NASRANI SYRIAN CHRISTIANS



NASRANI SYRIAN CHRISTIANS ( SYRIAN-MALABAR - MAPPILA - SAINT THOMAS CHRISTIANS )

Nasrani Syrian Christians ( Syrian-Malabar -Mappila-Saint Thomas Christians ) people are an ethnic community in Kerala. Their heritage is Syriac-Keralite, their culture South Indian, their faith St. Thomas Christian, and their language Malayalam. According to the Acts of Thomas apostle, the first converts made by St. Thomas in India were Malabari Jews, who had settled in Kerala since the time of 'King Solomon' of Israel.

Their tradition goes back to the very beginnings of first century Christian thought, and the seven churches that are established by St. Thomas the Apostle among the natives and the Jewish diaspora in Kerala. They follow a unique Hebrew-Syriac Christian tradition which includes several Jewish elements along with some Hindu customs.

It is believed that St. Thomas travelled to Kerala in AD. 52 and preached gospel to people of several religions such as Judaism, Buddhism, Brahmin religion and other tribal religions". Syrian Christians in Kerala is a community that has emerged through centuries through conversion of local inhabitants and the migrations and colonisations of Jewish, Persian and other Middle Eastern communities. As mentioned earlier, the very first group was converted to this community as a result of missionary works by St. Thomas . They are known as Syrian Christians because of their usage of Syriac as their liturgical language. Syriac is a language (North-West Semitic) that is closer to Hebrew than to Arabic and was developed in the city of Edessa (now Sanliurfa, Turkey). Syriac is related to the Palestinian Jewish Aramaic that was the mother tongue of Jesus and his disciples.

The syrian christians's connections with jews is more believable than their nampoothiri roots. It was natural for St.Thomas to go to the Jews and convert them first ( after all he was also a jew and spoken the same language). It may be some jew merchents who took him to Kerala as jews were trading with kerala from the time of king Solomon. The Syrian Christian community in Kerala was almost isolated from the other mainstream Christian communities across the world (particularly the western world) until the arrival of Portuguese missionaries. After the arrival of Vasco Da Gama, many Portuguese missionaries of Roman Catholic faith preached gospel across the coastal areas of India. That was the period of inquisition in Europe and therefore, they opened inquisition centres in Goa similar to that in Portugal and Spain. The Portuguese missionaries suspected that the St Thomas Christians were under influence of Nestorian heresy because of their connection with the Church of East.

Courtesy: Nasrani Syrian Christians Network and Prof: George



CULTURAL SIMILARITIES OF NASRANIES AND JEWS :

Similarity of "Pesaha" night rituals of Nasranies and Jews.( Both groups make unleavened bread on the day of Passover. No leavened (containing yeast) foods or grains are eaten.Paal among the Nasranies may be a representation of wine among Jews. The head of the family serve the food.Meals of both groups include bitter food. Bitter juice among Nasranies and maror among Jews.).

The similarity of naming conventions followed by both groups "The first or eldest son is given the name of his paternal grandfather and the eldest daughter the name of her paternal grandmother. The second son bears the name of his maternal grandfather and the second daughter the name of her maternal grandmother. There is freedom of choice in naming other children, who are sometimes given the names of uncles and aunts." This was the naming convention followed by every Nasrani parents until recently although the names were localised. After the arrival of English education in India, many of these names were replaced with their equivalent English names. But the English names were used only in official documentation and the local names were mostly preserved. After Travancore and Cochin joined the Indian Union, there has been continuous effort among the leaders of Nasranies to portray them as a community holding Indian culture.

Syrian Cross: The symbol of the Nasranies is the Syrian cross, also called the Mar Thoma sleeba. The origin of this cross is rather disputed but it is believed that it was derived from the Jewish menorah, the ancient symbol of the Hebrews. The Jewish menorah consists of a branched candle stand for seven candlesticks (Exodus 25). In Mar Thoma sleeba 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).

Church centred life and Synagogue centred life: The Nasranies and Cochin Jews are two communities grown in parallel in Malabar Coast. The life style of Cochin Jews was synagogue centred. The Nasranies also have similar life style centred in their churches. It is well known that every Nasrani churche irrespective of the denominations have committee meeting after Qurbana (mass).

Kiss of peace: There is a custom called Kaimuthu among the Nasranies at the conclusion of forty days mourning period after someone dies. This is similar to 'kiss of peace' (kaiyyasoori), a custom that is seen in some Nasrani churches at the conclusion of Qurbana, which is passed from Bishop to Priest to worshiper. Kiss of peace is a sign of respect and friendship and has its roots in the Jewish Temple worship.

Deathbed blessing: The blessing text, given by the father on his deathbed to the children by Jews and Nasranies are similar. For Nasranies: "God gave his blessing to Abraham, Abraham to Isaac, Isaac gave that to Jacob, Jacob...to my forefathers...to my parents....and my parents to me....and now, dear son (daughter), I give it to you: For Jews: "Blessed art thou, O Lord our Lord, and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, and the great mighty and the revered God"

Origin of Palappam and Kallappam: It is believed that the Palappam and Kallappam were derived from an ancient Jewish food. Wedding ceremony: Exchange of wedding rings among Nasranies might have been derived from Palestinian Jewish temple rites. The position of the bride standing on the right side of the bridegroom and bridal veil (manthrakodi) might have also originated from Jewish customs.

Courtesy: Nasrani Syrian Christians Network and Prof: George



JEWISH HISTORY :

Jewish history starts with Abraham, probably 17th century BC. Abraham had two sons named Isaac and Ishmael. The heritage and traditions of Abraham continued through Isaac. Isaac had two sons Jacob and Esau. Jacob was his father's descendant and he had twelve sons. They were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin. The twelve tribes of Jews are the descendants of all these people and are known with their names.




After the exodus from Egypt (13th century BC) Jewish people settled in Israel and established their first kingdom in BC 1020 by Saul. Jerusalem became the capital of Israel in 1000 BC during the reign of David. Later in BC 960, King Solomon made the first temple of Israelites and it became the national and spiritual centre of Jewish people. Solomon had preference towards his own tribe and this resulted in unsatisfactory relationship between the monarchy and other tribes. After his death in BC 930, a revolution resulted in the breaking away of the country into a northern kingdom (Israel - the ten tribes) and southern kingdom (Judea - the tribes of Judah and Benjamin).

In BC 722, the Assyrian people invaded Israel and this exiled Jewish people to all parts of the world particularly to eastern part of Iran and western part of Afghanistan . Thus, ten tribes were lost. But, Judea continued as separate country until Babylonians attacked them. In BC 586, Babylonians destroyed the 1st temple of Solomon. Most Jews from Judea were exiled to Babylonia. The exile to Babylonia marked the beginning of Jewish Diaspora. After 50 years, the Persians, who conquered Babylonia, allowed the Jews in Babylonia to return to their home land. On return, they built their second temple at Jerusalem. From BC 332 onwards, Alexander the great ruled Jerusalem. In BC 163, Maccabees lead a revolt against the Greeks and Jews enjoyed the victory against Hellenic rule. As a result, a royal dynasty called Hasmonean began and it lasted until Roman Empire captured Jerusalem. In BC 63, Roman Empire Pompey invaded Israel and Jews again came under foreign rule. This Roman rule continued during the time of Jesus and lasted until AD 313.


Courtesy: Nasrani Syrian Christians Network and Prof: George

St.Thomas, said to his fellow disciples:-
" Let us also go to die with him "