City’s Syrian Christians disappointed as trouble-torn Syria off pilgrim map

Swathi V.
A priest at the Mar Gregorios Jacobite Syrian Cathedral at Mettuguda in Secunderabad. — Photo: G. Ramakrishna
THE HINDU A priest at the Mar Gregorios Jacobite Syrian Cathedral at Mettuguda in Secunderabad. — Photo: G. Ramakrishna
Conflict thousands of miles away has turned killjoy for a section of the city’s Christians, depriving them of an opportunity to go on their annual pilgrimage to Syria.

Jacobite Syrian Christians, who owe allegiance to the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, are a disturbed lot these days, what with the West Asian country caught in strife.

“Previously, annual pilgrimage packages covering Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Syria would be offered by a few travel agents at concessional rates. For two years now, conflict-ridden Syria has been removed from the offer,” said Tara Eapen, a member of the community.

Jacobite Syrian Christians from Kerala settled in the city about 60 years ago, and have a small number. A member of the community, Raju Eapen puts the number of families here at less than 250, distributed across three churches.

With two of their archbishops from Syria having been kidnapped and held captive by rebels since April this year, the community has reason to fear persecution. Even the patriarch has been forced to flee to Lebanon under pressure from the Syrian government, says Mr. Eapen.

Members of the sect – like other Syrian Christians – owe their spiritual mores, first to St. Thomas, Christ’s disciple, who is said to have landed in Kerala in 52 A.D., and then to the Christian missionaries from Syria who followed in 345 A.D.

Ms. Eapen claims none of the other sects follow the Antioch traditions as religiously as the Jacobite sect does. While all have their local bishops, the Jacobites consider only the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka II as their spiritual head, represented locally by the Metropolitan of Mylapore Diocese Mor Osthatheos Ishaq.

“The ecumenical services are conducted in exactly the same way they are conducted in Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, and in Syriac language too, translated into Malayalam for us to understand,” Ms.Eapen says.

Interestingly, the service of the church is referred as ‘Holy Qurbana’ which strikes a familiar note with Islam. Idol worship is banned, though pictures of Jesus, St.Mary and other saints are displayed in churches and households.

Presently, the city has three Jacobite Syrian churches — the Mor Gregorios Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Cathedral at Mettuguda, St. George Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church in Nagaram, ECIL and St. Mary Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, under construction at Miyapur.

Keywords: Syrian Christians, Jacobite, Orthodox Christians, Catholic, denomination, Antioch, St Thomas, Kerala, apostle, Mylapore Diocese