Catholicos of India is an ecclesiastical office in the Syriac Orthodox Church, the head of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church in Kerala, India. He is the Catholicos/ Maphrian of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church an autonomous body within the Syriac Orthodox Church, and functions at an ecclesiastical rank second to the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. The jurisdiction of the Syriac Orthodox Catholicos is limited to India and Indian diaspora, although he is often invited to preside over Syriac Orthodox functions abroad. The current Catholicos of India is Catholicos Baselios Thomas I, who was consecrated in 2002.
The position was created in the 20th century, amid a series of splits within the local Malankara Church and the broader Syriac Orthodox communion that divided the community into rival Indian Orthodox and Jacobite Syrian factions. It was instituted to provide a regional head for Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, the faction that remained closely aligned with the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch.
The word is a transliteration of the Greek καθολικός, pl. καθολικοί, meaning concerning the whole, universal or general. It was a title that existed in the Roman Empire where Government representative who was in charge of a large area was called ‘Catholicos’. The Churches later started to use this term for their Chief Bishops.
‘Maphriyono’ (Maphrian) is derived from the Syriac word 'afri', "to make fruitful", or "one who gives fecundity". This title be used exclusively for the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the East. From the mid 13th century onwards, a few occupants of the Maphrianate were referred also as ‘Catholicos’, but the title never came into extensive usage.
In the 20th century when this office of the Maphrianate under the See of Antioch was established in India, the chief of the local church assumed the title ‘Catholicos’. It is this title that is being used in India today, whilst the title Maphrian is no longer used. Both the titles have the same meaning in the Syriac Orthodox Context.
Origins and development of the Catholicate in India
As the political rivalries were great between the Roman and Persian Empires, the Persian Church thought it wise to create a local leader, since the Zoroastrian rulers of Persia were strongly suspicious of any contacts between their Persian Christian minority, and the Christians in the enemy Roman Empire. In the 4th century, the bishop of the Persian capital of Seleucia, Mar Papa, had been declared the first Catholicos of the Church of the East. Mar Issac, bishop of Seleucia, became the first royally recognized Catholicos, empowered to exercise authority over the Church's Persian jurisdictions excluding India. In the 5th century, as part of the Nestorian schism, the Persian Christians separated from the Christians of the Roman Empire. In the 16th century, another split occurred, with the Nestorian branch becoming known as the Assyrian Church of the East, and another branch joining into communion with Rome, to become the Chaldean Catholic Church. The Assyrian Christians sought to better establish themselves by claiming that the Apostle Thomas not only evangelized their territories and ordained presbyters, but gave authority to specific successors to govern the Church. This teaching contradicted the teachings of Nicaea. To maintain Orthodoxy, patriarchs continued to ordain local Orthodox Maphriyono, who assumed the title Catholicos centuries later.
A reconciliation movement gathered momentum in the 1950s and culminated in the consecration of Mar Augen I by the bishop's Synod presided over by the Patriarch Ignatius Jacob III according to the 1934 Constitution of Malankara Orthodox Church. The camps later split again in 1975 because the Patriarch Ignatius Jacob III in his bull numbered 203 claimed that St Thomas cannot be regarded as a Bishop and he did not establish any Apostolic Throne. Catholicos Mor Augen I and a vast majority of laymen and priests refused to accept this claim. So the Patriarch excommunicated the Catholicos without following the procedures set by the 1934 Constitution of Malankara Orthodox Church.
For the people favoring the Patriarch's supremacy a Maphrian was consecrated by Patriarch Jacob III in 1975. Mor Baselios Paulose II was the first Maphrian of Patriarch faction. After Mor Baselios Paulose II's demise in 1996 the office remained vacant for several years to accommodate reconciliation attempts, which were unsuccessful.
In 2002 Baselios Thomas I was consecrated by Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas to be the local head of the Malankara Archdiocese of Syriac Orthodox Church. His Beatitiude's official title was made Catholicos of India. due to the region of his jurisdiction. He functions at an ecclesiastical rank second only to the Patriarch, having the privilege to preside over the consecration of new patriarchs. The Catholicos is welcomed brotherly alongside the Patriarch at ecclesiastical and ecumenical functions, and hosted the Patriarch during a state visit to India in 2005.
This Catholicate is headquartered at Puthencruz, Kerala, India. The Catholicos of India presides over the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Association, the legal entity of Jacobite parishes in Malankara that unequivocally supports remaining within the Antiochian Patriarchate.
The Catholicos is not authorized to consecrate Holy Chrism independently. The jurisdiction of the Syriac Orthodox Catholicos is limited to India only, although he is often invited to preside over Syriac Orthodox functions abroad.
As the head of the catholicate of Syriac Orthodox Church in India, the Catholicos presides over the Holy Episcopal Synod of Jacobite Syrian Christian Church which includes all the Metropolitans of the Syrian Orthodox Church in India.