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Malankara's Mythical Minefields

Myth 4: Even if the concept of autocephaly exists within the Oriental Orthodox tradition, it would serve no purpose in Malankara, and on the contrary, would only help to divide the church.

Fact: by Georgy S. Thomas, Bangalore:

Had the founding fathers of the Catholicate in Malankara like Vattasseril Thirumeni and Geevarghese Bava wanted it, we could have broken off all ties with our Jacobite brothers, and gone off on our separate ways like the Marthoma Church did. What they attempted was, however, something totally different. Their attempt was to create a structure which would allow us to retain both the spiritual association with the Antiochian Church founded by St Peter, even as we safeguarded our legacy as St Thomas Christians by exercising spiritual and complete temporal authority over our own affairs. In doing so, they probably thought that our cherished St Thomas legacy was not safe under a situation where the Antiochian Church exercised temporal rights in Malankara.

The infamous Kalpana (Bull) of HH Yakub III in 1970, denying priesthood to St Thomas, proved that the founding fathers of Malankara were right in their thinking. Of course, Malankara Sabha has denounced the Kalpana, but to this day our Jacobite brothers - who enjoy a more umbilical relationship with the Syriac Church - have not been able to offer even a word of contrition despite the in-your-face insult against our common heritage. Instead, all that we get is spin, spin, and more spin. One of it actually goes like this: "It was not a Kalpana, but a private communication between HH Yakub III and HH Ougen." To my unenlightened mind, this makes it worse since the implication is that the patriarch privately believed that St Thomas was not a priest, but publicly professed something else!

But even this spin is quite unnecessary, since as a result of the 1970 Kalpana, many of our Jacobite brothers have been prepared to denounce their St Thomas legacy, and now harbor the view that St Thomas was not bestowed sacramental authority by Our Lord Jesus. Recently, for instance, I was shocked out of my wits to discover that an extremely knowledgeable person in the Jacobite Church, who can even be described as the last word on doctrinal matters in that church, harbors the same view. The time has now come for us to formulate our first finding:

a.) Autocephalous status is necessary for Malankara since the self-respect it bestows will allow the church to shore up its defenses when our cherished beliefs come under attack. The weak response of our Jacobite brothers in the face of the 1970 Kalpana is an example of what can happen in the absence of autocephaly.

I will wrap up this posting after bringing up one more point.

b.) Autocephaly is necessary for Malankara because it will provide us with conceptual clarity.

To explain this point better, let us take the instance of our beloved Parumala Thirumeni - the saint of Malankara -, whose memory is dear to both the factions.

The Salmoosa of Parumala Thirumeni: A Contextual Analysis

There's now a school of thought having much currency in the Jacobite Church that the Metran faction's connection to Parumala Thirumeni is restricted to the real estate it holds in Parumala.

These are some of the reasons that they cite:

i. Parumala Thirumeni was originally from the north and set up base in Parumala only because the church wanted it so.

ii. Parumala Thirumeni's salmoosa (agreement given at the time of ordination) clearly mentions his commitment to the Antiochian Church.

iii. The salmoosa also says that "my weak selves will never, at any day, violate the decisions, rules, and canon law.. and customs of the Jacobite Syrians, any commandments of Your Holiness... If indeed I do, as were Satan and Cain cursed by God, I will be accursed and execrated from the mouths of God.."

iv. The Indian Orthodox Church is a group that rebelled against the Syriac Church Of Antioch.

v. Therefore, the Indian Orthodox Church cannot be considered the legatees of Parumala Thirumeni.

So many unedifying translations of parts of the salmoosa are doing the rounds in internet forums. But a translation in chaste English is available here, probably done by the learned Dr Thomas Joseph.

After reading the salmoosa, the following thoughts occurred to me.

i. Since it clearly mentions that the declaration was written "in trust, fully according to my own will, gladness and contentment", one cannot hold the view that Parumala Thirumeni was coerced or tricked into writing it.

ii. The commitment of Parumala Thirumeni towards the Antiochian Church is also evident from its contents.

iii. The salmoosa adopts a harsh and unforgiving tone towards dissenters from the church and this gives us the impression that the context in which Malankara Sabha operated at that point has to be examined. We have Biblical precedents for this. The letters of St Paul, for instance, refer to numerous instances when the apostle adopted a very harsh tone towards the churches he established so as to put troublemakers in their place. In 1 Corinthians 4:21 he asks, "What will ye? Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?"2 Corinthians 10-13 is considered extremely severe in its admonishments. See 13: 2. "I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare."

The year was 1876. Patriarch Peter IV* had recently arrived in Malankara at a time when the church was undergoing great churn as a result of the 'reform movement' initiated by Palakkunnathu Mathews Mar Athanasius. The Patriarch had earlier excommunicated him. After the arrival of the patriarch, the Travancore government too withdrew the royal proclamation in favor of Mar Athanasius. But the dissensions caused within the church as a result of Mar Athanasius' reign as the de jure Malankara Metropolitan for 24 long years since 1852 by exploiting the influence of the British was considerable. The convening of the Mulanthuruthy Synod was one way by which the Patriarch tried to stabilize the situation. The reaffirmation of faith in very strong language in the salmoosas of the newly ordained bishops could have been another.

iv. Internal evidence from the text of the salmoosa seems to bear this out. For example when Parumala Thirumeni says: "I will, never, at no time...ordain anyone who has not come forward justly without deceit and guile, ordain anyone without inquiry and testing...", it appears as though it's a direct reference to Mathews Mar Athanasius, who, legend has it, was ordained as a bishop by Patriarch Elias II on the basis of forged letters of support from believers in Malankara. In truth, the patriarch ordained him "without inquiry and testing".

Again when Parumala Thirumeni says that "I will, never, at no time...accept in any way, permit or agree to accept anyone who has been accursed or excommunicated by the Holy Fathers of Antioch, commune or dialogue in any way with any of them...", the reference seems unmistakably to the recently excommunicated Mathews Mar Athanasius.

Also, Parumala Thirumeni says, "I will, never, at no time...disobey any commandment from the Holy Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatios of Antioch to go or arrive at any place at any time even if weakened by illness or by age or anything else, or do anything that my ordination I have accepted or will accept permits, such as a chastised metropolitan consecrating another metropolitan, or other deeds..." It may be noted that in 1869 or thereabouts**, Mathews Mar Athanasius, who had lost the trust of the reigning Patriarch, had consecrated his own nephew Thomas Mar Athanasius as his successor. Here too, the reference "chastised metropolitan consecrating another metropolitan" seems to be pointed straight at Mathews Mar Athanasius.

Therefore, when we place the salmoosa in its context, we will realize that it was written at a time when the Malankara Sabha was passing through a difficult period, and that it was expressly intended to stamp out Protestant-influenced dissensions, shore up the traditional faith, and prevent the newly-ordained bishops from having any association with the 'reformists'. Separating the salmoosa from its context, and using its wordings to run down Vattasseril Mar Dionysius Thirumeni and his legacy, as our Jacobite brothers are doing, is highly unfair. This is especially so since Parumala Thirumeni was not alive when the split occurred in 1911. Also, Vattasseril Thirumeni himself was a disciple of Parumala Thirumeni, and the conduct of his adversary Patriarch Abdulla II in Malankara was very highhanded according to many traditions.

Coming Back To Conceptual Clarity

But the larger point that I was arriving at was something else. According to anecdotal evidence, even while he was alive, Parumala Thirumeni was considered a holy person. In the years following his untimely death in 1902, the fame of the great father spread throughout Malankara. Until then, although Malankara boasted of a Christian tradition since 52 CE, the St Thomas Christians only venerated foreign saints. These Christians had lost their independence since the beginning of the 16th century, and, therefore, had surrendered their ability to think independently as well. Accepting Parumala Thirumeni as a saint and placing him along the ranks of the saints of antiquity would have required a radical departure from conventional thinking. 'Can there be a saint in Malankara from among us lowly Indians?' was the question, and it went unanswered. Finally, the followers of Vattasseril Thirumeni broke the mould, because only we possessed the conceptual clarity to realize that the sweep of sainthood is universal and not restricted to the Middle-East or the West. Among all the St Thomas Christians of Malabar, split between the Syro-Malabar, Malankara Orthodox (both factions), Knanaya Sabha (both Catholic and Syriac Orthodox), Syro-Malankara, and the Chaldeans (I am not counting those which had Protestant leanings at that point), it was we who could arrive first at the conceptual breakthrough that a saint could have actually lived among us. Though Chavara Kuriakose died much before Parumala Thirumeni (in 1871), it was only in 1953 that a petition was sent to Rome requesting his canonisation. He was finally canonised in 1986.

Thus, on November 2, 1947, the Malankara Sabha synod met at Parumala and declared "Yaldo Catholicos entombed at Kothamangalam Cheriya Pally and Parumala Mar Gregorios Metropolitan as saints". It was noteworthy that at that time the church was led by Baselios Geevarghese II, who was himself a disciple of Parumala Thirumeni. Though the Jacobite faction was at that time led by Malankara Metropolitan Mor Athanasious Paulose, who too was a disciple of Parumala Thirumeni, it took them 40 more years to gain the confidence to request Damascus for inclusion of Parumala Thirumeni's name along with the saints mentioned in the fifth diptych (toobden). And even though the Syriac Church claims to be a universal church, it seems to have two tiers of saints. One, the universal saints of the Suriyani church whose names are read everywhere including Malankara. Two, the saint of Malankara whose name is read only in the Indian wing. The Patriarchal encyclical in this regard clearly mentions that "this practice should be observed in our Churches in India as well as in the Churches of our faithful from India. wherever they celebrate Holy Qurbono". Since the church claims to be universal, one fails to understand why our Jacobite brothers cannot bring themselves to demand that Thirumeni's name be read everywhere. Perhaps, only an independent-minded church can claim the confidence to make such demands.

So the next time any of our Jacobite brothers taunt you claiming exclusive rights over Parumala Thirumeni's legacy citing his ancestry and his salmoosa, hold your head up high and remind them of 1947. It was no ordinary year. On August 15 of that year this country had won its precious independence. After a long and arduous freedom struggle, we had just sent the British packing, and the air was thick with the warm glow of hope and emancipation. That was the context in which our church gathered the courage to declare one among us as a saint. Flush with the nationalist spirit, we arrived at a universal truth that saints could come from anywhere. Therefore, it's we and not our Jacobite brothers who are the true legatees of Parumala Thirumeni, because it's we who first showed the courage to PROCLAIM HIS SAINTHOOD. That decision was an eye-opener for our Jacobite brothers, who had surrendered their rights to think on their own. And we could do it only because of the spirit of independence we possessed. Of course, the memory of Parumala Thirumeni belongs to all of Malankara, and the reverence for the saint is one of the few things on which the two factions dare not quarrel.


1.) Autocephalous status is necessary for Malankara since it helps us to defend our cherished beliefs.
2.) Autocephalous status is necessary for Malankara because it will provide us with conceptual clarity.

Note: *Once we place the salmoosa in its context, we would be able to gain a proper appreciation of all that Patriarch Peter IV had done to shore up the faith in Malankara. There's now a tendency in the Indian Orthodox Church to ignore his contributions towards re-founding the Orthodox Church in India, and to focus on his 'excesses'. An objective view of Patriarch Peter IV would not be possible without understanding the extraordinary crisis in which the Malankara Sabha was placed at that time. The patriarch took strong measures to revive the faith. If people had misgivings, one shouldn't forget that no alternative model was presented to him. In contrast to someone like Patriarch Abdullah II who alienated a majority of the faithful by his highhanded actions, Malankara Sabha held HH Peter IV in awe during the time he was here. Here are links to two of his portraits that will give a flavor of the sheer force of his personality. a and b

** The website of the Marthoma church gives both the years 1868 and 1869. Hence the confusion.

Next: Is the Indian Orthodox Church legally autocephalous?

Response by Very Rev. Kuriakose Moolayil, CorEpiscopa:

Autocephaly for Self Assertion!

In this section I will be trying to explain the following ''myths' propounded by my brother Georgie.

I. He says that the Master minds behind the 1912 Catholicate establishment tried to keep intact the spiritual ties with the Antiochean Church founded by St. Peter. He mentions by name Vattaseril Thirumeni and Kallaseril Bava but willingly ignores the role of Mor Ivaniose of Bethany the then Panikkarachan, (better known as MA Achan) for reasons evident. He says, if they wished otherwise they could have formed a totally independent church like the Marthoma Church.

Georgie till this time was defending the autocephaly of the Malankara Church and was trying to 'establish' the independence of the Malankara Church from times immemorial. But he now says that even the leaders of 1912 movement not intended to establish an autocephalous one. Thus he himself has to accept the fact that the autocephalous movement was really a very new one started in 1970s with the 'infamous' declaration of Augen Bava in 1972.(Refer my book: Perumpilly Thirumeni). This declaration was then boycotted even by Malayala Manorama. This state of confusion of autocephaly and oneness with the Patriarchate of the Malankara Church can be seen not only with Georgie but also with all the leaders of IOC from 1912. They at one time say that they never intends to brake the relations with the Patriarch of Antioch. They even pray verbatim the first Thubden of the SOC and remembers the Patriarch of Antioch. In the legal documents they say the church is one and they can't visualize a church without the Patriarch as its head. I remember the seen I saw in the SC court of India in 1995. Adv.Mr.Nariman was asked by the court (J.Suhas C.Sen) about the state of the church if by a decision of the Association (amend the constitution)cut off all the relations with the Patriarch. Adv.Nariman with a gesture of his forearm holding horizontally and moving to and fro like a sword across his neck said, "A BODY WITHOUT HEAD". Also see the contradicting statements of Mathews 11 Bava after the 1995 judgment about the Patriarch.(see my book 'Slaiheeka Sandarsanam, 2004). Any IOC literature from 'Jathyabhimani' to the latest article by my friend Rev.Fr. G.Pulikkottil in 'IO Herald' shows the attitude towards the Patriarchate. The only reason for legally keeping the name of the Patriarch is to sustain the common property of the church, kept under custody by virtue of the verdicts based on the Royal Court Judgment. The only way to evade this juridical predicament is to find a way out by an out of court settlement, to which none of the leaders of the IOC is positively responding. They are unendingly waging a legal battle expecting for a day which fulfills all their dreams. A century passed and cases came up and down seven times from the trial courts to the apex courts. Nothing happened till date!

I am sure the IO church can never be autocephalous in the legal sense until they come forward willingly for an agreed separation. Otherwise they will have to PRAY for the Patriarch 'as appointed by God to govern the Church' at one side and at the same time to admonish the faithful that the 'present Patriarch is unacceptable and alien' to the church of Malankara. What a paradox!

II. Georgie continues his defense by saying that the autocephalous state of Malankara is absolutely necessary to defend the Thomite legacy of Malankara. To explain this he also comes with the encyclical No.203/1970 of H.H. Yacoob 111. Like all IOC propagandists Georgie also heavily relies on this sensationalized issue. It is very evident that he strained a lot to bring this thread to his argument on autocephaly. The incoherence of the titled theme with the explanations and the lack of flow of thought in this section prove this.

I have dealt with this twice before. I will refer to those links here and very briefly give a note here on this.
SOCM FORUM - #7306
You will get the other link from the above posting.

Georgie says that The Jacobites 'spin,spin and more spin' when replying to this. We are not told about the details of this spinning, who did this and where Georgie found this spinning!

I am sorry that Georgie's 'enlightened mind' could not read and grasp the direct explanations of H.H. Yacoob 111 himself on this in his later Bull No.17/1975. This is available at Devalokam Aramana and I have quoted it in my book mentioned above.

H.H. says there that he was astonished to hear that the No. 203/70 was publicized as though he had leveled some criticism against Apostle St.Thomas. From this it is very clear that H.H. himself intended nothing to belittle the exalted status of St.Thomas, the apostle. I wish to make it very clear that the MC leadership of 1970 under the scholars like Augen Bava and Vattakkunnel Mathews 1 Bava (then the Catholicose designate) also found no 'infame' in this letter in 1970 when it came to Malankara.

My reasons are the following:

1. This Kalpana was not used to promote anti Patriarch emotions in 1970 or was not even referred in any of the synods or councils then as to be disparaging St.Thomas or as a threat to the self esteem of the Thomite tradition of Malankara.

2. Malankara Church and its leaders considered H.H.Yacoob 111 as the spiritual head of the Malankara Church even after writing this letter in 1970. The Malankara Association meeting held on December 31,1970 without any hesitation was praising this Patriarch and the Patriarchate of Antioch.( See the Supplement on December 30,1970 on Malankara Association meeting by Manorama). The Catholicose elect even declared that he will do everything possible to foster this relationship.(see Malayala Monorama report on Jan.1,1971). Can we conclude that the leadership then didn't read this Kalpana when it came or did not they understand the message in it ? Or was the new Catholicose elect promising the church's most august body that he will be fostering relationships to this 'heretic' Patriarch.

3. The official bodies of the Church like the working committee had taken decision that the Catholicose should not use letter heads with the St.Thomas throne and the letter heads printed likewise should be kept under the custody of the Association secretary.

The 1970 Association meeting was smoothly convened because it upheld all reverence to the Patriarch and it was summoned with a letter head not with St.Thomas throne. This 203/1970 issue was sensationalized only after the St. Thomas throne issue became a controversy. This was simply leveled against the Patriarch for questioning the St. Thomas throne and equal status of the Catholicose. This was done as a pretext to fight for autocephaly.

4. The 17/1975 letter of the Patriarch was sidelined, where His Holiness clarified that he was pointing against only the St. Thomas throne and he intended nothing against St.Thomas the apostle.

5. His Holiness the Patriarch has given here in 203/1970 no specific directives to the people at large regarding the apostleship or saintliness of our patron saint. If it was a reference to an article of faith or anything of faith related issue it should have been implemented in later years. Even after the split in the church His Holiness never gave any direction even to the MJC nor asked this Kalpana to be circulated in the Churches. This shows very clearly that it was only argumented in his writing against the St.Thomas throne as intermittently used/held by Augen Bava.

6. Finally, even Vattaseril Thirumeni relied on John 20:22-23 as the biblical basis of priestly anointment. See 'Mathasangathikal' by Vattaseril Thirumeni. If it is the biblical basis of priesthood there is a possible argument likewise! There is no necessity for an argument on this for us. St.Thomas, in his chosen apostleship is ipso facto high above any priest, bishop or Patriarch. It is from our littleness that we compare him with any 'achan or sexton' as done by many emotional writers. The apostles were not ashamed of mentioning about their flaws, if any. Peter was not ashamed of mentioning about his betrayal. These are not to be used by us as measure rods to evaluate the integrity or holiness of apostles. The truths in the bible are eternal truths and we cannot mend it nor we are expected to do it.

7. My conclusion is that 203/70 is not an article of faith, it is only an argument. The Malankara Church considered it likewise and it was only a belated contention that this Kalpana was against St.Thomas.

III. I am really amused to read the simplicity of Georgie in saying that Patriarch had dichotomous perspectives on St.Thomas. Dear Georgie, there is no dichotomy here. St.Thomas is the Holy Apostle, Chosen by our Lord Jesus and he is our Patron saint. The SOC is behind none to revere him and honor him. This was evidenced later by the church. The Holy relics of our Apostle was kept and handed over to us by the SOC and the Patriarch. The festival of honor and the special prayers for the festivals of St.Thomas are all handed over to us by the SOC fathers.

IV.The greatest Myth created by Georgie is the following. I quote, "as a result of the1970 Kalpana, many of our Jacobite brothers have been prepared to denounce their St Thomas legacy, and now harbor the view that St Thomas was not bestowed sacramental authority by Our Lord Jesus."

I wonder from where Georgie formulated this notion. Who denounced St.Thomas tradition and his apostolicity? This move is well calculated to spread untruth and to envigor hate and contempt against the Patriarch and the SOC members. As I mentioned earlier all the St.Thomas traditions we have now are kept and transmitted to us by the 'brothers' of the Jacobites. The MOC have just copied or translated it.

V. Dear Georgie, improper understandings of facts and perspectives at times may be shocking. That shock will be relieved when we try to understand the perspectives of others objectively. I write this to relieve your shock as expressed in your following sentence.

"Recently, for instance, I was shocked out of my wits to discover that an extremely knowledgeable person in the Jacobite Church, who can even be described as the last word on doctrinal matters in that church, harbors the same view."

VI. Georgie again says that "Autocephalous status is necessary for Malankara since the self-respect it bestows will allow the church to shore up its defenses when our cherished beliefs come under attack. The weak response of our Jacobite brothers in the face of the 1970 Kalpana is an example of what can happen in the absence of autocephaly."

This is a very flimsy argument that we need 'autocephaly' to fight against apostasy or defend faith. I have never heard in history of the universal church that the Church fathers first declared autocephaly to fight against heresy and apostasy. But on the contrary The Church Fathers united together forgetting all differences of cast, color, language and nationality to fight against schism, heresy and apostasy. We need unity and mutual love to defend faith. ( from pentacostals, charismatics, emotional groups and the RC proselytes. Today the factional strife and litigation between the Malankara groups are the best incentive of the above sheep stealers. We ignore this great loss and fight vehemently to close churches or prevent opening parishes where Orthodox worship is conducted. We are very keen in exchanging hate messages and disparaging notes.).

We don't need autocephaly to stand for truth and to love mutually and coexist in brotherly affection. We need only a determination to forgive and to honor the brothers and their perspectives.

The Jacobites are not weak in their responses to any faith issues. But we have the same attitude of Augen Bava and Vattakkunnel Bava on Kalpana No. 203/1970 at the Malankara Association meeting on December 31, 1970.

The response of the IOC brothers changed a lot later!

Next: Myth 5: The Indian Orthodox Church is legally an autocephalous entity.

Previous: Myth 3: The demand for co-equal status between the Catholicos and the Patriarch cannot be entertained because it is an exclusively Byzantine concept.

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