Dr Thomas Mar Athanasius
(Metropolitan of the Diocese of Kandanad East of Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Syrian Church)
The visit of The Patriarch of Antioch ,HH Aprem II,who was recently elected and enthroned as The Primate of Syriac Orthodox Church, now appears a certainity.There has been some misunderstanding or confusion about his visit to India, even within the very Church faction directly under him and the media has been celebrating the same for a while.The outbursts that ’Patriarch is coming’,’He is not coming’, ’He should come’, ’He will not be allowed to come’, ’He has the right to come anytime’ appears to have almost ceased.The silence Malankara Orthodox Church maintained in this context has been wise and sensible.As the visit of HH The Patriarch has been confirmed,let us earnestly hope and pray that it will bring goodwill and blessing to the Church.
Malankara Orthodox Church had earlier protested against the visit of then Patriarch, HH Zakka I Bava of blessed memory, after the Supreme Court verdict of 1995. He came with an ‘ill intention’ of hastening the divisive process by toppling the Court verdict that had created a background and goodwill atmosphere for Church unity.He tried to organize the faction that remained loyal to him thus promoted formation of a new Church in Malankara.
Malankara Orthodox Church could not comprehend and accept this visit of HH Zakka I, who came to deepen and establish the division and unfortunately provide his blessings for the same.However,that kind of a situation/atmosphere does not exist now.The followers of Patriarch has by now formed a Church and established a Constitution also for the same.In such a context when the Head of that newly formed Church is visiting Kerala, Malankara Orthodox Church need not protest against it.However if we can take with face value the statement of The Patriarch that he would like to bring about a solution to the Church feud, his visit could be a blessing indeed.Malankara Orthodox Church certainly does not consider this visit as one that is intended on showcasing or reflecting Patriarchal hegemony,supremacy or occupation.The Malankara Orthodox Church also sincerely nurture the hope that this visit will have a positive impact on the Orthodox Church as a whole.
Malankara Orthodox Church has never wished that Patriarcch should be outsted /eliminated from our Church relationship.It has been the constant and firm stand of Malankara Orthodox Church that the relation with Patriarchate be continued and maintained.This relationship which came into existence sometime after the Coonan Cross Oath is centuries old.The Patriarch pertaining articles in our Church Constitution was purposely included to maintain this historical relationship.Malankara Sabha never tried to undo this historic bilateral relationship even at times of severe discord.Though the Catholicate came into being in 1912 and even in the context of active court cases between the Church and the Patriarch faction,Malankara Orthodox Church has tried to give due recognition to the Patriarch.When in 1995 when the Patriarch factioneers formed a new Church,challenging and disregarding the Court verdict,Malankara Sabha continued to maintain the articles in Constitution that pertains to the Patriarchate.The Patriarch having been elected without endorsement from our Malankara Sabha and in the context of he being the Supreme Head of a parallel faction,the role of Patriarch in our Church is at present totally null and void, as per the Constitution.Inspite of this Malankara Sabha still maintain the hope that this historical relationship can be honourably restored in future.
There are certain clear and valid reasons why Malankara Sabha wants to retain the relationship with the Patriarch.
1)Malankara Sabha desires that yhe historical mutual Church relationship that existed for more than 3 centuries should not just abruptly end due to certain unsolicited or unwarranted periodical disturbing situations.
2.Malankara Sabha considers it undesirable,unreasonable and a negation of Christian testimony that the blood related believers of same faith,historical background,heritage,culture and practice of worship have a division among them than promoting Church unity.
To achieve this unity it is necessary that The Patriarch gets due recognition.If there was unity in Church in 1958,it was because The Patriarch was given a honourable recognition in the 1934 Church Constitution. Therefore,Malankara Sabha believes that the due place given for The Patriarch in the Church Constitution will encourage and pave the way for Church unity.It is however at the same time, not at all binding on Malankara Sabha ,as an autonomous denomination, to owe any allegiance to The Patriarch of Antioch.Again,inspite of this, considering and recognizing the past close relationship and future chances for peace in the Holy Church, Malankara Sabha does not spare any effort to retain this relation to Patriarch.
Malankara Sabha also does not however wish this relation to be ambiguous or non specific.This relation should also be not one of dependence.It is only because the Holy Church considers this relationship very important it was given due place in the Church Constitution.Thus the Church believes that the relationship between Malankara and Antioch should be cordially established in very specific and clear terms.This points to a healthy and spiritual honourable church relationship.This kinship should also complement the overall faith and driving principles of communion of Oriental Orthodox Churches.In Oriental Orthodox Churches all the presiding Chief Metropolitans are of equal status and Churches are free to have their own autonomous governance in place.If at all any Head of a Church gets a special respect or honour from another Church, it does not at all mean that this particular Head of Church has any Supremacy over that Church.
The position,honour and privileges offered to The Patriarch by Malankara Sabha does not at all entitle Patriarch to have any authority over the Church.If there has been continuous discord between the Patriarch faction in Malankara with its Supreme Head in the recent past and earlier, it was because of the lack of precision in their interrelation,the hegemonial attitude of Patriarchate and the slave like unconditional submission of factioneers.In 2002 when the Patriarch faction formed its Constitution it gave The Patriarch unlimited powers and authority.This situation encouraged the Patriarch to go beyond certain established norms of non interference in the Patriarch faction of Malankara Church.The very recent internal rumblings and squabbles in the Patriarch faction developed as a result of this unacceptable position of authority and resultant attitude of The Patriarch.
The Syrian Churches of Kerala,whatever denomination they may be of,are different from Syrian Churches in the Middle East in culture,language,practice and organizational features.They have similarity only in Worship and Theology.Therefore,it is very essential for the growth of these Malankara Syrian Churches to maintain their individuality,independence and culturo-spiritual identity.The Patriarch factioneers,even considering the recent undesirable events in their faction,should realize the necessity of truly witnessing Christ and upkeep of sacred ecumenical cordiality between Churches,must join hand in glove with their Orthodox brethren to lead our Malankara Sabha as a whole into a viable and spiritually healthy relationship with the Patriarch of Antioch.
Malankara Sabha has no complaints on the position of The Patriarch.Though the Supreme Court said that he is spiritually superior to the Catholicose of the East Malankara Sabha do not want to object to it either.However,it should be crystal clear and assured that The Patriarch can relate to Malankara Sabha and The Catholicose only within the ambit of the Church Constitution as per the honourable Supreme Court observations.If it is so it is not impossible to bring about Church unity.Neverthless, if the so called parallel Catholicate created by The Patriarch continue to exist,any Patriarchal role in Malankara Sabha will remain null and void. Therefore, if the autonomy of the Malankara Sabha is respected by The Patriarch with due honour to the Canonic Catholicate and due recognition and acceptance of the !934 Church Constitution and a sincere effort is made to bring in Unity in our Church, we can certainly steer Malankara Sabha to a united entity and The Patriarch will be honoured and accepted by one and all in the whole of Malankara.
The Patriarch faction considers the relation to Patriarch as one of indebtedness or loyalty.There is no room or reason for such indebtedness.If Antiochians had not come after the Oath at Coonan cross we would have been under the Catholic yoke.In such a case the divisions and squabbles that has been going on in the Church in the last two centuries would not have occurred.Factually the reason for all problems and court cases in the last many years was because of the unclear, ambiguous and unprecise relationship with the Patriarchate of Antioch. The Patriarch and the Jacobite faction under him should clearly and distinctly realize this genuine truth.On the basis of a precise and tangible agreement and mutual relationship with the autonomous Malankara Sabha and the Patriarchate establishment, the prevailing chaotic situation can be smoothly resolved.
If the Antiochian Patriarch move ahead with sincere good intention towards achieving this state of accord and unity,setting aside objections against it, he will get the unstinted support and goodwill of all well meaning faithful of the Church. The Church will always remain grateful to a Godfearing,blessed and visionary holy Father who is responsible for well intentionally reshaping the Church history.
(TRANSLATION BY Dr. VINU THOMAS)
Source: Malankara Nazrani