Catholicate – Introduction

The Catholicate of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church


Catholicos (plural Catholicoi) is a title used by the Patriarch (head/regional head bishop) of the Eastern churches. The word is a transliteration of the Greek, meaning concerning the whole, universal or general.

Origin of the title

The title rose sometime after the establishment of the three ancient Patriarchs (of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch). It first seems to have been applied to the churches east of the Roman Empire in the Persian Empire, where it is believed to be in the succession of Apostle Thomas. According to Bar Hebraeus Apostle Thomas is the first in the succession in the East. However the historical evidences point to the fact that the office of the Catholicos of the East was founded in the early 5th century (410) when the Persian Church declared its autonomy. Thus the Catholicos of the East became the head of the Persian church.

In the ministry of the early church there were only three ranks namely; Episcopos (Bishop), Priest and Deacon. By the end of the third century or by the beginning of the fourth century certain bishops of certain important cities or provincial capitals in the Roman empire gained pre- eminence than other bishops and they came to be known as Metropolitans. The Ecumenical councils of the fourth century recognized the authority of these Metropolitans.

By the fifth century the Bishops in major cities like Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch etc. gained control over the churches in the surrounding cities. Gradually they became the heads of each independent regional church and were called Patriarch which means common father

The same rank in the Churches outside the Roman Empire was called Catholicos. There were three ancient Catholicates in the Church before the fifth century. They were the Catholicate of the East (Persia), the Catholicate of Armenia and the Catholicate of Georgia. None of these ranks and titles are the monopoly of any church. Any Apostolic and national church has the authority to declare and call its head, Catholicose, Pope, or Patriarch.The area of influence of a catholicos is a catholicate.

Some of the Catholicates are as follows:

Catholicates of the Armenian Apostolic Church
Catholicates of the Holy Apostolic Assyrian Church of the East
Catholicates of Georgian, and Albanian Orthodox Churches
Catholicate of the Orthodox Churches of the East

Catholicate of the Orthodox Churches of the East:

The historic office of the canonical Orthodox Catholicate of the East within the Oriental Orthodox Church came to be later known as Maphryono (Anglicized as Maphrian; meaning Fructifier) in Syriac following the split within Eastern Church due to Nestorian schism. Historically, the Maphryono ranks second in hierarchy of the Syrian Orthodox Church after the Patriarch of Antioch. At least seven of the Maphryonos have later been elevated as the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. This historic office of ‘Maphryono’ came to an end in a council of all the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitans presided over by the then Patriarch of Antioch in 1861. In 1912 when a dispute erupted in the Indian church, one section of the Church in India declared the revival of this office and thus starts the new history of the Catholicate in India. Thus begins the history of two Orthodox Churches in India with one faction remaining in unity with the ancient Syrian Church of Antioch while the other faction declaring as autocephalous Church. From 1964 there is a brief era of unity between both factions but a decade later the two factions again