Provide Justice: Save the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and Devotees in India!

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Provide Justice:  Save the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and Devotees in India!

In Kerala (India), during the last few months, several Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Churches are forcefully and Non-Democratically taken over by the Orthodox Church. These churches were built by the Jacobite devotees and now the Orthodox faction claim that these are their churches and is trying to expel the devotees and priests from their own churches. As such nearly 50 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. We are forced to conduct our Sunday services on streets with thousands of people joining together affirming their faith and allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch amidst severe atrocities. Just to give you a quick glimpse about how unbalanced the member strengths are, please see below the details of four churches recently invaded by the Orthodox church:

1. St. Mary’s Jacobite Syrian Cathedral at Piravom (2,200/250)*
2. St. Peter’s and Paul’s Church at Kolenchery (1,600/400)*
3. Bethel Suloko Church at Perumbavoor (900/40)*
4. St.Thomas Jacobite Syrian Cathedral at Mulanthuruthy (3,000/300)*

* The current membership of (Jacobite / Orthodox families) are shown in brackets --

It is sad to know that these invasions of our Churches where we have the vast majority is also happening in India – the biggest ‘democracy’ in the world. On August 17, St. Thomas Jacobite Syrian Cathedral, Mulanthuruthy was taken over from the Jacobite Syrian Church by the District Administration by using brutal force (Ref 1). Police officers broke open the Church gates and entered the Church while
old aged women and kids were praying inside the Church. Police used force and batons to dispose the devotees and some of the priests were dragged out from the Church. During this pandemic crisis, when we are not allowed to gather even with social distancing, at Mulanthuruthy Church we witnessed that every health care protocols were violated to take over the Church.

What makes the situation more pathetic is that the 300 member Orthodox Church has built a new church by spending Crores of Rupees (and they still wanted the ownership of the Jacobite Church (which is only 100 meters away) and leaving
the Jacobite Church families in the streets! This Petition is to kindly request the Judiciary, UN Human Rights Council, World leaders and the Government of India to find a peaceful solution between the two Christian churches in Kerala the “Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church” and the “Orthodox Church”. We hope that this petition would help us make a conclusion for this dispute so that the majority of faithful’s in a church should have the decision-making power to decide who should be fulfilling their religious needs and what faith they should be in.

Jacobite Church Background: The Syriac Orthodox Church or the Jacobite Church is an Oriental Orthodox church branched from the Church of Antioch. The Bishop of Antioch, known as the Patriarch, heads the church, claiming apostolic succession through Saint Peter in the 1st century. 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 and most of these ancient churches were constructed under their leadership and guidance and some of these Prelates are entombed in the Jacobite Churches (Example: Mor Gregorios Abdul Jaleel (A.D.1665 – North Paravur) and Mor Baselios Yeldho (A.D. 1685 – Kothamangalam).

Path to current conflict: In A.D. 1908 bishop Mor Dynasious Gheevarghese Vattasseril was ordained by Patriarch and soon after he denounced the Spiritual Supremacy of the Patriarch and began to organize people to form a dissident group within the Church. However, the majority of the believers stood with the Jacobite Church and the Patriarch. The dissident group of Dynasious was called “Orthodox faction”. Mor Dynasious Vattasseril also managed to bring the deposed Patriarch Abdul Masiha and consecrated Mor Evanios Murimattathil as the Catholicose of the Church. In A.D. 1934 the Orthodox faction convened a meeting and approved a Constitution, and using this document they continued misleading the Legal system in India. In A.D. 1958 [Ref 5] Supreme Court of India made a historic judgement which paved the way for peace between the two factions. Patriarch of Antioch came to Kerala and ordained a new Catholicose of the Unified Church. The peace did not last long when the Catholicose claimed that he is equal in status with that of the Patriarch of Antioch. Patriarch of Antioch rejected this claim and soon after he ordained another Catholicose, who owed allegiance to the Patriarch and who declared that he was subordinate in status to the Patriarch of Antioch. Over the years, Orthodox Church filed several legal petitions claiming trhe complete authority of over 1064 parishes and there were several rows of judgements by the State High Court and the Supreme Court of India. A three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court after hearing long arguments addressed by both sides, passed a Verdict, which was in favor to the Orthodox church. The Supreme Court of India 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. Few leaders from other Christian churches also tried for a peaceful settlement between the two factions 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 Constitution.

Current situation: Both the Jacobite and the Orthodox faction follows the same religious rites, liturgy and rituals of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and also celebrate the Feasts of these saints who came from Antioch. Jacobite Church comprise more than 1.5 million devotees. The Orthodox Church with the help of local Government authorities is confiscating the Church and the Cemeteries attached to the churches. The Orthodox faction is trying to seize all our 1064 churches, where in some of these churches they do not have even a single family or are very less in number.

Indian Constitution article 26 (Ref 2) states that every religious domination shall have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, to manage its own affairs in matters of religion to own and acquire movable and immovable property. Article 25 (Ref 3) states that all persons are equally entitled to have the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order & morality.

Even for the popular Ayodhya dispute, the Supreme court of India has found a very peaceful situation (Ref 4). What we are witnessing these days are clear violations of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of worship etc. Our Church in Kerala is facing the hardest religious persecution where all members are struggling to defend our faith and basic human rights. Some of our churches are pilgrim centers and other religions and communities come to pray.

Orthodox Church has tarnished ‘Christianity’ 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.

We hope that your kind support will definitely help the Government of India, World leaders and the Judiciary to get involved and resolve this crisis in a peaceful manner.