Kerala: (communist) government wants to reconcile Syriac Orthodox Church and Syriac Jacobite Church
by Biju Veticad

For decades, the two Orthodox communities have been fighting for ownership of churches and property. The Jacobites are excluded because they are followers of a "foreign" rite (the Antiochene one). The dispute over the Church properties involves 1700 sacred buildings. After clashes, demonstrations and hunger strikes, the Keralan government has now opened a negotiation table to resolve the situation. The Catholic Church has opened its churches to the Jacobites.


Kochi (AsiaNews) - For the first time in the history of Christian Churches, a government led by the Communist Party - in Kerala – is attempting to bring peace between two Eastern Churches: the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church.

On 22 September, the Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, called the respective heads of the Churches to open a discussion and resolve disputes that have lasted for decades.

The Syriac Orthodox Church and the Jacobite Church were one Orthodox Church until 1912, when they split; the first declaring autocephaly and following the Chaldean rite; the other remaining under the authority of the Patriarchate of Antioch and following the western Syriac rite.

For several years, after the division, there was collaboration and friendship between the two communities, which at the moment each gather around 500,000 faithful. But gradually a problem emerged related to the properties of the ecclesiastical buildings and other properties.

The Syriac Orthodox Church states that being linked to a "foreign" Patriarchate like that of Antioch, the Jacobites have no right to any property in India and for this reason many ancient churches, once used by the Jacobites, have been expropriated.

Because of this, in many places Jacobite Christians, priests and faithful, have tried to occupy churches, demonstrating in the streets and carrying out sit-ins. Some of them were arrested by the police for disturbing public order (photo 2). Later groups of the faithful resorted to hunger striking as a means of demonstration. The dispute between the Orthodox and the Jacobites over the Church properties involves 1700 sacred buildings.

Following many episodes of conflict, the Supreme Court has asked the government to take control of the churches and find an agreement. After the meeting on 22 September, the two sides decided to meet again on 5 October.

To meet the needs of the Jacobite communities, Card. Isaac Cleemis, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, has established that all Catholic churches be open to host the rites of the Jacobite communities.

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church draws its origins from the "Christians of St. Thomas" who resisted the Latinization imposed by the Portuguese colonists in the 16th century, being part of the Orthodox Church. In 1930, a group of faithful and religious, led by Gee Varghese Mar Ivanios, reunited with the Catholic Church. The faithful of this Church number around half a million faithful.

On 21 September, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, which follows the Antiochian rite like the Jacobites, celebrated its 90th anniversary of its reunion with the universal Catholic Church.

Fr Abhilash, who works in the diocese of Mavelikkara, told AsiaNews: “The Catholic churches of Kerala have already expressed their solidarity with the Jacobite faithful. They are brothers and sisters of the Syro-Malankara Church. They too have the right to preserve their faith in a secular country like India. The decision to open our churches to the Jacobites is a way to express unity and fraternity".

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