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)



Archives

                     THE NAZRANI        “The Truth will make you free”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------            Vol.19, No. 7                       New Delhi                  July 2009                     --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

  Remembering Mar Thoma Sliha, our Father in faith... .... ... . 

Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, our first Prime Minster says; “You may be surprised to learn that Christianity came to India long before it went to England or Western Europe and when, even in Rome, it was a despised and proscribed sect. It established a firm hold in South India. Although these Christians had their head in Antioch ( Syria), their Christianity is practically indigenous and has few outside contacts”. 

 

Mar Thoma Sliha was a man of courage and was ready to take any risk for his Master.  When all other disciples prevented our Lord from going to Bethany, Mar Thoma Sliha said “Let us go and die with him”. Yes, those who have left everything for Christ, nothing – even death, agony, pain, etc. are silly and are least concerned about their lives.   We got the eternal truth from Christ “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” because of Mar Thoma Sliha. Again, we get the quintessence of Christology in the words of Mar Thoma Sliha “Mar Valah” (My Lord and My God). It is because of Mar Thoma Sliha  we came to know that Christ was crucified with three nails and died on the Sliba with the piercing of His heart with a spear by a soldier. Again, it is because of Mar Thoma Sliha we came to know the circumstances of the Assumption of the Most Holy Mother. Through the wise providence of God, Mar Thoma Sliha was not to be present at the burial of the Holy Mother. Arriving late from India on the third day at Gethsemane,     Mar Thoma Sliha lay down at the tomb and with bitter tears asked that he might be permitted to look once more upon the Mother and bid her farewell. The Apostles out of heartfelt pity for him decided to open the grave and permit him the comfort of venerating the holy relics of the Most Holy Mother. Having opened the grave, they found in it only the grave wrappings and were thus convinced of the bodily ascent of the Most Holy Mother to Heaven. No wonder, the Mar Thoma Nazranis have been celebrating the feast of Assumption of the Most Holy Mother from the very beginning of the Christian era although it was only on November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption.

 

After the ascension of our Lord, we do not know much about Mar Thoma Sliha. He might have been walking through the lanes of Jerusalem as a frustrated man.  It is at that time that the lot fell for him to go to India. So he courageously took a very hazardous journey to come to India, established a believing community and died as a martyr. The only document we have about his life and work are the “Acts of Thomas” written around A.D. 154 to 222. “The Teachings of the Apostle”, “Ramban Patt”, Veeradian Patt”, etc are some other works. His works and martyrdom in India made him our Father in Faith and us his children in Faith. About his work and times, we get glimpses from the “Acts” written around second century. The “Acts” says that he preached the Good News in the land of Gondophoros. Gondophoros was a Parthian King, who lived in the first century A.D. in modern Afghanistan and Punjab, according to Cardinal Tissarant. The coins excavated in the 19th century and some other documents mention the name of Gondophoros. His route to the Valley of Indus River is graphically described in the “Acts”. This was his first Missionary journey. A servant of Gondophoros by name Haban meets Mar Thoma Sliha in Jerusalem. Our Lord appears and sells Mar Thoma Sliha to Haban for 20 silver coins. Thus he was forced to journey to India. Mar Thoma Sliha and Haban pass through Edessa, Udumia, Parthia, Sugapuram and reach Taxashilla (Gandhahari) by land. There is another tradition that he took the sea route through Red Sea and reached the island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea by ship and thus reached the Valley of Indus River. This is the opinion of some historians.

 

As Mar Thoma Sliha was partaking a marriage banquet of the daughter of the Parthian King at Santarukh, one of the servants slapped Mar Thoma Sliha on the face. As this servant went to the river to fetch water, a lion came from the forest and tore him into pieces. A black dog took the servant’s hand and went straight to the marriage banquet hall. Seeing this, the King and his Royal family were frightened and they embraced Christianity. After this, he reached Taxashilla. Gandhahar or Taxashilla is one of the provinces in the Indo-Sythia Empire. Gondophoros was the King there. The King entrusted a huge amount to Mar Thoma Sliha for building a beautiful palace. But Mar Thoma Sliha distributed the entire amount among the poor. When the King was angry and asked him to show the new palace, he had a vision of heaven and saw the beautiful palace built for him by Mar Thoma Sliha. The Royal family was pleased and accepted the new faith. It was at this time that the news came to Mar Thoma Sliha about the “falling asleep” of our Most Holy Mother. Mar Thoma Sliha was a great devotee of our Mother and so rushed to Jerusalem. All these we gather from the “Seventh Acts”.

 

Mar Thoma Sliha appointed Bishops for the Churches established in the Indus River Valley and instituted liturgical Rites before going to Jerusalem. But in 73 A.D., the “Kushan Dynasty” attacked Gondophoros’ India-Sythia Empire and conquered it. Thus ended the Churches established by Mar Thoma Sliha in North India. The coins got from Kabul, Pathankot, Gandhagar bear testimony to the reign of Gondophoros. As Mr K. Viswanathan, the former Governor of Kerala says “Archaeological evidence has proved that Gondaphoros is historical from the coins depicting his name. If Gondaphoros is historical, the stories and works associated with Gondaphoros should also be true”.

 

In A.D. 1857, we got Takti-Bahi writings on the Tablets from Peshwar.  In that it is written “Gudappara the King of Kings 26th year, 301th year Vaisaka month 5th day”. According to the Greek Calendar, it should be around A.D. 40. So this period should be 40 to 46 A.D. So we may conclude that Mar Thoma Sliha had his Missionary work in north India around A.D. 46.

 

According to strong traditions, Mar Thoma Sliha landed in Musiris, the Capital of Malankara, situated on the west coast of Kerala in 52 A.D. In the first century B.C., Hippolus, the Roman Captain discovered the south west monsoon. So this led to the discovery of an easy sea route to India. After the Assumption of our Most Holy Mother, Mar Thoma Sliha undertook his second missionary journey to India. This time he took the sea route. He started from Babylon, reached Petra in Jordan. From there he reached Elathi in Aqaba Gulf. Then, passing through Red Sea, he landed Socotra Island and preached the Good News there. After some time, he continued his journey by ship and landed in ‘Musiris, on the west coast of India. ‘Muchiri’ is the name of this city.  Foreigners call it ‘Musiris” and the Arabs called it ‘Marhasi’. Its present name is Kodungallur. When he reached Kodungallur, the King was Udiyan Chera. So it was Chera Kingdom. ‘Muchiri’ is at the confluence of the ‘Aluva Puzha’ and ‘Chalakudy Puzha’. According to the travelogue of Periplis, it is situated three miles inside.  ‘Muchiri’ was the most important port for foreign traders from very ancient times.

 

The Chera Kingdom of the 1st century comprised of Poozhinadu, Kuttanadu, Ayinadu and Kalnat. There were no lakes or coconut groves on the west coast as we see today.  Kallada, Adoor, Chengannur, Changanassery, Kottayam, Tripunithura, Edappally and Angamaly were the boarders of the Chera Kingdom on the west coast. ‘Kuttanadu’ was in between ‘Aluvapuzha’ and ‘Bharathapuzha’. ‘Musiris’ was the most important port town of ‘Kuttanadu’. The ‘Aluva Puzha’ divides into two and falls into the sea.  The land in between is the island called ‘Maley’, ‘Malikankara’ or ‘Malankara’. Mar Thoma Sliha landed at ‘Musiris’, the capital of “Malankara”, situated on the west coast of Kerala in the Chera Kingdom. It is called today Kodungallur and he started his missionary Apostolic here.

 

About his third missionary journey, we come to know from the “8th and 9th Acts”.  He traveled in a bullock cart together with a soldier. Then he takes an ass-cart, passes through the desert and reaches the palace of the King Masdai and preached the Good News. The entire Royal family embraced Christianity. But the King was extremely angry with Mar Thoma Sliha at the conversion of his family. He persecutes him. But Mar Thoma Sliha continued his work without fear or favour. The King orders to kill the Saint. Four Soldiers surround Mar Thoma Sliha and pierce with spears. His body was buried in the Royal Tomb. The King’s son fell ill. They opened the tomb, but the body was not there. They put the dust from the tomb on the body of the boy and the boy was immediately cured. His body was buried at ‘Kalamina’. These details we gather from the “Acts”. It is written as stray thoughts. In A.D. 72, Mar Thoma Sliha was pierced and was killed and buried at Kalamina. This ‘Kalamina’ is the present Mylapore in Tamil Nadu near Madras City. Unless it is proved otherwise, the tomb of Mar Thoma Sliha is at Mylapore and this will remain as a historical fact. It is worth noting, so far no other place on earth has claimed to have his tomb and there is no people on earth known as  Mar Thoma Nazranis, except, we the Mar Thoma Nazranis of India. 

 

The liturgy and the whole style of Christian life that was the heritage of the Mar Thoma Nazranis was called the Law of Mar Thoma or Marthomayude Margam, because it was from Mar Thoma Sliha that they had received the knowledge of Iso’ M’siha, the way or Margam. The latin way of Christian life, they called Law of Peter. The Mar Thoma Nazranis are the St Thomas Christians of India. They have their own special Christian life-style and liturgical celebrations. Mar Thoma Sliha was one of the twelve Apostles of Iso’ M’siha. Iso’ is called Nazarene as the major portion of His earthly life was spent at Nazareth, a town in the northern region of Palestine. Thus, Mar Thoma Nazranis are those who follow Iso’, the Nazarene according to the unique faith-experience of Mar Thoma Sliha. Liturgy, the particular form of public worship, occupies first place in the heritage of a Church. The nucleus of our liturgy was handed down by our father in faith, Mar Thoma Sliha. The liturgy of the Mar Thoma Nazranis was not “Syro-Malabar” liturgy. It was a common heritage of the Churches founded by Mar Thoma Sliha and his disciples, namely of Edessa, Fars or Persia Proper, of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (larger Persia) and of India. More than that, it was a Pan-Asian liturgy, used in Syria, Persia, India, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Japan and other countries.

 

Mar Thoma Margam has its own emblem or symbol and it is the Mar Thoma Sliba (St Thomas Cross). Ancient documents testify that this typical Sliba-cross was venerated in all the Churches and chapels of the Marthoma Nazranis. A Mar Thoma Sliba inlaid or embossed on a wooden or metallic plate, almost equal to the size of the Gospel Lectionary, and beautifully decorated, is kept on the altar in the south. Mar Thoma Sliba is the dynamic symbol of the death and resurrection of our Lord in the Indian context. It proclaims the theological, christological, pneumatological and ecclesiological specifications of Christian faith. This Sliba-Cross on the altar is carried in solemnity during all liturgical processions, especially that of the Gospel Lectionary. According to tradition, the Mar Thoma Sliba is to be used for all liturgical purposes in the Churches of the Mar Thoma Nazranis.

 

The original model of it we come across in the chapel of Periyamala near Madras. It is the cross engraved on the rock on which Mar Thoma Sliha fell dead as a martyr. The faithful kept it sacred and at a later stage, the typical cross was engraved on it. In the sixteenth century, as the western missionaries were digging the ground to reconstruct the chapel on Periyamala, they happened to come across this special Cross. When the construction of the chapel was over, they fixed it to the rear wall of the main altar. It remains there to the present day.

 

On the 18th of December, 1558, during the Gospel reading at the Holy Qurbana, this Sliba-Cross sweated blood. According to the testimony of the missionaries, the miracle was repeated for many years on the same date and in the same manner. They informed the Pope, of this miracle and obtained permission from him to celebrate December 18th as the feast of Mylapore Sliba’s apparition. December 18th is a big feast day for the Mar Thoma Nazranis. It is the feast of Mar Thoma Sliba, the unique and unparallel symbol of Mar Thoma Margam, their special Christian life style. They ought to celebrate this feast most solemnly wherever they may be.

 

Mar Thoma Sliba is an empty Cross, namely a Cross without the dying figure of  Iso’ M’siha. In imitation of the empty tomb, this empty Cross symbolizes the resurrection of our Lord. Upto the end of the patristic age, the formative and normative period of Christianity, we never come across a crucifix in any of the churches, whether they are in the West or in the East. The empty Cross, that is to say, the Cross without the crucified body, just like the empty tomb, is a perfect symbol of our Lord’s Resurrection.

 

During the post-patristic period, the Western Christianity began to lay great stress on the passion of Christ, some times risking even the primacy of resurrection over passion and death. Thus different sorts of crucifixes appeared in the Western Church. It affected both the theology and spirituality of this Church very often even adversely. A western author, Gerald O’ Collins, SJ, who became convinced of all these from his researches into the matter, writes, thus, in his book, The Easter Jesus: “Western Christianity, however, has manifested a long standing preoccupation with Good Friday at the expense of Easter Sunday….. Looking back on much western theology we might parody Paul and cry out:  Resurrection is swallowed up in crucifixion, O Resurrection, where is thy victory? O Resurrection where is thy sting? “.

 

The Mar Thoma Nazranis of India were forced to subscribe to all these changes in the West, in and after the 16th century. But now we are free. We are to take courage and repair the damages that have once happened. However, the Major Archbishop of this Church is to take the initiative instead of aping the Roman-Latin Church. Mar Thoma Sliba is the symbol of our Lord’s Resurrection. As the same Western author writes, “first thing first: we may face an irreversible sequence and may not go behind the Resurrection to make the Cross (crucifix) paramount. As it lacks any autonomous or absolute significance, death must be understood only in the light of Easter”. Therefore, the authentic Mar Thoma Nazranis need not by any means hesitate to substitute the Mar Thoma Sliba (St Thomas Cross) - or at least a Cross without the dying figure of our Lord - for the crucifix in all liturgical purposes. Ordering of new statues are to be strictly forbidden. The images and idols are meant for primitive people, but modern man depends more on symbols. The Mar Thoma Nazranis must always have a Mar Thoma Sliba fixed to the wall on the East in the Madubaha (sanctuary).

 

The four tips of the Mar Thoma Sliba are designed like blooming buds. Bud is a symbol of new life. New life is restored to man in the Resurrection of our Lord. Thus, the shape of this cross itself proclaims the Resurrection of Iso’ M’siha. The flowery cross remained always as a mark of the early Christianity and its victory over death through Iso’ M’siha.

 

The Ruha-da-Qudsa (Holy Spirit) that descends upon the Mar Thoma Sliba is yet another symbol of Resurrection. As Mar Poulose Sliha teaches, Ruha-da-Qudsa transforms the flesh body of our Lord into Spirit-body and thus vivifies the dead Iso’ M’siha (Roma 8,11).

 

According to several scholars, this particular Sliba erected upon lotus. A Chinese Cross, erected on a lotus flower, coming from the same era, is a very good substantiation for the assumption of the scholars. Lotus being the symbol of Budhism, had truned out to be India’s own symbol because of the influence of Budhism in India during and immediately after the reign of the great Emperor Ashoka. Thus the Sliba erected on lotus, is a living symbol of faith in the risen Lord, established in India.

 

The lotus in the Mar Thoma Sliba remains over three steps. The symbolism of steps is evolved in connection with liturgical tradition. The three steps signify either heaven or calvary.  In our case the stress is on Calvary and thus they signify the death of our Lord. Thus, Mar Thoma Sliba remains a unique symbol that proclaims the acceptance of  Iso’ M’siha, who accomplished the human salvation through His death and Resurrection, in our motherland, India.  

 

The Mar Thoma Sliba remains as the unique and unparalleled symbol of the original Christianity in India. The Mar Thoma Nazranis are the real heirs of this original Christian synthesis or faith synthesis in India. Let us take pride in distinguishing ourselves, our institutions, churches and homes, with this living and life-giving symbol. It is a symbol, pregnant with meaning and it gives, in a nutshell, the Indian Christian Theology and Spirituality. Mar Thoma Sliba being the unique and lofty symbol of Mar Thoma Margam, and being a perfect expression of one’s own commitment to our Lord, must have a solemn position in every family, institution, Church and chapel of the Mar Thoma Nazranis wherever they may be.

 

Dom Menezis ordered the Archdeacon of India, under pain of deposition, to confess that the Law of Mar Thoma and the Law of Peter are not different. The Synod of Diamper passed a decree that it is schism and heresy to hold that there are two different Laws one of Mar Thoma and another of Peter, received from Iso’ M’siha, constituting two different  Churches. But the Marthoma Nazranis did not mean by the Law of Mar Thoma that Iso’ M’siha instituted two Churches. The Church founded by Mar Thoma Sliha in India was and is a particular or individual church in the full sense of the term. It has its own form of worship or liturgy, its own church discipline, spirituality, asceticism and theological vision – though part of its heritage has been destroyed by the Latin Missionaries. It was an All India Church. There were Christian communities, centuries before the coming of the European missionaries (of the Latin-Roman Church), in Sind, Kalyan, Thana, Surat, Vijayanagar, Mylapore, Mangalore, Goa, and other places besides Malankara-Malabar. They were all Mar Thoma Nazranis. The Latin missionaries re-converted them to the Latin-Roman Church! The ecclesiastical head of the Mar Thoma Nazranis was called the Archbishop of India. A Syriac manuscript of 1301, preserved in the Vatican, written in Malankara, designates Mar Jacob, the ruling Archbishop “Ruler of the entire Holy Church of Christians of India’. Similarly, the Archdeacon of the Mar Thoma Nazranis was called Archdeacon of All-India. Thus, Indian Church means Mar Thoma Nazranis. Yes, Hendo, the Church of India is as old as Christianity itself.