Saturday, January 2, 2016

Coonan Cross (Leaning Cross) Oath

Fathers of the Church taking oath with the ropes tied to the leaning cross at Mattanchery near Kochi, Kerala in 1653

Vasco Da Gama, a Portuguese voyager, was the first European to reach India by the sea (1499) and established trade between India and the West. Slowly, the Portuguese tried to bring changes to the indigenous Christian practices and it culminated with the unfortunate synod of Udayamperoor (Diamper) in 1599 when St.  Thomas Christians were forced to renounce their faith, burn their religious books and were brought under the subordination of Pope of Rome. 

The fathers and faithful of the Church suffered under the Roman yoke for over 50 years. Married priests were forced to abandon their wives, worship in ways that were foreign to them. The St. Thomas Christians kept appealing to the eastern Churches for help, but often their pleas never reached the destination as the seas were controlled by the Portuguese. However, the Portuguese could not kill their spirit and longing to worship the way their forefathers did. Discontent and dissatisfaction kept simmering. The last straw that broke the camel's back was the news that one of the prelates, Mar Ahathalla, from one of the eastern churches coming to their rescue was captured and killed by the Portuguese.

On hearing this unfortunate turn of events, the St. Thomas Christians, numbering nearly 25,000 assembled near Mattanchery church on January 3, 1653 and took an oath, holding on to ropes tied to the cross, that they break free from the control of the colonial powers of Portuguese and the Roman supremacy and will obey only Arch Deacon Thomas I and follow St. Thomas Christian tradition. Archdeacon Thomas was later ordained as Marthoma I.

This was the first ever revolt against colonialism in India, long before India gained her independence in 1947. Remembering the struggles and hardships of our forefathers in keeping "the way of St. Thomas" will help us face any trials and tribulations we face in our lives at home or in foreign land where our people have migrated. As HH Baselios Geevarghese II, Catholicos of the East reminds us, through his last kalpana on his deathbed, we should remember without fail that we are the spiritual children of St. Thomas - "Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (1 Corinthians 4:15-16).

The St. George Orthodox Church at Mattanchery, is declared as the Coonan Kurishu  (Leaning Cross) Pilgrim Center and is being renovated by the Church. See where the pilgrim center is located:

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