The Anglican Church is more than 160 years old. It is the product of the missionary works done by the Church Missionary Society (CMS).
The CMS began its Missionary works in India from 1814 onwards, and from 1816 in Travancore, the South Western Princely State at the time of British India.
The History of the Anglican Church of India began with the historical roots of Christianity in the Chera Nadu (ancient name of Kerala).
It is now generally accepted as a fact that Thoma of Kana brought Christian priests to Chera Nadu (Kerala) in AD 345. Thoma of Kana, popularly known as Knai Thomman, was a merchant who came from the Middle East. The word ‘Knai’ means merchant.
Chera Nadu had trade relations with the Middle East and the Far East from ancient days itself because Chera Nadu was the prime exporter of spices at that time.
There were seven major ports in Chera Nadu and many foreigners used to come and stay in and around the ports and a smaller society of Jews, Knai Orthodox Christians and Arabs has emerged as the merchants began to settle down in Kerala.
Seeing the needs of this newly emerged Orthodox Christians who called themselves as Knai (Merchant) Christians, Thoma of Kana brought Priests from the Middle East. These priests were also engaged in Christianizing other communities around the ports. Majority of the conversion were from Dheevarar (Fishermen), Veluthedans (Washermen), and Eelavars (Migrants from Sri Lanka). These new converts came to be known as Knanaya Christians in later days.
The Cherans, the natives of Chera Nadu, called these new
converts as Margam Pilla. ‘Margam’ means ‘the way’ in the Tamil language, the language of Cherans; ‘Pilla’ means ‘Man’. The word Mappilla is a short form of the word Margam Pilla (Men of the way).
The Knai Orthodox Church established by Knai Thomman and the visiting Middle Eastern priests flourished because of the wealth brought by the merchants. The Cheraman Perumal, the King of Chera Nadu, to show his appreciation to the merchant community has bestowed 72 Citizen Rights to the Knai community. In addition to the Citizen Rights, the King himself had laid the foundation stone for a Church and has asserted his commitment to protect the faith of the merchant community.
The recognition by the King and the influence of the new Christian community has attracted followers from local communities. People began to convert to this new faith. These conversion also created some segregation between the original merchant Knai Christians and the converts. The Knai community upheld their Knai traditions and cultures which was different from the locals who converted to the Orthodox Christian faith. And thus the Knai community began to call themselves as Knanaya Orthodox to differentiate themselves from the converts to the Orthodox faith.
The Portuguese merchants are considered as the known second source of Christian faith in India. The merchants from Portugal came to Goa at first and from there they have moved to the south through the west coast. They reached the port city called Kollam to trade with the Cherans. It was a surprise for the Portuguese to see an already existing Christian community in Chera Nadu. The priests who came with the Portuguese merchants gradually made progress in attracting some sections of both the Knanaya Orthodox community and the local converts to Orthodox faith. Eventually Pope John XXII has sent Jordanus D Severac to serve as the Bishop of Kollam in AD 1330.
The teachings of the Catholic church that there is no salvation outside the Church and the Seven Sacraments such as Baptism, Oprishma (Confirmation), Qurbana (Eucharist), Confession, Last Oprishma (Extreme Unction or Burial prayers), Ordination and Solemnization of Marriage along with the presence of a Bishop has attracted some of the Knanaya-Orthodox community to the Catholic church.
In AD 1599 a Synod was held at Udayanperoor in which rules and regulations were created for the new converts from the Orthodox faith to the Catholic faith. It also condemned many of the existing Orthodox faiths and practices at that time. This synod was later known as the Synod of Diamper.
In AD 1653, those who didn't join the Catholic church came to the Orthodox church at Mattancherry near Cochin. They tied a rope to the cross there and all the faithfuls held on to the tied rope and took an oath together to keep the Orthodox faith. It was later known as the 'Koonan Kurishu' (Bent Cross) oath as they claim that the stone cross had bent due to the force of people holding on to it.
On the same day as the Oath, the Orthodox believers anointed their first Bishop, Mar Thoma 1, and thus the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church was formed.
12 Elders of the Orthodox faith laid hands on their chief Elder Thomas and thus anointed him as Bishop Mar Thoma 1.
Around 8th century the Aryan Brahmins began to migrate to Kerala. In 9th century they were able to topple the Buddhist dominated Cheran Dynasty and supported a Hindu dominated Cheran dynasty which was later known as the second Cheran dynasty. Soon the Cheran Empire has disintegrated and many Hindu kingdoms began to emerge and one such Kingdom was the Travancore Kingdom which dominated the Southern and Central Kerala. Another prominent Kingdom was the city state Kochi in the central western coastal region.
The Brahmin influence began to grow through the coming centuries and around 18th century they have established a rigid caste system in Kerala. In the new order, Brahmins dominated the society and Christians along with the ruling class of Cherans were pushed down the hierarchy of caste system. The Cherans were the protectors of different faiths as they have supported Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism etc during their rule. They also have built temples, mosques and churches for each of the faith during their rule. But the Brahmin dominated system saw different faiths as a threat to their domination and therefore suppressed non-Hindu religions during 18th and 19th century till the British began to dominate Kerala.
The British began to arrive in Kerala around later half of the 18th century. Even though the Kerala Kingdoms have defeated the Portuguese and the Dutch in battles, that was not the same case with the British. By 19th century, the British began to dominate Kerala in every aspect. And this has helped the Christians in Kerala which in turn would eventually help in the establishment of an Anglican society in Kerala.
The CMS was one of the missionary wings of the Church of England. They came to India in 1814 and to Kerala in 1816. CMS missionaries came to the Central Kerala towns such as Kottayam, Thiruvalla and Aluva. They have already heard about a Christian community in Kerala and they were amazed to see the Catholics and the Orthodox protecting their faith even under severe slavery.
The CMS missionaries were reluctant to work with the Catholics and also learned about the fight between the Orthodox and the Catholics. They found a natural ally in the Orthodox believers and has decided to help the Orthodox and to work among them. The CMS missionaries has started a “Mission of Help” considering the pathetic situations of the Knanaya – Orthodox community and has decided to bring them out of slavery.
The association of the Orthodox believers with the new rulers of India has brought them a new status among other Keralite communities especially over the Catholics. With the growing influence of the British over the princely states of Travancore and Kochi (Cochin) in Kerala, the Christians began to have more influence and power. Both the Catholics and the Orthodox began to use the newfound freedom in a clever way. More help poured to Kerala from Rome for the Catholics and the Orthodox received help from the Anglicans.
Historian Miss Eira Dalten wrote that the Orthodox received the help with much ‘alacrity’. This newfound wealth and freedom of the Orthodox believers attracted more converts to this faith especially by the help of Anglican missionaries.
One particular lower caste called Ezhavar began to convert in thousands to the Orthodox faith to escape the caste system in Hinduism and were also attracted by the monetary and political benefits offered by the new Christian religion.
Even though the Orthodox received more converts, this has caused a rift between traditional Orthodox believers and the new converts from the Ezhava caste. The traditional Orthodox believers used to identify themselves as Mappillas and so they began to call the Ezhava converts as “Choppilla” (Chovan Mappilla meaning Servant Converts), a derogatory word in order to segregate them.
The Anglicans helped the Orthodox with an aim to convert them to the Reformed faith of the Church of England. The Orthodox initially allowed it but once the wealth was acquired from the British, the Orthodox began to reject the Anglican faith. An Orthodox Synod was held in Mavelikara in 1836 and a decision was made to severe ties with the Anglicans. And thus an association of 20 years between the Orthodox and the Anglicans has come to an end.
The Ezhava converts in the Orthodox Church saw an opportunity to form a separate church when the Orthodox Church decided to end any cooperation with the Anglicans. They were already suffering from segregation within the Orthodox Church. The Ezhava converts decided to meet half way with the Anglicans by accepting some of the Reformed faith and keeping some of their Orthodox faith.
A Cor-Episcopa of the Orthodox Church named Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan of Maramon became the leader of the Ezhava converts who has decided to separate from the Orthodox Church. The CMS missionaries appointed him as a Teacher in the CMS College at Kottayam, which was the first college started in Kerala. He began to preach in favor of the Reformation faith of the Anglicans seeing that an alliance with the British would benefit his community who were never near to the ruling class ever in their history. Soon the Orthodox Bishop excommunicated him.
Abraham, with the help of the CMS missionaries, sent his nephew Mathew of age 13 for Theological studies in Madras. But Mathew was dismissed from the Seminary for misconduct. Once again Mathew was sent to Holmes in England for Theological studies at the age of 23.
The CMS missionaries made him as a Deacon prior to sending him abroad for studies. He returned as a Bishop in 1843 and was named Mathews Mar Athanasius. The British Resident of Travancore recognized him as the Supreme head of the Orthodox Church in Kerala and he was headquartered in Cochin. The Orthodox Church had to recognize Bishop Mathews Mar Athanasius because of their fear of the ruling British. But the anger among the Orthodox believers made the Patriarch of Antioch to approve another Supreme Head of the Orthodox Church and he was Cheppattu Mar Dionysius. The rival groups of Bishop Mathews and Bishop Dionysius existed for some time. This rivalry forced Bishop Mathews to return to Maramon, the stronghold of Ezhava Christian community, from Cochin.
Years later Abraham Malpan passed away and Bishop Mathews also became ill. It was not easy to consecrate another Bishop when Mathews was on his deathbed. Anticipating the death of Bishop Mathews, the followers of Abraham Malpan has decided to make Abraham’s son Thomas as the next Bishop. Neither Thomas was a Priest nor a deacon; rather he was only a layman. The followers and relatives of Abraham Malpan presented Thomas in front of the dying Bishop Mathews. They took the ailing hands of Bishop Mathews and put it on the head of Thomas who was kneeling before him. And after that consecration Thomas was declared as the Bishop and was declared as Metropolitan Thomas Mar Athanasius.
The litigations between Athanasius faction and the Dionysius faction went on for a while until the Dionysius faction won the court cases. Following this, with the help of the British and CMS missionaries, Mar Athanasius and his followers formed the Mar Thoma Church in 1898.
The Anglicans began to help the Marthoma Church with their service and money to establish schools and churches. But when asked to fully get rid of their remaining Orthodox faith and to accept the Reformed faith completely, the Marthoma Church followed the path of their Orthodox brethren and began to separate themselves from the Anglican Church. But a few stayed back with the Anglicans and formed the Anglican Church.
The first Anglican Metropolitan in India was Bishop Daniel Wilson who had his headquarters in Calcutta. He has asked the missionaries to divert their work to the spread the Gospel among the non Christian communities in Kerala.
The British who always study the history of the land they conquer had realized that the real owners of the land were the Cherans. And the Anglican missionaries began to work among the Cherans.
Having lost the Kingdom, the Cherans were scattered all over Kerala. Cherans saw this as an opportunity and has decided to convert to Christianity and joined the Anglican Church.
On September 6th 1854, Habel (Abel) of Kaipetta became the first individual from the Cherans to convert with his family. It was followed by the baptism of Stephanose of the Vattappara / Unnathanil family. Three generations of the Vattapara family took baptism and converted to the Anglican faith on November 1st 1854.
Following this other prominent Cheran families such as Poovathummoottil, Palooparampil, Plackal, Vellakallumkal, Parayankunnu, Valiyaparampil, Edaparampil, Kochuparampil , Padinjattumkara, and Neelampara ( Murinjakallil ) also converted to the Anglican faith.
Anglican missionary Rev. John Hawkswork worked hand in hand with Rev. George Mathen of Mallappally, an ex-Orthodox priest, to make the conversions happen.
By genuine and strenuous works of these stalwarts Cherans began to convert in thousands. The Anglican faith began to thrive in Kerala with more and more converts from the Cheran
community. Soon the Cheran converts has become a majority in the Anglican Church and this led to the formation of the Diocese of Travancore and Cochin (T & C) in 1879.
Churches, Schools, Hospitals, Printing Press, Colleges and other institutions were built for the Diocese of T & C. Since the Cherans did not know English, the CMS missionaries sought the help of Orthodox and Marthomite Christians as interpreters. Seeing the growth and wealth of the newly formed Diocese of T & C, many of these interpreters converted to the Anglican faith and joined the Diocese. Everything went well until the Missionaries left following the Independence of India in 1947.
On September 27 1947, the Church of South India was formed by merging the Anglican Churches, the Methodists, the SIUC, the Presbyterians and other Reformed churches. The Diocese of Travancore & Cochin also joined the CSI with a provision that they could withdraw from the Church Union before 30 years after joining the CSI.
When the Missionaries left, the ex-Orthodox Christians established themselves with in the Diocese and took over the administration having authority over all churches assets including estates, landed property, Schools, Colleges, Printing Press, hospitals and everything valuable. And they began to call themselves as the Syrian Christians. This led to a schism between the Anglican Cherans and the Orthodox Syrians.
To establish their authority, the Orthodox Syrian Christians had ordained their men as Bishop and Clergy. They were below 10 percentage of the population of the Diocese where as the rest were all Anglican Cherans. But the Orthodox Syrians had more than 100 Clergy where as there were only three Clergy from the Anglican Cherans as most of the applicants from the Anglican community were rejected.
The last English Bishop, B C Corefield, cautioned the Anglican Converts of this eventuality well in advance, but when he left, the Orthodox Syrians had their man to become Bishop ( Bishop C K Jacob ) and he ruled in such a way that all the assets of the Church remained with the Orthodox Syrian Christians. The Anglican Converts knew of the exploitation by the Orthodox Syrians and began to demand that the Diocese formed for them exclusively should be given back to them. This movement was led by Rev. V J Stephen, one of the three clergies from the Anglican converts, and it was called the Separate Administration Movement (SAM).
Rev. V J Stephen called the Diocesan Council Members belonging to Anglican Christians on August 24 1964 and it was unanimously decided to separate away from the Orthodox Syrian hierarchy.
In 1966, Rev. V J Stephen gathered the signatures of 80,000 Anglican converts and send a Memorandum to Canterbury Arch Bishop with the request that the genuine grievances of the converts might be granted. The Canterbury Archbishop sent the CMS Asia Secretary to Kerala but the Orthodox Syrians influenced him by falsely stating that the Anglican Converts were all Communists. It was a time when the Communist Party formed an elected government in Kerala and the Christian community were largely against the Communist party. And because of the allegation, nothing was done in the favor of the Anglican converts by the Canterbury.
The Diocese of Travancore & Cochin was renovated on May 5th 1966 at a function held in Thiruvalla. On the same day, Rev. V J Stephen was consecrated as the Bishop of the Diocese by Archbishop Dr. James Parker Dees of the Anglican Orthodox Church in USA, Bishop Ajouga from the Kenyan Anglican Church, and Bishop Oommen of the St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India. He in turn ordained 24 priests to assist him on the same day. The historic event was attended by more than 100,000 believers in Thiruvalla.
The consecration event was facilitated by the help of the International Council of Christian Churches and its leaders Dr. Carl McIntire and Dr. J C Maris. The renovated Diocese has became a member of the ICCC soon after its formation.
Bishop V J Stephen was later elevated as the Archbishop of the Diocese of Travancore & Cochin.
What followed thenceforth was never heard in the history of Christendom. The renovated Diocese of Travancore & Cochin faced severe persecutions, not from any other religion, but from the Orthodox Syrian Christians in the CSI, and other Orthodox Churches.
By using physical force, they took over all the places of Worship, cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and filed false cases against thousands of people in criminal courts. They jailed many believers, and physically assaulted many causing several deaths, and burning temporary places of worship. Several such heinous acts were faced by the Diocese. But the people stood firm and fast with their Faith and decided on two things.
One: That we will never accept the supremacy of the Syrian Orthodox Christians and will never allow them to rule over us.
Two: Whether Canterbury recognizes us or not, we will always stand by the Faith we are called unto.
Under the leadership of late Archbishop Dr. V J Stephen, the Anglicans has rebuilt churches in more than 150 places and also established cemeteries as it was required by the Government for the Churches to have their own burial grounds for their believers.
Bishop Stephen was elevated as the Archbishop in 1983 following consecration of four other Bishops - Bishop Markose, Bishop Nirappil, Bishop Chennampallil, and Bishop Vattappara.
Archbishop Stephen passed away in 1986 and Bishop Paulose K Markose took over the administration. Following him, Bishop Vattapara was chosen as the Adjutor Bishop of the Diocese and then as the Archbishop.
In other parts of India also Anglicans were separating from the CSI & CNI. Therefore, Archbishop Vattappara had convened the representatives of such Churches on September 29th and 3oth of 1991 at the Diocesan Headquarters.
It was resolved to form the Synod of the Anglican Church of India and Archbishop Vattappara was choses as the Metropolitan of the ACI and as the Chairman of the ACI Synod.
ACI now has grown into 16 states of India and has 20 Dioceses and 26 Bishops. It also has congregations in Columbus OH and Philadelphia PA in the USA.