The ancient Syrian Orthodox Church, which possesses and preserves the Apostolic faith, traditions and customs has lately become the focus of attention of many. The part of Universal Syrian Orthodox Church in Kerala known as the Malankara Syrian Church is split into two - one owing allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and other repudiating the ecclesiastical and spiritual authority and supremacy of Patriarch over the church as a whole. Both parties to the dispute in the Malankara Church believe in the essential attributes of the Church- that it is One, Holy, Catholic (universal) and Apostolic. This oneness is clearly taught and strongly emphasized in Scriptures. And Christ prayed for this Oneness.(Jn 17:21). The members of the Church are exhorted to give diligence and keep the unity brought by the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1-4). There is one body, one spirit one hope of calling. One Lord, one father, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of All. (Eph. 4:6, Gal. 3:28, 1 Cor 12:13, Rom 12:4-5, Col. 3;15)It may therefore be interesting to examine the position little closely to understand the discord between the rival groups.
St. Peter and his Supremacy:
The Church believes all through the centuries that St.Peter is the head and Chief of all the Apostles. This is evident from the writings and teachings of the early fathers and doctors of the Church. The liturgy bears amble testimony for the unique position of St.Peter. Both groups use the same liturgy and acknowledge the same fathers and doctors of the Church. However, the anti-Patriarch group is lately challenging the Supremacy of St.Peter. The Supreme jurisdiction which was promised by Christ as found in Mathew (16: 18-19) is true primacy, for Christ was addressing Peter only. St.Luke states that Christ prayed for "one Peter”, although all are assailed by Satan but such a prayer is sufficient since Peter, being head of Apostles, will strengthen the faith of those who will be found wanting.
The Apostolic Throne of St. Peter
St. Peter established his Apostolic Throne in 37 AD. The Syrian Orthodox Church- both the Antiochean and the Malankara wings- and the Roman Catholic Church till this day are observing this event in February 22 in every year. Church of Antioch is called the mother of all Churches. The celebrated German Historian Moshem has said in his book "Institute of Ecclesiastical History" that it is an undisputed fact that the See of Antioch was raised to the rank of Patriarchate within supremacy once all the East and likewise extended to all the Churches beyond the limits of the Roman Empire in Asia, quite upto China. The only Apostolic Throne in the New Testament Church belongs to St.Peter and it is analogous to that of Moses in the old Testament, from Adam to Christ, is addressed and is also spoken by Jesus. (Mt. 23:1)This one Throne has become four Patriarchal Thrones in terms of Ecumenical Council of Nicea, the first of its kind held in 325 AD. The four Patriarchs are of Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople and Antioch and All the East. Naturally, Malankara in India has come under the division headed by the Patriarch of Antioch. This is precisely the reason why the constitution adopted by the faction in its preamble declared hat Malankara Church is a part of the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East is its Supreme Head. While celebrating the Holy Eucharist, the congregation remembers the Patriarch as their 'ruler' and 'Holy Father', and prays for him.
Origin of Catholicos:
A survey of the historical developments in the Church is required to trace the establishment of the Catholicate of the East. The Church has spread to different countries including Persia. In the first century A.D. the Capital of Persia was Selucia Ktesephone. Mari, the Disciple of St.Adai was the first missionary there. The Persian church from the beginning had ecclesiastical connection with Antioch and received the ordination from this Holy See. In course of time it was felt difficult to keep up this constant tie with Antioch as enmity arose between Roman and Persian Emperors. The Persian Church sent two persons to Antioch to get one of them ordained as bishop by the Patriarch of Antioch. While they were staying at Antioch one was killed by political enemies thinking that they were spies. The other person (Ahodobhoi) ran to Jerusalem for shelter. He was consecrated as Bishop of Jerusalem under orders and instructions of the Patriarch. This was in 231 AD. This incident was a landmark in the establishment of Catholicate within the Church. The council of Nicea decided that Metropolitan of East shall thereforth be called the Catholicos of the East and was given powers to consecrate Bishops. The historical background leading to the establishment of this institution proves the fact that the ecclesiastical office of the Catholicos was created because of the difficulties and risks involved in reaching the candidates to Antioch and get them ordained as Bishops by the Patriarch. To say, therefore, that the Catholicate is established to liberate the Eastern wing of the Church from the clutches of Antioch or that it is a symbol of independence or autonomy is contrary to facts and to historical developments in the Church.
The relationships between the Patriarch and the Catholicos and their functions and responsibilities are defined by the Council of Nicea in no uncertain terms. The Canon codified by Bar Ebraya which is known as the Hoodaya Canon, includes the resolutions of the Council of Nicea. According to this canon, which has also been examined by the various courts in the Country and adjudged by them as the only authentic one, " the Patriarch is the Head of the Catholicos and he should be subordinate to the Patriarch and the Catholicos should obey the Patriarch and he should not defy his Superior”. The Canon also asserts that "when a Catholicos is ordained, everything related to the installation should be done by the Patriarch, for the Catholicos is a dignitary under the Patriarch". The opposition group in the Church challenges this canonical and historical practice though they bought a "some time Patriarch" of Antioch (Patriarch Abdul Messiah was dethroned by the Synod in 1905) for consecration of a Catholicos for them in 1912. Many historians have recorded the true relationships between the Patriarch and the Catholicos. Catholicos is like a representative of Holy See of Antioch:(Neale-History of the Holy Eastern Churches). The same relationship has been expressed by A.H. Hore in his book "Eighteen Centuries of the Orthodox Churches". Metropolitan Mar Dionysius Geevarghese of Vattassery, who was an acknowledged leader of the faction had declared in his book that 'the ecclesiastical supremacy of the Church is vested in Moran Mor Ignatius, the Patriarch who reigns on the Apostolic Throne of Antioch and all the East. (Mathasangathi, Page 27)
It is to be noted that there is no evidence to show that Malankara Church was under the Catholicate of the East at any time before 1964. The Catholicate established by Adbul Mesiah was not that of the East nor it was shifted from Tigris. Abdul Messiah had not even used the words "East" or "Tigris" in his bull said to have been issued by him and which was submitted in the Court for evidence. According to the list prepared by Bar Ebraya, Malankara is not included in the dioceses of the Catholicate of the East. The Supreme Court in its verdict had recognized the Catholicate established by Abdul Messiah and not the Catholicate of the East. The Church in India was from the very beginning under the Patriarch of Antioch as evident from the Canon of the Church. The late Catholicos in Malankara had taken the name Geevarghese II and if he would have been the Catholicos of the East he would not have been known as Geevarghese II since there were more persons bearing that name in the chain of succession of the Catholicos of the East.
The Catholicate of the East was established for the first time in 1964 in Malankara by the present Patriarch of Antioch, HH.Moran Mor Ignatius Yacoub III after prolonged and protracted litigation lasted for more than fifty years and involving "ruinous cost" the Malankara Church was united by the initiative taken by the present Patriarch who paid his Apostolic visit to this country
in 1964, when His Holiness consecrated Augen I as the Catholicos of the East. "We have come to unite - not to divide " were the very first words of his Holiness as he set his foot on Indian Soil.
Augen I Catholicos, consecrated by the Patriarch, claimed hat he held an Apostolic See founded
by Apostle St.Thomas, removed the name of Patriarch from 'Amalogia' (Book of ordination) caused the visa of the delegate of the Patriarch cancelled, there by forced him to leave the country. He also repudiated the spiritual and ecclesiastical power of the Patriarch, committed acts entailing deviations from the fundamental faith of the Church and hence became as apostate of the Church. He even declared that he was equal to Patriarch in status, in utter disregard of the pledges given by him at the time of his consecration, namely, “ I the feeble and meak Augen Mar Themotios chosen for ecclesiastical office of the Catholicos confess my belief before the Synod, and before the head of the Synod His Holiness Moran Mar Ignatius Yacoub III Patriarch of Antioch and all the East that, the Patriarch is my head, that I accept from St.Peter the head of Holy Apostles upto your Holiness all the canonical Patriarchs who reigned on your Throne and all those who come after your Holiness. Once again I repeat my canonical connections with the Holy Throne of Antioch. I swear that I shall not depart from this solemn oath.”
According to the followers of the Patriarch, the throne of St.Thomas is fictitious, not even heard of in the past, and a new creation with the ulterior motive of repudiating the authority of the Patriarch on the ostentatious plea that all the Apostles of Christ are equal and hence the successor of St.Peter has no authority over that of another Apostle St.Thomas. Kerala Christians traditionally believe that St.Thomas is the patron saint of India and that he came to Malabar and preached the gospel-some historians, however dispute this. There is no reliable evidence to show that St.Thomas consecrated Bishops anywhere. The Syrian immigration of 400 families with Bishop Joseph of Edessa and Thomas of Cana in 345 AD under the orders and directions of the Patriarch of Antioch and the Mattancherry Meeting, popularly known as the 'Koonan Kurisu Satyam' in 1653, which had thrown off the 54 years of Catholic supremacy and renewed the allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch are the two important land marks in the History of Malankara Church. According to many supporters of Augen I, including one of the organs of the faction, the Throne of St.Thomas was introduced to distract the attention of the members of the church from alleged mismanagement by few private people of the trust of 'Parumala Seminary' which is the common property of the Church-its management, inspite of -best efforts, could not be brought under the control of the Church.
The faction finds faults with the Patriarch for his consecration of few bishops for Malankara and his appointment of his delegate for India. At a time when there were no bishops or the bishops that were, were not sufficient and in response to the repeated prayers of the faithful, the Patriarch did consecrate few persons from Malankara as bishops without assigning any specific dioceses for administration. Many instances can be cited from Church history that the Holy See of Antioch has graced the Malankara church with the gift of valid priesthood for which Malankara Christians aught to be grateful. One of the reasons, the Malankara Church strives to maintain the link with Antioch is to keep up the blemishless and Apostolic 'Laying of Hand’ (ordination). It may be remembered in this connection that the same faction found no faults when they brought a person deposed from the Holy see of Antioch, to Malankara who consecrated three bishops and one Catholicos, that too, ignoring the then ruling and canonical Patriarch of Antioch.
The 'delegate problem' has cropped up as lately as in 1972 though this august office of delegate has been in existence in the Church for centuries. As a matter of fact, the first Indian bishop of Malankara was consecrated by one of the delegates of the Patriarch. The faction who claims that the Patriarch is their head, in terms of their Constitution, found his delegate's presence in Malankara very inconvenient and most unceremoniously, forced him to leave the country.
Finding that the attempts made by him to restore peace in the church were in vain, His Holiness the Patriarch convened the Universal Synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church to consider the charges against the Catholicos and the bishops who owed allegiance to him, and take suitable action. The opposition group discarded the Synod and refused to attend it alleging that the Patriarch had no authority to convene the synod. In this connection, it is very interesting to note that the very same people often quote the decision of the 'Caphturtha Synod' said to be convened by the Patriarch, Moran Mar Yuhannon, in 869 AD to settle some disputes between him and the then Catholicos Lo-Oscar, even though such a Synod is not found in the Canon of the Church. The Synod found that Augen I and the bishops under him were guilty against faith and laws of the church and declared that they had become an Apostate to and Alien to true faith of the Church and had voluntarily separated themselves from communion of the Church. He stripped them of all the authorities, dignities, prerogatives and privileges and deprived them of all authorities in relation to the administration of the Church. Mar Paulose Pheloxinos, a Metropolitan from Kerala, was elected by the Synod for the Office of Catholicos of the East and he was accordingly consecrated by the Patriarch at Damascus in September last, as Mar Baselius Paulose II. Subsequently he was elected as Malankara Metropolitan, by Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian association held at Thuruthissery in December 1975.
" I repudiate Abdul Masiah who was discharged in the year 1905 by the decision of the Synod from the office of Patriarch, whom excommunicated Geevarghese and companions had called to Malabar in the year 1086 ME. I also reject the spiritual orders given by him in Malabar as Catholicos, metropolitans and others as well as all the persons who were ordained by the latter or those who will be ordained by them for the reason that such ordination is not canonical. I hate all the acts done by them and repudiate their erroneous doctrines. I believe that they are missed in whatever they do.............." (Augen Mar Themotiose)
" It is the height of ingratitude and the most deplorable folly on our part if we grieve (HH.the Patriarch’s) heart with any words which seek to disassociate ourselves from the Patriarch of Antioch even if we have our own Catholicos and are autonomous. We have no other source from which to renew our ancient tradition except the Tradition of Antioch of the Great Syrian Church which once has spread through the length and breadth of Asia right upto China and Korea".(Fr.Paul Verghese)
" The visit of his Holiness Moran Mar Ignatius Yacoub III, the Supreme Head of the Orthodox Syrian Church to this country was in every way an epoch-making event. It had finally and completely cured the unhappy schism in the Church...." Attempts at healing this wound have also a history as long as feud itself; and many a great man have had to admit defeat in their attempts. It was this delicate and difficult situation that His Holiness handled so successfully. Blessed with divine gifts and initiative, with drive and dedication, and with the knowledge of and insight into the needs and aspirations of the Malankara Church, His Holiness achieves what eluded many others.......The visit has not only effected the reconciliation and consolidation of the Church but has also cemented and fortified the bonds of our attachment with the Holy Throne of St.Peter, which bond we have always cherished inspite of dissensions and controversies"- (Daniel mar Philoxinos)
"This in Malankara Metropolitan-cum-Catholicos converges all temporal, spiritual and ecclesiastical powers without mitigating the exalted position and status of Patriarch, the primate of the Orthodox Syrian Church".
(Para 11 of the Plaint of the case filed by Augen I and Mathews Athanasius involving 1064 Churches)
Supreme Court Verdict:
It may not be out of place to mention the decisions of the law courts pertaining to the Church cases. All the courts that heard them had upheld the spiritual and ecclesiastical supremacy of the Patriarch. It is often propagated that the Patriarch -the spiritual and ecclesiastical head, has lost everything with the verdict of the Supreme Court. This is but a deliberate attempt to malign the Patriarch and his followers by the factions or due to sheer ignorance for no civil courts will sit on judgement on spiritual matters. The Supreme Court judgement on church case is often misquoted. For example, the interested parties always claims that the constitution adopted by the Catholicos party is approved, recognized and upheld by the Supreme court whereas the factual position is that Court has never expressed any such opinion, nor in issues. The court has also held that both the parties are within the Church and as such they are beneficiaries of the trust.
No doubt the Malankara Church is undergoing a period of trial. And the trial is made severe by the three pronged strategy of the opposition who approaches the political forum with claim of nationalism, the laity with the theory of an autocephalous (independent) Church and the judiciary with the submission of the first clause of their constitution upholding the supremacy of the Patriarch. Nevertheless, the faithful are confident of the outcome. ' In the world ye shall have tribulation but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world'.
Authored by: Joseph Vayaliparambil
Published by: Illustrated Weekly Of India: Dec 1975; Bombay
Web Publisher: Bibu Philip Matthew, Vayaliparambil Pynadath, July 2002, Kochi.