'It is time to stop': Kerala HC on Orthodox-Jacobite church dispute

Since 1970, the two factions of the Malankara Christian church have been at war over control of the churches.
Kerala Jacobite Church protest
Kerala Jacobite Church protest
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The Kerala High Court on Thursday urged for peace between the two factions of the non-catholic Malankara Christian church — the Malankara Orthodox and the Jacobite factions — stating that it is high time that the groups end the feud. The court also stated that people part of the Malankara church should not be prevented from entering the churches. Since 1970, the two factions of the church have been at war over control of the churches.

The court was hearing one of several pleas before it seeking police protection to perform religious services in churches belonging to the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church in view of difference of opinion between the Orthodox and Jacobite faction with regard to the constitution to be followed.

While the Orthodox faction is following the 1934 Constitution of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Jacobites claim the church ought to be governed by a 2002 constitution adopted by them and they also formed a new sabha — 'Yacobaya Suriyani Christiani Sabha'. The issue was settled by the Supreme Court in 2017 by holding that the 1934 constitution would be followed in the churches belonging to the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.

Justice Devan Ramachandran said he will not permit any church under the Malankara sabha to act contrary to the 1934 Constitution and anybody who stands against it would "face the wrath of the law". The court said no vicar or any member of the clergy or a committee member of the church who has been appointed under the 1934 Constitution can be obstructed from entering the church to perform their respective functions. Even the parishioners who are part of the Malankara sabha cannot be prevented from entering the church, it added.

Justice Ramachandran said he does not wish to send the police to enter the churches and maintain law and order, but if he is forced to do so, he will. Right at the commencement of hearing of the matters, the judge said, "There are no factions. There is only one church. Unless you stop calling them factions, the disputes won't stop. This is a dispute going on for more than a century. Whom is it helping? It will not help the ordinary devotee. This factionalism cannot go on." The court further said that factionalism will have to stop "if this community wants peace."

The "wise men" at the top of these two "so-called factions" have to understand that "the litigative travel is over" and they have already travelled far and wide. "It is time to stop," it said and added that "the Berlin wall in your minds has to come down. If Germany can be unified, then why not this church".

"I am appealing to every one of you to act civilly and according to the rule of law. There is no point in two sets of people fighting each other and bleeding to death for no reason. I really fail to understand who will benefit out of all this?" the court asked. It observed that the government cannot be put to fault as it has its limitations, but the people have to understand that they cannot go on like this, as they were not going anywhere.

"It is going towards a dead end, a cul-de-sac, your parishioners need to understand that. They need to understand we are not dealing with aliens. We are dealing with our own people. You all have the same genetic composition. You all have blood running through your veins," the judge said. "Look at the predicament of the state. If it comes in with force, there will be bloodshed. For what purpose? Everyone, the government, is taking a soft position. But I will not. I do not mince words," Justice Ramachandran said during the hour-long hearing.

He said if things, especially the mindset, do not change going forward, then the future generations would also be fighting each other and it will be dangerous. The court then listed the matter for hearing on October 5, by which the parties have to indicate their respective stands. "Let us see if there is a change in mindset by then," the court said.

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