The recent common circular of H.G. Joseph Marthoma Metropolitan, Head of Malankara Marthoma Church has brought out a controversy. The sum and substance of the circular is the statement that H.G. Palakkunnathu Abraham Malpan celebrated Holy Qurbana on 15th August 1835, by reciting the prayers like the Promiyon and Sedra in Malayalam, while holding and watching the Liturgy in Syriac and the 175th anniversary of the event would be celebrated on 15th Aug 2010. In short the entire circular is the compilation of wrong entries, especially in regard to the actual dates.
First of all the date, 15th August 1935, on which date it is mentioned that Palakkunnath Abraham Malpan had celebrated Holy Qurbana and recited the Promion and Sedra in Malayalam is absolutely wrong. The CMS Missionary council held on 22nd March 1836 had entrusted four priests including Palakkunnath Abraham Malpan to introduce the reformation in the liturgy, by paying salary after their utter defeat at the Mavelikkara Synod on 5th Makaram 1836. When slight alterations were introduced in the liturgy by the four priests, which was later known as Half Qurbana (Ara Kurbana in Malayalam), two of them disagreed to celebrate the Holy Qurbana on the basis of the reformed Liturgy.
According to the records available Palakkunnathu Abraham Malpan celebrated the Holy Qurbana at Maramon Church using the Half Qurbana Liturgy on which date the 15 days Lent of the year 1836 concluded. The revised liturgy was not ready as on 15th August 1835, as claimed by H.G. Joseph Marthoma Metropolitan. Secondly the date 15th August 1935 is also wrong. Malankara Orthodox Church accepted the Gregorian calendar on 14th May 1953, the day on which the Church observed the feast of Ascension of Lord Jesus of the year. Until then the 15 days’ Lent used to conclude on 15th Chingam. (A month in Malayalam calendar)
It is clearly mentioned in the Marthoma Church history published in 1936 by Mr. T.C. Chacko that the abovementioned incident took place on 15th Chingam 1012 (1836) The Marthoma Church commemorated the centenary of the reformation in 1936. All these evidences prove that the statement of H.G. Joseph Marthoma Metropolitan is baseless.
Another interesting and funny thing is the statement that the 175th anniversary celebrations would be on 15th August 2010, the feast of the 15 days Lent. When did the Marthoma Church start the celebration of the feast after the Lent, as the Marthoma Church has totally denied the Lent?
The next topic is Palakkunnathu Abraham Malpan and the Malayalam translation. In the book ‘Lamentations’ (Vilaapangal) published by Rev. Thazhathu Chacko Chandapillai who has served a long period as private Secretary to H.G. Palakkunnath Mathews Mar Athanasios Metropolitan as well as a joint Trustee, that the Liturgy modified by Abraham Malpan was in Syriac language. So also there is a mention to the effect in the Order of Holy Qurbana (Qurbaana Kramam) of the Malankara Syrian Marthomites published by the Liturgy reformation committee.
T.C. Chacko has clearly mentioned that Abraham Malpan used the prayers in Syriac language for the private prayers and all those of the public function in Malayalam. In that case what is the reason for limiting just to the Promiyon and Sedra? From where did he gather the information?
Even if the statement that Abraham Malpan recited the Promiyon and Sedra in 1936 in Malayalam for the argument sake, how great was the translation done by Konatt Abraham Malpan Ist in 1820? In 1820 he translated the daily prayer including the Ten Commandments for the ordinary faithful and the portions to be recited by the altar assistant as well as the participating faithful into Malayalam and compiled them as book. And the same book was in use in the Churches across Malankara. More than half of the sayings (responses to the celebrant) are to be recited mostly by the lay participants including the altar assistants. There is no record to prove that Palakkunnathu Malpan had attempted for a translation which might attract a great number of faithful to the worship. So far the Marthoma Church has not attempted in claiming so. If so how the half Qurbana celebrated by Palakkunnathu Malpan could be interpreted as the beginning of the reformation in Malankara Church?
The prayer book of 1920 is a clear evidence of the fact that Konatt Abraham Malpan was a genius of progressive ideas other than the accusation of the British Missionaries that he was a conservative. With this accusation only the British Missionaries had sent out Abraham Malpan Konatt from the Seminary. Konatt Abraham Malpan used “My father you please bless” (Ente Achaa nee vazhthaname) in the place of ‘Barekmor’ of these days. (For more details please see the article ‘Our Lord ….(Njangalkkulla Karthave..)that covers 190 years)
If someone has altered the liturgy, after accepting the monthly salary from the British Missionaries, no one would name it as service to the Church. Especially when the meeting of the Parish representatives, the authoritative body of the Church in taking apt and ideal decisions in regard to the spiritual, secular, worship and administrative matters (assembled at Mavelikkara in 1818 and 1835) denied the suggestions of the reformations. As and when they introduced the one sided decisions, they proved the indiscipline of those people only. Actually the honor for introducing the revolution of translations into Malayalam is to be vested with Kayamkulam Philipose Ramban, who did the translation of the Holy Gospels in accordance with the lectionary of the Holy Church and the Holy Church started using the same since 1811. This is the first literary translation of worship in Malayalam. Palakkunnathu Malpan also might have made use of this book but Mar Joseph Metropolitan has brought out darkness over the fact.
As and when we might evaluate the historical facts of this circular, we could find heaps of baseless anti truth statements. Mar Joseph Metropolitan has mixed up events together and has presented as one like the embracement of Rev. Fr. George Mathen with the Anglican Church, the consecration of Palakkunnath Rev. Dn. Mathews as Bishop from Antioch and denial of ordination to the disciples of Palakkunnath Abraham Malpan. In fact all these incidents are not interconnected. The matter which was discussed once in detail by Messrs. P. Cherian, P. A. Oommen and Z.M. Parett is not repeated here. The Roman Catholics attributed the name ‘Jacobites’ to the Malankara Nazranies by the end of the 17th century. The Catholics named the Malankara St. Thomas Christians as Jaobites as and when the participants of the Coonan Cross oath remained together keeping aloof from the Catholicism. In the version of Catholics the ones who remained away from them had accepted the new Jacobite faith. Varappuzha Metropolitan wrote to Rome that the Jacobites have no authority over the Churches in Malankara due to this reason and this is the first time of addressing us as Jacobites. Later this name got prominence in the Government records as well as public use.
The Patriarchs of Antioch had claimed spiritual supremacy over Malankara from the early decades of the 18th century and at least from the time of Marthoma V, Malankara Metropolitan. Mainly they insisted for the authority of consecrating the Metropolitans and entrusting the Stathikon (document of authority) to the Malankara Metropolitan. Pakalomattam Marthoma Metropolitans as well as H.G, Cheppad Mar Dionysius did not agree to those claims. Palakkunnathu Mathews Mar Athanasios is the first one to agree with the claim.
Palakkunnath Mathews Mar Athanasios is the first Malankara Nazrani to reach Marddin to accept consecration from the Patriarch of Antioch in 1842. When he claimed the authority of the throne of Malankara Metropolitan before the local Government authorities, he upheld the credit that he was consecrated by the Patriarch of Antioch. It is true that as and when he got recognition of being the Malankara Metropolitan, the supremacy of Patriarch over Malankara came into existence for the first time in history. As a result the power of Malankara Association to elect the Metropolitans and to take decisions to consecrate them became null and void.
As and when H.G. Joseph Mar Dionysius V accepted consecration from the Patriarch of Antioch and claimed for the authority over the throne, Palakkunnath Mathews Mar Athanasios changed his stand. When the Patriarch of Antioch paid a visit to Kerala in 1876, Palakkunnath Mathews Mar Athanasios denied his allegiance to the Patriarch. The consecration of Palakkunnath Thomas Mar Athanasios as his successor was one sided and without the cooperation of Patriarch. H.G. Joseph Mar Dionysius V convened a fresh meeting of the representatives of Parishes of the Church at Parumala in 1873 with an intention of reviving the Association which lost its frame work and rules and regulations due to the arrival of Palakkunnath Mathews Mar Athanasios as Malanakara Metropolitan. H.G. Joseph Mar Dionysius could re-instate the Malankara Syrian Christian Association and to elect the Managing Committee. But there was a legal problem as the Malankara Metropolitan in power only could do so and the legal rights vested with Palakkunnath Mar Athanasios Metropolitan. Hence the decisions of the meeting remained ineffective.
H.G. Joseph Mar Dionysius V invited H.H. the Patriarch to Kerala in 1876 in the light of these circumstances. Until that time Palakkunnath Mathews Mar Athanasios had never denied the authority of the Patriarch publicly. His earlier claims for the position did not allow him to publicize his denial in those days. Mar Dionysius attempted so with the firm faith that the dissident leader would not question the legality of the Association convened by the superior whom the dissident leader also accepted with due respects.
The attempt not only succeeded but also the meeting of the Parish representatives held at Mulanthuruthy in 1876 re-approved the decisions of the Parumala Association held in 1873. The meeting formed the legal Association and elected Mar Dionysius as its President. Hence Mar Dionysius got the honor of being elected by the people which was unavoidable for the Malankara Metropolitan.
Nothing more happened in the Mulanthuruthy Association. As mentioned above, the Malankara Church had the name ‘Jacobite’ since the end of the 17th century. In those days no body had thought about the name ‘Marthoma Church’. In the first decades of the 20th Century an application was submitted to the Travancore Government officials and got the name “Marthoma Church” approved. A partition took place in the Church only when H.G. Joseph Mar Dionysius V got victory in the Royal Court judgment of 1889. It could be easily proved that H.G. Mar Dionysius or his followers did not intend or think to bring in a partition in the Church in 1889 or in 1876 or later. The first decision of the Parumala meeting of the Church representatives was to try for an amicable settlement with the dissidents. It is a truth that H.G. Mar Dionysius had expressed to relinquish his position for the sake of peace and harmony with H.G. Mathews Mar Athanasios during the peace talks initiated by King of Travancore soon after the Royal Court judgment of 1889. But unfortunately H.G. Mathews Mar Athanasios remained adamant on his stand without a mind of reconciliation.
It is true that from the day on which H.G. Palakkunnath Mathews Mar Athanasios took over the Malankara Metropolitan’s office, there were two groups in the Church. And it was a practice in the Church to have a rival group against the local Metropolitan in power. There must be solid reasons on the basis of the local and personal grounds. This is the picture of the facts provided by the Church history and there were no other reasons for having two groups at the time of Mar Athanasios of Palakkunnath.
The claim of the Marthoma Church and the accusation of the opponent group of those days that Mar Mathews Athanasios introduced the reformation in the Church is an important topic to be studied with deserving seriousness. Rev. Chacko Chandapillai, who had served as the private secretary to H.G. Mar Athanasios Palakkunnath provides a number of hints to the effect that there was no introduction of the reformation.
The court case that had ended with the Royal Court judgment of 1889 was re-opened only after the demise of Mar Mathews Palakkunnathu Thirumeni. Each group argued for the power of the entire Church and a partial success was not the intention. H.G. Thomas Mar Athanasios and his followers formed the Reformed Syrian Church when His Grace had to return the official rod and crown, isolating them from the Mother Church followed by the failure in the court case.
Now let us think about the statement that the Malankara Orthodox Church was established in 1912. As mentioned above, the claim that the Metropolitans are to be consecrated by the Patriarch, got influence in Malankara since the consecration of Palakkunnath Mathews Mar Athanasios, who was consecrated by the Patriarch. It became mandatory in the Royal court judgment of 1899. Patriarch of Antioch only consecrated H.G. Vattasseril Joseph Mar Dionysius in 1908. In 1912 the Patriarch of Antioch of those days elevated a Metropolitan as Catholicose of the East and transferred the powers enjoyed by Patriarch to the new Catholicose. (Especially to consecrate the Malankara Metropolitan and other Metropolitans) It was not the formation of a new Church or a change of the systems that existed till then. Before this incident, two Metropolitans (H.G. Julius Mar Alvaris and H.G. Rene Vilathi Mar Themothios) were consecrated by the Metropolitans of Malankara jointly with the permission of the Patriarch. The Catholicate in Malankara is the net result of the kind gesture of the Patriarch, giving permanent arrangement after giving approval for the timely developments. As and when the Catholicate was established, there did not take place any change or limitations to the power of the Malankara Metropolitan. In other words what was submitted to H.G. Mar Mathews Athanasios in 1842 has been taken back and re-scheduled with the Catholicose in 1912.
The Church in Malankara had not accepted the title name “Orthodox’ in those days. Catholicate was established when the Church was known as Jacobite Church. The Church officially accepted the name ‘Orthodox’ when the constitution of the Church was accepted in 1934. It is clearly mentioned in the 3rd clause of the Constitution that the Church is also known as Jacobite Church, its real and original name is ‘Orthodox Syrian Church’. It is specifically mentioned so and it doesn’t mean that it is not due to the establishment of a new Church. As the position of Malankara Metropolitan is there in the Constitution as it was there since its inception, no one could say that it was due to the formation of a new church. In the Church knowledge, ‘Orthodox’ stands for right and straight faith. The name of the church headed by the Patriarch of Antioch is also ‘Orthodox’.
It is an interesting truth that the Malankara Church has the name ‘Orthodox’ at least from the end of the 17th century, when the Church was named ‘Jacobite’. H.G. Mar Ivanios Hidayathallah’s common circular (order) of 1686 starts with the saying, “of Indian orthodox Syrians…” The head line of the prayer book translated and published by Konatt Abraham Malpan is: “of Orthodox Jacobite Syrian Christian’s….”
In fact the faction of the Church which adopted the name “Reformed Church” immediately after the Royal Court Judgment of 1899 formed the new Church and it was named Marthoma Syrian Church in 1911. The Marthoma Church cannot claim or inherit the heritage of the Malankara Orthodox Church in view of the historical, doctrinal or legal grounds.
Malankara Orthodox Church would be celebrating the centenary of the establishment of its Catholicate in India. It might be the need of the Marthoma Church and its head H.G. Joseph Metropolitan to organize a celebration program. But the means for this should not to ridicule the mother Church or should not try to present wrong information against the historical facts.
This article is translated from Malayalam by Jose Kurien Puliyeril