Editor – TMUND – 25/112019
One of the principal arguments put forward by the Jacobite faction is that they follow a faith distinct from the Malankara Church. They argue that the Malankara conflict is about faith and not civil litigation about the management and administration of the Church. Does this argument hold any water?
What is Jacobite Syrian Christian Church (JSC)?
JSC is an autonomous Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. The Jacobite Church is an integral part of the Syriac Orthodox Church. The Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch is one of the ancient Christian Churches presently headquartered in Damascus.
Membership and Affiliation of the Jacobite Church
Jacobite Church, an autonomous Archdiocese of the Syriac Church is also a member of the Oriental Orthodox (OO) communion. In India legally, the Jacobite Syrian community-based at Puthencruz is a registered society as per the Societies Registration Act 1860, whereas the Malankara Orthodox Church is recognized as a church by the Supreme Court of India.
Oriental Orthodox or Antiochian Faith?
The Syriac Orthodox Church is a member of the Oriental Orthodox communion. The Malankara Church is also a member of the Oriental Orthodox communion, along with Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian, and Eritrean Orthodox Churches. If the Syriac Church and the Malankara Churches are members of the OO communion and confess the faith decided by the first three ecumenical synods, isn’t it contradictory for the Jacobite Christians (who are under the Syriac Church) to claim they profess a distinct faith? How can Malankara and the Jacobite Syrian Church remain within the Oriental Orthodox communion with distinct faith and belief?
A Comparison Chart
|Sl No:||Area||Jacobite Syrians||Malankara Church|
|1.||Faith and Polity||Miaphysite and Episcopal||Miaphysite and Episcopal|
|2.||Origin||Apostolic (St. Thomas the Apostle)||Apostolic (St. Thomas the Apostle)|
|3||Canonical and Administrative nature||Autonomous, based on Orthodox conciliarity||Autocephalous, based on Orthodox conciliarity|
|4.||Communion||Oriental Orthodox||Oriental Orthodox|
|5.||Ecumenical Synod||First Three Synods (Constantinople, Ephesus, and Nicea)||First Three Synods (Constantinople, Ephesus, and Nicea)|
|6.||Ethnicity||Malankara Nasrani||Malankara Nasrani`|
|7.||Head of the Church||Patriarch of Antioch and All the East||Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan|
|8.||Regional head||Maphriyano and Metropolitan Trustee||Nil|
|9.||Sister Oriental Churches||Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches||Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches|
|10||St.Peter||Teaches Supremacy of Peter||Teaches Primacy of Peter|
Jacob Baradaeus, and the Apostolic Lineage of Syriac Church
Jacobites in India argue over the lineage of St. Thomas Christians. Having no proof for Apostolic succession is demeaned and exploited by the Jacobite campaigners to their advantage.
Even though the Jacobite enthusiasts know the contributions made by St. Jacob Baradaeus (also known as Yacoub Burd’ono) to the Syriac Church, and his efforts to maintain apostolic continuity, they remain deaf to the facts.
St. Jacob Baradaeus was consecrated as the Bishop of Edessa by the Coptic Pope Theodosius I of Alexandria at the recommendation of Empress Theodora who was a supporter of the non-Chalcedonian church. Whereas, her husband Emperor Justinian supported the Chalcedonian church.
As a result of the lack of support from the Emperor, the non-Chalcedonian Church leadership declined, regardless of the support from Christians of Armenia, Syria, and Egypt. Acting as a non-Chalcedonian missionary agent, Jacob traveled throughout Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, Armenia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Isauria, Pamphilia, Lycaonia, Lycia, Phrygia, Cana, Asia Minor and the islands of Cyprus, Rhodes, Chios, and Mitylene and Egypt and he ordained around 80,000 clergies. Some sources state that his ordinations included 89 bishops. He also consecrated two Patriarchs (Patriarch Sergius of Tella and Patriarch Paul II of Antioch). The Oxford reference states that ‘Jacob was secretly consecrated Bishop of Edessa, he spent the rest of his life clandestinely ordaining clergy and helping to establish a separate hierarchy’, a reason why some of the critics consider Jacob as a Saintly ‘Episcopus Vagant’. Besides, the episcopal life of Jacob Baradaeus was filled with many controversies and upheavals.
After reading the life of Jacob, a few questions need to be answered:
Jacob established a separate Mypahisite hierarchy and thereby the Syriac Church is also called Jacobite. Does it mean that Jacob is the founder of the Syriac Church?
The Maphrianite in India was newly established in 1964, even though the Jacobites claim that it was re-established. Technically, Jacob nor his successors consecrated any Bishop for the Jacobites in India. Jacobs’s episcopal activities were not aimed at the Church in India. Syriac Christianity arrived in India in 1665. The Maphrianite in India doesn’t have any historical connections with Jacobs bishopric. Also, the council of Constantinople prohibits bishops going beyond their diocese and churches.
Canon 2. Council of Constantinople 381 on Bishop’s Jurisdiction
The bishops are not to go beyond their dioceses to churches lying outside of their bounds, nor bring confusion on the churches; but let the Bishop of Alexandria, according to the canons, alone administer the affairs of Egypt; and let the bishops of the East manage the East alone, the privileges of the Church in Antioch, which are mentioned in the canons of Nice, being preserved; and let the bishops of the Asian Diocese administer the Asian affairs only; and the Pontic bishops only Pontic matters; and the Thracian bishops only Thracian affairs. And let not bishops go beyond their dioceses for ordination or any other ecclesiastical ministrations, unless they be invited. And the aforesaid canon concerning dioceses being observed, it is evident that the synod of every province will administer the affairs of that particular province as was decreed at Nice. But the Churches of God in heathen nations must be governed according to the custom which has prevailed from the times of the Fathers.
Syrian Jacobite Controversies
There is nothing to be so proud of the Jacobites if a through an examination of their history is made. The atrocities committed by the Jacobite faction against the Malankara Church faithful are well known. However, the Syrian Jacobites and their leadership in the Middle East and elsewhere are also quite famous involving themselves in controversies.
During the 6th century, Maronite Christians in large numbers were massacred by the Jacobites due to rivalry. “As we were going to the Monastery of Saint Simon, for reasons concerning the Church, these wicked ones [the Jacobites] prepared an ambush for us on the road; and, coming to hurl themselves upon us, they killed three hundred and fifty of our people and wounded others. They even killed those who had taken refuge near the altars. “They burnt the monasteries, sending by night a multitude of seditious persons won over by money, who looted the little that was there. (Alexander, Priest, and archimandrite of Saint Maron, year 517).
Corruption and the leadership of the Syriac Church
There were several instances when the position of the Patriarch of Antioch remained vacant in the history of the Syriac Church ie the Syriac Church was managed without a Patriarch. Hence the unbroken lineage of the Syriac Church is under question.
Paul II the Black of Alexandria (consecrated by Saint Jacob Baradaeus) was the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch from 550 until 575. He was another controversial figure in the history of the Syriac Church. Jacob Baradaeus excommunicated Paul for siding with the Chalcedonian party but was later restored. However, Pope Damian of Alexandria, another controversial figure interfered in the internal affairs of the Syriac Church and tried to depose Patriarch Paul.
Peter III of Callinicum was the Patriarch of Antioch from 550 to 575. He was notorious for his rejection of Trinity. For this reason, he was harshly condemned by the Coptic Pope Damian of Alexandria. It is interesting to note that Pope Damian consecrated Peter III. Due to the rift between the two Patriarchs, at least from 588 to 616 AD, the Syriac and Coptic Churches were in schism.
After the demise of Patriarch Iwannis I (740–754), Caliph Al-Mansur appointed two successors without the consent of the Syriac Church, thereby corrupting the lineage.
Moreover, between 1364 to 1816, the Syriac Church went through another schism when a separate Patriarchate was constituted for the Tur Abdin region.
Hence, there is no meaning in stating that the Apostolic lineage of the Syriac Orthodox Church has always remained ‘uncorrupted’.
Many of the Syrian Jacobite Patriarchs and Bishops are no better in their attitude and Church administration. Let us discuss a few of them below.
Some of the recent researches revealed that Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Elias III (who is mortal remains are entombed at Manjanikkara) received payments (5,000 shillings per month) from the Turkish government to deny Seyfo (genocide).
Timothy Fawlus, the Assyrian/Aramean Jacobite Bishop of Constantinople was notorious for congratulating Sultan Abdul-Hamid II (with a poem on his birthday in 1902), who was responsible for the murder of more than 300,000 Christian Armenians, Arameans, and Greeks in 1895.
The infamous Patriarch Ignatius Abded Aloho II was well known for embracing and propagating reformed protestant ideas. This inconsistent man became a bishop of the Syrian Catholic Church for over nine years (1896-1905) and later returned to Syriac Orthodox Church under the promise of becoming the Patriarch Antioch.
The Dead Sea scrolls were purchased by the former Syriac Archbishop Yesu Samuel of Jerusalem. A report dated 4 December 2018 in Daily mail states that the Archbishop smuggled (fearing its safety during the Arab-Israeli war) those scrolls to the USA and in 1954 he sold the scrolls for an amount of $250,000 by placing an ad in the Wall Street Journal). Instead of preserving the valuable scroll, they were sold to raise money for the Church. However, the Eastern U.S. Archdiocese of the Syriac Church hold is in possession of just one fragment of the scroll.
In one of the previous articles, we discussed how the Syriac Patriarch-elect Mor Osthathios Kyriakos had to give up his position upon the threats from a group of people within the Syriac Orthodox Church, as part of the internal turmoil in the year 1957.
In 1970, Patriarch Yacub III in encyclical No.203/70 propagated one of the greatest heresies by denying the priesthood of St. Thomas the Apostle.
The sudden and unexpected demise of Archbishop Mor Julius Yeshu Cicekin 2005, raised a lot of eyebrows. A detailed report on the ‘Killing’ of Yeshu Cicekin by the Syriac Church leadership was published on the website of the Arameans of Aram-Naharaim Organization (Aramnahrin.org).
In 2007, Syriac bishops Ablahad Shabo and Benjamin Atas transformed their Churches in Södertälje, Sweden, into polling stations for Syrians in the diaspora to cast their votes. They were heavily criticized for such actions.
In 2011, Patriarch Zakka I have sparked controversy by stating that the US and Israel were behind the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In 2017, Patriarch Aphrem II Karim became the center of controversy when six Metropolitans rebelled against him for raising and kissing the Quran.
In 2019 the leadership of the autonomous Knanaya Syrian Archdiocese criticized the Patriarch of Antioch for his inappropriate interference in the internal affairs of the Archdiocese.
Many among the Jacobite faction in Malankara believes that everything is perfectly fine with the Syriac Orthodox Church and they believe that it is the only true Church without flaws. Syriac Church has its share of controversies and scandals. Sadly the beliefs of Jacobites do not match reality.
Naaman, P. (2011). The Maronites. Trappist, Ky.: Cistercian Publications.
Oxfordreference.com. (2019). Jacob Baradaeus – Oxford Reference. [online] Available at: https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100015751 [Accessed 22 Oct. 2019].
Syriacstudies.com. (2019). all kinds of writing￼. [online] Available at: http://www.syriacstudies.com/AFSS/Syriac_Scholars_and_Writers/Entries/2008/3/22_64-_Mar_Jacob_Baradaeus_%28d._578%29.html [Accessed 22 Oct. 2019].
Jacobitesyrianchurch.org. (2019). Jacobite Syrian Christian Church. [online] Available at: http://www.jacobitesyrianchurch.org/thechurch.html [Accessed 9 Nov. 2019].
Atour.com. (2010). The Secret Payment of Patriarch Elias Shaker for Denying the Genocide Seyfo – Assyrian Forums. [online] Available at: http://www.atour.com/forums/religion/48.html [Accessed 9 Nov. 2019].
Center, S. (2019). Assyrian Genocide Research Center –. [online] Seyfo.seyfocenter.com. Available at:
http://seyfo.seyfocenter.com/index.php?sid=2&aID=364 [Accessed 9 Nov. 2019].
lastampa.it. (2017). Six bishops against the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch: “He betrayed faith” – La Stampa. [online] Available at: https://www.lastampa.it/vatican-insider-en/2017/02/15/news/six-bishops-against-the-syrian-orthodox-patriarch-he-betrayed-faith-1.34653967 [Accessed 9 Nov. 2019].
Orthodox, S. (2017). Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II kisses the Quran. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xw7qfp_248Q [Accessed 9 Nov. 2019].
Acsatv.com. (2011). Wikileaks reveals Patriarch Zakka’s bad judgment: ACSA TV – Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Association. [online] Available at: https://www.acsatv.com/?p=559 [Accessed 9 Nov. 2019].
Fortescue, A. (2001). The lesser eastern churches. Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press.
Aramnahrin.org. (2006). Spiritual (brother) killing of Mgr. J. Y. Cicek. [online] Available at: https://www.aramnahrin.org/English/Spiritual_Killing.htm [Accessed 9 Nov. 2019].
Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States. (2010). June 25, 2010 – Readings. [online] Available at: https://www.suscopts.org/readings/2010/jun/25/ [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].
Murphy, S. (2018). Archaeologists have given fresh hope in the hunt for more Dead Sea Scrolls. [online] Mail Online. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-6458885/Archaeologists-given-fresh-hope-hunt-Dead-Sea-Scrolls.html [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].
Earlychurchtexts.com. (2019). Constantinople – Canons of the 381 Council. [online] Available at: https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/constantinople_canons.htm [Accessed 25 Nov. 2019].