On June 25, 2010 the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch HH Ignatius Zakka I issued a bull numbered E125/10 to all members of the Syrian Orthodox faithful of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church worldwide. The bull came out at a critical and pivotal situation in the history of Christianity in India, especially that of the Christians of Syriac heritage. Therefore, it will be good to make a glance into the implications of this bull with a certain amount of analytical capacity.
1. Primarily, this bull is addressed to the Syrian Orthodox faithful of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church. Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch has always categorically said that ‘Jacobite’ is a term that is not official at all and therefore, not to be included in any official documents. However, in this bull, the Patriarch himself is using the term to denote the Syrian Orthodox faithful from India. On one hand there are standpoints for the Syrians and on the other hand there are paradigm shifts for the Indians. An abominable notation for the Syrians even today is used as one of dignity to the Indians by the Head of the Church himself. It won’t be wrong from the side of concerned authorities to give a thought into this issue with a critical mind.
2. The bull no 203/70 of June 27, 1970 issued by the predecessor of the present Patriarch acclaimed that St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ to India, was not a bishop, even not a priest, and not worthy therefore to carry Salvation and grace of God to the Indians. Here in this bull St. Thomas is praised as the Patron Saint of India. Has there been any official and unequivocal shift in stands in the recent past for the Patriarch of Antioch that revoked bull 203/70 officially? If not, can the true children of St. Thomas take this bull as an official giving in that what had been said in 1970 is wrong? It is good to remember one statement of LL Dr. Stephanos Mar Theodosius on the absence of St. Thomas at the first appearance of Jesus Christ after resurrection, namely, when all the other disciples were caught under fear and were hesitating to venture a walk outside, St. Thomas dared it and that courage is what we have seen in his coming to the farthest of lands to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and her members are alluded in the bull as ‘enemies’ (twice though). For the Patriarch, ‘they are born of hypocrisy and deception’. Through these words, the Patriarch wishes to say that anyone, who does not bow his/her head in front of him in sheer submission is to inherit sheol. Such words do not surely fit to the mouth a genuine high priestly instance, where merits and worth of the opposition are left fully unconsidered.
4. Also it is mentioned that the Malalankara Orthodox Syrian Church and her members are excommunicated in 1975 by the Holy Episcopal Synod of the Universal Syrian Church. This is perfectly alright seen from the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. It is well within their freedom to do so for what ever reasons. However, a bull that is lavish in quoting verses from the Holy Bible has failed to note that there are verses and verses in the Holy Bible to love one’s enemies and to get reconciled with him (eg. St. Mathew 5: 21-26). I am sure that the Peshita Bible has all those verses. It is mysterious that the Holy Father from Antioch missed such verses.
5. Excommunicating persons for reason and no reason is common among the Syrian Orthodox of Antioch. A bogus apology, on the other hand, is enough to revoke such excommunications too. We can find evidences therefore in the referred bull itself. Ramban Joseph Mattam and Fr. Moses Gurgan were excommunicated and were reinstated from excommunication time and again. So was it with LL Mar Julius Isa Cicek also. A point we understand here is that excommunication is something that is to be used with carefulness and it is wisdom to use better judgment in matters of excommunication.
6. This bull made it clear that even an Abbot in a remote monastery in Kerala is appointed and removed by the Patriarch of Antioch. Now, one question can pop up. What are the responsibilities of Shreshta Catholicos at Puthencruze? If a power instance has to turn to a temporal mundane higher decision making body, that instance has no inherent power as such in it. Its existence is one of dependence and one of subordination. In contrast therewith the Malankara Metropolitan and Catholicos of the East has complete temporal and spiritual powers to execute everything according to the guidance of Holy Spirit, counsel from the Holy Episcopal Synod and Malankara Association.
7. With ample support from Biblical citations the bull is categorically condemning anyone, who seeks spiritual and ecclesiastical positions through monitory donations or gifts in kind. It must be highly appreciated that the Holy Father affirmed this fact. However, the talk of the town on precedence with the Syrians is some what contrary. One simple question needs to be answered. ‘What power did St. Peter, the Chief of the Apostles give to the Sultan of Turkey?’ Or in other words, ‘is succession of St. Peter’ something that is bestowed by and from the Sultan of Turkey?’ If yes, Patriarch H.H. Abded Messiah’s appointment of a Catholicos in India is invalid. If not, HH Patriarch Abdallah’s authority is invalid.
8. What was the heresy of Arius, the arch heretic from Alexandria during the early decades of the fourth century? As we all understand, Arius denied the fact that the Second Person in the Holy Trinity is God. Further, he said that the Son of God is a creation within time with is notorious statement “there was a time, when the Son was not”. Did Mar Severios Moses Gurgan affirm something similar? If not, the correlation of Mar Severios Moses Gurgan and Arius in the bull is out of context. If it is meant only rebellion against the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch, it is purely disciplinary and a theological heresy can not be alluded to Mar Severios Moses Gurgan’s case. Moreover, the question, whether Arius of Alexandria was an aspirant to the throne of St. Mark in Alexandria, is yet to be unambiguously and authentically answered by Church historians.
9. If the Patriarch of Antioch had excommunicated Fr. Moses Gurgan before 2007 for indiscipline, why was he excommunicated again in 2007? Any priest, who is excommunicated is excommunicated and does not become a part of the Church, even if he receives any higher ecclesiastical order thereafter from any other instances outside. Therefore, the excommunication of Mar Severios Moses Gurgan in 2007 does not make any sense. To add more confusion the bull in consideration is further excommunicating Mar Severios Moses Gurgan ‘officially’. Now, were the earlier two excommunications unofficial?
10. The English text of the bull and its Malayalam translation have discrepancies between each other. There out a doubt can arise. Which one does the Holy Father really envisage, the English text or the Malayalam text? Or do we need to resort to any Syriac text, if one exists?
11. Was this bull written originally in Damascus? Or did it set out from Kerala in the darkness (Judas also went out from among the disciples’ collegium and Jesus Christ in darkness) to Damascus and come back with a red sign and seal? There is precedence (humans and bulls) for such events and it may not be wrong to doubt in this line.
12. Does this bull affect those, who gave girls into the families that belong to ‘Churches of Excommunicated’ or does it not? 99.9% of marriages among Syrian Christians of Kerala and outside are arranged and marriage is an intrinsic spiritual interaction. This bull is unconditionally affirming that any clergy or laity, who joins and associates with anyone excommunicated, will be voluntarily excommunicated and expelled from the primary membership of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. Now, it seems like many among the ‘Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church’ are already excommunicated voluntarily and are expelled from the primary membership of the Church.
13. The term ‘voluntarily excommunicated and expelled’ needs attention though. If someone, who rebels against the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch is to be voluntarily excommunicated and expelled from membership of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, why did the Patriarch of Antioch bother to repeatedly excommunicate the personalities mentioned in the bull? Why do you want to stab some one, who is already shot dead?
14. Finally, those Orthodox Metropolitans of dignity, who have realized and got convinced that the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is not a slave to anyone and not to be under any kind of slavery, may it be spiritual or temporal or both, who were unanimously recognized by the Malankara Association and approved by the Holy Episcopal Synod of Malankara, are depicted as children of deception and are cursed quoting Lk 6:44. This is not a deed of dignity. Your Holiness must have acted with better wisdom and divine discretion. May the Holy Spirit guide the supreme leadership of Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and her franchisee, the ‘Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church’ with a spirit of equilibrium and non-prejudice