Kerala church feud: With no help from govt, Orthodox faction to seek Centre’s support

On Sunday, Orthodox faction organised protest marches to various churches under Malankara Church and passed a resolution against Kerala government.

When attempts to enter the Kothamangalam Church and Piravom Church failed, Malankara Orthodox church shot off a strongly worded letter to the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government and later passed a resolution against the state government on Sunday. Additionally, the Malankara Orthodox church also decided to seek support from the central government to implement the Supreme Court order. 

“If the state government failed to implement the Supreme Court verdict, we will seek help from the central government to implement the court order,” says Malankara Orthodox Church Catholicos Mor Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II in the letter. “The state government is liable to implement the court order. The Jacobite faction has violated the court order and protested, but the government failed to prevent it.  We have not asked for something that we don’t deserve,” he adds.

After the holy communion on Sunday, the Orthodox church passed a resolution against the state government and organised protest marches to each church under the Malankara Syrian Church. 

On July 3, the Supreme Court gave the Orthodox faction the legal mandate to administer 1100 churches and parishes under the Malankara Church, as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines. The Jacobite faction, however, strongly objected to this, thus leading to the on-going conflict between the two factions. 

Speaking to TNM, Malankara Orthodox Church PRO Fr Johns Abraham Konattu said, “We have lost our trust in the state government about implementing the Supreme Court order. We passed the resolution to warn the state government of its anti-Orthodox stand. Soon after the Supreme Court gave its judgement, the government was in favour of the Malankara Orthodox Church and we got back some churches. But later, the government changed its stand.”

He added, “Orthodox Fr Thomas Paul Ramban withdrew his decision to enter the Kothamangalam Church during the Christmas days to avoid a tense situation. But, we are firm in our decision to get back our churches and implement the court order.” 

Centre’s help will send wrong message to society: Jacobite faction

However, the Jacobite faction caused a stir on Sunday, when it laid claim to the Parumala church, which is currently under the Orthodox faction. Parumala St Peter and St Paul’s church in Pathanamthitta district is one of the famous churches in Kerala. On Sunday, over 1,000 Jacobite members, including women and children, organised a protest march from Kadappra Gregorian pilgrimage centre to Parumala Church.

The protesting Jacobites want the government to take immediate steps to help them stake a claim to Parumala Church. Later, a group of Orthodox members, too, took out a protest march to Parumala Church against Jacobite faction the same day.

Jacobite Syrian Church former chief spokesperson Fr Varghese Kallappara told TNM, “Parumala Church was our precious church. Our saint Geevarghese Mar Gregorios, popularly known as Parumala Thirumeni, is laid to rest in the Church. But the Orthodox faction annexed the Church. However, the Jacobite Syrian church has started taking steps to take back our lost churches.”

Fr Varghese Kallappara added, “The Orthodox faction’s decision to seek support from the central government is sending a wrong message to society. How can the government give away the churches under Jacobite faction to the Orthodox faction? The Orthodox faction should first consider the sentiments of the laity members in each church.”

However, the Orthodox faction refuted the Jacobite faction’s claims about the Parumala Church. “If they (Jacobite faction) want to make any claims, they can approach the court. We reached the Kothamangalam and Piravam Churches with a clear court order,” says Fr Johns Abraham.

Meanwhile, the Parumala church has not witnessed any confrontations till now. But with the dispute between the Jacobite and Orthodox factions, this church, too, came to the fore with protests on Sunday.

Two days ago, Orthodox vicar Fr Thomas Paul Ramban tried to enter the Kothamangalam Cheriya Palli and the area witnessed massive protests. The vicar, as well as the Jacobite protesters, camped outside the church for over 26 hours. Ramban was determined not to move until he was allowed to conduct the services in the church. As his health reportedly deteriorated, he was admitted to the hospital.

On December 10, some Jacobite protesters at Piravam Church even attempted to kill self to prevent the entry of the Orthodox priest. Following this, the priest decided not to enter the church.