The heads of the Malankara Church or the Malankara Metropolitans chosen by the democratic process of election by the representatives of the clergy and the laity were subjected to the humiliating experience of being `excommunicated’ by the Patriarchs of Antioch who had no legal or ecclesiastical authority whatsoever to do so. The Patriarchs who committed such unwarranted acts against the duly elected prelates of the church were not constrained by the principles of natural justice or of Rule of Law which were all alien to their traditions and culture. They chose to indulge in such high handed and arbitrary acts because they could create a division in the church and retain the allegiance of one section of the Malankara church. The most important question now is what should be done by us in order to protect and preserve our rights from future encroachments and assaults by persons who have no legal or spiritual authority to resort to such acts.
I have to turn the pages of history a bit to explain to you how the church was forced to put up with such bitter experiences for over a hundred years. I should also point out the sad fact that we have ourselves been partly responsible for placing the Antiochian yoke over our necks because of our great fear that we would otherwise be overpowered by the rising clout of Western missionaries backed by their foreign political patrons.
We have always taken pride in the fact that the Malankara church had been an Apostolic church established at the sacred hands of St. Thomas the apostle of Jesus Christ as early as AD 52. But what will surprise anyone looking at the history of our church is the fact that for a period of 1900 years, that is till 1912, our fore fathers had not bothered to take the required steps to establish its well-deserved and most necessary status as an autocephalous church. They appeared to have been contented by maintaining occasional contacts with the Eastern Orthodox churches in Babylon, Persia, Antioch, Jerusalem, etc., and happy with the fact that the affairs of their church and of the Nazrani community were administered by local leaders elected by them as their Archdeacons. Even after liberating themselves through the historic Coonen Kurissu oath from the 54 years old Papal over lordship (1599- 1653) imposed on the church by the Portugese authorities in India our forefathers did not think of asserting the `selfhood’ of the church for consecrating its own ecclesiastical heads. Instead the Malankara church after the 1653 oath for very inexplicable reasons approached certain churches in the Middle East with a request to send a Bishop to formally complete the consecration of Archeadeacon Parampil Thomas who had been elected by them as the Metropolitan of the Church. Finally a Metropolitan arrived from Antioch and completed these formalities and Archdeacon Thomas was proclaimed as Metropolitan Marthoma I of Malankara.
For the next nearly 200 years none of the churches in the Middle East including Antioch ever tried to establish spiritual or temporal authority over the Malankara church. It continued to function as an autonomous church acknowledging no authority outside Malankara as its spiritual head. However, certain subsequent steps taken by the church to ward off the rising influence of foreign protestant missionaries and by the protestant reforms movement started by some influential members of the Malankara church led to most disastrous repercussions.
The first time a candidate for the position of Malankara Metropolitan chose to go to Antioch to be consecrated in that position by the Patriarch of Antioch was when Palakunnathu Mathews Mar Athanasios took that course in 1842. However, when the Church realized that the new Malankara Metropolitan was keen on implementing his own agenda of introducing Protestant reforms in the church, it rebelled against his actions. In order to protect the church from being sucked into the protestant faith, the Malankara church resorted to the unusual step of proclaiming its allegiance to the Antiochian patriarch, which act they thought, would prove to be a powerful shield against protestant subversion.
In the litigation that followed the newly formed Marthoma church lost its claims as the authentic Malankara Church and it chose to function as a separate church with no linkages with Antioch or the Malankara authorities. Earlier in 1836 our forefathers had declared through a formal document executed at Mavelikara (known as the Mavelikara Padiyola ) pledging total subservience to the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch. Thus the fear of protestant subversion drove us into the fold of Antioch and the church in that process lost the autonomous status it had enjoyed over since its inception in AD 52.
The visit of the first Patriarch from Antioch to Malankara, namely, Peter III in 1875 marked an important turning point in the history of the Malankara church. Peter III convened a meeting of the church representatives at Mulanthurithi in 1876 and made them agree to several declarations and pledges which resulted in the total subordination of the church to the authority of Antioch. The Patriarch had no authority, civil or spiritual to do what he did in Malankara which in t11any respects was an attempt at the ‘Arabisation’ of the culture and traditions of the Malankara church, but in its anxiety to stem the tide of Protestantism it allowed itself practically to become almost a parish of the church in Syria with disastrous consequences.
The Malankara church succeeded in preventing the take-over of the church by the C.M.S. missionaries as well as by the reformist movement started by the Mar Thoma group by accepting the over lordship of Antioch, but the remedy proved to be worse than the disease; VeLukkan theChathu PaanDaayi poya Anubhavam. The Malankara church found itself for the first time in its 2000 years history in danger of altogether losing its autonomy and having been reduced to the level of a unit under the Church of Antioch.
The successor to Patriarch III Mar Abdulla who visited Malankara during 1909-1911 tried to formalize Antiochian supremacy over Malankara by demanding written agreements from the Bishops and