Parishioners of St. Mary’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral at Piravom, which was previously with the erstwhile Jacobite faction, have approached the Kerala High Court seeking to prevent the consecration of new catholicos of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church to which the Patriarch of Antioch has not been canonically invited (KA John & Anr v. State of Kerala & Ors.).
The petition, filed through advocate Haris Beeran, said that this was in violation of the judgment of the Supreme Court in KS Varghese v.St. Peters & St. Pauls Syrian Orthodox Church & Ors which upheld the validity of the 1934 Constitution as binding on the Malankara Church.
Considering the sensitive nature of the case and the fact that the consecration meeting is proposed to be held on October 15, single judge Justice PV Kunhikrishnan issued urgent notice by special messenger and posted the matter for further hearing on October 20.
The plea stated that Section 114 of the 1934 constitution deals with how the Catholicos are to be consecrated .
The said provision reads as follows:
“If anyone shall be consecrated as Catholicos he shall be elected to that office by the association. If such election is approved by the Episcopal Synod, the Synod shall consecrate the person as Catholicos. If there be a Patriarch recognised by the Malankara Church the Patriarch shall be invited when the Catholicos shall be consecrated and if the Patriarch arrives, he shall, as the President of the Synod, consecrate the Catholicos with the co-operation of the Synod.”
The condition that, ‘if there be a patriarch recognized by the Malankara church’ in said section was dispensed with by the Supreme Court by holding that the present Patriarch of Antioch is the Patriarch envisaged under section 114 of the 1934 constitution.
Therefore, it was contended that the canonical invitation of the Patriarch for the consecration of the Catholicos is mandatory and declining to do so is repudiating the spiritual supremacy of the Patriarch and violating the 1934 constitution and various orders of the Supreme court passed pursuant to KS Varghese.
It was also stated that once the petitioners came to know of the plans to consecrate the Catholicos, they submitted a representation to the State government and the Director General of Police to see that there will not be any violation in the matter of consecration of Catholicos by anyone. However, the petitioners claimed that no positive action has been taken so far.
"The officers holding the highest position in the State Government, being the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police, are duty bound to see that the judgment and various orders of the Supreme Court are implemented, otherwise it will give a wrong signal," the plea said.
The State of Kerala has witnessed prolonged clashes between the Orthodox and Jacobite factions in the State despite clear directions from the Supreme Court to solve the dispute.The factional fight in the Malankara church which revived in 1970s, is reflected in the present case as well.
By way of background, the Supreme Court had, in 1995, held that a Constitution that was approved in 1934 at a meeting convened by the Malankara Association, was valid. It was also held that the Malankara Church is episcopal in character to the extent it is so declared in the 1934 Constitution, and that the Constitution fully governs the affairs of the parish churches.
Then in 2017, a Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra passed a judgment in KS Varghese v.St. Peters & St. Pauls Syrian Orthodox Church & Ors. Here, it was held that the 1995 judgment was binding and operates as res judicata. It further held that it was not permissible to create a parallel system of management in the churches under the guise of spiritual supremacy of the Patriarch.
In 2019, the Kerala High Court began hearing a petition seeking to restrain Vicars/Priests who are not appointed as per the 1934 Constitution from conducting religious services at St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church run by the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
The High Court, while allowing the respondent patriarch faction to file a counter statement, effectively allowed the patriarch faction to conduct religious services in the church as a temporary measure. This order was then challenged before the Supreme Court.
In an order passed on September 6, the Supreme Court did not take kindly to the High Court passing an order in a matter that has been settled by its 2017 order and restrained the Kerala High Court as well as all the civil courts in the state from passing any orders in violation of KS Varghese.
Recently, while adjudicating a batch of petitions regarding clashes between factions of the church, Justice Devan Ramachandran had declared that members of the two erstwhile factions have to accept that the litigative history with respect to the Church has ended with the judgement of the Supreme Court in KS Varghese.
"This is not mere hortative hope that is being made by this court but it is the imperative need on account KS Varghese because from the time of the said judgement onwards, factionalism in the Malankara church cannot be in any manner countenanced on condoned," the Court had declared.
The Court had expressed its appreciation for the deliberations of the bar because both sides agreed that the 1934 constitution applies in its full force and that all the parishes are down to abide by the same.
Pertinently, the Court had recorded in its order, the submission of some of the counsel that "a meeting of the of the of the person who matter with respect to an earlier factions, the Jacobite faction, has already been called on October 15, 2021 and that they're trying to find out means as to how the 1934 Constitution can be implemented without any further bitterness or strife"