We the Syrian Christians trace the spiritual origin of our church to the declaration of Jesus Christ at CAESAREA PHILLIPPI. To St. Peter, he declared “Thou art Rock and upon this rock I will build my church” (St. Math.16:18). The stewardship of the church thus established was entrusted to St. Peter by the Risen Lord who called him by name thrice, from among the other assembled group of disciples and commissioned him “Take care of my lambs…. Take care of my sheep” (St. John 21:15:17). Thrice St. Peter pledged his allegiance to his Lord and he kept it till his martyrdom at Rome.
St. Peter before his departure to Rome established his Apostolic See at Antioch, where the believers were called Christians for the first time (Acts 11:26). There he consecrated and appointed Mor Ivanios and Mor Ignatius as his successors. Thus he initiated the Sacrament of “laying hands” (KAIVAPPU) for the flow of Apostolic Grace for Episcopal stewardship in the church.
Just like St. Peter pledged his allegiance to Christ, every bishop when he receives the stewardship ought to assure his allegiance to the donor. Further the whole church, whenever the Holy Mass is celebrated, with deep veneration, pray for the Patriarch of Antioch, the successor of St. Peter and the Supreme head of the Church.
“Let us pray and beseech the Lord, our God at this great and solemn fathers, our rulers who are appointed over us, this day and in this life to shepherd and govern the Holy church of God in the four quarters of the Earth, our holy and revered and blessed Patriarch, our Fathers Mor Ignatius (Patriarch of Antioch)… who are being upheld by God.” (Extract from the text of the Holy Mass used by both the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and the Malankara Orthodox.)
This deep and intense feeling of allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch is explicit from the pledge that was given to the Patriarch of Antioch in 1876 by Parumala Mor Gregorios, acclaimed as a saint by the whole church, irrespective of party adherence.
Para 6 – “Like all Syrian Christian in Antioch, Malankara, India and Far East, I accept that it is meet and right that I should always be obedient and loyal to the Apostolic creeds and be subject to the ecclesiastical authority of the exalted Patriarch Moran Mar Ignatius Patrose III, firmly seated on the ancient Apostolic throne of Antioch and the all the East…..I will never add or subtract, nor deviate to the left or to right from your Holiness commandments, canonical injuctions or established rules and procedures”–
(Syrian Church by Dr. Curien Corpeiscopa – Page 239) (Malayalam).
Till his death Parumala Mor Gregorios upheld this pledge. Hence God blessed the Malankara Church through him and raised him to Sainthood.
History of the Malankara Church in the 20th Century reveals a few instances of solemn pledges broken without remorse, which resulted in a century of disastrous dissensions and unending litigations. The first pledge of this category is the oath of allegiance submitted to Patriarch Abded Aloho (Abdulla II) by Mor Gregorios Dionysius Vattasseril at the time of his ordination as Metropolitan in 1907 at Jerusalem.
“Further I (Geevarghese Mar Dionysius) shall obey His Holiness the Patriarch Abdulla II, occupant of the Antiochean Throne, in the spirit of Christian faith. It is proper for me to do so. I shall always accept all his letters and all his commands. I now promise before the living God and the Holy Altar and the Holy Qurbana. For this promise, the clergy assembled and the blessed laity are the witness. On which, ever day, I disobey or set at naught (lit-erase) or modify his commands and rules or if I oppose him in any matter or accept anything out of the way of the Jacobite Syrian faith or conduct myself against (the rules of ) our church, or entertain doctrine of faith opposed to that of the three Synods, I shall become cursed by St. Peter and his brother Apostles, by Mar Ignatius, by the Malpans, by the Holy fathers of the Three Holy Synods, by the most exalted and eminent chief guru, His Holiness Abdulla II and I Shall become one separated from the holy church and interdicted from communion, one away from the spiritual gift, which I have accepted and stripped off the vestments appertaining to the Melppattsthanam (chief priest hood). I shall become liable to be deposed by His Holiness.”
(Para 117/P 109, Vattipanam Suit)
The document reveals that Geevarghese Mor Dionysius received his ordination from Patriarch Mor Abded ‘Aloho (Abdulla), the successor of Abdul Messiah who was deposed. Hence when in 1912 Abdul Mesiah was brought down to Malankara as Patriarch to consecrate a Catholicos, Geevarghese Mor Dionysius was intentionally breaking his solemn pledge given at the time of his ordination. The result was the litigation that started in 1913 which lasted till the middle of the century and has erupted again.
A SECOND BROKEN PLEDGE is that given by Ougen Mor Thimotheos at the time of his ordination as Metropolitan in 1927, by Patriarch Elias III.
“ I admit and confess that the person called Abdul Messiah brought down to Malankara by the ex-communicated Geevarghese and party, was deposed in 1905 by the Universal Synod under the Patriarch of Antioch and also that I reject the said Abdul Messiah. I hereby reject the Catholicos, Metropolitans and others said to be consecrated in Malankara by Abdul Messiah who is excommunicated by the Synod and thus canonically has no authority to consecrate and I also reject all the bulls issued by the said Abdul Mesiah assuming to himself powers which he does not actually possess…”
(Syrian Church by Dr. Curien Corepiscopa Page 271-
Refer also para 37/p. 159 of Samudhayam Suit)
Despite the solemn pledge given in 1927, Ougen Mor Thimotheos went over to the Catholicos party in 1942. It was a humiliating desertion. But it was only a rehearsal when compared with the great act of betrayal that took place later. Yet it also let loose a number of litigation in the church especially in the Diocese of Kandanad.
THE THIRD ACT OF THE DRAMA OF BROKEN PLEDGES was staged in the seventies of this century. Out of his great desire for peace in the Malankara Church, Patriarch Ignatius Yacoub III, soon after his assumption of office, set in motion a reconciliation process in November 1957 (well before the Supreme Court Judgement of September 1958) (see para 107 of the Judgement of the Division Bench of the Kerala High Court 1990). It culminated in the decision in December 1958 for mutual acceptance of the Patriarch and Catholicos and eventually lead to the Patriarchal visit to Kerala in 1964 for the Canonical installation by Patriarch Yacoub III of Ougen Mor Thimotheos as the Catholicos of the East, in the name of Baselios Ougen I. On this occasion, Ougen I made his solemn pledge at Kottayam to the Patriarch, before a mammoth public gathering. He said:
“I, the feeble and meek Ougen Mar Thimotheos, chosen for the ecclesiastical office of the Catholicos, confess my belief before the Head of the Synod, His Holiness Moran Mar Ignatius Yakub III, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East that the Patriarch is my head. That I accept from St. Peter, the head of the Holy Apostles upto your Holiness all the canonical Patriarchs who have reigned on your throne and all those who come after your Holiness. Once again, I repeat my canonical connection with the Holy Throne of Antioch. I swear that I shall not depart from this solemn oath.”
(Syrian Church by Dr. Curien Corepiscopa P. 359–
Refer also para 272 of the Kerala High Court Judgement of 1980 by
Hon. Justice T Chandrasekara Menon).
But Baselios Ougen I broke this pledge in 1972 when he repudiated Patriarch Yakub III of Antioch and all the East and declared himself, independent and seated on an uncanonical throne of St. Thomas.
These broken pledges are the real reasons for the split in the Malankara Church and are at the bottom of the century of litigations. Pray God to guide the authorities to end the litigation and thus to usher in a new century of peace and prosperity in the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church.
* The author of this article, Very Rev P.P.Joseph Cor Episcopus Pulickaparambil, passed away on November 30, 2003. He was the Priest trustee of the Malankara Church for a few terms and was also the member of its several Sub-Committees. Late Fr. Joseph had also served as the Vice-Principal of C.M.S College, Kottayam till his retirement in 1976.
Souvenir published by the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church Society, New Delhi (1995-96).