Justice for Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church

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Your Excellency,

We, the members of the Malankara Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Australia (Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church/Jacobite Syrian Christian Church), who have either migrated from India or born in Australia to Indian parents and residing now in Australia, humbly submit the following petition for Your Excellency’s kind consideration.

Our Church is the ancient Christian Church in India established by Jesus Christ and founded on St. Peter, his disciple, declaring, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church, and the Gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven” (St. Mathew 16:18-20 New Testament, Bible). After being entrusted the administration of the Church, St. Peter, thereafter moved from Jerusalem to Antioch where the followers of Jesus Christ were called Christians for the first time, and established his Apostolic See there in A.D. 37. He appointed Mor Evodius and Mor Ignatius as his successors as Patriarchs in order to administer the Church by instituting the Sacrament of laying hands, a symbol of the uninterrupted flow of Apostolic Grace and Succession. Likewise, all the other disciples of Jesus Christ who went all around the world preaching the Gospel, St. Thomas came to Malankara (present State of Kerala, India) in A.D. 52, and thereby Christianity had enrooted in Indian soil.

When the whole Christian Churches in the world were brought under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchates of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch in A.D. 325 at the First General Universal Council of Christian Churches held at Nicea, the Church in India came under the See of the Patriarch of Antioch. Hence the Church in India was under the spiritual supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch from the very beginning. It is founded on the unshakeable faith in the uninterrupted Apostolic Succession flowing from St. Peter right up to the present Patriarch. The two Syrian Migrations to Kerala held in A.D 345 and A.D. 822, and the arrival of various Church Prelates from Persia and Syria to Kerala during these two millennia are evidences of the direct relationship of the Church in India with Antioch. Most of the ancient churches are constructed under their leadership and some of these Prelates are entombed in our churches, for example, Mor Gregorios Abdul Jaleel (A.D.1665 – North Paravur) and Mor Baselios Yeldho (A.D. 1685 – Kothamangalam).

In A.D. 1908 a bishop called Mor Dynasious Gheevarghese Vattasseril was ordained by Patriarch H.H. Mor Ignatius Abdulla. In A.D. 1909 he started denouncing the Spiritual Supremacy of the Patriarch and began to organize people formed a decedent group within the Church. However the thumbing majority of the believers stood with the Patriarch. The decedent group of Dynasious was called “Metrankakshi” or “Orthodox faction” or the “Catholicose Group” and the majority of the believers stood with the Patriarch was called “Bavakakshi” or “Jacobite faction” or “Patriarchese Group”. Mor Dynasious Vattasseril and his supporters brought to Kerala the deposed Patriarch Abdul Masiha (who was dethroned from the Patriarchate because of various reasons) and consecrated Mor Evanios Murimattathil as the Catholicose of the Church. Hence the deliberate intention of Mor Dynasious to create schism and split in the Church had found its way.

In A.D. 1934 the Orthodox faction (Metrankakshi) convened a meeting and approved a Constitution, the same is called as 1934 Constitution, was published in the shape of pamphlet. The meeting was only factional but the Orthodox faction fabricated documents stating that all the Churches in Kerala participated in the said meeting. By using this fabricated document they misled the Court and approved the said pamphlet constitution.

After a long and chequered litigation, the Supreme Court of India pronounced Judgment in 1958 by which the validity of the claim of the Catholicose of the Malankara Orthodox Church was upheld, besides upholding the validity of the 1934 constitution. The said Judgment, reported in AIR 1959 SC 31, paved the way for a truce between the two factions. As a sequel to it, then Patriarch of Antioch came down to Kerala and ordained a senior Bishop as Catholicose of the East and declared him as the Catholicose of the Unified Church. Many parishes of the Unified Church accepted him. The unity prevailed in the Church only such time the Catholicose accepted the Spiritual Supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch. 

But the truce did not last long. As observed in A.D. 1959 Judgement in Para 42 “which records the proceedings of the meeting at which the Malankara Association was constituted did not provide any particular mode of service of meeting, it was enough that the ordinary rules adopted by Voluntary Associations and Clubs had been followed.” Therefore in the absence of mandatory procedure of Malankara Association Meeting, the Catholicose and his supporters taken many decisions and claimed that the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Catholicose is equal in status with that of the Patriarch of Antioch, holding out that while the latter is reigning sitting on the Ecclesiastical Throne of St. Peter, the former is reigning sitting on the Throne of St. Thomas. This claim was strongly repudiated by the Patriarch of Antioch. Thereafter he ordained a senior Bishop of the Jacobite faction as the Catholicose who owed allegiance to the Patriarch and who declared that he was subordinate in status to the Patriarch of Antioch.

Thereafter a new career of litigation commenced as the Orthodox Church filed a suit claiming complete authority over 1064 parishes listed in the suit. But the Judgment passed by a Single Judge of the High Court of Kerala, the suit was decided in favour of Jacobite Syrian Church. But a Division Bench of the same High Court, in appeal, reversed the Judgment and upheld the claims of the Malankara Orthodox Church. The said Judgment of the Division Bench was challenged in the Supreme Court of India.

A three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court after hearing long arguments addressed by both sides, passed a Verdict. This Judgment is reported in 1995 (Suppl) 4 SCC 286 held as follows:

a) The Patriarch of Antioch is undoubtedly acknowledged and recognised as the Supreme Head of the Malankara Church. He is spiritually Superior to the Catholicose.

b) The Court could not grant a declaration that Malankara Metropolitan i.e., the Catholicose has control over the temporal affairs or the properties of the Parish Churches as the Parishes were not made parties in the suit.

c) The Parish churches have their own constitutions where under their General Body has declared to be the final authority in temporal matters of such parishes.

After the said Judgment was pronounced the continuation of disowning the Patriarch of Antioch continued unabated by the Malankara Orthodox Church. For all practical purposes the Patriarch of Antioch was ousted from the churches in control of the Catholicose group. They went to the extent of asserting that the Catholicose is the Supreme Head of the Malankara Church while the Patriarch of Antioch is only a Titular Head without any spiritual authority in the Malankara Church. The large number of worshippers who believe in the Supreme Ecclesiastical position of the Patriarch of Antioch became disillusioned and frustrated by the acts and omissions on the part of the Malankara Orthodox Church in eliminating the Patriarch of Antioch from all spiritual positions in the Malankara Church.

In a few litigations with respect to three Parish Churches which finally reached the Supreme Court, recently a two judge bench by Judgment dated 03.07.2017 (Varghese Vs. St. Peter etc.) (reported in 2017 (15) SCC 333) held that 1934 Constitution shall govern all the Parish Churches. The said Judgment also upholds the Spiritual Supremacy of the Patriarch. The Orthodox faction is not ready to accept that part of the Judgment which is the sole and cardinal issue. The above verdict is binding only on those who accepted 1934 Constitution and who still accept it. That the above verdict cannot bind the vast number of worshippers who do not accept the Supremacy of the Catholicose, and who are still ardent believers in the Ecclesiastical Spiritual Supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch. But on the strength of the verdict given in the above cases the Catholicose faction are making all attempts to capture by force the parish church buildings belonging to the vast majority of worshippers who believe in the Ecclesiastical Authority of Patriarch of Antioch. All these churches have been dedicated by valid trust deeds to the Spiritual Supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch. The Catholicose faction has been influencing the local police to forcibly oust the clergymen of the Jacobite Syrian Church from performing the Sacraments in the Parish Churches wherein the majority of the worshipers have declared their unstinted allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch. The civil authorities are being wrongly influenced on the strength of the aforesaid Judgment of the two judge bench assuming that it is their duty to oust the clergymen from performing religious duties in such parishes.

Several efforts were made from time to time by the leaders of the Christian world outside both the factions to bring about settlement between the two factions on reasonable terms. The mediations were offered by persons of great standing including religious personages of great eminence and acceptance in the Christian world, for e.g., the Most Rev. Philipose Mar Chrysostum Valiya Metropolitan of the Marthoma Syrian Church (the only Bishop on whom the President of India conferred Padma Bhushan Award), the National Christian Council comprising of representatives from all Christian Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Church Heads and the World Council of Churches. But unfortunately no mediation talks could even be commenced due to the adamant and uncompromising stand of the Catholicose group as they put forward a precondition that any mediation talks shall start only if all the members of the Jacobite Syrian Church would unconditionally surrender to the 1934 pamphlet Constitution.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court also suggested discussing the issue in a common platform. Accordingly, the Government of Kerala has appointed a Cabinet Sub-committee to settle the dispute between two factions. Since 1934 Constitution is not a public document as well as an unregistered document, thus Government of Kerala sent letter to the Catholicose for availing the Original 1934 Constitution for effective execution of the Honourable Supreme Court Order, but they are not willing to submit their original Constitution for successful implementation of the Judgment. The said attempt was also not materialized due to the non-cooperation and adamant stand of the Orthodox faction. With respect to the credentials of the 1934 pamphlet constitution, after the 2017 Judgment of the Honourable Supreme Court many criminal cases are registered for illegal printing and forging of the said pamphlet. We hold that in these circumstances they are not willing to produce the document, for it will adversely affect the Orthodox faction.

We are submitting with great respect that we have 900 churches, 1000 priests, 32 Bishops and Catholicose and more than 15 lakh devotees. The Orthodox faction with the help of civil authorities is confiscating the Church and the Cemeteries attached to the churches. Many of our people and priests are being arrested and evicted from our own churches which are either our ancestral property or built by our own money and hard work, and the Government is passing it onto the Orthodox faction.

Utmost irony is that in all these churches our group is the vast majority, and it happens in India – the biggest ‘democracy’ in the world. For example, in St. Mary’s Jacobite Syrian Cathedral at Piravom founded in A.D. 6th century, we are 2200 families whereas the Orthodox faction only has 250 families; in St. Peter’s and Paul’s Church at Kolenchery, we are 1600 and they are 400; in Perumbavoor Bethel Suloko Church, we are 900 and they are 40; as such 27 churches have come under their control with the help of the civil authorities after the Supreme Court verdict of July 2017 where even decent burial of our members is being denied. Consequently, we are conducting our Sunday services on streets with thousands of people joining together affirming their faith and allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch amidst severe atrocities.

Furthermore, the Orthodox faction is trying to seize all our 1064 churches, where in most churches they do not have even a single family or are very less in number. For example, in Kuruppampady St. Mary’s Cathedral, founded in A.D. 13th century, we are 3500 families and they are 10; in Kothamangalam Mar Thoman Church, we are 3500 and they are just 2 families; in Manarcad St. Mary’s Church, we are 3200 and they are nil; in Mulanthuruthy St. Thomas Cathedral, we are nearly 4000 and they are 200; in Karingachira St. George Church, we are 2500 and they are nil; in Kothamangalam St. Mary’s Church, we are 2000 and they are nil; in Vengoor Mor Kauma Church, we are 1600 and they are nil; and so on.

There are clear violations of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of India such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and funeral of loved ones. Our Church in Kerala is facing the hardest religious persecution where all members are struggling to defend our faith and basic human rights.  Malankara Orthodox Church has become a prototype of extinct democratic values and injustice in India. ‘Christianity’ has become tarnished solely because of their hateful and inhumane activities. All the great values built up by Christian saints and missionaries in India over the last two millennia have also been tainted.

The members of the Church residing in Australia humbly implores Your Excellency to kindly look into the matter and kind-heartedly do the needful for finding an amicable solution for the apprehensions of our faith including funeral. This is the issue of our faith, identity, survival, and rights.

Seeking Your Excellency’s help and justice,

The signed faithful of the Malankara Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Australia.