Christians Of St. JOHN, Disciples of St. John, Nazareans, Meiidseans, or Sabscans, designations applied indiscriminately, and with great confusion, to a sect of religionists now only found in Persia, chiefly in the neighborhood of Bassorah. They are not Christians in any sense, as they assert Jesus to be an impostor, and install John the Baptist in his place. They claim to have existed from his time, and consider their origin to have been on the banks of the Jordan. They account for their present locality by asserting that the Mohammedans drove them away from Palestine, some to Per-sia, and some to India. They afterward joined the Nestorians to avoid another persecution, and allowed themselves to be called Christians. They were separated again from the Nestorians more than 300 years ago. Critics and historians are divided in opinion as to their origin. Neander thinks that the name Mendajans signifies disciples, and Sabasans, baptizers; and that the sect took its origin from those disciples of John the Baptist who, after the martyrdom of their master, adopted a course hostile to Christianity, and that from them afterward sprung up this sect, formed out of the elements of an older eastern theosophy. Their doctrines are, however, well defined.
They consider the Jehovah of the Old Testament a spurious God, and the Christ of the New a false teacher. They consider the world to have been created by gloomy angels, who belong to the kingdom of darkness, of whom there are seven, who inhabit the seven planets, while there is also a kingdom of light, superintended by good angels. Back of these kingdoms, in unspeakable splendor, is the supreme original being, Ferha, and the female principle, Ajar. Darkness triumphs over light, but there is a struggle between the two kingdoms, and through successive revelations to the kingdom of light, and so to the world, the rule of darkness is to be broken. The Jewish system was not such a revelation; it came from the realm of darkness. So did that of Jesus. But in John the Baptist they hold that the revelation was from the kingdom of light. The means of introducing men to that kingdom is baptism. John they relate to have been born from a kiss of Zachariah. They also say that John himself was married, but that his children sprung out of the Jordan. They have five sacred books, four of them doctrinal, and the fifth on astrology. They consider baptism as the great and only means of forgiveness and salvation.
They prohibit mourning for the dead, tolerate polygamy even among the priests, and forbid the "elect," or those advanced to the higher degrees of the faith, to use sensual indulgences, or to sing or dance. They keep a sort of festival resembling the agape of the primitive Christians, and have a singular antipathy to blue color. In the middle of the 17th century, when they first became known through the Persian missionaries, there were supposed to be from 20.000 to 25,000 families of them.
Christians Of St. THOMAS, a branch of the ancient Syro-Persian church, established on the coast of Malabar. They have a tradition that St. Thomas himself preached the gospel to them, and established their church. The earliest certain history we have of the Syro-Persian church is in a writer of the 6th century. It was formed by the union of the excommunicated Nestorians (499) who held to the Mono-physite doctrine. In their practices and doctrines they claim to be primitive. They still celebrate the agape, commemorate the Lord's supper with bread, salt, and oil, and anoint the body of the infant at the time of baptism. Their priests shave the head, and are allowed to marry. They use the Syriac language in the liturgy. During the Portuguese occupancy of the country they submitted to the Catholic church; but when the Dutch obtained the ascendancy the Nestorians resumed their ecclesiastical independence, and still preserve it.