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Ecumenism in Praxis

A Historical Critique of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church


Joseph Daniel

The Malankara Mar Thoma Church’s ecumenical outlook – marked by twin facets of openness and autonomy – has been the underlying ethos guiding its history, helping it to establish a unique identity. The book retells the church’s ecumenical history dating back to its founding in 52 CE. This study throws ample light on the period between the significant changes of 1889 and the present times. It deals with questions such as: How did the church start practising an ecumenical outlook even before the word ecumenism was coined? Could this have resulted from the church’s interaction with Indian culture that upholds unity in diversity?
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Chapter III


In Communion

The Coonen Cross Oath of 1653 marked the culmination of a long-standing struggle against the imperialistic designs of the foreign Roman Catholic Church. That event reflected the fierce determination of the Malankara Church to remain an indigenous church. But this cannot eclipse the fact that tolerance and openness remained the church’s watchwords in its relations with other communities, including other church denominations.

The Malankara Church has maintained positive ecumenical relations with churches that have came into contact with it since the Fourth Century CE.117 It maintained links at different levels with the Persian Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Antiochian Church, and adapted its Christian views and liturgical elements opportunistically from these streams.

The contact of the Malankara Church with other churches can be traced back to the middle of the Second Century CE, when it possibly developed contacts with the Alexandrian Church. Although there is no primary historical data available to corroborate this hypothesis, the visit of Pantaneus, the first known head of the catechetical school in Alexandria, to India in 180 CE is taken as an earliest reference of the relations of the Malankara Church with a church outside India.118 However, the church was not able to develop a long-lasting ecumenical relation with the Alexandrian Church for unknown reasons. The burning of church documents and ← 59 | 60 → Syriac manuscripts by the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of the Synod of Diamper had destroyed historic data that could have...

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