Malankara church row: All you need to know about century-old dispute between Jacobite, Orthodox factions in Kerala
The Orthodox and Jacobite factions of Malankara Church, believed to have been established by St Thomas in AD 52, have been caught in a tussle over the possession of the St Mary's Church and thousand other parishes and properties, for over a century
On 3 July 2017, the Supreme Court ordered that the control of St Mary's Church and other places of worship be given to the Orthodox group of Malankara Church in Kerala
This dispute between the Jacobite and Orthodox factions of Malankara Church resurfaced again this week with the police making a forced entry into the St Mary's Church in Kochi
The two factions of Malankara Church, believed to have been established by St Thomas in AD 52, have been caught in a tussle over the possession of the St Mary's Church and thousand other parishes and properties, for over a century
Over a century-old dispute between the Jacobite and Orthodox factions of Malankara Church over the ownership of St Mary's Church in Piravom, Kerala and over thousand churches and properties belonging to the Syrian church, resurfaced this week in Kerala with the police making a forced entry into the church in Kochi and removing followers of the Jacobite faction.
According to PTI, when priests and followers of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Orthodox faction), escorted by the police, reached the church known as Piravom Valiya Palli in Kochi on Wednesday to take possession of it, hundreds of people belonging to the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church (Jacobites faction) were already camping in the church. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church followers were allowed to take possession of the church as per a 2017 Supreme Court verdict, and later a Kerala High Court order, ordering the state administration and the police to implement the apex court's order.
According to the report, the gates of the church were closed from inside by priests and followers of Jacobite faction, forcing the Orthodox faction priests to sit outside.
History of the tussle
The two factions of Malankara Church, believed to have been established by St Thomas in AD 52, have been caught in a tussle over the possession of the St Mary's Church and thousand other parishes and properties, for over a century.
The Jacobite-Orthodox row started in 1911, a few years after the Sultan of Turkey deposed Abdul Messih, then Patriarch of Antioch (the Metropolitan of Malankara Church owed its allegiance to the Patriarch) in 1903.
In 1908, Patriarch Abdullah Sattuf II was elected as the successor of Malankara Church. The same year Patriarch Sattuf II ordained Mar Geevarghese Dionysius (Dionysius VI) and Mar Kurilose Paulose as Metropolitan Designate.
According to NewsMinute, in 1908, the new Patriarch "tried to get registered papers from the Metropolitan (of Malankara) stating that the Patriarch held temporal authority over the church and its possessions".
After a few years, in 1911, the Patriarch excommunicated Dionysius VI, the Metropolitan of the Malankara Church, in a letter, thus causing a split in the Malankara Church into Jacobites and Orthodox factions.
In 1912, the deposed Patriarch Messih supported Dionysius VI and helped the 'ex-communicated' Metropolitan of Malankara Church separate itself from the Patriarch of Antioch, and thus create a new independent Catholicate and consecrate the new Catholicose. He granted full independence to the Malankara Church, including the right to appoint its own Metropolitans and Catholicose.
The Jacobites do not accept the Catholicose, saying that Patriarch Messih had no authority to consecrate a Catholicose for Malankara in 1912. However, the Orthodox deny it.
The Jacobites owe their allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch while the Orthodox owe their allegiance to the Catholicose of the East.
In 1934, after the death of Dionysius VI, the constitution of the Malankara Church was drafted and formally adopted, upon which the office of Metropolitan of the Church and Catholicose was combined. This Constitution would later help the Orthodox faction establish themselves as the legal custodians of the Malankara Church in the Supreme Court.
According to The Indian Express, "The two Churches reunified in 1959, but the truce lasted only until 1972-73. Since then, the two factions have been engaged in a battle over ownership of churches and their wealth. Attempts to settle ownership disputes out-of-court have often failed. Faction members have often clashed on the streets too, and both sides have taken custody of several churches depending on which one has local muscle power."
Due to the tussle, which has turned violent at times, between the two groups, more than 300 churches have been closed. In the past, government-backed attempts to resolve the dispute have failed as well.
The matters worsened after the Supreme Court in its 3 July 2017 verdict, ordered that the control of the place of worship be given to the Orthodox group. The apex court had also held that besides the Piravom Church, 1,100 parishes and their churches under the Malankara Church should be controlled by the Orthodox faction as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines. With this judgement, the Jacobite faction lost its legal status as the Malankara Syrian Church.
In November 2017, the court rejected a dozen petitions urging the apex court to review its July 2017 judgment.
According to The Hindu, prior to the 2017 judgment, "the apex court had twice previously intervened in the dispute between the two groups – once in 1958 and the second time in 1995. On both occasions, the apex court had upheld the validity of the 1934 constitution to administer the parish churches".
Kerala fails to implement verdict even after two years
Even though the Supreme Court had nearly two years ago allowed the Orthodox faction to offer prayers at the church, members belonging to the Jacobite faction allegedly prevented them from entering it, PTI said.
The Orthodox faction had moved the Kerala High Court after the state government failed to implement the top court order.
On 2 July, 2019, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and MR Shah, lashed out at the state government for its failure to implement the July 2017 order. The apex court warned the state government that it would summon the Kerala chief secretary for "making a mockery of the justice delivery system" .
"Tell your chief secretary that if he intends to go against the Supreme Court's order, we will call everyone here. Is Kerala above rule of law? You are making a mockery of the justice delivery system," an irked Bench had told the counsel appearing for the state.
In August 2019, the apex court refused to intervene into the matter and asked the Jacobites to approach the Kerala High Court.
What're the latest protests about?
Priests and followers of Orthodox faction had on Sunday entered the St Mary's Cathedral in Kandanad and offered holy mass, two years after the Supreme Court ruled in their favour on a dispute with the rival Jacobite faction over control of churches. On Wednesday, they attempted the same at the Piravom Church.
The Jacobite faction says that the 2017 Supreme Court order deprives 12 lakh Jacobites of a place of worship, including a burial ground for their dead. In fact, in the past, the Orthodox church has objected to burial of Jacobite followers in the church ground.
Amid high drama, the Ernakulam district collector S Suhas on Thursday took control of the Church, using police force. As the police personnel were removing the priests and their followers, the collector reached the spot and sought to pacify the agitating people and held conciliatory talks with the bishops.
Following the talks, a senior bishop of the church appealed to the Jacobite followers to let law take its own course. When the bishops yielded to the arrest, others also followed it without much resistance.
Earlier, the High Court had directed the district administration to ensure that protesting priests and followers of the Jacobite Church were removed from its premises to implement the apex court order giving its possession to the Orthodox faction.
Police broke open one of the main gates and made a forced entry into the church and removed the resisting Jacobite priests and their followers. According to PTI, the collector had said that he would hand over the keys of the church to the high court on Friday.
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