The St. Thomas Christian Church, also known as The Church of The East, traces its history and apostolic succession back to the very origins of Christianity through one of the original apostles of Jesus, the Christ, namely, St. Thomas. Beginning at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, the church was instituted by the Avatar Jesus and passed on to his apostles. It was, at first, a Church of the East, notably of Jerusalem and Antioch. In time it was extended through missionary efforts of the apostles and their disciples to the major population and cultural centers both in the East and in the West. In each region where the Church was established, a local headship grew up in the form of priests and bishops. All were united by a common faith and by the spiritual leadership of the five Apostolic Patriarchates. Five major seats of Christianity were established-Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople. The two seats which were to impact the growth of Christianity the most were Rome and Constantinople, the “West” and the “East.”
St. Thomas, known as Didymus Judas Thomas, traveled through Persia wherein it was said that he ordained many of the magi, and then into India along the Malabar coast, where he established the Christian Church in southern India, and converted many to christian belief. After Thomas’ death the church continued to grow, though isolated from patriatchate dominion. In the mid-fourth century, the Catholicos of the East, sent a bishop, priests and deacons into the area which still preserved Christianity in accordance with the teachings of St. Thomas. As the study of the history of Christianity reveals, a separation began to grow in those early years which finally resulted in the Great Schism in 1054 between the East and the West, who each had developed very different churches, both culturally and theologically. Today Christendom remains divided into three principal sections: Protestant, Roman Catholic and the Orthodox. Certain Eastern church bodies refused to accept the christological definition of the Council of Chalcedon (457 A.D.) and these are referred to as the Ancient Eastern Churches. Into this latter group fall the St. Thomas Christians. The dissidents of the Ancient Eastern Churches became known as “monophysites” and by the mid-sixth century, monophysite bishoprics were created throughout the East through the efforts of Jacob Baradeus. Their members were known as Syrian Jacobites.
The St. Thomas Christians were monophysite with a tenuous connection to Antioch through the Sassanid Empire, but that link was broken when they stressed their autonomy. Although secluded in the remote area of Southern India and out of range of the continued struggle and dissonance within the various “factions” of Christianity, history details other events affecting them, including the Muslim invasion and in the early 16th century, the arrival of the Portuguese to India. For a time, the St. Thomas Christians lived in harmony with the Portuguese sponsored churches, but by the end of the century, Jesuit pressure became too great. When the Synod of Diamper attempted to sever the Syrian Church from its past and from its patriarch in Babylon, resentment ended in a revolt. Most of the Syrians seceded from Rome, but Rome managed to win some back. Those who did not return were free to look elsewhere for a bishop and in 1665, Mar Gregory, was sent from the Jacobite Patriarch in Antioch. Even though the Nestorian Patriarch of the Ottoman Empire attempted to establish authority over the Malabar church, the majority of the Syrians remained loyal to the Jacobite bishop. By 1758, there were established at least five different communities within the St. Thomas Christian Church: The Latins, the Syro-Malabarese, the Church of the East, the Jacobites, and those who would no longer accept any foreign domination over their faith. For about four hundred years controversy raged between these communities. The Jacobites stayed in the background yet had established contacts with the English consuls, the result of which caused members of the Anglican Missionary Society to bring the ancient church to light. Interference again created disharmony and the Archbishop of Canterbury was requested to keep his clergy in restraint. The autonomy of the Indian Christians was as cherished as was their historic connections with the ancient apostolic churches in the Middle East. When the “foreign” patriarch of their own church made insistent claims upon them, they rebelled, just as they had against Rome two hundred years earlier. The Jacobite Patriarch, Mar Peter, arrived in India in 1874 and during his three year stay, he divided the church into seven dioceses and consecrated new bishops naming them all Metropolitans. One of the new Metropolitans was Thomas Mar Athenasius II. When he died, he was replaced by Paul Mar Athenasius III, who in turn consecrated Francis Xavier Julius Alvares. In 1892 this Bishop consecrated an American priest, Joseph Rene Vilatte, who was entitled Mar Timotheus, Archbishop of the Old Catholic Church in America.
In 1914, 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 America today of the Federation of St. Thomas Christians. In 1994 the St. Thomas Christian Church was founded and incorporated by priests who were ordained by bishop, Rev. Mother Shirley Chambers, was consecrated by Bishops Joseph Vredenburg, Jack Brownell and Michael Whitney. The purpose of the St. Thomas Christian Church is to maintain and continue the flow of the mystical teachings of St. Thomas, the origins of which are to be found in Kabalastic concepts of Judaism and in the Vedic concepts of Hinduism, incorporated into Christianity from the historically acknowledged sojourn of the Avatar Jesus in India.
The discovery of the Gospel of Thomas in 1945, a text unaltered and undistorted, has porven to be one of the most important finds in the history of Christianity. Acknowledged by theologians to most accurately quote the sayings of Jesus, the text verifies the fact that the ministry of Jesus was that of the mystical tradition. Now as mankind prepares to move into 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.
St. Thomas Christians throughout the world are historical representatives, the fruit and continuation, of the ancient Churches of the East where the Avatar Jesus, the Christ, founded the church. The teachings of the Christ reflect the mysticism inherent in the culture into which he was born as well as those acquired from his travels into the land of the Vedas, India, historically recorded in schools and monasteries within that area. It is those teachings as conveyed by the Apostle Thomas to the church he established in India that the St. Thomas Christians, despite struggle, dissonance and controversy, have endeavored to preserve in their purest sense.
The Church of Christ, as are the St. Thomas Christians, is neither Latin nor Greek; neither Eastern nor Western, but in the true sense of the word, Catholic, as that word, from Greek, means “universal” that is, has no limitations in time or place. It is the new dispensation of God, through Jesus, the Christ, given for all people, as opposed to the Jewish church of the old dispensation which was limited in its vocation. The people of this universal, sacramental and apostolic church believe, teach and practice the maintenance of the original and mystical teachings of the apostles and of the wisdom teachings brought forward through the religious tradition. The Church of the East is a protector and guardian of the Truths taught by Jesus to the apostles, practiced by them and passed on to their successors in true and unaltered and written form. It is a Church which has preserved the purity of the teachings of Christianity and which interprets those teachings in the light of today’s mysticism.