Catholicos of the East H.H.Beselios Paulose II Fasting at Kolenchery

Kolencherry, Kerala (India): The oldest churches in India, the Syrian Orthodox Church of the East in central Kerala is in the grip of an intense feud. The fight between rival factions of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is now spilling onto the streets. The bone of contention is the ancient church in Kolencherry, which both warring Orthodox and Rebel Jacobite factions claim as theirs. The trouble has become worse, after a recent court order, which handed over control of the church to the Orthodox Church headed by Catholicos of the East H.H.Beselios Paulose II.

Trouble began when the Orthodox Church decided not to share ownership of the church with the rivals, preventing them from entering the premises. The Orthodox faction demanded that the Rebel Jacobite faction abide by the district court order.

The dispute over the right to worship further led the head the Orthodox Church, HH Baselios Marthoma Paulose II to launch a hunger strike on Sunday.

Not budging from its stand, the Jacobite faction under Catholicos H B Baselios Thomas I as well began a prayer strike programme near the shrine.

The Orthodox Church wants the government to implement the court order immediately. Father Dr K M George from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church says, "There is a clear court verdict. If the government implements the order, the matter will be solved." But the Jacobite faction say they cannot be ousted from the church. Geevarghese Mor Coorilos from the Rebel Jacobite Syrian Christian Church says, "We have been worshiping here for ages. We cannot be suddenly told that you have no right here and you should go away and build a new church."

The church is believed to be the shrine of St Peter dating back to the 7th century. It is considered holy to both factions of the Malanakara Church. But after the skirmishes between the two groups, it has now been closed for worship. There are concerns that if a settlement is not reached soon, the tension between two groups will flare up. Since there have been violent clashes between the two factions in the past, police have been deployed in large numbers to prevent any violence.

With tensions rising believers say it now time to end the hostility. Joseph Zachariah a devotee of the Orthodox Church says, "I think this is disgraceful for the entire Christian community. What we need is an amicable settlement. We should end all this."

A curfew was Sunday declared at the tension-gripped Kolenchery.The district collector meanwhile has sought the intervention of the mediation cell of the High Court to resolve the dispute. District Collector P I Sheik Pareeth told the court that the dispute had become a law and order issue and would worsen with more people joining the protests.

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