Is the Romo-Syrian Catholicate Canonically Genuine?
Chor-Episcopos Kuriakos Thottupuram, Ph.D.; D.D.

First of all our readers should know that a Major Archbishop is not the equivalent of a Catholicos or Patriarch. The title of Major Archbishop is a Roman term to signify the Head of a semi-independent Roman Catholic National Church. I used the word, ‘semi-independent’, because no major archiepiscopate is totally autonomous in the strictest sense like any other National Orthodox Churches. A Roman Catholic Major Archiepiscopate is legally under the jurisdiction of the Pope, who has universal jurisdiction over every part of the Roman Church. A Major Archbishop is mandated to send his periodic reports to the Pope and his Congregation of the Oriental Rites (now Churches!). He acts only in accordance with the Oriental Code of Canon laws accepted by Rome. So there is no such thing as independence. Even a Uniate Patriarch has no independent authority, or otherwise called autocephaly.

Catholicos means universal or common Head of a National Church, which is a Patriarchal rank in the East. Important Primatial Sees within the territories of the Roman Empire were recognized with Patriarchates, the Heads of which were Patriarchs. Heads of Primatial Sees outside the Roman Empire were called Catholicoi; both a Patriarch and Catholicos signified the same canonical ecclesiastical position. The Catholicos of the East was and is a Patriarch, just like the Popes of Rome and Alexandria are also Patriarchs. This is very clear in the first diptych of the Syrian Church, where we pray for the living spiritual fathers. We read as follows: “Let us pray for … our holy, revered and blessed Patriarchs (see the plural here) our Farther Mor Ignatius, our Father Mor Basilios, and our Father Mor Gregorios…” This is taken from original Syriac texts. Of course when Patriarch Yakub III of Antioch started his innovative agendum to minimize the functions of the Catholicos in order to make him his Suffragan, his group began to use the singular to denote just the Patriarch of Antioch.

When the Orthodox Catholicos of the East, who was a patriarchal functionary, became a Nestorian, there was need for an Orthodox occupant for that See. When an Orthodox Catholicos was reinstalled with the effort and cooperation of the Patriarch of Antioch, he named him, not a Catholicos, but a Mafriano, who is the Suffragan of the Patriarch. But the Catholicos of the East independently enthroned by the Holy Synod of Malankara is not a Suffragan of any Patriarch, but the National Head of an autocephalous Church, who enjoys all patriarchal functions de jure and de facto like the Catholicos of the East before the Nestorian heresy. Archbishop Cyril Basilios and his group do not understand this clearly. What the Archbishop understood is what Patriarch Zakka I had done the installation of Basilios Thomas I, who is erroneously called the Catholicos of the East by the dissident group that follows the latter. This writer has investigated on this matter very thoroughly. He inquired about it with Syrian leaders in the Middle East and in America. They emphatically state that Patriarch Zakka I has not installed a Catholicos of the East; he installed just a MAFRIANO. Actually the dissident group in India might not understand the difference between a Catholicos and a Mafriano. Archbishop Cyril Basilios got into the same trap or he is just pretending that both functionaries are the same.

When Rome establishes a major archiepiscopate, it does it because it cannot offer anything more than that. For example, the Romo-Ukrainians are demanding for their own Patriarchate parallel to the Orthodox Patriarchate of Kiev. Rome, instead, gave them a major archiepiscopate, and emphatically denied a Patriarchate as long as there exists an Orthodox Patriarchate. The only exception considered is when the Orthodox Patriarch becomes a Uniate, and under this circumstance there will be continuity for the Uniate Patriarchate. However, it is said that the Ukrainian uniates claim that they possess a Patriarchate de facto. Similarly, it is reported that the Syro-Malabar Roman Catholics are demanding for their own Patriarchate, but Rome is reluctant to give in because there exists an Orthodox Catholicate in India, which is of a patriarchal rank. However, it is speculated that they might get it, because the existing Catholicate does not belong to their ecclesiastical and liturgical traditions.

The Romo-Malankara Syrians always wished that the Catholicos of the East defect to Roman Catholicism. They thought the dissident Mafriano might defect to Romanism. None of them did it. Now their effort is to create a Catholicos of their own. An aggressive and ambitious prelate with the spirit of the late Archbishop Ivanios, Archbishop Cyril Basilios would never rest until he finds himself on the throne of a Catholicos. Immediately after the announcement making him a Major Archbishop, his dream to become a Catholicos aggressively managed to convince the Papal Internuncio at New Delhi that a Major Archbishop and a Catholicos are the same! What does a Latin prelate, who just happened to be a Nuncio in India, know about the Catholicate or the Catholicos? Poor nuncio had to believe whatever the Romo-Malankara Syrian Archdiocese dictated or reiterated. After all, Rome does not care what title any bishop might hold; what concerns Rome is ultimately who he is under. As long as he is under the Pope and as long as he still carries the title Rome has given, no other ornamental title matters much.

Did anyone watch the news-picture of the announcement made by the Internuncio at the Pattom Cathedral in Trivandrum? We saw Archbishop Cyril Basilios wearing a pectoral cross with TWO engalpions on its both sides. Can a Suffragan Catholicos wear two engalpions? A Mafriano is supposed to wear only a pectoral cross and one engalpion. Patriarch Yakub III demanded Catholicos Basilios Eugen I to wear only one pectoral cross and one engalpion, although the Church of Malankara rejected it. Mafriano Basilios Thomas I is authorized to use only a pectoral cross and ONE engalpion, although he sometimes shows off himself with two engalpions! Only a prelate in the Patriarchal rank can wear a pectoral cross and TWO engalpions. Or did Rome make Archbishop Cyril Basilios a Patriarch? What do you think this Major Archbishop is up to? Is he playing a Patriarch? Can we call it audacious?

Another question: Archbishop Basilios is Catholicos of “WHAT, WHERE”; Catholicos of Trivandrum? Is there a canonical Catholicos of Trivandrum? If so, it is a new invention. Catholicos of Malankara? Definitely Rome does not possess the stupidity to call him the Catholicos of the East.
Another very important concern: Do the canons of the Roman Church, whether Latin or Oriental, accommodate a Catholicos, or do they stipulate that a Major Archbishop is a Catholicos? I am challenging the Romo-Syrians to show any canonical evidence to substantiate their claim. Nowhere in the Roman Canon laws do we have any evidence to prove that a Major Archbishop is a Catholicos. If this is so, why did the Romo-Syrian Archdiocese of Trivandrum hastily create this illusion? Who is behind it? We definitely can guess who could be behind this media stunt. Why did not Archbishop Anthony Cardinal Padiyara declare himself a Patriarch or Catholicos (Catholicos was a legitimate patriarchal rank according to the (Nestorian) tradition of the Church of the East to which the Romo-Malabarese Syrians liturgically and ecclesiologically belong? Let us ask Rome.
Readers! Rome has never issued a mandate establishing a Catholicate under the Pope. Let us quote the report from the Vatican regarding the elevation of Archbishop Cyril Basilios:

 “Vatican City, February 10, 2005 (VIS): The Holy Father elevated the “sui juris” Metropolitan Church of the Syro-Malankara to the rank of Major Archiepiscopal Church, and he promoted Metropolitan Archbishop Cyril Mar Baselios Malancharuvil, OIC of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankara, India to the dignity of Major Archbishop. (He was) born in Ullannoor, India in 1935, and was ordained a priest in 1960. He was ordained a bishop in 1978 and was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankara in 1995. …”

Readers! Can you find any mention of a Catholicos here? Definitely Rome has never dreamt this title for the head of the Romo-Malankara Syrians. Then where could be the source of this irresponsible falsehood? Indeed it comes from the audacious and ambitious leaders of this group.

After the announcement, someone had the courage to say without any scruple that a Major Archbishop is a Catholicos according to the Antiochian tradition. If the Romo-Malankarese belongs to the Antiochian tradition, why did they receive an alien title (Major Archbishop)? Why were they not given a Catholicos by the Pope with patriarchal functions, just like any Uniate patriarch? Of course Rome never foresaw this trap.
There is no precedence in the Roman Church to justify that a major archbishop is a Catholicos. There is a saying: “while truth is putting on her boots, untruth and deception have travelled around the earth”. What else can I say about this blatant falsehood!

Is there any precedence or canon in the Eastern Church to substantiate the assumption that a Major Archbishop is a Catholicos? You will never find it. Why is a major archbishop so enamoured of the Antiochian tradition, when he does not follow anything essential that belongs to the Antiochian tradition? Please answer the following question?

  • Does the Antiochian tradition permit a priest to offer Eucharistic liturgies on week-days during the Great Lent, and during the Holy Week, except Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday?
  • Does the Antiochian tradition permit you to use unleavened bread for the Eucharist?
  • Does it permit Eucharistic adoration and benediction outside the Eucharistic Liturgy?
  • Does it have a belief that elemental change takes place just by pronouncing the words of institution?
  • Do her priests celebrate the Eucharist without the skull cap which is the symbol of the crown of thorns borne by Christ when offered His sacrifice on the cross?
  • Does the Antiochian tradition justify an all celibate clergy?
  • Does the Antiochian tradition entertain Marian devotions outside the Liturgy and canonical hours?
  • Does not the Antiochian tradition require all her priests to wear black habits (under their vestments) during the times of performing sacraments and liturgies?

These questions can go on. If the Romo-Malankarese does consider the above practices unimportant, why are they so particular that a major archbishop should be a Catholicos? There are two obvious answers; unjustifiable craving for power, and inordinate desire to confuse the faithful of the Church of Malankara. Please do not create new practices when it has no foundation in history or canons.

A week ago, one of my relatives in India e-mailed me about the festivities upon the news that the Romo-Malankarese has a “BAVA”. I wondered if they would call their new so-called Catholicos a “BAVA”. Bava comes from the Arabic word, BABA, which is the Arabic version of the Greek word, PAPAS, or PAPA. This is the same as Papa in Latin, which means Pope in the English language. Actually this is the title of the Head of a Church. If the Romo-Syrians have a Catholicos and if he is under the Roman Pope, are there two Bavas or Popes? Think about it seriously.
To conclude: A Major Archbishop is not a Catholicos. If the Romo-Syrians still insist that their Major Archbishop is a Catholicos now, his position is un-canonical and has no foundation in Church history. The so-called Catholicate of the Romo-Malankarese is phoney: It is indeed BOGUS.

June 21, 2009

*An Orthodox believer who has accepted Church Union with Rome and submitted to the pope; in most cases the popes allowed the Uniates to retain their own services.
*an Orthodox Christian or Uniate Christian belonging to the patriarchate of Alexandria or Antioch or Jerusalem
*The Chaldean Catholic Church (French: Église chaldéenne catholique) is an Eastern particular church of the Catholic Church, maintaining full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the rest of the Catholic Church. It is descended from historical Church of the East, and became independent following a split with the Assyrian Church in the 16th century.
*Filioque, Latin for "and (from) the Son", was added in Western Christianity to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, commonly referred to as the Nicene Creed. This insertion emphasizes that Jesus, the Son, is of equal divinity with God, the Father, while the absence of it in Eastern Christianity concentrates on the Father. Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum, et vivificantem: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit. (And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.)
*The epiclesis (also spelled epiklesis; from Ancient Greek "calling down from on high") is that part of the Anaphora by which the priest invokes the Holy Spirit upon the Eucharistic bread and wine.


©Kochukunju Joy 2003 (Updated 2012) All Rights Reserved