It is with profound happiness to launch this website of our parish with such magnificent detail. The purpose of this website is to connect yourself to our parish, its nature, characteristics and identity to the Malankara Orthodox Church. Saint Stephen’s Malankara Orthodox Church, Midland Park, New Jersey is one of the parishes of the NorthEast American Diocese. Ours is one of the 30 dioceses of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, whose Supreme Head is Catholicos, His Holiness Moran Mar Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II. We call him Bava Thirumeni, who is also the Malankara Metropolitan, a title pertaining to the temporal authority over all the property and possession of the Malankara Orthodox Church.
Malankara Orthodox Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family which consists of 6 major Orthodox Churches: the Coptic Orthodox, the Syriac, the Ethiopian, the Eritrean, the Armenian and the Malankara Orthodox Churches. They are also called the Lesser Eastern Orthodox Churches having communion with each other, as they accept only the first three Ecumenical Synods such as Nicaea (A. D. 325), Constantinople (A.D 381), and Ephesus (A.D.431).
The other Orthodox Churches belong to Eastern Orthodox group; consists all Countries from Eastern Europe, including the Russian Orthodox, the Churches of the Balkan region: the Serbian, Czechs and Slovakian, Ukrainian, Romanian, as well as the Byzantine (Greek) including the Churches under the Patriarch of Constantinople. Altogether, they are called the Eastern Orthodox Churches who accept the first seven Ecumenical Councils.
The Malankara Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Church; means, an independent Church with its own Spiritual Head and government; whereas, the Episcopal Synod has the supreme authority to choose and consecrate the Supreme Head, the Catholicos. The Church is both episcopal as well as congregational in its nature of organization and government, and is governed as per the Malankara Orthodox Church Constitution of 1934, which is also applicable to all individual parishes of the Church. The Malankara Orthodox Church holds a unique cultural heritage of 2000 years, traces back its foundation by Saint Thomas, one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus who came to India, in Malankara in A.D 52. During the course of history our Church went through many ups and downs, being planted in a Hindu cultural background with local Hindu Chieftains have had control over the Christian community. Kerala, was called Chreranadu and was part of Tamil Nadu (Tamilakam) during the 1st Century called the Sangam Age (6TH Century BC to the 3rd Century AD), ruled by the Chera Kings. The region of Kerala was called Malabar, the land of hills, was well known to the foreign countries due its export of pepper, and hence the early Christians were called the Malabar Christians. According to the history, there were two Persian migrations into the southern Coromandel coast or the Malabar Coast; as the 1st one in 4th century under a Syrian or Persian merchant called Thomas of Cana, together with 400 families immigrated to the city of Kodungallur, Cochin and settled down by the Hindu King. A similar event happened during the 9th century to Quilon, a port city in southern part of Kerala. Though they occurred 500 years apart, increased the bulk of the Malabar Christian community in general. Since they were business people, besides being Christians, received many favors from the local kings in returns to the lucrative tax benefits from the foreign Christian immigrants. Those returns showed up in different ways: donations of tax-free lands to construct churches, or wetland for farming or cultivation, gift deeds and all sorts of similar gestures, including man power. On many occasions the Christian leaders were honored with titles and privileges bestowed upon them written in copperplates. Due to these Persian immigrants, the Malabar Christian community was spiritually connected to the East Syrian Church (Persian Church) or otherwise known as the Chaldean Church, which continued until the end of the 16th century. During this period the Malabar Christian community or the Malabar Church was under the local administration called the Archdeacons; a group of purely independent indigenous church leaders.
Since the dawn of the 17th century, the occupation of the Southern coast by various Colonial powers such as the Portuguese, Dutch, French as well as the British, have left their permanent scars on the Malabar Church of Saint Thomas, causing far reaching impacts by dividing its members, depends on who influenced whom, into many church groups: the Syro-Malabar, the Mar Thoma, the C.S.I, and the Evangelical Church, including the Pentecostal and Brethren denominations. Regardless of their denominational affiliations majority of their members come from the Malabar Saint Thomas Christians, whom all of them would agree on this common heritage. The Portuguese colonization in South India created a spiritual crisis among the Malabar Christian Community or otherwise called the Malankara Nasranis; as they were brought under the direct control of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Goa, who was given the special charge by Padroado, the spiritual authority over our Church, who officially introduced Latinization, replacing all the current East-Syrian practices of the Malabar Christian community by a general council held at Udayamperur in 1599 (the Synod of Diamper), summoning all the representatives of the Malabar Church of Saint Thomas by pressurizing the Archdeacon with the support of the local King of Cochin with the Archbishop. For the next fifty years, our Church was virtually under the Roman Catholic spiritual patronage until the Oath of Coonan Cross in 1653, by which the Malabar Church officially declared independent, cutting off all ties with Rome.
The Malabar Church, at this critical juncture, received valuable support and spiritual guidance from the West Syrian Orthodox Church under the Patriarch of Antioch, as we contacted him several times while we are passing through such a spiritual crisis. As a result, bishop Gregorios of Jerusalem, an Antiochian prelate, being the first West Syrian bishop landed in Malankara in 1665. This was another turning point in the history of the Malankara Orthodox Church, as it started a new chapter. Since 1665, the name of our church has been changed from the Malabar Church of Saint Thomas to the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, which identify ourselves with Orthodox tradition of the ancient Syrian Orthodox Church. Our Church has been keeping this spiritual connection for more than 350 years with the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, and is very much imbedded in each and every member of the church in numerous ways. We ourselves called Syrian Christians of Kerala, not because we are Syrians, but because we follow their prayers, liturgy, worship patterns, rituals, the rubrics, feasts, hymns of Syrian desert fathers, orders and church organization including the Syriac language. It is emotional more than a spiritual connection for many, however, our Church is a community grew up in the Indian soil from the 1st century onwards within a Hindu culture, where our forefathers nurtured and kept it alive with their sweat and blood in spite of many adverse conditions and foreign domination. Our identity being an Indian Christian remains the same, as we belong to the Saint Thomas heritage regardless of where we live, and nobody can change.
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