Moral Living of the St. Thomas Christians during the Period of the Synod of Diamper

   
 Moral Living of the St. Thomas Christians during the Period of the Synod of Diamper
    Dominic Vechoor & Emmanuel Mundackal
Thiruvithamkode_Arappaly
Introduction
Christianity is not an idea but a way of life.   This understanding of Christian life as a ‘way of life’ is very clear from the apostolic time onwards (Acts 2, 42; 9, 1; 19, 9; 22, 4; 24, 22).  Thus, the Church of Christ is blessed with various unique ‘Christian ways of life’ or ‘orderings of Christian life’, which is very clearly affirmed by Vatican II (LG, 23; OE, 1-3; UR, 14-17). This article is a study on the unique ‘mode of Christian living’, practised by the St. Thomas Christians of India during the period of the Synod of Diamper.    
 The first part of the article gives a theological basis for a pluralistic approach to Catholic moral theology in the light of the communion ecclesiology of Vatican II. The second part deals with the moral living of the St. Thomas Christians during the period of the Synod of Diamper. The main source book used here is the Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes,  which gives a lot of information on the ecclesial life and social customs of the St. Thomas Christians of this period. The acts and decrees of the Synod of Diamper, especially of the ninth session, also provide a general picture of the life, customs and manners of the St. Thomas Christians during the sixteenth century.  The last part of the article deals with the present day moral formation in the Syro-Malabar Church, a vibrant community, inheriting the Thomas Christian tradition in the Catholic communion of Churches. 
1. Complementarity between the East and the West in Moral Theologizing Today
One of the major contributions of the Vatican II is the rediscovery of the true nature of Church as a communion of Churches (communio ecclesiarum).   As St. John Paul II rightly observes, “the Church, by Gods providence, gathered in the one Spirit, breaths as though with two lungs, of East and of the West, and burns with the love of Christ in one heart, having two ventricles”.  The rich diversity in the Church and in her theological understandings lead to a mutually enriching complementarity between the East and the West, which in turn  leads to better understanding of the different modes of Christian living (modus proprius fidei vivendi), existing in the context of the different cultural and ecclesial traditions. Here comes the ethical dimension of ecclesia sui iuris and the possibility of pluralistic approaches to moral theology.  
1.1. Ethical Dimension of Ecclesia Sui Iuris in the Catholic Communion of Churches
The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches canon 28 defines a rite “as the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary heritage, which is made distinct by the culture and circumstances of the history of peoples and which is manifested by its own manner of living the faith by each Church sui iuris”.  Each individual Church lives the ethos of a specific culture and of a particular ecclesial tradition. This leads to diverse understandings of Christian life. The Eastern Churches have their own unique ecclesial and disciplinary heritages.  As B. Griffiths explains, “the Eastern Church has preserved a way of life and thought, which finds expression in its liturgy, which is quite different from the traditions of the West. It is steeped in the tradition of the Bible, Fathers of the Church and the symbolic mode of thought”. 
1.2. Mar Thoma Margam as the Faith and Moral Living of the St. Thomas Christians
The Thomas Christians of India trace their origin back to apostle St. Thomas. In the words of St. John Paul II, “this is a Church of very ancient Oriental rite going back to the preaching of Apostle Thomas according to an ancient tradition, and in fact, the Malabar faithful are still designated by the title of Christians of St. Thomas. It is to the glory of this Church that it has not ever been severed from communion with the Church of Rome in a continuity that the enormous geographic distance has never been able to break”.  The Malabar Church believes that the Christ experience of Apostle Thomas forms part of its original patrimony and spirituality.   The original apostolic tradition does not exist in the abstract. It has its concrete existence in the life of the Church through its liturgy, theology, moral life, spirituality, administrative system, local customs and traditions, etc. The vibrant Malabar Church and her unique patrimony of faith are proofs for the quality of faith, transmitted by St. Thomas the Apostle. The St. Thomas Christians faithfully preserved, heroically lived and integrally handed on the faith which they had received from the Apostle without any alternation or modification.
The faith, when it is lived, becomes the moral life of the faithful, which is the life in Christ. Hence the moral life is a life in Christ with its different dimensions.  St. Thomas Christians of India have a sound and solid moral vision and life style according to the ethos of the Indian culture.  The St. Thomas Christians of India made use of the term Mar Thoma Margam which adequately expresses the whole of their liturgical, theological, ecclesiastical, moral, spiritual, ascetical and socio-cultural life styles and ethos of the Thomas Christians.  It was considered as the touch stone of their orthodoxy, authenticity and ecclesial identity .   The St. Thomas Christians treasured very much the Mar Thoma Margam because they believed that they inherited it from the Apostle Thomas. In the introductory lines of Varthamanapusthakam,  Paremakkal Thomman Kathanar writes in the following words: “By the infinite mercy of God and by the merits of the apostle St. Thomas, its first apostle and founder, our community has until now followed faithfully as far as it could, the customs and the way of life of our forefathers, who confessed the name of God and suffered much for the same in the midst of pagans and other peoples…”.   They considered the Mar Thoma Margam as a great patrimony and it was the warp and woof of their spiritual life.  The remarkable feature of this Mar Thoma Margam was that it was thoroughly Christian and Oriental and well adapted to the socio-cultural life of India.  The moral living of the St. Thomas Christians is to be understood in the background of the unique ecclesiological heritages and perspectives of this ancient Christian community.
2. Moral Living of St. Thomas Christians during the Period of the Synod of
Diamper
An assessment of the Christain life of St. Thomas Christains in the 16th century will help us to know more about their Christian Living.  According to the available sources, the life and behaviour of the Thomas Christians were intimately related to their social and religious status. They were always esteemed and patronized by their rulers as much for their general fidelity and regard for truth as for their skill and military powers.  The high degree of moral standard of the St. Thomas Christians had always been appreciated not only by their non-Christian brethren but also by the foreign visitors.
2.1. Ecclesial Life
The descriptions in the 18th chapter of the first book of Jornada, deal with the ecclesial life of the Thomas Christians.  It also dwells upon the so-called ‘errors of St. Thomas Christians’ related to faith and ecclesiastical matters. The main accusations are the following: these Christians do not have communion with the holy Roman Church, they deny the title of Mary, Mother of God, they do not admit images except the cross, they know only the sacraments of baptism, ordination and Eucharist, and the form of the administration of baptism was different.  This chapter speaks about the style of confession among the St. Thomas Christians as follows: “Throughout this Christian community they were fed up with confession nor did they discuss it in any way and in its place they first used to put some embers in the middle of the church on Sundays and they threw in it a lot of incense, and all approached it, each one diverting with his hand its smoke to his chest, saying that with that smoke his sins were going outside his soul.  Before the arrival of the Portuguese, the St. Thomas Christians used to consecrate bread, made of oil and salt and used the wine of dried grapes or of the coconut for the Eucharistic celebration.  The language of the celebration of the Holy Qurbana and prayers was Syriac.  The ceremony of matrimony among the Thomas Christians is described as follows: “By throwing a wire from the neck of the bridegroom to the bride”.  It refers to the incultured ceremony of tying of the tali on the neck of the bride by bridegroom. The Priests of the St. Thomas Christians used to be ordained at the age of 17, 18 or 20 and they were all married.   
The book gives various proofs for the rigid practices of the St. Thomas Christians on lent, fasting, frequent Church visit and praying with prostration. The Christians wash their entire body early in the morning on the day of the fast. The ponds attached to the ancient churches in Kerala are the proof for this practice, which was also used as the Baptismal pond.  The St. Thomas Christians are known as the lovers of lent and fast.   On Wednesdays and Fridays, they ate fish. Fasting during the lent was practised.  They did not eat more than once a day before the sunset; on fasting days they did not eat fish, eggs, milk products nor drink wine and they also did not go to their women.  Throughout the lent they entered every day three times in the church, praying most prostrated with the face to the earth.  The feasts started from sunset to sunset.  The practice of the pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Thomas and the use of the mud collected from these holy places adds to the antiquity of the faith of St. Thomas Christians. These Christians were making the sign of the cross from the right to the left.  Cases of murder were unheard among the St. Thomas Christians.  Excommunication was the penalty for murder. 
The structural design of the church of the St. Thomas Christians was like that of the temples of the Hindus.  The description about the St. Thomas Cross in the Jornada is very ancient: The Churches were “full of Crosses like those of the miraculous cross of Mylapore, which they call Cross of Saint Thomas, from which it can be seen how ancient the veneration to this Cross among the Thomas Christians is. The old churches built by these Christians many years before the arrival of the Portuguese to India, were all adorned by them’’  And it is clearly witnessing the celebration of the feast of July 03 and the feast on December 18, the cross of the St. Thomas was sweat blood. 
The St. Thomas Christians in the Malabar were pious and religious. They were responsible to God and to men.  This people gave great reverence to their Bishops.  The Bishops were given seats by the side of kings and their chief officers, sitting on carpets, a privilege enjoyed by the ambassadors, was also conceded to them.  The Bishops had a vital role in the life of the St. Thomas Christians.  “By agreement which they have among themselves and a very old custom of their Christian community all its government has been entrusted to its Bishop”.  It is the perfect answer to the Christian agreement related to litigation among Christians. The judgment by the Bishop is known as Ola, which is the provision signed by the Bishop. This judgment did not have any appeal.
2.2. The Socio-Cultural Life
The 19th Chapter of the first book of Jornada discusses on the various customs of the St. Thomas Christians in secular and cultural matters. 
2.2.1. A Patriarchal Community
The St. Thomas Christian community followed the patriarchal system.  The   rigidity of this custom was clear from the very incident which was described by Antonio De Gouvea as follows:  “a father having many daughters died and his entire estate passing on to a male relative of the third, fourth or more degrees even of the transverse line”.  The women did not eat with men; wives and husbands were also not an exception to this. Women did not address or speak of her husband using their latter name. In the house women always kept to their quarters.  They never appeared before men guests unless they are their relatives.
2.2.2. Modesty in Dress Code
The dress of the St. Thomas Christian men was same as the local Nair people, a dominant group among theSyrian christian family Hindus in Kerala. It consists of a piece of cloth tied round the waist and another thrown over the shoulders. They wore arm rings of gold or silver and in front well stitched silk clothes. Some wear very rich clothes enclosed with some silk ribbons, or belts, and girdles of gold, very well decorated with stones.  All the St. Thomas Christians go with swords and shields and many of them with guns and lances. But they leave them when they go the churches.   The St. Thomas Christians were having long hair bound at the top of the head flanked by a cross of gold or silver.  It was the only distinction between the St. Thomas Christians and the native Nairs. Their ears were pierced and in them many used to wear ear rings. 
The St. Thomas Christian women were also very modest in their dress. The particular dress codes of the women were very much appreciated and represented high honesty. The dress of these women covered their entire body around the face, down until the feet.  The life of the women in this community was extremely honest.
2.2.3. Traders, Agriculturists and Great Combatants  
The St. Thomas Christians were very rich people. They were mainly agriculturists and traders. They were men with much moral sense and very good understanding.  These Christians were charitable and compassionate to one another. They treated their captives very well.  Simplicity in life and deep trust in God are their virtues.  The St. Thomas Christians in Malabar were the best warrior people in Malabar.  They used big guns and were experts in firing.  From the very young age they were trained to use guns.
2.2.4. Lovers of Herbs   
The St. Thomas Christians of Malabar were the lovers of herbs. The Ayurvedic treatment was attached with their daily schedule. The practice of oil massage was very popular among them.  So the interest of St. Thomas Christians regarding their physical fitness and health was much appreciated.   The meals are ordinarily boiled rice with curry. St. Thomas Christians seldom eat meat.
2.2.5. Communion and Brotherly Love
The St. Thomas Christians gathered on certain days in the porches of the churches and they had their meals in common. The leadership of these gatherings was done by the management of churches or by the rich men who make a vow to the church to give this dinner.  In this gathering, the rich and poor were fed well.  The protection and maintenance of the poor and widows had always been one of the chief concerns of the Church of St. Thomas Christians.
2.2.6. Loyalty to the King and to the Nation
 It is a well documented fact that the St. Thomas Christians were always loyal subjects to the rulers of Cochin and Travancore.  They were subjects to gentile kings in whose lands they lived and paid them their taxes and obeyed their rulers and observe their laws. The Syrian Christians were preferred to the Nairs and enjoyed the privilege of being called by no other name than that of the sons of kings. They were permitted to wear gold tresses in the hair locks in marriage feasts, to ride on elephants and to decorate the floor with carpets.  The Christians were directly under the king and were not subjects to local chiefs. A Hindu doing violence to a Christian had his crime pardoned, only in the case of his offering to the church, a hand either of gold or silver according to the seriousness of the offence, as otherwise the crime was expiated by his own blood.  
2.2.7. Honesty and Sincerity
There were prominent merchants among the St. Thomas Christians, who were trading with foreign countries on a large scale.  These merchants were considered to be equal to the Jews who were also traders. Service to the nation was the important purpose of business. Profit was only a secondary motive. These merchants were considered the protectors of the land. They were giving clear details of their business accounts to the state and to the Church authorities.  St. Thomas Christians were always esteemed and patronized by their rulers as much for their general fidelity and regard to truth as for their skill and military powers.  Their disposition was very peace loving.  Ananthakrishna Ayyer is of the opinion that the Syrian Christians were a noble race of Malabar and is mostly like Nairs in their physical characteristics.  The Syrian Christians had the personal qualities like straight forwardness, honesty and truthfulness.
2.2.8. Respect towards Elders and Courtesy towards Strangers
The Syrian Christians showed respect towards the parents and elders. They paid strict attention to the fourth commandment of honouring their father and mother. They never sat in the presence of their parents, seniors, elder brothers, ministers or superiors of any description; and when once seated, they did not think of rising again before dismissed. In their assemblies none spoke other than the oldest and most eminent persons present; the younger ones never opened their lips unless questioned by their elders.  When two Syrians met on the road, the younger puts out his arm and presents his hand to the elders respectfully bowing his head.   
2.2.9. Nobility of Character
St. Thomas Christians always had a very high social status. They enjoyed a number of privileges which were the testimonies of the high position they had in the society.  They always tried to live up to their status.
2.2.10. The Custom of Untouchability
The custom of not touching the low caste was practiced among the St. Thomas Christians too but it was not rigid as that of the Nairs.  These customs were very common among the non- Christians in Malabar. The Jornada itself says that the St. Thomas Christians could understand that this was a vanity and superstition yet, they observed it because on the moment they violated this style they would not be able to communicate with the Nairs nor can they had dealings and trade of any sort, nor would they be able to live comfortably nor would they be allowed to continue to enjoy the honours they held.
3. The Ninth Session of the Synod of Diamper on the Reformation of Manners
The acts and decrees of the synod of Diamper provide a picture of the life, customs and manners of the St. Thomas Christians during the sixteenth century. The ninth session of the synod discusses on the reformation of the manners. The St. Thomas Christians lived in a multi religious context. It must be admitted that pagan belief and practices were quite common in the Christian community of the 16th century.  Many of the customs originated as Hindu and non Christian were all traces of a local and indigenous version of Christianity. Some such practices might appear to be superficial and superstitious. But similar customs existed everywhere and exist even today.  The decrees of the ninth session speak of the so called superstitions, immoral and heathenish practices etc. existed among the St. Thomas Christians of that time.
3.1. Decree 1: Abolition of Superstitious Customs
This decree accuses many heathenish vanities such as washing of the dead body, bathing of the members of the family of the deceased, making of circles with rice, taking a thread out of a cloth when it is cut and taking back two grains of paddy after having measured and sold it.   In short washing of the dead body and bathing of the members of family of the deceased had only purificatory and hygienic value.  Making of artistic designs with rice has been an art form, practised even today among the Brahmins of Kerala. First feeding of a child with rice is very common in Malabar. Taking a thread out of a cloth when it is cut and taking back grains of paddy after having measured and sold it were only local social customs.
3.2. Decree 2:  Reforms against Untouchability
The second decree deals with the custom of untouchability, which was very common in Malabar. If the St. Thomas Christians would not have practiced the untouchability, it could have badly affected their relation with the Nairs of Malabar. The synod did not ask the St. Thomas Christians to avoid this practice fully.  The Portuguese wanted to continue the trade relations with the natives.
3.3. Decrees 3 – 4: Against Heathenish Purifications and Festivities
The third decree forbids the Christians from the heathenish purification ceremonies of the wells and cisterns touched by the low caste people.  This decree declared certain punishments to those who follow this practice. But the Thomas Christians have the responsibility of protecting the people of seventeen low castes.
            The fourth decree was a later addition. This decree commanded that the Christians should not attend the heathen festivities.  It was good to forbid the practice of wounding and killing related with the celebration of Onam, a local festival in Kerala. But the synod commanded the Christians not to participate in any heathen festivity. It really isolated the St. Thomas Christians from other religions. This kind of Portuguese discrimination slowed down the growth of Christianity in India and the inculturation.
3.4. Decree 5: Regarding Women after Child Birth
The fifth decree gives directions for women after child birth.  The synod gave permission to the women that they could enter into the church after 40 days of the delivery, if it is a male child and after 80 days, if it is a female child. The synod itself agreed that it was a holy custom. The practice of this custom among the St. Thomas Christians indicates the Jewish background of the Malabar Church. 
3.5. Decrees 6 – 8: About Consulting Witches, Witchcrafts and Diabolical Charms
The sixth, seventh and eight decrees spoke about the witches, fortune tellers, witchcraft, conjuring and diabolical charms. Sixth decree spoke that the consultation to the witches done for various purposes, on the occasion of marriage, for restoring health, to have children and to discover stolen things.  The seventh decree prohibited the practice of witchcraft or conjuring both in their houses and other places. The practices like killing cocks, dancing and singing, etc. were also described here.  All these practices are really against the spirit of Christianity. Therefore the synod prohibited them. Those who did these practices were excommunicated and priest would not visit their home and they would not give exchange of peace (casture) to them. These deviations of the St. Thomas Christians were corrected by the synod, which is praiseworthy.  The eighth decree speaks against the diabolical charms, seen among the Christians.  They were used for the flourishing of cattle and agriculture.
3.6. Decrees 9 – 11: Regarding Unfair Interest of Money, Extortion and Concubinage
The ninth and tenth decrees of the synod of Diamper took a stand against the Christians, who bought high interest of money. The eleventh decree forbids the practice of concubinage among the St. Thomas Christians, who were not following the obligatory monogamy.  Decree twelve of the seventh session also forbids the practice of polygamy among the Christians and imposes strict monogamy.
3.7. Decrees 12-13: Regarding the Servants and Slaves
The twelfth decree recommended all masters and fathers of families to take care of their slaves. This decree instructed that the black women should be provided opportunities for their spiritual growth.  The entrance of the low caste people into the St. Thomas Christian community was made possible only after the Portuguese intervention. So the number of the Christian slaves mighty be less during this period. The thirteenth decree is a later addition. This decree forbids the buying and selling of children and keeping  them as slaves.
3.8. Decree 14: About Wives’ Portion to the Church
The fourteenth decree praised the custom of St. Thomas Christians of giving the tithe of their wives portion to the Church during the time of marriage.  This decree tried to introduce this practice to the whole part of the diocese. This custom indicated the attachment of St. Thomas Christians to their own Church. It was a rare decree where the Archbishop Menezes appreciated the St. Thomas Christians.
3.9. Decree 15 – 16: Regarding Disputes of Christians and Heathenish Ordeals and Oaths
The fifteenth and sixteenth decrees are seen only in the Portuguese versions. These decrees state that the disputes of Christians were to be decided by the bishop.
The sixteenth decree stands against the use of heathenish ordeals and oaths. Amidst the infidel kings the people faced many inhuman ways to find out the criminals like trial by dipping ones hand in boiling oil, by handling bars of hot bars of iron and swimming through rivers full of snakes etc.  The Portuguese position against the laws of kings led them to some kind of tensed relations with the kingdom. But it is praiseworthy that such barbaric laws were prohibited by the Synod.
3.10. Decree 17: Concerning Dress Code
The seventeenth decree is related with the dress and ornaments of St. Thomas Christians. It propagates that the Christians are to be distinguished from the heathen by their dress.  St. Thomas Christians were having long hair bound at the top of the head flanked by a cross of gold or silver. It was the only distinction between St. Thomas Christians and that of the native Nairs. The decree said that the St. Thomas Christians had not any distinction between the non-believers either in their habits or in their hair. It also banned the men to bore their ears. It is a fact that these practices of the Portuguese made a wide gap between the Christians with the non believers. It badly affected the good relation between the fellow communities in Malabar.
3.11. Decrees 18 – 19: Regarding Spirituous Liquors and Different Weights
The eighteenth decree banned the use and sale of spirituous liquors by Christians,  The The nineteenth decree was against the use of different weights and measures.  It is very clear that the St. Thomas Christians were mostly traders. But the use of different weights and measures in a market should have been corrected. We should keep in mind that the western style of accuracy in calculating weights and measuring were implemented only later in Malabar.
3.12. Decree 20: Concerning Female Inheritances
Decree twenty spoke about the female inheritance.  St. Thomas Christian community was a patriarchal community where the female inheritance was rare. Here the synod made a tremendous proclamation that the female can also have a share of the property of their fathers. But this decree was not fully practiced in the community. Later the famous verdict in 1986 on Mary Roy’s case gave the equal share of father’s property to the daughters. 
3.13. Decrees 21 – 22: On the Adoption of Sons and the Sanction
The decrees twenty one and twenty two were a later addition. It dealt with the adoption of sons and the sanction of such adoption by the Bishop.  The synod announced the adoption of sons illegal except in default of children. These adoptions might have been created due to the urgent need of a male inheritance. Decree twenty two forbade the bishop to sanction such adoption. This decree itself said that it was an ancient custom.
3.14. Decree 23: Regarding Christian Villages
Decree twenty third wanted that all Christians should dwell together in villages. It also insisted to build new villages with churches and they became separated from the communication with infidels.  By pronouncing this decree the Christians were separated from the other communities.
3.15. Decrees 24 – 25: Christians under Portugal Protection
The twenty fourth decree speaks about the desire of the king of Portugal to take the Christians under his protection. The Synod asked the St. Thomas Christians to be ready at all times to sacrifice their lives to their holy Catholic faith.  
The twenty fifth decree ordered all vicars to have a copy of these decrees.  It was the method of Archbishop Menezes to circulate the Diamperitan reforms in the entire Church of Thomas Christians. 
4. After-effects of the Synod of Diamper on the Christian Living of Thomas Christians
The sixteenth century tradition of this individual Church was much affected by the synod of Dimaper. The zealous Portuguese missionaries saw everything in the Malabar Church as heresy. It is true to say that many customs and traditions of the Malabar Church were different from those of the Portuguese missionaries. Through the synod, they tried to implement the Western style of religious elements into the Malabar Church.  Several decrees in the ninth session were intended to cut-off the St. Thomas Christians from their relation with the non Christians in Malabar. These reforms isolated St. Thomas Christians from other communities.
5. Present Day Moral Formation in the Syro-Malabar Church
The St. Thomas Christians in India have their own historically continuous way of Christian living, though of course with certain additions and exchanges.   Inheriting the faith patrimony of the Thomas Christian tradition, Syro-Malabar Church is a flourishing Eastern Church in the catholic Communion of Churches.  The vibrant Malabar Church itself is the proof for its authentic Christian living. Moral formation is basically faith formation and an ecclesial formation.  Here below, we propose a few basic orientations of this moral formation.
5.1. Family Based and Parish Centered Formation
Family plays a vital role in the faith and moral formation of the faithful in the Syro Malabar Church.  The Thomas Christians are known for their good religious traditions in their families.  The initial faith formation such as learning to make the sign of the cross, the invocation of the names of Ishomisiha (Jesus Christ), mother Mary, St. Joseph and other saints and learning the basic prayers etc. are done in the family itself.  The habit of family prayer in the evening belongs to the very life and practice of the Thomas Christians.   The custom of family prayer and the practice of giving kaikasthuri (Praise be to Jesus Christ) with folded hands at the end of the prayer is an age old custom among the Thomas Christians.   Besides this, various other spiritual traditions are being practised in the family like the celebration of pesaha (breaking of a special paschal bread) on the Holy Thursday evening, ceremonies related to the birth of  a child, beginning of education, marriage, death, etc..    The parish, in turn, through its ministry of the word of God, liturgical celebrations and life of communion and love, continues the faith and moral formation in a more ecclesial way.  The Thomas Christians had deep love and respect for the parish church, priests and bishops.  Therefore a family based and parish centered moral formation will continue to nurture and foster the moral formation of our faithful.
5.2. Ecclesial and Liturgical Formation
Christian existence is basically communitarian and ecclesial. The Thomas Christians realize their faith life as an ecclesial experience, lived as a community of the people of God, headed by the eparchial Bishop and the local pastors.  Their age old Church institution called palli yogam (parish council) has been a significant aspect of their ecclesial communion and co-responsibility.  It is the yogam which takes decision in all important matters, including the promotion of candidates to priesthood and the punishments for the offenders of the laws.  They manage the matters of faith and morals in a familial spirit rather than in a juridical manner.
The liturgy, being the source, summit and expression of Christian life, is the founding element of moral life in every Christian tradition.  Liturgy has a fundamental role in the moral formation of the faithful in the fields of of justice and love.    The liturgy is the existential participation in the paschal mysteries of Christ.  The Christian life of the St. Thomas Christians was centred on the sacraments, especially on Holy Qurbana.  The celebration of the Holy Qurbana inculcates a mature involvement of the faithful in the world and in the day to-day life. The Thomas Christians were also known for their active participation in the liturgy of the hours in line with the Jewish and early Christian custom of praying in different hours. 
5.3. Pastoral Care of the Immigrants
One third of the members of the Syro-Malabar Church are living outside its proper territory. Today the Syro-Malabar Church faces several challenges like the alienation from their liturgical tradition, growing without proper knowledge of their mother Church, mixed and inter religious marriages and the lack of catechetical formation etc. By erecting eparchies and exarchate outside the proper territory, the universal Church accepts and records the vital role and importance of the Syro-Malabar Church. The Major Archbishop of Syro Malabar Church, Cardinal Alencherry writes, “….. As far as the Syro Malabar Church is concerned, it is the special character of our style of ecclesial life that stands at the basis of our growth.  The sons and daughters of our Church become zealous in their life of faith, when all the following elements come together such as our way of celebration of the Holy Qurbana, the manner of reception of the other sacraments, method of catechesis, unique style of functioning of our educational, health care, charitable and social welfare activities, the style of governance of the Church with the participation of the laity in palliyogam and major archiepiscopal assemblies, fast and penance, family prayer, activities of family units, celebration of feasts, pilgrimages, etc.…Our migrants take great interest in living their Christian life in spite of the limited pastoral care they receive…”.
5.4. Sensitivity to the Social Realities of Life
The St. Thomas Christians contributed greatly towards the progress of Kerala.  At present the Church’s response to the different social issues shows Church’s role in society. Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India. Christians have a great share in this education revolution.  Syro-Malabar Church has been always at the service of the poor and oppressed. The institutions like orphanages, old age homes and houses for the differently abled, mentally challenged and palliative units are the examples for the Church’s social responsibility. In the medical field, hospitals run by the dioceses and religious congregations give quality treatment at cheaper rates and are more approachable for the general public. The Church’s contribution in agricultural development, commercial development, construction of roads, bridges and canals in the rural areas, etc. sculptured the names of St. Thomas Christians in golden letters.  
General Conclusion
The moral living of St. Thomas Christians of the 16th century is an inspiring model of an inculurated Christian living.  Mar Thoma Margam stands for the cultural symbiosis of the St. Thomas Christians of India.  Amidst the pagan surroundings, the St. Thomas Christians were watchful of their faith, moral and social life. The moral life of the St. Thomas Christians is marked by its unwavering fidelity to Christian moral tradition down through the centuries, which is founded on Gospel values.  The Christian living of St. Thomas Christians was mainly a virtue ethics rather than a rational and systematic presentation of moral concepts.  As a flourishing Church in the communion of the universal Church, the strong family relations, parish centeredness, ecclesial, liturgical and the social orientations add beauty to the Christian living of the Syro Malabar Church.  The saints (St. Alphonsa, St. Chavara Kuriakose Elias and St. Euprasia), the blesseds ( Bl. Mariam Thresia and Bl. Kunjachan), the venerables and many other Servants of God, whose process for canonization have already been started stand as authentic models of Christian life from the Thomas Christian Community for the universal Church.
The rediscovery of the communion ecclesiology by Vatican II helps the Church to uphold the rich heritage and patrimony of different cultural and ecclesial traditions. Just as the different colours make rainbow more beautiful and attractive, the different cultural and ecclesial traditions in the Catholic Communion of Churches make the Church more adorned.  Both the Eastern and Western theological traditions complement each other.  
A pluralistic approach to moral theology and inculturation in moral theology are the felt needs of the time.  We conclude this article with an observation of Pope Francis:  “…Cultures are in fact quiet diverse and every general principle- as I said, dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s magisterium – needs to be incculturated, if it is to be respected and applied….Inculturation is the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the taking root of Christianity in the various human cultures.  Inculturation does not weaken true values but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures”.   
Pin It

Comments are closed.