Kerala’s church feud - over 100 years and continuing

By Sanu George, IANS
Monday, October 11, 2010

PARUMALA - They pray to Jesus and believe in Christian values but the two factions of Kerala’s Malankara Syrian Church refuse to let their long-running feud die down. The latest controversy was over a proposal to construct a new church near here.

The feud between the Orthodox faction and the Jacobites is more than a century old. The bitter dispute has led to the closure of many churches and even physical confrontation between members of the two factions.

The latest row broke out when the Jacobite faction initiated steps to construct a new church, just a stone’s throw from the famed St.Peter’s and St.Paul’s Church, popularly known as the Parumala church, considered the most sacred among all churches of the Orthodox Church.

Parumala in Pathanamthitta district is 110 km from Thiruvananthapuram and some 40 km from Kottayam.

While the district collector has now prohibited any construction on the site, the war of words continues with the Orthodox Church saying that the Jacobites had “evil intentions”.

Around 23 percent of Kerala’s 32 million population is Christian. The Orthoxox churh is the dominant of the two factions of the Malankara Syrian Church.

Yuhanon Mar Chrysostimos, Metropolitan of the Niranam diocese of the Orthodox Church, under whose jurisdiction the Parumala Church falls, said the arguments put forward by the Jacobite Church for the new church were hollow.

“Their argument to set up a new church for the 25 odd-Jacobite families does not hold much ground since hardly any of their members live in and around Parumala. Their proposal to name the proposed church after St Gregorios and launching a website called ‘Parumalapally’ (Parumala church) are clear intentions of their sinister intentions,” the bishop said.

But the Jacobite faction, whose Niranam diocese is led by Bishop Geevarghese Mar Coorilos, denied having any ulterior motives behind their intention to build a new church.

“The new church is proposed at a distance of 750 metres from their (Orthodox) Church and has been planned after 25 families residing near Parumala requested for a church. We are prepared for a dialogue on this issue,” Coorlios said.

The Jacobite faction bought land for the proposed church two-three weeks ago

and then applied for requisite permission, which sparked off the row between the two factions once again.

Sensing more trouble, Pathanamthitta District Collector S. Lalithambika intervened and prohibited any construction activity in the new property of the Jacobite faction until further orders.

Following this, the Jacobite faction closed down the website it had recently opened for the construction of its new church.

Jacobite Church spokesperson Fr Varghese Kallappara said the faction is ready to withdraw its decision to construct a new church if its followers are permitted to worship at the St.Peter’s and St.Paul’s Church at Parumala, indirectly indicating that they should be allowed to become members.

The famed church at Parumala is, however, open to all to offer prayers and there are no entry restrictions.

The Orthodox faction has its headquarters in Kottayam, while the Jacobite faction’s supreme leader is the Antioch of Patriarch in Damascus.

However, after a Supreme Court ruling in 1958 that they should become one, the two factions functioned under one roof for a brief period between 1958 and 1970 with Kottayam being the church headquarters.

But since 1970, they have been at war as the Jacobite faction broke away, having its own independent rules and regulations.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Syrian Orthodox Church, naming it as having the sole right of ownership to all churches under the Malankara Syrian Church in Kerala but this remains only on paper.

(Sanu George can be contacted at

Filed under: Religion

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