A tense situation prevailed at St Mary’s Church in Ernakulam district’s Piravom as the Orthodox and Jacobite factions of the Malankara Syrian Church locked horns over the church’s ownership. The church, currently controlled by the Jacobite faction, was handed over to the Orthodox faction for administration in keeping with the July 3, 2017 verdict of the Supreme Court. The ruling had given control of over 1,100 churches and parishes to the Orthodox faction, which was until then witnessing clashes for ownership between the two factions.
On Wednesday morning, when the members of the Orthodox group arrived at the Piravom church to offer prayers and formally take over the administration, the Jacobite faction of the members, under the leadership of a few Metropolitan priests, locked the gates and assembled inside, chanting prayers and slogans. Refusing to hand over the church, they stated the ownership could only be settled through reconciliation talks.
There was a huge deployment of police and fire force personnel in front of the church. The Orthodox group and its members sat under a tent in front of the main gate leading to the church compound, vowing to launch an agitation if the church was not formally handed to them.
“There are around 2,500 faithful who belong to this parish. Their church, cemetery are all here. Where will they go? Without speaking to the local parishioners here, they (Orthodox) have brought people from outside and are trying to forcibly take over the church. The entire problem can be solved through conciliatory talks,” said Dr Kuriakose Theophilus Metropolita, the media in-charge of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Church.
“The Supreme Court said four of their priests can come and offer prayers here. But they have come here with their Metropolitan priests and people from outside. So their objectives are different,” he said. “The pain of being forced to leave their own homes, that’s what the parishioners are facing.”
Meanwhile, Rony Varghese, Member of the Managing Committee of Orthodox Church said that Supreme Court’s verdict should prevail and that they are not against believers. “The 1934 Constitution is the Constitution of Malankara Orthodox Church. This Constitution shall prevail, the Supreme Court has ruled. That is the rule of this land. We don’t want to get anyone out of here. With the enactment of the Constitution of 1934, there is no problem except that about 400 clergy and 50 bishops in Kerala and India will lose their jobs. We are not against believers. The dispute is not about the rituals or prayer services, but about the person who has to perform it. The Supreme Court has made it clear in its verdict and they are bound to enforce it,” Varghese said.
The dispute between the two Christian factions, over a century old, holds political significance as well. Faithful of both groups are numerically strong in some of the constituencies like Konni which will face bye-elections in the next one month. How the ruling LDF government proposes to handle the steaming issue will affect the ruling CPM’s chances in the bye-elections.