Christianity in India

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An overview

By Agrima Joshua/ Floyd

Christianity came to India much before the Portuguese /Francis Xavier. It is believed that St.Thomas who was the disciple [apostle, actually] of Jesus Christ came to India, specifically Kerala to preach the Gospel. This was back in 52 AD around 1400 years before the Portuguese came to India.

There has also been evidence of the Church of the east spreading Christianity in the north of India during the time of the Sassanid empire via traders traveling on the Silk route, who then sailed to the south of India too.

It is also said that St. Bartholomew came to India in 55 AD and preached at places near Kalyan. He was called Betal by the Indians and thus the village he preached in #Goa, was called Betalbatim (which is now a famous beach in #SouthGoa)

Vasco da gama only showed up on the Indian shores in 1498 and thus started the rule of the Portuguese in India. With this rule, they brought a lot of things. Chillies, potatoes, pao bread (essentially most ingredients for a Vada Pav) Alphonso mangoes.

They also were responsible for building a lot of churches. Before the Portuguese there was a Christian community but there was an established Christian community but there weren't big buildings for praying which were the churches.

The Portuguese built churches all over the southern India. These churches were later changed to Dutch and English churches when they were captured by the respective forces during their conquest

The Portuguese word for church is IGREJA. This word was used by the locals too for the newly constructed churches in the 15-16th century. It eventually corrupted down to Grija and then to Girja. Thus churches came to be called as Girja-Ghar in Hindi.


Materials for this page were obtained through links provided by, which are: FreeWebs and Acns, a now defunct link



The missionary work of Bartholomew is li nked with Armenia (present day Armenia, eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, north western Iran) and India. Othe r locations include Egypt, Arabia, Ethiopia and Pers ia (Iran).

AD 180: Pantaneus

Eusebius the church historian of the early church (early fourth century) in his Ecclesiastical history mentions that Pantaneu s, the first known head of the catechetical school in Alexandria, vi sited India about AD 180.

[Pantaneus] displayed such zeal for the divine word that he was appointed as a herald of the Gospel of Christ to the nations of the east a nd was sent as far as Indi a. ... It is reported that among the persons there who knew Chri st, he found the Gospel according to St. Matthew, which had anticipated his own arrival. For Barthol omew, one of the apostles, had preached to them and left with them th e writing of Matthew in the Hebrew language which they had preserved till that time. (E usebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5:10.)

The fourth century: Demetrius

Later in the fourth century, Jerome mentions that a deputation from India asked Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria to send Pa ntaneus to India to hold disputations with Hindu philosophers.

Accordingly the great Ch ristian scholar Pant aneus was sent and there he found the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew left by Batholomew. In the first place, this trad ition of Pantaneus going to India and finding a Christian community there which was visited by Bartholomew in the first century confirms the first century origins of the Church in India. Sec ondly, it raises the question as to who was the apostle of India, Thomas or Bartholomew or both? For a long time the historians tended to down play the apostolate of Bartholomew in India as it seemed to take away the apostolate from Thomas and gave it to Bartholomew.

AD 354: Theophilus, The Indian

Theophilus was a native of Maldive Islands, off Kerala coast. Emperor Constantine took him as a hostage so that the Maldive people will not plunder Roman ships as it passed that way. In Rome he became a Ch ristian and became a Bishop. He visited India and noted that their worship practi ces differed considerably from those of other parts of the world. Particularly he noticed that Indians sang, heard the gospel and worshipped sitting down (which is th e Hindu tradition) he thought they were outrageous and ordered it changed. Probably the practice of worship standing was introduced from that time onwards.

AD 425: Daniel, The Priest, Indian

It may be assumed that Indians sent their priests for training and studies to Syria. There was one Daniel who translated the co mmentary on the Epistle to the Romans from Greek to Syriac in Edessa. He sign ed it as Daniel, the priest, the Indian. Ecclesiastical language of India was probab ly Greek and Syriac as the teaching of Bible came from there. Greek inscript ions are found on the bells of several churches. Until very recentl y the liturgy was mainly in Syriac. We maintain the flavor of this liturgy even today by retai ning several Syriac phrases like Amen, Kurialaison, Brak-mar-Scoumenkalos et. and several Syrian chants.


The Sailor to India

Around AD 522, Cosmos a rich Christian me rchant from Alexandria, visited India and wrote a book called Universal Christ ian Topology. He describes his visit thus:

"We have found the church not destroyed, but very widely diffused and the whole world filled with the doctrine of Christ, which is being day by day propagated and the Gospel preached over the whole earth. This I have seen with my own eyes in many places and have heard narrated by others. I as a witness of truth relate: In the land of Taprobane (Srilanka), Inner India, where the Indian sea is, there is a church of Christians, with clergy and congregation of believers, though I know not if there be any Christians further in this direction. And such also is the case in the land called Male (Malabar), where the pepper grows. And in the place called Kallia (Kollam) there is a bishop appointed from Persia, as well as in the island called Dioscores (Socotra) in the same Indian Sea. The inhabitants of that island speak Greek, having been originally settled there by Ptolemies, who ruled after Alexander of Macedonia. There are clergy there also ordained and sent from Persia to minister among the people of the isla nd, and the multitude of Christians...."


A.D. 431 Council of Ephesus

A.D. 451 Council of Chalcedon

Soon after the formation of the Church Heresy and variations in teachings were in existence in one form or other. During th e Apostolic Period, they were settled with the mediation of the Apostles and Aposto lic Synods and councils. The first of the council was the council of Jerusalem where the question of gentile inclusion in the church. However after the apostolic period th is continued.

These movements arose powerfully around 400 A.D when Christiani ty became free from oppression and being a Christian became a prestige. In the year AD 425 Nestorius, a presbyter of the Church of Antioch became the Partriar ch of Constantinople. He objected to the epithet of "Theokotos" "Mother of God" as applied to Mary since Mary was only the mother of the incarn ation and not the mother who produced a God.

By the time Nestorius arrived at Ephesus the council had voted against him and he was excommuni cated and exiled. Its decision though universally accepted, the way the issue wa s treated is still considered deplorable.

The Nestorius a genius theologian of the ti me was derided without even giving him a hearing. Nestorius certainly foresaw the consequence of the epithet Theokotos.

The fight went on and in AD 451 the Nestor ians claimed a victor y in the council of Chaldeons in the year 451. In this council it was declared that in Christ the two natures were hypostatically united, withou t mixture, confusion and divisibility.

Cyril the Patriarch of Alexandria and John the Patriarch of Antioch finally reconciled. Nestorians adopted the name Ch aldeon Church and the Patriarch took the title of Patriarch of Babylon. These infights in the Middle East and Europe had its repercussions in India too.

There exists a Chaldean church with few fo llowings even today, though majority of the Christian churches remained faithful to the declarations of Nicea and Ephesus.

JORDANUS (JORDAN Catalani) (fl. 1321-1330)

French Dominican missionary and explorer in Asia, JORDANUS was perhaps born at Séve rac in Aveyron, north-east of Toulouse. In 1302 he may have accompanied the famous Thomas of Tolentino, via Negropont, to the East; but it is only in 1321 that we definitely discover him in western India, in the company of the same Thomas and certain other Franciscan missionaries on their way to China. Ill luck detained them at Tana in Salsette island, near Bombay; and here Jordanus’ companions (“the four martyrs of Tana ”) fell victims to Moslem fanaticism (April 7, 1321).

Jordanus, escaping, worked some time at Baruch in Gujarat, near the Nerbudda estuary, and at Suali (?) near Surat; to his fellow-Dominican s in north Persia, he wrote two letters – the first from Gogo in Gujarat (October 12, 1321), the second from Tana (January 24,1323/4) – describing the progress of this new mission.

From these letters we learn that Roman attention had already been di rected, not only to the Bombay region, but also to the extreme south of the Indian peni nsula, especially to “Columbum,” Quilon, or Kulam in Travancore; Jordanus’ words may imply that he had already started a mission there before October 1321 . From Catholic traders he had learnt that Ethiopia (i.e. Abyssinia and Nubia) was accessible to Wester n Europeans; at this very time, as we know from other sources, th e earliest Latin missionaries penetrated thither. .......... t-online

From the evidence available to us, especially the East Syrian and Indian traditions, it is reasonable to believe that the Indian church has an independent or igin, independent of Persian Christianity, in the apostolic activity of St. Thomas in the first century.

St. Thomas is the apostle of India, and Bartholomew was a companion of Thomas

The Indian tradition of its apostolic foundation is much stronger than that of Rome or Alexandria or Constantinople. We may further assume that St. Thomas is the apostle of all India, and Bartholomew who was a companion of Thomas also visited India and brought with him a copy of the Gospel of the Nazarenes Now, we have a clear mention that the Gosp el of Matthew was writ ten in Hebrew - not Greek or Aramaic, as widely thought - and was carried out of Israel by one of the original apostles to the Far East.

Two of the earliest Church Fathers and hist orians, Eusebius and Origen, wrote that a second, long-overlooked ap ostle, Bartholomew, also went to India and took a Gospel text with him, according to Princeton scholar and author Samuel Moffett. In his ground-breaking book, "A Hist ory of Christianity in Asia," Moffett reveals that Pantaenus, a chur ch historian and missionary wh o traveled to India in 180 A.D., discovered the copy of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew that Bartholomew had taken with him.

"It is reported," wrote Eusebi us, a fourth century bishop and church historian, "that among person there who knew Christ, (Panta enus) found the Gospel according to St. Matthew (which had arrived ahead of Pa ntaenus by more than a century). For Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them, and left them (in India) the writing of Matthew in the Hebrew la nguage which they had preserved."

While the Book of Acts list the 11 apostles - Judas having hanged himself - it doesn't say how they were paired. But what is known is th at Jesus instructed to work and travel by twos. So, it would be natural for Thomas to travel with a companion to India and for Bartholomew to have taken along a freshly copied text of Matthew's Gospel, especially if it were the first and only Gospel written at the time. Jews customarily took their sacred text with them, as we see from the New Test ament accounts of Paul's travels, and it was this Gospel of Matthew that Pantaenus f ound a century and a half later in India.

The trend of contemporary opinion is that th e Gospel of St. Matt hew was written after and dependent upon the Gospel of St. Mark. ... It is highly unlikely that one of the 12 apostles would have taken his material fr om Mark, who had not been an (original) apostle." The Catholic Dicti onary also dates Matthew as having been written before 50 A.D.

By bringing Matthew's Gospel to India, Bartholomew would also confirm this early dating. thereby refuting the contemporary theo ry that Matthew was written between 70 and 125 A.D.

Another aspect of the anti-supe rnaturalist theory is that the Gospels were written long after the fact. There are still many diehards among biblical critics who accept their own dating of the Gospels and say they were not wr itten by eyewitnesses. It is precisely here, in the clash between unbelief and belief, th at liberals and believe rs cross swords.

Yet the testimony of the early church reminds us that the Gospels have as much to historical as ethical value and that a postles such as Bartholomew and Thomas, eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus, di d not give their lives for a mere myth.

A.D 510 - 1439

The Christian Dynasty of Villarvattom By this period, the great Empire of th e Chera Kingdom came to ruins and an immense number of small independent Kingdom s came into existence. Their extents were limited. Thus the areas where Christians were in prominence established themselves into Kingdoms. Christians were traditionally good statesmen and warriors. Though there might have been se veral such centers of strong hold of Christians in Kerala, one particular Villa rvattom Kingdom is mentioned often. This Kingdom Villarvattom Pana extended from the coastal islands of Chennamangalam, Maliankara and others to the north of and south of Udayamperoor.

The capital of this kingdom was at mahadevarpattanam in the island of Chennamangalam and later it was shifted to Udayamperoor when the Arab invaders attached the island. The Udayamperror Church, which stands even today was built by Raja of Villarvottam in A.D 510. There are several inscriptions in this church that supports this including the mention of one Raja Thomas who ruled in AD 900. Pope John XXII in his letter sent with Friar Jordan ad dress himself to the successor of Raja Thomas in A.D 1330

Later in A.D 43 Pope Eugene IV addresses to Raja Thomas in A.D 1439. The papal record mentions "that there is a Kingdom twenty days journey from Cathay, of which the king and all th e inhabitants are Christians, but heretics, being said to be Nestorians." "Histori a de Variatate Fortunae, liv. IV, Poggi Bracciolini , Secretary to Pope Eugenius IV ) Though there are several traditions in this regards, no details or documentat ion apart from scattered references and archaeological artefacts can be found.

1579: Father Stephens

Father Stephens was able to impress his supe riors with his passion and zeal for serving in the East and 4 April, 1579 saw him sail out of Lisbon.

When the ship arrived in Goa on 24 Oc tober, 1579, Stephens became the first Englishman to reach India by th e route of the Cape of Good H ope. His letters to his trader father and other members of his family were fu ll of fascinating detail of great value to the people looking for commercial opportunities. He himself was totally preoccupied by his own calling, that of converting the heathen to Christianity.

In a letter dated 24 October, 1583 to his brother, he writes th at soon after his arrival he wa s attacked by a very serious illness. On recovery he was promoted — "advanced to Holy Orders" as "there was an enormous number of souls to be harvested" and "very few labourers" to perform the task. Stephens’ first parish was the Peninsula of Salsette, just north of Bombay and under the dominion of the Spanish king. His success may be judged from the fact that when he arrived Salsette had only 8,000 Christians; 14 years later there were 35,000; and by the time of his death 1619 the peninsula was almost entirely Christian.

2008: How Christian evangelists strategized their conversion mission

The Times of India

Amrita Singh | TNN 7/9/08

There was a time the Christian missionary spread the word of god in a simple and direct way. He would step off a boat, make friends with locals and after years of effort, count a sizable flock.

Cut to 2008 and it’s a different scenario altogether. Church planting agencies, as they are called, have taken over the evangelical role. They ensure that growth targets are set and new churches built. There is quantifiable growth. In the four years from 2003, 22 new International Churches of Christ were built. The Adventists has concrete plans to build 500 new churches too. The Presbyterian Church of south India, which is funded by the UK-based Mission to the World, also has a goal of 500 new churches in the next decade.

The growth means the existing flock has to dig ever deeper into its pockets because the new churches are funded partly by members and partly by foreign donations. Senthil Joseph (not his real name), who goes to church occasionally, says: ‘‘Even though I am not a regular, I have to make donations for the new churches. In the last 10 years, since I moved to Delhi, 10 new churches of my (Syrian Christian) sect have come up and every time I have to pay a heavy donation.’’

Most Christian denominations use the name-and-shame method to force their flock to donate generously. Joseph says: ‘‘The amount given is published in the annual telephone directory of the community for every one to see.’’

The commercial thrust has made the last decade one of the most successful for the growth of Christianity in India. According to a forecast by the World Religious Council, India’s 25 million-strong Christian population could balloon five-fold by 2050.

Church planting agencies have never been busier. These agencies are described by the Indian Evangelical Mission as ‘‘specialists in taking Christianity to places where it has no presence and training people to establish new churches there.’’

One of the most effective church planting agencies working in India is the US-based AD 2000 and Beyond Movement. It is impressively organized, having mapped the whole of India by caste and identifying those most likely to be receptive to their message. AD 2000 lists nine Indian tribes as Priority-I, possibly because they are so poor they’re deemed most likely to convert.

The nine tribes identified by AD 2000 are: Bhilala, Binjhwari, Chero, Kawar/Kamari, Lhoba, Majhwar, Panika, Shin or Sina, and Sikkimese Bhotia. AD 2000 identifies thicklypopulated, politically important and moderately poor northern India as ‘‘the core of the core of the core’’

In a sign of some of these church planting agencies’ sense of purpose, AD 2000 has drawn up detailed plans to target all of India’s 75,000 postal pin codes with the ultimate goal of a church in each.

So, how do church planters work in the 21st century when the days of the itinerant missionary are long gone? Helen, a missionary who has worked among Bhils in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh says the first step is to send a reconnaissance team to the target area to find out if a church is already under construction. The team would also need to study the area and understand its problems.

Armed with this basic information, modern missionaries are expected to work out a sound socio-economic plan for the area. This could include simple things to make the lives of locals better, such as starting a school, a health centre, new self-help groups. It is only after a minimum of five years of such groundwork that a Christian denomination actually starts to talk to local leaders about building a church.

The proposed church would initially be paid for by bigger ones in the cities but it is expected to become self-supporting and entirely locally-managed within 15 years.

After that, it is time for the missionary to move on and adopt a new place

2015/ Sunday mass in Hindi, Indian languages

The Times of India, Dec 02 2015

Shyam PV

Changing Kerala: Sunday mass in Hindi for migrant labourers

The famed St Antony's church at Kaloor here has started offering Sunday prayers in Hindi, to cater to the spiritual needs of Christians among the migrant workforce. Ernakulam is home to over 20 lakh migrant labourers and this is for the first time that a church is offering regular holy mass in Hindi in the city limits. The mass in Hindi will be offered every Sunday at 3pm.

“The decision to start Sunday mass in Hindi was taken in the last synod of the Verapoly archdiocese. A commission to study and support the migrants was also formed. The first Hindi mass was offered on November 29. We have also decided to offer free medical and legal assistance to the migrants,“ said Berly Earnest, secretary , Verapoly migrants' commission. A panel of expert doctors and lawyers has already been formed. “They will be given assistance to obtain medical insur ance coverage and the best possible medical treatment in case of emergency ,“ Earnest said.

A Hindi church choir has also been floated. Prayers will be offered by priests who have worked in central and north India. The migrant labourers are mostly engaged in construction or employed in manufacturing units. The church authorities have already contacted neighbouring parishes and priests to give publicity to the Hindi mass. “Since these migrant labourers are a floating population, it is yet to be seen how many of them would attend the mass,“ Earnest said. In Ernakulam, holy mass for migrant labourers is offered by various churches. In Perumbavoor, holy mass is offered in Oriya.

Open Church Movement

Status, in 2019

Jisha Surya, Rent-a-priest boon for the ostracised in Kerala, March 16, 2019: The Times of India

When Basanio Louise’s father-in-law passed away on the eve of Maundy two years ago, he had a major problem at hand. Due to issues his family and some other parishioners at Balaramapuram had with the Thiruvananthapuram diocese, the local church refused to perform the mandatory last rites or even bury the body.

“They made me run everywhere seeking permission for the funeral ceremony. I even went to Bishop’s House at Neyyatinkara but to no avail. Finally, we buried my father-in-law Maniyan in the church’s graveyard without any ceremony, which was heart-breaking for not just the family but the entire community,” said Basanio.

That was in March 2017. Now, people like Basanio – a wall painter who also does other odd jobs – who have been virtually ostracised by the Church have an option. They can “rent” a priest so that they too can have ceremonies related to birth, death and marriage done according to the Christian faith and sacraments. They can turn to dozens of priests who are part of the Open Church Movement.

“Denial of various rituals like holy communion, marriage or house warming rites has been effectively used against believers if they question the Church. That is when we decided to offer rent-a-priest services. Former priests and nuns agreed to offer services and it was a major relief for believers who have questioned the Church and are facing the consequences,” says Reji Njallani, chairman of Open Church Movement.

The movement was founded in 2014 when around 600 former priests and nuns from around the country — who were either expelled or chose to leave their congregation — attended a meeting convened by Njallani. One of them was 72-year-old Joseph J Pallath, expelled from the Society of Jesus in 2000. He was the first priest in the state to protest his dismissal, and later conducted a 44-day one-man agitation demanding compensation from the Church. Now, Pallath is back as a priest in the Open Church Movement. In January, he wore his vestments again to conduct the holy feast at St Sebastian Church at Balaramapuram.

The Latin Archdiocese of Neyyantikara and the parish of the Balaramapuram church were at loggerheads over the ownership of around 18 acres of land, and the archdiocese kept the church closed for around 10 months. At the time of the annual feast, the parish approached the Open Church Movement and Pallath to conduct the feast.

Pallath said he was jobless and penniless when he was expelled. “I was one of the first persons to secure a PhD in anthropology in the state. During my priesthood, I had quit an educational institution to do social services. However, when I questioned a corrupt land deal of the Church, I was asked to leave. Expelled priests and nuns are the most stigmatized community,” he said.

The situation was similar for Maria Thomas, now secretary of Ex-Priests and Nuns Association, when she left her congregation in 1999 after 20 years. “Social stigma is a major issue for priests and nuns who quit or leave. Finding a job or a partner at that age is very difficult. In most cases, families too are not ready to accept you,” she said.

Njallani says that the movement is not against the Church, but only aims at correcting wrongdoings. “We are a set of strong believers who aim to correct the community whenever the Church deviates from its true principles,” Njallani pointed out.

The movement is all set to question various unethical practices of the Church such as attempts to hide sexual crimes and paedophilia. The movement is also gearing up to demand severance compensation for priests and nuns, when they are unceremoniously expelled or forced to leave their congregation. They will demand that their “service” too be brought under labour laws of the state. “The Open Church Movement demands equal participation of priests and nuns, questions age-old traditions and calls for changes in the church according to the times,” said Maria Thomas, who is based in Kannur.

Religious occasions

Good Friday holiday restored by HC/ 2019

Shibu Thomas, Easter marked by all, says HC, restores Good Friday holiday, April 16, 2019: The Times of India

Bringing cheer to Christians in Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Bombay high court on Monday restored Good Friday as a public holiday in the Union territories (UTs).

A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Nitin Jamdar was hearing a PIL filed by Daman resident Anthony Duarte, challenging the administrator’s decision to classify Good Friday as a optional restrictive holiday, instead of a compulsory public holiday, like every year.

Advocate Shrishailya Deshmukh, counsel for the administrator of the UTs, said Good Friday was made an optional holiday this year as the Christian community in the region was less than 1%. The bench pointed out that Good Friday was notified a public holiday across India . “Christmas is celebrated with bonhomie by people from other communities as well. Similarly, Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies and Easter sweets,” said the judges, referring to the fact that festivals belonging to one community are also celebrated by other people in the country. “Considering the importance of Good Friday to the (Christian) community, the administrator must declare it a public holiday,” the court added.

Senior advocate Harish Jagtani, counsel for the petitioner, had at the last hearing contested the authorities relying on the smaller population of Christians. “Principals of secularism do not count numbers,” the advocate said.

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