The Saint Thomas Christians are a group of Christians from the Malabar coast (now Kerala) in South India, who follow Syriac Christianity.  The different groups and denominations within the St Thomas Christians together form the Nasrani people. Their tradition goes back to the beginnings of first century Christian thought, and the seven churches that are believed to have been established by Saint Thomas the Apostle. The Nasrani preserved the original rituals of the early Jewish Christians, such as covering their heads while in worship and holding their ritual service on Saturdays in the tradition of the Jewish Sabbath. They also believed that the Romans killed Jesus . The Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala succeeded in blending well with the ecclesiastical world of the Eastern Churches and with the changing socio-cultural environment of their homeland., becoming Hindu in culture, Christian in religion, and Judeo-Syro-Oriental in worship. The Portuguese started a Latin diocese in Goa (1534) and another at Cochin (1558), in the hope of bringing the Saint Thomas Christians under their jurisdiction. The Portuguese Catholics, who were especially opposed to the Judaic traditions of the Nasrani, held a synod in 1599, at which they ordered the burning of Nazrani texts and imposed Latinization on the Saint Thomas Christians. The Portuguese padroado was extended over them, and from 1599 until 1896, they were under Latin bishops. Divisions within the Saint Thomas Christians arose between those who accepted the Latinization and those who chose to adhere to the Syriac church.
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The Syrian Malabar Nasranis are an ethnic people and in that sense a single community, but they have various denominations as a result of Portuguese persecution. As an ethnic community they refer to themselves as Nasranis referring to the common cultural heritage and cultural tradition. However, as a religious group they refer to themselves as the Mar Thoma Khristianis, or in English as Saint Thomas Christians, referring to their religious tradition as descendants of the early Mar Thoma church or Saint Thomas tradition of Christianity.
These first century churches, according to tradition, were, from north to south: Palayoor near Guruvayoor/Kunnankulam, Cranganore (believed to be the ancient Muziris of Pliny, and the Periplus, on the north bank of Periyar River today), Paravur on the south side of Periyar, Gokkamangalam or Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal or Nilakkal (the only inland church) and the Lakes or Kaayals, and finally Kollam. The visit of the Apostle Thomas to these places and to Mylapore on the East coast of India is recorded in the Ramban Song of Thomas Ramban, set into 'moc', 1500.
The southern coast of the Indian subcontinent (hypothesized by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus to be the place mentioned as Ophir in the Old Testament) inevitably became a gateway from the Mediterranean world to Kerala. The people there traded in teak, ivory, spices and peacocks, and the area was endowed with a magnificent coastline with numerous ports from Mangalapuram to Kodungallur, also known as Cranganore. In the ancient times it was called "Muziris" in Latin and "Muchiri" in Malayalam. According to the first century annals of Pliny the Elder and the unknown author of Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, the Muziris in Kerala could be reached in 40 days' time from the Egyptian coast, purely depending on the South West Monsoon winds. The Sangam works Puranaooru and Akananooru have many lines which speak of the Roman vessels and the Roman gold that used to come to the Kerala ports of the great Chera kings in search of pepper and other spices, for which there was an enormous demand in the West.
The trade routes brought with them not just riches but also stateless nations and nascent worldviews.  Cranganore became one of the earliest settlements of the Jewish diaspora from the later Old Testament period. They continued trade with the Mediterranean world, thus establishing a strong link between the southern coast of the Indian peninsula and the Judeo-Roman world, laying the foundations for what would later be the early 'Judeo-Nazaraean' diaspora. The early Aramaic-speaking Syriac Christians who came to Kerala from Syria (which already had a Jewish settlement in Kodungulloor) were of largely ethnically Jewish origin.
Modern developments in archaeology, anthropology, numismatics, place-name studies, geography and trade route investigations have revealed evidence of the trading which forms the background to the St. Thomas tradition of Kerala. According to tradition, Saint Thomas the Apostle arrived on a trading vessel plying between Alexandria and the Malabar Coast that in Cranganore in 52 C.E.
Saint Thomas the apostle is said to have begun preaching the gospel to the already existing Jewish settlers on the Malabar coast and to other local people. According to the Acts of Thomas, the first converts made by Thomas in India were Jewish people. His teachings were eventually integrated into the beliefs and traditions of the local communities, and into their family histories, their songs and their dances. Saint Thomas established seven Christian communities or churches in Kerala, in Cranganore, Paravur (Kottakavu), Palayoor, Kokkamangalam, Malayattoor, Niranam, Chayal (Nilackal) and Kollam.
The South Indian epic of Manimekalai, written between second and third century C.E., mentions the Nasrani people by the name Essanis, referring to one of the early Christian-Jewish sect within the Nasranis called Essenes. The embassy of Alfred in 833 C.E. described the Nestorian Syrian Christians as being prosperous and enjoying high status in the Malabar coast. Marco Polo also mentioned the Nasranis and their ancient church in the Malabar coast in his writings, The Travels of Marco Polo (Il Milione) 
Quilon legend relates that the Apostolate of Saint Thomas arrived in Kerala in the first century, came into contact with some orthodox Brahmins in Palayur called the namboothiris (Nambudri) and converted them to the Christian faith. These Nambudiri Brahmins were India's first Saint Thomas Christians. The Brahmin converts include Kalli, Kallarakal, Kalliankal, Manki, Madathalan, Plavunkal, Mattamuk, Manavasri, Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, and Thayil. Some scholars argue that these claims were made by the later Christians to obtain special caste status in the prevailing caste system of India. The Namboothiri history claims their origin in Kerala in the seventh century C.E., while Christianity in India originated in the first century C.E. Also, it is recorded that several of the Malabari locals who joined early Christianity returned to their earlier faith during a shaivite (Hindu sect honoring Shiva) revival by the shaivite scholar Manikka Vachkar, indicating that they were not Nambudri Brahmin. 
Acts of Thomas is a series of episodic Acts (Latin passio) that occurred during the evangelistic mission of Judas Thomas ("Judas the Twin") to India. It ends with his "martyrdom" in which he dies pierced with spears because he earned the ire of the monarch Misdaeus by of his conversion of Misdaeus' wives and a relative, Charisius. He was imprisoned while converting Indian followers won through the performing of miracles.
References to the work by Epiphanius show that it was in circulation in the fourth century. The complete versions that survive are Syriac and Greek. There are many surviving fragments of the text. Scholars detect from the Greek that its original was written in Syriac, which places the Acts of Thomas in Syria. Though Gregory of Tours made a version, mainstream Christian tradition rejects the Acts of Thomas as pseudepigraphical and apocryphal, and the Roman Catholic Church finally confirmed the Acts as heretical at the Council of Trent.
These early Christian Jews believed in Jesus as the Christ, but followed Jewish traditions and called themselves Nazaraeans or Nazrani, meaning Jews who followed the Nazarene Messiah (Jesus). The term Nazaraean was first mentioned in the New Testament in Acts 24:5. The term nasrani was used essentially to denote Jewish followers of Jesus from Nazareth, while the term Khristianos "Christian" was initially used largely to refer to non-Jewish peoples ("gentiles") who followed the Christ (Acts 11:26). Until the advent of the Portuguese in the 1500s, the proto-Jewish-Nasrani ethos in Kerala thrived with Jewish customs and the Syrian-Antiochian tradition.
The Nasrani preserved the original rituals of the early Jewish Christians, such as covering their heads while in worship. Their ritual services (liturgy) was and still is called the Qurbana (also spelled Kurbana), which is derived from the Hebrew Korban (קרבן), meaning "Sacrifice." Their ritual service was held on Saturdays in the tradition of the Jewish Sabbath. The Nasrani Qurbana was sung in the Suryani (Syriac) and Aramaic languages. They also believed that it was the Romans who killed Jesus  because, historically, Jesus was crucified; the official form of execution of the Jews was typically stoning to death, while the official form of execution of the Romans was crucifixion.  The architecture of the early church reflected a blend of Jewish and Kerala styles.
The symbol of the Nasranis is the Syrian cross, also called the Nasrani Menorah, Mar Thoma sleeba in Malayalam language. It is based on the Jewish menorah, the ancient symbol of the Hebrews, which consists of a branched candle stand for seven candlesticks. (Exodus 25). In the Nasrani Menorah the six branches, (three on either side of the cross) represents God as the burning bush, while the central branch holds the cross, the dove at the tip of the cross represents the Holy Spirit. (Exodus 25:31). In Jewish tradition the central branch is the main branch, from which the other branches or other six candles are lit. Netzer is the Hebrew word for "branch" and is the root word of Nazareth and Nazarene. (Isaiah 11:1).
Note that the Christian cross was not adopted as a symbol by Mediterranean and European Christianity until several centuries had passed.
Throughout Kerala, one can find Christian families that claim their descent from Brahmin ancestors who were baptized by Apostle Thomas.  Saint Thomas Christians were classified into the caste system according to their professions, in accordance with the Hindu tradition, with special privileges for trade granted by the benevolent kings who ruled the area. After the eighth century, when Hindu Kingdoms came into sway, Christians were expected to strictly abide by stringent rules pertaining to caste and religion in order to survive. As the oldest order of Christianity in India, the Saint Thomas Christians had a strong sense of caste and tradition. The archdeacon was the head of the Church, and Palliyogams (Parish Councils) were in charge of temporal affairs. They had a liturgy-centered life with days of fasting and abstinence. Their devotion to the Mar Thoma Cross was absolute, and their churches were modeled after Jewish synagogues. 
The Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala succeeded in blending well with the ecclesiastical world of the Eastern Churches and with the changing socio-cultural environment of their homeland.  Thus, the Malabar Church was Hindu in culture, Christian in religion, and Judeo-Syro-Oriental in worship. 
The Portuguese started a Latin diocese in Goa (1534) and another at Cochin (1558), in the hope of bringing the Saint Thomas Christians under their jurisdiction. The Portuguese Catholics were especially opposed to the Judaic traditions of the Nasrani Christians, describing them as Sabbath-keeping Judaizers. In 1599, Archbishop Aleixo de Menezes of Goa convened the Synod of Diamper in Kerala. There he ordered all the texts of the Syrian Nasranis, including the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Thomas, and the Nasrani Aramaic Peshitta Bible (known today as the Lost Aramaic Bible, based on the Jewish Targum and including the Gospel of the Nazoraeans),  in order to erase all legacies of antiquity and Jewishness. Amongst several accusations, the Nasranis were accused of not worshipping images of saints and biblical figures. The Portuguese imposed the teaching that the Jews killed Jesus, and introduced the Latin liturgy and practices among the Thomas Christians.
The Portuguese refused to accept the legitimate authority of the Indian hierarchy and its relation with the East Syrians, and appointed a Latin bishop to govern the Thomas Christians. The Portuguese padroado was extended over them, and from 1599 until 1896, the Saint Thomas Christians were under the Latin bishops who were appointed either by the Portuguese Padroado or by the Roman Congregation of Propaganda Fide.
The only Nasranis who preserved some elements of their Jewish origin were the Knanayas, because of their tradition of being endogamous within their own community and therefore preserving their Jewish tradition.
Every attempt to resist the latinization process was branded by the Portuguese as heretical. The Saint Thomas Christians resisted, under the leadership of their indigenous archdeacon, with disastrous results. The first solemn protest, the Koonan Cross Oath, took place in 1653, under the leadership of archdeacon Thoma, when a section of the Saint Thomas Christians publicly took an oath that they would not obey the Portuguese bishops and the Jesuit fathers. In 1665 an Antiochean bishop called Mar Gregorios arrived in India and the dissident group under the leadership of the archdeacon welcomed him. 
Though most of the Thomas Christians gradually relented in their strong opposition to Western control, the arrival of the Bishop Mar Gregory of the Syriac Orthodox Church in 1665 marked the beginning of a formal schism among the Syrian Christiansin Kerala, who until then had been one Church. Those who accepted the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of Mar Gregory became known as Jacobites ([[Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church, Syriac Orthodox Church). Those who continued with East Syrian theological and liturgical tradition are known as Syro Malabar Church in communion with the Catholic Church. Through this process, Saint Thomas Christians were divided into East Syrians and West Syrians.
In 1912 a further split occurred in the West Syrian community when a section declared itself an autocephalous church and announced the re-establishment of the ancient Catholicosate of the East in India. This was not accepted by those who remained loyal to the Syrian Patriarch. The two sides were reconciled in 1958, but differences developed again in 1975.
Today the community is divided into Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (in Oriental Orthodox Communion), and the Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church (in Oriental Orthodox Communion).
In 1772 West Syrians under the leadership of Kattumangattu Abraham Mar Koorilose, Metropolitan of Malankara, formed the Malabar Independent Syrian Church (Thozhiyur Sabha).
In 1814 a section of Saint Thomas Christians from Thrissur came into communion with Catholicos Patriarch of the Church of the East in Qochanis. They follow the East Syrian tradition and are known as the Chaldean Syrian Church.
In 1845, exposure to the doctrines of the Church of England inspired a reform movement led by Abraham Malpan in the West Syrian community. This led to the formation of the Mar Thoma Church.
In 1926 a section of West Syrians in the leadership of Mar Ivanios came in to communion with Catholic Church, retaining all of the Church's rites, liturgy, and autonomy. They are known as Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
|West Syriac (Antiochian)||East Syriac (Chaldean)|
|Protestant Oriental||Independent Orthodox||Oriental Orthodox||Eastern Catholic||Assyrian Church of the East|
|Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church (Mar Thoma Church)||Malabar Independent Syrian Church (Thozhiyoor Church)||Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church (Syriac Orthodox Church)||Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Indian Orthodox Church)||Syro-Malankara Catholic Church||Syro-Malabar Catholic Church||Chaldean Syrian Church|
|N.B. The Malabar Independent Syrian Church, while Oriental Orthodox in tradition, is not in communion with the rest of Oriental Orthodoxy. This church is in communion however with the Mar Thoma Church and both churches have assisted each other in the consecration of bishops. The Mar Thoma Church itself, while continuing to maintain a Syrian identity, has moved closer to the Anglican Communion and maintains communion with both the Anglican groupings in India - The CNI(Church of North India) and CSI(Church of South India)|
(in alphabetical order by Communion)
All links retrieved August 10, 2015.
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