God bless the originial and Apostolic Indian Orthodox Church, the Throne of St. Thomas.
Which one would that be, the SOC or the IOC?
What an earnest searcher of Truth you are! Your question in this forum
is one of the most sincere and instructive in this forum's history. The
split in the Malankara Church has led to confusion - and God is not the
author of confusion. This, sadly, is the work of man in his attempt to
To bring a word of reassurance - your Faith is not a lie. On essential
doctrine, the Indian Orthodox Church believes the same as the Syrian
Orthodox Church. The teachings about Christ, salvation, Bible, mission,
etc. are the same.
The difference is in the hierarchy and its origins. This is a long and
complicated story. I encourage you to sift through some of the archives
of this group. You will find detail after detail and argument after
argument concerning this split. This forum does not censor legitimate
opinions as some others do - you will find both sides.
In a nutshell, before the Portuguese came in the 1600s all the
Christians were Syrian Orthodox. All the Orthodox in Malankara (Kerala, India)
were Syrian Orthodox until the 1850's (some Nestorians are present, but
again using a form of Syriac in their worship). Now about half the
Orthodox is Syrian Orthodox and half Indian Orthodox. Catholics are the
majority of Christians.
Two singular figures bring us to the present predicament in the
Orthodox Church. (I'm sure there are more, but these two will suffice for
now). One is Bishop Dionysius Vatterserril, who is the beginning of the
schism (1850s). He went to a deposed patriarch (HH Abdul Mashish) and
became ordained as a leader of the Indian Christians. He could not get
ordination from the legitimate Patriarch of Antioch. As you can imagine,
this did not sit well with the faithful when they heard about it.
Some were attracted to this new leader because he represented
independence from a "foreign culture". (As if Jesus was Indian!) Also because of
issues with property ownership (rumors were started that the Patriarch
of Antioch wanted to directly control each parish,
etc.), some were attracted to Mor Vatterseril. Eventually, the Mor
Vatterseril group got the backing of powerful media and corporate
conglomerates. Some bishops decided to join the Mor Vatterseril group. Because
of parish and family loyalties, many people came under this group's
One big problem arose - who controlled the parishes. The Syrian
Orthodox built all the churches, seminaries, etc. But in some areas the
supporters of the Indian Orthodox were large in number. So, instead of
leaving the church and building their own facilities, the Indian Orthodox
decided to take over what they could. Their aim was to destroy the Syrian
Orthodox so that no one could challenge their legitimacy.
Legitimacy is a sore spot for the Indian Orthodox. Many theories have
emerged as to the "ancient" nature of the Apostolic Succession they
purport. Though ordained by a successor of St. Peter, their leader claims
that they have an Apostolic right to rule the Indian Christians because
of the missionary activity of St. Thomas, who was martyred in southeast
India (ca. AD 50-70). This is patent rubbish, because St. Thomas did
not ordain a recorded successor.
Now we come to the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's. Many worked for peace
and reunification of the church on both sides because everyone realized
that the two groups were practicing the same faith derived from Syriac
Christianity. The leader of the Indian Orthodox Church, after swearing
to uphold all the aspects of faith (including succession), knelt before
the Patriarch of Antioch Ignatious Yakub III and received the title
"Catholicos of the East," a title that was abolished in the Church in the
1800s but resurrected to celebrate the fact that the Indian Church was
an important integral part of the Universal Church, and that a strong
position of authority had beengiven to the Indians. The name of the
Catholicos was Mor Augen I.
Unfortunately, in 1975 Mor Augen I blatantly forgot his oath to the
Universal Church, claiming again that the Indian Church is autocephalous.
Many properties built by those who remained true to the Universal
Church were stolen. Some churches are closed to this day because a few
families who are Indian Orthodox refuse to leave parishes where the majority
is Syrian Orthodox. The Syrian Church is not seeking the closure of any
The current schism in the church rests with Mor Augen I, his successor,
and supporters. Period.
The matter eventually went to the Supreme Court of India, which
unequivocally stated in 1995 that the Indian Church is NOT autocephalous.
Hence, the ordination of their present Catholicos is in question. The
court limited the temporal authority of the Patriarch of Antioch in a
way that was not acceptable to the Syrian Orthodox. So, in a bold move,
and exercising the right to freedom of religion granted by the
Constitution of India, the Syrian Christians withdrew from the legal association
of churches that were in dispute in the Supreme Court case and formed
another legal association.
BUT the Supreme Court's decision that the Indian Orthodox Church is NOT
autocephalous still holds!
The current Patriarch, HH Ignatious Zakka I Iwas, left the legitimate
Catholicate vacant for several years before the ordination of Mor
Baselios Thomas I in hopes of bringing the two churches back together.
Unfortunately, hopes for a lasting peace from a theological point of view
were dashed when the Indian Orthodox Church unilaterally declared Mor
Vatterserril as a saint, without permission from the Patriarch. Now, the
Indian Orthodox have several hundred court cases against the Syrian
Orthodox Church. We have none against them. This is an effort to exhaust the
Syrians and gain control of parishes. Some churches are closed because
a sharing settlement cannot be reached. Again, in every case, though
foolish, the Syrian Christians are willing to share the parishes in
question rather than see the parish closed. The Indian Orthodox would rather
the parish rot. See for yourself - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SOCM-FORUM/message/6895
The issue for you, Mathew, is whether you should leave a schismatic
group and join the Universal Church. A few things to keep in mind. The
Indian Orthodox faction is under excommunication. The sacraments practiced
are legitimate, but not legal! No one questions the legitimacy of the
Syrian Orthodox Church outside of India. No group outside of India
believes that the Indian Orthodox Church is fully legitimate (although the
group has representatives in various international bodies). Being part
of the Universal Church reminds us that our faith is not an ethnic
association, but the message of Christ to all people through all time. The
Syrian Patriarch received the right to administer India in AD 325 at the
council of Nicea(of "creed" fame)!!!
The Universal Church has been drained by this fight, but plenty of
talent still remains. Your faith, whether called "Indian Orthodox" by some,
is actually and truly Syrian Orthodox. The Syrian Church has witnessed
for Jesus Christ since the very beginning of Christianity. If you are
willing, you can find yourself in the company of those who have bled and
died for the faith you hold. You can help rebuild that which was lost.
As an aside, if the Indian Orthodox Church is administered by the
"Catholicos of the East," then what right does he have over the Christians
outside the East? You and I are in the West, where there should be no
question over who has jurisdiction (The Patriarch of Antioch AND all the
East (not just the East), supreme head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox
Whatever your decision, I thank you for your questions. Similar
questions are asked by our youth members all the time. We all must be honest
searchers for the Truth.
Dn. Zach Varghese, M.D.
Southern Regional Youth Advisor
Mor Gregorious Syriac Orthodox Student Association"http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SOCM-FORUM/