St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ is believed to have landed in AD 52 in Cranganore near Cochin, which was at that time an important seaport on the Malabar Coast, having trade connections with the Middle East in those days. F.E. Keay in his book, A History of the Syrian Church in India, has established, from the mention in the book of Kings, of the articles brought to the court of King Solomon from India, that even before the time of Christ, there was trade between the Malabar Coast and Palestine in spices and luxury articles like ivory.
Therefore, it was quite natural for Thomas to come to India with the Gospel as the disciples went to different parts of the world in accordance with the commission given to them by Jesus Christ. In the true Apostolic tradition he preached first to the Jewish settlers in and around Cochin, and then worked among the Hindus. Through the ministry of the Word and the many miracles which tradition attributes to him, he brought many high caste Hindus to the Christian faith. It is believed that he organized 7 Christian communities for the use of these Christians, and ordained presbyters from four leading families.
Recently a new Church has been built under the joint auspices of all the Christian denominations of Kerala at the site agreed upon by all concerned. This Church has historical significance as the first Church built and dedicated by all the denominations together as a symbol of the heritage from St. Thomas. It is believed that St. Thomas proceeded to the East coast of India and died a martyr’s death at a place called St. Thomas Mount, and was buried at Mylapore in Madras.
Dr.Juhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan concludes the Chapter on the St. Thomas Tradition in his book Christianity in India and a Brief History of the Mar Thoma Church as follows:
“The History of the Christian Church in the first century does not depend entirely on historical documents. Tradition is often more true and more compelling than plain historic proof. In this sense St. Peter's founding of the Roman Church and St. Thomas' founding of the Malabar Church, may be said to stand on the same footing. Both are supported by traditions which are sufficiently early and sufficiently strong”.
Mention is made in the records of the Council of Nicea (AD 325), of the presence of a Bishop John of India. Jawaharlal Nehru in his 'Glimpses of World History' (1934) commented as follows:-
“You may be surprised to learn that Christianity came to India long before it went to England or Western Europe, and when even in Rome it was a despised and proscribed sect. Within 100 years or so of the death of Jesus, Christian Missionaries came to South India by sea. They were received courteously and permitted to preach their new faith. They converted a large number of people, and their descendants have lived there, with varying fortune, to this day. Most of them belong to old Christian sects which have ceased to exist in Europe.”
The history of this ancient Church during 4th to 15th centuries reveals the fact that it was in friendly relations with the Church in Persia. There is a tradition that a group of 400 immigrants from Persia arrived in Malabar in AD 345 under the leadership of a merchant named Thomas of Cana, known as Knaye Thommen. Mention is made also of another immigration from Persia in the year AD 825 under the leadership of a Persian merchant named Marwan Sabriso with two Bishops named Mar Sapro and Mar Prodh. They landed in Quilon. King CheramanPerumal gave them land and extended to them special privileges, inscribed on two sets of Copper Plates (in Malayalam “Chepped”). Three of these are still in the Old Seminary in Kottayam and two are at the Mar Thoma Church Head Quarters, Tiruvalla.
The Church has now 1166 parishes including congregations, divided into twelve dioceses. There are 13 Bishops including the Metropolitan and 795 active priests (and 151 retired priests). It has a democratic pattern of administration with a representative assembly (PrathinidhiMandalam), an executive council (Sabha Council) and an Episcopal Synod.