A row which threatened to escalate into a major clash on Thursday was averted after better sense prevailed among the bishops present at St Mary’s Syrian Jacobite Church, Piravom, near here, who decided to abide by the directions of the Supreme Court.
Trouble had been brewing for the past two days over the issue of church control. The majority of the church members belonging to the Jacobite faction were staying put inside the church and the rival Orthodox faction stood outside the main gate, demanding the implementation of the Supreme Court directive, which had handed them the control of the church.
On Thursday morning, the Kerala High Court directed the Ernakulam district administration to ensure that the premises were vacated before 1.45 p.m.
Till noon, over a dozen bishops of the Jacobite Church, priests and the laity refused to leave and even threatened to jump into the lake adjacent to the church.
Following this, Ernakulam District Collector S.Suhas arrived at the scene with a huge police force. After a brief resistance, the gate of the church was opened and talks were held with the bishops. Soon after senior bishop Joseph Mar Gregorios made a plea to the assembled members to follow the court orders.
“But, then we are all duty bound to abide by the rule of the land, even though, we have done no wrong and hence, we have to come down from out stiff stand that we will not go. Instead, we will have to move out and we will all court arrest,” said Gregorios.
After vacating the premises, the bishops courted arrested.
“We have done everything what the court had directed and it will now be under the control of the Collector. We will also give the report to the court and will do accordingly,” said Suhas.
A non-Catholic Christian community in Kerala, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church has two factions — the majority Orthodox, who have their headquarters in Kottayam, and the Jacobites, who consider the Patriarch of Antioch in Beirut (Lebanon) as their supreme leader.
The community first split into Orthodox and Jacobite in 1912, but came together in Kottayam for a brief period between 1958 and 1970, following a Supreme Court ruling. Since 1970, they have been at war over control of the church.
After decades spent in trial, the apex court in its final verdict in 2017, gave the Orthodox faction the right to administer 1,100 churches and parishes under the Malankara Church, and said there was no ground for the Jacobites to claim any of the churches.
Incidentally, last Sunday, based on the same apex court order, the Orthodox Church was given control of the Kandanad St. Mary’s Cathedral after a gap of 45 years.
“We are now waiting for the orders from our counsel on the way forward and once we get that, we will do accordingly. The apex court has given us all the rights and we will wait for that to happen in this church also and when it happens we will be happy,” said Orthodox members waiting outside the church.