Archdeacon or Arkadiyakon in Malayalam was “the prince and head of the Christians of Saint Thomas” and had such titles as “Archdeacon and Gate of All India, Governor of India.” Under the Metropolitan of Saint Thomas Christianity send by the Patriarch of Seleucia- Ctesiphon , there existed from ancient times the office of the Archdeacon (Arkadiyakon). The temporal administrations of the church of St.Thomas Christians were conducted by Archdeacons (Arkadiyakons) who were very influential in the society.
With the arrival of Portuguese in Kerala, the Church in India in the Sixteenth century began to undergo many changes of different type. After the Syond of Diamper, under the Latin prelates from the beginning of the Seventeenth century, the competence and the office of the Indian Archdeaconate ( office of Arkadiyakon) gradually diminished. Finally after a century, after a series of deception the office itself was left unprovided.
These changes were not a natural progress in the Indian Church. On the contrary it was a coerced change executed under the missionaries. It was an aberration- a deviation from the genuie structure of Church of Thomas Christians. Those who are thinking of restoring the genuine form of Church of Saint Thomas Christians, could also restore the glorious institute of Archdeaconate, adapting it of course to the exigencies of our time.
Among the Catholic Syrians, the last Archdeacon was Mathew who was the nephew of the first indigenous Bishop Mar Chandy Parampil of Kuravilangad. He was nominated in 1678 (1694) under the Portuguese Padroado. He died on 1706 and since then the office was left un provided.
Among the Malankara Syriac Orthodox, after the Coonan Cross Oath, Archdeacon Thomas became the Bishop as Mar Thoma I in 1653. Thus the role was changed from Archdeacon to Bishop . His line continued in the Malankara Syriac Orthodox until it was replaced by Mar Dionysios II in 1815 .
From the available records, Archdeacon was a hereditary position from the Parambil family of Kuravilangad. Some say it was from Shankarapuri and Pakalomattam families earlier. In this way the See of Archdeacons existed at Kuravilangadu.
This article briefly outlines the 1) Role of Archdeacons, 2) Distinct Characteristics of Nasrani Archdeacon, 3) List of known Archdeacons 4) Tomb of Archdeacons at the Archdeacon Nagar Kuravilangadu 5) Efforts to restore Archdeaconate of India and 6) Summary.
1. Role of Archdeacons (Arkadiyakon) in Saint Thomas Christian Community
Archdeacon was “the prince and head of the Christians of Saint Thomas” and had such titles as “Archdeacon (Arkadiyakon) and Gate of All India, Governor of India.”
According to the traditional structure, the Indian diocese of the Church of the East was governed by a Metropolitan sent by the Patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. At the same time, on the local level, the affairs of the India Church were governed by the Malabar yogam, that is the Assembly. There was also an indigenous head of the Church of Malabar, called “Archdeacon (Arkadiyakon) of All India.” which, according to historians, means “the head of the caste,” that is, the head of the St Thomas Christians, but also the “Archdeacon of All India.” One local palm leaf document also call this position in Malayalam as “Jatikku Karthavian“.
This was a peculiar characteristic of the St Thomas Christian community, which was combined with an existing function of the Church of the East or Chaldean Church with broader powers.
2. Distinct Characteristics of Nasrani Archdeacon (Arkadiyakon)
2.1 Origin and Evolution
There are no authentic documents available about the origin of the office of Archdeacon (Arkadiyakons). Many people has tried their own interpretations with some existing polemic literature. The reference of Patriarch Timothy as “Arken” in eight century refers to Archdeacon or Arkadiyakon. There are also some fragmentary evidences which suggests existance of Indian Bishops in the early Church of Saint Thomas Christians. The Bishops in Indian Church some time after ninth century were Chaldeans or Persians in origin. It is not known if the evolution of the office of Arkadiyakons are linked with early Indian Bishops for want of further evidences.
2.2 Archdeacon VS Arkadiyakon
In Malayalam language locally this position is still known as Arkadiyakon. The pre- Portuguese tomb of Arkadiyakon’s at Kuravilanagadu is known in the name of Arkadiyakons. Most of scholars who have studied about the office of Arkadiyakon has compared it with an existing office of other churches in different liturgical traditions called Archdeacon. They have also concluded that this is a distinct position in comparison to any other church. It is not known, if this was a distinct position from the beginning of evolution of the office of Arkadiyakon. Such a hypothesis holds value based on the fact that Patriarch of Seleucia- Ctesiphon Thimothy in eight centurycalls “Arken” the head of faithful in India .
2.3 Secular leader
The Archdeacon had all the attributes of a secular leader and was normally escorted by a number, sometimes several thousands, of soldiers.
2.4 Several bishops, One Archdeacon
It is important to note that while there could be several bishops appointed for the Malabar Diocese, there was always only one Archdeacon. This was a custom contrary to the canons of the Chaldean Church.
2.5 Socio-political, Princely role
In East Syriac Church, the Archdeacon was an ecclesiastical function, but from that of the St Thomas Christian community it was also a socio-political, princely function, representing the unity of the Christian nation, or caste of Hindu India.
The Kings and Princes used to consider him as the chief of Christians. The kings of Cochin used to give royal insignias to the newly elected Archdeacons. Armed Bodyguards used to escort the Archdeacons on their journeys. On behalf of the Christians he used to parley with the rulers and negotiated with local chieftains.
2.6 Role of Bishops & Archdeacons
These bishops who come from Chaldea used to ordain priests, gave sacraments, bless churches, bless “syth” and performed other functions. The metropolitans used to be known as the head of See of Saint Thomas, exercising supremacy over Indian Church. The Metropolitans used to exercise their control over the Church through the Archdeacons. In practical and day-to-day functioning of the Church Archdeacon exercised superintendence.
The Archdeacons were the right arm of the Metropolitan Bishop, and in their absence or vacancy held spiritual control of the Church also. They also exercised many special powers. Selection of Seminarians, appointing and transferring of priests, exercising temporal powers over the church properties, collecting the levies from the faithful etc fell within the domain of the powers of Archdeacon. Some reports suggest that the Archdeacons in certain situations also had episcopical role as well. An example being the Archdeacon Jacob appointed by Mar Simon.
2.7 Archdeacon in East Syriac Church and Saint Thomas Christians
According to the canons of the East Syriac Church, the Archdeacon is the highest priestly rank. Archdeacon is the head of all the clerics belonging to a bishopric who is responsible for the whole worship of the cathedral church and represents the will of the bishop in his absence.
The rank of the Archdeacon in India was much more important than this. The Indian Archdeacon fulfilled the role of an Ethnarch. He was “the prince and head of the Christians of Saint Thomas” and had such titles as “Archdeacon and Gate of All India, Governor of India.” The origin and the meaning of the term “Gate” is mysterious. One might suppose that it is a Christological title: “I am the Gate of the sheep” (Jn 10:7).
2.8 Distinct position in comparison to any other Church
Archdeacon of Kerala Church was not an equal position to the Arch-deacons of any other Church. The position of Archdeacon exists in Latin, Byzantine, Areminian, Alexandrain, Antiochean and Chaldean rites. The Archdeacon of Saint Thomas Christians was a much larger entity with wider powers and exalted position. He was called prince of believers, Lord of the Christians, and Archdeacon of the whole of India.
2.9 Hereditary Succession
The Archdeacon in the Church of the East or Chaldean Church was elected by the bishop according to merit. The office of the Archdeacon of India seems to have been hereditary. It was the privilege of the Pakalomattam family, at least from the sixteenth century onwards. History has left us the details of a number of Pakalomattam Archdeacons, beginning with 1502, when Metropolitan John of India appointed George Pakalomattam.
The name of the family varies, and the family seems to be identical with the Parambil family of Kuravilangad, translated into Portuguese as De Campo. The patriarchal succession seem to have happened for Archdeacons until the 18th Century. Malankara Syriac Orthodox Metropolitans of Pakalomattam family also had patriarchal succession from 17th till 18th century. The word nephew used in the text shall not be misunderstood as sister’s son, it means only successor. The Syrian Christians followed Patrillineal succession of Brahmins. Hence word usually means brother’s son.
3. List of known Archdeacons (Arkadiyakon) of Saint Thomas Christians
There are only very little information about Saint Thomas Christians before the arrival of Portuguese in India. The Chaldeans held the Church of India as a province under their Patriarch who used to send Metropolitans to govern it. The names and succession list of most of the Archdeacons prior to the Portuguese period is not known to us. After the arrival of the Portuguese, their records has mentioned about Archdeacons. The following list of Archdeacons are compiled using the ” The Archdeacon of All India” by Dr. Jacob Kollaparambil.
|Archdeacon ( Arkadiyakon) Name- Appointed by||Year|
|Patriarch Thimothy calls Archdeacon ( Arken), head of faithful of India||c.780-826|
|Metropolitan Mar John appoints George Pakalomattam ( Ittikuriath) as Archdeacon||1502|
|Followed by Archdeacons Jacob and Alexander according to tradition||Dates unknown|
|Archdeacon George of Christ ( Mentioned in 1552 documents onwards)||c.1552-1585|
|Archdeacon John ( exact dates not known)||c.1585-1591|
|Archdeacon Jacob appointed by Mar Simon ( exact dates not known)||c. 1584-1596|
|Archdeacon George of the Cross appointed by Archbishop Mar Abraham||1593-1640|
|Archdeacon Thomas appointed by Archbishop Brito. In 1653 Archdeacon Thomas was consecrated as Bishop Mar Thoma I, thus the role was changed and his line continued till Mar Thoma VIII in 1815 among the Malankara Syriac Orthodox.||1640-1653|
|Archdeacon Kunju Mathai appointed by Archbishop Gracia SJ||1656- unknown|
|Archdeacon Mathew appointed by Mar Chandy Parambil for the Catholics||1678-1706|
3.1 Unknown Archdeacon during Patriarch Thimothy
The earliest historical documents that shows the existence of Archdeacons is around the year 800. The Patriarch Thimothy (780-826) wrote to the Archdeacon ( Arken), the Head of the Faithfull in India, about the right norms to be followed in the ordination of the priests, bishops, metropolitans and Patriarch. He wrote that only superiors could ordain the inferiors and therefore no Bishop could ordain a metropolitan neither a metropolitan another Metropolitan. Up to the time of Mar Timothy, the bishops of China and India used to ordain their Metropolitans laying the letter of the Patriarch over the elected as if the very hand that wrote that letter were laid upon the ordained.1
3.2 Archdeacons- George, Jacob, Alexander
According to a tradition mentioned by George Kurien in his dissertation on Syrian Church of India, Metropolitan Mar John appointed George Pakalomattam in 1502 as Archdeacon. He was followed by Jacob, Alexander and George ( this George may be Archdeacon George of Christ or his uncle Professor George who are mentioned in few documents).2
A padiyola document written in palm leaves which is now in the possession of Pothanikat family at Kothamangalam mentions an Archdeacon in the early years of Sixteenth Century. The document says that in the year 1509, Archdeacon Ittikuriath effected a compromise between two parties contending for the ownerships of two Churches at Kothamangalam. Archdeacon Ittikuriath seems to be the George Pakalomattam mentioned earlier.
3.3 Archdeacon George of Christ
After the death of the Chaldean Bishop Mar Jacob in 1552, Professor George, uncle of Archdeacon George of Christ, sent a message to the Chaldean Patriarch requesting bishops for the Saint Thomas Christians.3
There are many references about this Archdeacon in Portuguese records of Fr. Amador Correi SJ, Fr. Francis Dionysio etc.
The reports of Jesuits give much information about the extent of power and authority exercised by Archdeacon George among the Christians of Saint Thomas. These reports praise him for his great authority, learning, zeal, virtues etc.
In 1583, the Archbishop Mar Abraham and the Archdeacon convoked synods in two places. With in the period of five years ( 1576 to 1581) , Pope Gregory XIII addressed FIVE Apostolic Briefs to Archdeacon George. All of them were to praise him and to grant him new privileges and honors.
Even though there is some uncertainty concerning the appointment of Archdeacon George of Christ as the first indigenous bishop there are many books written clarifying and discussing this in detail.
In March 5, 1580, the Pope confirms the election of Archdeacon George as Bishop, suffragon to Mar Abraham. In 1566 Patriarch Abdisho authorized Mar Abraham to ordain him (George of Christ) as bishop and suffragan (successor) to Mar Abraham. Both Mar Abraham and the Jesuit fathers had written to Rome about it. Pope Gregory XIII confirmed this nomination by his brief “Accepimus quod”, issued on 4 March 1580.(G.Beltrami, La Chiesa Caldeo, pp. 196–7). But the archdeacon who, out of humility, had previously declined this honor was not consecrated even after the papal confirmation.This was a real pity. Our tradition is also that St Thomas ordained two Bishops one for Mylapoor and other for Malabar. If an indigenous line of bishops had again started in 1566, the St. Thomas Christian community would have been spared many unnecessary troubles and unfortunate divisions.
Some Malabar accounts mentions his death around 1585 AD.
3.4 Archdeacon John
A report about the Church of Voipicotta, a “ Lona Cassanar Arcediago” is mentioned among those who met the expense, when the Church was re built under Fr. George Crasto SJ. A report of Archbishop Roz SJ in 1622 also states that one brother of Archdeacon George of Christ also held the office of Archdeacon. Other reports indicate that Archdeacon George of Christ had a brother named John. Lona is a Malayalam version for “Lohannan ( John). It has been suggested that he held the office until 1591.
3.5 Archdeacon Jacob
Mar Simeon appointed Archdeacon Jacob in 1584 when he left for Rome in the company of two Francisacan Friars. Archdeacon Jacob maintained his authority against the prevailing trend of the latinising policy under Mar Abhraham. He did not accept the Gregorian Calendar.
3.5 Archdeacon George of the Cross
In 1593, Archbishop Mar Abraham appointed one of the nephews of Archdeacon George of Christ as his new Archdeacon. He was called George of the Cross. There were also other candidates for the dignity. Gouvea says that another nephew according to the custom had better claims to this dignity. In 1594, Archbishop Mar Abraham requested the Pope to appoint a coadjutor to him with right of succession. He indicated Archdeacon George of the Cross as the candidate. These letters were taken to Europe by Fr. Manoel Veiga SJ4
Archbishop Mar Abraham also wrote to the Jesuit General on December 17, 1594 about his desire to get the Archdeacon nominated as his successor.5
In 1595, Mar Abraham fell seriously ill. In the testament he made to Jesuits, the Archdeacon was announced as the administrator of the See after the death of Mar Abraham. In fact Mar Abraham wanted to make, the Archdeacon as his successor by the virtue of authority he had from the Patriarch of Babylon. But the Jesuits advised that it cannot be done and he requested Jesuits to obtain permissions from Rome.
After the death of Mar Abraham in 1597, the Archdeacon took charge of the administration according to tradition and commission from the testament of Archbishop. On hearing the death of Mar Abraham, Alex de Menezes, the Archbishop of Goa appointed Fr. Roz SJ as the Vicar Apostolic. Finally Menezes had to confirm Archdeacon George of the Cross as the administrator.
Archdeacon had to sworn to break all relations with Babylon by Menezes and Jesuits. He also co operated with Menezes for the convocation and handling of Synod of Diamper. After the Synod of Diamper Franics Roz SJ was appointed as Bishop. For some years the Bishop Roz and Archdeacon George of the Cross worked in peace and harmony. The Archdeacon was consulted on important matters and he enjoyed all his rights and privileges.
In 1609, Bishop Roz excommunicated the Archdeacon. The Archdeacon George of the Cross and party did not pay heed to this excommunication. The Major part of the Christians of Saint Thomas as well as Many Kings, Bishop of Cochin and Franciscans were on the side of Archdeacon. This rebellion continued until 1615 when it was reconciled.
Bishop Roz and Archdeacon were at odds again in 1618 and this continued till 1621. Before passing away the Bishop wanted to make peace with Archdeacon but Archdeacon did not seem to have answered the call. Bishop Roz left a nomination for Archdeacon as the administer after his death and Archdeacon George of the Cross under took that responsibility.
Bishop Brito was consecrated in 1624 and the Archdeacon received the bishop to Malabar. In general the relationship between Bishop Brito and Archdeacon were good except for two or three years.Archdeacon George of the Cross died on July 25, 1640.
3.5 Archdeacon Thomas
After the death of Archdeacon George of the Cross, Bishop Brito appointed Thomas, nephew of the late Archdeacon to the Archidiaconal dignity. There were also other candidates for the dignity and one was said to have more legitimate claims than Archdeacon Thomas. Things went on as before till the death of Brito in 1641.
Bishop Gracia SJ followed Bishop Brito. He did not like Archdeacon to have much part in the administration. He appointed a Vicar General apart from Archdeacon. The Archdeacon on the other hand wanted the Archbishop Gracia SJ to observe all the agreements which was in force. So from the very beginning of Gracia SJ, discord arose between the Archdeacon and the Bishop. There were agreements between the Archdeacon and the bishop but frequent quarrels broke between them.
In 1652, Mar Ahattalh arrived at Mylapore. Authors are not concordant with regard to Ahatallah place, rite and place of death. The Portuguese authorities arrested Mar Ahatallah and deported him to Goa via Cochin. The Archdeacon reached Cochin with a number of soldiers and demanded to see Patriarch Ahatallah and to examine his credentials. The Portuguese agreed first but soon they deported Ahatallah to Goa with out showing him or his credentials to the Archdeacon and his followers. The behavior of Archbishop Gracia SJ has been haughty. A false rumor was spread that Ahatallah was drowned by the Portuguese off the coast of Cochin.
All moved to Mattancherry near Cochin tied a long rope as tradition says to the open air cross called the Coonan Cross and holding the rope swore they would never be under the Paulists. ( ie, the Jesuits). All the Thomas Christians except a few ( 400 or 500 or 4000) adhered to those who had taken the Oath on Friday, January 3rd 1653.
A meeting was held at Edapally and then again at Alangat on May 22, 1653. Twelve priests imposed their hands on Archdeacon Thomas calling him Archbishop Mar Thomas I. Thus Archdeacon Thomas was ordained as Bishop and the role was changed.
3.6 Archdeacon Kunju Mathai
In 1656, Archbishop Gracia SJ excommunicated Archdeacon Thomas. Subsequently a nephew of Archdeacon Thomas who had claims for the position was appointed as Archdeacon. He was Kunju Mathai. According to the reports of Carmelites after the death of Bishop Gracia SJ, Archdeacon Kunju Mathai adhered completely to the Puthencoor group under the Mar Thoma I. There are not much information known about this Archdeacon after that.
3.7 Archdeacon Mathew
For many years Mar Chandy Paramabil, the Bishop of Catholic Syrians did not appoint Archdeacon. He was expecting a unification between the two groups. In 1678, Bishop Mar Chandy Parambil appointed Mathew as the “Archdecon of All India”. He continued till his death in 1706. He was the last Archdeacon among the Catholics as well as the last Archdeacon among the Saint Thomas Christians.
4. Tomb of Archdeacons (Arkadiyakons)
Kuravilangad has a unique place in the history of the Church of Malabar. The See of Archdeacon existed at Kuravilangadu prior to the arrival of Portuguese in India. The mortal remain of a few Archdeacons (Arkadiyakons), five tombs are still preserved at the Arkadiyakon Nagar, Pakalomattam Chapel of the Marth Mariam Church at Kuravilangad.
It is very unfortunate that enough importance is not given to this plot in history. The plot was in the ownership of Alappatt and Parakkunnel families. Around 1953 they gifted this land to the church. In 1963 a Cupola was built there. Alappatt Fr: Paulose was the Vicar of the church at that time. The Nalukettu ground floor was visible even at that time. The well is preserved. Twenty feet north of the well are the tombs of the Archdeacons (Arkadiyakons). Many favors are received for all those who seek their intercession.
The tomb of Arkadiyakons were renovated by the present Vicar of the Kurvilanagad Church, Dr. Joseph Maleparambil.
5. Efforts to restore Archdeaconate (Arkadiyakonate ) of India
There has been some efforts among the Catholics to restore the position.
5.1 Among the Catholics
In 1771 Fr. Ildefonsus a Praesntatione, who had been a missionary in Malabar submitted to the Congregation of Propaganda an elaborate report on the missions of East Indies suggesting appropriate means of betterment. One of his suggestion was to appoint a Chaldean Bishop in the position of Archdeacon to the latin rite Bishops in Malabar.
An assembly of the Catholic Christians of Saint Thomas in August 1773 agreed that there should be an Archdeacon to remedy the evils of that time. They submitted their grievances to the Arch Bishop.
In 1782, Dr. Joseph Kairattil was appointed as Bishop but he died before occupying the See. After this the Catholic Syrians did not ask for Archdeacons. What they asked since then was for indigenous Bishops or Bishops of Chaldean rite. In 1896, indigenous Bishops were appointed to govern them but the Bishops continued the latin style of administration.
5.2 Among the Malankara Orthodox
With the elevation of Archdeacon Thomas as Mar Thoma I, the role was changed from Archdeacon to Bishop. His line continued till 1815.
The only infra – episcopical dignity in Church of Malabar now seems to be a matter of history. This development was not a natural change in the Church of Malabar.Those who are thinking about restoring the rite of Church of Saint Thomas Christians to ancient glory should also restore the ancient office of Archdeacon (Arkadiyakon).
Pictures Courtesy – Fr. Rubin Thottupuram
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