Major Arch Bishop Alencheril Mar Giwargis II Bava-The Patriarch of Syro Malabar Church and The Gate of All India- A Discussion on The Historical Hierarchical Status of The Church of Saint Thomas Christians :Syro-Malabar Church is an Eastern Catholic Church in communion with the Pope of Rome. It is an Apostolic Church founded by Saint Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. Syro Malabar Church is the largest group of Saint Thomas Christians. The term Syro Malabar was coined by the Western Missionaries to denote ‘the Syrian Church of Malabar’- those catholics that follow the Syro Chaldean rite.
Sui iuris Churches.1
These are the Eastern Rite Churches that are in communion with the Roman Pontiff, the Pope. They are Churches of their own particular law. Syro Malabar Church is one among the 21 sui iuris Churches in the Universal Catholic Church. They consists of 6 Patriarchal Churches, 4 Major Archi Episcopal Churches, 3 Metropolitan Churches and 9 other sui iuris churches.
Patriarchal Churches are the fully developed particular churches with a Patriarch as the head with its own synod and territory. The synod elects the Patriarch and inform the Universal Pontiff, the Pope of Rome. Major Archi Episcopal Churches have a Major Arch Bishop as the head, slightly inferior to the status of a Patriarch. The synod elects the Major Arch Bishop, but needs confirmation by the Pope. Pope can reject the election.
Patriarchal Churches in Catholic communion.
1. Coptic Catholic Church based in Cairo
2. Maronite Church of Lebanon
3. Syriac Catholic Church of Beirut
4. Armenian Catholic Church
5. Chaldean catholic Church
6. Melkite Greek catholic Church
Major Archiepiscopal Churches of Catholic Communion.
1. Syro Malabar Church
2. Syro Malanakra Church
3. Romanian Church
4. Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
Metropolitan Churches in Catholic Communion
1. Ethiopian Catholic Church,
2. Ruthenian Catholic Church and
3. Slovac Greek Catholic Church
Other sui iuris Churches in Catholic Communion
1. Albanian Greek Catholic Church,
2. Belarusian Greek Catholic Church,
3. Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church,
4. Byzantine Church of the Eparchy of Krizevci,
5. Greek Byzantine Catholic Church,
6. Hungarian Greek Catholic Church,
7. Italo Albanian Catholic Church,
8. Macedonian Greek catholic Church and
9. Russian Catholic Church.
THE SYRO MALABAR CHURCH IN THE CATHOLIC COMMUNION
Thomas Christians were part of East Syrian Church. They came into direct communion with the Church of Rome through the Chaldean Patriarchate with the arrival of Mar Joseph Sulaqa and Mar Elias in AD 1554. Historically, the title of the head of the Church of Saint Thomas was the ‘Metropolitan and the Gate of India’. Ancient documents vouches this.2
After the infamous Synod of Diamper in 1599, the Church of Saint Thomas Christians became subjected to Latin rite Bishops. The Latin Missionaries broke the historic connection of Thomas Christians with the Patriarchate of Chaldeans and downgraded the ancient Church of Christians of Saint Thomas into a mere suffragan of the Arch diocese of Goa of Latin rite. Later, the Metropolitanate was reinstated and Arch Diocese of Kodungalloor was created with Western Prelates.3 Even though the Thomas Christians were subjected to Latin rite prelates in Latin Rite hierarchy, the community consolidated under the leadership of the Arch Deacons as a separate rite with its own liturgy and traditions. The Missionaries began to impose Latinisations in their rite of worship and tried to eliminate the authority and status of the Arch Deaconate and thereby dishonoured the status of their ancient Church of Malabar. The community secretly tried to get Prelates from the Patriarchate of Chaldeans and other Eastern Churches. The missionaries used their political power to prevent Thomas Christians from contacting with any Oriental Churches and they even arrested and deported Mar Ahatalla, a Bishop of Syriac Rite arrived in Mailappore.4
Thomas Christians rose up and revolted against the Portuguese in AD 1653 and consecrated the Arch Deacon Palliveettil Thomas as the Bishop of Thomas Christians. This revolt was nearly complete and that changed the politics.5 Rome intervened and Carmelite Missionaries were sent to win the Thomas Christians back. Carmelites could convince the majority that the local church needs Bishops and the consecration of the Arch Deacon Thomas was invalid as the consecration was conducted not by any Bishops, but by twelve priests only. Many leaders of the community rejoined the missionaries and later, due to political reasons, Portuguese Missionaries had to leave the country and they consecrated Palliveettil Chandy Cathanaar as the Bishop for the Catholic Thomas Christians in 1663.6 Thus, the majority of Thomas Christians consolidated under the native Bishop Palliveettil Chandy, keeping their Syro Chaldean rite of worship. It is reported that Bishop Palliveettil Chandy applied the historic title ‘The Metropolitan and the Gate of all India’. This title denotes a Quasi Patriarchal status with all India jurisdiction.7
This community of the Catholics of Syro Chaldean rite became the Syro Malabar Church. After Bishop Palliveettil Chandy, the Catholic Syriac Christians had to continue under Latin Bishops until 1896. But, they continued their struggle for independence, autonomy and to protect their Syro Chaldean Rite. As a result, the Syro Malabar Hierarchy was established in AD 1887 with the erection of Kottayam and Trichur vicariats for the Catholic Thomas Christians, separating them from the Latin rite Catholics.8 In 1896, native prelates were appointed in Kottayam and Trichur vicariats and also in the newly created Ernakulam vicariat.9 In 1923, Ernakulam vicariat was elevated as an Arch diocese and the church became a Metropolitan church.10 In 1992, Syro Malabar Church was elevated to a Major Archiepiscopal Church with Padiyara Mar Anthonius I as the first Major Arch Bishop.11 The first and second Major Arch Bishops were nominated by the Supreme Pontiff, the Pope of Rome. During the time of the second Major Arch Bishop Vithayathil Mar Giwargis I, the Holy Synod of Syro Malabar Church was given full powers including election of the Father and Head of the Church. This is the first time, the Syro Malabar Church was executing its powers to elect the Father and head of the Church canonically. This event actually denote the recapturing of the old status of ‘Metropolitan and the Gate of All India’ which was lost due to Latinisations.
The Holy Synod of Syro-Malabar Church that consists of 44 bishops, commenced on 23rd May 2011, has elected Mar George Alencherry, the Bishop of the Eparchy of Thakkala, as the Father and Head of the church, The Major Arch Bishop.
The title Major Arch Bishop in unknown in Thomasine Christian tradition as it is a title of the Latin Church. The Antiochian Rite Syro Malanakara church in Kerala which was also elevated to Sui iuris church by Rome calls their Major Arch Bishop as Catholicose according to their tradition. Many Syro Malabar faithful wish to call him Patriarch as per the eccelsiological and cultural tradition of Thomasine Christianity in India. The Thomas Christians were ecclesiastically and hierarchically part of the Patriarchate of Chaldeans. As the Syro Malabar Church was bifurcated from the Patriarchate of Chaldeans due to political reasons, the church deserves the same title.
A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF MAR GIWARGIS II BAVA.12
Mar Giwargis Alencherry was born in 1945 in Thuruthy in the Arch Diocese of Changanacherry. Two of his brothers are Priests and a sister is a nun. He had his initial education in local schools and joined the seminary in 1961 at Parel, Changanacherry and then at Saint Joseph’s Pointifical Seminary Alwaye. He passed his degree in Economics with second rank from Saint Berchman’s College, Changanacherry. He was ordained as a Priest in 1972 by the Late Major Arch Bishop Padiyara Mar Antonius I Bava. He then worked as the assistant vicar at the Cathedral church of Changanacherry and Director of the Archdiocesan Faith Formation department. Then he served as the secretary of the Commission for Catechism of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council . He was sent to Paris for higher studies and obtained his Doctorate in Biblical Theology at Sorbonne University and the Catholic Institute.
From 1986, he served as the Director of the Pastoral Orientation Centre of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council and as a Professor at Saint Thomas Apostolic Seminary and Oriental Institute, Kottayam. He became the protosyncellus of the Metropolitan of Changanacherry in 1994 and in 1996, he was consecrated as the first Bishop of Thakcalay, a mission diocese of the Syro Malabar Church.
As a Bishop, he served the Church as the secretary of the Syro Malabar synod, Chairman of the Commission for Catechism of the Syro Malabar Church, and Chairman of the CBCI commission for laity. He is an author of several articles and books in various languages. He is proficient in Malayalam, Tamil, English and French.
Mar Giwargis has been described as a simple man who even uses public transport to travel. He is well known for his down-to-earth approach that he has even visited all the houses in his diocese!. He is considered as a person with traditional view of the Church. He wears a Sleeva (traditional cross) on his rudraksha seed garnet that reflects the Indian tradition profoundly.
INTERESTING OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE ELECTION
First in the history- recapturing the Historical autonomy.
This was the first ever election of the Father and Head of Syro Malabar Church after the power of election was given to the synod. All the previous Major Arch Bishops were nominated by the Pope. This is an event marking the full evolution of Syro Malabar Church into sui iuris status claiming its historical autonomy and individuality.
Pontiff who had his formation in Syro Malabar Rite.
This is the very first Major Arch Bishop who had his formation as a Syro Malabar Priest. All the predecessors, even though they were Syro Malabar in origin, were trained and ordained as Latin rite priests and then re-implanted into the Syro Malabar Church. This factor will give a new direction to the church leadership in the light of its history and tradition.
Unity of the Holy Synod.
There were many speculations in the media about the election of the Major Arch Bishop on the grounds of regional and other preferences and it is reported that even one of the Bishops also have responded to these kinds of talks in the printed media and put forward names of a few candidates.13 A group of clergy also released a press notice before the election raising issues with the background of the differences existed in our Church on the way of celebrating the Holy Qurbana.
Under these circumstances, the election process caught wide attention and many were anxious that these may even put the Church in turmoil. But the Holy Synod completed the election process on the first day itself and the required 2/3 majority was obtained on the second round of voting itself, as reported by the Curia Bishop.14
Obedient to the Synodal decisions
The elected person was one among the Bishops who fully obeyed the decision of the Holy Synod about the celebration of Holy Qurbana. When the whole church was divided about the way of celebration of Holy Qurbana ad orientum- facing the altar- versus ad populum- facing the people-, the Holy Synod unanimously decided to follow a compromise formula by celebrating the initial prayers ad populum, the anaphora ad orientum and the final prayers ad populum- the so called 50:50 formula15 Mar Giwargis was one among the few Bishops who fully obeyed and implemented the synodal decision.
This election process clearly shows the explicit involvement of the Ruha D’ Kudisha in the Church. The election result was surprising that the incumbent was not a prominent candidate as speculated. The Election process was so quick and smooth and the synod was united in selecting a person without any preferences or prejudice. Divine influence is prominent that the members of the Holy Synod were instrumental in the plans of the Ruha D Qudisha, in having the incumbent one of the Bishops who fully obeyed the decisions of the Holy Synod even sacrificing his own views, one who had his formation of clerical life in the Syro Malabar rite itself and in the unity of the Holy Synod in the background of differences about restoration and reformation.
God has shown us the divine intervention here by selecting a Bishop who obeyed the Synodal decision! God is teaching us the greatest lesson of obedience, as Our Lord Isho Mishiha showed us. The Almighty God is giving us a clear message of obedience.
EVOLUTION OF HIERARCHY IN THE CHURCH OF SAINT THOMAS
Thomasine Christianity and East Syrian Church
Thomas Christians in India were part of the East Syrian Church. East Syrian Church is the communion of churches founded by Apostle Thomas. Apart from Indian Church, the other Thomasine Churches are the Church of Fars, Church of Edessa and the Church of Selucia Ctesiphon. The Assyrian Church was one of the very first churches established in Biblical times. Acts of Apostles mentions about the presence of Assyrians on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2,9) Very ancient syriac writings such as ‘The Doctrine of Addai’, ‘The Chronicles of Arbela’ and ‘The teachings of the twleve Apostles’ mentions that Saint Thomas sent Thaddeus and Mari to preach Abgar Ukkama the Black, the King of Assyrians at Osrhoene.(Edessa)16
Eusebius, the father of Church history also witnesses in AD 325 that he personally searched the state archives of the Assyrians in the capital city of Edessa and found official records of this Apostolic visit.17
It is believed that Apostle Thomas personally founded the Church of Fars and the Church of Malabar and his disciples Mar Addai-Thaddeus and Mar Mari founded the Church of Selucia-Ctesiphon and the Church of Edessa. But Church of Selucia Ctesiphone acquired supremacy as it was the capital of Persian Empire and the Catrholicos Patriarch was based there.
Indian Church was subjected to Church of Fars initially which was a Metropolitan Church. East Syrian Patriarch Isho Yahb III(650-660) elevated the Indian Church also to a Metropolitanate and made equal in status to the Metropolitanate at Fars and thus came directly under the Patriarch.18 This Metropilitan of India was called Metropolitan and the gate of India.
Metropolitan and Gate of all India ( Metropolitan v-thara d- kollah hendo)-The Throne of Saint Thomas
The Metropolitan of the Church of Saint Thomas was called Metropolitan and gate of All India. The Syriac manuscript written in AD 1301 in Cranganore- the vatican Syriac codex 22- use the title The Metropolitan of India. ‘ …..And in the time of the Bishop Mar Jacob, Metropolitan and director of the Holy see of the Apostle Saint Thomas , that is to say, our director and the director of all the holy church of Christian India…..’19
Here, the usages- ‘the director of all the holy church of Christian India’- and ‘Metropolitan and director of the Holy see of the Apostle Saint Thomas’ are important, as they denote the concept of the throne of Saint Thomas and a quasi Patriarchal status.
The term Metropolitan and the gate of All India has been reported by many authors including Rev. Paulinus De Bartholomew, Rev Campori S J, and so on.20
Metropolitan of Angamali, the ‘Rabba d Kolhon Apeskope u Metropolite’- Superior of all the Bishops and Metropolitans.
When the second Chaldean Patriarch Mar Abdisho appointed Mar Abraham as the Metropolitan of Angamali, he conferred the title ‘Rabba d Kolhon Apeskope u Metropolite’- Superior of all the Bishops and Metropolitans.21 Mar Abdisho in his decree nominating Arch Deacon George of Christ as the Bishop of Palayur and Suffragan to Mar Abraham, seems to have authorised Mar Abraham to assemble all the Metropolitans and Bishops and also to elect and consecrate Bishops.22 By this, the Metropolitan of Angamali was given autonomy and authority over other Prelates.
Patriarch of India- the testimony of Joseph, the Indian
Joseph , the Indian Cathanar’s narrations in AD 1501 before the signoria of venice describe about the Patriarch of India. Joseph was interviewed by the House of Lords of Venice where he explained the hierarchical structure of the Church of Malabar.’They have a Supreme Pontiff called Catholoica, twelve Cardinals, two Patriarchs, Bishops and Arch bishop’s. Joseph also mentioned that he was ordained as a Priest by this Catholica.23
We can see from the History that Joseph was ordained by Catholicos Simon, the Patriarch of the East, in AD 1490.The famous syriac letter of the three Bishops Mar Yohannan, Mar Yakkob and Mar Denha in AD 1504 to the Patriarch of Babylon testifies this fact.24
Joseph clearly confirms that this Pontiff is called Catholica. The Catholca appoints Patriarchs, one for India and one for China.25
Here, Joseph is clearly stating the hierarchical relations and structure of theChurch of Saint Thomas Christians. Their Supreme Pontiff is the Catholicose at Babylon. Under him twelve cardinals. It is unclear, if this position is called Cardinal exactly, as Cardinal is a title in the Roman Church. There can be misinterpretation of words due to language barrier. We can assume that there was a twelve member council immediately under the Catholoicos. This reminds us about the 12 canonists under Paremmakkal Thomman Cathanaar, the Governor of the Catholic Syrians.26 Joseph is clear about Patriarchs of India and China under the Catholicos.
Special privileges to Metropolitan of India- Quasi-Patriarchal status ?
We have to remember that The Metropolitan of India was given special privileges due to the fact that they are far away from the Patriarchate. Patriarch Theodosius (852-859) stipulated that the Metropolitans of India and China need report to the Patriarch only once in six years rather than every year for the other Metropolitans.27
From this , we can assume that the Metropolitan of India had a certain autonomy and it seems that the Patriarchate considered the Indian Church as a Particular church. Could this special privilege made the Metropolitanate as a Quasy Patriarch ?
If we follow the subsequent history, we can see Mar Ahathalla arrives to Mailappore claiming that he was the Patriarch of India appointed by the Pope.28 Also, Mar Andrews- Kallada Mooppan arrives in AD 1676 claiming that he was the Patriarch appointed by the Pope.29 If Patriarch was not a familiar title, they would not have made such claims as a Patriarch and the faithful would not have accepted them.
The Syro Malabar Church is a Major Archi Episcopal Church. It is unlikely that Patriarchal status will be conferred to Syro Malabar Church in the present circumstances. We have seen that the Syro Malabar Metropolitan had the title of The Metropolitan and the gate of India and the Director of the See of Saint Thomas, which are quasi patriarchal titles with All India jurisdiction. Historically, we can see the Patriarchate of Babylon giving special status to the hierarch of Indian Church to report only once in 6 years, conferring a special privilege and the status of a particular Church. Overall, as Rome has bifurcated the Indian Church from the Patriarchate of Chaldean on political grounds, the hierarch of the Christians of Saint Thomas should also have the same title. On these grounds, we have all the rights to call our Father, the Major Arch Bishop Alencherril Mar Giwargis II Bava , as the Patriarch of Syro Malabar Church on a wider sense.
Picture Courtesy : SMCIM website (http://www.smcim.org)
(Thanks to Dr Joseph Alumkal and Mr Mathew Mailapparampil for valuable suggestions.)
Author M Thomas Antony can be reached by email at – m dot Thomas dot antony at live.co.uk.
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- 3. Joseph Thekkedathu, History of Christianity in India, Vol II p75 [↩]
- 4. Joseph Thekkedathu, opus cit pp94-95 [↩]
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- 8. Leo XIII Quod jam Pridem, 20 May 1887, cited in Marthomma Christianikalude Sabha Noottandukaliloode, (Mal), Rev. Dr Kurian Mathothu, Rev Fr Sebastain Nadackal, Palai, p111 [↩]
- 9. Pope Leo XIII, Quale Rei Sacrae, 11 August 1896, cited in Marthomma Christianikalude Sabha Noottandukaliloode, (Mal), Rev. Dr Kurian Mathothu, Rev Fr Sebastain Nadackal, Palai, p114 [↩]
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- 11. Pope JohnPaul II, Quae majoris christi Fidelium, 16 December 1992, cited in Marthomma Christianikalude Sabha Noottandukaliloode, (Mal), Rev. Dr Kurian Mathothu, Rev Fr Sebastain Nadackal, Palai, p126 [↩]
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- 14.http://www.ernakulamarchdiocese.org/admin/cms/docs/n_high/222.pdf; Mar Bosco Puthur, Curia Bishop and administrator of Syro Malabar Church, Mar George Alencherry, the new Syro Malabar Major Arch Bishop, Circular about the election of the Major Arch Bishop. [↩]
- 15,Synodal News Vol 7, nos 1&2 1999, 61, cited by Dr M Kochupurackal, Liturgical development in the syro malabar church, Syro malabar Church since the eastern code, Ed F Elavuthinkal, Mary Matha Publication, Trichur 2003, pp148 [↩]
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- 19.A Mingana, Early Sperad of Christianity in India,The Bulletin of John Rylands University Library, Vol 10 p 501, [↩]
- 20. Placid Podipara, The Hierarchy of Syro Malabar Church, CH IV, in Collected Works of Rev Dr Placid Podipara, vol I p667 -668 citing Archives Roman of the Society of Jesus., GOA, 65 f 4, [↩]
- 21 Mar Abdisho’s letter to the Arch Bishop of Goa on 24/08/1567. The original in syriac is preserved in ARSI Gallia 95-1, f 197.See fascimile in Documenta Indica vol II p 41. Italian translation in A Rabbath, Documents inedits pour servir a l’histoire du Christianisme en Orient II Paris, Leipzig 1910, pp432-434 cited by Jacob Kollamparampil, Sources on the Hierarchical structure of the Saint Thomas Christian church in the pre diamper period, p 171, in ‘The life and nature of Saint Thomas Christian church in the pre diamper period’, Ed B Puthur, LRC Kochi, 2000 [↩]
- 22 Mar Abdisho’s decree dated 25/08/1567. Portuguese translation in ARSI Goa, 1011, f 463, J Wicki, Documenta Indica VII,pp703-705 cited by Jacob Kollamparampil, , Sources on the Hierarchical structure of the Saint Thomas Christian church in the pre diamper period, p 171, in ‘The life and nature of Saint Thomas Christian church in the pre diamper peroiod’, Ed B Puthur, LRC Kochi, 2000 [↩]
- 23.Narrations of Joseph, the Indian, Ch 5 Italian, latin and Dutch texts, Antony Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD pp168-9,231. [↩]
- 24. Alphonse Mingana, Early Spread of Christianity in India, The Bulletin of John Rylands University Library, vol 10 p468, H Hosten, The saint Thomas Christians of Malabar AD 1490-1504, Kerala Society Papers series 5 Ed T K Joseph,pp225-226 [↩]
- 25. Narrations of Joseph, the Indian, Ch 5 Italian, latin and Dutch texts, Antony Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD pp168-9,231. [↩]
- 26. Antony Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, foot note 72, p274 [↩]
- 27. T P Elias, East Syrian Missions to Asia with special reference to Malabar coast from Sixth century to Sixteenth century AD and its influence on Indian Religions Society and Culture, Doctoral Thesis of Mahatma Gandhi university, Kerala, India, p 292 [↩]
- 28. Joseph Thekkedathu, The troubled days of Francis gaecia, pp 51-52 [↩]
- 29. Lingerings of Light in the dark land, being researches into the past history and the present condition of the Syrian Church of Malabar, Thomas Whitehouse, p 199 [↩]