Thomas Christians were in explicit communion with the Catholic Church for a long time sufficient enough to even the Archdeacon's party also to be latinised with widespread use of statues and murals in their churches as per the norm of the Roman Catholic Church.
It was in this context that during the Coonan Cross Oath and immediate events after it, the Archdeacon Thomas claimed the mandate of the Pope  of Rome against the Jesuits. This is clearly seen in the contemporary documents kept in the Jesuit archives. These documents have been studied by many people. Even the actual oath was also not explicitly against the Pope but against the Jesuites.( Even though many people claim that it was against the Pope and Roman Catholic Church, none of the even anti Catholic authors agreed with it) Arch deacon Thomas has written letters to Rome requesting to replace Jesuites with Dominicans or Carmelites. That was why Rome sent Carmelites Joseph Sebastiani and Vincent Hyacinth against the Portuguese Padruado, to pacify the situation and to win the Thomas Christians back.
What happened after Coonan Cross Oath was erecting a rival jurisdictional authority by consecrating the Archdeacon as a Bishop. Contemporary documents even show that for this consecration also, Archdeacon Thomas claimed the mandate of the Pope of Rome .
The vast majority- total - was with the Archdeacon. All accepted Mar Thoma I (Archdeacon Thomas) as a Bishop who was claimed to be consecrated with the mandate of Pope.
Situation changed by the arrival of Joseph Maria Sebastiani, the Carmelite sent from Rome on the earlier request of Archdeacon Thomas. Sebastiani convinced the community leaders that this consecration was not according to the mandate of the Pope and also it was invalid and Archdeacon Thomas was not a Bishop. The community did not want to go back to the Jesuite Bishops. So, Rome consecrated Sebastiani as a Bishop for the Thomas Christians (AD 1659).
Now, for the Thomas Christian community, Sebastiani was sent by the Pope for them. A good section of Thomas Christians returned to Catholic fold under Mar Sebastiani.
Due to the change in the colonial politics, Sebastiani had to leave and he consecrated Mar Parambil Chandy as the new bishop in AD 1663. Mar Chandy even started using the term Archbishop and the Gate of India, while Archdeacon Thomas was still an illegitimately consecrated 'pseudo bishop'. Everybody considered that there is going to be a new line of native Bishops for Thomas Christians from Mar Chandy. The majority joined Bishop Chandy. It was only in AD 1665 that Mar Thoma I was legitimately consecrated as a Bishop by Mar Gregoriose.
There are arguments about the legitimacy of the Archdeaconate of Parambil Thomas and illegitmacy of the leadership of Parambil Chandy. The issue is not simple and straightforward. We do not know since when the Archdeacon was hereditary and since when we had Archdeacons in our church. It is true that Archdeacons were like the local ruler of the Christians. The Archdeacons in the Church of the East did not have the glory that our Archdeacons had.
But the dignity of Archdeacons of Malabar was reduced after the Synod of Diamper (AD 1599). At some time, there were two Archdeacons in our community, attached to two rival Bishops from East Syrian Church. Thus, the Archdeacon's dignity became like a Vicar General.
There are some people who want to say that it was the Archdeacon who was the centre of our church and the Bishops were a mere person to ordain priests. That was not the case. We, the Thomas Christians were in full conformity with the Church of the East and Episcopal dignity was a key figure in our ecclesiastical and temporal life. Whenever there was a period of absence of a Bishop, our community always sent a delegation to the Patriarch of the East for a Bishop. So, like Christians elsewhere in the World, we honoured the Episcopal dignity and the Archdeacon was only the leader of the community.
Parambil Thomas was the legitimate Archdeaon. In the complex political situation after the Coonan Cross oath, most of the community viewed Archdeacon Thomas as a person who lead the church to a mess without an Episcopal hierarchy and communion but a self proclaimed illegitimate Bishop where as Parambil Chandy fought with Jesuites and helped in getting an Episcopal dignity other than that of the Jesuites, with the mandate of the Pope and lead the church into a dignity with rest of the Christendom and communion with the Pope as we did for 113 years by then. So the majority of the community accepted ParambilChandy as the leader and he became the Bishop and all expected that this is the end of foreign rule and there is going to be a line of native Bishops from him. But sadly to say, that did not happen and the Pazhayacoor went under the suppressive rule of foreign Bishops. When a Latin Rite Bishop was consecrated as the successor of Mar Chandy, a few churches of Pazhayacoor even joined Puthencoor -like Manarcadu, Puthuppally, Piravom etc.
While Portuguese ( Roman Catholic) missionaries tried to keep the Pazhayacoor with them, the anti Catholic European Colonialists tried to keep a section away from the Roman Catholic Church by extending all support and arms. It was they who brought Mar Gregorius in AD 1665. Later also, they organised to get Bishops from Middle East- when they were in desperate situation, they brought even Bishops with odd behaviours creating lot of unrest in the community. We do not even know the real identity of the so called Kallada Mooppan who arrived in Malabar in AD 1676. The British used a lot of force and even paid money to get the Puthencoor Cathanaars married.
So, the whole history of divisions and disputes among the Thomas Christians of Malabar is a reflection of the Colonial politics at that time. We were mere puppets in their hands.
In the evolution of the Puthencoor Community, there were resistance against the adoption of West Syrian Liturgy and submission of jurisdiction to the Syrian Church of Antioch. This difference in opinion complicated with the influence of the Protestant Churches caused the Puthencoor Community to divide into 4 different churches- the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Indian Orthodox Church, Marthoma Syrian Church and the Thozhiyoor Independent Syrian Church. There were several divisions, excommunications and reconciliations and even law suits about the Church property for several years and continues even today. During this conflict, a small section went into communion with the  Catholic Church- The Syro Malankara Catholic Church.
The Pazhayacoor remained in the then existed Catholic Communion, initially under native Thomas Christian Bishop Mar Chandy, but later fell under the suppressive rule by the European Latin Bishops. The community fought vigourously for independence and self rule and to protect the identity of the Church. They stood for protecting their East Syrian Liturgy from Latinisations of the different Roman Catholic Missionaries and authorities. During this struggle, they tried to get in communion with the Chaldean Catholic Church. This led to consecrating a native Malabar Thomas Christian Paulose Pandari- Mar Abraham by the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch and later sending two Chaldean Catholic Bishops to Malabar- Mar Thomas Rochos and Mar Eliya Meloos. These efforts led to a split which caused a minor group going into communion with the non Catholic Church of the East- the Chaldean Church of Trichur.
It is a misnomer that the Church of the East in India is called Chaldeans. The East Syrians in communion with the Roman Catholic Church are called  the Chaldeans but the Chaldeans of Trichur are part of the non Catholic Church of the East. The Thomas Christians of Malabar  had a strong feeling of the Syro Chaldean identity since AD 1554. Their rite was called Syro Chaldean. The Pazhayacoor group wanted to get communion with the Chaldean Catholic Church of Babylon but due to the inability of Chaldean Catholic Patriarch to help,  the Chaldeans of Trichur turned towards their religio political rival group in Mesopotamia, the non Catholic Church of the East, the present day Assyrian Church of the East. Being pro Chaldean in thier outlook they retained the name Chaldean, even though they are part of the Church of the East.
The vast majority of Pazhayacoor continued their struggle and eventually they succeeded in attaining a sui iruis status with a Major Arch Bishop as the  Father and Head of the particular  with a synod of Bishops. The saddening fact is that when the Pazhayacoor Catholic Syrian Christians were under the suppressive rule of the Latin prelates, their Cathanaars and faithful were fighting for retaining their syro chaldean identity and self rule. But, once the native Thomas Christians became in charge, they tried to imitate the latin church and diluted the Syro Chaldean identity. They considered the Syro Malabar Church as an offshoot of Latin Church and tried to get united with the Latin Church of India to have a single rite of Catholics in India.( Willaim Macomber, 1977).
Out of of this ignorance, a generation of Syro Malabar Catholics were formed who do not understand the Syrian traditions. Even scholars started talking about creating an Indian Anaphora and Indian Liturgy. By the Grace of God, Rome discouraged all those attempts and the Roman Pontiffs even sent letters of strong words to the Syro Malabar Hierarchy to preserve their Syro Chaldean rite. Sadly, this was viewed and accused by some corners as Chaldeanisation, forgetting the fact that the whole history of the Pazhayacoor Catholic Syrian Christians from AD 1599 till   AD 1896 when native Thomas Christians were appointed as Prelates, can be summarised as a united fight and sufferings to preserve the Syro Chaldean identity. Thus, we can see that  a section in the real Pazhayacoor  today is trying to evolve into a brand new Churh, invalidating  the term Pazhayacoor.
 

 

3 comments:

nediyakala said...

The division in the Malabar Church was unfortunate. We didn't have the ability to stand for our own rights and prevent a division. Now we have freedom, our ability to fight for our rights and stand for protecting our traditions. However, there are some bad apples including some clergy who are not willing to learn from history and stand agaianst everything the Syro-Malabar Church stands for.. What a pity..

Rajan Rajiv said...

If we look back, history will tell us that St. Thomas visited Kerala from Mylapore after making several conversions in Persia. The claim that St. Thomas visited Palayur and ordained four families as clergies from the Brahmin families of Pakalomattom (Pakalomattam) , Kalli ,Sankarapuri ,Kalikavu is a laughable figment of imagination because there were no Nambudiris in Kerala in 1st century A.D. The earliest notice of the existence of Christianity in Ceylon is that of Cosmos Indoplustes, an Egyptian merchant, and afterwards a monk, who published his ‘Christian Topography’. He says that Persian priests and merchants in Ceylon were mere sojourners and they did not marry the local people. That was the case in Kerala too. After a long interval after St. Thomas’ martyrdom, Persian missionaries came to Kerala occasionally and there was no mass migration of Persians or Assyrians to Kerala. So it becomes crystal clear that Christians converted by the Persians in Kerala were local residents. In those days of religious orthodoxy and caste consciousness, upper castes such as Nambudiris or Nairs could not be converted. But lower caste people who were in contact with the Persian missionaries such as fishermen (mukkuvas) barbers, dhobis, day labourers (parayas), coconut climbers in their compound (Ezhavas) and such others were made Christians.
The Portuguese occupation of Kerala for 150 years elevated all outcaste converts’ to a superior status. Even the Kochi Raja was made a subordinate vassal. Christians, irrespective of caste or status (Parayas, Pulayas etc.,) were appointed in the army and this made even Nambudiris and Nairs to be afraid of them and respect Christian army officers. Christians were appointed in Portuguese factories as accountants, messengers, planters in estates, cooks (famous Portuguese cuisine in Christian homes today, instead of kappa and fish), widespread intermarriage with low caste converts spearheaded officially by Albuquerque, (producing a new community with white color and good physical features), brokers (tharakans) etc., It was this elevated status given by the Portuguese that has made Syrian Christians claim Nambudiri, Jew and now Assyrian descent, although all were from lower castes. “Rev. C.Y. Thomas in his book on Madhya Kerala Diocese points out: “Despite persistent persecutions, slave schools were opened in several places and the movement spread, gathering momentum with each new step. It is recorded that nine years after the first baptisms the Bishop of Madras visited the Mass Movement area and confirmed over a thousand outcaste Christians.”
Who are the present descendants of Ezhava, washerman, outcastes and slave converts? Hundreds of year’s existence has wiped out their untouchable past and now they flaunt the common community name of Syrian Christians, with the fake claim their ancestors were Nambudiris and Jews. When St. Xavier visited Kerala, he was greeted by two Christians. At that time the only church in Kerala was Syrian church and the two Christians were mukkuvas. So even before CMS missionaries converted lower castes, Syrian church consisted of lower castes. This is quite evident from 20,000 people who gathered at the time of Coonen Cross pledge were all lower castes. How could Archdeacon Thomas collect so many people? Such a large number of Nambudiris, Nairs and Jews could not be collected from Mattancherry. . It is quite transparent that they were all backward castes.

Vivek George said...

Dear Rajan Rajiv,

It is very difficult to corroborate the old Namboothiri and Jewish connection of Syrian Christians. But my family history and the local history of my place (a place south of Chengannur) has convinced me (I am not mentioning my family name here).

I belong to Orthodox/Jacobite church. There is a temple of a goddess in our place which is quite popular among the hindu community . It bears our family name. As far as i know, there are two more temples with the same name in eastern parts of Kollam district. Before i was into nasrani tradition and history, i never gave it much thought.

It is mentioned in the Local and our family history that, the temple is about a millenia and a half old and belonged to our family and our forefathers were priest (poojaris) of the said temple.
Later, around that time due to the influence of a merchant they became became Christians and got separated from the temple.

Even today as more than thousand years have passed since that event, i have seen few of our family members whilst walking past the temple bowing their head with respect knowing it is part of our family history. Some 5 years back the temple authorities tired to rename the temple, because it bears a christian family name (But could not proceed further).