India’s Mar Thoma church celebrated the 175th anniversary of its reformation with a visit from the general secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC), who said that “reformation requires a unity in which we challenge one another.”  

“The gift of the cross binds us together. Our open arms can be a sign of the ecumenical movement of the cross, showing that we need one another,” said the Rev. Olav Fyske Tveit on Aug.  20, addressing church leadership at the headquarters in Thiruvalla, Kerala state.

The Mar Thoma church traces its faith to St. Thomas the Apostle who is said to have reached Kerala in A.D. 52 with spice merchants from the Middle East and died a martyr in A.D. 72 at Mylapore.

The church treats August 16, 1836 as its “reformation” day and later assumed the name Mar Thoma (church of St. Thomas) after breaking away from the Orthodox fold under the influence of Anglican theology.

On his first visit to Kerala, where Christians account for one-fifth of the state’s 33 million people, Tveit hailed the Mar Thoma church’s “blending of two characteristic traits of the eastern ecclesial tradition and ethos as well as your reformation ideals corresponding to ... reformation movements in the Western Church.”

“The ancient roots of your church are always reminding you how the church must go back to the basic, to the Gospel of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, for which St. Thomas went to India,” Tveit said.

The gathering of about 1,000 people included church leader the Rev. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan. “This was a historic occasion for us,” the Rev K. S. Mathew, Mar Thoma church secretary, told ENInews on Aug. 23. The church has nearly one million members across the world, with the majority based in Kerala.