Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Network
Very Rev. Kuriakose Moolayil Corepiscopos
The authenticity of the position of Patriarch Abdul Messiah II in his canonical position as the Patriarch of Antioch was very controversial in the Malankara in the first decade of the twentieth century and in the alleged transfer of the Mafrianate/ Catholicate. I have dealt with it partly along with the discussion of the validity of the transfer of the Mafrianate and the related issues earlier in this series. Here I will be concentrating only on the juridical status of the deposed Patriarch.
Georgy as any other IO propagandist is trying to console all the partisans of IOC that the removal of Patriarch Abdul Messiah was only due to political interference and that the Church only passively accepted the removal and so outside the Turkish territory he was canonically a 'senior Patriarch' and had all privileges of his rank. Let us see his main arguments.
today would be to find evidence to dispel another popular myth.
To substantiate the counter argument he first relies on the judgment of the courts specifically favoring the IO stand. He concludes by saying that:
"Thus we find the Travancore High Court judge pointing out that no plea had been raised on the invalidity of HH Abdul Masih continuing to perform his spiritual functions. If the Jacobites had material on the invalidity of HH Abdul Masih performing spiritual functions due to the insinuations now being made in internet forums, surely they would have presented it."
I don't know whether Georgy is aware of the Judgment of the Travancore Royal Court (1946 T.L.R). There we have ample reference to the Synodal excommunication of Mor Abdul Messiah. The court provided a technical reason for not relying on this exhibit citing the rules and regulations in the Travancore evidence act. The Exhibit presented was the certified copy of the Synod decision. The decision had been published in Syriac and in Malayalam in various publications. The court's finding was that the 'synodal removal was not satisfactorily proved beyond doubt' in accordance with the regulations of Travancore Act. In fact the decision of the synod certified and attested by the first class Magistrate of Mosul was submitted in the court. The court did not consider it given the restrictions in the Travancore Evidence Act.
There are also ample evidence other than this. The first and most reliable source is the direct report of a person from Malankara present there in Turkey at that time. It is none other than Mor Augen Bava, then T.A. Mathai Shemmashan, a student and deacon at Kurkuma Dayara. He wrote to the Malankara headquarters and his letter was published in the official monthly, the 'Malankara Edavaka Pathrika' (1906 Karkkidakom). He writes, "… Mor Gregorios Abdulla Bava is elected as the new Patriarch. All the people elected him without any dissension, unanimously and in full unity..." While a Metropolitan, Mor Timotheos Augen had stated the same under oath in the court. The 1946 TLR judgment quoted his statements. He had attested to being a witness to the synod that assembled there for this purpose. Moreover, when Mor Augen was consecrated bishop, he had pledged to repudiate all the uncanonical acts of the excommunicated and deposed Patriarch Mor Abdul Messiah. The only 'reciprocity', if any, I can find here is the motivation to get consecrated as a Metropolitan. If you refer to this 1946 TLR there are other conclusive findings of the court like the invalidity of the installation of the second and third Catholicose, etc. I am not going into such details here.
I invite again the attention of my readers to the articles and documents published by the Malankara Church at that time. This was much before any split in Malankara and it at least shed light on the stand of the undivided church on this issue. I have compiled the following:
1. A letter by T.A. Mathai Shemmashan who was personally present there at the scene which reads like a first hand report. You can read this as Appendix No.14B in my book, Perumpilly Thirumeni…
2. The official circular from the then Malankara Metropolitan Mor Dionysius Joseph conforming the installation of Mor Abdulla II as the Patriarch. See Appendix No.14F (Ibid).
3. Another article titled, 'Pathriarkka Prathishtta' appended as 14 A (Ibid).
4. Appendix 14D (Ibid) is also another article in the Malankara Edavaka Pathrika on this issue. Here there are explicit references to the stand of the Ottoman Sultan in asking Poulose Episcopa (official delegate at the capital) to swear allegiance to Mor Abdul Messiah. It took two more years to convince the Sultan's office of the necessity of the deposition.
The original decision of the 1903 synod on the excommunication of Mor Abdul Messiah was published here in Malankara in the 'Suriyani Sabha' monthly and the attested copy was filed as exhibit in the court. I have also seen the copy of a letter from the foreign affairs department of the Turkish Government addressed to the Travancore Government stating that Mor Abdul Messiah was a deposed Patriarch. This is included as a document in the litigation files in our church cases.
I know it is a futile exercise to investigate the validity of the canonical status of a deposed Patriarch. His removal and excommunication were well accepted by the Church everywhere. There was no one in his clerical or blood lineage supporting or sympathizing with him anywhere in the Church. The Malankara church also wholly accepted and received his removal de facto and accepted the successor on the throne. Suppose for a moment that the unfortunate split and excommunication of Vattaseril Thirumeni didn't happen in Malankara. What then would have been the stand taken by the Malankara Church? It is a fundamental truth that the advocacy taken up by IO propagandists in favour of this poor soul is only based on the schismatic developments that happened here. So it is the ultimate 'duty' of the IOC to justify the (il)'legitimacy' of the excommunicated prelate. But it is also a fact that after (mis)using this deposed Patriarch the IO forebears did not keep their word on their promise to provide him support him to his end. Read his own letter complaining about this. (Exhibit No. 81 in the Samudaya Case). Read the Malayalam text in my book, 'Catholica Stapanathinte Yadhartha Nila', pp. 78-80. It says that it was agreed by those here in Malankara that they would support him in all his needs. He pleaded to the IOs to keep their word. After his return from Malankara, Mor Abdul Messiah had to resort to other means like joining the Romans for his sustenance. This was because of two evident reasons.
1. The mother church where he was supported till his uncanonical acts in Malankara quite naturally might have been embittered and gave little care and support. Or he himself was ashamed to rely on the church which he betrayed. So he considered joining the Roman Church.
2. The dissenters in Malankara who persuaded him to act against the Church did not keep their word and failed to support him. The Romans did not find much appeal in this poor, innocent and troubled old Patriarch since he didn’t serve their motives in stealing the sheep. So he was not well accepted there. Finally he was taken back by his own mother church which he deserted and betrayed. He was allowed to spend his last days at Kurkuma Dayara and was buried there. But Georgy wrongly claims that:
"it’s reasonable to assume that Patriarch Abdul Masih could draw upon considerable strength in the area surrounding the patriarchate. Surely, he would have been the pride of his people. This perhaps explains his continued residence there as a rival patriarch." "HH Abdul Masih too would have returned back to his mother church since he was after all buried at Deir-el-Za’aferan. I don’t know how reliable the information is due to the Catholic connections of the authors. But nevertheless, it may reflect some kernel of truth."
The above claims are totally contrary to the truth. The church and the people everywhere accepted the excommunication of Abdul Messiah and well received the newly elected Patriarch. I have quoted the first hand contemporary report of Mathai Shemmashan published here. Moreover, lack of supporters or sympathisers there could be another reason for the valid background of the excommunication. Georgy fancifully opens the windows of Kurkuma Dayara through O.H. Parry's pages to state that, "it has the ‘‘most glorious view to south and west across the plain and up the Qala’at-el-Mara Valley’. This means that HH Abdul Masih’s supposed native village was only a stone’s throw away from the Patriarchal seat. HH Abdullah, on the other hand, was a native of Saddad, a village near Homs. If this inference is true, it’s reasonable to assume that Patriarch Abdul Masih could draw upon considerable strength in the area surrounding the patriarchate."
But these whims are totally unfounded conjectures when we see that the former Patriarch had no considerable support anywhere. He himself not even believed or relied on the two monks who accompanied him to Malankara. Fr. P.T. Geevarghese sent them in another ship from Bombay on their return from Malankara. Similarly none followed him when he went with the Romans. Nobody to this day has recorded anything in support of him even though Georgy fancies that "he could draw considerable strength in the area surrounding the Patriarchate". Moreover it is totally erroneous to claim that he was buried with the honor of a Patriarch. Georgy has very selectively used words to allude to this idea of the IO propaganda. He was buried among the tombs where the monks were buried and not in the exclusive Beth Qadishe reserved for the Patriarchs. V. Rev. Dr. Kuriakose Thottupuram from Chicago visited the monastery last year and has recorded this truth. (Read his article in Indian Orthodox Herald Malayalam Vol.1, No.44 - May 15, 2005). His burial among the tombs of the monks in an unmarked tomb itself proves that all the counter arguments of IO writers on his canonicity, strength and support, claims of being rival/senior Patriarch, lack of synodal removal, etc., do not have any merit.
Georgy's research to find whether "Patriarch Abdul Masih II was excommunicated by the Syriac Synod" is said to be "constrained by the absence of a first hand visit to the theatre of action — the Tur `Abdin area of Turkey — to secure authentic information through interviews with local experts, and possibly the descendants of Patriarch Abdul Masih II’s immediate family."
He has disregarded all the available references about this episode and goes on to find evidence in the Ottoman attitude to Christians. I am not entering into the non-contextual lengthy arguments raised by Georgy to say that the Ottomans tried to interfere in the affairs of the church, based on the western writers, and to claim that the same might have happened in the case of Mor Abdul Messiah. I must also warn readers about the highly prejudiced writings of western authors on all Islamic rulers and Eastern Christians. Any glance through authors like Badger or Grant testifies to my apprehension. I am also of the opinion that in case of the Syrian Church such occurrences of undue interference from the Sultanate was not the norm. In the case of Mor Abdul Messiah the Sultan was at first not in favour of a change as I have quoted before.
Georgy's following argument is dealt with earlier.
"There are some other curious developments in the case of HH Abdul Masih. Throughout his tenure, the de jure Patriarch Abdullah II was either traveling or resident at the Dayro d-Mor Margos in Jerusalem, while the deposed Patriarch continued to stay in Turabdin, either at the Kurkmo Dayro, the then official seat of the Patriarch, or at Mor Gabriel in Midyat! On his death, the official patriarch was buried at Jerusalem, while the so-called excommunicated patriarch was buried at the Kurkmo Dayro, just as all patriarchs were honoured."
His admission that Mor Abdul Messiah stayed at Turabdin, the seat of the Patriach while Patriarch Abdulla was travelling all around points to the wide reception to the newly installed Patriarch Mor Abdulla II. He points this out as a proof for the 'validity' of the occupancy of the deposed Patriarch. But any one can infer the fact that the ruling Patriarch cannot be idle in his 'seat' but will have to travel throughout his 'See' to nourish his church. The 'honor' of the tomb of Mor Abdul Messiah in a monastery that has exclusive tombs for Patriarchs has been testified by their own scholar. I need not repeat it again.
Georgy's 'shock' in reading Adrian Fortescue is really without any reason. Any student of Church History knows very well that the author is a Roman Catholic who is only interested in noting any unsubstantiated allegations about any non-Roman catholic church. The quote by Georgy proves beyond doubt that Fortescue first blames Mor Abdulla to be a Protestant supporter and then definitely declares him to be a uniate. It is also clear that in the Catholic church they do not accept two bishops at the same time in a bishopric. The real Catholic uniate bishop of Homs at that time was Gregorios Georges Sahin. Moreover Georgy should also read O.H. Parry, who he has quoted before, to learn about the wisdom, integrity and zeal of Mor Abdulla for his church. He had to flee from his seat out of oppression from authorities and had to seek asylum at the French consulate for political reasons. They gave him protection there and he found safety with them. That is all. When the situation changed he came out and the church at large, knowing his precarious situation, received and accepted him. It is also believed that one of the reasons for the estrangement of the church from Mor Abdul Messiah is his ill treatment of Bishop Mor Abdulla. So to me the references from Fortescue are not at all shocking! It is merely bickering of the Romans!
John Joseph also is seen to repeat the same story told by the American Missionaries again based on a Roman uniate author. It is the same dish arranged in two plates. I have discussed the real picture from internal evidence earlier. It is ecclesiastically a proven fact that Mor Abdul Messiah was deposed and was living among the monks, died there and was buried among the monks. He had no canonical status after his removal from office anywhere in the church. He had no sympathizers from among his relatives or from the members of the church who he served for decades.
The Church in Malankara accepted this fact and wholly received Mor Abdulla as Patriarch. (Personally I can only sympathize with the IOC who cannot refrain from defending this unhappy episode.) The whole validity of IOC hierarchy is built upon this invalid and uncanonical act of this excommunicated Patriarch. We must understand their position. They cannot undo what their forefathers did. These are all accomplished facts and they cannot go back to rectify, reform or refrain from justifying this as a community and as a church. History cannot be undone.
Factually the Abdul Messiah Mafrianate withered in 1913 itself. The so called rejuvenation in 1925 was done again more uncanonically by the uncanonically installed bishops, even without the co-operation of Vattaseril Thirumeni. All these unhappy episodes were cosmetically glossed over in 1958 and was mainstreamed in 1964. We need not have had to look back to all these anomalies if the established peace process was reciprocated and upheld. I was forced to look back to describe all these unhappy episodes in history only because of Georgy's discussion of the half baked 'myths'. I apologize if I wounded the feelings of the innocent IO believers who think that what they are taught is the only truth.
I am indebted to my friend Georgy for prompting me to write a series on these issues related to the split in the Malankara Church despite the fact it makes cool many warm friendships and gives me the title of being a "hard core factionalist". My appeal to all is to take these as my academic commitment and try to understand these as the perspective of the SOC. This is how we see the facts contrary to IO perspectives. I would not have dared to write this series without provocation from Georgy’s learned and well articulated presentation. I acknowledge Georgy's zeal to the cause he is committed to and his earnest research to defend his position. I suspect that no one will change their allegiance based on these discussions. But my request is to try to understand each other. Let us try to have mutual respect, acceptance and peaceful co-existence. SOCM and ICON forums have taken initiative to archive both the series for mutual understanding. I think this will be the first reciprocative act. This in and of itself is a great leap in mutual understanding.
I also express my gratitude to ICON forum for publishing my responses at first in the daily digest. I thought they were annoyed with my presentation when they stopped. But I am happy that they have presented the whole series in their document archive section. I express my thanks for their kind words and openness to refer to my postings for reference and study.
MOSC forum was also publishing my notes till recently. But all of a sudden they pronounced a ban on my postings citing flimsy reasons contrary to their claim that their forum allows free expression. Some fanatics there tried to mock me by saying many unworthy and painful comments instead of pointing to my errors, if any, raising counter arguments to the issues I raised or presenting other reliable documents. I am sorry that the moderators of MOSC never moderated any of those disparaging notes against me but resorted to ban my postings. Nevertheless, I am thankful to them for bearing with me and giving room to a series which I wrote in reply to the postings that appeared in another forum. I am also happy that the MOSC 'elder' informed me that my ban there is lifted for all other 'useful' postings.
Lastly, I must thank the moderator, Thomas Daniel of SOCM Forum for his kind persuasion, support, space and time for publishing this series. He also created a link in the SOCMNet for further reference and easy access. I am also thankful to Dr. Thomas Joseph and Mr. John Philip for their support and suggestions.
Many of my readers have sent me their comments of appreciation. Thank you all.
Kuriakose Corepiscopa Moolayil - firstname.lastname@example.org
Original Posting of Mr. Georgy S Thomas in IOCN Malankara's Mythical Minefields-IX