Malankara World

Faith of the Church

Malankara's Mythical Minefields

Myth 5: The Indian Orthodox Church is legally an autocephalous entity

Today for a change we take up a myth prevalent in the Indian Orthodox Church. I strongly believe that knowing the truth is very important for any reconciliation to take place.

Fact: by Georgy S. Thomas, Bangalore:

The Indian Orthodox Church is de facto (in reality) autocephalous for the following reasons:

1.) We have been Christians since antiquity, and our church is undoubtedly one of the oldest in the world.

2.) Our St Thomas tradition lends us the rare status of an apostolic church.

3.) The independent status of our church is unquestionable, but as a result of the vicissitudes of history, we've had to surrender our independence to foreign churches several times. We've managed to assert our independence each time, but we've also lost something in the bargain every time.

4.) Since the time we liberated ourselves from the Roman Catholic Church in 1653, we were in close association with the Syriac Orthodox Church. On our request, HH Patriarch Abdul Masih II of the above church consecrated a Catholicos for us in 1912. He also granted to our church all the rights and privileges of an autocephalous church through two bulls issued on September 17, 1912, and February 19, 1913. Various courts of the land, including the highest court, have unambiguously affirmed the legality of the same.

5.) We've asserted our autocephalous status many times, and the rest of the Christian world views us as such. We are in communion with other Oriental Orthodox Churches, although our relationship with the Syriac Orthodox Church has become strained.

6.) Like other autocephalous churches, the head of our church is answerable to no other foreign prelate, but only to our own Holy Synod, and his actions are subject only to our own constitution.

This is the de facto position, but the myth I've listed above concerns the legal status of the Indian Orthodox Church as an autocephalous entity. In other words, what is the de jure status?

One of the primary objectives in writing this series was to make a convincing case for the autocephalous status of the Malankara Church, which I, rather immodestly, believe to have done. But careful readers would have noticed that while I spoke about the desirability and quest for autocephaly, I did not say that the Indian Orthodox Church is legally autocephalous. There's a reason for this.

The Supreme Court in its 1995 majority judgement (Most Revn P.M.A. Metropolitan v. Moran Mar Marthoma {AIR 1995 SC 2001}) saw merit in most contentions of the Indian Orthodox Church. But on two crucial aspects, its verdict gave reasons for us to pause. One was about the episcopal nature of our church. Since it deserves a fuller treatment, I am not elaborating.

The second aspect was the court's view on the autocephalous status of our church. Let us now turn to what the judgement had to say about the autocephalous status of the Malankara Church. I quote:

"It is, therefore, unnecessary for us to record a finding on the question whether the Malankara Church is an autocephalous church as claimed by the plaintiffs. If it is found necessary to do so, we may indicate that we agree with the finding of the Division Bench recorded in Para 99 of the judgment under appeal." (source: Justice Jeevan Reddy's majority judgement)

In plain words, the Supreme Court bench says that while it's not giving a ruling on the matter, if found necessary to do so, it may indicate agreement with the ruling of the Kerala High Court division bench which had previously studied the issue. The High Court division bench's ruling on the matter is not found in Justice Jeevan Reddy's judgement. But fortunately for us, it's recorded in the minority view of Justice R M Sahai. This is what the high court said:

"We, therefore, hold that the Malankara Church is not an autocephalous church but is a part or division of the world Orthodox Syrian Church and set aside the finding of learned single judge that the Catholicos group has now established an autocephalous Church. We hold that while Patriarch of Antioch is the head of the World Orthodox Syrian church. Catholics of the East who is subject to the Constitution is head of the Malankara Church and the relationship between Patriarchate and the Malankara Church is governed by the provisions of the Constitution."

From this, we can understand that the Supreme Court of India is inclined to the view that our church is not legally autocephalous.

The Supreme Court in its majority ruling has hinted at why it was inclined to take this view: "It is significant to notice that even after the 1967 amendments to the 1934 Constitution, clause (1) still declares that '(T)he Malankara Church is a division of the Orthodox Syrian Church. The Primate of the Orthodox Syrian Church is the Patriarch of Antioch'. It is not brought to our notice that this clause has been amended later so as to repudiate the affirmations contained in it."

From this what I understand is that the High Court ruled and the Supreme Court indicated that we are not autocephalous because we ourselves in our 1934 constitution (amended in 1967) declared that "we are a division of the Orthodox Syrian Church". The matter is not so simple that just by amending the constitution and removing all references to the Syriac Church our legal status as an autocephalous church will be confirmed.

Thus, while we are in reality an autocephalous church, as a result of the conflict within our church, we've been constrained to accept the courts of the land as the final arbiter. The Supreme Court of India is inclined not to support our autocephalous status because of the assertions made in our own constitution. Therefore, we can state that we are a de facto autocephalous church, but not one de jure.

Instead of being in denial, the challenge before our church leadership would be to peacefully resolve this issue, even as we maintain our warm relationship with the family of Oriental Orthodox Churches. In my view, autocephaly through consensual route could be one way out of the present conflict in our church. Instead of assuming that the Syriac Church wouldn't grant us the same, we should first test the assumption either on our own or through the offices of other Oriental Orthodox Church prelates.

The two Indian churches can then learn to co-exist peacefully, the Indian Orthodox Church as an autocephalous church, and the Jacobite Church as an autonomous one having a more umbilical relationship with the Syriac Church.

Response by Very Rev. Kuriakose Moolayil, CorEpiscopa:

Autocephaly de jure

Georgy in his next article is trying to summarize his arguments on the autocephaly of the Malankara Church. In the first part he claims the 'autocephaly de facto'. All these issues raised by him were dealt in detail in my former articles. So I am not repeating or summarizing the same here. My arguments can be traced from the respective messages of the forum.

The second part goes to survey the claims of 'autocephaly de jure' based on the latest Supreme court judgment. He arrives at the following conclusion that the court did not accept the IOC claim of autocephaly. May be because of the legal finalities in this issue he has put forwarded an appeal here to achieve autocephaly through a consensus. You read now his own words and then we will proceed.

"The Supreme Court of India is inclined not to support our autocephalous status because of the assertions made in our own constitution. Therefore, we can state that we are a de facto autocephalous church, but not one de jure. Instead of being in denial, the challenge before our church leadership would be to peacefully resolve this issue, even as we maintain our warm relationship with the family of Oriental Orthodox Churches. In my view, autocephaly through consensual route could be one way out of the present conflict in our church. Instead of assuming that the Syriac Church wouldn't grant us the same, we should first test the assumption either on our own or through the offices of other Oriental Orthodox Church prelates. The two Indian churches can then learn to co-exist peacefully, the Indian Orthodox Church as an autocephalous church, and the Jacobite Church as an autonomous one having a more umbilical relationship with the Syriac Church."

But Georgy has to remember that the reasons de facto mentioned were also presented and pleaded before the trial court and the higher courts. But all the courts flatly denied these claims. Anyone who glance through the affidavit filed in the main case show that the main plea was centered in aiming declaration to this effect. I am happy that the IO readers are told directly by one of their diligent expositors that the court has not accepted their plea to declare themselves autocephalous. The Malankara Church is not autocephalous de jure because it is not autocephalous de facto.

Anyone going into the basic reason of the split in Malankara can beyond doubt arrive at the conclusion that it was nothing other than the claim of autocephaly declared by Augen Bava on Sept. 26, 1972. ( See the full text of the declaration in my book, 'Perumpilly Thirumeni', pp 91-92) The litigation started on June 6, 1974 was also for declaring this autocephalous nature of the church and for a declaration in favor of the Malankara Metropolitan to be the spiritual, ecclesial and temporal authority over all properties of the Malankara church and its parishes. Georgy should also note that the 1995 judgment of the SC of India also make it clear that the parish churches and its properties were not all affected by any of the findings of the apex court and that the Catholicose, Malankara Metropolitan nor the diocesan Metropolitan has no authority over its temporalities. The case was to declare the opposite. I hope you will accept this also in the future. For fear of prolonging any further I am not going into the other points dealt by the supreme court.

2.Let me try to concentrate on a very practical suggestion forwarded at the end of the above quote from Georgy to make an end to these war and rift. I request Georgy to propose a few guidelines to achieve the proposal. How can we arrive at this peaceful co existence ? Can you persuade the litigation maniacs at your church head quarters to accept this?

Your proposal is a ray of hope to end the rift and rivalry in our community. I am sure SOC will accept this and has already declared its willingness to this effect. The recent incidents of the reopening of parish churches prove this type of peaceful co existence will be readily and willingly accepted by our people at large. Moreover it is now clear that the real problems and fights are not originated from among the people. They were mere puppets and tools in the hands of the leadership. People wanted their churches to opened and the worship services to be continued there. They are now least bothered about issues like 'autocephaly de facto or de jure'. So let us take an initiative at a larger perspective to arrive at a conclusion put forwarded by you, if you can convince your leaders. I don't even find the need of any mediators to implement this. If the intentions are made very clear like this statement of yours it need no intervention of the OO leaders or any other.

The declaration of the Mulanthuruthy Association 2005 under the president ship of H.H. the Patriarch unequivocally declared that the SOC is willing to accept IO as a sister church. I think it contains all your suggestions. I will add that this is the only way out for the IO to become an 'autocephalous' church. The SOC also will be at the gaining point that it will be fairly allowed to progress without hindrance in its endeared ties with the Patriarchate of Antioch.

In this line we can resolve the petty issues magnified through the media as the great 'war' between the two divisions in a great and glorious community. I appeal all through this posting to pray for the success of the proposal made here by Georgy. I would also like to remind about the failure(?) of the mission carried out by the V. Rev. Dr. P.S. Samuel Corepiscopa, NY around this line about year back. We had good reports of his mission till he went to India, but nothing was heard after his return. So I find strong pressures of the (vested) interested groups behind the perpetuation of rifts and keeping live issues.

To read Georgy in his full text please click to the following link.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/IndianOrthodox/message/11301

Next: Myth 6: The Catholicos of the Jacobite faction in India is the no.2 in the universal Syriac Church.

Previous: Myth 4: Even if the concept of autocephaly exists within the Oriental Orthodox tradition, it would serve no purpose in Malankara, and on the contrary, would only help to divide the church.

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