While one member of the Jacobite faction threatened to jump off the Church building, others poured kerosene over their heads and threatened to set themselves alight.

Feud between Orthodox and Jacobite factions heightens followers threaten suicide
news Religion Monday, December 10, 2018 - 19:41

The situation at the Piravom Valiyapalli remains tense after police made a failed attempt to carry out a controversial Supreme Court verdict regarding the Church’s management on Monday. 

In a landmark judgement delivered on 3 July, the Supreme Court had ruled on a centuries-old dispute between Jacobite and Orthodox factions of Kerala’s Malankara Church. The SC had ruled that 1100 parishes and their churches under the Malankara Church should be controlled by the Orthodox faction, as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines. 

The Piravom Valiyapalli is one of these churches, and like a number of other churches in Kerala, has been the site of heightened disputes over church administration  ever since the ruling. As per a government-submitted report, there are 2600 families under the Piravom Church. Former Jacobite Church Chief Spokesperson Fr Varghese Kallappara says that 80 percent of the worshippers at the Piravom Church belong to the Jacobite faction, while 20 percent belong to the Orthodox faction. 

Due to the unrest between the two factions, Orthodox faction clergy members have been unable to perform the rites there as per the SC ruling. Given the stalemate between the two groups around the administration of Piravom Church, which district authorities could not manage to break, the Orthodox faction had filed a petition before the Kerala HC requesting a response from the government on what measures the government had taken to implement the SC verdict. This petition is scheduled to be heard before the Kerala HC on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, on Monday, police attempted to implement the existing SC order in this matter, with police reaching the church and attempting to enter with members of the Orthodox clergy. A large number of Jacobite faction members opposed the move and continued their protest in and around the Church. Upon the arrival of the police there on Monday, members of the Jacobite faction took various drastic measures, with one member threatening to jump off the church building, and others pouring kerosene over their heads and threatening to set themselves alight. The police were therefore forced to cancel their attempt to enact the SC verdict by handing over administration to the Orthodox faction at around 4 PM on Monday. 
Speaking to TNM, Malankara Orthodox Church PRO Fr Johns Abraham Konattu said, "The police officials requested us to enter the church, and over 50 priests and 200 laity members from the Orthodox church reached the Catholicate centre. But the police failed to implement the court verdict in the church. Only around 200 believers were inside the Church and police could have easily removed them and implemented the court verdict. But the police failed to remove the protesters. We suspect that was an adjustment that occurred between the Jacobite faction and the police in the church.”

A serious law and order situation continues to prevail in the Piravom Church area ahead of the Kerala HC’s ruling, with Jacobite faction members continuing to camp out there. Sources on the ground tell TNM that the police made their attempt to enter the church on Monday in order to show before the HC on Tuesday that some actions had been taken to implement the SC’s verdict here. 

In other areas in Kerala, the dispute between the Malankara Orthodox and Jacobite Syrian factions continues to brew. A feud between the two factions is continues regarding the ownership of Mar Thoma Cheriyapalli in Kothamangalam, with a curfew under section 144 being imposed there last week, which has been rolled back on Monday. 

Last week, the Orthodox faction vicar tried to enter this church to conduct prayers, but the Jacobite faction leaders opposed the move, creating a law and order issue in the area. The vicar tried to enter the Church over ten times for the last week but the Jacobite faction opposed his entry. Police had imposed section 144 in the area. Later the Orthodox faction priest temporarily cancelled the decision to enter the Church. However the law and order issue continued in the Church.

"It is the issue of our beliefs and no one can destroy our tradition and beliefs. Hundreds of Jacobite church members are ready to lose their lives to save our churches. The issues should be solved in the peace talk level," says Jacobite Syrian Church Catholicos Baselious Thomas.

"The Jacobite church is not ready to give up the churches to Orthodox faction. An episcopal synod (a meeting of the metropolitans in the Church) will be conducted at Piravom Church on Tuesday to discuss the matter," continued Baselious Thomas.

“We will respect the court verdict,” former Jacobite Church Chief Spokesperson Father Varghese Kallappara told TNM. “But the issue is related to our beliefs. No court has ordered the handover of ownership of the churches. But now the Orthodox faction is trying to take over the wealthy churches under Jacobite Church. It clearly shows that they need the money from the churches, not the power to the worship.” 

Last month, the funeral of a 95-year-old native of Kattachira, Varghese Mathew Pallikalethu, belonging to the Jacobite faction, had been delayed for over 10 days due to a Jacobite and Orthodox factions spat within the Kattachira St Mary's Church. Finally, the National Human Rights commission ordered the factions to conduct the burial following all religious rites, and the man was buried.
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