Assembly of Mavelikkara in 1836, Strengthening of Antiochene Ties and English Protestant Resistance

Background and Leadership Transition

The Malankara Church, after the death of Mar Dionysius I on April 8, 1808, saw a series of leaders: Mar Thomas VII (1808-1809), Mar Thomas VIII (1810-1815), Mar Thomas IX (1815), Mar Dionysius II (1816), Mar Dionysius III (1817-1825), and Mar Dionysius IV (1825-1846). This era coincided with the establishment of British supremacy in Kerala, notably after the English seized Cochin from the Dutch in 1795 and stationed British Residents in Travancore and Cochin since 1800.

The Mavelikkara Assembly (1836)

On January 16, 1836, Mar Dionysius IV convened an assembly or synod of priests and lay leaders at Mavelikkara. This gathering decisively ended the Anglicanization of the Church. It was declared that the Malankara Church was subject to the Patriarch of Antioch's supreme authority. The synod reaffirmed adherence to the Jacobite Syrian liturgies and ordinances and rejected any contradictory practices.

We, the Jacobite Syrians being subject to the supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch, and observing, as we do, the liturgies and ordinances instituted by the prelates sent under his command, cannot deviate from the liturgies and ordinances and maintain a discipline contrary to them.1)

Reaction to Anglican Influence

The synod's decision to align closely with the Antiochene Patriarch was a strategic move to prevent English Protestants from altering the Malankara Church's faith and rite. As a result, several hundred members of the Malankara Church eventually became Anglicans.

Anglicanized Faction and Episcopal Consecration

A section of the Malankara clergy and faithful, led by Fr Abraham Palakunnathu of Maramon, favored Anglicanization but wished to remain within the Malankara Church. Fr Abraham started modifying the Antiochene liturgy along Protestant lines. In 1841, his nephew, Deacon Mathew Palakunnathu, was sent to the Syrian Orthodox Jacobite Patriarch, Ignatius Mar Elias II, with a request for episcopal consecration. Concealing their true intentions, Mathew was consecrated as Mathew Mar Athanasius and returned to Kerala in 1843.

Conflicts and Civil Authority Intervention

The presence of two metropolitans, Mar Koorillos (sent by the Patriarch in 1846) and Mar Athanasius, led to jurisdictional conflicts. Mar Koorillos declared himself metropolitan of the Malankara Church, and Mar Dionysius IV abdicated in his favor to prevent Mar Athanasius from assuming headship. Mar Koorillos worked to replace the Chaldean rite with the Antiochene rite and introduced the West Syriac script among the Malankara faithful. The Travancore Royal Court, in 1852, officially recognized Mar Athanasius as the metropolitan of the Malankara Church, ordering the Syrians of Malankara to accept and obey him. Mar Athanasius, supported by the Travancore government and British officials, continued as the official head of the Syrian Orthodox or Jacobite community in Malabar.

Fontes Juribus Canonici Syro-Malankarensium, P. J. Podipara (ed.), S. Congregazione per la Chiesa Orientate, Codificazione Canonica Orientate, Prot. N. 494/37, Fanti, Serie II, Fascicolo IX, Vaticano 1940, 26; P. Cherian, The Malabar Syrians and the Church Missionary Society, Kottayam 1935, 390.
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