THE MEPRAL ST. JOHNS JACOBITE SYRIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
MEPRAL ‘VALLIYA PALLI’
is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What house will you build
for me? says the Lord or what is my rest? Has not my hand made all
these things?" (Acts 7:47, quoting Isaiah 66:1-2).
Mepral St. Johns Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church is commonly known as Mepral Valiya palli. Valiya palli means a large church, or a great church. But any one who has ever visited great churches of the world like Rome’s St. Peters Basilica, London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, or even some of the well known churches in India, knows that our Mepral church is smaller than even the smallest chapels in any of these churches.
Still Mepral St. Johns Church is the Valiya palli or the Great Church for the members of the Poothicote family as well as to many others of Mepral origin.
family’s history is very much intertwined with the history of this
church. The wooden bars suspended beneath the ceilings of this church,
have witnessed many happy moments in the life of several generations of
our family, like baptisms and weddings of their children. They also
witnessed sad moments when they bid farewell to their dear ones at the
funerals in this church.
all the present members of the Poothicote family, many of their
ancestors lie buried in the cemetery soil around this church, and for
them, there is no doubt, it is the great church, the Vlliya palli, and it stands on hallowed grounds. So it is only proper that we try to take a peek in to the history of this church.
written records and oral history received from our ancestors give us a
very interesting opportunity to have a glimpse in to the life styles,
religion, politics, and social customs of a bygone era.
Kuruvila, (The Judge Great Grandpa), the ancestor of all the present
Poothicote family members, was on his deathbed. On the Malayalam
calendar date of 1021, Dhanu 3rd (AD 1851),
he knew that the end of his earthly life was very imminent. His first
biographer and grandson, Chavidiyil Koshy Kochitty Kuruvila has written
his children and grandchildren were around his bed. He asked what time
it was. When someone told him that it was 4 in the evening, the Great
Grandpa said to himself,
“There is no time to go to Niranam today.”
What he meant was if he died then, it was too late for them to take his body for burial in the Niranam Church on the same day, as the Niranam church was several miles away.
Before Mepral church was built, Niranam Church
was the parish church for all Christians in Mepral and the surrounding
areas. The tradition is that Niranam church is one of the seven
churches established by St. Thomas, the Apostle in 52 AD. After Poothicote family moved to Mepral early in the 18th century, we had 3 priests from our family in the Niranam church in 3 generations.
A contemporary document of that period, Niranam Grandhavali,
records about Poothicote Rev. Fr. Kuruvila Kunju Thommen who was the
right-hand man and chief supporter of Malankara Metropolitan Dyonysius
I ( 1765- !808) in a very troubled period in the history the Jacobite
Syrian Orthodox Church in Kerala. The powerful and rich Thachil Mathu Tharakan who with the support of the king and other powerful government authorities, tried in vain to forcibly bring the Metropolitan and Kerala Jacobite Church under Roman Catholicism.
While the Metropolitan valiantly resisted the move, the government
under pressure from Tharakan, assessed huge unfair penalty against the
Metropolitan and the Jacobite Church. According to Niranam Grandhavali
written during the time, it was Poothicote Fr. Kuruvila Kunju Thommen
who collected Rupees 20,000 and took it to Alleppy to pay the
government treasury and save the Metropolitan and the church from the
wrath of the government. Rs. 20,000 was a huge
sum of money in 1801, equivalent to several millions today. But the
Metropolitan and the Church trusted the Poothicote Kathanar that he
will be able to raise this money and save the church from the unfair
predicament of losing all the church properties in Kerala, and possibly
having its Metropolitan imprisoned.
family had a plot of land and a house near the Niranam church for the
priests from our family to live there. The judge Great Grandpa later
donated this land to the Niranam church.
rainy monsoon seasons, it was very difficult for people from Mepral to
go to Niranam church, especially for baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Judge Great grandpa before his death told his children that it was his wish that one day they will build a church in Mepral.
And that was his last request to his children.
In 1861, 10 years after the Great Grandpa’s death, his 3rd son, Cherian called all his brothers to his Puthen Purackel house and discussed how to realize the last wish of their father. There was a plot of land on banks of Mepral Pallithodu, a canal of Pampa river, belonging to Cherian and his brother, Medayil Kunjachonda. Both of the brothers agreed to donate the land to build a Church.
Papachen (Advocate George P. Cherian) has a copy of the records of this
land deal from Alleppy District court in his possession.
The records show that an Ezhava family called Kondasseril was living in the property at that time. Kizhakeveetil (Elaviralil) Kochujachen, the 4th
son of Judge great grandpa, agreed to relocate this family to one of
his properties. Cherian and Kunjachonda transferred the title of the
land to Kochujachen so that he could proceed with relocating the Ezhava
family and get permission from the government to build a church. As
was required at that time, 2 other people from Mepral, Azhimukhathu
Cherian and Plamootil Chummar cosigned the request to the government
for the permission for the church. .
To this day, the title for this property known as Kuppeadath purayidam where
the present church stands belongs to the descendants of the Elaviralil
branch of the Poothicote family. The government records show that the
property is on plot 192/93/438, according to the land survey of 1837.
the time this application for constructing the church was proceeding,
Kaniyanthra, the other prominent Christian family in Mepral, was also
trying to get approval for a church near the northern side of Mepral,
closer to their houses. Approval was granted, but somehow the church
was not built there, and the Kaniyanthra family later joined the St. Johns church. Kaniyanthra Kunjuthommi Kunjummen became a very active member of the church.
A temporary shed was built in the property and in 1861, (according to the Malayalam Era calendar, in 1036, on Vrichikam 18) and evening
prayer service was first conducted in the temporary shed by the then
Malankara Metropolitan, Palakunneth Mathews Mar Athanasius. The
next day the Eucharist service was also celebrated here by the
Metropolitan. On this visit to Mepral, Mar Athanasius stayed with the
Puthenveetil Chackochen valliappan, the second son of Judge Great
was the custom in those days that when a new church was started, the
Holy Eucharist was celebrated every day for the next 41 days. Kottayam
Edavazhikel Achen, Niranam Pallimukkil Achen, and Vennikulath
Kakkuzhiyil Achen celebrated the Holy Qurbana during this period.
This was a period of great turmoil and controversy in the Kerala church. The
young Palakunneth Mathews Mar Athanasius was consecrated as a bishop by
the Patriarch of Antioch, His Holiness Ignatius Elias II in 1842 in Syria,
and gave him the title and powers of the Malankara Metropolitan. The
Metropolitan who was only 23 years old then, returned to Kerala in 1843. In
a short time, many started worrying that he was leaning more towards
the protestant reformation movement in the church sphere-headed by his
uncle Palakunneth Rev. Abraham Malpan. There was
also anxiety that the Metropolitan was shifting away from the Syrian
Orthodox practices and traditions. Many resented this, and sent several
complaints to the Patriarch. The Patriarch sent
a delegate, a Syrian Bishop Euayakim Mar Coorilose, to Kerala in 1846
with the written permission to assume the administration of church if
he felt that Palakunneth Mar Athanasius was moving away from the
enquiries, the Patriarch asked Euayakim Mar Coorilose to assume the
powers of the Malankara Metropolitan. Cheppad Mar Dyonysius, the former
Malankara metropolitan before Athanasius, who was old and frail now,
also requested the Patriarch for this transfer of power.
Grandpa was originally with Mar Athanasius and he had great hopes in
this well educated young bishop. In fact when Mar Athanasius returned
as a Metropolitan, it was Judge Great Grandpa who took him to
Thiruvananthapuram and introduced him to the then king, Maha Raja
Judge Grandpa did not like the rough and tactless approach of the new
bishop on many issues. For example, Grandpa was embarrassed when the
young metropolitan refused to take his boots off on his first appointed
audience with the king, as was the custom in those days. In
spite of Judge Grandpa’s advice that he should respect the customs and
traditions of the land, the English educated young Mar Athanasius
thought it was below his dignity as a bishop to take boots off before
the king. After this, there were only very few contacts between Judge Grandpa and Mar Athanasius. Grandpa was in Cochin to receive Euyakim Mar Coorilose when he arrived to investigate the actions of Mar Athanasius.
Mar Coorilsose on several occasions was the guest of Judge Great
Grandpa, staying in the guest house adjacent to his Moonnamadam house
in Mepral. One of his granddaughters (daughter of his 2nd daughter Aleyamma, who was married in Chalakuzhiyil family) got married to the bother of Euyakim Mar Coorilose. The present Bishop of the Marthoma diocese in America, Euyakim Mar Coorilose is a great-great-great grandson of the Judge Great Grandpa.
Athanasius refused to surrender his title and powers as the Malankara
Metropolitan to Euyakim Mar Coorilose as ordered by the Patriarch. This
resulted in a dispute that went before the government and a government
committee decided in favor of Palakunneth Mar Athanasius. But the
committee gave permission for any new churches built after this
decision to choose the side they wanted. This decision came only a few weeks after Mepral Church
was started in a temporary shed. It is said that people changed the
roof of the church overnight and claimed that theirs was a new church. Three months after Palakunneth Athanasius conducted the first service, people brought Euayakim Mar Coorilose on AD1861, ( ME.1036, Makaram 6th) and the foundation stone for the church was laid. The next day Mar Coorilose celebrated the Holy Eucharist in the temporary church. The church was dedicated on that day in the name of St. John, the Baptist.
Fr. Kuriakose and Ayiroor Chemprontha Fr. Scaria conducted the regular
services as there were no priests in Mepral at that time.
Corepiscopa, Very Reverend Poothicote Cherian Thomas (1846-1912), the
son of Poothicote Puthen Purackel Cherian valliappan, was ordained as a
deacon by the Patriarchal delegate Euayakim Coorilose in 1862 (ME 1037
Dhanu 22). Fr. Cherian Thomas is commonly referred as the great
Poothicote Achen by his contemporaries.
the meantime Kaniyanthra Padijareveetil Fr. Joseph Ninan often helped
with the services in the Mepral church, though at that time he was one
of the vicars of the Niranam and the Thalavadi churches. Fr. Ninan was married to Annamma, the youngest daughter of Judge, Great Grandpa. For this wedding a Dowry of 300 rasis were given to Ninan who was a deacon at that time. That was the largest amount of dowry given to bridegroom those days.
Rasi is a small gold coin. 10 silver coins make one rasi. The rasi was so small that it could be hidden in the mouth if approached by robbers or bandits.
was only natural that Cherian Valliappan and his brothers sought the
help of their brother-in-law, Fr. Ninan for the services in the Mepral
church. Further, this Kaniyanthra Ninan Achen was a staunch supporter
of the Patriarchal delegate, Euayakim Mar Coorilose and valiantly stood
for the Jacobite Orthodox faith. He strongly objected to the
reformation ideas of the Malankara Metropolitan, Palakunneth Mar
the meantime, deacon Poothicote Cherian Thomas completed his education
in Kottayam Old Seminary and in due course got ordained as a priest. As
the first vicar of the St. Johns Church,
Poothicote Achen was a great success. As an eloquent speaker and
organizer, Achen led the church very successfully, and became an
eminent leader of the Christian community in Central Kerala. He was very dedicated to the Jacobite Orthodox faith and traditions like his father Cherian valliappan, and his uncles.
During the Mulamthuruthy Synod of all representatives of Orthodox Jacobite churches in Kerala, called by Patriarch Ignatius Peter III
in 1876, Mathew Chathanthra, the elder brother of Poothicote Achen
represented the Mepral church in the synod meetings, and his signature
appears on the records. According to the same records, Kaniyanthra
Padijareveetil Rev. Fr. Ninan represented the Niranam and the Thalavadi
churches in the synod.
relations between Poothicote Achen and Kaniyanthra Fr. Ninan were very
cordial. After all, Fr. Ninan was married to Poothicote Achen’s
father’s sister. Further, Poothicote Achen’s wife Kunju Mariamma was
the daughter of Fr. Ninan’s younger brother Varkey of Kaniyanthra
The present church building with bricks and roof tiles was built in 1883 when Poothicote Achen was the vicar.
the church was built, cement was not available in Mepral There is a
story about what they used instead of cement to seal the bricks. They
were using powdered lime stones and a special slime, the sticky liquid
that comes out of the skin of a common fish in Mepral called varal. It is beyond imagination to think how many varal fishes they caught so that all the bricks in the church could be sealed...
Poothicote Achen had very cordial relations with the saintly diocesan Metropolitan Parumala Mar Gregoriose (1848-1902). Before Mar Gregoriose left for his journey to the Holy Land in 1895, he was invited to Mepral church and a contribution was made towards the expenses for his journey.
Parumala St. Gregoriose died in 1902 at the age of 54. After that
Ramban Vattasseril Ghevarughese became the right-hand man of the then
Malankara Metropolitan Joseph Pulikkotil II.
Kaniyanthra Padijareveetil Fr. Ninan passed away in 1892 and he was buried in the Mepral church cemetery. His position in the Mepral church was taken over by Kaniyanthra Vathapallil Fr. Ninan. He
was also a priest in the Niranam church. He was an unmarried monk and
he later moved his residence to Mepral and was conducting services in
the Mepral church on alternate Sundays
Ramban became very close to this Kaniyanthra Achen. He made some
unannounced visits to Mepral church which Poothicote Achen did not
approve of. Ramban’s position is not any higher than a parish priest in
the church hierarchy except that Ramban takes an oath of celibacy.
Rambans have no powers over a parish priest.
time Vattasseril Ramban came to the church on a Sunday unannounced and
demanded to conduct the Eucharist service and Poothicote Achen refused
permission. Vattasseril Ramban angrily returned to Kottayam and made
some allegation against Poothicote Achen to the Malankara Metropolitan,
Pulikkotil Joseph Mar Dyonysius II. This resulted in the suspension of Poothicote Achen in 1904 by Pulikkotil Mar Dyonysius.
We have to view the situation of Poothicote family on church matters at that time with circumspection. Unlike
Kaniyanthra family where all its members stayed with the Jacobite
Orthodox faith, in the Poothicote family, the reformation movement of
Palakunneth Athanacius had some effects.
least 3 sons of Judge Great Grandpa, Puthenveetil Chackochen, Medayil
Kunjachonda, and Chavidiyil Kochu Koshy favored some reformation in the
Jacobite church. Closeness of several of our Valliappans
to Palakunneth Mar Athanacius and the British missionaries made them
longing for some progressive changes in the church. It should be noted
that this was before the protestant Marthoma church and St. Thomas
Evangelistic Association was officially formed in 1889 in Kerala.
Palakunneth Mathews Mar Athanasius died in 1877. Though
Mar Athanasius had some inclination towards the reformation movement of
his uncle Fr. Abraham Malpan, he lived and died in the Jacobite
Orthodox Church. Most of the time he followed the orthodox Syrian
liturgy, and at the ordination of priests, he instructed them to be
faithful to the church and to be obedient to its spiritual head, the
Patriarch of Antioch. There is no evidence that he was ever officially
excommunicated from the Church by the Patriarch.
Though reform minded, Mar Athanasius was very zealous in keeping the traditions of his ancient church. An
anecdotal story in our family, which I have heard in my younger years
about him from the older people, sheds some light on this. The story
goes like this.
It is an important tradition in the Jacobite Church that though a deacon of our church can marry, once after a deacon becomes a priest, he can not marry. Priests also can not remarry even if they become widowers. A priest’s widow is also forbidden to remarry. Palakunneth Mar Athanacius insisted that everybody in his church obeyed these ancient traditions of the Syrian Church.
Medayil Kunjachonda was a very religious and devoted person, and he was
also one of the first English educated persons in Kerala. He was very
close to the English missionaries and somehow he married a widow who
was formerly married to a priest. After this marriage, one day he
visited Palakunneth Mar Athanasius in the Niranam Church.
The Metropolitan was very angry and temporarily lost his temper, and
hit Kunjachonda with his hand, shouting that a priest’s wife should be
like a mother for the church members, and no one should remarry her
even if she becomes a young widow. Kunjachonda as usual was very clam
and quite in spite of the provocation from the Metropolitan. But his
brother Kizhakeveetil Kochujachen was watching this from a distance and
he really got angry and approached the metropolitan. Metropolitan who
realized the danger of the situation held on to both hands of
Kochujachen and whispered in his ears, “Please, do not humiliate me
before the public. Let us go inside and talk.” Both of them calmed down soon, and each apologized to the other for the angry behavior.
Poothicote Achen was strongly on the Jacobite Orthodox faith, he was
very considerate about the views of his uncles and cousins about the
reformation. Also Poothicote Achen conducted services at least in part
in Malayalam, when most other priests were conducting services in the
Syriac language only. This lead to the allegations that he was using
the reformed liturgy of Palakunneth Abraham Malpan, and that he was a
secret follower of Mar Athanasius. It should be noted that apart from
some progressive views of reformation, Palakunneth Athanacius was
highly respected by all in Central Kerala for his social and political leadership of the Christian community as a whole.
The Mepral Marthoma Emmanuel Church was built only in the beginning of the 20th century and till then St. Johns church was the parish church for all members of the Poothicote family. The Poothicote Achen was the vicar for all of them till the Marthoma Church was formed in Mepral.
Metropolitan Joseph Pulikotil
Mar Dyinysius was from the northern part of Kerala, who could not
appreciate the social and family ramifications of the church dispute in
Central Kerala. So it was under the persuasion of Vattasseril Ghevarughese Ramban, who had an axe to grind against Poothicote Achen, that Achen was suspended by Pulikotil Mar Dyunysius in 1904.
Achen refused to accept the suspension. This resulted in a division in
Mepral church. One group was supporting Poothicote Achen and the other
group was supporting Kaniyanthra Achen. Kaniyanthra Achen had the
blessings of Ramban Vattasseril Ghevarughese. The dispute resulted in
several clashes and the Mepral church was soon closed by the order of
on orders of Patriarch Ignatius Abdullah II, a compromise agreement was
reached between Poothicote and Kaniyanthra sides after much negotiation.
According to this agreement dated on (Kanni 29),
1910, and recorded in the Alleppy district court as a compromise in
case no. 1076/268, both sides agreed to be under the spiritual
supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch and to obey the bishop appointed
1909 Pulikotil Joseph Mar Dianasius died and Vattasseril Ghevarughese
Ramban was consecrated as Malankara Metropolitan with the title
Ghevarughese Mar Dianasius by the Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius
After getting ordained as Malankara Metropolitan, Vattasseril Mar Dianasius started to rebel against the Patriarch himself.
his visit to Kerala in 1909, the Patriarch asked Poothicote Achen,
Kaniyanthra Achen, and Vattasseril Mar Dianasius to appear before him
in the Puthupalli church. All of them obeyed the order and appeared
before the Patriarch. After a full investigation, the Patriarch
excommunicated the Kaniyanthra Achen for disobedience and violations of
the cannon laws of the Church. Poothicote Achen was elevated by the
Patriarch as a Coepiscopa for steadfastly following the Orthodox faith
of the church, and he was asked to continue as the vicar of Mepral
church. The prominent Rev. Konatt Malpan, the
priest trustee of the Jacobite Association in Kerala also applauded the
strong stand taken by Poothicote Achen.
Vattasseril Mar Ghevarughese was also excommunicated by the Patriarch
from being the Malankara Metropolitan for rebelling against the
traditional practices and the authority of the Patriarch as the
spiritual head of the Church. Later in 1912,
Vattasseril Mar Dianasius caused a permanent schism in the church by
establishing a Catholicate in Kerala independently of the parent church
People who continued in allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch were known as Bava Party and those followed Bishop Vattasseril Mar Dianasius were called Metran Party. (After 1972 separation, they are known as Jacobite Syrian orthodox Church and Indian orthodox Church respectively.)
In Mepral, Poothicote family stood with the Bava party and the Kaniyanthra family by Metran party.
these things were happening, Mepral church was closed by the order of
the court. But the Patriarch gave permission to Poothicote Achen to
conduct the Eucharist and other sacramental services at his home for
Poothicote Cherian Thomas Achen died in May, 1912 (ME Makaram 7). Though
church was closed at that time, it was opened for his burial services,
which were conducted by Chathanthra Achen and Aviyot Achen.
Poothicote Chathanthra Rev. Fr. P. M. Abraham followed as the vicar on the Patriarchal side. He was ordained as a priest by Patriarch Ignatius Abdullah II in 1912 in Alway seminary church.
In 1917, Kaniyanthra Vathapallil Ninan Achen also died and the Kaniyanthra Alexander Corepiscopa became the vicar on the metran party.
Fr. Abraham and Fr. Alexander were priests with great vision and
Christian love. In spite of the controversies and cases between the Bava party and Metran party
going on in other churches in Kerala, these two priests cooperated and
conducted services on alternate Sundays in Mepral Church very
Chathanthra Achen (Fr. Abraham) was an educated and cultured soul. He was born in 1885. He
took the ministry as a God’s calling and followed the dictates of his
conscience. His sermons were very short, but very powerful. He
encouraged children to study well and improve their chances in life.
When ever I met him when I was a young boy, he enquired about my
grades, and urged me to be the best in the class.
also had a very realistic view about the conflict in the church. I
remember talking to him one day about the church controversies. At that
time I was a junior physician, and was in a medical team that treated
Mar Augen Catholicose during a major illness. I came to Mepral on holidays and visited the Chathanthra Achen appachen as I called him. He told me he was in the group that visited the Holy land
with Augen Ramban, Vattasseril Ramban, Poulose Coorilose, Kallaseril
Punnose Remban and Fr. Kuriakose Kodiyattu in 1908. It was during this
visit that Vattasseril Ramban was consecrated as Metropolitan
Ghevarughese Mar Dianasius by the Patriarch Ignatius Abdullah II. He
considered the dispute in the church as personal quarrels and ego trips
by a few. He always prayed and hoped that the dispute in the Kerala
church will one day be amicably solved.
was Fr. P.M. Abraham who built an annex building in the church compound
in memory of his predecessor, Very Rev. Poothicote Cor- Episcopa
Cherian Thomas in 1929.
of Mepral will ever be indebted to Kaniyanthra Corepiscopa, the Very
Rev. Alexander for starting the first English school, the St. Johns English Middle School,
in Mepral. He was instrumental for many good things in our community
including starting the first post office in Mepral. He was in the
forefront of many of the social and educational programs in our
village. I still remember him visiting our house when I was very young
and how gentle and loving he always was. Factions with in the church
never affected his dealings with people. One of his daughters,
Kunjaliamma was married to Baby of Poothicote Pathinettil family. Fr. Alexander died on Nov.25, 1955.
love and respect of these two priests to each other, though they
belonged to the opposite side in the church controversy, is best
illustrated in the following.
The chief celebrant at the wedding ceremony of Fr. Abraham’s eldest son, Baby was Kaniyanthra Alexander Achen. Poothicote Abraham Achen was always there whenever and wherever Kaniyanthra Achen needed him in all his public activities.
is another story that illustrates Poothicote Abraham Achen’s generosity
and large heartedness. The story was told to me by Rev. Fr. K.
Philipose (Late Philipose Mar Theophilose of the Indian Orthodox
church). His mother was from Poothicote Payikandathil family.
was a time when tension was very high between the two factions in the
church dispute. Fr. K. Philipose came to attend a wedding of his cousin
from the Poothicote Payikandathil family in the Mepral church. The
priest who was the chief celebrant of the wedding ceremony on that day
was a well known leader on the Patriarchal side from a neighboring
church. When he saw Fr. Philipose in the church, he told him that he could not participate in the wedding service, as he was from the metran side. With great disappointment and sorrow, Fr. Philipose went outside the church and waited in front of the parsonage. At
that time Poothicote Fr. Abraham was coming to the church and enquired
why Philipose Achen was standing outside. When he heard the reason, he
went inside the church and told the guest priest that if Fr .K.
Philipose is not allowed to join the service, he was also not going to
participate in the ceremony. The guest priest was forced to go outside and apologize to Fr. Philipose and bring him in to join the service.
There was peace in the Kerala church following the Patriarchal visit to India in 1964 by His Holiness, Ignatius Yacob III. It
was during this visit Augen Mar Themothiose was installed as
Catholicose by the Patriarch of Antioch, and both factions accepted Mar
Augen as their Catholicose. Poothicote Fr. Abraham died in 1965 when this peace was prevailing in the church, as he always prayed and hoped for.
Following the death of Fr. Abraham, Poothicote Payikandathil Fr. George Kurian became the vicar of the church. Fr.
George Kurian was a devout and saintly person, but his allegiance to
the Patriarch of Antioch was unalterable. He was ordained priest by
Poulose Mar Philexinose (Later Catholicose Mar Basaliose Poulose II). As
there was a temporary peace in the Malankara church, he became the
parish priest for both the sides from 1964 to 1974. As the vicar of the
church, he was highly respected and loved by all. He was there always
for the poor and the sick irrespective of religious or factional
differences, and he worked hard for the general improvement of the
By 1972, there were again disputes in the Kerala church. A group from the previous metran party
wanted to severe all connections with the Patriarch of Antioch, and
make the Kerala church an independent autocephalous church. This was
against the sane advice of many elder leaders even on the Indian
Orthodox side, like K.M. Cherian, the chief editor of Malayala
Manorama, and bishop Philipose Mar Theophilose. K.M. Cherian has told
me on several occasions how pained and saddened he was, as the peace he
longed for and worked for a lifetime slipped away during the evening
years of his life. The vocal extremist groups finally won, and the church was divided in to two factions again.
was at this time that Poothicote Payikandathil Fr. George Kurian
(1935-1995) was consecrated as Metropolitan Kuriakose Mar Coorilose by
the Patriarch of Antioch in Damascus in 1974.
Indian Orthodox faction refused to accept him as their bishop. This
again resulted in controversies and litigation in the Mepral church,
and it still continues.
of worship services in the church continues by an agreement by both
parties. Both conduct Eucharist services in the Church on different
times on each Sunday.
course of time Poothicote Kuriakose Mar Coorilose became a highly
respected and revered bishop in Kerala by Christians and non-
Christians alike. Unfortunately Bishop Mar Coorilose passed away on March 21, 1995, when he was only 60 years, and his mortal remains were interred in the Adoor Jacobite church.
the division in 1972, the Indian Orthodox faction in the Mepral church
was lead by Kaniyanthra Arumapettiyil Fr. Job Thomas. Later he was
consecrated as Job Mar Philexinose, and presently he is the bishop of
the Indian Orthodox Church in New Delhi.
for the factional controversy on church matters, the Poothicote and
Kaniyanthra families were together in most other things. There were so
many intermarriages between these two families during the past 7
generations. If one looks at the lineage of the
members of the Poothicote family, many of them are likely to have a
mother, grandmother, great-great-grandmother, or great-
great-great-great grandmother from the Kaniyanthra family. Same is true
of a large number of Kaniyanthra family members who will have a
matrilineal link to the Poothicote family. Even when there were
controversies, these two families cared, shared, and helped each other
as they lived together in the same village for almost 300 years.
times in the past, the factional fighting at our local level was
nothing more than a fun game of rivalry between two well to do feudal
families whose men had a lot of leisure time at their disposal.
My grandfather Kunju Varkey, as he was nearing 90 years, told me a story that will illustrate this point.
grandfather was the youngest son of Poothicote Very Rev. Cherian
Thomas, but his mother was from Kaniyanthra family. One day in 1906,
there was a heated argument between the Poothicote and Kaniyathra
family members in the church, and my grandfather’s older brother Kunju
Thekapurackel was also involved in the heated exchanges. Someone
rushed to my grandfather who was at home at that time, and told him
that his brother was involved in an altercation with Kaniyanthra family
members. My grandfather very gently told the one who brought the news,
“They may be having a little fun there after working all week. Even if
there is an altercation, my brother is with his maternal uncles form
Kaniyanthra family. They will protect him, but
they also have the right to discipline him if they choose to do so. But
if anyone does any thing wrong to you, please let me know, and I will
make amends for that.” Nothing untoward happened that time.
most members of the Kaniyanthra family also have left Mepral village as
Poothicote family did, looking for better pastures. But there is a lingering sense of love and bondage between the members of these two ancient families where ever they live.
The history of communities, institutions, and even churches, are often determined by events beyond the control of men. I
have often wondered, what if the Saintly Parumala Mar Gregoriose did
not die in 1902, but outlived Pulikkotil Mar Dyonysius II, and became
the Malankara Metropolitan. The disputes in the
Mepral church or that even in the Kerala Syrian Orthodox Church would
never have happened in such a scenario.
Bava party versus metran party
cases have lasted almost a century, litigated by the best legal brains
in India, and it has involved four generations, and it is still
continuing, matching very few other litigations in the history of jurisprudence.
who can second-guess the imponderable wisdom of the Eternal One, who
guide and direct the destinies of ordinary imperfect men?
Then, if the church had only perfect members, none of us could ever be its members.
In spite of all the imperfections of the past and present, Mepral St. Johns Church is dear and near to the hearts of many from Mepral, and especially to the members of the Poothicote family.