8 October 2015
Indian Orthodox women bearing candles return home after attending an evening Divine Liturgy in Akkaparambu, Kerala. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Until the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived on the shores of southwest India at the close of the 15th century, India’s Christians flourished in a unified church. Referred to as Thomas Christians, they traced their faith to St. Thomas the Apostle, who evangelized the south of India after his arrival in the year 52.
India’s Thomas Christians were joined by 72 Christian families from Mesopotamia, who according to tradition, arrived in the southwestern Indian port of Cranganore in 345. Led by Thomas Knaniya — a merchant who belonged to the Church of the East, a community in Mesopotamia also founded by St. Thomas — these families brought with them a bishop, Mar (a Syriac honorific for “Lord”) Joseph of Edessa, four priests and several deacons.
While Thomas Knaniya’s Mesopotamian community prohibited intermarriage, thus forming a closed community, their priests strengthened relations between the Church of the East and India’s Thomas Christians. The catholicos-patriarch of the Church of the East — which adhered to the most ancient rites of the church, known as East Syriac — regularly dispatched bishops to India to ordain priests and deacons and regulate ecclesial life for both communities. Common commercial interests also deepened the relationship between the two.
Two Indian Orthodox women greet visitors in front of their church in Akkaparambu, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In the eighth century, the Church of the East’s catholicos appointed a Mesopotamian cleric as “metropolitan and Gate of All India.” Though exercising considerable authority within the church in India, he typically did not speak the language of the people. Consequently, real power resided with an “archdeacon of All India,” a dynastic office for native Indian clergy.
For nearly 1,500 years, India’s Thomas Christians were fully integrated into south Indian society. While their traditions and liturgical practices reflected their East Syriac roots, other elements of the spirituality and culture of the Thomas Christians — such as their method of praying for the dead, avoidance rituals associated with the caste system and eating customs — revealed their Hindu cultural heritage.
Portuguese colonization of south India, which also included efforts to bind the Thomas Christians to the Church of Rome, shattered their unity. Today, the spiritual sons and daughters of St. Thomas include more than ten million believers divided among seven jurisdictions — Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. The Indian Orthodox Church is divided into two groups sharing the same Syriac rites and traditions. The largest, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, includes some 2.5 million members. Another 1.2 million Orthodox Indians belong to the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church. Most live on the subcontinent. But recently, thousands of families have settled in North America, Oceania and the Persian Gulf.
To learn more about the Thomas Christians, and the Indian Orthodox Church, click here.
7 October 2015
Tags: India Eastern Churches Indian Christians
In this image from 2007, a young couple is married in Tbilisi, Georgia. To learn more about the resurgent faith of this ancient nation, read “A Georgian Revival” in the March 2007 edition of ONE.
(photo: Molly Corso)
7 October 2015
Smoke rises after Russian airstrikes hit ammunition-stores and bases of two opposition groups in the Mansoura region west of Aleppo, Syria, on 6 October, 2015.
(photo: Abdulfetah Huseyin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Russia escalates attacks on Syria (The New York Times) Sharply escalating its role in Syria, the Russian military launched on Wednesday medium-range cruise missiles from nearly 1,000 miles away, bringing to the conflict elements of its Cold War-era military might. The new Russian airstrikes came amid reports of an expanding ground offensive by pro-government forces in Syria, which is taking place in coordination with Russian warplanes operating from an airfield in western Syria. That offensive will include the Syrian Army, Hezbollah forces on the ground and Russia in the air — all coordinated with Iran, according to an official with that alliance...
Ukraine rebels postpone elections (Vatican Radio) Kiev, Moscow, and Washington have welcomed a decision by officials in rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to postpone local elections, saying it would boost peace efforts. The rebels are sidestepping a contentious issue that had blocked progress toward a resolution for the war in Ukraine that has killed thousands...
Latin Patriarchate calls for restarting negotiations in Holy Land (Fides) The new wave of violence that is rampant in Jerusalem and the Holy Land urgently requires “Israelis and Palestinians to act with courage and return to the negotiating table,” which must be carried out on “solid and equitable basis” represented by resolutions — so far unfulfilled — approved by the UN on the Israeli-Arab conflict. This is the path indicated by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem to stop the spiral of death that again has bloodied the Holy City and the Palestinian territories...
Iraq Ministry of Justice says Christian property will be protected (Fides) The Iraqi government will adopt measures to protect the real estate property of Christians who have left the country, and to prevent their homes and their land illegally changing ownership during their absence. The new rules were announced by Iraqi Ministry of Justice, Haidar al-Zamili, with a statement...
Of African family values and the Synod of Bishops (National Catholic Register) Ethiopia’s metropolitan archbishop, Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, is promoting the value of marriage and the family through a campaign of prayer, a bilingual newsletter that includes prayers for the synod participants, and workshops for representatives of churches in his jurisdiction. These include pastoral coordinators, lay leaders, married couples, catechists, youth leaders and Catholic professionals. In a recent email interview with the Register, Cardinal Souraphiel discussed the challenges facing the Church in Africa and the synod...
6 October 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ethiopia Ukraine Russia
Thomas Christians light votive candles at an outdoor shrine in Valliapally, Kaduthuruthy.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
In the deep south of India, an Eastern Christian community has flourished since ancient times. Originally a distinctive people united in faith, customs and caste, they are named for the Apostle Thomas, who according to tradition brought the Christian faith to the Malabar Coast of southwestern India after the ascension of Jesus. Today these Christians, all of whom belong to the Syriac Christian tradition, are fragmented into seven churches. The largest, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, each year exports priests and religious to northern India, Europe and North America, as it grows and flourishes.
Though Indian Christianity has often been described as rooted in Western colonization, its presence dates almost 2,000 years. According to the “Ramban Song,” an ancient Indian poem, St. Thomas arrived on the shores of the Malabar Coast (present-day Kerala) in A.D. 52. He preached the Gospel, baptized 32 Hindu Brahmin families, founded seven churches and, in the year 72, died a martyr’s death. His tomb, in Mylapore, Madras, remains an important site of veneration today.
Christians and Hindus kept alive the memory of the “holy man,” chronicling the apostle’s deeds and the sites associated with his life and work. Scholars have long debated whether or not Thomas the Apostle founded the church of India. But sufficient historical evidence — including archaeological finds validating the existence of first-century Jewish communities on the Malabar Coast — as well as the existence of contemporary accounts passed from generation to generation by Christians and Hindus indicate the likeliness of Thomas’s travels and deeds.
For more than 1,500 years, the Thomas Christians were fully integrated into South Indian society. While their traditions and liturgical practices reflected their Eastern Syriac roots, other elements of their spirituality and culture, such as the method of praying for the dead, revealed their Hindu cultural heritage.
Retreatants participate in a prayer service in the Archeparchy of Changanacherry. (photo: John E. Kozar)
The arrival of the Portuguese in May 1498 dramatically changed the lives of all on the subcontinent. To support his commercial interests and consolidate his real estate gains, the Portuguese king utilized the missionary zeal of several religious communities of the Latin (Roman) Church, especially the Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits. The erection of the Latin Catholic Diocese of Goa in 1533 — which claimed jurisdiction over all of India’s Christians, denying the authentic authority, rights and privileges accorded to the leaders of the Thomas Christians — ushered in an age of turmoil.
In 1599, Latin usages were formally adopted by a diocesan synod held in Diamper. The Thomas Christians reluctantly signed the synod’s directives, though most church historians question the legality of the synod. The impositions of Diamper radically changed the nature of the Syriac church of India. Thomas Christians retained a few elements of their tradition, but authority, customs and law rested with the Portuguese hierarchy.
Diamper polarized the Thomas Christian community, culminating with the historic Coonan Cross Oath in January 1653. There, representatives of prominent Thomas Christian communities formally severed their ties to Rome. Eventually, those Thomas Christians independent of the Portuguese pledged fidelity to the Syriac Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and today make up the two communities which form the Indian Orthodox Church.
Pope Alexander VII sent Carmelite friars to India to restore calm and church unity. And by 1662 most Thomas Christians returned to full communion with the Catholic Church, forming the core of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
Read a full account of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church from ONE magazine here.
6 October 2015
Students play educational games at Good Shepherd Day Care Center in Addis Ababa.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2007, we explored some efforts to improve the lives of women in Ethiopia — including providing day care for their children:
“It helps if we reach the kids early,” said Genet Assefa, principal of the Bethlehem Day Care Center. The center, founded by the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1987, caters to the children of Cherkos, a slum in Addis Ababa that takes its name from the neighborhood church. (The sisters run a second day care facility in Addis Ababa, the Good Shepherd Sisters’ Center.)
On a recent visit to the Bethlehem center, more than 150 children, all under 7, were fully engaged in their classes. Some recited the English alphabet: “C! C is for cat.” Others practiced Amharic, their national language.
“The center serves two purposes,” said Mrs. Assefa. “It gives these children access to an early education that they wouldn’t ordinarily have, which will encourage them to go on to primary school and beyond. And it also frees up the parents, many of whom are single mothers, so that they can try to earn a living and improve their lives.”
Improving the lives of poor young adult women is an important part of CNEWA’s mandate.
Read more about “Breaking Barriers” for women in the March 2007 edition of ONE.
6 October 2015
As more refugees flee the Middle East, a priest from Iraq in the video above says more needs to be done to help persecuted Christians remaining behind. (video: Rome Reports)
EU: Millions more refugees could flee Syria, Turkey (BBC) Turkey has warned the EU that millions more refugees could flee Syria as the civil war intensifies, European Council President Donald Tusk has said. He said Russian and Iranian engagement in Syria was making a victory for President Bashar al-Assad more likely. According to Turkish estimates, it could mean another three million refugees from Aleppo and the area...
Fleeing Iraqi Christians find new life in Lourdes (Reuters) For Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic State militants in their native land reaching Lourdes, the French town long synonymous with miraculous religious visions, feels little short of a modern-day miracle. Arriving in the town where peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous is said to have had visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858, the refugees have also experienced real Christian charity through the efforts of some dedicated, Lourdes-based compatriots, an ex-soldier and the local parish priest...
Unrest flares in West Bank, Jerusalem (CNS) Unrest flared in early October throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem, which has experienced tensions during September, largely over the status of the contested holy site of the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif. Four Israelis were killed in the Old City of Jerusalem: a couple driving near their West Bank settlement with their four children in the back of their car, and two men, one of whom was on his way to pray at the Western Wall at the end of the Jewish Sabbath; his wife and toddler were injured in the attack. An ultra-Orthodox teenage boy was later stabbed near the same place...
Ukrainian Catholic leader: Time for cautious diplomacy is over (CNS) The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church has urged the Vatican to show greater support for his country, as a senior Vatican diplomat warned the country risked becoming “a kind of Somalia.” “I would have expected a lot more involvement by the Vatican — the time for cautious diplomacy is at an end,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. “The fact that 70 per cent of Ukrainian army regulars fighting against separatists and Russian soldiers have Russian as their mother-tongue shows the unity of our people and our army. What we are seeing is a foreign invasion of Ukrainian territory by Russian troops,” he said...
Israel completes high-tech border fence (The Jewish Press) A new security fence complete with high-tech sensors has been completed along Israel’s southern border with Gaza, the Defense Ministry announced Tuesday. The information may help residents of the Gaza Belt communities feel at least a little bit safer: infiltration by Gaza terrorists will not be nearly as easy since completion of the fence, although the measure will not stop rocket or mortar attacks...
Tycoons donating millions to build churches in Armenia (The Guardian) Some multi-millionaire philanthropists fund universities and hospitals, while others opt to fund charities. But in Armenia, the super-rich seem to prefer building churches. So far, in 2015 alone, some of the country’s most powerful and wealthy public figures have provided significant funds for work on five construction projects across the country...
5 October 2015
The Very Rev. Robert A. Buczak holds a young parishioner of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Homestead, Pennsylvania, while some slightly older members of the flock look on. To learn more about the the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, read the profile from the July 2006 edition of ONE. (photo: Lisa Kyle)
5 October 2015
This image from 2007 shows the iconic monumental arch in Palmyra, Syria, which has been destroyed by ISIS. (photo: Wikipedia Commons)
ISIS destroys arches in Palmyra (The New York Times) Another landmark structure in Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra has been deliberately destroyed by Islamic State militants, according to local antigovernment activists and Syrian officials. The building involved this time was a set of triumphal arches, erected in the second century...
Ukraine says Russia must cede border by end of the year (AFP) President Petro Poroshenko has stressed Ukraine must regain control of its eastern border with Russia despite an apparent agreement to push back the implementation of a February peace deal into next year. The Western-backed leader told Ukrainian television late Sunday that he never agreed to the terms announced by French President Francois Hollande at a media event held after summit talks on the crisis in Paris on Friday...
Archeologists denied permission to excavate port where St. Thomas arrived in India (India Telegraph) The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has decided not to extend the permission granted to an excavation project in Kerala to “reinstate the cultural and historical significance of the legendary Muziris port.” The Muziris port was said to be where St. Thomas arrived in AD 52. But the exact location of the port, which was destroyed in a flood, is a mystery although the general consensus appears to be that it was located somewhere near Kodungalloor in Thrissur, a northern district and cultural capital of Kerala...
Coptic Patriarch says Christians in the Salafist lists “not credible” (Fides) Christians who present themselves as candidates in the Islamist Salafist lists “lack credibility” because “no one can live following two opposite thoughts.” This is the peremptory judgment that the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch expressed on the choice of Christians who agreed to stand in the forthcoming elections in the lists of the Salafist al-Nour Party. This is what Pope Tawadros said during his televised speech, and expresses a thought shared by Bishops and leaders of other Churches and Christian communities in Egypt...
Canada relaunches Muslim-Catholic student dialogue (Catholic Register) After a year on hiatus, the Muslim- Catholic Student Dialogue has relaunched with high hopes for more successful bridge-building between the Muslim and Catholic communities in the Archdiocese of Toronto. Fr. Damian MacPherson, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs, and Imam Hamid Slimi, former chairman of the Canadian Council of Imams, initiated the student group in 2010 with the expectation of bringing together Muslim and Catholic university students in fellowship. “It was felt that this kind of interaction and dialogue would really benefit the whole working together of Catholics and Muslims,” said MacPherson. “And so the effort has been underway for some time and there certainly has been some modest results...”
Ethiopia aims to triple tourism in five years (Reuters) Ethiopia aims to triple its number of foreign visitors to more than 2.5 million by 2020, making tourism a pillar of one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. Buoyed by huge spending on infrastructure and an expansion of its services and agricultural sectors, Addis Ababa expects annual economic growth of around 11 percent for the next five years. Though lacking the palm-fringed beaches and safari trails of neighboring Kenya and Tanzania, the Horn of Africa country boasts magnificent terrain and a fascinating imperial past...
2 October 2015
Tags: Syria India Egypt Ukraine Kerala
Eritrean children under the care of religious sisters play. Eritrea has only existed as an independent nation for about a quarter of a century, but many of its various cultures and faith communities date back millennia — including the distinctive Christian traditions accounting for roughly half the population. To learn more about Christianity in Eritrea, read Ancient Church in a Young Nation, or our profile of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. (photo: John E. Kozar)
2 October 2015
Tags: Children Africa Eritrea
A Kurdish Syrian migrant plays with a 3-year-old Syrian child refugee on 23 September at a temporary shelter for migrants constructed from shipping containers in Berlin. (photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Middle-class Syrian refugees start back at square one in Germany (Al Jazeera) Many of the thousands of Syrians who have arrived in Germany are from the urban, middle and upper classes. The passage to Europe became a lot cheaper when Hungary and Austria effectively waved refugees through, as the price is partly based on every closed border that must be crossed in stealth, hiding in trucks or bribing officials. But it still costs around 3,000 euros, or $3,375, placing it out of reach for Syria’s poorest…
Syriac Catholic archbishop disturbed by U.S. senator’s remarks (Fides) “U.S. Senator John McCain protested saying that the Russians are not bombing the positions of the Islamic State, but rather the anti-Assad rebels trained by the C.I.A. I find these words are disturbing. They represent a blatant admission that behind the war against Assad there is also the C.I.A.,” said Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo of Hassake. “Western propaganda keeps talking about moderate rebels, who do not exist. … [U.S. media] protests because the Russians hit the militias of Al Qaeda in Syria. What does it mean? Al Qaeda is now a U.S. ally, just because in Syria it has a different name?” In the interview with Fides, Archbishop Hindo repeats that “the Syrians will decide if and when Assad has to go away, and not the ISIS or the West. And it is certain that if Assad goes away now, Syria will become like Libya…”
Russian warplanes strike deep inside Islamic State’s heartland (Washington Post) Russian warplanes have struck targets deep inside the Islamic State’s heartland province of Raqqa for the first time, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday. The strikes were carried out against an Islamic State training camp and a command post near the city of Raqqa, expanding the scope of a three-day old air campaign that had previously focused on attacking rebel groups opposed to President Bashar al Assad…
Indian Jesuit supports campaign to demand food ?for poor (Vatican Radio) A Jesuit priest behind an awareness campaign to ensure the right to food and work for the poor in eastern India’s West Bengal state, has warned that famine will soon set in if the state government does nothing. “We want the government to wake up” and realize that food shortages “will inevitably turn into famine” in the coming months, said Father Jyothi, the convener of the Right to Food and Work network in West Bengal…
Hungary to close border with Croatia (Vatican Radio) Hungary’s government says it is preparing to seal off its border with Croatia for migrants, as it did in September with Serbia, despite earlier pledges it would consult with the international community…
Tags: Syria India Refugees Hungary Germany