Brief History of the St. Thomas Christian Church
The St. Thomas Christian Church under the auspices of the Church of the East, traces its origin and apostolic succession back to St. Thomas, one of the original apostles of Jesus, the Christ. The church was instituted by Jesus in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and was passed on to his apostles.
St. Thomas, known as Didymus Judas Thomas, traveled through Persia where, it is said, he ordained many magi. He then proceeded into India and settled along the Malabar coast where he established the Christian church. After his death, the St. Thomas Church continued to grow, although separate from patriarchate domination. The Church accepted only the first four Ecumenical Councils: Nicea I (325 AD), Constantinople I (381 AD, Ephesus (431 AD), and Chalecedon (451 AD). The first Council recognized the Patriarchs of Rome, Antioch and Alexandria and the second added Constantinople and Jerusalem.
The St. Thomas Christian Church and other Eastern Churches refused to accept the next Council, Chalcedon (457 AD) because the autonomy of these churches was threatened by Rome. This group of churches was referred to as the Ancient Eastern Churches.
Over the centuries and despite invasion and pressure by various groups, the St. Thomas Christian Church maintained its autonomy, though divisions within the church itself occurred. During the time when controversy reigned, in the late 1700’s, the Jacobite community within the church stayed in the background. Contacts with the English consuls and members of the Anglican Missionary Society brought the ancient church to light and work was started to assist the historic Christian Community. The Jacobite Patriarch, Mar Peter, Church of the East, went to India and divided the church into seven dioceses. He consecrated new bishops, also known as metropolitans, to govern these dioceses. One of the new metropolitans was Thomas Mar Athenasius II. When he expired, his place was taken by Paul Mar Athenasius III, who, in turn, consecrated Francis Xavier Julius Alvares. In 1892, Bishop Alvares consecrated an American Priest, Joseph Rene Vilatte, who was titled Mar Timotheus, Archbishop of the Old Catholic Church in America.
In 1915, Villate consecrated Frederick E. Lloyd, who, in turn, consecrated Samuel Gregory Lines in 1923. In 1933 Lines consecrated Howard E. Mather, and on August 26, 1963, Mather and another bishop, Cyrus Starkey, consecrated Joseph Vredenburgh as Mar Timotheus Josephus Narsai Vredenburgh, the Patriarch and Presiding Bishop in American today of the St. Thomas Christian Churches of the Jacobite lineage.
The discovery of the Gospel of Thomas in 1945, a text unaltered and undistorted, has proven to be one of the most important finds in the history of Christianity. Acknowledged by theologians to most accurately quote the sayings of Jesus, this text verifies the fact that the ministry of Jesus was that of the mystical tradition. Now as mankind prepares to move into a new world consciousness, the mystical tradition of the St. Thomas Christian Church, evolving from the most ancient of historical times and lineage, moves into that world, expressing understanding applicable to it, yet retaining its spiritual heritage.
The teachings of the St. Thomas Christian Church are from two sources: Holy Scripture and Sacred Mystical Teachings. Like the church which Jesus instituted, the St. Thomas Christian Church is neither Latin nor Greek; neither Eastern nor Western. Rather it is universal, for it has no limitations in time or place. It is given for all people. The St. Thomas Christian Church is a universal, sacramental and apostolic church. Its teachings and practices are derived from the original and mystical teachings of the apostles and from the wisdom teachings brought forward through the religious tradition. It is a church which has preserved the purity of the teachings of Christianity in its truest form and which interprets those teachings in the light of today’s awareness.