Kochi: The Orthodox faction of the Malankara church celebrated mass inside the St. Mary's Church at Piravom on Sunday morning under police protection after the eviction of Jacobites group two days back from the church premises by the government as part of implementing a Supreme Court order.
The mass was led by vicar of the parish Fr. Scariah Vattakkatti.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesting Jacobite followers, led by their priests, who lost one of their prominent spiritual centres in the legal battle, assembled in Piravom town and held their Sunday prayers on the road side. Later, the Jacobites, who owe their allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch, held a protest march.
The church had witnessed tense situation last week after the high court ordered the district administration to take over its control for implementing the Supreme Court order granting its possession to the Orthodox faction.
For the first time after the apex court order, the priests and followers of the Orthodox faction entered the church on Sunday morning after its doors were thrown opened to them by the administration. The celebration of the mass by the Orthodox group inside the Piravom church is the culmination of a process that started with the Supreme Court verdict of July 2017 which ended parallel administration and holding of services in the parishes under the Malankara church. Until now, both the Malankara and the Orthodox factions celebrated mass taking weekly turns as decided by the district administration.
An earlier attempt by the Orthodox faction to enter the church was foiled on Wednesday by Jacobite priests and followers who locked the doors from inside. Police then made a forced entry and removed the protesting priests and others followers before Ernakulam District Collector S Suhas took control of the church.
After the district administration took control of the church, the Kerala High Court had on Friday directed that Orthodox faction priests can conduct holy mass. A division bench of Justices A M Shaffique and N Anil Kumar has also ordered that those who create obstruction can be arrested and put in civil prison until further orders.
The court, however, has directed that the key of the church shall be kept by the Ernakulam district collector.
The Orthodox and Jacobite factions have been locked in a tussle over the possession of the church and matters worsened after the Supreme Court ordered that the control of the place of worship be given to the Orthodox group.
In its 2017 verdict, the apex court had held that 1,100 parishes and their churches under the Malankara Church should be controlled by the Orthodox group as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines. The Jacobite-Orthodox row dates back to 1912 and has led to violent clashes between the two groups in Kerala.