A History of The Syro Malankara Church

Father Johnson Mathew Manayil is from St.George’s Malankara Catholic Church in Kolithattu, Iritty-Kannur in Kerala, India. Father Johnson was ordained on the 6th April 2010. We welcomed him to the Parish of Holy Cross in Glasgow in May 2018. In addition to his role as assistant priest to the Very Reverend Monsignor Hugh Bradley, Father Johnson is Chaplain to the Syro Malankara Communities in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Belfast.


The History of the Syro Malankara Church

Sometimes known as the Malankara Syrian Catholic Church, the Malankara Catholic Community is historically linked to the Syrian Church and its headquarters are in Trivandrum, in Kerala, India. It traces its origins to the Apostle, Thomas, who, according to tradition, came to India in AD52.

Tradition claims that Thomas began his working life as a merchant and took care of the material needs of the people as he preached the Gospel. This idea of both word and action gave his preaching credibility and St Thomas is revered by Christians throughout India and greatly respected by Hindus and Muslims as well. 

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is an Antiochene rite, taking its liturgy from the Patriarchate of Antioch (hopefully a familiar place to you from your Scripture reading). It is part of the Eastern Catholic Church in full Communion with the Church in Rome and uses the Western Syrian Rite of St James. Today the liturgy is celebrated in Malayalam, Syriac, English, Hindi, Kannada and Tamil. 

Due to the policy of the Portuguese missionaries in Latinizing the Liturgy and indigenous customs of the Apostolic Indian Church, the church in Kerala, India was divided into two. One group who rejected catholic ecclesiastical authorities eventually came under the Syrian Orthodox Church.

From this group, Archbishop Mar Ivanios decided to seek communion with the Catholic Church, and submit to the authority of the Pope in Rome. And the Holy Father Pope Pius XI graciously accepted the conditions and welcomed the re-union. Taking only five members namely, Bishop Mar Theophilos, Fr. John, Dn. Alexander, and Mr. Chacko, of his church with him, on 20 September 1930, Mar Ivanios made the Profession of Faith and they were received into the Catholic communion by H.E. Rt.Rev.Dr.Maria Benzinger, Latin Bishop of Quilon, Kerala. It began with five members, but today the Syro Malankara Church has a total number of more than 500,000 including UK, especially in Scotland. 

Archbishop Mar Ivanios, the pioneer of reunion movement and founder of this Church passed away in 1953 July 15 and declared as Servant of God on 14th July 2007 as the first step in the process of canonization.

Pope John Paul II described it as a “fast-growing church” and on the 10th February, 2005, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church was elevated by Pope John Paul II to a Major Archiepiscopal Church, elevating the Archbishop to Major Archbishop (called “Catholicos” by the Syro-Malankara Catholics).

As a major archiepiscopal church, the Syro Malankara Catholic Church is granted the greatest level of autonomy under the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, governed by the major archbishop and the general synod of all bishops of the church, subject to papal oversight.

The current Major Archbishop and Catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis Catholicos who was elected by the Holy Synod as the successor of the late Moran Mor Cyril Baselios Catholicos on February 8, 2007, and was confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI on February 10, 2007 and was installed on March 5, 2007. Baselios Cleemis was elevated to the College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XVI on 24 November 2012. As Cardinal-Priest he was assigned the titular church of San Gregorio VII.

He is the first bishop of the Syro-Malankara church and the fifth Keralite to become a cardinal. 

As a fast growing church, the mission activities in the United Kingdom began on 4th  July 2005. H.E. Yoohanon Mar Theodosius is the present Apostolic Visitator to Europe and Oceania to blossom out this Church in UK. There are now 5 priests working in the UK as chaplains to the Malankara Catholic faithful with Fr. Thomas Madukammoottil as the ecclesiastical coordinator of the Church in the UK.

Among 17 missions in whole UK, two are, St. Andrews Mission, Glasgow and the St. Stephen’s Mission, Aberdeen, in Scotland. Our very own, Fr. Johnson Mathew Manayil, is chaplain of these missions.

In Glasgow, the liturgical services for the Syro Malankar community are celebrated in our Church of Holy Cross.

There is Holy Mass twice in every month, on the second and fourth Sundays at 2.30 pm; catechism classes for children up to 12 classes at 4.30 pm; and once a month there is a family prayer service in any one of the families at 6.30 pm (It will be on second Sunday after the services). In all the services, the medium of language is Malayalam and English. Catechism classes and Holy Mass once in every three months are in English. Most of the members of this Mission are from Kerala, India.