Kerala’s warring Syrian churches move for truce

Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Mar Aphrem-II

 Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Mar Aphrem-II
Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Mar Aphrem-II

By Sanu George 

 After warring for decades, the two factions of Kerala’s influential Syrian Orthodox Church, which have a combined strength of over two million, have indicated they are taking steps to sign a truce.

The church’s majority group known as the Orthodox faction has its headquarters in the state’s Kottayam city while the Jacobite faction’s supreme leader, the Patriarch of Antioch, is based in Beirut, Lebanon.

The first move came from visiting Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Mar Aphrem-II.

On his first visit to Kerala after being appointed as the patriarch, he Saturday set up a five-member committee of the Jacobite faction to open talks with the Orthodox faction.

On Sunday, the supreme head of the Orthodox Church, Baselios MarThoma Paulose II, welcomed the move, saying necessary consultations will be held in his church and a decision will be taken.

The feud in the Syrian Orthodox Church in Kerala for power and wealth is legendary.

On many occasions, the squabble has been taken to the streets and clashes between members of the two factions broke out, leading to protests even by the bishops of the respective churches.

Incidentally, for a brief period from 1958 to 1970 following a Supreme Court ruling, the factions remained under one roof with Kottayam as the headquarters of the church.

Since 1970, they have been at war against each other again.

“Even though there are quite a few court rulings that are in favour of the Orthodox faction, no government will take the risk of implementing the court order, as it would certainly lead to a bloodbath,” an Orthodox church member said on condition of anonymity.

“The most practical approach would be to allow the two factions to go their respective ways and to equitably share the wealth of the nearly 10 churches that is the key to the present squabbling,” said the Orthodox church member.

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