On June 25, 2010 the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch HH Ignatius Zakka I issued a bull numbered E125/10 to all members of the Syrian Orthodox faithful of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church worldwide. The bull came out at a critical and pivotal situation in the history of Christianity in India, especially that of the Christians of Syriac heritage. Therefore, it will be good to make a glance into the implications of this bull with a certain amount of analytical capacity.
1. Primarily, this bull is addressed to the Syrian Orthodox faithful of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church. Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch has always categorically said that ‘Jacobite’ is a term that is not official at all and therefore, not to be included in any official documents. However, in this bull, the Patriarch himself is using the term to denote the Syrian Orthodox faithful from India. On one hand there are standpoints for the Syrians and on the other hand there are paradigm shifts for the Indians. An abominable notation for the Syrians even today is used as one of dignity to the Indians by the Head of the Church himself. It won’t be wrong from the side of concerned authorities to give a thought into this issue with a critical mind.
2. The bull no 203/70 of June 27, 1970 issued by the predecessor of the present Patriarch acclaimed that St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ to India, was not a bishop, even not a priest, and not worthy therefore to carry Salvation and grace of God to the Indians. Here in this bull St. Thomas is praised as the Patron Saint of India. Has there been any official and unequivocal shift in stands in the recent past for the Patriarch of Antioch that revoked bull 203/70 officially? If not, can the true children of St. Thomas take this bull as an official giving in that what had been said in 1970 is wrong? It is good to remember one statement of LL Dr. Stephanos Mar Theodosius on the absence of St. Thomas at the first appearance of Jesus Christ after resurrection, namely, when all the other disciples were caught under fear and were hesitating to venture a walk outside, St. Thomas dared it and that courage is what we have seen in his coming to the farthest of lands to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and her members are alluded in the bull as ‘enemies’ (twice though). For the Patriarch, ‘they are born of hypocrisy and deception’. Through these words, the Patriarch wishes to say that anyone, who does not bow his/her head in front of him in sheer submission is to inherit sheol. Such words do not surely fit to the mouth a genuine high priestly instance, where merits and worth of the opposition are left fully unconsidered.
4. Also it is mentioned that the Malalankara Orthodox Syrian Church and her members are excommunicated in 1975 by the Holy Episcopal Synod of the Universal Syrian Church. This is perfectly alright seen from the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. It is well within their freedom to do so for what ever reasons. However, a bull that is lavish in quoting verses from the Holy Bible has failed to note that there are verses and verses in the Holy Bible to love one’s enemies and to get reconciled with him (eg. St. Mathew 5: 21-26). I am sure that the Peshita Bible has all those verses. It is mysterious that the Holy Father from Antioch missed such verses.
5. Excommunicating persons for reason and no reason is common among the Syrian Orthodox of Antioch. A bogus apology, on the other hand, is enough to revoke such excommunications too. We can find evidences therefore in the referred bull itself. Ramban Joseph Mattam and Fr. Moses Gurgan were excommunicated and were reinstated from excommunication time and again. So was it with LL Mar Julius Isa Cicek also. A point we understand here is that excommunication is something that is to be used with carefulness and it is wisdom to use better judgment in matters of excommunication.
6. This bull made it clear that even an Abbot in a remote monastery in Kerala is appointed and removed by the Patriarch of Antioch. Now, one question can pop up. What are the responsibilities of