Sacraments In The Mar Thoma Syrian Church

(The following are excerpts from the book TOWARDS THE FIRST HOLY COMMUNION DAY: AN OUTLINE OF THE MAR THOMA CATECHISM edited by Rev. Dr. P. G. George, Principal, Dharma Jyoti Vidya Peeth, Faridabad and published by Dharma Jyoti Vidya Peeth & Christava Sahithya Samithy, New Dehi/Tiruvalla)

Though we cannot limit the sacraments to a fixed number, as a tradition there are seven Sacraments administered in the Mar Thoma Church:

1. Holy Baptism
2. Holy Qurbana (Holy Communion)
3. Holy Confirmation
4. Holy Confession
5. Holy Matrimony
6. Holy Ordination
7. Holy Unction

Each sacrament has five essential ideas. They are:

  • Intention
  • Meaning
  • Words of Institution
  • Matter
  • Celebrant

The word "sacrament" signifies one of the seven central liturgical rites of the church through which participants experience the paschal mystery of Christ, are formed into the body of Christ and grow in the life of grace.

Thus sacraments help us to strengthen our belief in Jesus. They are clear witness to Gods grace and symbols of Gods mercy. Sacramental life is a life of discipline and a life of praise and thanksgiving.

Sacraments are not seen as an extra in spiritual experience. It is the essence of spiritual life. Spiritual life could be retarded or handicapped without the efficacy of the sacraments. Thus the whole life is a journey through grace, more accountable and responsible.

1. HOLY BAPTISM (MAMODISA)

Bible Readings

1. Baptism of Jesus Matthew 3:13
2. The family baptism Acts 16:15
3. One baptism, one Lord Ephesians 4:5
4. Baptism is to Body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:13
5. Baptism to be one with Christ Romans 6:3, 10
6. Baptism as dying and raising with Lord Colossians 2:12
7. Baptism should not be repeated Hebrews 6:2


Those who respond to the Gospel of Gods love in Christ with faith are baptized and become members of the church. The words, baptise and baptism go back to the Greek word bapto which means to dip. In classical Greek, it denotes the dipping of hot steel in water to temper it. The Greek verb, baptizein means to dip, to plung under water. The nouns, baptisma and baptismos do not occur in the LXX. The Greek word, baptisma, is the fully accepted word for Christian baptism.

In Malankara church the word mamodisa" (Malayalam) is used for baptism. What does it mean? How did we get this usage? The Aramaic equivalent for the Greek word baptisma is mamodisa which means "immersion" or "washing". The Malankara Church through its long association with the Aramaic-Syriac speaking Nestorian and Syrian Churches adopted the use of the term mamodisa for the sacrament of baptism.

In the Old Testament Church the act of initiation was called circumcision. (Gen. 17:10-17) For the people of Israel it was through circumcision that one enters into covenant with God. We can very well say that baptism in the New Testament is equivalent to circumcision in the Old Testament. St. Paul defines Christian baptism using the metaphor of circumcision, "In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ." (Col.2:11)

The New Testament evidence suggests that the Christian baptism is based on the baptism of John the Baptist "incorporating its idea of repentance and deliverance from wrath, and adding those of union with Christ and admission to the Christian Church." It is an undeniable fact that there is a link, if not a recognizable continuity, between Christian baptism and the baptism that was initiated by John the Baptist. (For Johns baptism Mk. 1:4-5; 11:30; Lk. 3:7; Acts 18:5; 19:1-7)

The holy baptism is initiation into Christian living. The baptism is the first ordination as a Christian. The basic Biblical teaching is to commence the spiritual formation as early as possible. Baptismal liturgy has two parts:

  • First is the naming ceremony (sealing)
  • Second is the anointing ceremony


We believe that God makes a special claim on the child at the time of baptism. Before the baptism liturgy proper, there is a separate thanksgiving service for the mother of the child for the safe delivery and good health.

The symbols used in baptism are:

1. Water

The water is used in baptism ceremony and it represents purification. "He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Lk. 3:16) Hot and cold water is used. It is understood that the hot water symbolizes fire" and symbolizes the two natures of Christ. "One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out." (John 19:34)

2. Syth

The syth is consecrated olive oil is placed on the forehead of the candidate for baptism and sealed with the sign of the cross. It symbolizes the privileges of the children of God. It is also used for healing. (Mk. 6:33; Lk. 10:34; James 5:14-16)

3. Mooron

The mooron is the holy oil, literally mean "fragrant oil". It is prepared meticulously and prayerfully using olive oil and a lot of spices. It is blessed at a special service by the Metropolitan and the Episcopal Synod for the church. Confirmation follows the baptism with mooron.

All these are symbols for new life in Jesus Christ. Through baptism one unites with the body of Christ and the Holy Spirit strengthens the person to become a true witness of Jesus Christ and a co-worker in the building up of his Kingdom.

The practice of baptizing children varies from church to church and tradition to tradition. In the Mar Thoma Church, both infant baptism and the adult baptism are being practiced. The adults who come to faith in Jesus Christ through the mission of the church are given baptism at any age and inducted as members of the church. New Testament speaks of the children born to Christian parents as holy and they believed that they should be included in the membership of the church. Christian parents have the responsibility to get their children baptized and brought up in the fear of God and in participation of the worship and the fellowship of the church. When they grow they will become committed Christians and living members of the church.

When a person is baptized the liturgy prescribes a special place for the representatives of the community of faith. It is in the form of godfather and godmother. They reiterate the faith and thus engaging the whole church in the process. Through that the community is undertaking the responsibility of raising the child by giving Christian nurture.

Theological implications of baptism:

1. Baptism is a process of incorporating an individual into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) A new world comes into being in the life of an individual. The barriers that divided humankind get reconciled in the body of Christ (Gal. 3:27)

2. The candidate is committed to the grace of God through his/her participation in the life of Christ. It is through dying and rising with Christ, as symbolized in baptism, that the believer is reminded of leading a holy life (Col. 2:13; 3:1; Eph. 2:5-6). The imperative of the baptismal commitment is well stated in Rom. 6:3 "that he/she may walk in the newness of life." The baptized is to lead a life as an "instrument of righteousness and to stand not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14)

3. The candidate is also ordained to the priestly and kingly ministry of Christ in the world. The missionary motif is depicted in the chants at the closing of the Baptismal liturgy.

It is a sad thing that many baptized Christians do not grow to Christian maturity and continue as nominal Christians. Postponement of baptism to adult year is not a solution to the spiritual lethargy and backsliding.

Continuous catechetical teaching and spiritual nourishment through Christian families and the local parishes would ensure building up of a firm faith in the children.

2. ANOINTING WITH MOORON

In the Mar Thoma Church the confirmation is done as part of the baptism service itself. The latter part of the liturgy of baptism is called anointing with the consecrated oil (mooron). It is can be understood as equivalent to the Confirmation in other church traditions. It is understood as adopting into or confirmation into the full membership of

In the Old Testament the oil was used for anointing priests (Ex. 30:22-25), kings (1Sam. 10:1; 16:13; 1 K. 1:39) and prophets (Isa. 61:1). In the early church, anointing was done by the apostles personally or by those sent by the apostles, through which the candidates received the Holy Spirit. After the apostolic period, instead of the bishops personally touching the baptismal candidates and praying for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in them, the practice of anointing them with mooron was introduced. The Mar Thoma Church and other churches of eastern rites practise this way. In the Western Churches, the old system of the bishops personally blessing and praying for the confirmation candidates continues.

3. SACRAMENT OF CONFESSION AND ABSOLUTION

Confession is a sacrament which is administered before receiving the Holy Qurbana. In the Mar Thoma Church and in the Anglican Communion and other Protestant traditions, the Confession is made in public, while in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches they are private, between the priest and the believer. It is called auricular confession. In the Malankara Reformation we have done away with the practice of auricular confession.

Sin invites punishment and it is death. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 6:3) In the Old Testament times and in many other religious traditions sacrifice was practiced to annul the penalty for sin. The name Jesus points to the mission for which he came, "you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21)

Similarly John the Baptist introduces Jesus as the Lamb of God, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn. 1:29) Through the death of Jesus we have forgiveness of sins. How do we appropriate this forgiveness? It is through confession. Like David asking for Gods mercy and forgiveness as we see in Psalms 51, we could approach the throne of grace with our broken heart. There are some stages in the forgiveness:

  • self-awareness about sin
  • the decision to overcome it
  • seeking a remedy
  • decision to live anew.


Every time we come to the Table of the Lord, we need to get the assurance of Gods forgiveness. We live in this world and there is every possibility for us to fall into sin. We ask Gods forgiveness and according to his promises he would forgive us our sins. "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn. 1:9)

The sacrament of Confession helps us to live in freedom and peace. The gift of absolution is a part of the healing ministry of the church. The priest pronounces the Absolution: "God in his mercy has forgiven all those who have truly confessed their sins." The Declaration of Absolution is an affirmation to live our lives with boldness and courage. Confession can be said as a "medicine" for healing of body, mind and soul.

4. HOLY QURBANA

Bible Readings

1. Jesus blessed the bread Matthew 26.26
2. Jesus is the bread of life John 6.5
3. Jesus is the host Luke 24.30,31
4. Prepare, practice 1 Cor 11.23-33
5. Qurbana as Thanksgiving 1 Cr. 14:16; 2 Cor. 4:15
6. New Covenant Mark 14:24
7. Eternal life through Communion John 6.54
8. Last Supper and Feet Washing John 13:1-15


The Holy Qurbana is a sacrament instituted by Lord Jesus Christ. It has been the central act of worship of the Christians. It was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper he had with his disciples. A communicant member is the one who participates regularly in the Holy Qurbana. All active members of the church are communicant members. In the Mar Thoma Church there was no attempt to define the meaning of the Holy Qurbana in a doctrinal way. In the Eastern Churches it is conceived as a mystery. It is conceived as the means of appropriating the grace of God.

The word Aramaic word Qurbana means offering or that which is brought near to the presence of the Lord. There are different names:

  • Holy Eucharist
  • Holy Communion
  • Table of the Lord
  • Lords Supper
  • Mass


The Holy Communion is the participation and celebration of the body of Christ. As the people of God have been led through the desert by manna, it is the food for the Kingdom living. It is both food and medicine. The participation in the communion heals and redeems us. It is the queen of the sacraments. It is in faith and in the grace of God it becomes redeeming and medicinal not by any magic.

The institution of the Lords Supper was at the Last Supper which is connected with Passover meal of the Jews. Passover is celebrated annually to commemorate the great deliverance of the people of Israel from oppression in Egypt by the mighty hand of Yahweh and of the covenant by which they were made the chosen people and were given the Law to obey so that they may be a light to all peoples. At every Passover they remember all these and renew their commitment to God who liberated them and made them his special people and to obey Gods will expressed in the Law. It becomes a renewal of their faith and obedience (old covenant).

According to the Synoptic tradition, on the day of the Passover meal Jesus enacted and interpreted what was going to happen on the next day on the cross. According to the Johanine tradition Christ died on the cross at the time when the Passover Lamb was slaughtered in the Jerusalem Temple. And thus Christ became the Passover lamb. We follow the Johanine tradition. Through the Holy Qurbana the Lord invites us to participate with him in the experience of his death and resurrection.

In the Holy Qurbana the believer appropriates the blessing wrought through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. In every celebration of the Eucharist the bread and the wine, the broken body and the shed blood of Christ at Calvary, is re-presented before the faithful. In thankfulness for the great liberation from the slavery of sin or self, made possible by the supreme manifestation of the love of God on the cross of Christ and his whole life, the faithful offer themselves anew, as the people of God of the new Covenant in Christ.

The people of God who partake of the body and blood of Christ are strengthened to share in his mission of reconciling the world unto himself by proclaiming the Gospel of love to all men and serving all in need. In Communion they receive him and in the strength of the Spirit they go out into the world rejoicing in the sure hope of ultimate triumph of love over all evil, at the coming in glory - the consummation of the Kingdom - when all tears will be wiped out from every eye and all the saints, living and dead, will share and rejoice in the presence of God.

There are various theories on the Holy Quarbana in the Christian traditions. A few are as follows:

  • Transubstantiation
  • Consubstantiation
  • Receptionalism
  • Real Presence
  • Memorial Theory
  • Musterion-Mystery


There are different liturgies for Holy Qurbana in use. St. James Liturgy is widely used in the Mar Thoma Church. The Service falls into the following parts:

  • Thooyaba - The Order of Preparation
  • Ante-Communion
    • Ekba
    • Trisagion
    • Reading of the Epistle
    • Reading of the Gospel
    • Promeon, Sedra
    • Nicene Creed
    • Preaching of the Word (Followed by Confession and Absolution)
  • Communion Proper - Anaphora
    • Kiss of Peace
    • First Benediction
    • Words of Institution
    • Prayers of Epiclesis and Anamnesis
    • The Great Intercession (Tubden)
    • Second Benediction
    • Breaking the Bread
    • Third Benediction
    • Administering the elements
    • Final Blessing

    Love and fellowship are the hallmarks of the church. Kiss of Peace is exchanged between members of the faith community during the Qurbana as a demonstration of their unity, fellowship and mutual forgiveness as the extension of forgiveness from God.

    i. Words of Institution
    The words of Jesus give meaning to the act of celebration.
    • "This is my body"
    • "This is my blood of the New Covenant"
    • "Do this in remembrance of me"

    These words stand for the total Christ event (birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension) and it becomes the experience of those who partake in the Holy Qurbana.

    ii. Anamnesis
    Qurbana is celebrated in remembrance of Jesus on the earth - His life, agony, death and resurrection. Here remembrance means to make Christs presence an actual reality to the believers.

    iii. Epiklesis
    In the Eastern liturgy the words of institution are followed by epiclesis. It is an invocation of the Holy Spirit to bless the bread and the wine. There are teachings to connect epiclesis with the theory of transubstantiation by which they claim that at the time of prayer the bread and the wine in its substance transform into the real body and blood of Christ, but the accidents do not change. The terms substance (that which is not seen) and accidents (that which is seen) are used in Aristotelian Philosophy. This was used by Thomas Aquinas to frame the theory of transubstantiation. The eastern churches do not subscribe to this opinion. It remains as a mystery.

    Five dimensions of Christian faith are implicit in the Eucharistic meal.

    1. The meal points backward (Retrospective look)
    It is a memorial celebration pointing back both to the death of Jesus and to the life of Jesus in which he provided fellowship meals, both with his disciples and with the outsiders and marginalized persons (9:10-13, 11:19, 26:6-13) The meal has a gift dimension.

    2. The meal points forward (Prospective look)
    The meal points forward to its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. Primary meaning is eschatological, anticipating the joy of the Messianic banquet. The Eucharist is a futuristic celebration of the victory which is sure.

    3. The meal points inward (Introspective look)
    The meal points inward as a call to self-examination on the part of the participants (1 Cor. 11:29-30) Betrayal is a possibility. There is cleansing and reconciliation.

    4. The meal points upward (A Mounting look)
    The meal points upward to the heavenly realm where the risen and exalted Christ is enthroned. Symbols body and blood of Jesus now point beyond themselves to the transcendent realm. Mystery!

    5. The meal points outward (A Panoramic look)
    The meal points outward to the whole church and to the world. It is a testimony to others (1 Cor. 11:26). A new community is born. It reminds us of the words of Jesus to the disciples, "You give them to eat."

    All people who are baptized into the body of Christ have the right to participate in this meal in which Jesus Christ himself is the host.

    A common understanding of the Eucharist is emerging among the churches through the work of the World Council of Churches (WCC). A document was published with this ecumenical understanding. It is called Lima Document. A common Eucharistic liturgy is developed called the Lima Liturgy.

    5. Holy Matrimony
    Bible Readings
    Marriage within the tradition Numbers 36.8
    To build a generation in faith Deuteronomy 6: 1-3
    Marriage mutual submission in Christ Ephesians 5.21-26
    Marriage lasting union in Christ Matthew 19:1-9
    Marriage to be honored Hebrews 13:4
    Marriage acceptable to the lord 1 Cor. 7.39

    Marriage is administered to those who are specially called, committed and set apart for it. It is being solemnized in the church, in the context of the community of the faithful. A special liturgy is used for the occasion.

    Family is the basic unit of human community. God brings together a man and a woman to become husband and wife in the institution of marriage. The family is the miniature of the Kingdom of God. It is a little church. The marriage is the sign and sacrament of the kingdom of God .The relation with the family is covenant based. It is joining the community of generation formation. The family is made possible by God.

    The Order of service is rich in symbols and chants. The paradigm for family there is the relationship between Christ and the Church. Christ is symbolized as the divine bridegroom and the church as his bride. The wedding liturgy has two parts:

    • The Liturgy of the Blessing of the rings (service of betrothal or engagement)
    • The Liturgy of the Blessing of the crown (service of consecration of the crown/marriage proper)

    In the sacrament of marriage according to the Mar Thoma rite, the celebrant on behalf of the church blesses the rings and adorns the couple. During the service the bride and the bridegroom are crowned as the royal couple to live a victorious life with Christ. The hands of the Bridegroom and the Bride are united and the Gospel (the Word of God) is read over it. The union is sealed not with the human words but with the Word of God".

    Marriage is not just a contract between man and woman, but an everlasting covenant between them. It is a solemn affirmation before God and an opportunity to receive His grace for a solid Christian family life. The relationship ends only with death. In marriage, man and woman share the joy and pain of life. The solidarity of the family depends on the faithfulness of the married couple. We need strong and healthy families in the building up of a great Nation and in the building up of the whole human civilization. We have to be on guard!

    The cultural symbols which are adopted into the marriage liturgy are also significant. The tying of minnu or thali (mangalya sutra) with an engraved sign of the cross around the neck of the bride by the bridegroom is a solemn act and then she is adorned with a very beautiful manthrkodi or pudava (a beautiful sari). It is not the externalities that make the marriage work, the healthy transactions of two good human beings dedicated to God and to each other in the bond of marriage. The local parish churches should help and encourage the newly weds to find their rightful place in the community and allow them to capture the vision to share in the mission of the church.

    6. Holy Ordination
    The act of ordination is the apostolic heritage of the church and it is done by the laying on of hands and prayer. In the Mar Thoma Church we believe in the priesthood of all believers. (1 Peter 2:9) The royal priesthood has been given to the whole church.

    The baptismal service is the ordination to this royal priesthood. The members of the community of faith who have the call for the full time ministry are separated through the service of ordination after much screening, prayer and preparation.

    In the ministry of the church there is continuity and a discontinuity from the Jewish faith. The church has inherited a lot of functions from her Jewish predecessor. The major difference between the Jewish system of Priesthood and the Christian office of priesthood, the former is hereditary but the latter is more representatively and charismatic. The ministry of the church is traditionally carried out through three main offices:

    • Deacon (Semsana)
    • Priest (Kassessa)
    • Bishop (Episcopa)

    In the early church Diaconate was a permanent office. (Acts 6:2-3) In the Mar Thoma church, it is now the first step to priesthood. When the Deacons are separated from the brotherhood for the ministry, the church prays for the special charisma of the Holy Spirit.

    In the same way when the Deacons are elevated to the office of Priesthood the church again prays for special anointing of the Holy Spirit. They are called to become stewards of the mystery. They are appointed to the ministry of the Word and Sacraments. The ordained ministry is for the people of God in the community of faith. Two elements are essential to the ordained ministry:

    • The Call and commitment
    • The setting apart by the community

    The call is from God and it is the work of the Holy Spirit. The setting apart is done by the church. The ordained person is thus authorized to perform certain functions within the discipline of the church. The Ordination service is always done within the Holy Qurbana.

    The important symbols used in the ordination service are:
    • cutting of hair in the shape of a cross
    • Putting sosappa on the head of the candidate

    The Bishop in addition to the functions of a Deacon and a Priest does the function of an overseer (episcopa) Bishop. He acts as the Supervisor of the entire church. Bishop, Metran (the Noble leader, a worthy leader), Episcopa (Supervisor) are parallel terms.

    An Episcopa is one who is called to be the custodian and teacher of true faith. The Metropolitan in the Mar Thoma Church is primus inter pares (first among equals) and represents the church in ecclesial matters as administrative head.

    All these offices are leadership positions. The style of leadership is that of servant leader. Jesus in his public ministry demonstrated this model and the world looks up to such man/woman of God for counsel and direction.

    7. Holy Unction
    Bible Readings
    Disciples healed by anointing Mark 6.13; 16:18
    Anointing by the ministers James 5.14-15

    This is a sacrament which can be given at any time of life. This is the assurance of Gods healing and forgiving. This is the healing of the total person. In the Gospels we read about the healing ministry of Jesus. (Mk. 6:13; 16:18)

    In the early church the elders anointed the sick with oil in the name of the Lord and prayed for them. "Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven." (James 5:14-15)

    Through anointing, the church prays for cure. It is not the physical wellbeing alone that God promises. He assures mental and spiritual wellbeing. The sacrament of Anointing looks forward in hope and it is thus a comfort giving sacrament.

    The second part of the liturgy is administered in case of terminal illness. The prayers are intended to prepare the person for his/her final journey. It is a solemn service which gives hope of eternal life for the sick person and assurance and strength of the presence of God to the members of the family.