Coonan Cross Oath – Jan 3 I Koonen Kurishu Sathyam
The Coonan Cross Oath also known as the Great Oath of Bent Cross, the Leaning Cross or the Slanting Cross, taken on 3 January 1653 in Mattancherry, was a public proclamation and avowal by members of the Saint Thomas Christians of the Malankara that they would not submit to the Jesuits and Latin Catholic hierarchy, nor accept Portuguese dominance (Padroado) in ecclesiastical and secular life.
The Coonan Cross Oath (Oath of the Slanting Cross) by the St Thomas Christians, reacting to the persecution of their Church by the Portuguese colonials and Roman Catholic Church who sought to bring it under Portuguese issued by the Pope of Rome. Those who swore the oath vowed that neither they nor their descendants to come would have anything to do with the Portuguese and that they would never bow down before them. The St Thomas Christians remained in communion with the Orthodox Church of the East until their encounter with the Portuguese Catholics in 1498. With the establishment of Portuguese power in parts of India, clergy of that nationality, in particular certain members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), attempted to Latinize the Indian Christians. They ruled the Christians with an iron of rod and attempted to abolish Suryani (Syriac) language and introduce Latin. Those who differed in the minutest trifle were persecuted.
On hearing about the persecution suffered by his flock in Malankara, the Patriarch of Antioch, Mar Ignatius Ahathalla, set out to Malankara in 1652. He arrived in Surat and proceeded to St. Thomas Mount, Mylapore. He was captured by the Portuguese enroute and was taken to Madras. Two Syrian Christian deacons from Malankara, Chengannur Itty and Kuravilanagad Kezhakkadethu Kurian, who were on pilgrimage to Mylapore heard about the incident. They managed to meet Mar Ahathalla and secured a letter from him appointing Archdeacon Thomas as the Episcopa of Malankara, with the condition that a proper ordination would be obtained as soon as the situation permitted. In the meantime, Mar Ahathalla was brought to Cochin. On hearing about his arrival, hoards of Syrian Christians rushed to the Cochin Port to free their holy father. They were unable to free Mar Ahathalla. He was taken to Goa in a ship and burnt on the stake. But news spread that he was drowned in the Arabian Sea with a millstone tied to his neck. As the news of this cruelty spread, the Syrian Christians were on the verge of an emotional outburst.
On Friday, 3rd January 1653 AD at Mattancherry Church yard, under the leadership of Archdeacon Thomas and a Knanaya priest, Anjilimmoottil Ittythomman Kathanar (Rev. Itty Thomas), about 25000 Syrian Christians held on to a rope tied to a leaning cross (an ancient Assyrian cross that had become leaning with the passage of centuries) and pledged to expel the Jesuits, never surrender to any ecclesiastical authority or Portuguese Archbishop of Goa, Francis Garcia under the Roman yoke, but always remain to the Archdeacon until they got a bishop from the Eastern Church, maintaining their ancient rites and traditions. Rev. Itty Thomas was the main organizer of the rally for Koonan Cross Oath. According to the tradition out of the 2,00,000 Malankara Nazaranis only 400 remained with Roman Archbishop Garcia. This historic event is known as the Koonen Kurishu Sathyam (The Leaning Cross Oath, The Slanting/Bent Cross Oath). As our holy fathers remained firm in faith as handed down by apostles; on this day, may we be encouraged to remain faithful to the apostolic faith handed to us despite many challenges we may be called to face. The Koonan kurishu Oath preserved the St. Thomas tradition helping to protect the Malankara Orthodox Church from losing its heritage and long history.
Immediately after the Coonan Cross oath, they assembled at Alangatt, and twelve priests of Syrian community consecrated the Archdeacon Thomas of Pakalomattom family, who had received a order of authority from Patriarch Ahathalla and declared him the Episcopa of Malankara, giving him the name Mar Thoma I (1653 – 1670), the first in the long line up to Mar Thoma IX till 1816. He was thus the first indigenous bishop of Malankara church. And once again, Malankara Church became the integral part of the Syrian Orthodox Church, adopting its rituals, rites and liturgy as before.
This revolt thus split the Church into two: one group continued to recognize the prelates appointed by Rome (Pazhayacoor Suryanis) and the other broke away from Rome (Puthencoor Suriyanis). This latter group came to be known as the Syrian Orthodox Church of India. Those remained with Romans came to be known as Syrian Roman Catholics (now Syro-Malabar Rite, with liturgical language as Syriac).