Catholicos of the East

Catholicos of the East

Catholicos of the East is an ecclesiastical title used by Eastern Churches. The title Catholicos, or "universal leader", is used in several Eastern Christian churches and implies a degree of sovereignty and autocephaly. The designation "Catholicos of the East" originated in the see of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the capital of Persia, center of the Church of the East since the early days of Christianity in Persia.

In the Church of the East, also known as the Nestorian Church, "Catholicos of the East" was one of the titles borne by the Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, who was the designated Patriarch of the Church of the East. It is still used in two successor churches, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East, the heads of which are known as Catholicos-Patriarchs.

Later, in the seventh century, the minority Syriac Orthodox Christians who lived in Persia began using the title for its Maphrian, who was originally the head of the Syriac Orthodox Christian community in Nestorian-dominated Persia. This office ranked second in the Syriac Orthodox church hierarchy after the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, until it was abolished in 1860.

In the 20th century the title "Catholicos of the East" was resurrected in the context of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the ancient Indian church founded by the Apostle St. Thomas which is in communion with other Oriental Orthodox Churches. Contention over the foreign Patriarch's claim to secular authority over the Indian Church, its dioceses and parishes led to a rift in the community, leading the Malankara Metropolitan along with prominent clergymen and laymen to request the deposed, yet legitimate Patriarch Ignatius Abdul Masih II to arrive at Malankara in 1912. The Patriarch consecrated the Metropolitan Paulose Mar Ivanios as Baselios Paulose I, Catholicos of the East on the Apostolic Throne of St. Thomas. The events divided the church into two factions, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, led by the Catholicos, and the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, who supported the Patriarch. In 1934, the Malankara Syrian Christian Association, which is the parliament of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church decided that the titles Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan should be vested in the same person. Ever since, the Supreme Head of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church holds the title Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan.

In 1958 the church was reunited when the Supreme Court of India approved the legitimacy of the Catholicos of the East, and ruled that the church should be administered in accordance with the Church Constitution of 1934. Following the Supreme Court verdict, the dissident faction which supported the Patriarch received the Catholicos of the East Baselios Geevarghese II as the supreme head. In 1964, after the death of Baselios Geevarghese II, the Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Ya`qub III, as an expression of friendship, accepted the invitation of the united Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and arrived in India. The Patriarch then consecrated Metropolitan Augen Mar Themotheos as Baselios Augen I, Catholicos of the East. However, in 1973, the Patriarch sent an encyclical to the Catholicos questioning the priesthood of Apostle St. Thomas. The Patriarch excommunicated the Catholicos, saying that St. Thomas could not be considered an apostle. In response Baselios Augen I excommunicated the Patriarch. The split survives to this day, with the faction supporting the Patriarch being known as the Jacobite Syrian Church. At present, the seat of the Catholicos of the East is India's southern city Kottayam in the scenic state of Kerala. The Thronal Cathedral of the Catholicos of the East is Mar Elia Cathedral,[1] Kottayam, Kerala. The primate resides in the Catholicate Palace, Devalokam, Kottayam, Kerala.

Note: The title 'Catholicos of the East' held by the Supreme Head of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is not to be confused with the title Catholicos of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church in India held by the local head of Malankara Archdiocese of Syriac Orthodox Church, also known as the Jacobite Syrian Church.

The title Catholicos of the East during the early Christian era

Catholicos is the title of the primates of various Apostolic churches traditionally used outside the Byzantine empire. The word "Catholicos" means "Universal".

The Catholicos of the East is the head of the Eastern Syriac Churches. Eastern Syriac Church includes the Assyrian Churches of Persia, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Orthodox Syrian Church of India, which is also known as the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church or the Indian Orthodox Church. It is a tradition for these Churches to believe that Apostle St. Thomas was the first in succession of Catholicoi of the East. The Syriac Orthodox Church says that it established the Catholicate in 410. The minutes of the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (also known as Synod of Mar Isaac), convened in 410 AD under the presidency of Mar Isaac, the Archbishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon disagree with this, saying that it conferred the title "Catholicos" on the Archbishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon and made him the head of the bishops of the east.[2]

The Catholicate in India

Christianity has had a significant presence in India since its inception in the early centuries. Church tradition holds that after the Ascension of Jesus, the Apostles cast lots to decide their region of Evangelism. Thus, St. Thomas, one of the original twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, initially brought Christianity to India in 52 AD and was martyred in Mylapore, a place in current Tamil Nadu state. Tradition holds that priests were ordained in seven localities. Pantaenus, the leader of the Alexander Theological school, visited India and found an active Christian Community there in 190 AD. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church believes that Apostle Thomas founded the Church in India, a tradition strongly held by the Church from ancient times. The Church is in the Oriental Orthodox family following the Orthodox faith of the three Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus.

The chief primate of the Indian Orthodox Church is called "the Catholicos of the East, Catholicos of the Apostolic throne of St. Thomas, and the Malankara Metropolitan": two titles with separate spiritual and secular responsibilities, but always held by the same individual in accordance with the constitution of the Church adopted in 1934.

Authority of the Catholicos of the East (Malankara Orthodox Church)

As Catholicos of the East, the Supreme Head of The Indian Orthodox Church consecrates bishops for the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (the Indian Orthodox Church), presides over the synod, declares and implements its decisions, conducts the administration on behalf of the synod, and consecrates the Holy Mooron (anointing oil).

As Malankara Metropolitan, he is the head of the Malankara Church, the President of the Malankara Syrian Christian Association and the Managing Committee. The prime jurisdiction regarding the temporal, ecclesiastical, and spiritual administration of the Indian Orthodox Church is vested in the Malankara Metropolitan subject to the provisions of the Church constitution adopted in 1934.

Autocephaly associated with the Catholicate - Historical perspective

The Catholicate was officially substantiated by the Synod of Markabata in 424AD, presided over by Catholicos Dadyeshu, confirmed the Independence of the Persian church.[3] The Synod proclaimed:

"By the word of God we define: The Easterners cannot complain against the Patriarch to western Patriarchs; that every case that cannot be settled in his presence must await the judgement of Christ...(and) on no grounds whatever one can think or say that the Catholicos of the East can be judged by those who are below him, or by a Patriarch equal to him. He himself must be the judge of all those beneath him, and he can be judged only by Christ who has chosen him, elevated him and placed him at the head of his church".

The conflicts between the Patriarch and Maphriyan resulted in the Council of Capharthutha in February 869 AD. This assembly codified 8 canons dealing with the Patriarch and the Maphrian of Tigris. The canons are given below:

  1. The bishops and the monks in the Mar Mathai's Monastery, should submit to and obey the Maphrian whose seat is in Tigris.
  2. The Patriarch should not interfere in the administration of the Church in Tigris, unless when invited. In the same way the maphrian should not interfere in the Patriarchal See.
  3. When the Maphrian is present along with the Patriarch of Antioch he should be seated immediately at the right hand side of the Patriarch. The name of the Maphrian shall be mentioned immediately after that of the Patriarch, in the liturgy; and he should receive the Holy Qurbana after the Patriarch.
  4. When a Maphrian is alive, a Patriarch should not be installed without his concurrence, otherwise, the orientals shall have the right to install the Maphrian by themselves. The question of who should perform the laying on of hands on the new Patriarch — i.e., the Maphrian or the President of the Synod, shall be decided by four bishops, two each elected by the orientals and the westerners (Antiochean) respectively.
  5. The Archdiocese of Kurdu, Beth-Sabdaya and also Najran, provided, the Arabs agree to it, shall vest with Tigris administration.
  6. The mutual excommunications between the orientals and the Antiochans shall be withdrawn.
  7. A final decision was taken about the three bishops consecrated by the Patriarch in the see of the Maphrian.
  8. A bishop excommunicated by the Maphrian shall also be considered as excommunicated by the Patriarch.

According to historian Mar Gregorios Bar Ebraya (Bar Hebraeus), Apostle Thomas is the first in the Apostolic succession of the East.

In 1238 the West Syrians installed Mar Philexnos as Patriarch without Bar Ebraya; when Patriarchal delegates arrived at his monastery with apologies, he refused to receive them. The Church in India and the Church of the East in Persia remained in one faith for many years and maintained ecclesiastical connection. In 431, the Council of Ephesus condemned the teachings of Nestorius, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople. After the Ecumenical council of Ephesus, a significant portion of the Church in Persia adopted Nestorian teachings concerning the nature of Christ.

In 544 Theodosius, the deposed non-Chalcedonian Patriarch of Alexandria, ordained two bishops including Mar Jacob Baradaeus for the expansion of a Syriac Church weakened by Byzantine persecution subsequent to the Council of Chalcedon. In 559, Jacob visited the east and consecrated a Catholicos for Orthodox Christians who accepted the Council of Ephesus and rejected the Council of Chalcedon. Mar Jacob himself was ordained a general bishop by Patriarch Theodosius of Alexandria.

This Catholicate, which is in the succession of Apostle Thomas, was re-located to India in 1912 due to the efforts of deposed Patriarch Mor Abdul Masih II, of Antioch and Vattaserill Mar Dionysius, the Malankara Metropolitan.

The Catholicate of the East is autocephalous and is in the legitimate succession of St. Thomas the Apostle.[4] There have been eight Catholicoi in direct succession since establishing the Catholicate of the East in India. The Catholicos has jurisdiction over the dioceses and churches in most parts of India as well as in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Europe, South Africa, Persian Gulf nations, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. As of 2015 the Catholicos of the East is Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II.[5]

Unification of 1958 and schism of the 1970s

In the brief peace and unity of 1958, letters of mutual acceptance were exchanged between the Patriarch and the Catholicos. When the church was unified, all Metropolitans of the Patriarchal group submitted letters of obedience to the Catholicos of the East. The letter of one of them, Paulose Mar Philexinos, said "I solemnly submit that I will follow the canons of the Church, the Constitution in force, and the directions of Your Holiness".[6]

In a speech thereafter, the same Mar Philexinos said "We shall remain under the banner of the Catholicate till the moon and stars last. This Catholicate will exist for all time to come. May God Almighty be pleased that we all will stand united under the leadership of this Catholicos who graces the throne. I do not mean political or temporal matters. We have now the privilege of witnessing for our Lord unitedly under the stewardship of one Head. May this unity serve as a signal to all other Churches of India to fall in line under this common Father. We, Metropolitans, will hand in hand serve under the Holy throne of the Catholicate".[7]

Mar Philexinos led a group that later separated again from the unified church, and was ordained as Paulos I, the first rival Catholicos.[8]

In 2002 the Supreme Court of India instructed to conduct a session of Malankara Syrian Christian Association (the Parliament of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church) in which representatives from both factions were to participate. The Association was convened at Parumala Seminary, overseen by Supreme Court Justice Maleemat, with the aim of electing a Malankara Metropolitan acceptable to both factions. However, the representatives of the faction supporting the Patriarch's authority (currently known as Jacobite Syrian Christian Church) did not attend. The Association confirmed the legitimacy of Catholicos of the East Baselios MarThoma Mathews II as the Malankara Metropolitan.[9]

Catholicoi after the Schism

Due to old age, Baselios MarThoma Mathews I abdicated as Catholicos in 1991. Mathews Mar Coorilos (Metropolitan of Quilon), was elected by the Malankara Syrian Christian Association, the modern form of the ancient Malankara Palli-yogam (Church Association), to succeed the Primate. He was enthroned in 1991 as Catholicos of the East Baselios MarThoma Mathews II and led the Church for almost 15 years. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I made an apostolic visit to Indian Orthodox Church during the incumbency of Mathews II.

Baselios MarThoma Mathews II abdicated in 2005 due to old age and enthroned Thomas Mar Thimotheos (Metropolitan of Malabar Diocese since 1966) as his successor Baselios Marthoma Didymos I. Didymos I reigned for five years as Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan during which period he enthroned fourteen Metropolitan Bishops and consecrated Holy Mooron. After being enthroned, Didymos I visited the Holy Land and exchanged greetings with the Coptic Pope, Shenouda III. During his tenure, the Patriarch of Ethiopia Abune Paulos, Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and Aram I Keshishian, Catholicos of Cilicia paid fraternal visits to the Indian Orthodox Church. The Catholicos abdicated in 2010 due to old age and enthroned Paulos Mar Milithios (Metropolitan of Kunnamkulam Diocese since 1985) as his successor Baselios Marthoma Paulose II. Paulose II was a guest of honor at the enthronement of Patriarch of Ethiopia Abune Mathias in Addis Ababa in 2013.[10] During the centenary celebrations of the Catholicate in 2012 the Dalai Lama and former President of India A. P. J. Abdul Kalam were the chief guests. The Catholicos was invited to pay a fraternal visit to Pope Francis, which took place in 2013;[11][12][13] Paulos II is the third Catholicos of the East to exchange greetings and hold audience with a Pope of Rome.[14][15] The Pope expressed hopes of cultivating a "culture of encounter" by "overcoming prejudices and closed attitudes which are part of a kind of "culture of clashes" and source of division."[16]

Lineage of Catholicos of the East

Hereafter the title Catholicos of the East is claimed by both the East Syrian Rite and West Syrian Rite Churches. For the continuation of the Western Syriac lineage see List of Maphrians. For the Eastern Syriac lineage see List of Patriarchs of the Church of the East.

Other Churches employing the title Catholicos

While the title Patriarch originated in the Churches within the Roman Empire during the 4th and 5th centuries, the title Catholicos emerged in the Churches outside the Roman Empire. By the 5th century A.D., there were five Patriarchates (namely 'Rome', 'Constantinople', 'Alexandria', 'Antioch' and 'Jerusalem') and four Catholicosates (namely 'Catholicos of the East', 'Armenia', 'Georgia' and 'Albania'). At present, besides the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, other autocephalous churches employing the title "Catholicos" for their supreme primate are the Georgian Orthodox Church.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Malankara Sabha Vijnana Kosham (Church encyclopedia); published 1991, Old Seminary
  3. ^
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^
  7. ^;wap2
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ [4]
  11. ^
  12. ^ [5]
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ [6]
  17. ^ I Peter, 1:1 and 5:13
  18. ^ a b c

External links

  • Indian Christianity
  • Official Website of the Indian Orthodox Church
  • Complete Website of the Indian Orthodox Church
  • Catholicos Baselios Marthoma Paulose II
  • Catholicos of the East - St. Mary's Malankara Orthodox Cathedral of Philadelphia
  • Official online news portal of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
  • Indian Orthodox Herald: News about the Catholicate of the East
  • Matha Mariam Media: A Complete Orthodox Web Portal maintained by Trivandrum Diocese
  • ICON Indian Christian Orthodox Network - Catholicos of the East
  • Complete website of Catholicos of The East and Malankara Metropolitan
  • Malankara Sabhadeepam: Church history and news in Malayalam
  • Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church - Diocese of America
  • Unofficial church-news portal :