Syrian Christian of Kerala - History and Cultural Relations

Those unfamiliar with the history of Christianity in India are likely to consider it a by-product of Western colonialism. The tradition is that Saint Thomas, the disciple of Jesus Christ, landed in A . D . 52 at Maliankara near Cranganore and preached the gospel. It is believed that he visited different parts of Kerala and converted a good number of local inhabitants, including many from the literate upper-caste Nambudiri Brahmans. It seems that Saint Thomas established churches in seven places in Kerala. The present Christian population claims descent from this early origin, though there has been much scholarly debate over the date of Saint Thomas's arrival. They are popularly known as Syrian Christians in view of the Syriac (classical form of Aramaic) liturgy used in church services since the early days of Christianity in India. They are also known as Nazaranis (followers of Jesus the Nazarene). The survival of the church in Kerala is very much a result of the development of an indigenous character and adaptation to local traditions. Syrian Christians came to rank after the Brahmans and as equals of the Nayars. The survival of Syrian Christians in Kerala was also a result of the benevolence and tolerance of the rulers in Travancore, Cochin, and Malabar who donated land and helped financially to build churches. The early church received this aid partly Because of the favorable impression created by the Christians, who served the rulers in various capacities, as well as respect for the religion. Syrian Christians remained an independent group and continued to get bishops from the Eastern Orthodox church in Antioch in Syria. After the Portuguese arrival in 1498, they gradually established their power and were eager to bring all Christians under the Church of Rome. With superior organizational skill and Portuguese help, Bishop Alexis de Menezes was successful in establishing the Roman Catholic church as the dominant church of the Malabar Coast (Kerala). However, when the Portuguese power declined by the early seventeenth century, the hold of the Roman Catholic church in Kerala weakened, and allegiance to the Syrian Orthodox tradition was reaffirmed in front of an improvised cross at Mattancherry in 1653, an event known as Coonan Kurisu Satyam. At present, Syrian tradition is quite well established, though Roman Catholic church members are more numerous.

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