PIRAVOM: Amid hours’ long tension and drama, the Ernakulam district administration on Thursday took control of the centuries-old St Mary’s Syrian Cathedral, some 35 km from Kochi, after the police arrested and removed senior priests and the faithful of the Jacobite faction, who have been camping inside the church premises for the last two days to prevent the Orthodox faction from entering the disputed church.
“We will enquire with the legal experts and will decide the next step. The district administration has taken over the church,” said Ernakulam Collector S Suhas.
The arrested priests of the Jacobite faction included metropolitans Elias Mar Athanasious, Geevarghese Mar Coorilos and Joseph Mar Gregorious, Metropolitan Trustee of the Jacobite church. The arrest followed talks held by the Ernakulam collector with the senior priests of the faction.
“The district administration and the collector had a discussion with us. They are helpless as they have to comply with the orders of the Kerala High Court. We understand their situation. Hence, we are cooperating with them and we have decided to court arrest with protest,” said Gregarious, before entering the police van along with other senior priests.
Importantly, the district administration did not allow the Orthodox faction to enter the church.
Some 700-strong police force, including from neighbouring districts of Alappuzha and Idukki, had been closely guarding the site to prevent any drastic steps like suicide attempts by the Jacobite faction members since Thursday morning.
Earlier in the day, the dispute between the Orthodox and the Jacobite faction of the Malankara Church reached a flashpoint after the police, on the direction of the Kerala High Court, broke open the gates of the church The High Court had issued a direction on Wednesday to arrest and remove all the Jacobites protesting inside the church.
Over 300 members of the Jacobite faction have been camping inside the disputed church for the last couple of days to prevent the Orthodox faction to conduct prayers at the disputed church.
The Orthodox faction had been trying to enter the Piravom church following the Kerala High Court's direction last week to the police to provide protection to the faction to enter the church. In its 2017 order, the Supreme Court had ruled 1,100 parishes and their churches under the Malankara Church should be controlled by the Orthodox faction, as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines but the order has not been fully enforced due to resistance from the Jacobites.