From Ancient times Malabar coast of India was a well known trade centre for spices , ivory , black pepper etc and ships were carrying these to the kingdoms of Persia and Rome . It is believed that Saint Thomas one of the Apostle of Jesus arrived in Malabar coast in AD 52 and established Christianity in Malabar coast converting few of the local Hindu priests. Later he went to the Coromandel coast of India was martyred and his tomb is still in India near Madras .
The Ancient Church established in the Malabar coast of India (presently known as Kerala state) was autocephalus in nature and was known as Malankara( Malabar) church and the head of the Church was known with the title ‘MarThoma’ .
The church had connections with the Orthodox churches of Persia, Antioch and Jerusalem and hence the traditions , worship and vestments were of Eastern Orthodox in nature and the Liturgical Language was Eastern Syriac, a form of Ancient Aramaic Language which was spoken by our Lord.
The church later came into contact with the western churches through the Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries in 17th -19th century. These influences caused many divisions within the Ancient Malankara church. The first division happened when the Portugese Roman Catholic Missionaries tried to bring the church under the control of Rome and forced the members to use Latin Liturgy . The group which resisted such move continued to remain as an independant church having liturgical worship and tradition of Eastern Orthodox in nature.
Due to the influences of the Church Missionary Society of Great Britain, when Bible was made available in the native language Malayalam, the church underwent reformation in the light of the biblical doctrine in 1836 . Malpan Rev.Abraham Palakunnathu (Malpan-means Teacher/ Professor), a Professor of the Ancient Seminary in Kerala was attracted to the reformation propagated by the CMS Missionaries of the Anglican Church. He was the key personality in the Reformation of the Ancient Malabar Church .He translated the Ancient Syriac Liturgy in to the native language Malayalam in light of the open Bible. His nephew Deacon Mathew who had formal English Education was elected by the church as the Bishop candidate who later became the Primate of the church and was named as Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan of See of Malabar by Patriarch of Antioch . Metropolitan Mar Athanasius led the reformation within the ancient church of Malabar .
This caused second major division within the church and the group which accepted the reformation under the leadership of Metropolitan Mathews Mar Athanasius became Malankara MarThoma Church and the other group which accepted the faith of Syrian Patriarch of Antioch, rejected the reformation and became the Malankara Orthodox church.
The MarThoma church uses the Modified ( Reformed) and translated version of St.James liturgy which is an ancient Syriac liturgy used in the Church of Antioch, Today the church has full communion with Church of South India and Church of North India.and has special communion for Episcopal ordination in terms of laying of hands with the Independent Syrian church of Malabar,Thozhiyoor,Kerala, and has Social and friendly ecumenical relations with all the denomination in India including the Roman Catholic church .
Each and every adult member of the MarThoma church is expected to be living as an evangelist of the church wherever they go and live and hence in their travel ,the members took with them the rich heritage and devotion from the mother church,which resulted in planting congregations in the land wherever they lived. Today MarThoma Church has many congregations in America, Europe, Africa, Arabian Gulf, Andaman & Nicobar Islands ,Malaysia, Singapore ,Australia apart from the numerous churches and mission centres, hospitals and schools in all the states of North India and South India.
MarThoma church is Oriental in origin, Eastern in traditions, Episcopal in nature, Democratic in administration, Catholic in mission, Reformed in faith , and Evangelical in outreach work and Ecumenical in vision and each and every adult member of the Church is considered to be an Evangelist.