Let us pray, peace be with us:

"The Cross that has been the cause of our good and by which our mortal humanity was set free,
O Lord, be for us a strong fortress. And by this Cross, we shall overcome the wicked one and All his devices."

(Syro-Malabar Qurbana)

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                     THE NAZRANI        “The Truth will make you free”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------            Vol.19, No. 6                       New Delhi                  June 2009                    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


The Marthoma Nazranis enjoyed several socio political privileges which placed them equal to the Hindu nobility of the country. In their food, dress, and the way of life, they resembled the Hindus except for the metal cross they wore on the tuft of their hair. Their men always went about wearing arms. They could muster at any time some twenty to thirty thousand soldiers. The numerous Hindu Kings, in whose territory they lived, dispersed feared and respected them. They had a king to protect their rights. While they themselves were the protectors of some eighteen castes that depended on them. Members of these castes would even court death to vindicate the rights of their Masters.  The Marthoma Nazranis obeyed their Kings directly with no consideration for the intermediary officers. All their civil cases were decided by their ecclesiastical authority while they enjoyed the right to inflict even capital punishment in a certain locality. The privileges granted to them by the Hindu rulers were written down on copper plates some of which have come down to us. In spite of all these there were times when their privileges were not respected by the rulers. They were and are “Mar Thoma Nazranis” and “Nazrani Mappilas”, “Nazrani” means Christian. When it is used to specify the Thomas Christians it is understood in an honorary sense.  (Mappila = great son, King’s son, noble) is a title of honour which was conferred on the Thomas Christians, the Jews and the Muslims by the Hindu ruler. It sometimes signifies ‘Christian’, or ‘lay person’; but when it is joined to Nazrani or to a person’s name, it signifies a Thomas Christian in the honorary sense. For example, “Mammen Mappila”, “Varghese Mappila” and so on.


Their priests are designated “Kathanars”. In the Portuguese writings, we find this written “Cassanares”. It is derived, some hold, from the Syriac ‘Qasisa’ meaning presbyter; according to others it means ‘Lord’.


The touch of a Nazrani Mappila was considered by the high caste Hindus sufficient to purify objects which they thought were polluted by the touch or near approach of low caste people. Placidachan cites his own personal experience as an example. Though they lived the life of a quasi caste shaped community, still, they did not cease to give testimony to Christ. The non-Christians, therefore, esteemed Christianity and not a few of them embraced it down through the centuries.  


The Diamper (Udayamperur)


In June, 1599, Don Menezes celebrated what in history is known as the ‘Synod’ of Diamper. To this ‘synod’, he convoked the clerics and the representatives of the laymen “under precept of obedience and under pain of excommunication latae sententiae”. The ‘synod’ passed decrees that were calculated to effect a complete latinisation of the Church of the Thomas Christians. Even innocent social customs were banned, so that the Marthoma Nazranis gradually lost the high socio-political status they had enjoyed among their Hindu brethren. The Chaldean Patriarch, Denha Simon, was condemned as a heretic though he was in open communion with the Pope. The Marthoma Nazranis as the acts of the ‘synod’ say, were made to promise they would accept only those Bishops who were appointed by the Pope himself (immediate). Their primacy of Goa, and the padroado of the Portuguese Crown were insisted upon. The Jesuit fathers (one of them Roz) who were present at the ‘synod’ say that the ‘synod’ was not in form, there were no deliberations, those assembled did not understand anything. Menezes added several things to the acts after the ‘synod’ was over….They even requested that the Pope  might not approve such a ‘synod’  and there is no document that any Pope ever approved it. The titles Don Menezes relied upon to convene the ‘synod’ which he called a diocesan ‘synod’ according to the sacred canons were ‘the two Papal Briefs mentioned earlier’, his position as the Primate of the East, the absence of a Cathedral chapter in the vacant see of Angamaly. None of these, nor all of these, taken together could entitle him to convene a diocesan ‘synod’ according to the sacred canons in Angamaly which was an Oriental Eparchy under the Chaldean Patriarch with its own customs and laws.   Angamaly was not even his suffragan see! The acts of the ‘Synod’ as published by Gouveas in 1606 made the whole world believe that Menezes converted the Marthoma Nazranis from heresy and schism at or a little before the ‘synod of Diamper’. But the weapon Menezes wielded from the very start to gain his ends was excommunication latae sententiae. And this to bring the heretic and schismatic to the communion of the Church!


Before Rome knew anything of the ‘synod of Diamper’, Rome directly nominated a Latin Jesuit, Franci Roz as Mar Abraham’s successor on November 5, 1599. He was not presented by the Portuguese Crown as the Goan Council of 1575 which was accepted by that of 1585, had contemplated. The Archbishop of Angamaly over which Mar Abraham ruled as the Superior of all the Metropolitans and Bishops was then reduced to a mere Diocese and made Suffragan to Goa on December 20, 1599. The Padroado too was extended over that on August 4, 1600. The Thomas Christians supported by Francis Roz, SJ entreated Rome to restore to them their Arch Episcopal dignity. It was restored in 1608 as if it had not been taken away! The title, however of Angamaly was changed into that of Cranganore and the residence of the Archbishop was also transferred to Cranganore in 1609. All these were done as Francis Roz had wanted it.  Cranganore was often called Angamaly-Cranganore or simply Angamaly.


Listen to the words of Paremmakal Thoma Kathanar:


“…..It was customary to have 40 hours adoration on the feast of Theresa of Avila at Verapolly.  Jacob Puthanparambil Kathanar, as usual, went for the adoration, returned to his parish early. Suspecting Jacob Kathanar to be a thief he was taken by force to Verapolly and was denied food for long. He fell ill and died. His last request before death for communion too was denied. He was buried near a well outside the Church compound! …..  ……….The Syrian Bishop Simon was kept in custody in Pondicherry for 19 years. He was denied a servant to help him in his old age. He fell into the well while drawing water and died…… These acts are unworthy of our religion and are also against all the ancient customs of the Malabar Church. They are also opposed to the laws of the Church and to natural justice….Fear is a formidable emotion and when it is at its zenith, man does not think of what he does. The anxiety is great if those who inflict punishments are cruel and imprudent. We know this from the sacred scripture. Though King David was a saint who had no malice against anyone, still to save his own life he fled before King Saul several times. Saul too seeing his enemies would insult him desired to die by the hands of a servant…..”


“…..Kathanar Chacko, the Vicar of Edappally, was taken by force, shut up in a room and killed by starvation in the midst of tortures. This shows how weak the malabarians of today are and how domineering the Bishop and the Padres are.  The denial of the sacraments of confession and communion at the hour of death, though Kathanar Chacko had asked for them, was a grave violation of the divine law and of fraternal charity.


Now, the people of Edappally complained of all that was done to Chacko Kathanar.  While Padre Sales was at Edappally with many armed men to take Chacko Kathanar, their pastor by force, the people of Edappally tried all they could to save him who was neither tried nor convicted. The Bishop and the Padres, therefore, in opposition to the Edappally Church Assembly tried to confiscate the key of the Church from the Edappally Church Assembly and to hand it over to the new converts. Whereupon the Edappally church Assembly out of fear, deposited the key of the Church with the Swarupam of Edappally. The Bishop and the Padres were offended and the Church of Edappally was put under interdict. The Edappally people, after some time, because of their mental anguish, promised to undergo the prescribed penance if they had done any wrong and prayed several times to get the Church opened, but all was in vain……..”


However, Paremakkal Thoma Kathanar says “………Edappally people did nothing culpable. They only acted according to God’s precept and according to the natural law which demanded that our parents and teachers who are in distress are to be helped by us. They only did what they could in order to save their pastor who, as they knew, would be arrested and maltreated. In depositing the key of the church with Swarupam, they did not commit any crime. For they had seen that the key of the Church which their forefathers of old had built would be handed over to some others. God has appointed kings and has given them authority on the earth to do justice for those who are unjustly oppressed. In accordance with what St. Paul says, everyone, be he Pope or Bishop, should obey this authority so that no one may suffer as the Edappally people suffered from the Bishop and the Padres. The Edappally people, therefore, cannot be held culpable for depositing the key with the Swarupam, the dispenser of justice. But men often become partial and imprudent even in things just, and by reason of worldly honour and pride they commit injustice. So did Darius, the King of the Persians who shut up Daniel in the lion’s den, and Pilate who condemned Christ to be crucified…..”


 “If such things as these are done when the wood is green what will it be like when it is dry”, says the Lord. Then Jacob Kathanar was denied communion. Now, we have Kathanars in the Church who mutilate and disfigure our Qurbana by omitting several prayers and encourage hymns from outside the approved Text, in the name of change and variety. They also do not obey the instructions of the Synod of Bishops with regard to the celebration of Qurbana!





John J Mowatt wrote in 1974 in ‘Looking Est’ on pp 4, 5:


“All the Roman Pontiffs from Leo XIII to Paul VI have spoken out in defence of the rights of the Eastern Churches and have spoken out against latinisation. Even the documents of Vatican II ask for a “return to the authentic ways, if in the past they have been abandoned”. Are all these words and documents mere meaningless formulas or are they serious in contents? Eastern hierarchs, even if of western style education, re bound in conscience to see that the Rites and rights of their churches are protected and safeguarded and should they fail, then they have BETRAYED their God-entrusted mission to see that the universal church. God’s gift to man is a “harbour of Salvation” in which all, in the fullness of their variety, are true and equal brothers. Those, be they eastern or western, who seek to latinise, ritually or structurally, do not bring reconciliation but destruction; they do not unite, but only absorb; they do not serve, but dominate. All these be they priests or Bishops do not work as Apostles of union but as sowers and agents of discord, and as such are a real and painful obstacle to the unity of Christianity”


What has been written above by John J Mowatt is 100 per cent correct as far as Syro-Malabar Church is concerned. The present hierarchy is just ticking off the papers and no serious efforts have been made to “return to the authentic ways…” They are just “holidaying” at the expense of the Marthoma Nazranis… The number of latinised Bishops are increasing. There is no dearth of scholars in liturgy, theology, church history and so on in the Syro-Malabar Church but when it comes to the appointment of Bishops we are getting only latinised Bishops without any knowledge about liturgy of the Church!