Orthodox priest Thomas Paul Ramban waited outside the gate of the Church for over 26 hours, and was later hospitalised after his health deteriorated.

Will break his legs Jacobites block Orthodox vicars entry into Kerala church
news Religion Friday, December 21, 2018 - 16:42

The standoff between the warring Jacobite and Orthodox faction at the Kothamangalam Mar Thoma Cheriya Palli Church seems primed to reach boiling point on Friday. Jacobite protesters have said that they will beat up and break the legs of the Orthodox priest Fr Thomas Paul Ramban if he attempts to enter the Kothamangalam Mar Thoma Cheriya Palli Church to conduct services. These threats are despite an SC order allowing him to enter and a new Kerala HC directive to the state government to enact the SC’s verdict. The Jacobite protesters have blocked Fr Thomas Paul Ramban from entering the Church for over 26 hours, after which a medical team, having inspected the vicar, declared that he needed urgent medical attention, and had him shifted by police to a nearby hospital.

The spat between two warring factions under the Malankara Syrian Church, that is, the Jacobite faction and the Orthodox faction, has seen the two groups wrestling for control over the management of various churches under the Malankara Church, including the Kothamangalam Mar Thoma Cheriya Palli Church ever since a controversial 3 July SC order in this case.

The Syrian Orthodox Church in Kerala has two factions - the Orthodox and the Jacobites. While the Orthodox are headquartered in Kottayam, the Jacobites regard the Patriarch of Antioch, based in Damascus, Syria, as their supreme leader.

The Supreme Court order gave the Orthodox faction the legal mandate to administer 1100 churches and parishes under the Malankara Church as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines, the Jacobite faction has taken keen exception to this ruling.

On Thursday morning, Orthodox Fr Thomas Paul Ramban arrived at the Church with a police escort in order to enter and perform prayers, and was blocked by a crowd of Jacobite protesters, who refused to let them enter. The police arrested 20 members of the Jacobite faction, but the unrest continued. Both the Jacobite protesters and Fr Thomas Paul Ramban remained camped outside the Church gates all of Thursday and into Friday morning. The Jacobite protesters continue to be gathered there at the present time. Fr Thomas Paul Ramban had refused to turn away from the gates of the Church for 26 hous, vowing that he would not leave until he was allowed to conduct services there, but has been shifted to a hospital after his health reportedly deteriorated.  

On Friday morning, the Kerala HC issued a notice to the Kerala government directing them to take action and implement the SC’s verdict in this case granting management rights of the Church to the Orthodox faction, and the case will be heard again on 4 January. Fr Thomas Paul Ramban has said that he will remain at the gates of the Kothamagalam Cheriya Palli Church until 4 January or until he is taken inside the Church. The Court also observed that there was no need for the CRPF to be involved in the dispute at the matter.

Malankara Orthodox Church PRO Fr Johns Abraham Konattu told TNM, “Presently, Fr Thomas Paul Ramban has decided to continue in front of the Kothamangalam Church till 4 January. The interesting fact here is that the High Court did not cancel their previous order, which clearly shows that the verdict should be implemented in Kothamangalam Mar Thoma Cheriya Palli. However, we have called a managing committee meeting on Friday evening, and will take a final decision on whether to withdraw the Ramban from the gates of the Kothamangalam Church or not.”

“We dont know why the Jacobite factions are opposing the Supreme Court verdict in the Kothamangalam and Piravom Churches,” add Fr Konattu.

Meanwhile, Jacobite faction members say that of the 3000 families that come under the Kothamangalam Mar Thoma Cheriya Palli Church, only 20 families belong to the Orthodox faction. Speaking to TNM, Jacobite faction head Catholicos Baselious Thomas 1 said that as of now, “the Orthodox factions have no right to the Church, and some encroachers are trying to enter the church.”

Jacobite faction members also tell TNM that under Canonical rules, those who have attained the rank of Ramban are in fact not meant to administer Churches, and should lead secluded lives observing certain religious vows and prayers. They claim that by attempting to conduct rites and manage administration, and by being present in the company of women at the Church, Fr Thomas Paul Ramban has broken Canonical rules of attaining the rank of Ramban. (A Ramban is a priest of the Jacobite Church, and is expected to lead a monastic life at a place of prayer called the Dayara).  

"The Orthodox faction priest Thomas Paul Ramban does not follow the Antiochan beliefs,” former spokesperson of the Jacobite Syrian Church Fr Varghese Kallappara told TNM, “We can't admit the Ramban in our Church to do the rituals. If the Rampan forcibly tries to enter the Church, the laity members of the Kothamangalam Church and the other Jacobite believers must defend the Church against the move. Our church head Baselious Thomas 1, metropolitans, priests and laity members are willing to protect the churches founded by our ancestors. We don't care if we have to shed our blood to protect it.”

A similar dispute between the two factions is raging at Piravom, where the Jacobite members of the Piravom Valiya Palli Church blocked an Orthodox vicar from entering with police protection by threatening to kill themselves.

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