Malankara Jacobite

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Why can not the "Catholicos" be elected as Patriarch?

Prepared By Dr. Sinu P John, Boston, MA, USA

Why can not the "Catholicos" be elected as Patriarch?

The question on the elevation of the Catholicos to the Patriarchate arises based on the constitution of SOC Article 36, which says:

"The following shall participate in the election of the new Patriarch: His Beatitude the Catholicos, the Metropolitan of the Knanaya Archdiocese, the Metropolitans of the churches of the Antiochian Apostolic See in India, and the Metropolitan of North America of the Malankara Archdiocese. All above shall elect but may not be elected."

This is an article which can be amended at any time depending on the political situations and the decisions of the universal synod under the Patriarch.  However, let us analyze this article in the present context.

The same constitution also says that the (Article 8) "Catholicos is elected only by the Metropolitans under the jurisdiction of the Catholicate See."
Patriarch is elected with representation (Universal Episcopal synod) from all over the world, but Catholicos is elected only by bishops under the Catholicate. The Jacobite Syrian Christian Association (electoral body for Catholicos) does not currently entertain electing a bishop who is not part of the Synod under the Catholicate, as the Catholicos. These are well understood and no one from India or from among the Suryoye has questioned it.

Patriarch is not only a spiritual leader of the Syriac Orthodox Church as a whole but exerts temporal authority over the Suryoye churches in the Middle East and its Diaspora. However, the Patriarch does not exert temporal authority over the dioceses under the jurisdiction of the Catholicos in India and the Patriarch does not involve himself in the administrative matters unless his intervention is sought in exceptional circumstances. Catholicate in India is an autonomous regional division of the Church. The Suryoyo Churches in the Middle East do not enjoy such regional autonomy. Much as the Church in India is temporally administered by a bishop of Indian origins, temporal authority over the Church in the Middle East has to be exercised by a bishop of Suryoyo origin.
Unless a Suryoyo bishop can be consecrated Catholicos of India and exercise temporal authority over churches under the Catholicate, it is not reasonable to demand that a Catholicos of Indian origin be elevated to the Patriarchate and exercise such authority over the Suryoye.

The situation in the Maphrianate (from AD 629-AD 1860) was quite different. The local autonomy in the early days of the Maphrianate was made necessary by the political boundaries of the Roman and Persian empires; in later centuries when such political boundaries were redrawn, the necessity for a regional autonomous head disappeared, so much so that in 1860 the office was considered unnecessary and became defunct. In this period, mainly from 13th century to 19th century many Maphriyonos became Patriarchs (although in no instance a Patriarch became a Maphriyono, showing the subordination of the office of the latter to the former.).

It is not reasonable to have a Catholicos (accountable to Patriarch) in India, elected only by Indians, be elevated to the Patriarchate of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church responsible for the temporal matters of the churches in the Middle East. Bishops in the Synod under the Catholicate are not currently eligible to be elected as Patriarch and bishops of dioceses under temporal administration of the Patriarchate are not currently eligible to be elected as Catholicos. This is a pragmatic convention in administering two regional divisions of the Church that exist in different political geographies. In different circumstances, say for example, we had countries under our exclusive control, like Vatican for Roman Catholics, we will have equal opportunity for the position of Patriarch and for them to become Catholicos for Indians elected.

For centuries Suryoye bishops have arrived in Malankara and ministered to the people in the face of adversities which we cannot imagine today. They nurtured the orthodox faith in our land for which we are eternally grateful. We look to the Patriarch of Antioch as the spiritual head of our church – not merely because of the canons of the ecumenical synods, but also because of the spiritual nourishment we have been blessed with. Has there been a single instance of any Indian reciprocating this love and care? The Suryoye Christians have undergone the most terrible massacres and genocides at various periods in the last millennium including the massacres that go on even today in places such as Iraq. We have ignored and continue to ignore them in the time of their need. Why should a Suryoyo accept an Indian in such circumstances as his temporal head?

At the end of the day, these questions are raised by the children of rebellion who want to incite their brothers who have remained obedient to their father. These are not questions inspired by the Holy Spirit but by the evil one. Do not confuse ecclesiastical authority with secular political authority. Truly understand our Lord’s words in St. Luke 22:25-27: And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. As Christians, we are called upon to serve our brethren in whatever role we find ourselves in. Just as women are called upon to serve the Church in certain roles only and restricted from others, Indian bishops have to be content with the possibility of ministering to their flock in the role of Catholicos, at best, under current circumstances.

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