Tension prevailed at St Mary’s Church in Ernakulam district’s Piravom in Kerala on Wednesday as the feud between the Orthodox and Jacobite factions of the Malankara Syrian Church heightened following police intervention in trying to implement a controversial Supreme Court 2017 verdict regarding the Church’s management.
In a landmark judgement delivered on July 3, 2017, 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, which were until then controlled by the Jacobite faction should be controlled by the Orthodox faction, as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines.
On Wednesday morning, when the members of the Orthodox faction reached the Piravom church to offer prayers and formally take over the administration, the Jacobite faction members, under the leadership of a few Metropolitan priests, locked the gates and assembled inside, chanting prayers and slogans.
They refused to hand over the church and stated that the issue of the ownership of the church could only be settled through reconciliation talks. A Jacobite priest said the followers of the Jacobite church would not allow the rival faction to take control of the Church. “We will not leave the Church,” he said.
The Orthodox faction reached the Church to take its possession after the Kerala High Court directed the police to provide protection to their priests to conduct religious services in the church. The court gave the order on a petition by the Orthodox faction of the church, seeking police protection to conduct mass and prayers in the church.
There was a huge deployment of police and fire force personnel in front of the church. The Orthodox group and its members sat under a tent in front of the main gate leading to the church compound, vowing to launch an agitation if the church was not formally handed to them.
Even though the Supreme Court had in 2017 allowed the Orthodox faction to offer prayers at the church, members belonging to the rival faction allegedly prevented them from entering it.
The Orthodox faction had moved the High Court after the state government failed to implement the apex court’s order.
The police, meanwhile, tried to negotiate between the two factions but remained unsuccessful. It said that it was next to impossible to implement the SC verdict in the present scenario, as the forced implementation of the verdict might lead to a gunfight, informed the police.
The dispute between the two Christian factions are not new, in fact, it is about a century old. Last year, the situation at the Piravom Valiyapalli remained tensed after one member of the Jacobite faction threatened to jump off the Church building, while others poured kerosene over their heads and threatened to set themselves alight, as police then too tried to implement the SC verdict.
The Piravom Valiyapalli is one of the many churches, which has been a part of the heightened dispute over the church administration ever since the SC ruling. As per a government-submitted report, there are 2600 families under the Piravom Church.
The animosity between the two factions is so severe that last month a Jacobite family in Kerala in Kochi handed over the mortal remains of 86-year-old Sara Varkey, a member of St John’s Church, to Ayurveda medical college after the Jacobite and Orthodox factions in the Malankara Church kept fighting over the burial ritual.
As per reports, the family took the decision after the Orthodox faction refused to allow the Jacobite priest from conducting the funeral prayers as per the family wishes.
The Orthodox faction controls the Church and when the family was conducting the last rites, some members of the Orthodox faction began arguing with the family. The family, which didn’t want to part of the fight decided to donate the body to Ayurveda medical college instead.
In another incident this year, a Jacobite woman was emotionally blackmailed to convert to Orthodox faction, so that her Jacobite mother can be burried at the family crypt in the cemetery of the St. Thomas Orthodox Church in Nechoor, Ernakulam. This church also originally belonged to the Jacobite faction, but was handed over to Orthodox following the Supreme Court verdict.