The idea of the Primacy of the Pope set forth in the decrees of the first Vatican Council of 1870 is perhaps the most crucial subject discussed in the dialogues between the Catholics and the eastern and the Oriental Orthodox Christians. [E.g.XIth session of the Plenary of the International mixed Commission
for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, Patmos, Greece, 16-23 October 2009 & XIIth Session in Vienna, 20 to 27 September 2010]
1 Since its promulgation, the Catholic theologians have defended it, quoting evidences from the biblical, patristic, canonical and liturgical sources, often reading into the texts a developed concept of primacy. The Syrian Catholic Bishop H.E.Cyril Behnam Benni [Arch bishop of Mosul 1861-92; Syrian catholic Patriarch 1892-97] an ardent defender of the Petrine primacy at the first Vatican Council of 1870, had made an impressive collection of Syriac sources, in order to support his arguments 2. For the past 140 years, Mgr.Benni’s work was never been the subject of a critical evaluation.
The West Syriac liturgical tradition acknowledges St Peter as the first among the apostles. Thus he is called ‘the chief of the apostles’ (risho d-slihe).The so-called Petrine texts (Math. 16:18-19; Luke 22:32; John 21:15-17) are often quoted in the prayers and hymns along with other New Testament allusions to St Peter. Thus the key words in the Catholic teaching on ‘Petrine Primacy’ such as ‘keys’, ‘faith of Peter’ and ‘rock’ occur in the Syriac liturgical texts.
Syriac tradition speaks of ‘the place of honour’ that St Peter occupied among the apostles. But he was never seen as ‘superior’ to his fellow apostles. The texts that speak of ‘the place of honour’ that St Peter occupied shall be understood in relation to numerous other passages thathighlight the ministry of the apostles and various ministers. Sometimes the encomium or eulogy of Peter is part of the poetical style of the prayers and other liturgical texts, which compare and contrast biblical figures precisely to meditate on the mystery of salvation and to praise God. In the Weekly Breviary Shehimo or the Book of Common Prayer the Evening (Ramso) and Morning (Sapro) have certain themes that recur: e.g. Mother of God, Saints, and Penitence, departed. Occasional references to St Peter appear under the section ‘Saints’, along with other apostles, especially with St Paul or St John the Baptist. A prayer of Monday evening provides the example:
“Simon the head of the apostles, and Paul the elect and John who baptized your Lord, be intercessors on behalf of the flock which you fed by the waters of
faith, and lead it to pasture”3. The main themes of the texts are not often St Peter and never his primacy. Let us quote a text from Monday Night Second
Qaumo:“We remember Moses the fountainhead of prophecy and Simon, head of the apostles, and Paul the master-builder, who wrote to us in a letter to the Romans, that we should take part in the remembrance of the just, who loved God with all their heart; by their prayer and their petition may mercy be shown to
us, halleluiah, may their prayer assist us.
Moses is the head of the Old, Simon of the New; both resemble one another and God dwelt in them. Moses brought down the tables of the Law, Simon received the keys of the kingdom; Moses built the earthly tabernacle, Simon built the Church, for the Old and the New, glory to you, O Lord, halleluiah, may their prayer assist us”4. [The next two stanzas speak of the martyrs, St Stephen, George, Sergius, Kuriakose, Julitta, Shmouni and the forty martyrs]
The theme of Monday Night Second Qaumo is the saints. It is in that context that St Peter is remembered. Here the imagery of building the Church has been associated to St Paul as well as St Peter. In fact these two apostles appear together in a number of liturgical texts. Thus the fourth diptych speaks of “the exalted chiefs of the apostles St Peter and St Paul”. It shall be noted that the main goal of this diptych is not to teach the doctrine of the ‘primacy’ of these two apostles, but to commemorate the Mother of God, the prophets and the apostles, the preachers and Evangelists, the martyrs and confessors. Along with them St John the Baptist, St Stephen and St Peter and St Paul are commemorated. In the inaudible prayer that accompanies the fourth diptych, there is no reference to Peter and Paul. The prayer simply speaks of the ‘apostles’. In fact in the Syrian Orthodox anaphoras, the inaudible prayer that accompanies the fourth diptych does not mention St Peter by name. The Anaphora of Julius of Rome is an exception. The inaudible prayer reads:
“Remember O Lord, all the bishops, orthodox doctors of Your Holy Church who have already departed…. From Peter, the chief of the apostles until today”5.
This is an isolated example and cannot support the any argument related to the primacy of Peter. In the Anaphora of Abraham Nahshirtono (‘the Hunter’), the same prayer reads: “Remember O Lord, all those who have ruled over Your Holy Church from Mar Jacob until today”6.
The Anaphora of the Twelve Apostles ( St Luke) speaks of “John the Baptist and Stephen the head of the deacons”. (also the anaphoras of St John Chrysostom and the Mkanashto)
The fourth diptych provides the key to understand the question of Peter’s position. The Blessed apostle Peter is commemorated as one of the leading figures among the saints, but not as their head. The ‘General prayer’ of the preparation rites (which commemorates “all those who, since the world began, have been
wellpleasing to Thee from our father Adam even unto this day”) does not speak of Peter. A text in the liturgy of the marriage speaks Christ entrusting the
care of the Church to St Peter along with St John: “When the heavenly Bridegroom betrothed the faithful Holy Church, he called Simon and John and entrusted her to both of them (aga’el w-yahboh lathraihun). He made Simon the steward of the House (rab baitho) and John the preacher (of the Gospel). He called them
and commanded them: you shall guard diligently the (church) that I have purchased with my precious blood When the Malayalam translation was rendered into verses, the original sense was completely lost, which is often quoted by those who defend the doctrine of Petrine primacy.
St Peter in the Liturgical year
It is interesting to note that in the Syrian Orthodox liturgical year there is no feast of St Peter. The ‘chief of the apostle’ is commemorated along with St Paul on June 29. There are a good number of ancient Syriac calendars that have come down to us. None of them contains a feast of St Peter. There is even a
feast of St Andrew, brother of St Peter (Nov. 30). There are feasts of St Thomas (July 3; Sept 10); John the Evangelist (Sept. 26; Oct 5; Dec. 15; May 8);
Philip (Nov. 14), Simon the Zealot (May 10), Mathew (Nov 16), Judas (Jan 27). The New Testament figures such as Philemon (Nov 22), Timothy (Jan 21), Onesimos (Feb 15), Jason (April 28) are commemorated as apostles.. Even the Old Testament minor prophets are commemorated: Nahum (Dec.1); Habakkuk (Dec 2); Zephaniah(Dec.3).
In the earliest arrangement of the liturgical calendars, the most important feasts are placed closer to the feasts of Nativity and Epiphany. Thus the glorification of Theotokos (Dec. 26), the beheading of John the Baptist (Jan. 7) and the martyrdom of St Stephen (Jan 8), the oldest among the feasts of the saints are widely celebrated. According to a number of ancient sources, the feast of Jacob, brother of our Lord was celebrated on 28th December. The position of the feast of St Peter and St Paul outside this cycle is not without significance.
125 Homilies of Severus of Antioch (d. 536) have come down to us. Apparently a feast of St Peter did not exist in his days. Severus had preached homilies on John the Baptist (Hom. 32; 61) and on the memory of St Thomas (Hom. 28 preached on July 3, 513) . We have three homilies on ‘Golden Friday (Hom. 74; 92 )
Homily 74 is based on Acts 3:1-2. But no special honour has been attributed to St Peter. Homily 124 is on Math. 16:13 (‘Who do men say that the Son of man is?). No primacy is attributed to St Peter and to the see of Antioch. In homily 124, the main emphasis is on the orthodox faith and in it, Severus says: “ If
some one confesses Christ in the say was as Peter had confessed, he removes the ‘veil of flesh’ (spread) on his heart, and associates with the revelation of the Father in heaven”8. Homily 81 (on Mathew 17:23: on paying didrachma) makes no special comments on the role of Peter in paying the didrachma9. St Peter as
one among the twelve apostles In the New Testament, the titles ‘rock’, ‘head’, ‘shepherd’ and ‘bridegroom’ are used for Christ and some of them are associated with the ministry of the apostles and later with that of the bishops.
The metaphors ‘son’ and ‘anointed’ are used for the believers. The title “only begotten” (Ihydoyo) is used for the monks. Among these titles, ‘rock’is often discussed in relation to the ‘Petrine primacy’. In the liturgical texts, the imagery of rock is used with different meanings. The liturgical texts unequivocally say that the Church is founded upon Christ, the Rock (cfr. 1Cor. 10:4). In the Sedro of the Kudosh ‘edtho (Consecration of the Church), we find: “ Praise to You and thanksgiving to You, Jesus Christ, the unshakable rock of truth on which the holy Church is established, rock of Moses which gave forth twelve streams to quench the thirst of Israel”10.
The same idea is found in the inaudible prayer that accompanies the lifting up of the veil in the anaphora: “Thou art the rock of flint, sent forth twelve streams of water for the twelve tribes of Israel”.
Elsewhere, the imagery of rock is used to refer to the faith: “Your Holy Church, which is firmly established on the rock of faith”11. The Church says: “ On that rock (i.e. faith) at the house of Simon, the head of the apostles, I am built and I am not afraid, the Church answered and said..”12. The rock which brought forth the streams is the image of Mary: “ The rock which brought forth streams in the desert was clearly a figure (tupso) of you, holy virgin, from whom came forth in the creation the Son of God, who is the true rock, as Paul said”13. The title rock is used for St Peter as well: “ On Simon, the rock, our
Lord built the Church and on seventy two pillars he set it up; it is more high and lofty that the mountain of Cardu; the architect, who built it, has his dwelling on high,halleluiah, blessed is he who built the Church and set up the altar in it”14. This passage is part of the section on the saints. The text is a meditation on the mystery of the Church and the place of the saints in it. Thus in the previous stanza we find: “At your door, O Church, watchers stand by night and by day, and guard you from the evil one; Simon, the foundation, and Paul, the architect, and John, who was the friend of the bridegroom, halleluiah, and David, the harp of the Holy Spirit”15. These texts do not signify any primacy of Peter, for elsewhere the same ideas are used in a general sense: “ Peace be with the prophets, apostles and martyrs, builders of faith and pillars of the holy Church, who endured all torments for the sake of our Lord…”16.
A text paraphrased from the biblical accounts speaks of Peter’s privileged position in the Church: “Simon Peter was catching fish in the sea, when his Lord called him and thus said to him: Come, Simon, and I will give you a catch of the Spirit and you shall draw men, from death to life; and on you, Simon, I will build the holy Church, and the bars of Sheol shall not be able to prevail against it”17. This is an isolated example and shall be understood in relation to other texts on Peter and the apostles.
In several passages, Simon Peter is presented as one of the apostles, without attributing any special significance to his place among the twelve. Thus in a prayer of the Holy Week we find a lamentation on Judas: “O dishonest (Judas), why have you disregarded the gift that the Master has given you, as He gave it to Simon or John?18”
Again in a passage addressed to Judas: “I have elected you like Simon and loved like Thomas and honoured like John”19.
Judas had the same dignity as Peter and John: “O dishonest (Judas), why have you disregarded the gift that the Master has given you, as He gave it to Simon and John?”20
Simon is presented along with other apostles: “O Simon, if I do not wash your feet, you will have no throne among your companions”21.
Again: “Simon wept along with John. Mathew and Bartholomew cried out. With pain they mourned for their teacher who was about to die, and for the companion
who mingled with the wicked”22.
Simon Peter and Judas were compared and contrasted and even put at the same level: “One slaps on His cheek, and another spits on His face. One kisses (Him) and betrays. Another says that he does not know Him”23.
On one occasion, the faith of the thief is said to be greater than that of Peter and John: “How great is the faith of the thief, who asked forgiveness to His Lord suspended on the tree, with nails on His hands and feet. He told Him: Forgive me my iniquity! Simon who saw Him renounced Him and John stood afar, but
the thief cried out, saying: ‘Remember me O Lord, when You come!”24.
Thus any reference to Peter shall be understood in the context of the idea of the ‘cloud of witnesses’ who are regularly evoked in the liturgical texts. In a Sedro of the Kudosh ‘edtho we find: “The Lord of the world is her (= Church’s) Bridegroom. John is the Bridegroom’s friend, the apostles and the martyrs are
the wedding guests”25.
It is interesting to note that the ‘priority’ of women as the first witnesses of the resurrection in contrast to St Peter is underscored: “He sent word to His apostles, that He had risen, by the women; it was not from Simon that the women received the tidings, but they who gave them to Simon; from women was the beginning of his course, His birth, His resurrection and the news of His resurrection”26.
It is certain that the goal of the text is to emphasis the reality of the resurrection. Similarly, the texts on St Peter are aimed at narrating the experiences of the apostles or to point out their place in the Church as the prime witnesses to the mystery of Christ. This explains the usual references to
St Peter along with St Paul or other apostles.
The West Syriac weekly breviary always commemorates the apostles along with the saints of the Old and the New dispensations. In the evening of Tuesday we
find (section on the saints): apostles with the blessed martyrs; may their prayers be a strong hold to us. Prophets, apostles and holy fathers, may your
prayers be to us a high wall and a house of refuge”27.
The saints are the foundations of the Church: “ Blessed is he, who built the holy Church on the palm of his hands, and placed as its foundations the prophets, apostles and holy martyrs and assembled and filled her with all peoples; and behold, they offer praise in her by night and day. Blessed is he, who magnified you, prophets, apostles and holy martyrs, and placed your bones like lights within the holy Church, and honoured and magnified your memory here and above in heaven; may your prayers assist us”28.
There are isolated examples in which Peter is singled out: “ In the company of Peter, we shall see you, our father, Mar (X), when you will say to him with open face; these you gave me, Lord, acknowledge them before your Father, even as they have acknowledge you”29.
Peter is an example of repentance and is alluded to along with the thief, publican and the sinful woman: “Open to us, Lord, the door of your mercy, asyou did to the thief, and accept our repentance, as you did that of the publican and the sinful woman, and as you pardoned Simon after he had denied you,
pardon our offences and sins….”30.
The repentance of Peter is described vividly: “Simon was sitting at the outer door and was weeping at the outer door and was weeping: Open Your door, O my master, for I am your disciple. Heaven and earth shall weep for me, for I have made the keys of the kingdom to be lost”31.
Unlike the Latin tradition, the Syriac fathers do not say that ‘the keys’ are the sole privilege of St Peter. According to Moses Bar Kepha, every bishop holds the keys. Thus in his commentary on Holy Myron Bar Kepha writes: “Again (the Myron) is given with the permission of the bishops, because he holds the
keys of Peter and opens the treasury to whom he pleases”32.
For Bar Kepha, ‘the keys’ is a poetical expression implying no primacy whatsoever. Thus in the same work he writes: “(Myron) holds the keys of the kingdom of heaven”33.
The theme of the first Qaumo of Monday of the Holy Week is “the Parable of the Vineyard” The prayers of this qaumo are the exposition of the parable and they represent an important source for ecclesiology. There is no reference to St Peter. He is not refereed to as the guardian or the keeper of the vineyard. The Sedro of this qaumo presents the Church as the vine planted in the place of Israel. After having narrated the planting of Israel, the spiritual vineyard and its destruction, the Sedro continues: “And You have planted in its place the glorious Vine, the Holy Church, chosen from among the gentiles. And You have
made a fence of the Gospel Law around it, and adorned it with the angelic priesthood. You have established t with the high tower of the cross, and entrusted it to the labourers: the apostles, evangelists, shepherds, doctors and chosen priests, that through them she might offer spiritual fruits worthy of Your
divinity. You have established Christ, the stone, rejected by the sons – that is by the Jewish leaders – the corner stone, which joins and unites the heavenly with the earthly beings, the people with the gentiles, which shakes and breaks into pieces, and shatters all who stumble against it”34.
In the prayers, St Peter is never qualified as the ‘the Shepherd of Christ’s flock’, nor Church is called ‘Peter’s flock’. He is never qualified as the ‘vicar of Christ’ or as the representative of Christ to whom other disciples are subjected to. The liturgical references to St Peter are far from being all of equal value, and it is not always possible to deduce from them a consistent ecclesiology. However, they ignore altogether Peter’s primacy or of his successors.
Scriptural references to Peter have been used to illustrate the place of the apostles and the saints in the Church, and to speak of the reality of resurrection, firm faith, human weakness, fall and repentance. The references to St Peter are to be understood as part of the narratives on the apostles’experience of the mystery of Christ and their reaction to it. Peter is rarely singled out, but never placed above the apostolic college. His title risho daslihe (chief of the apostles) is to be understood not in terms of primacy whatsoever, but rather as the chief among the apostles. It implies a ‘place of honour’ which is not defined by the New Testament or by the early Christian fathers.
Apparently, early Eastern Christian liturgical tradition did not attribute a privileged position to St Peter, similar to that of Theotokos, St John the Baptist and even St Stephen. Thus no separate feast of St Peter is attested in the Eastern liturgical calendars. In the Byzantine tradition, the icons of
Theotokos and John the Baptist (‘the friend of the bridegroom’) occupy a special place on the iconostasis, a place never attributed to St Peter. Likewise the Syrian Orthodox Pre-anaphora (‘Public celebration’) begins with the acclamation: “ Mary who brought Thee forth, and John who baptized Thee shall be
suppliants unto Thee in our behalf. Have mercy upon us”. Even in the fourth diptych, the saints are enumerated in the following order, “Mother of God, prophets, apostles, preachers, Evangelists, martyrs, confessors, John the Baptist, St Stephen and the “exalted chiefs of the apostles St Peter and St Paul”. Thus the anaphora, the prayer par excellence of the Church completely ignores the doctrine of Petrine primacy.
1 F.Bouwen, “ Patmos 2009. XIe session pléniè re de la Commission mixte int ernationale
pour le dialogue thé ologique entre l” Eglise catholique et l ’Eglise orthodoxe” , Proche
Orient Chrétien 60 (2010), 78-99 ;ID., « XIIe Session….. », POC 60 (2010), 335-
2 Cyril Benham Benni, Syriac Church of Antioch, concerning the Primacy and
Prerogatives of Peter and of His Successors the Roman Pontiffs, London, 1871 ( This
work was not available to me).
3 Awsar Slawot’o –The Book of Common Prayer,( SEERI, Kottayam, 2006), 193
4 BCP p. 239-241.
5 Pampakuda, 1986, p. 199.
6 Ibid. p. 256.
7 Translated from the Syriac text, Pampakuda (1982), p. 76.
8 Hom. 124, in Patrologia Orientalis 29, pp. 208-231; here, p. 219.
9 Hom. 81, in PO . 20, pp. 344-370.
10 Sedro, Evening, Kud osh ‘edtho, Prayer with the Harp of the Spirit , Vol. II, (Vagamon,
11 Anaphora of St James, Prayer after the Epiclesis.
12 Saturday Morning, BCP, p. 929.
14 Friday Morning, BCP p. 819.
15 Friday, Morning, BCP, p. 819.
16 Thursday Evening, BCP, p. 593.
17 Thursday Lilyo, Second Qaumo, BCP, p. 643.
18 Holy Week, Thursday Night, Second Qaumo, Bo ’utho of Mar Jacob, Syriac Text,
in Ktobo d-sabtho rabtho d-hasho porukoyo (Pampakuda, 1958), p. 168.
20 Holy Week, Thursday Night, Second Qaumo, Bo ’utho of Mar Jacob, Syr. P. 168-
21 Holy Week, Tuesday Night , Second Qaumo, Syriac. p. 70.
22 Holy Week, Thursday Night, Second Qaumo, Mad rosho: Qum Paulose, Syriac, p.
23 Sedro, Good Friday, Night, Fourth Qaumo. Tr. B.Varghese, Promioun-Sedro of the
Holy Week, (Kottayam,2011), p.139.
24 Service of the adoration of the cross , in Fr.B.Varghese (tr), Order of the Prayers of
Good Friday, (Kottayam, 2001), p. 91.
25 Crown of the Year Vol .II, p. 3.
26 Sunday night, Second Qaumo, BCP, p. 95.
27 BCP. p. 335.
28 Ibid. p. 343.
29 Tuesday Morning, BCP , p. 425.
30 Thursday Evening, BCP, p. 595-97.
31 Monday Night, Third Qaumo, BCP, p. 245.
32 Bar Kepha, Commentary on the Consecration of Holy Myron , ch. 38
(ed.W.Strothmann, p. 102).
33 Ibid. ch. 49. p. 122.
34 Promioun-Sedro of the Holy Week, p. 14-15.
I consider it a great blessing to have this opportunity of participating in the 17th centenary celebrations of the martyrdom of St. George. I recall with great pleasure my visits to this church on several occasions in the past. However today’s is my first visit after the reconstruction of the church building. The architectural beauty and majesty of the buildings impress me enormously and I congratulate the Puthuppally Parish for undertaking this work in such a highly satisfactory manner. Puthuppally Parish has the great distinction of having produced some of the most eminent leaders of the Orthodox church who had served the church with great devotion and dedication in the critical years of its troubles and tribulations. I would particularly acknowledge with gratitude the contributions of great leaders like Rao Saheb O.M. Cherian, Justice K.K. Lukose, Z.M. Paret and the pride of the Puthuppally parish, Mathews Mar Ivanios for preserving the independence of the church. I recall with great pleasure my friendship with the late Z.M. Paret, the illustrious historian of the Orthodox church. For him the completion of the eight volumes of church history was a ‘tapasya’ or a ‘yajna’ which he undertook as his duty to his mother church. On this occasion I also recall an anecdote narrated by Z. M. Paret in the presence of Mathews Mar Ivanios when both us together called on him at Puthuppally. When Malankara Metropolitan Vattasseril Mar Dionysius who was the guru Fr. Paret pressed him about a couple of years before the Metropolitan’s demise to agree to be elevated to the position Bishop, Fr. Paret had politely declined saying that he had not received the ‘divine call’ (dhei-va-vi-Li) for it yet. The Metropolitan ~hided his disciple by saying that ‘divine call’ did not mean that God Almighty would come to his room and catch him by his hand and tell him to become a Bishop. He told Fr. Paret that when people like him tell him that he should agree to become a Bishop he should consider it as a ‘divine call’ and it was his duty to obey it. However, Fr. Paret evaded giving a positive reply as he had felt that he should remain a priest for some more years to serve his home parish of Puthuppally.
There are no clear historical evidences to prove when exactly the connection between St. George and the church in Malankara had started. The fact that a large number of Malankara Nazranis carry the name of the saint in its different variations, George, Geevarughese, Varkey, Varughese, etc., and that there are several scores of churches in Kerala instituted in the sacred memory of St. George, show the strength of the relationship between the saint and the Malankara Church. I am sure the Puthuppally Parish will arrange to undertake further researches on the origins of the sacred relationship between the Saint and the church in Malankara and Puthuppally parish in particular.
I understand that several members of the Orthodox church from various parts of the country are present here today to participate in the 17th centenary of the Saint’s martyrdom. I wish to avail of this opportunity to share with you some thoughts on the vision that we should have about the future of our church and the aims and objectives which we should keep in view in carrying out this vision. Some people may wonder why I should be talking about the objectives and aims or the directions in which the Church should proceed at this stage of its history.
After a prolonged saga of tensions and conflicts, we have today the satisfaction of having achieved almost everything that we wished to achieve through the unambiguous judgments of the highest court of the land. In the long history of the Malankara church spanning over a period of 2000 years, the 100 years from the middle of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century (when the Supreme court passed this historic judgment of 1958), have been years of great troubles and tensions which few other Christian churches in the world had ever to encounter in their relations with other churches. The heads of the Malankara Church or the Malankara Metropolitans chosen by the democratic process of election by the representatives of the clergy and the laity were subjected to the humiliating experience of being `excommunicated’ by the Patriarchs of Antioch who had no legal or ecclesiastical authority whatsoever to do so. The Patriarchs who committed such unwarranted acts against the duly elected prelates of the church were not constrained by the principles of natural justice or of Rule of Law which were all alien to their traditions and culture. They chose to indulge in such high handed and arbitrary acts because they could create a division in the church and retain the allegiance of one section of the Malankara church. The most important question now is what should be done by us in order to protect and preserve our rights from future encroachments and assaults by persons who have no legal or spiritual authority to resort to such acts.
I have to turn the pages of history a bit to explain to you how the church was forced to put up with such bitter experiences for over a hundred years. I should also point out the sad fact that we have ourselves been partly responsible for placing the Antiochian yoke over our necks because of our great fear that we would otherwise be overpowered by the rising clout of Western missionaries backed by their foreign political patrons.
We have always taken pride in the fact that the Malankara church had been an Apostolic church established at the sacred hands of St. Thomas the apostle of Jesus Christ as early as AD 52. But what will surprise anyone looking at the history of our church is the fact that for a period of 1900 years, that is till 1912, our fore fathers had not bothered to take the required steps to establish its well-deserved and most necessary status as an autocephalous church. They appeared to have been contented by maintaining occasional contacts with the Eastern Orthodox churches in Babylon, Persia, Antioch, Jerusalem, etc., and happy with the fact that the affairs of their church and of the Nazrani community were administered by local leaders elected by them as their Archdeacons. Even after liberating themselves through the historic Coonen Kurissu oath from the 54 years old Papal over lordship (1599- 1653) imposed on the church by the Portugese authorities in India our forefathers did not think of asserting the `selfhood’ of the church for consecrating its own ecclesiastical heads. Instead the Malankara church after the 1653 oath for very inexplicable reasons approached certain churches in the Middle East with a request to send a Bishop to formally complete the consecration of Archeadeacon Parampil Thomas who had been elected by them as the Metropolitan of the Church. Finally a Metropolitan arrived from Antioch and completed these formalities and Archdeacon Thomas was proclaimed as Metropolitan Marthoma I of Malankara.
For the next nearly 200 years none of the churches in the Middle East including Antioch ever tried to establish spiritual or temporal authority over the Malankara church. It continued to function as an autonomous church acknowledging no authority outside Malankara as its spiritual head. However, certain subsequent steps taken by the church to ward off the rising influence of foreign protestant missionaries and by the protestant reforms movement started by some influential members of the Malankara church led to most disastrous repercussions.
The first time a candidate for the position of Malankara Metropolitan chose to go to Antioch to be consecrated in that position by the Patriarch of Antioch was when Palakunnathu Mathews Mar Athanasios took that course in 1842. However, when the Church realized that the new Malankara Metropolitan was keen on implementing his own agenda of introducing Protestant reforms in the church, it rebelled against his actions. In order to protect the church from being sucked into the protestant faith, the Malankara church resorted to the unusual step of proclaiming its allegiance to the Antiochian patriarch, which act they thought, would prove to be a powerful shield against protestant subversion. In the litigation that followed the newly formed Marthoma church lost its claims as the authentic Malankara Church and it chose to function as a separate church with no linkages with Antioch or the Malankara authorities. Earlier in 1836 our forefathers had declared through a formal document executed at Mavelikara (known as the Mavelikara Padiyola ) pledging total subservience to the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch. Thus the fear of protestant subversion drove us into the fold of Antioch and the church in that process lost the autonomous status it had enjoyed over since its inception in AD 52.
The visit of the first Patriarch from Antioch to Malankara, namely, Peter III in 1875 marked an important turning point in the history of the Malankara church. Peter III convened a meeting of the church representatives at Mulanthurithi in 1876 and made them agree to several declarations and pledges which resulted in the total subordination of the church to the authority of Antioch. The Patriarch had no authority, civil or spiritual to do what he did in Malankara which in t11any respects was an attempt at the ‘Arabisation’ of the culture and traditions of the Malankara church, but in its anxiety to stem the tide of Protestantism it allowed itself practically to become almost a parish of the church in Syria with disastrous consequences. The Malankara church succeeded in preventing the take-over of the church by the C.M.S. missionaries as well as by the reformist movement started by the Mar Thoma group by accepting the over lordship of Antioch, but the remedy proved to be worse than the disease; VeLukkan theChathu PaanDaayi poya Anubhavam. The Malankara church found itself for the first time in its 2000 years history in danger of altogether losing its autonomy and having been reduced to the level of a unit under the Church of Antioch.
The successor to Patriarch III Mar Abdulla who visited Malankara during 1909-1911 tried to formalize Antiochian supremacy over Malankara by demanding written agreements from the Bishops and various parishes conceding to the Patriarch both spiritual and temporal authority over them. The unprecedented act of ex-communication of Vattasseril Mar Dionysius the duly elected Metropolitan of Malankara and the attempted ‘suspension’ of the Metropolitan in 1932 by Mar Julios, a mere resident delegate of the Patriarch in Malankara, were the worst examples of high handedness on the part of the Antiochan authorities. But worse was to follow. The Malankara church had adopted a new constitution in 1934, which according to Article 94 had vested the authority for the spiritual and temporal administration of the church solely with the Malankara Metropolitan. The Supreme Court in its historic judgment of 1958 had unequivocally recognized the validity of the institution of the Catholicate in 1912 and the binding nature of the constitution of 1934 for the entire church. In spite of all these facts Patriarch Yakub III chose to repeat the thoroughly high handed act earlier committed by Patriarch Abdulla of \ex- communicating) the Catholicos and Malankara Metropolitan in 1975. It is amazing that the Patriarch could resort to exercise powers which he or his church never possessed, ignoring the provisions of the constitution of the church and the judgments of the highest court of justice in the country. But this is what exactly happened.
The question before us now is whether we can allow such things to happen in future. There is no point in trying to acknowledge the authority of the Patriarch subject to the provisions of the constitution of 1934 as the Patriarchs have shown no inclination to respect that constitution. Some people may say that as per Article 101 of the 1934 constitution the Patriarch cannot exercise any authority over the church unless he had been elected with the co-operation of the Catholicos and recognized as canonically consecrated as patriarch by the church. But then these constitutional provisions and legal niceties are relevant only in countries like ours which believe in Democracy, the Rule of Law and the authority of the Supreme court to interpret the Law and the constitution. We should remember that we are dealing with certain authorities who function from countries like Syria or Iraq which have no traditions of democracy or commitment to Rule of Law. Therefore, it is important that we guard ourselves against repetition of what had happened in the past.
It is my considered view that the only way of ensuring that we would not have to suffer the indignities and injustices of the past is to completely sever the connection of our church with the Patriarch of Antioch. This will have to be done following due process of law and without diluting the rights we have gained from the judgments of the Supreme court. The appropriate legal measures to be taken to achieve this objective should be left to the experts, but the first step required is the decision to make a complete break with our relationship with the church of Antioch which had come into force in the middle of the 19th century. Some enthusiasts about the Antiochian connection may argue that the Patriarch’s authority over the Malankara church has already been reduced to a ‘vanishing point’, and there is no harm in leaving it at that level. But we should never again take the risk of future attempts of the type taken by some patriarchs in the past to establish their authority over the Malankara church.
If we decide to take such a step there is no point in carrying out the litigation with the group known as the Jacobite Syrian Church which has unreservedly accepted the Patriarch of Antioch as the spiritual and temporal head of that Church. This group is no longer a part of the Orthodox Church of India; it has opted to separate itself from the Orthodox church and repudiated its allegiance to the Constitution of 1934 and to the Catholicate validly established in 1912. These are its own decisions and we should not question their rationale or logic. It has chosen its own constitution and has legally nothing more to do with the Malankara Orthodox Church. The only sensible thing which we in co-operation with that group should do is to recognize the fact of their separation without further recrimination or fault finding. A difficult question that would have to be tackled is one of allowing them to continue in possession of a few churches in which they have now an overwhelming majority in numbers. This would call for the evolution of a formula acceptable to both sides for deciding which are the churches which should continue to remain with them irrespective of the legal validity of our claims over such churches based on the judgment of the Supreme Court.
The time has come to take some firm decisions about our future. Even after renouncing the position of the Patriarch in our church we can continue close relations with Antioch as a sister Oriental Orthodox Church.
I am of the firm view that we should not resort to further litigation in order to oust the Jacobite group from certain churches where they enjoy an overwhelming majority in numbers. We should accept their decision to separate from the Malankara church and to remain as an integral part of the Syrian Orthodox church at Damascus as they have done already. We should deal with them with all the courtesy due to a unit of a sister church as we deal with the Marthomite church in our country which had earlier separated from us. There should be no recriminations and fault finding about the injustices of the past. Instead we should extend to the Jacobite group the hand of friendship and co- operation due to a unit of a sister church. If we are to establish permanent peace in the church we should be prepared to begin negotiations with them which could lead to the evolution of a suitable formula for the possession of some of the churches in dispute. I am aware that a small section in our church may not be very happy with the solution that I am suggesting now to restore peace and good will. But I want to ask you a question. Is the physical possession of a few more parishes more important than establishing lasting peace in the church as a whole? Why did our forefathers and we go through the enormous efforts and expenditure involved in litigation for over 90 years? Did we do that just to get possession of a few more parishes or did we do it in order to get certain fundamental principles established through the courts of law in the country? What we fought for till now and what we achieved in unequivocal terms through the judgments of the Supreme Court, were for the vindication of four
(i) the independence of our church from the control of any foreign ecclesiastical authority;
(ii) the validity of the re- establishment of the Catholicate in India in 1912
(iii) the legality of the constitution of 1934 and (iv) the validity of the elections of the Malankara Metropolitan including the present Metropolitan. We have achieved all these four objectives. Should we now carry on a vendetta against our own brothers who believe that they have made a correct choice of separating from the Malankara Church? Should we bother at all about giving up our claims for a few parishes, even if their number may be about 100 or so, if that is the price we have to pay for lasting peace? I wish to remind you that if we have to lose a 100 churches in the interest of establishing peace with our brothers, we will have no difficulty whatsoever in constructing even 250 new churches in their place in less than six months’ time. The Indian Orthodox church has the will and the financial capacity to construct 250 new churches to replace the churches we may have to give up as the price for peace. Our choice has not to be based on the number of churches we gain or lose but on the vindication of the principles for which our forefathers and we fought. For me the choice is clear and I place this proposition before you to ponder over. If you find this approach acceptable we should be able to get appropriate orders from the Supreme Court itself incorporating the conditions agreed to by both parties. The details can be worked out with the assistance of legal experts, once we accept the principles and policies I am recommending for the consideration of the church.
I would like to make two other points as well. My vision for our church is that it should develop into a cent percent national church. I wish to remind you that almost all the Orthodox churches in the world take pride in their national identities. In the larger family of Orthodox churches there are five churches known as the Oriental Orthodox Churches and they are all national churches. They are the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Ethiopian Church, the Armenian Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Indian Orthodox church. We will have our honoured place among the five Oriental Orthodox churches which respect each other’s independence and where no church is subordinate to another. This is the right time to take a firm decision about severing the Antiochean connection in its present form and establishing friendly relations with the newly established Jacobite church recognizing it as a unit of our sister church, namely, the Syrian Orthodox Church. Our new relationship with the Syrian Orthodox Church should be on the principle of complete equality similar to the relationship we have maintained with other Oriental Orthodox Churches. Terminating the over lordship of one Church over another is nothing new in the history of Christian churches. The Ethiopian church was once under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Coptic church of Egypt. The Armenian church was once under the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople and later under the Patriarch of Russia. But in due course all these churches became completely independent of each other, without having to go through the horrifying and demeaning experiences which we had to for over a century. But let us not quarrel any more about what happened in the past. Let us draw the right lessons from the past and try to preserve our independence as the other Oriental Orthodox churches have succeeded to do.
In this connection I would like to remind my fellow members of the Indian Orthodox church that we should take pride in our identity as the national church of India. We have to remind ourselves and keep constantly informing others also that we were not converted to Christianity by colonial rulers like the Portugese or the English. Our ancestors have been Christians long before Portugal or England or Holland heard of the message of Jesus of Nazerth. We should also remember with pride that we are the inheritors of 5000 years of a glorious civilizational heritage. Our ancestors wrote the Vedas and the Gita, and proclaimed the great truths of the Upanishads at a time when most of today’s Christian world was steeped in the darkness of ignorance. Therefore, we should be proud of our Indian identity and to be known as the Indian Orthodox church and not by its historic name of the Malankara church. What we propose to do with our church or our constitution is our concern and we are not bound by the opinions and views of those who have voluntarily severed their connections with the church. Simultaneously we should not also bother about what those who left the church do with their future. One more point for your kind consideration and with that I will conclude. It is time that we have a close look at our forms of worship and see to what extent they can acquire greater Indian content. It is time that we have a good look at the ‘Thubaden’ we follow in our worship. We remember in the ‘Thubaden’ the names of several holy men about whom we know little. But surprisingly we have forgotten to include the names of even the five holy fathers who had held the eminent position of Catholicos of the East from 1912 through the process of election and democratic recognition.
In conclusion, I would plead with you that the time has arrived for taking some firm decisions about the future of our 2000 years old church. As I have already said, our vision is peace and friendship with the Jacobite group and absolute equality with the other Oriental Orthodox Churches including the Syrian Orthodox Church at Damascus. It is this vision that now beckons us for serious consideration and early action.
(This is the English translation of Dr. PC Alexander’s speech, which he delivered on 5 May 2004 at the St. George Church, Puthuppally, Kerala on the occasion of the 17th Centenary of the martyrdom of St. George. Dr. Alexander himself rendered the speech into English on the request of Mar Philoxenos of Delhi because its relevance in the present context.)
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