UCA News

Antioch Patriarch's Church in India faces threat of split

The metropolitan archbishop of Knanaya archdiocese debarred temporarily by the Patriarch of Antioch for alleged disobedience
Supporters of Metropolitan Archbishop Severios Kuriakose of Malankara Syrian Knanaya Archdiocese gathered at the Chingavanam headquarters in the Kottayam district in India's southern Kerala state.

Supporters of Metropolitan Archbishop Severios Kuriakose of Malankara Syrian Knanaya Archdiocese gathered at the Chingavanam headquarters in the Kottayam district in India's southern Kerala state. (Photo: Supplied)

Published: May 23, 2024 12:21 PM GMT
Updated: May 24, 2024 05:20 AM GMT

An India-based Church group under the Patriarch of Antioch, the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church, faces the threat of a split after the patriarch suspended one of its archbishops for alleged disobedience.

Christians in the Church’s archdiocese based in Kottayam district in southern Kerala state are divided after Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Aprem-II suspended their Archbishop Severios Kuriakose, accused of defying the orders of the patriarch.

The suspension order of May 17 has divided around 50,000 Christians of the Malankara Syriac Knanaya Archdiocese at Chingavanam in Kottayam district, according to T. O. Abraham, the archdiocesan Knanaya Association secretary.

At a May 21 emergency meeting, the archdiocesan members declared the suspension of their Metropolitan illegal. “The Patriarch has only spiritual powers and no power to deal with temporal matters, including dismissing our Metropolitan,” said Abraham, secretary of the supreme body that manages the archdiocese's temporal matters.

Some Church leaders told UCA News that Kuriakose's consent to convene a special session of the Knanaya Association to amend their constitution, allegedly to curtail the patriarch's powers, provoked the suspension.

“The majority of the believers in the archdiocese are with their suspended Archbishop, and he will continue in the office,” Abraham said, asserting that they refuse to accept the Patriarch arbitrarily exercising temporal powers.

The proposed amendment was meant to reduce the patriarch from supreme leader to spiritual leader and make Kuriakose the lifetime head of the Indian diocese.

A section of Christians who support the patriarch said Kuriakose was suspended for his continuous disobedience and attempt to curtail the patriarch's powers with the help of the Knanaya Association.

Those opposed to the amendment complained against Kuriakose to the patriarch, who in turn ordered the former to cancel the permission given for the special meeting and publish it in newspapers and inform him about it,” said Elias Zachariah Parrel, a former secretary of the Knanaya Association.

Zachariah told UCA News on May 23 that the archbishop did not comply with the order “in a convincing way” and was suspended for disobedience.

Those supporting the archbishop challenged the patriarch’s suspension order in a local court in Kottayam on May 18, and the court temporarily stopped its implementation. After a detailed hearing, the court will decide on the legal validity of the suspension order. The court scheduled its next hearing for May 25.

The Kerala-based Church has some 20 dioceses in India and abroad, but at least 15 are in Kerala. These dioceses function under the leadership of a Catholicose based in Kerala, who pledges allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch. The current Catholicose is Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas I. 

The Knanaya Archdiocese has three auxiliary bishops under its archbishop and enjoys functional autonomy with its distinct constitution, approved in 1950 by the Church and the Patriarch of Antioch. 

The archdiocese aims to serve the Malankara Syriac Knanaya community, which is part of the larger Knanaya Christian community in Kerala, who claim to have their origin from a group of Jewish-Christian emigrants from Cana in Southern Mesopotamia. The migrants are believed to have landed on the Kerala coast in AD 345.

The Knanaya community claims to maintain lineage purity by not accepting those marrying outside their community. They maintain endogamous communities within all seven major Christian groups in Kerala that trace their origin to St. Thomas, the apostle.

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