The attachment is the read-worthy judgement of the Supreme Court of India dated March 7, 2017 on the Orthodox- Jacobite factions’ long-standing disputes in the control of properties. It is in favour of the material rights of one of the factions, called Orthodox, with its headquarters in Kottayam, Kerala. Chathothvallamkulamfamily has been avid supporters of the currently winning Orthodox faction through its sometimes very difficult periods of existence. Kandathil family of Vallamkulam and Malayala Manorama have been at the forefront of this movement.
I have had discussions with its first generation family supporters, notably my grandfather, C.I. Chandy, and grand uncle C.I. Thomas. I have heard the stories, trials, pains, and joys behind the historical account in the judgement from early 1900s to the 1995 landmark judgement and beyond.
What is the reason for the dispute, and which side is right? This is a question that most people, even ardent congregants of these churches have difficulties in explaining. I don’t propose to add any scholarly explanations here, nor do I pretend to be an expert. Most of the historical background is very well included in the attached judgement.
The judgement goes even beyond that to explore the meaning of religion and spirituality in broader secular context, and to has only an advisory solution, that it is better to find peace. Well, in that respect, it is no enforceable solution at all, and only a non-brainer. However, common sense is not so common, and it is weird that we always turn to the powers that be to give easy advice!
It only requires the reader to read between the lines to grasp the idea that there indeed were periods of trials, pains and joys during the course of over the past 100 years! However, I would say this much, that it is about a non-Indian head of state – Syrian – trying to rule the vast material possessions of the churches in Kerala. There is not one, but five patriarchs of Antioch today, and one of them is purported head of the Jacobite faction. In a modern free India the very idea of a foreign material figurehead is bound to lose out in any judicial enquiry. The Catholic Pope is another example, but there are no litigations for property or power involving an Indian Papal counterpart; if there was one, I am sure courts would’ve ruled in favour of the Indian. This is very clear in China where the Pope only recently got any powers over the churches, that too only after agreeing to the Chinese government’s first rights. But believe it or not, prior to Indian independence, Indian courts took a different view, and there was a negative ruling in 1946, and it took 12 more years for the Supreme Court to overthrow it in 1958. During this difficult time, in the fear of loss of all property in litigation, Kandathil K.C. Mammen Mappilai took the leadership and joined with church leaders to raise funds and purchase a 7-acre property as the new headquarters called Devalokam. My grandpa C.I. Chandy was witness to Mammen Mappilai’s bold and forceful style of fundraising in Vallamkulam, and has recounted stories to me. Since 1958 courts have always favourited the Indian faction- Orthodox- and the landmark judgement of 1995 cemented it. After the 1995 verdict, Malayala Manorama newspaper belonging to the Kandathil family published a special supplement with full- page displays. My grand uncle, C.I. Thomas displayed this supplement on his bedroom wall, and proudly spoke about it to me.
I don’t believe the verdict of 2017 is going to be the silver bullet, solving the problems of the factional feud for ever. The root causes are far deeper and need larger structural solutions.
The way forward for both factions, I think, is to find a better third way! The same principle applies to most contemporary material disputes, disguised under the thin veneer of religion. A little careful consideration will show that the ultimate motive is always the power and money grab, either directly, or symbolically.
In this case, it is necessary for the two factions to realize that the church has to evolve around the core values representing Christ:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23.
Jesus intended his followers to be the best example for all peoples.
““You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV
And again, Apostle Paul speaks about disputes among believers thus:
“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.”
1 Corinthians 6:1-8 NIV
What a shame then that the dispute has had to go through all the court proceedings, and waste lots of time of the respected judges, lawyers, and officers for a matter that could have been settled in better ways.
In fact, both factions face same bigger problems about losing congregants and losing relevance. They don’t attract new believers, even younger generations of older believers. Ancient liturgy needs to be updated to stay relevant. Both should make substantial improvements in preparing the congregants to face the real modern life. There should be better outreach. There should even be lesser episcopal oversight, and the ancient hierarchical structure should give way to servant leadership, The episcopal leadership will do well to shed some of its pompousness in dress codes and displays of opulence.