Malankara World

Faith of the Church

Malankara's Mythical Minefields

Myth 7: The Patriarch enjoys only spiritual overlordship and has no temporal authority over the Indian wing of the Syriac Church.

Fact: by Georgy S. Thomas, Bangalore:

A study of the structure of the Indian wing of the Syriac Orthodox Church will reveal that it is divided into the following for administrative convenience:

a.) Dioceses in Kerala and outside under the supervision of the Maphryan (presently HB Baselios Thomas I).

b.) The Knanaya archdiocese, which is directly administered for the Patriarch by a Knanaya bishop.

c.) The Evangelical Association of the East, which is directly administered for the Patriarch by a bishop.

d.) The Honavar mission, which is directly administered for the Patriarch by a bishop.

e.) The Simhasana Churches, which are also directly administered for the Patriarch by a bishop.

f.) In addition, the Maphryan also has no jurisdiction over the Indian diaspora in the Middle-East and North America, both of which are directly administered by the Patriarch through a bishop.

(Source: 'The Concept of Jurisdiction and Authority in the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch' by His Grace Mor Gregorios Johanna Ibrahim, archbishop of Aleppo.)

Readers may please note that entries under b-d in the above series are directly under the Patriarch's administration even though the laity membership is composed exclusively of Indians. The bishops who administer these divisions report directly to the Patriarch in Damascus, and not to the Maphryan in India, even though all of them continue to be members of the Indian synod. Theoretically, all these bishops have direct access to the Patriarch, and on occasion, if they desire so, they can undermine the authority of the Maphryan by producing Bulls from the Patriarch. Whether this is how it pans out in actual practice is beyond the comprehension of this author, but anecdotal evidence suggests that during the tenure of the previous Maphryan (HB Baselios Paulose II of blessed memory) his authority was considerably undermined by the inherent flaws in this structure. The Patriarch had even bestowed the title 'Great Metropolitan of the East' on the late HG Abraham Mar Clemis of the Knanaya Sabha, thereby diminishing the stature of the Maphryan further.

Of particular importance is the entry under (d). Contributions made from the sweat and toil of our Jacobite brothers in the Gulf and North America - which are not inconsiderable - directly find their way to Damascus. Most readers know that Syria is a totalitarian dictatorship and its political leadership was passed on five years ago from father to son as though in a monarchy. Sham elections are organized once in a while, and the president is declared elected with a landslide. In the last presidential elections held on July 10, 2000, for instance, Bashar Assad - who became eligible to contest through a constitutional amendment which lowered the minimum age from 40 to 34 (i.e. his age) - was declared elected securing 97% of the total votes polled (source Britannica Encyclopaedia). Officially, the ruling political dispensation professes the secular Baath ideology, but the country is something of a regional bully (Lebanon is more or less a colony) and is alleged to be not above dabbling in a bit of terrorism on the side. Many believe that a UN Security Council resolution threatening sanctions against Syria is imminent. So if you are a resident of the US, and are a frequent traveler to Syria, you can certainly expect to be under the gaze of the Homeland Security Department.

It's to this place that the funds derived from the sweat and toil of our Jacobite brothers are sent. We do not know whether the Syrian government gets access to a portion of it, and if so, as to what purpose it's being put to use.

Classic Divide And Rule Policy

In many ways, the administrative structure adopted by the Syriac Orthodox Church for its Indian wing mirrors the classic divide and rule imperial policy perfected by the colonial British. At its height, what was known as British India included present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar - in short, a huge entity. A search through the census conducted by the British in 1901, now available in electronic form here, revealed the following astonishing details:

i. The land area of the Indian Empire in 1901 was estimated at 1,766,597 square miles. Out of this, 38.5% or 679,393 square miles were administered by some 560 princely states, whose discredited feudal rulers were the most loyal subjects of the British empire. The remaining area was ruled directly by the British.

ii. Contrast the above with the current land area of the Indian Republic - 1,222,559 square miles. Short by 544038 square miles from the 1901 position. Still, India is now the seventh largest country in the world.

iii. The population of India in 1901 was 294,361,056.

iv. The census estimated that the number of Europeans at that point in India, including British soldiers and civil servants, was a mere 169,677. They had another 89,251 loyalist Eurasians (now known as Anglo Indians) to help them.

Imagine that! A mere 169,677 Britishers controlled this huge landmass of continental proportions and a population 1,700 times as much. How did they do it? By a policy of divide and rule. They allowed the rulers of princely states as well as other feudal leaders in territories directly administered by the British to rule their turf as they wished so long as they paid their dues to the British in time. They kept them happy bestowing meaningless titles, took them on conducted tours to Britain, maintained them in good humour by presenting photo opportunities with the British monarch, and generally looked the other way when they let loose indignities against their own subjects. In return, these princes/feudal leaders were transformed into the most devoted subjects of the British empire, ready to crush even a whiff of dissent against the colonial masters. Additionally, the British studied the ancient fault lines in the social fabric of the country, created provocative situations and set community against community, ethnic group against ethnic group, and caste against caste. In this way, they managed the astonishing feat of ruling this monster of a country with just a handful of people.

The Syriac Orthodox Church too follows a policy of divide and rule to control its Indian wing. In the number of followers, the Indian wing at 12.5 lakh (source CNEWA) is nearly three times the global strength of the Suryoyo wing (5 lakh: source CNEWA). Thanks to the diaspora in the Gulf and North America and the native genius of the Indian people, our Jacobite brothers are truly blessed to raise resources for their church. Yet they are unable to contribute fully because under the convoluted imperial administrative structure they follow, their tithes are flowing straight to Damascus. The Indian Jacobite Church is, therefore, caught short on the resources front. For a long time (until 1990), for instance, they were unable to organize resources to set up a state-of-the-art seminary, and the church suffered for it. They see the Indian Orthodox Church prosper, and without understanding their own structural infirmities that are preventing them from realizing their full potential, attribute the IOC's successes to the traditional bugbears of Manorama, Muthoottu, MRF, Aban Group etc.

Some Titles Bestowed By The British On Loyalist Indians:

Rai Bahadur
Rai Sahib
Order of the British Empire (OBE)
Khan Bahadur
Khan Sahib
Rao Bahadur
Rao Sahib

I am not presenting a list of the titles granted by the Syriac Patriarch because there are many good people among the recipients, and they may feel offended, whereas my opposition is only to the idea and the motives behind it.


A study of the administrative structure of the Jacobite Church in India leads us to conclude that it's so arranged as to diminish the authority of the Maphryan in the Indian Synod. This structure also allows the Syriac Patriarch to play a role in the temporal affairs of the Indian church.

Response by Very Rev. Kuriakose Moolayil, CorEpiscopa:

Patriarchal Authority in India

Georgy's next "Myth" is that " the Patriarch enjoys only spiritual over lordship and has no temporal authority over the Indian wing of the Syriac Church."

To illustrate more he defines the administrative set up in the Syrian Church in India. He says that the ' fact ' is that it is divided into 6 entities of different administrative orders including that of the Maphrianate. The Knanaya, Simhasana Churches, EAE, Honovar Mission, etc. are specially categorized as under the bishops directly under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch. He also admits that these bishops are also part of the Maphrian Synod.

The fact is that a few of these institutions mentioned before are endorsed and are approved to be under the Patriarch directly by all the courts in their judgments. The latest judgment from the Supreme court of India also approved the Patriarchal authority over these dioceses and institutions. We have to remember the context in which this diverse situation was created only because of the defection of a group from the church claiming autocephaly and independence. When this group created troubles by defying patriarchal authority and are trying to encroach into the parish properties the faithful had no other choice other than to self governing registered bodies to safeguard the place of worship under legal protection. But these safeguards are working in coherence with the oneness of the church.

Here comes the question to Georgy on the making of his myth. I want to know from where he framed this myth?

The fact is that the Malankara Church has five types of properties,

1. Properties under the control of the Malankara Metropolitan and co trustees.

2. Properties under the diocesan Metropolitan and the diocesan assemblies

3. Parish properties under the Parish assembly.

4. There were/are Patriarchal institutions with registered Adharams in the name of the Patriarch.

5. There are organizations registered under societies act and Trust Act to be under the Patriarch.

Till the coming of the British missionaries Malankara Church had only parish properties. The Metropolitans (both Syrians and Indians) were not at all custodians of the wealth and possessions in the church . They had no palaces or private cathedrals. They were traveling all around the parishes as the spiritual leaders with paternal care. The people took them as their revered leaders and final words on everything in their life. The famous Cochin Award gave Properties to the Metropolitan and during the split and in the litigation that followed the Church Properties were attached. This issue was brought before the court and the Royal Courts of Cochin and Travancore gave their verdicts identifying the authority over the general assets of the Church. There it was declared that the Spiritual Supreme of the Church in Malankara is the Patriarch. The administrative authority of the disputed General Properties vested with the Metropolitan and he has to be consecrated by the Patriarch and should be accepted by the people. There are points to be noted here.

1. Before the pre British period the Metropolitan was purely Spiritual head. They had no control or they ever tried to control over properties.

2.The litigations and strife were for the general properties of the Church.

3.The Church properties were also to be handled with the co operation and with the representation of the priests and the people. Malankara church never held a notion that the Church properties belonged to the Metropolitan. This idea came only after the schism created under Vattaseril Thirumeni.

4. The parish properties were neither attached to the personal control of Metropolitans nor were pushed into litigations before the time of Vattakunnel Mathews 1 Bava. The Parish property right vested in the parish body is the reason why a few parishes joined en block to the Roman Catholics after the Coonan Cross, a very few joined the Anglican during the missionary revolt, A few with the Marthomite during the reformist movement and again a very few are still sharing jointly by the Marthoma and the Malankara Church.

I gave the above briefing to make it crystal clear that the hierarchy of the Church in India, whether it be Patriarch, Catholicose or Metropolitan, were considered as the Spiritual Head. They were never masters of the properties but they were fathers of the fold. The fold never disregarded the 'authority' of their 'spiritual fathers'. Now Georgy tries very hard to reallocate the temporal and spiritual authority to Indian and Syrian prelates respectively. But to the SOC it is not at all an issue. We have Monasteries in the personal name of the Patriarch. Manjinikkara, Piramadom, Malecruz etc. are examples. We find no difficulty in managing these by ourselves under the 'spiritual authority' of His Holiness. knanaya, EAE , Honavar, Simhasana entities are strengthening the church as well as growing independently under its constitution and under the 'spiritual authority' of the Patriarch in co operation with the main body of the Church. The so called problems, divisions , reduction of the powers, etc. are the creations of the IOC Propagandists. They are the outburst of their fury against the established legal spiritual authority of the Patriarch of Antioch in India. This arrangement is working here for decades smoothly. I can't find nothing other than the frustrations of dissatisfaction among the IOC in this type of arguments.

In this context I want to make a survey in the IOC to look whether there are any instances of deferred authority like this among them. In US there are parishes and priests entirely under two Metropolitans in the same place. Even in my city of Chicago there are IO parishes under two different episcopal authority. There are no problems among them in their co operation and co existence. Coming to India the greatest financial treasury of the IOC is Parumala. It is under the administration of the Malankara Metropolitan. The Niranam Metropolitan resides there at times but has a residence and diocesan office elsewhere. Parumala Thirumeni made the diocesan centre of Niranam there. But the present Metropolitan has no diocesan centre there and has no control over it even though it is inside his jurisdiction. Niranam diocese and Thoma Mor Dionasius Metropolitan claimed it but now it works somewhat smoothly under the Malankara Metropolitan. In Kottayam Diocese a few parishes are outside the control of the diocese. The town parishes are under the Malankara Metropolitan even though the diocesan headquarters is a few feet away from one of these churches. There are no problems in this arrangement. The Knanaya diocese has a long history of peaceful co existence among other dioceses.The sister parishes enjoy the Interpolated episcopal authority in the Kandanad East and West, Trisoor and Kunnamkulam dioceses and they co exist (?) in IOC. The arrangement in Knanaya, EAE, Honavar and the Simhasana Churches was there even during the united period of the Church. Mathews 11 Bava had institutions directly under him in other dioceses. As far as I understand he had even worship centres and chapels in other dioceses, like the Sasthamkotta centre. All these can function without hurdles. Then why you pry and dissect the SOC set up to find malice only?

Georgy also creates a distortion when he points to the honorary title given to Mor Clemis Abraham. He says that the title, the chief/great Metropolitan of the East was to undermine the position of the canonical Catholicate. Georgy writes this in 2006 to say that it was an act to undermine the late Mor Poulose 11. This is nothing other than a distortion of fact. After the demise of other senior bishops Mor Clemis became the senior most active bishop in the Indian Church of that time. He was given a patriarchal honor titled the above. Any post Sunday School level student of the church knows that the honorifics are not authorized with staticons but all posts with authority of administration is always authorized with staticons and also by 'sunthroneso' by the church. Neither of the above was not followed with the bestowing of this honor to Mor Clemis. The meaning is very evident. He was part of the Malankara Synod and co operated with the church as he was acting before. I don't know whether Georgy is aware that I was very active in the church affairs of that time and I know for certain that what Georgy affirms here is nothing other than mere fabrication.

Honorific titles granted by the Patriarch is said to be stigmatic to the version of Georgy. He degrades it to the titles given to the royalists during the British regime. But the IOC also bestow honorifics to many of its members and even outsiders. Is there any hidden motives in this action? If it is for the service to the church why can't you see the other too likewise?

Next cry and tears of Georgy is shed upon the funneling of the 'considerable' amount of finance from the 'sweat and toil of the Jacobite brothers' to 'Damascus'. I am now serving in a parish belonging to the Malankara diocese under the Patriarchal jurisdiction. I hope Georgy will agree that I know more of the facts than him who is living in Bangalore about 'tithe channelized to the Patriarchate' . This allegation and the lie repeated from the times of Vattaseril Thirumeni is really a boomerang. The craving for money, authority over parish properties, litigation to win over the treasury of pilgrim centres, receiving of bribe and other illicit amassing of wealth is a proven trait of our Malankara people. I am not mentioning any names here. I have recently read about a handing over of a bank balance related to a diocese associated with appointments etc. It is fairly 5 or 6 millions of Rupees. This is only an example and the tip of the colossal iceberg of the underground transactions and financial dealings in IOC. We can read even in Internet media the plight of the church leadership there. I know the lovers of the IOC are helpless here, but innocent souls like Georgy are trying to revert the attention of the people from these atrocities to baseless allegations like this. Have you heard or seen in our times any Syrian prelate coming to Malankara parishes to collect money? But very often the other way happens. We in India are many times helped and supported by the Syrian bishops and parishes. Have you heard any Indian Student staying in the Syrian Seminary spending from there pocket? Moreover His Holiness is supported by the Syriac diaspora abundantly to continue all his projects. Any sensible visitor to the Patriarchate can see the facts. Georgy or anyone in this forum can confirm this fact from the defected bishops from our church to your sides. If they report negatively please come out with their revealings.

The next part of this section is Georgy's essay on the totalitarian rule in Syria and the demographic description of the comparison of the British and the Indian statistics. I don't want to get into that. I want just to say that the SOC had at all times suffered the vicissitudes of the uncomfortable political situations. Now the Syrian administration is giving the Church a most favorable freedom to work. As we politically Analise Syria is far better in religious freedom and protection to its citizens than many other middle East countries. Let us pray for the well being of the church and God's blessings for all the churches facing political oppression.

What is the political structure of of the Gulf countries where we all are having thriving parishes. Can we be against the administration there or brand them totalitarian or having centralized Monarchy? We can only thank God and them for what we enjoy there. Sitting in a city of free India and discussing on totalitarian administration is quite easy. But we must be practical to the context, modest in evaluation and prudent in accusation in comparison to political situation.

Georgy concludes this issue saying that the SOC also follows the policy of 'divide and rule' like the British. But we the SOC are united to stand for the cause that we commonly uphold. Our administrative differences or set up never deviates us from the common cause. Georgy concludes that the Jacobites were unable to pool enough finance to start a seminary until recently because we are giving the tithe to the Patriarchate. Georgy has to remember that our people are not very good in 'giving tithes' as you the IOCs may be. Our parishes are also not wealthy in US and Gulf. With the limited finance we try to support ourselves and try to support in our limited capabilities our projects back in India. Many of our projects in India are supported by our Syrian brothers too. But we are not sound enough to support them. As you know we in India don't have schools and colleges to amass bribe for admissions. Our people abroad are not wealthy as your people are! But there is a 'myth' or a wonder, God sustains us !. Georgy, please don't use financial backwardness to under estimate the structure of the church. You have to bear in mind that all the church properties and its acquirements are in your possession. We had to build up everything from Seminary to Outside Kerala Churches from our toil and sweat because you snatched everything from us and even tried to close our parish churches by unwelcomed molest and greedy entry. You are on the pedestal of financial berth of 2000 years of our church and we are having nothing other than the 2000 years old endeared tradition and faith allegiance. Please pray for us !

Please note: Sorry, I am reported to be 'boring' and 'lengthy'. But I cannot save. I am expressing my convictions on why I am in this Church. I was compelled to write this in reply to a very intelligent criticism leveled against the Church and its tradition by a very articulated researcher.

My apologies, if I offend inadvertently any of you in my immature selection of words to express my perspectives. Nothing I have done intentionally to discredit any person or position. Forgive me and pray for me if I personally offended anyone. I will try to guard myself more in future. I thank sincerely for the related comments.

Next: Myth 8: Throne of St. Thomas - The title, the 'Throne of St Thomas', was unheard of before the 1970s, when it suddenly made its appearance in Kalpanas issued by Devalokam

Previous: Myth 6: The Catholicos of the Jacobite faction in India is the no.2 in the universal Syriac Church.

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