The Saint Thomas Christians of the Old Order English Rite Church is one of the various sects of Saint Thomas Christians who originated in India, specifically due to the missionary work of the Apostle Saint Thomas (Mar Thoma), primarily from Kerala. The Old Order English Rite Church developed in the early 1900’s under the name “St. Thomas Christian Church” when some of the leadership moved to Portugal, and later to the Americas.
Some Syrian Anglicans of the Anglican diocese of Travancore did not wish to be part of the Church of South India when the Anglicans and some other Christians were being merged. Eventually this left the minority of Syrian Anglicans in danger of no longer having a canonical standing. Some descendants of these brethren are with the Saint Thomas Christians to this day, and have merged with the Saint Thomas Christians of the Religion of Light. They are still referred to by the Old English Rite as “Syrian Anglicans.” There are others who, in the last ten years, due to political unrest between some religious leaders, left the Indian Orthodox Church to be part of our spiritual community. Saint Thomas Christians are not limited to a single ethnic group of people or geographic location. Our commission to share the gospel of the Kingdom of God is not viewed lightly.
An English liturgy was developed based on the Liturgy of Mar Mari and Mar Addai, and the Divine Liturgy of Saint James (Mar Ya’aqub), for those who were unable to use the standard Aramaic (Syriac) at that time. The name “Old Order English Rite” was then adopted by those who had joined the Church from Anglican backgrounds. With the exception of the Qurbana Qadisha in the Didache, along with the Divine Liturgy of Saint James and Liturgy of Mar Mari and Mar Addai, the Old Order English Rite uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer with some modifications. For example, we say “Yeshua” (ܝܫܘܥ ,ישוע) instead of “Jesus” (Ἰησοῦς) or “Mshikha” instead of “Christ.” With that being said, we do not object to the use of the English terms. We prefer Aramaic in our prayers and Scriptures, but we also know that not everyone is able to read the holy languages, thus a vernacular is permitted. We observe a special Qurbana Qadisha on Saturday mornings, and a regular Qurbana on weekdays. Some refer to Qadisha as “Divine Liturgy” or “Mass.” There are masses for regular days, Sabbaths and for High Holy Days. Each have their own corresponding liturgy in Aramaic and the vernacular.
The Holy Scriptures
Our Scriptures are known as the Peshitta Old and New Testaments. To this we include the Damkhalte and Didache, along with the Marganitha. The Peshitta Aurayta (Law), along with the Gospel, is read on Saturday mornings in Aramaic. The Damkhalte is an integral part of our daily worship services, so much so that it is placed on the altar to represent the Holy Gospel. In addition to the Holy Scriptures, we believe the writings and sayings of the Catholicos Patriarch are priceless.
We encourage individual members to read from the Scriptures each day, regardless of whether they attend worship services. Individuals and families are also encouraged to start local study groups to help spread the teachings of Mshikha to their neighbors and others. For English speaking brethren, we would like you to know that brethren are continuing to work on the Aramaica Study Bible which we pray will be released soon.
Similarities with Other Christians
Along with our own Aramaic prayers, because our community has been influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy over the years, we also include many prayers that are traditional to the Orthodox, as well as the use of holy icons. The same can be said to a lesser degree concerning influences of the Latin Church of the West.
What Distinguishes Us From Other Christians?
What distinguishes our community from that of most other Saint Thomas Christians, and Christians in general, is that we believe in the validity of the Holy Law given by God through Moses. We strive to observe the Commandments to the best of our ability, according to the words of our Lord Yeshua. “If you love me, observe my Commandments.”
We long for unity of our brethren, but there are some who do not have the same vision as we Saint Thomas Christians, especially when Holy Communion is concerned. We refuse none to Holy Communion who are baptized in the Religion of Light and properly disposed to receive the body and blood of Mshikha. The Catholicos Patriarch stated that “For any community within the Religion of Light to refuse a fellow adherent of the Religion of Light the bread and wine, truly present with the body and blood of Yeshua Mshikha, as long as the individual is properly disposed and in a state of grace, is standing against the truth as revealed in the Three Pillars of our faith.” He also said that “Any priest, deacon or elder who has been charged with the responsibility of administering the sacrament of Holy Communion in the Qurbana Qadisha, who refuses to receive any of the truly faithful, is in danger of being excommunicated.”
The Old Order English Rite Church has Ten Sacraments
- Confession to God and man
- Doctrine of the Twelve (Gospel, Didache, Tradition)
- Sacred ministry (Ordination, Apostolic Succession)
- Anointing with sacred oil
- Qurbana (Communion)
- Raising up of the Cross (Evangelism)
- Anointing of the sick
- Observance and devotion to the Word of the Fire of God (Three Pillars)
- Holy matrimony (Marriage)
Our doctrinal beliefs and practices are derived from what we refer to as the Three Pillars of the Faith: namely, the Holy Scriptures, the Blessed Traditions and the Divine Revelations.