9 April 2013


While one reads through the available SyrChr literatures; these terms can cloud your understanding :
Syrian & Assyrian: And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch”. Quite nearby and not long later, Edessa had many Christians. Syriac was the then language of the region and soon it became known as language of Christian communities there. These Christians began to be called as Syrians after the Roman province in which they lived – Syria. As Christianity spread to Persia, India and all the way to China, Syriac and Syriac rites went along with it. So a Syrian (Christian) of China or India was and is not necessarily a Syrian by ethnicity.

Now regarding Assyrians: To get into Middle-Eastern nationalism is messy to say the least! Let’s just leave it as this: Assyrians are an ethnic group, remnants of the ancient Assyrian civilization in northern Mesopotamia (Iraq and neighbors).

Confused already? You should be. More ...

Syriac: Note that there are at least two Syriacs in use within the Syrian Christians! West Syriac script, like Serto, are or rather were used in places nearing the Mediterranean Sea (Turkey, Lebanon, North Iraq, Syria) and East Syrian dialect and script, like Chaldean, was used in places eastwards (South Iraq, Iran, even India).

Over time the Syrian orthodoxies concentrated over the western political divide and the (Nestorian) church of the East was contained in the east.

Saint Thomas churches: The Apostle Thomas is said to have established the seven “and a half” churches in Kerala or Ezharapallikal at
  • Palayoor (Chattukulangara)
  • Maliankara (Kodungallur or Cranganore)
  • Kottakavu (North Parur)
  • Kokamangalam (Pallipuram)
  • Niranam
  • Chayal (near Sabarimala)
  • Kollam, and
  • Thiruvithamcode Arappally (a "half church")
The source of the above information is the mysterious Rambanpattukal, which is claimed to have been originally composed by a first (local) disciple of the Apostle. But what we have now is a 16th century reinterpretation by one Thomas Ramban Malliekal.

Strangely many other churches also contest to be among the primary St. Thomas establishments. And except of Niranam and Arapally, the most others are disputed for its authencity:
  • the Arthattu church claims to the real first church
  • the Parur church was probably washed off in the 14th century floods
  • the Kollam church is probably in the sea
  • the Chayal church deteriorated with the emigration of members and rising importance of Sabarimala

Malabar & Malankara: Both simply refer to the region now known as Kerala in South India.
During the dividing-times in SyrChr history, Malabar was largely prefixed by the (more) Northern syro-catholic groups and so the (more) Southern Orthodox faction chose the prefix Malankara to their sabha names.
The word ‘Malankara’ origins from one of the Saint Thomas stations: Maliankara. Malabar now points to northern Kerala.

Puttankuttukar & Pazhayakuttukar: meaning New Party and Old Party referring respectively to the Orthodox and the Catholic factions of the SyrChrs.
Pre-Portuguese, the Malsabha were largely following the Chaldean Syrian rite; with the (new) affiliation of a group with the Antiochene Syrians this group switched to the (new in the context) rite and West-syriac scripts; thus the labels.
But one cannot conclude the original pre-Portuguese SyrChrs line with these terms! The Old Party is also now almost ‘Romanized’ in my opinion and the New Party strives to prove that all was not Chaldean in SyrChr history.
Catholic & Orthodox: SyrChr's Portuguese-era accounts for muliple instances of bishops being 'examined' for their catholicity and/or orthodoxy. These two terms are liberally and interchangebly used by polarized SyrChr historians to prove the affiliations of the Malsabha.
Before we get confused with their writings lets understand the meanings of the words and putting it in context.
The word 'Catholic' means universal and 'Orthodoxy' means Right Belief. The term orthodox is generally used to distinguish the faith or beliefs of the "true Church" from other doctrines (traditionally referred to as heresy) which disagree. So, after the heretical weed-outs of the early christian history, all was Catholic AND Orthodox with the five patriarchs (in Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) ruling their respective 'empires'. Each of these regions had common homogenized beliefs and definitions on Christianity but masses differing in language, liturgies, vestments and traditions. Until infighting, between the Western Rome and  Eastern rest-of-the-four, unbalanced the equation and ultimately led to the Great Breakup of the 11th century. The twain were called Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy since as each owned up the respective terms into their church names to emphasize their superiority.
After which there was no reconciliation till date. Over time the split widened to the point that they almost dont recognize each other or their common history. Both of them claims to be both catholic and orthodox even now but do not fuly accept the other side... much like divorced couples.

So what was the case with the examination on the bishops in SyrChr historybooks? Just that they were investigated for heresies, specifically Nestorianism : Whether the creed was the same as in the original undivided church; whether the liturgy and the sacraments are consistent with the orthodox belief and How the Virgin mary was addressed among them. And almost all of Western Catholics and Eastern orthodoxies would have passed that test. 
Marthoma: And the biggest fogger of them all. In SyrChr context this term can refer to the following:
  1. Saint Thomas (Mar – Thoma)
  2. Archdeacon/Bishop Thomas (Title ‘Mar’ Thoma)
  3. A southern reformist splinter sabha (from Orthodox) comparable as protestants is to the catholics. So depending on context MarThoma christians may refer to this sabha or just Saint Thomas Christians i.e the SyrChrs :-P


veliath said...

Wow! A post after so many years. Still on vacation?

veliath said...

My take on the "Syrian" in our communities names is that the Syriac(and Arabic) word for Syriac is "Suriani". The Syriac term for "Syrian" is also "Suriani". So "Syrian Christians" is really a mis-translation of "Suriani Christians". We are/were really meant to be called "Syriac Christians" as opposed to "Latin Christians". I've heard many historians actually use that term.

It should be pointed out that the Syriac/Syrian confusion is analogous to how the Arabs have the same word "Hindi" for Indians and the primary language they speak.