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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 IV


A Reformed Church of the Orient

The hierarchical and legalistic structures of the Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church gave rise to widespread resentment, which led to the European reformation in the 16th Century. The Malankara Church had its own series of reforms in the 19th Century CE, which though was not in reaction to any episcopal or ecclesiastical structural tensions.157

On the contrary, the reforms were a result of confrontations within the church against traditionalism, as represented by remnants of Roman Catholic and Antiochian influences, in efforts at two different levels to modernise the Malankara Church’s outlook. The first resulted from a struggle by those who stood fiercely for the Malankara Church’s ecumenical outlook and second, by those who sought to imbibe fresh ideas from the Church of England and the Church Missionary Society (CMS).

The reforms were spearheaded by Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan (1796–1845)158 and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan (1800–1855)159 and were aimed, among other things, at regaining the autonomous position enjoyed by the Malankara Church prior to the Synod of Diamper (1599) and to position it as a contemporary church. The reformists sought to instil an evangelical fervour ← 73 | 74 → in the Malankara Church and this effort was managed in cooperation with the Church of England’s Church Missionary Society (CMS),160 by way of a “mission of help” agreement formalised between then Metropolitan Dionysius I and the CMS missionaries in 1816. According to Philipose Mar Chrysostom, “Luther’s Reformation emerged...

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