The specious arguments of Fr. M. O. John

 

The Maphryan and Fr M O John: Same Ends, Different Means-I


Recently, HG Dr Athanasius Thomas of Moovattupuzha wrote two
inspired articles providing a framework for the return of peace in
the Malankara Church. I had translated and presented the first of
these under the title `Peace Is Still A Possibility In The Malankara
Church' in this forum and elsewhere (I am trying to find the time to
translate the second article too). The articles struck a chord in
many a broken heart across the divide. Some, however, were alarmed.
Very alarmed.
There are vested interests at work in both the factions who love the
divide. Most are people who wield power. Others are aspirants to
power. They risk losing everything or being sidelined if a reunion
were to happen.
In the Jacobite side, predictably, the ideological leader of this
divide-and-rule policy is the Maphryan, Baselius Thomas I. One has
little or no evidence of the Maphryan having shown any love for the
followers of HG Vattasseril Dionysius even when he functioned as a
priest in the united church. This was not the case of his
predecessor Maphryan, the late Baselius Paulose II. Until events
separated us as a result of distrust and discord, he loved the
church as one. Many have witnessed emotional moments wherein he
lovingly called us `makkale', meaning children. I digress.
The present Maphryan, who always hated us, has only one agenda:
Drill it into the psyche of his flock that the churches are not one,
but two. For this, he repeatedly spreads the canard that we follow a
different faith. Notice that he doesn't question the shared history.
In the Orthodox side too, there are many who prefer the status quo,
and get worked up over the prospect of a reunion. Some of them are
aspirants to higher office, who rightly or wrongly are convinced
that their agenda is in jepardy should reunion occur.
Sophisticated divide-and-rule players in the Orthodox Church
position themselves as extreme upholders of the Church's autocephaly
and self-respect. Using apparently impressive scholarship, they
advance the argument that the Malankara Church had no ties
whatsoever with the Syriac Church in antiquity. Therefore, let's be
realists and end all delusions of unity, they argue.
I am afraid to say that Fr M O John, the editor of Malankara Deepam,
has willy-nilly slotted himself into the latter category.
Fr John has written a two-part article in Deepam criticising the
articles of HG Dr Athanasius. After reading them, I am beginning to
see a convergence between the Maphryan and Fr M O John — at least at
the ideological level.
The Maphryan forever holds that the factions cannot be united
because the faith is different. Fr M O John, on the other hand,
stresses that the Antiochian Church had no presence at all in India
till at least 1665 and that we were nurtured by the Persian (meaning
Nestorian Church). So while the means adopted by them may be
different, they both seem to be united in their pursuit of ushering
in a permanent division of the church. The faithful should be
forewarned.
To be continued….

Next: The specious arguments of Fr M O John.

Georgy S Thomas
Bangalore

Friends,

HG Dr Athanasius Thomas, in his articles, had scrupulously adhered
to the provisions in the 1934 Constitution to advance his framework
for unity. But Fr M O John has countered it by the specious argument
that the provisions in the 1934 Constitution giving special rights
to the Patriarch itself have to be removed. According to him, these
provisions were inspired by the decisions of the Kfarthutho Synod of
869 CE. Since the Kfarthutho Synod was an internal matter within the
Syriac Church concerning the Patriarch and the Maphryan, why should
we, a self-respecting church with its own distinctive history, be
guided by the same, he argues. Therefore, he demands that all
such ``enslaving'' references giving special rights to the Patriarch
in the 1934 Constitution should be dumped into the Arabian Sea.
After we have accomplished all this, our Catholicos and the
Patriarch of the Syriac Church can deal with each other as equals
just as the Armenian Catholicos and the Patriarch of the Syriac
Church interact with each other, he claims.
But then there's a problem. According to Fr M O John, the Persian
Church active in India in antiquity was the Nestorian Church. If
this was the case and all references to the Syriac Patriarch are
removed from our Constitution, the stage would be set for people to
even question the necessity of adhering to the Oriental Orthodox
faith. Instead of the equal treatment from other Oriental Orthodox
prelates, we may end up being removed from the fold altogether.


Fr M O John Is In Denial About The Orthodox Persian Church


An examination of Fr M O John's argument unearths more and more
convergence between his apparently scholarly views and that of the
ill-informed Jacobites. For instance, Fr John is of the view that
all non-Nestorian Christians in Persia were settlers from Antioch.
In his article in the June 15-30 issue, Fr John advances the
ridiculous argument that non-Nestorian Christians in Persia were
entirely formed of settlers from the Antiochian Syrian Church just
as Keralites are now settled in the Gulf and the US.
Readers may please take note that this is an article of faith for
the Jacobites too. They too vehemently deny any existence of a non-
Nestorian Persian Church, independent from the Antiochian Church. In
their view, the non-Nestorian Church in Persia was composed of
Syriac Church members brought into that country as slaves by the
Persians. But what is the truth?

The Persian Church adopted the Nestorian faith at a synod held at
Beth Lapat in the year 484 CE. This synod was convened by a mere
bishop, by name Barsauma, in opposition to the then Catholicos
Baboui. So the very adoption of the Nestorian faith took place in a
context of schism. Not everyone in the Persian Church entered into
the Nestorian heresy. Despite the backing of the Persian emperors
for the Nestorians, a minority orthodox community continued to exist
in Persia. Article 2 of our 1934 Constitution refers to this church
of non-Nestorian Persians by the name Orthodox Syrian Church of the
East.
In the year 540 CE, Persian emperor Khosrow I conquered Antioch and
held it for sometime. The encyclopaedia britannica notes: ``He
brought many prisoners from Antioch and settled them in a new town
near his capital of Ctesiphon, modeled on old Antioch.''
Historian John of Ephesus says in his Ecclesiastical History that
the prisoners numbered 275,000 (Part 3, Book 6). One cannot be sure
that all of them were members of the Syriac Church. In 540 CE,
Antioch had on the throne a Chalcedonian Patriarch. The last of the
orthodox patriarchs, Saint Severus, was deposed in 518 CE. He had
died in exile in 538 CE. Jacob Baradaeus, the refounder of the
church, was yet to arrive on the scene. The orthodox church was in
complete disarray. While it had support among the masses, government
suppression had completely shorn it of bishops. Antioch itself was a
Hellenised, Greek-speaking city with plenty of Chalcedonian
supporters. Considering all this, we cannot be sure that the
prisoners brought from there by Khosrow I were all members of the
Syriac Church. We can thus easily dismiss with contempt, the
assertions made by the Jacobites and Fr M O John that the non-
Nestorian Persian Church was composed entirely of Antiochian
settlers.
In reality, the orthodox Persian Church was composed of those
members of the church who refused to enter the Nestorian heresy. The
slaves from Antioch (settlers according to Fr M O John) may have
joined this group later. The first Catholicos of the non-Nestorian
Persian Church was Mor Ahudummeh. He was a native of Balad, in
Persia proper, and not a slave (settler according to Fr M O John)
from Antioch. John of Ephesus has a description in his
Ecclesiastical History (Part 3, Book 6) of Ahoudummeh vanquishing
the Nestorians in debate before Khosrow I — surely not a conduct
befitting a slave.
This Ahudummeh was elevated as the Catholicos of the Orthodox
Persian Church in 559 CE by none other than Saint Jacob Baradaeus,
the refounder of the Syriac Church of Antioch. Mor Ahudummeh's
church was founded by Saint Thomas, just as our church was. Just as
our church had to take the help of the Syriac Church to ward off
Portuguese depredations, this church too took the help of the Syriac
Church to resist Nestorian and Zoroastrian persecution. Just as in
our case, the Syriac Church read too much into this request for help
and tried to snuff out the Persian Church's independence. Many
meetings were held to iron out differences. Once such meeting was
the Kfarthutho Synod of 869 CE mentioned earlier. This was not an
internal affair of the Syriac Church as Fr M O John would have us
believe. But on the contrary, it was a meeting to sort our
differences between two churches — one founded by Saint Thomas and
the other by the apostle Peter —, but which nevertheless shared the
faith of the first three ecumenical synods. The authors of the 1934
Constitution have done no wrong in being inspired by the decisions
of the Kfarthutho Synod. All the articles in the Constitution giving
special rights to the Patriarch of Antioch are inspired by the
affection which we have for the Orthodox Persian Church of
Ahudummeh, with which we can reasonably be sure that Kerala had ties
in antiquity.
In the final part of this article, we shall try to demolish one more
myth that Fr John has tried to peddle: that our church in antiquity
had ties only with the Nestorian Church of Persia.
Tomorrow: The Non-Nestorian Persian Church and India.