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Full Circle

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

In his book The Phenomenon of Man Father Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., observed that “Nothing is so delicate and fugitive by its very nature as a beginning.… Beginnings have an irritating but essential fragility, and one that should be taken to heart by all who occupy themselves with history.”

As much as we would like to know more about the beginnings of the ancient Church of India, we have only the immemorial tradition that it was founded by St. Thomas the Apostle.

Although early historical references are few, it seems clear that the descendants of the converts of St. Thomas were joined over the centuries by various groups of Christian immigrants from the lands of the old Persian Empire.

When the Portuguese arrived in India at the end of the 15th century, they found this ancient Church of India undivided, though not without its internal differences. By then it was thoroughly integrated into the fabric of South Indian society and Chaldean in its religious life and traditions.

Whether due to misunderstanding or indifference, the regulations and demands of the Portuguese authorities, both civil and religious, provoked a deep polarization and, ultimately, a division of this Indian Christian community.

The fragmentation of the Indian Church continued through the beginning of the 20th century until, providentially, a new movement seeking reunion arose.

Its founder was a priest of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Father P.T. Geevargheese. In 1919, he had started a religious community, the Bethany congregation, seeking to combine Oriental monastic traditions with Indian spirituality.

The new community flourished and was a great spiritual leaven within the Orthodox Christian community.

In 1925, Father Geevargheese was consecrated a bishop with the new name of Mar Ivanios. He still dreamed and worked for the unity of the Thomas Christians of India.

In 1926, he and four other bishops of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church began to explore the possibility of reconciliation with the Church of Rome.

On 20 September 1930, Mar Ivanios and his suffragan bishop, Mar Theophilos, entered into full communion with the Holy See. Two years later Pope Pius XI appointed him as Archbishop of Trivandrum and a new Eastern Catholic Church was born, the Syro-Malankara.

By the time of the death of Mar Ivanios in 1953, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church had grown rapidly and consisted of two dioceses, Trivandrum and Tiruvalla.

His successor, Mar Gregorios, provided dynamic and creative guidance to the Malankara Church for the next 40 years.

In 1978, a third Malankara diocese was created, Battery. Its founding bishop, Cyril Mar Baselios, just promoted to Archbishop of Trivandrum, assumes the mantle of leadership of this youngest, yet ancient, Eastern Catholic Church.

May God grant him much success in continuing the great work of reuniting all of Thomas’s children!

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Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: India Christianity