The St. Thomas Christians

The church is known in the American See as the St. Thomas Christians which derives its Apostolic Succession from Antioch. As is the case with most of the ancient churches, this group of Christians was brought into being by one of the original Apostles of Jesus Christ: St. Thomas. St. Thomas Christians are Eastern Orthodox Catholics in the sense that the church originated in the "East" (India). This designation, "Eastern" or any other territorial or national name, derives from its original jurisdictional, cultural and ecclesiastical bounds of the Eastern Empire. And they are orthodox in the true meaning of the Greek which, when rendered into English, means "true doctrine" (correct teaching). The people of this ancient Apostolic church believe, teach and practice the maintenance of the original and correct teaching of the Apostles and of the ancient Catholic (meaning Universal) Church. Our uniqueness is in our congregational Catholic polity for all individual groups.

Today, the Church extends throughout the Eastern and the Western cultural, national and linguistic areas. Indeed, one of the most active and promising Sees are in the West, chiefly in North America, being established here in 1892 by an American priest, Joseph Rene Vilatte. Father Vilatte was titled Mar Timotheus, Archbishop of the Old Catholic Church in America. It is, therefore, incorrect to continue to identify the Church of the East with only Eastern regions, culture, forms or languages.

The Historic Church

The church was founded by Christ our God and passed on by the Holy Apostles, beginning at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. It was, at first, a Church of the East, notably of Jerusalem and Antioch. In time it was extended through missionary efforts to the major population and cultural centers, both in the East and in the West. In each region where the Church was established, a local headship grew up in form of priests and bishops. All were united by a common faith and by the spiritual leadership of the five Apostolic Patriarchates.

The early Church was governed by an oligarchy of Patriarchs rather than a monarchy resident in one center. The first in honor of these Patriarchs was the Roman, The Bishop of Rome, so designated by the voice of the whole Church at the First Ecumenical Council (AD 325) because he was the bishop of the Imperial City. The churches of Antioch and of Alexandria also were recognized as Patriarchates. Later, again by the voice of the whole Church were added the Churches of Constantinople and of Jerusalem as religious centers of patriarchal status. When the Emperor moved his capital from Rome to Byzantium (which he renamed Constantinople). The Fathers-in-Council accorded special honors to the Patriarch of Constantinople, like unto those previously bestowed on the Bishop of Rome. This was honored by most patriarchates until the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD when there arose distention and some of their autonomy was threatened. Constantinople became in essence the "New Rome." This culminated in a separation from the imperial Roman climate. Rome, the only Apostolic Patriarchate in the West at that time, severed sacramental and ecclesiastical relations with the balance of the Patriarchates in the East in the eleventh century.

A Church of Scripture and Tradition

The teachings of The Church of the East are derived from two sources: Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Scripture contains those truths taught by Christ to the Apostles and later put into writing. Apostolic Tradition represents those truths, but not committed to writing, and the perspective of the ancient magi who were consecrated Bishops in the Church by St. Thomas, the Great Apostle of the East. The Evangelist John tells us "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." (21:25)

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