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Judgment Of The Royal Court Of Final Appeal 1889 And Marthoma Church

Thomas Mar Athanasius appealed to His Highness the Maha Rajah against the decree of the High Court on 1.3.1886. The Maha Rajah appointed a Royal Court (of Final Appeal) consisting of Cbief Justice K. Krishnaswamy Row, Justice A. Sita Rama lyer and Justice W.E.Ormsby to hear the Appeal Suit No:3 of 1061 (1886). On July 12,1889 (30 Mithunam 1064) the Court announced its judgment-a Majority Judgment by Chief Justice Rowand Justice lyer and a Minority Judgment by Justice Ormsby.

The Memorandum of Appeal had raised 143 objections; but the main points taken up for argument included (Ref. Para 17 of the Majority Judgment) 28.

I. The Patriarch of Antioch had no power to vest the Trust in Mar Dionysius.

ii. The consecration by him of a Metran did not give the latter any right or title to the property of the Syrian Church in Travancore.

iii. The power that the Patriarch had exercised was purely spiritual rather than temporal.

iv. The appointment of Mar Dionysius was void because there was no vacancy then, Kurilos and Mar Athanasius having been in the country. Patriarch had no power to depose Metrans without the consent of the people.

v. Mar Dionysius was not properly elected by the community or constituted the President of the Syrian Association.

VI. No disqualification, misfeasance, malfeasance or incapacity was shown as against Mar Athanasius to disentitle him to hold the position and dignity of Metropolitan; nor any departure from received doctrines and beliefs of the Syrian Church shown against him to justify him as a heretic;

VII. There was no case alleged and proved to remove Punnathra Chandapilla Kathanar from the office of the Trustee.

The Majority Judgment of Chief Justice K. Krishnaswamy Rowand Justice A.Sita Rama Iyer is quoted below:

“347(29 ) The conclusions we have arrived at on the whole

-that the Respondents (Mar Dionysius) claim is not barred by limitation;

-that the Ecclesiastical supremacy of the See of Antioch over the Syrian Church in Travancore has been all along, recognized and acknowledged by the Jacobite Syrian Community and their Metropolitans;

-that the exercise of that supreme power consisted in ordaining, either directly or by duly authorized Delegates, Metropolitans from time to time to manage the spiritual matters of the local church, in sending Moorone (Holy Oil) to be used in the churches in this country for Baptismal and other purposes and in general supervision over the Spiritual government of the Church;

-that the authority of the Patriarch has never extended to the government of So he temporalities of the Church which in this respect, has been an independent Church;

-that the Metropolitan of the Syrian Jacobite Church in Travancore should be a native of Malabar consecrated by the Patriarch of Antioch or by his duly authorized delegates and accepted by the people as their Metropolitan to entitle him to the spiritual and temporal government of the local Church;

-that the Respondent had been so consecrated and accepted by the majority of the people and consequently had a perfect right to succeed to the Metropolitanship on the death of Mar Athanasius;

-that the Appellant (Mar Thomas Athanasius) had neither been properly consecrated nor accepted by the majority thereof and therefore, had no title to the Dignity and office of Metropolitan;

-that the Appellants’ possession of the properties of the Church and its appurtenances and the assumption of the office of the Metropolitan have been wrongful since the death of Mar Athanasius, the admitted last Metropolitan and Trustee;

-that the Appellant should, therefore, surrender the insignia and office of Metropolitan of the Malankara Syrian Jacobite Church and give up possession of all the properties and moneys appertaining thereto which he now holds to the Respondent (Mar Dionysius) who would assume and take possession of the properties etc to be administered with two other Trustees as required by the Endowment Deed;…… ”

In contrast, Justice Ormsby in his Minority Judgment said, (to quote), “My conclusion, on the whole, is that it is not made out that imposition of hands by Antioch is essential to the consecration of a Metran of Malankara which is itself an independent and co-eval Church.”30

“There is no proof that the majority of the churches in Malankara have accepted the Plaintiff (Mar Dionysius) as their Metropolitan.

On both the above issues (a) the necessity of consecration by Antioch (b) his acceptance by the people which must at least mean a majority of people … He has failed to prove either … “31

In fact, the Royal Court judged that Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysius V was the dUly recognized Metropolitan of the Syrian Church with right of possession and power over church properties. The Judgment was followed by a series of suits regarding nearly every one of the individual churches in the possession of the Re- form Party. These suits also were mostly decided in favor of Mar Dionysius32.

Old Seminary Regained

Following the Royal Court Judgment, Mar Dionysius moved the civil authorities for handing over the possession of Old Seminary. Mar Dionysius regained the possession of Old Seminary from Thomas Mar Athanasius.

Formation of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church

The formation of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church in the last quarter of 19th Century was the culmination of the process of reformation within the Orthodox Church started by Abraham Malpan. The formation itself was hastened by the cumulative effect of the sweeping verdict of the Royal Court of Final Appeal of 1889 and the loss of property and individual churches. To quote The Most Rev. Dr. Juhanon Mar Thoma, Metropolitan of Mar Thoma Syrian Church, “At a period when the time and energy of the church were spent in defending themselves in the court, a band of twelve priests moved by a higher spiritual vision started the Association for Gospel preaching in the church and outside …. ”

“Now that the case was lost and their property taken away, it was necessary for this small group to think in terms of a separate church. They were called in contempt ‘the Reformers’ but they called themselves the Mar Thoma Syrian Church.”33

Mean while, the reformers [1]organized the Malabar Mar Thoma Syrian Christian Evangelistic Association with its Registered Office at Thiruvalla which was established on Wednesday, September 5, 1888 and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church formally came into being subsequently. Thomas Mar Athanasius (1868-1893) was the first bishop of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church. He was the son of Abraham Malpan and consecrated by Mathews Mar Athanasius in 1868.

27. ibid. para 14 pp (1-7.
28. ibid P:7-8
29. ibid p:115
30. ibid P. 88
31. ibid P. 89

This article is a part of the book by David Daniel –The Orthodox Church of India– and reproduced from pages 190 to 193