The basis of liturgies used by all Malankara Syrian Christian Churches of Eastern origin is the Liturgy of St. James the Just. James was the Bishop of Jerusalem soon after the formation of the Church on the Pentecost. James was the brother of Jesus who was not a believer during Jesus’ lifetime and to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection. But he evidently had been a scholar in the scripture and had prestige as a rationalist and righteous man according to the law. We should assume that as time went on, this liturgy had changed its form in accordance with the times, but the basic structure remained the same. The liturgy reflects James understanding of the majesty of God (his brother). The liturgy plays a double role.

  • First, it is worship which takes the worshipper out of the mundane world into the dimensions of spirit to worship in spirit and truth.
  • Second, it is an expression of the message of salvation conveyed through all human senses.

The Liturgy of St. James is probably the oldest of the liturgies that ever existed. It is still used, occasionally at Jerusalem and is used on St. James’s day by all churches of Byzantine tradition. In Malankara (Kerala) all Syrian and Malankara Orthodox Churches (excluding those of Chalcedonian Orthodox) still follow this great traditional liturgy. In England, this was the basis of the liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The charismatic church of the Catholic Apostolic Church (Irvingites) of the 19th century borrowed many of the great symbolism in their services. During its development through the ages, there had been several modifications and changes because of the impact of modernism. The variations are particularly visible in the first part of the service – the ministry of the word. This portion developed because of the development of heresy within the church and to define the faith of the fathers. The culmination of this part of service became the recitation of the Nicene Creed. Further variations can be seen in the various churches of Malankara and in the Churches around the world.

The Mar Thoma Church for some reason removed the audible accompaniment with bells and rings. The reason for this is to be found in the Reformation theology where the church repudiated the transubstantiation theory. As the priest holds the bread and wine and brings it before the congregation, there is a loud peeling of bells and thundering hailing and worship and praise which led the congregation to believe that the bread and wine have miraculously turned into the flesh and blood of Jesus. The fact that it is an enactment is lost at least at this point. It is beautiful but leads practically to a sense of idol worship. To avoid this the church removed the wording “I carry the body and blood of Christ” and the entire accompaniment. The Mar Thoma Evangelical Church further removed the veil and the holy of holies bringing the table during the people. The concept is that the incarnation was the coming of God into the midst of his people – an old beautiful concept that echoed even in the tent temple in the desert. As a result, most of the pageantry of the scene is lost. The emphasis shifted from worship to memorial of the Last Supper.

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