Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Episcopal Issues in the Mar Thoma Church - Open Letter

Ipe George
Thottukadavil House (Chiramel)
Karikuzhy P.O.
Phone (M):  9846301374

Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan/Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma/Espiscopas of the Mar Thoma Church/Sabha Secretary of the Mar Thoma Church/Council members of the Mar Thoma Church/Mandalam members of the Mar Thoma Church/Achens of the Mar Thoma Church/Church leaders/Lay leaders.

Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus:

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  In light of the upcoming election in the Mar Thoma Church to elect three persons to the high and most holy office of bishop, I have taken it upon myself to write this open letter to deal with certain issues that pertain to the history of the church in Kerala and more specifically to deal with issues and practices that I think need to be addressed to uphold the purity and integrity of the most holy and exalted office of bishop.

HISTORICAL ASSUMPTION CONCERNING THE MALANKARA CHURCH:  It has been traditionally believed and also written by church historians that high caste Brahmin families that first adorned Christianity were mainly Nambuthiri families.  These were four of the leading Brahmin families; Palamattam or Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, Kalli and Kalliankavu.

Tradition has it that St. Thomas established 7 churches in Kerala.  “It has been believed from very early days that Thomas established seven Churches on the Malabar coast at: (1) Craganore (Malankara), (2) Chavakad (Palur), (3) Parur near Alwaye (4) Gokamangalam, (5) Niranam, (6) Nilakkel (Chayal), (7) Quilon (Kalyan).  Extract taken from The Marthoma Church – Heritage and Mission, written by Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan.

However, the fact that brahmins existed in Kerala before 6th century AD is highly debatable.  Historians are of the view that the earliest brahmanical presence in Kerala was in the 6th century AD.  The earliest written evidence is that of Adi Shankaracharya and his date of birth was 788 AD.  Therefore, the assumption that the earliest Christians in the Malankara church were brahmins is something that needs further research and is most probably incorrect.  In light of this, the fact that the families from Palamattam or Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, Kalli and Kalliankavu were the first to be converted is questionable and needs to be objectively looked into.  Logically too, the existence of such an ancestry for 2000 years and its influence in the leadership even to the present day leadership, is highly improbable, to say the least.

Secondly, it is unlikely that the Apostle Thomas would have forsaken the methodology of his Lord which was to cater to the lowest in the society and therefore it is disputable whether he would have been accepted by the upper castes.  I am sure that the apostle would have addressed the caste issue and what response he received is not recorded in the pages of history.

HIGH PRIESTHOOD/AARONIC PRIESTHOOD/HEREDITARY PRIESTHOOD:  It is a biblical fact that Aaronic priesthood ceased with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; a study of the book of Hebrews will clearly show this.  Jesus Christ is the only High Priest and believers in him belong to the royal priesthood.  With the cessation of the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood, there can be no question of hereditary priesthood.

However, it has been believed by the Pakalomattom family that they have hereditary rights to high priesthood in the Malankara church.  Why I bring the Pakalomattom family into the picture is because of links that this family has with the leadership of the Mar Thoma Church.

“The four families ordained as clergies were from the Brahmin families of Pakalomattom (Pakalomattam) , Kalli ,Sankarapuri ,Kalikavu .It may be because they were already doing priestly activities.  Traditionally it is believed that high priests (bishops) were the exclusive rights of Pakalomattam family.

The head of the Indian church was held by a priest holding the post of Archdeacon, which in Kerala was called "Arckadiyakon" which means head of one set of people. All the Archdeacons of India, came from only one family, i.e. The Pakalomattam family. This is one of the care act of blessing of God, on one family.  All historians have agreed that Pakalomattam family held the monopoly of this headship of the Church.  It was the assigning of the post to the Pakalomattam family by St. Thomas that helped the family to retain the post. The entire Church held the post as one of spiritual holiness and social primacy. It remained as a historical link with the apostolic mission of St. Thomas to India. The nepotic succession of bishophood and priesthood remained with the traditions of succession of the Persian Church. It copied the levite priesthood, which worked in the succession principle in the old Testament for 1300 years. This nepotic or patriarchal succession happened for Archdeacons and Marthoma Metropolitans of Pakalomattam family for 18 centuries.

The Metropolitans used to exercise their control over the Church through the Archdeacons. In practical and day-to-day functioning of the Church Arch-deacons exercised superintendence. The practical necessity of a native chief was felt by the Persian Bishop as they were ignorant of the language, social and political situation, etc. of the place. It came as a hereditary right to Pakalomattam. Down the centuries and over the generations Pakalomattam family produced hundreds of priests and tens of Bishops.  When the oriental missionaries established a new administrative system, they accepted the primacy of the Pakalomattam family. Archdeacon of Kerala Church was not an equal to the Arch-deacons of Europe. He was a much larger entity with wider powers and exalted position. He was called prince of believers, Lord of the Christians, and Archdeacon of the whole of India. The Archdeacons were the right arm of the Metropolitan Bishop, and in their absence or vacancy held spiritual control of the Church also. In addition to the rights of Archdeacon in the Persian Church, the Archdeacons of Kerala exercised special powers. Selection of seminarians, appointing and transferring of priests, exercising temporal powers over the church properties, collecting the levies from the faithful, etc. fell within his domain of his powers. The Kings and Princes used to consider him as the chief of Christians.” -These three extracts have been taken from the history of the Pakalomattam Ayrookuzhiyil Family as put in the Internet.

How does this relate to the Marthoma Church?  The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma has taken the title of Mar Thoma XXI.  The first nine metropolitans of the Malankara Church belonged to the Vadakethu branch of the Pakalomattom family.  Abraham Malpan’s real name is Abraham Panamkuzhy Pakalomattotil and Panamkuzhy is another branch of the Pakalomattom family.  The first four bishops of the Mar Thoma Church have come from this family.  The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma is the fifth member of the family.  It has been openly reported in the Malayalam Manorama, in an edition during the Maramon Covention last year, that Abraham Mar Thoma and Juhanon Mar Thoma have connections with the Palakunnathu family and indirectly the Pakalomattom family.  Alexander Mar Thoma hailed from Kuriannor, Ayroor.  Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan belongs to the Sankaramangalathu family.

The question is, do we still believe in the Aaronic priesthood and in hereditary priesthood?  Is it a fact or just a twist of fate that in many cases episcopacy of the Mar Thoma Church, which supposedly is a constitutional episcopacy, but is often negated by polity and eventually leads to hereditary priesthood?  It cannot be passed away as God given as there is no biblical basis for such an assertion and puts to question the justice of God.

OXIOS:  This custom during the consecration of bishop was a practice of the early church to see that no worldly influences corrupt the high and holy office of bishop.  It is a Greek term which means, “He is worthy” and said three times during the consecration.  However, a careful study of the Mar Thoma Church will show that certain families were involved with kingly families of old like the Chempakassery Kings, the dewan of Travancore and even the royal family of Travancore.  It was a custom in Kerala to raise the king up when he was crowned king.  Has this custom and its political implications influenced the coronation of a bishop to suggest monarchial episcopacy?  The more dangerous fact is the political influences that are involved in decision making concerning the governance of the church.

HEARSAY ISSUES:  On the basis of the above facts, it is possible that familial, political and material interests play a great role in the election to this most holy office in the church.  It is even rumored that there are caucuses formed and mafia nexuses involved in seeing their candidates through.  There are subtle hints that candidates are even doctored even when a priest and given transfers and postings by the church and subtly and skillfully maneuvered to project them as “God-chosen candidates” for the posts of bishop.  All this is done with such subtlety that it is almost difficult to detect.

Article 16 (3) of the constitution of the Mar Thoma Church reads thus:  Although according to the Bible an Episcopa may be a married person, the person nominated to the episcopate should be celibate, since it is deemed necessary to continue the ancient custom requiring the Episcopas of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church to be celibate.  Though the bible allows a person elevated to the position of episcopa to be married, in order to uphold the ancient custom requiring the Episcopas of the Malankara Mar Thoma Church to be celibate, and being done on their own free will and volition, it is absolutely imperative that the church ensure that this holy office is not stained in any way by sexual immorality, even of the most subtle and undetectable kind, in whichever form it may occur.

These matters are causes of deep concern and brought your attention to see that this most holy office of bishop is not stained by worldly corruption.

May the leaders of the church call the faithful to pray and be vigilant that we may safeguard this most holy ministry.  May the Lord Jesus Christ establish only those whom he has chosen.

CLAIMANT: The author of this letter is a B.D. student from the United Theological College.  The opinions expressed in this open letter are a result of research and close study and observation by the author and are opinions of his own, subject to both debate and correction, if proved otherwise.  The sources are from books, the Internet, and personal experience.

Yours humbly in Christ Jesus,

Ipe George