The Title of the Claim of Catholicos

His Excellency
Dr. Isaac Mar Cleemis Metropolitan
Major Archbishop
Thiruvananthapuram Major Arch Dioces

July 28, 2009

Our beloved Brother in Christ,

I am immensely delighted to see that Your Grace’s ministry progresses well by the grace and mercy of our Saviour Lord Jesus Christ. I implore the Almighty to strengthen you to impart the best leadership so as to take the Church, the Body of Christ, to new heights overcoming all the challenges of the new century.

The basic reason for this letter is some misleading statements seen in the official website of the Syro Malankara Catholic Church, under your Grace’s spiritual leadership (, which are not in consonance with the lofty Christian witness and unity of the Church, and which overtly misuse the titles of other ecclesiastical heads.

I strongly believe that those statements included in the website are not with Your Grace’s knowledge and permission. If they are published in the website with Your Grace’s permission, let me write some important points for a rethinking and favourable action from your side.

1. In the website, beside Your Grace’s picture, the first title ascribed to you is “Successor of the Apostolic See of St. Thomas”. Any Indian Christian can, with a sense of pride, claim that St. Thomas is the founder of the Indian Church. But the “Successor of the Apostolic See of St. Thomas” cannot be unilaterally claimed and used by all. The title “the Apostolic See of St. Thomas” gives more emphasis on the apostolic character of the See than on the St. Thomas character. This Apostolicity is granted to various Churches in various places through various persons by the Grace of God. How can the Syro Malankara Catholic Church under the Holy Father the Pope, the Successor of the Holy See of St. Peter, who emphatically holds that this Apostolicity was given only to the Roman Church through St. Peter, claim its succession to St. Thomas? If somebody under the Catholic Church claims St. Thomas succession, it is against the fundamental dogma of the Roman Church. Right from the advent of St. Thomas in Kerala we have an unbroken priestly succession of St. Thomas through the renowned ‘Marthoma Metrans’, the Malankara Metropolitans and the Catholicos of the East. His Holiness the Catholicos Baselios Marthoma Didymos I, who bears the very name ‘Marthoma’ (St. Thomas) now leads the Indian Church as its great shepherd. The title Successor of the Apostolic See of St. Thomas in India is the prerogative of His Holiness only. It sounds illogical that the Catholic Church has several Apostolic Sees at a time.

2. The second title given to the Major Archbishop in the website cannot be justified by any person with a sense of history. Had Your Grace studied the history of the Church prior to 1930 when the Malankara Rite got separated from the Church, Your Grace being only a steward of a regional rite of the Roman Catholic Church, would not have ventured to add this title to your name. The historical progression of ‘Jathikku Karthavyan’, Arch Deacon, Marthoma Methran, Malankara Metropolitan and Catholicos is an explicit example of the evolution of governance in the Church over the centuries. The importance each of these titles as understood by the faithful, and which carry even now, these nuances very well explains the intrinsic significance, universality and independence based on a spirit of nationalism and the autocephalous nature of the Church. The powers vested in the Malankara Metropolitan and the Malankara Syrian Christian Association of which the Malankara Metropolitan is the President, are far beyond the rights ascribed to the regional Heads of any Rite of the Catholic Church or any other leader of breakaway faction of the Church. Further, it has been unquestionably established by the Malankara Syrian Christian Association held on 20.03.2002 at Parumala, to which Justice V. S. Malimat was the observer appointed by the Supreme Court of India, that His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Mathews II, the Catholicos and Malankara Metropolitan and his Successors will be ‘the Malankara Metropolitans’. This decision has been duly approved by the Supreme Court. May I humbly remind Your Grace that by the same reason the illegitimate use of the title ‘Malankara Metropolitan’ by any other ecclesiastical authority is a challenge to the judiciary of our nation.

3. Another title attributed to Your Grace in the website is ‘Catholicos’. We do not understand who bestowed this title to Your Grace. The description given in the Website on the powers and authority of the Catholicos is also misleading and an explicit display of the gross distortion and twisting of historical facts for selfish ends. For example, we read a statement that ‘the authority of Catholicos is below to that of the Patriarch’. May I advise Your Grace to correct this historical inaccuracy? The bishops of the important cities like Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch, and Jerusalem were called Patriarchs while the bishops of the important cities outside Roman Empire like Persia, Armenia, Georgia were called “Catholicos”. All these Churches were both universal and regional at the same time. History does not suggest that one was subservient to other in administrative matters or in any other respects. The Catholicos of the East is not the Maphriana of Tigris under the Patriarch of Antioch. The Catholicate, which was established in 1912 in Malankara, was the Catholicate of the East existent in Selucia–Ctesephonia. There is a faction in Malankara which claims the succession of the Maphrianate of the Tigris. To claim even that title, the incumbent should be subordinate to the Patriarch of Antioch. The Catholicos of the East, the Supreme Head of the Indian Church of St. Thomas, is the Supreme authority in all respects. There is no power centre above the Catholicos of the East except the Almighty God.

Your Grace who is subject and subordinate to His Holiness the Pope, the successor of the See of St. Peter, has no right to claim or use the title ‘Catholicos of the East’ or ‘Maphrian’ under the Patriarch of Antioch (This action from Your Grace may invite disciplinary action against you from Rome). May I also remind Your Grace that your name is included in the Synod Register in Rome only as His Excellency Dr. Isaac Thottunkal. As it is an unequivocally proven fact both historically and ecclesiologically that the positions Pope, Patriarch and Catholicos are equal in the common history of the Church, we hope that Your Grace will initiate steps to remove the incorrect statements from the website.

When Your Grace’s predecessor His Grace Cyril Mar Baselios was elevated as Major Archbishop, he proclaimed that he had been given the Catholicos title also and started using it. It is really shameful that this self proclaimed status of Catholicos has continued to be used by Your Grace and misguiding the whole community of Kerala. In the letter (Port. N. 2581/2005/h) sent on 18th June 2005 by His Excellency Cardinal Walter Kasper, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity to the late Metropolitan Philipose Mar Eusebius, the President of the Secretariat for Inter-Church Relations of Malankara Orthodox Church, it was categorically stated that the Head of the Syro–Malankara Rite H. G. Cyril Mar Baselios was not given the title ‘Catholicos’ as there is no mention of the title ‘Catholicos’ in the Vatican Documents and in the Code of Canon Law of Eastern Churches. The relevant portion of the letter is reproduced here for Your Grace’s reference:

“I can only confirm that the title of Catholicos has not been given by the Holy See to His Grace Cyril Mar Baselios that the title of << Major Archbishop >> is the only one mentioned in the Decree of Elevation issued by the Holy See, and in all Vatican Messages or Publications regarding this nomination” that the title of Catholicos does not appear in the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches. I have also been informed that H. B. Cardinal Moussa I. Daoud did not use the title Catholicos during his stay in Kerala, on the occasion of the celebration for the elevation of His Grace Cyril Mar Baselios.”
The fact that the word ‘Catholicos’ is not seen in the Papal Decree, which is the official document elevating the Shepherd of the Thiruvananthapuram Arch Diocese as Major Archbishop, and the fact that there is no mention of ‘Catholicos’ in any of the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church or in the Order of Presidency existent since 1815 is crystal clear for anybody who examines these documents. Besides this, it is clearly mentioned in the Minutes of the Synod of Diamper that since the meaning of the title Catholicos is “the Head of the Universal Christian Community” as per the Canon of the Catholic Church; this adjective is the prerogative of the Pope alone. I believe that Your Grace is also convinced about the fact that the Heads of the Chaldean and Armenian Rites are given the title ‘Patriarch’ only, as the Pope and the Catholicos are equal in ecclesiastical authority,

Your Grace cannot deny the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has not and will not recognize an equal authority under the supreme authority of the Pope. Yet another fact about the authority of the Catholicos mentioned in the website is ‘His decisions are final’. For a genuine and real Catholicos, this statement is correct. But in the Roman Catholic Church, as per its hierarchical structure, the decisions of the Pope alone are final.
By your self appointment as Catholicos, if you mean to establish that you are equal to the Pope of Rome, invariably you are committing an unpardonable sin against the Holy Father which you up now, as was done by your predecessors, to the Mother Church. On the contrary, if Your Grace’s decisions are not final in the Church, it is to be admitted that Your Grace’s title of Catholicos is only a farce.

Finally, it is seen that the adjective ‘Moran Mar’ is prefixed to your name. In the Syrian tradition ‘Moran Mar’ is used in the sense of ‘His Holiness’. This adjective can be used only by a spiritual head who has absolute authority. In the Roman Catholic Church, only the Pope is entitled to use it. Even the Patriarch of the Antiochian Rite does not use the prefix ‘Moran Mar’. Since the adjective ‘Holy Father’ is the prerogative of His Holiness the Pope alone, the use of the Syriac equivalent adjective ‘Moran Mar’ by a subordinate bishop who has no power of self governance, is against the ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic Church. The most suitable and maximum adjective that Your Grace can use is ‘Aboon Mar’.
Therefore, with the commitment to the unity of the Church in Jesus Christ’s love, I request you to publish these facts in the website with the necessary corrections. With sincere hope that you will take necessary steps, let me conclude the letter with prayer.

Your brother in Christ,

H. G. Dr. Gabriel Mar Gregorios Metropolitan
President, Department of Ecumenical Relations of the Indian Orthodox Church

Copy to:
1. H. H. Pope Benedict XVI
2. H. E. Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil
3. H. E. Archbishop Mar Joseph Powathil
4. H. E. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri
5. Apostolic Nuncio, New Delhi
6. H.E. Daniel Acharuparambil
7. H. E. Archbishop Soosa Pakiam M
8. H. E. Cardinal Walter Kasper
9. All Members of the Holy Episcopal Synod of the Malankara Orthodox Church

*The Syriac word Maphryānā, rendered as mafriano, also Anglicized as Maphrian, literally signifying 'one who bears fruit', i.e. 'a consecrator', is used to designate the prelate who, in the Syriac Orthodox Church, holds the second rank after the patriarch among the Syriac Orthodox Christians (Miaphysitism), somewhat comparable to an Exarch.
*It is the name of an ancient urban complex along the Tigris in present-day Iraq that was the site of the cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, and was also referred to as Seleucia-Ctesiphon.


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