UNIVERSAL SURIYANI KNANAYA SAMUDHAYAM (COMMUNITY)
Knananites are the descendants
of Syrian Christians of Jewish origin migrated to the Malabar Coast (Kerala) of India, during the Forth Century, under the
leadership of Thomas of Kana (Knai Thomas) to rejuvenate the disintegrating Christian church established by St. Thomas, the
Knananites are a very distinct ethnic and religious group whose
ancestry traces back to Abraham, the Patriarch of the Old Testament. Israelites became slaves in Egypt and God delivered them
through Moses and finally Joshua led the 12 tribes of Israel to Canaan in 1250 BC. David became king (1004-965 BC) and Solomon,
who built the first temple in Jerusalem, succeeded. After Solomon's death in 928 BC, two sister kingdoms evolved in Israel:
the northern kingdom with the descendants of ten tribes (Kingdom of Israel), and the southern kingdom with the descendants
of Judah and Benjamin (Kingdom of Judah). The southern kingdom remained loyal to the David dynasty and never intermarried
with others. Knai Thoma and his people were the descendants of the two tribes of the southern kingdom (tribes of Judah and
Benjamin). In 720 BC the Kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyrians and in 580 BC Kingdom of Judah was conquered by Nebuchadnezzer
of Babylonia, and their respective inhabitants were exiled. The Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. When Persians conquered
Babylonia, Cyrus ( the new ruler) allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem and eventually the second temple was built in 515 BC.
In Judea, the Community continued in theocracy. Alexander the great conquered Judea in 332 BC. With the Roman occupation
of Judea in 63 BC, it became a Roman Province and Herod was proclaimed as the king of Judea. While Judea was ruled by Roman
governors and procurators outburst and rebellions became severe and frequent. It was in this period that our Lord Jesus Christ
was crucified by the Romans (30 AD). A great revolt (66 AD) broke out and Jerusalem was besieged in 70 AD and the second temple
was destroyed. After the Bar Kokhba war (132-135 AD) the Jewish populations of Judea were either dead, enslaved or in flight.
Jerusalem and its environs were settled by non-Jews, but Galilee remained the bastion of Judaism. Many Jews fled to various
parts of the world and in this context Jewish colonies were established along the Malabar coast in India.
THOMA (MAR THOMA) AND THE MIGRATION
Twenty years after the Nicean Council (synod), Knai Thoma, a rich international
merchant from Cana, brought a colony of 400 Syrian Christians consisting of 72 families belonging to 7 clans with instructions
from the Patriarch of Antioch, Mor Yusthedius, to the Malabar coast of India. The group included men, women, children, priests,
deacons and their bishop Mor Joseph of Urfa (Uraha/Edessa). The names of the seven clans were: Bagi, Belkuth, Hadai, Kujalig,
Koja, Mugmuth, and Thegmuth. The legend is that Mor Joseph had a startling dream (vision) in which he saw the plight of the
Christian church in Malabar established by St. Thomas, the Apostle, in the 1st Century. Mor Joseph and Knai Thoma landed in
Kodungalloor (Crangannoore) in 345 AD. Knai Thoma and his group sailed in three ships. The leading ship called "Babylonia"
had three masts. The main mast flew King David's flag, the second mast flew the Roman flag with the cross, and the third
flew King Abgar of Edessa's flag.
Knai Thoma and his people were heartily welcomed by Cheraman Perumal, the Emperor.
Cheraman Perumal sent his brother, Ramavarma, and his minister, Vettathu Mannan, to receive Knai Thoma and his people. Knai
Thoma and his people were given permission to settle down in Kodungalloor and to do business. Later Cheraman Perumal bestowed
Knai Thoma and his people with 72 princely privileges and there by elevated them over 17 castes. This proclamation was made
on a Saturday in March (Kumbham 29), 345 and it was recorded on copper plates given to Knai Thoma (Knai Thomman Cheppedu).
Knai Thoma and his people built a town in Kodungalloor with a church and 72 houses. The natives called it "Mahadevar
Pattanam" meaning "town of superiors". Knai Thoma and his people converted many natives to Christianity and
built many churches. Thus the arrival of Knai Thoma and his people (Knananites) reestablished the church founded by St. Thomas,
SOUTHISTS (Sudhists) AND NORTHISTS (Nordhists)
The descendants of Knai
Thoma (Knananites) who lived on the south side of Kodungalloor are known as Southists (Thekkumbhagor) and the St, Thomas (native)
Christians who lived on the north side of Kodungalloor are known as Northists (Vadakkumbhagor). Another tradition is that
Knananites settled down on the south side of Periyar (river) while the native Christians lived on the north side of the river.
It is also stated that Knananites are called Southists because they came from the southern kingdom of Judah. Knananites did
not intermarry with native Christians and maintained their Jewish tradition originating from Abraham. To this date the Knananites
continue as an endogamous community.
JEWS AND KNANANITES
Striking similarities exist
between Knanaya Christians and the Cochin (India) Jews. Both groups were granted the 72 privileges by the ruling Cheraman
Perumals. Copper plates given to the Jews (kept in the Mattancherry Synagogue) were handed to Joseph Rabban, a first century
merchant of Kodungalloor, just as Knai Thoma was given similar copper plates during the fourth century. Both groups are endogamous.
Knananites believe that their customs and rituals are a continuation of ancient Jewish practices such as the position
of the bride standing on the right of the bridegroom during the wedding ceremony, burial of the dead to face East to Jerusalem,
the priest's black velvet cap which is similar to the Jew's head gear, the "kiss of peace" ceremony during
Eucharist, the blessings given by parents and grandparents their children and grandchildren, reminiscent of the Old Testament
blessings. During Easter celebrations Knananites partake with unleavened bread and drink wine made of coconut milk and plums
reminiscent of the Jewish malzot and red wine during Passover night. The Knanaya marriage ceremony includes the bridal canopy
that may be equivalent to the Jewish nuppah; the ceremonial bathing on the eve of the wedding that may be parallel to the
Jewish mikrah or ritual bath: and singing of Old Testament songs on the eve and on the day of the wedding. All these customs
and rituals are exclusively practiced by the Knananites and so distinguish them from the native Christians.
similarities exist in the groups' ancient songs. Reference to the 72 privileges Is found in the songs of both communities.
The songs of both groups are divided into five categories, i.e., historical, bridal, biblical, invocational and miscellaneous.
There are similarities in composition and linguistics and the songs of both groups begin by invoking the name of the Almighty.
In the songs shared by both groups, it is mentioned that three kings fought bravely and fell when Kodungalloor was burned
down in 1524 and the descendants of these three kings, Cheraman Perumal, Joseph Rabban and Knai Thoma fought valiantly to
save their town. Similarly, songs of both groups have same feelings about the Old Testament hero, Joseph. He is described
as an ideal son, an ideal father and an ideal ruler.
These similarities suggest that the Malabar Jews and the Knanaya
Christians (who are of Jewish origin) were living in close contact with each other in Kodungalloor sharing similar legends,
Biblical stories, and traditions from a common origin between 345 and 1524 AD. In 1524 the churches and the synagogues were
destroyed during the battle between Kozhikode (Calicut) and Cochin. Christians and Jews moved south to places like Udayamparoor,
Mulamthuruthy and Kaduthuruthy. Eventually the Jews settled in Cochin and majority of the Knananites established their colony
in Kaduthuruthy. The Raja (King) of Vadakkankoor was very pleased with the arrival of Knananites to Kaduthuruthy. They built
their church in Kaduthuruthy in 1556. Subsequently, Knananites established colonies in Chungam (Thodupuzha), Kottayam, Kallissery,
Ranny, Neelamparoor, Uzhavoor, Piravam, Thripunithura, Chingavanam, Changanacherry etc.
The arrival of Knai Thomas and his people helped the disintegrating Malabar Church both spiritually
and socially. Further they brought the Syrian (Church of Antioch) traditions and teachings to Malabar that are practiced by
millions today. Although Knananites stayed as part of the Syrian Church, they maintained their ethnic heritage. The Syrian
Church prospered until the arrival of the Portuguese during the 15th Century. The Portuguese tried to eradicate the Syrian
rites and replace them with the Latin rites. In 1599, the Portuguese (Archbishop Menesis of Goa) assembled a synod at Udayamparoor
and, by force, changed the Syrian teachings existed since the arrival of the Knananites. Archbishop Menesis and his successors
were able to convert some Syrians with their power and money. However, a group under the leadership of a Knanaya priest, Anjilimmoottil
Ittythomman Kathanar (Rev. Itty Thomas), resisted the Portuguese during the middle of the 17th Century. Under his leadership,
approximately 25,000 Syrian Christians assembled in Mattancherry (near Cochin) and pledged that they will not accept the Latin
teachings. The oath, known as bent cross (coonan kurisu), took place in January 1653 when the Syrians heard that their Patriarch,
Ahathallah, was drowned by the Portuguese. After the bent cross, the Syrian church split in to two. The group led by Mor Thomas
Arkadion of Pakalomattom and Ittythomman Kathanar continued to follow the Syrian faith while the other group accepted the
Roman faith. However, along with the split the Knananites also became two groups (Knanaya Jacobites and Knanaya Catholics).
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Syrian Christians became involved in several internal conflicts. One of the major
disputes was regarding the ownership of funds and interest owed to the Church from the British (Vattippanam). After years
of legal battle, the Court, declared that the group led by Mor Dionysus Joseph Pulikkottil, Malankara Metropolitan, was the
beneficiary of the funds. The person who helped Mor Dionysus to win this renowned court battle was a Knananite, Edavazhickal
Pothachan (E. M. Philip). His dedication to the Syrian Church and its causes made him Known as the "Nasrani Simham"
meaning Christian lion. Mor Joseph Pulikkottil's time (second half of the 19th Century) was probably the "Golden
Era" in the Malankara Syrian church history. His love and respect for Knananites were evident in having three Knananites
in his administration.
KNANAYA COMMITTEE AND THE DIOCESE
On January 21 (Makaram
8), 1882, with the blessings of Mor Joseph Pulikkottil, eleven Knanaya priests assembled at St. Stephen's Knanaya Church,
Veliyanadu, and formed an organization called "Malankara Jacobite Syrian Knanaya Committee". The meeting unanimously
elected E. M. Philip Edavazhickal as the secretary and Uthuppan Thomma Puthenpurackal (Vazhayil) as the treasurer. The formation
of this Knanaya Committee was a significant turning point in the Knanaya history. The Knanaya Committee codified rules and
guidelines for the administration of the nine churches existed as of that date. Further, the Knanaya Committee was instrumental
in bringing together the Knananites spread from Ramamangalam to Ranny based on their endogamous nature.
In 1910, upon
Knanaya Committee's request, Patriarch Ignatius Abdulla created a Knanaya Diocese with personal jurisdiction considering
their ethnic background (i.e., all Knananites and their churches, irrespective of location, will be administered by the Knanaya
Diocese). On August 31, 1910, the Patriarch ordained Fr. Geevarghese Edavazhickal (Mor Severious) as the first Knanaya Bishop.
Mor Severious Geevarghese, the first bishop of
the Knanaya Diocese, was the tenth priest from the Edavazhickal family. He was one of the three Knanaya priests who initiated
the formation of the Knanaya Committee. The foundation for the present Knanaya Church was laid during his tenure of 17 years.
The first constitution of the Knanaya Diocese (1918), the establishment of the Knanaya Association (representative body of
Knanaya churches) and the Severious Fund were few of the major achievements during Mor Severious' time. His Grace also
acquired the land (in Chingavanam) for the diocesan headquarters and began building the bishop's house (Ephraim Seminary).
Mor Severious passed away on June 11, 1927.
Mor Diascoros Thomas, the second bishop of the Knanaya Diocese,
was ordained as Metropolitan at Jerusalem in 1926. After the death of Mor Severious, the Patriarch appointed Mor Diascoros
as the diocesan Metropolitan. He was from the famous Thervaladi family descendants of the Knights of the 16th century Thekkumkoor
Kingdom. Mor Diascoros lived a very pious and simple life. Construction of the Ephraim Seminary building was completed during
his time. The Vanitha Mandiram (Kurichy) and Mor Severious High School (Ranny) were established during his time. The famous
Patriarchal Bull #42, known as the "Magna Carta" of Knanaya Diocese, was issued during Mor Severious' time.
This bull decrees that Knanaya Diocese always shall be under the Holy See of Antioch and that they have the right to get bishops
ordained by the Patriarch. Mor Diascoros joined Roman Catholic Church in November 1939.
For 12 years (1939-1951) after
Mor Diascoros, Knanaya Diocese continued without a bishop. During this period Very Rev. Thamarappallil Abraham Cor-Episcopa
and Very Rev. Purackal Thomas Cor-Episcopa served as administrators of the Diocese.
Mor Clemis Abraham,
V.I. Oonnittan or Oonnikunju was born in the Vayala family at Ranni, on April 22 1918 as the son of Mr. Idiculla Kochidiculla
Vayala and Pennamma Kalarickal as the sixth of their nine children In 1931, he was ordained M'Samrono by H.G. Thomas Dioskoros.
In 1932, he was ordained as a Korooyo at Ranni Valiapally by H. H. Ignatius Elias III. Dn.Oonnitten had the good fortune of
being taught by Mor Julius Bava and Abdul Ahad Ramban who later became the Patriarch on January 15, 1947. He was ordained
a priest at Ranni Valiyapally by Mar Julius Metropolitan in 1947
H. H. Patriarch Ignatius Aprem I ordained him a Ramban
on April 8, 1951 and as the third Metropolitan of the Knanaya Diocese on April 15, 1951 at the Patriarchal Cathedral in Homs
in Syria with the name Mor Clemis Abraham. Mor Clemis established himself as the veritable leader of not only the Knanaya
Community but also of the Malankara Church. As a result he was elected as the Malankara Metropolitan in 1957. In 1982, recognizing
his leadership and wisdom, His Holiness the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, decorated Mor Clemis with the highest honor
a bishop can receive, the title of “Kubernithi Hakimo” which means a ‘Wise Captain.’. Again in1989
His Holiness bestowed on Mor Clemis the position of “the Chief Metropolitan of the East” recognizing his continued
contributions to the whole Indian Christian Community. It is a position similar to that of the Catholicose.
Clemis made ecclesiastical visits to Ethiopia, Russia, the Middle East and many European countries. In 1956 the late Emperor
Haile Selasse of Ethiopia was the guest of honor of Mor Clemis. at Mar Ephraim Seminary, the headqurters of the Knanaya Diocese
in Chingavanam. Clemis Thirumeni was a key player in the Kerala politics. His political influence was so powerful that even
Mrs. Indira Gandhi went to his seminary in Chingavanam in 1970 to ask for his support as well as his advice. In 1997 none
other than the then Vice-President of India Mr. K.R. Narayanan inaugurated the bishop’s Jubilee celebrations. The Community
celebrated the Episcopal Jubilee of Mor Clemis on a grand scale in 2000 and His Holiness the Patriarch blessed the occasion
with his presence. Mor Clemis was warmly welcomed by the present Pope John Paul on two occasions in the company of His Holiness
the Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Zacha Iwas I Mor Clemis was also a guest at the palace of the late President of Syria,
Hafez Al Asaad He was a member of the World Council of Churches and attended several of its meetings. Mar Clemis’ tenure
saw the Knanaya Church make rapid strides. He will be best remembered as the spiritual giant who lent stability to the Knanaya
community and inspired its flagging spirits.
Mor Severios Kuriakose Edavazhickal:
His Grace Mor Sevarios
Kuriakose, ordained Metropolitan for the Knanaya diocese by the Patriarch of Antioch Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas on 15th
January 2004, is the fourth Metropolitan of the Knanaya diocese after its formation in 1910. The Consecration ceremony of
the Metropolitan was at the St.Peter and St.Paul Cathedral in the Monastery of St.Aphrem at Ma'arrat Seydnaya, Damascus,
Syria. His Grace assumed the seat following the demise of the Chief Metropolitan of the East, Mor Clemis Abraham, in September
2002 at the culmination of one of the longest reigns in Indian Christendom. Born into a family of priests on May 21, 1959,
Mor Sevarios Kuriakose (Kuriakose Abraham) is the first among seven children of Edavazhikkal Kunjavarachan and Mariamma of
Kottayam. His Grace is the second Metropolitan from the famous Edavazhikkal family; his predecessor being H.G. Gevargheese
Mor Sevarios who is also the first Metropolitan of the Knanaya Jacobite Syrian diocese. The well known Church historian E
M Philip who was the secretary to Malankara Metropolitan Pulikottil Joseph Mor Dionysius II, also belongs to the Edavazhikkal
A post-graduate in History and English, he gained his degree in theology from Menooth University, Ireland, and
PG in the same subject from Pourasthya Vidya Peeth, Vadavathoor, Kottayam. It was on 4 February 1990, Kuriakose Abraham has
been ordained Kassisso by the Chief Metropolitan of the East (late) Mor Clemis Abraham, assisted by Metropolitans late Mor
Theophilos Thomas (Outside Kerala diocese) and Mor Osthatheos Benyamin Joseph (Simhasana Church).
About a year after
the demise of Mor Clemis Abraham, on 18th December 2003, a special session of the Knanaya Association meeting was convened
in the headquarters of the Church at Chingavanom to elect a new Metropolitan for the congregation. The convention choose Fr.Kurikose
Abraham (Edavazhikkal Achen) to head the Knanaya community. On 12th January 2004 he was ordained Ramban (monk Priest) at the
Patriarchal Cathedral church at Damascus by H.H the Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas and three days after, on 15th January,
he was ordained Metropolitan
PRESENT DAY KNANAYA CHURCH
Knananites now reside all
over the world. There are 63 parishes all over India under the management of the Knanaya Church (There were only 3 Knanaya
churches as of the 18th Century). Additionally, under the North American Knanaya Diocese there are nine parishes in USA and
Canada. There are 68 knanaya priests serving parishes around the world. Following are some of the institutions under the Knanaya
Church/Individual parishes: Kurichy Vanitha Mandiram (convent); Ranny St. Thomas College; Othara Nazareth Ashram (poor home);
three working women's hostels; and Ranny Industrial Training School.
Spiritual Head: H. H. Mor Ignatius Zakka
I Was, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Metropolitan: His Grace Mor Severios Kuriakose Edavazhickal
Mor Ephraim Seminary, Chingavanam, Kerala, India.
NORTH AMERICAN KNANAYA COMMUNITY
With the arrival of Very Rev. Dr. K. M. Simon Cor-Episcopa (Simon Achen) in New York (1958) a new migration of Knananites
started to the U. S. and Canada. Most came here to further their education and to better their economic lot. Subsequently,
Mor Clemis' arrival to attend Union Theological Seminary in New York (1960) paved the way in establishment of the first
Malayali Church (all Christians from Kerala participated in this church irrespective of denominations) in North America. Sunday
services were regularly held at the Union Theological Seminary (Lampman Chapel) under the leadership of Very Rev. K. M. Simon.
With the arrival of more malayalis various denominations began their own services in various parts of the New York metropolitan
area. However, Knananites continued their church services at Lampman until they bought their first church in Yonkers, New
During Mor Clemis' second visit to the U.S. in 1982, he established the North American Knanaya Diocese (NAKD)
and appointed Rev. Dr. K. M. Simon Cor-Episcopa as the Administrator of the newly created diocese. Although Simon Achen is
retired he is still serving as the President of the Clergy Council.
Very Rev. Dr. Abraham Thomas Vazhayil Cor-Episcopa
was appointed as the Administrator of the North American Diocese in 1986. During the 10 years of his tenure, the North American
Knanaya Community has become very organized and has started many projects for its members. Now there are nine parishes (three
with owned churches) and a convent under NAKD. There are 11 knanaya priests and three nuns serving various parishes in North
America and Mary Magdalene Convent in Boston. There are approximately 350 Jacobite Knanaya families living in North America
Administrator : Rev.Fr.C.A. Thomas Chirathalackal
Association: A representative body of elected members from parishes/congregations.
NAKC Committee : The administrative
committee elected from the NAKC Association.
NAKYO Association of the Knanaya Youth
Knananites who joined the Roman Catholic Church also continued their endogamous practices. In 1911, the Pope created a separate
diocese for the Knanaya Catholics with Kottayam as headquarters. Archbishop Kuriakose Kunnassery is the present bishop. Like
the Jacobite Knananites, Knanaya Catholics also have the right to get a bishop of their own. Marriages between the Knanaya
Catholics and Knanaya Jacobites are allowed. There are approximately 2500 Knanaya Catholic families in North America. All
the traditions and rituals practiced by the Knanaya Jacobites are also practiced by the Knanaya Catholics.