Ecumenical Relations of the Mar Thoma Church
Anglican Churches in India, Canada and Global
As a reformed Church with Episcopal traditions, the Mar Thoma Church entered into dialogue with the Anglican Church in India. The Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops considered the question of communion between the two Churches. A commission was appointed by the Anglican Church in India in 1957 to study the possibility of intercommunion. After considering the report of the Commission a concordat was agreed upon in 1961 establishing Communion relationship between the two Churches. It was also agreed that in the consecration of Bishops by either Church, the Bishops of the other Church should participate. Thus ministry of the two Churches was mutually accepted in full. Subsequently the Lambeth Conference declared acceptance of the ministry and full communion relationship. The Mar Thoma Church is now in full communion relationship with the Anglican Communion all over the world. Since 1961, Archbishop of Canterbury invites Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church to Lambeth Conference, which is held once in ten years in Canterbury, England.
Members of the Mar Thoma Church began migration to North America in large numbers since the beginning of 1960s. As the concentration of the church members increased all over North America, the Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church made agreements with the Prelates of the Anglican Church in Canada and of the Episcopal Church in the United States by which they would provide pastoral care for the members of the Mar Thoma Church in those countries, whenever necessary. Simultaneously, the Church took action to send more priests to the USA and Canada and established its own zonal administration in 1982.
The present Valia Metropolitan attended the Lambeth Conference in 1978. He participated in the installation of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1980. Also, he attended the Anglican Consultative Council held in, Nigeria in 1984 with the Moderators of Church of South India (CSI) and Church of North India (CNI), the Anglican churches in India. The Archbishop of Canterbury visited Kerala in February 1986 and participated in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Reformation in the Church.
Lambeth Conference 2008 took place at the University of Kent, Canterbury in England from July 16 to August 3, 2008. Rt. Rev. Dr Geevarghese Mar Theodosius, our Diocesan Bishop represented the Mar Thoma Church in this conference. His Grace was welcomed as an ecumenical partner and given the opportunity to serve the communion on the inaugural Eucharist on Sunday the 20th July 08 and to read the Gospel portion on the concluding Eeucharist on Sunday the 3rd August 2008.
Independent Syrian Church of Thozhiyoor, India
The Mar Thoma Church is in communion relationship with the Independent Syrian Church of Thozhiyoor, although the doctrinal positions are not mutually accepted in full. When the Metropolitan Thomas Mar Athanasius passed away without consecrating a successor in 1893, it was the Metropolitan of the Thozhiyoor Church who consecrated Metropolitan Titus I Mar Thoma, and helped the Mar Thoma Church in a serious crisis. Mar Thoma Metropolitans have since then helped in consecrating the Metropolitans of Thozhiyoor Church. According to the constitution of the Thozhiyoor Church, when difficulties arise the Thozhiyoor Church should seek the advice and guidance of the Mar Thoma Metropolitan despite the fact that either Church has no authority over the other. Thus the relation between the Thozhiyoor Church and Mar Thoma Church is unique. In recent years three Metropolitans of the Thozhiyoor Church were consecrated by the Metropolitans of the Mar Thoma Church. The centenary of the fraternal relationship between the two Churches was celebrated in the Sabha Mandalam on September 14, 1994.
World Council of Churches (WCC)
The Mar Thoma Church has been a member of the World Council of Churches ever since the founding of the W.C.C. in 1948. Juhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan was elected as one of the Presidents in the Second Assembly in Evanston. Dr. M. M. Thomas was the Moderator of the Central Committee which was formed at the Fifth Assembly met at Nairobi in 1975. Representatives of the Mar Thoma Church including the Bishops have participated in all the Assemblies and in the Central committee and they have made valuable contributions in the sessions of the Assemblies and the committees. Thomas Mar Athanasius, was a member of the Faith and Order commission. At present Zacharias Mar Theophilus has been representing the Mar Thoma Church in the Central Committee and Executive Committee since the Canberra Assembly. Prof. T. K. Thomas, a member of the Church, was the Publication Editor of the Central Secretariat at Geneva. At present, Dr. Mathews George Chunakara is Asia Secretary of the WCC based in Geneva.
National Council of Churches in India (NCCI)
When the National Christian Council of India was formed, the Mar Thoma Church became a member and took active part in it. It continues its membership after it was reorganized as the National Council of Churches in India. The previous General Secretary of N.C.C.I., Mr. Mathai Zachariah is a member of Mar Thoma Church. Earlier, Mr. P. O.Philip, a member of Mar Thoma Church has served as. General Secretary of National Christian Council for many years. Mar Chrysostom and Mar Irenaeus were the Presidents of NCCI. The present General Secretary Rev.Dr.Iype Joseph is also a member of our Church. Kerala Council of Churches (KCC) is the local unit of the NCCI in Kerala and our church actively participates in its activities from its very inception.
Christian Conference of Asia (CCA)
The Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) is the Regional Ecumenical Organization in Asia founded in 1957 at Prapat, Indonesia. . The Mar Thoma Church is a founding member of CCA and the Church was represented at the founding meeting by the late Metropolitan Alexander Mar Thoma (then Alexander Mar Theophilus Episcopa) and the late Rev. M. A. Thomas. The present Valia Metropolitan Mar Chrisostem represented the Church when the CCA, then known as East Asia Christian Conference (EACC), was inaugurated at the first Assembly in Kuala Lumpur in 1959. Since that time the Mar Thoma Church has taken a very active part in CCA.. Dr. M. M. Thomas was the Secretary of the Church and Society Unit of CCA in 1964-1967. Prof. T. K. Thomas was the Editor of CCA Publications from 1977-1981. Dr. Zacharias Mar Theophilus Episcopa was a member of the General Committee and the Executive Committee of CCA from 1981-1985. Dr. Mathews George Chunakara, a member of the Church was Executive Secretary of CCA for International Affairs, Human Rights and Indo -China Concerns during the period 1993 to 2000. Rt Rev Dr Joseph Mar Irenaeus Suffragan Metropolitan was a member of the CCA General Committee and Executive Committee from 1995 to 2000 and since the Tenth Assembly of CCA held in Tomohon, Indonesia in 2000 June His Grace Mar Iranaues has been serving as the Senior President of CCA.
The National Missionary Society (NMS)
The N.M.S. was organized on Christmas day, 1905, by a group of earnest Christians from various denominations, who had the conviction that the Mission of the Church in India is primarily the responsibility of Indians and that for fulfillment of this mission indigenous methods were to be adopted. As a completely Indian Church, the Mar Thoma Church appreciated this stand, and actively participated in the N.M.S. from the beginning. Abraham Mar Thoma Metropolitan was its President and Mr. P. O. Philip was Secretary for sometime. Rev. P. J. Thomas has served as General Secretary for three years in recent time. The first missionary effort undertaken by the Mar Thoma Church outside Kerala was in co-operation with the N.M.S. in North Kanara District, in 1910. The co-operation still continues. Mr.K.Chandy, a member of the Mar Thoma Church was the organizer of N.M.S. in Kerala for many years. The Platinum jubilee of the N.M.S. was celebrated in 1980 at Tiruvalla, the head-quarters of the Mar Thoma Church. The present President of the N.M.S. is Thomas Mar Timotheos Episcopa.
Bible Society of India
The Bible society is another inter-denominational organization working throughout the world. The Mar Thoma Church has actively supported the work of the Bible Society. The present Metropolitan has been President of the Bible Society of India for nearly 10 years, 1973 to 1982, and has also served as one of the Vice Presidents of the United Bible Societies. Bishops of the Mar Thoma Church have been Presidents of the Kerala Auxiliary of the Bible Society and Rev. Dr. P. M. Mathew was the Secretary of the Bihar Auxiliary. Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan is the President and Rev Dr Samuel T Varghese is the Secretary of the Kerala Auxiliary now.
Cooperation with international organizations
Active cooperation of the Church is extended to the international Christian Organizations, such as Y.M.C.A., Y.W.C.A., S.C.M. etc. The Mar Thoma Church co-operates with the Salvation Army in the preaching of the gospel.
Mention has already been made of the special character of the Mar Thoma Church as maintaining oriental traditions while being a reformed Church. Even though the Orthodox Church and the Mar Thoma Church have come from the same Malankara Church, there is no communion relationship between them. At the same time they come together in social and public concerns. Marriages between the members of the two Churches are very common. Conversations have taken place between leaders of the two Churches about the points that are to be cleared for mutual recognition of the ministry. Such conversations are continuing. The Orthodox Church in Kerala at present has two main branches – The Orthodox Syrian Church with the Catholicos at Kottayam, and the Syrian Orthodox Church owing allegiance to the Patriarch at Antioch.
Relationship with the Roman Catholic Church
The Udayamperoor Synod and the pledge taken by our fathers at the Coonan Cross, Mattancherry, have remained fresh in our minds. Therefore, our relationship with the Roman Catholic Church has not been very cordial. However, II Vatican Council called by Pope John XXIII marked a turning point. Representatives from the Mar Thoma Church also were invited to attend the Council. Thomas Mar Athanasius, Philipose Mar Chrysostom and Mr. C. P. Mathew attended the Vatican Council representing the Church as observers. Since then the relationship has steadily improved. When common issues involving educational or social problems affecting the work of the Churches, Bishops of the different Churches meet, discuss and agree upon the action to be taken. Also the week of Prayer and the Unity Octave in the month of January is an occasion when members of the different Churches meet together and join in intercessory prayer using orders of service approved by the W.C.C. and the Vatican.
Quite recently the need for common action arose in connection with the Christian center at Nilakkal, where there was an ancient Church believed to be one of the seven Churches established by St. Thomas. In later centuries the inhabitants of Nilakkal left that area for reasons undetermined, and the place became completely covered by thick forest. Keen desire to reestablish the Church there was felt by all the Christians who have the common heritage from Apostle Thomas. This proposal met with strong opposition from those who did not like the idea of a Christian Church being situated so close to the famous Sabirimala temple, a place of pilgrimage for devout Hindus. The leaders of all the Episcopal Churches in Kerala met together and considered how to bring about a peaceful settlement. They decided to accept another site at some distance from the original center with a view to respect the sentiments of the Hindu friends. The Government offered such a site in the forest and it was accepted by all concerned. For the first time in history a Church was built there by all denominations together. It was dedicated in April 1984. This Church is a token of the sacred heritage which all Christians in Kerala share together from Apostle Thomas and is a symbol of the determination to work together in the future in witnessing to Jesus Christ.
CCI- Communion of Churches in India [Joint Council of the Church of North India, Church of South India and Mar Thoma Church]
Having established full communion relationship with the two Churches as mentioned above, negotiations were started for establishing even closer relationship with these Churches. The Theological commission of the Mar Thoma Church met together with the Theological commissions of the other Churches to consider the matter. At the very outset, the representatives of the Mar Thoma Church led by the present Valia Metropolitan made it clear that they had no intention to enter into a union with the other Churches which would involve merging of the three Churches as happened in the case of the formation of the C. N. I. and C. S. I. The Mar Thoma Church wished to explore possibilities of working together especially in the field of evangelization in India and other areas of cooperation in the fulfillment of the mission of the Church.
As the Mar Thoma Church had oriental traditions which it wished to preserve, the Church did not agree to losing its identity by merging with the other Churches. The other two Churches which were formed by the merging of different denominations from the Western tradition did not see any difficulty in the idea of again merging to form a new Church. Still recognizing the need for working together and growing together in the spirit of unity – all the three Churches agreed to form a Joint council of the three Churches consisting of 30 representatives from each Church including five Bishops, ten presbyters and fifteen lay Members of which five should be women. A constitution of the joint council was drawn up and sent to the three Churches for their approval. Any decision of the Joint Council would be binding on any of the constituent Churches only when the Church’s supreme legislative body accepted the decision. The three Churches considered the recommendation made by the negotiating body and accepted the constitution. Thus the joint Council was formed and it was inaugurated at Nagpur in 1978.
One of the recommendations made by the Joint Council to the Churches was the adoption of a common name for the three Churches. This question was discussed by the different Churches. The C. N. I. and the Mar Thoma Church decided against having a common name. The C. S. I. suggested the name ‘Church of India’. The Mar Thoma Church did not accept the suggestion to have a common name as a new Church had not come into existence. The Sabha Mandalam which met in May 1985 however resolved to recommend to the Joint Council that the Joint Council may be renamed as ‘The Council of Churches in Communion – C. N. I., C. S. I., M.T.C’, in order to express clearly the bond of unity realized by the communion relationship among the three Churches. The joint Council did not accept the recommendation. It has appointed three Commissions to explore the ways of working together.
- Commission on Mission to find out the possibility of opening new mission centers in different language areas of India in cooperation with one another
- Commission on Theological matters: to study the implication of closer relationships
- Commission on Peace and Justice: to consider national and international issues pertaining to Justice and Peace and the response of the Church to such situations
The second Sunday in November is set apart as Unity Sunday to celebrate the unity that has been already attained.
The meeting of the members of the three Executive Committees of the member churches held in November 1999 at Charalmount came up with a further step in affirming the unity that exists between the three Churches. It was unanimously suggested at the meeting that the Joint Council of CNI-CSI-MTC should adopt a new name “The Communion of Churches in India”. The Constitution of the Joint Council was amended to this effect in its meeting at Akash Gange, Calcutta from 11th – 14th November, 2000. The Mar Thoma Church Prathinidhi Mandalam in 2001 approved the new Constitution of the Joint Council.
The main joint project of the Joint Council is the Integrated Rural Development Programme in Orissa. Each member church should contribute Rs.10 lakhs every year for a period of three years making a total of Rs.90 Lakhs. A joint Lectionary and Diary were produced in 2001.
C. S. I.
After the formation of the C. S. I. in 1947 dialogues were held between C. S. I. and Mar Thoma Church regarding mutual recognition of the ministry and intercommunion relationship. The Theological commission of the Mar Thoma Church studied the matter and made recommendations to the Sabha Mandalam. On the basis of the report the Sabha Mandalam decided on full communion relationship with the Church of South India in 1958, with the provision that full communion relationship does not mean that either Church accepts completely all the doctrinal positions and practices of the other Church.
C. N. I.
The Church of North India was founded in 1970. The organizers took special care that the ministry was completely integrated even at the formation of the new Church. The Mar Thoma Church was invited to participate in the inaugural service. The present Metropolitan accordingly took part in the service. Thus, the Mar Thoma Church had no difficulty in accepting the ministry of the new Church; and soon negotiations took place for establishing full communion relationship between the two Churches. The Sabha Mandalam passed the resolution establishing full communion relationship with the Church of North India in 1972. The Synod of the C. N. I. also passed a similar resolution and thus full communion relationship was established between the two Churches with the provisions as with C. S. I.