Reviews of Western Rites of Syriac-Malankara Orthodox Churches
Review of: Ajesh T. Philip & George Alexander, Western Rites of the Syriac-Malankara Orthodox Churches: The Mission Untold (Kerala: OCP Publications, 2018).
Review by Fr. Angelos of Holy Trinity Orthodox Theological Seminary, USA
In terms of obscure aspects of ecclesiastical history, Dr. Ajesh T. Philip and George Alexander have struck gold with this intriguing and revelatory volume. Beginning in 2009, they, along with a number of assistants, have conducted research into the formation of the Western Rite movement in the Syria-Malankara Church of India from the 1890s to the 1920s, focusing primarily on the Independent Catholic Mission of Metropolitan Alvares Mar Julius I, a canonised saint of the Indian church, in his native Goa and in Ceylon. They also explore the colourful ecclesiastical career of Rene Vilatte, the famed episcopus vagans and several bodies descending from his lineage.
Instead of a linear historical narrative, the book is composed of a series of highly-readable short articles and thumbnail sketches illustrating the fruits of nearly a decade of research across India, Sri Lanka, and North America. The articles are divided into five sections: Biographies, the Western Rites of the Syriac-Malankara Orthodox Churches, Missions, Field Research and Findings, and an Epilogue, which consists of a collection of reflections by other contributors. Most of the historical narrative and information is in the first and third sections, which are by far the longest sections in the book.
In the first section, the biographies cover the main forces behind the Western Rite movement in India, which has its roots in the ecclesiastical turmoil of late-19th century Portuguese Goa and the end of the Padroado system of church governance in the Roman Catholic Church in the Portuguese East Indies. The biography of Padre Alvares, the future Mar Julius I, gives fairly substantial historical background to the resistance to the end of Padroado in both Goa and Ceylon and the birth of the Independent Catholic Mission which was eventually received by the Syriac-Malankara Church. There are many details regarding the constant lawsuits filed by Roman Catholics, Alvares’ publishing work, and his impoverished life among the people that shed light on this relatively unknown historical figure. Other major contributors to the ICM movement covered in this section include Fr. Luis Mariano Soares, Dr. P.M. Lisboa Pinto, Stephen de Silva, and Padre Nuronah, another canonised saint of the Indian church. These biographies give a glimpse into the instability of the ICM following Mar Julius’ repose and its efforts to survive without a strong, charismatic leader. The biography of Soares, in particular, highlights this ecclesiastical instability, and even relativism, as Soares was consecrated by, and later attempted to lead, the Chaldean Church in India, despite the dogmatic differences between them and the Malankara Church.
This ecclesiastical relativism leads well into the second major biography of the section: that of Rene Vilatte, a most interesting and, some would say, notorious historical figure. George Alexander stands out as being one of the only writers to this reviewer’s knowledge that has taken a more or less sympathetic position on Vilatte and his biography could be accused of being somewhat revisionist. Alexander does a good job of tracking Vilatte’s movements, which is no easy task considering the variety of churches that he joined, left, and created, but his narrative doesn’t always line up with others that are available, with most of his information coming from Bishop Serge A. Theriault, a Vilatte apologist and head of the independent Christian Catholic Church of Canada. The biography covers his activities in North America, the organisations and churches he established, and his eventual estrangement from the Syrian Church in Antioch. A fascinating vignette is his involvement with the eccentric and infamous Oxford movement character, Fr. Ignatius, which is also discussed in more detail in section three. Alexander ends by claiming that Vilatte ended his life thoroughly Orthodox in doctrine, despite living with Roman Catholic monks at the time of his death and his alleged involvement with Gnostic and occult groups. There are always two sides to every story and, with a person as complex as Vilatte, we may never know the entire truth of the matter.
The book’s second section covers the decline and disintegration of the ICM in the post-Alvares years and its search for a bishop from the Aglipayan Church, having failed to convince the Malankara synod to consecrate one for them. The ICM survives to this day, as part of the Brahamavar diocese of the Malankara Church, but in much-reduced circumstances and using the Syriac liturgical rites. There is a very informative chapter dealing with the ethnic, social, economic, and political leanings of the ICM adherents, focusing on the Goan and Sinhalese elements that formed the core of the movement and their inherited traditions from the colonial past. It paints Alvares as a highly political figure, staunchly pro-British and anti-Portuguese, heavily involved in political journalism on top of his missionary work. To this day, Alvares is considered a great patriot and national hero by his kinsmen. In the chapter dealing with the Roman Catholic criticisms of the ICM, it is interesting to note that the movement itself claims that they are “not Jacobite,” something that should make the dogmatic foundation of their reception into the Malankara Church subject to more in-depth scholarly research.
Section three is a substantial part of the book dealing with the missions founded by Alvares and the ICM, as well as those with their roots in the movement. Beginning with Ceylon, where the movement’s HQ was located, the authors go on to cover, in substantial detail based on field research, the Brahmavar mission, the Honnavar mission, the Tamil communities, the ‘Syriac Synagogue’ in Madras and the work of Bishop K.C. Pillai, and the ICM in England under Fr. Ignatius, among others. There is plenty of interesting and obscure historical information here, but the ‘soft ecclesiology’ of the whole movement is revealed again by Pillai’s status as an episcopus vagans and Fr. Ignatius’ never leaving the Church of England, despite being ordained priest by Vilatte, under the auspices of the ICM. What we see developing as the story moves on is not so much of a history of the Malankara Western Rite mission, but the growth of wandering ‘bishops’ taking their consecration and lineages from something that started off as a fairly legitimate endeavour of the Indian bishops but quickly went off the rails.
The fourth section elaborates on the field research of the two authors and some of the discoveries they made while researching the book. Some of the more outstanding feats of research include the rediscovery of a long-lost community in Dindigul, the St. James Independent Catholic Church in Sempatti, the ICM cathedral in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the tabitho of Holy Epiphany Church in Pallithanam, all of which are described in great detail. The authors were able to organise visits to these locations by their bishops and even re-initiate mission work in the areas, which is a creditable outcome to their hard work.
The fifth and final section consists of contributions from a number of additional writers, notably Fr. Victor Novak of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia’s Western Rite mission, who provides a concise history of Western Rite Orthodox within the Eastern Orthodox Church, namely the Russian and Antiochian Patriarchates, Fr. Thomas Geevarghese’s portrait of the episcopal pioneers of the Syrian and Indian Churches and their missionary work of the period, another analysis of the life of Rene Vilatte by Bishop Serge A. Theriault, Fr. Thomson Robi’s reflection on Alvares Mar Julius I as a patriot and humanitarian, and Fr. B. M. Thomas’ look at the identity of the Brahmavar Christians. These short essays provide a fitting end to a book that is full of insight and information about a very obscure but nonetheless fascinating subject.
The book is heavily illustrated, with a remarkable number of photos, both period and recent, as well as scans of important articles and documents. The appendix includes copies of the correspondence of Alvares Mar Julius I and Rene Vilatte with the Malankara bishops, which is a fine addition to the main body of the book.
With Western Rites of the Syriac-Malankara Orthodox Churches: The Mission Untold, the authors have set a solid foundation for further research into this most intriguing facet of ecclesiastical history that I hope is carried out with academic vigour. The research and work of the authors is evident from the amount of sources uncovered and used, which are all presented in a highly accessible and readable manner. This work serves as a great introduction to what could become a substantial scholarly work. Anyone interested in Western Rites in the eastern Churches, Oriental Christianity, or even just eccentric ecclesiastical figures should invest some time in reading this delightful and highly-engaging book.
Review by George Joseph Enchakkattil -(Coordinating Editor - Georgian Mirror)
This text is a volume, which works out to be an output of committed researches on certain elements of Church History, more or less on a global perspective, which unfolds quite a lot of material evidences and inferences good enough to re align our age long perceptions. The authors or rather the leading ones among a fellowship of authors, Dr Ajesh T Philip and Mr George Alexander are two youngsters who have undertaken a task for the last many years. Their goal was not to earn fame, but to ascertain certain facts for the benefit of those who view Church History not confining to issues of litigation, but to comprehend, who we are, in a pragmatic sense. Their team of colleagues too did a good work, as one understands from their contributory articles.
A reader should first set aside his standard approaches to reading a volume confining to History; instead, he should have an open mind or more specifically, I would say, he should thoroughly do a washing of his interior faculties to venture into a text like this. It must be born in mind that more than a comprehensive volume, what we have here is a series of articles or papers by the main authors as also by their supporting fellowship. All put together, we get an integrated view of different Orthodox Churches and Communities across the globe with a specific stress on the contributions L/L H G Alvares Mar Julius Metropolitan in the field of evangelism.
The volume under discussion comprises of papers spread over 30 chapters in four parts and a fifth part of 8 epilogues covering some of the unavoidable traits in history not covered within the main text. The ‘Introduction’ provided at the very beginning briefly explains the background of various Orthodox Churches and Orthodox Communities. Beginning with the definition of orthodoxy, we are enlightened with the differences within orthodoxy we practice. Here, the authors throw an open challenge to the laity, the clergy and the Holy Synods: if Ethiopian and Coptic Orthodox Churches could reconcile, why Syrian and Malankara Orthodox Churches cannot. The lacuna lies not within Christianity or Orthodoxy or even within Spirituality, but with a plurality of material issues. Strangely, legality of issues too stand settled now (perhaps, after working out most of this text). Here, the reader should think aloud one, just one aspect. Why should Malankara Orthodox Church and THOZHIYUR Church maintain a DON’T TOUCH ME attitude? There might be reasons in the past, which were personal and not ecclesiastical; they were material and not spiritual. In addition, THOZHIYUR Church has close relationship with Malankara Mar Thoma Church despite ecclesiastical, theological, Christological and spiritual differences. Let us understand that we follow Jesus Christ, Son of God and we are not following the THRONES of various legacies.
While going through the ‘Introduction’, one would feel congratulating the authors for a meticulous treatment of the umpteen Orthodox Churches and Communities, which would be new information for good number of readers. The primates of these Churches also stand well introduced. Nevertheless, there could have been details of their web contacts also.
The main text commences with a brief but narrative biography of L/L Alvares Mar Julius Metropolitan bringing out the scenes behind the curtain how a priest from the Roman Church joined an Eastern Church, our Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, quite unusual those days and these days. History pinpoints incidents the other way as we have many examples live before us. Once we go through the pages, it reveals that there was reason sound enough to stand against an all ‘powerful’ papal authority and the priest whom we study here had enough courage to stand firm on his principles rather than surrender meekly. Fr Alvares was ordained Metropolitan on July 29, 1889 at Old Seminary, Kottayam and was the Arch Bishop of Independent Catholic Mission Church (of Portuguese Goa, British Ceylon and India excluding Malabar). The mission grew and many Roman parishes joined us. The chapter ends up with the recovery of his relics and entombing it at the left side of the Holy Madbaha of St Mary’s Orthodox Church at Ribandar, Goa on October 5, 1979, though he breathed last on 23 September 1923. These narrations about His Grace illustrate how to follow Jesus, carrying one’s cross. The succeeding chapters up to VII carry biographic narrations of other stalwarts of the Independent Catholic Mission. These include that of Rene’ Vilatte Mar Timotheus whose name is quite familiar to many of us, even to those who are not scholars in Church History.
Part II of the volume from chapters VIII to XII discusses the WESTERN RITES OF SYRIAC – MALANARA ORTHODOX CHURCHES. What is strange about this is that most of us, the Orthodox Church members in Kerala, do not know that there are such Orthodox Churches who are following their own liturgical orders and practices, but are in full communion with Malankara Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox Churches. The writer briefly narrates here the Orthodox mission and the roles played by Metropolitan Alvares Julius and Archbishop Rene’ Vilatte in the development of this mission. However, it is sad to learn that these rites did not flourish as they promised earlier due to a series of hindrances such as our failure in providing clergy support, assisting their financial needs, lots of pressing commitments L/L Alvares Mar Julius had and the continued persecution from Roman Church. However, the authors are hopeful of a revival with the formulation of a constructive framework, which are detailed. The days Malankara Orthodox Church and Syrian Orthodox Church stood united saw wonderful progress in Western Orthodox Rites. The charts provided by the authors are good learning material. Discussion on racial, ethnic, socio – economic and political structure at a reasonable depth brings out the scenarios where we fell back, partly due to our lack of resources and partly due to our lethargy.
The sharp criticism from Roman and Anglican Churches and their attack attributing heresies on Mar Alvares Julius and Mar Rene’ Vilatte Timotheus are explained well. The persecutions they had to undergo were not of a minor nature. Those two Churches branded Malankara Orthodox Church and Syrian Orthodox Church as Nestorian and published booklets, presumably, to sustain ‘their faith’ which were anti Orthodox and obviously heretic. The Independent Catholic Church of Ceylon rightly re christened ‘Roman Catholics’ as ‘Roman Church’. On the other hand, Roman Church treated Clergy from Malankara who went to Ceylon, as spies. All these are explained well enough to make a reader perceive what used to be the ‘Christian spirit’ that prevailed during those days and such studied narrations throw light on the reasons prevailing even now to see another Church as a target.
Even this date, many among the Malankara Orthodox Church is not aware of the true history of Mar Alvares Julius and his contributions. Holy Synod of Malankara Orthodox Church had been in good relationship with the Independent Catholic Mission of Ceylon and Goa. Mar Alvares Julius served as one of the Vice Presidents of Malankara Syrian Christian Association. When Parumala Thirumeni had his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Mar Julius was in charge of Niranam Diocese. Thus, his involvement was total and he was an integral part of Malankara Orthodox Church. He had visited many of the parishes in his capacity as Metropolitan. We can read all such details worked out with precision and the authors deserve compliments.
Part III throws light on various Missions those were active and effective in India and nearby Ceylon. Indian Catholic Mission (Western Rite) had its Head Quarters in Ceylon. This became part of Malankara Orthodox Church and had 30 parishes and chapels with them. They did not recognize Pope as the Universal Bishop. However, they had a more or less sad end during the civil war in Ceylon and these researches brought out a clear picture of the history of this Mission. Brahmavar Mission is perhaps one that is more familiar and many priests from Kerala had their roles here under the leadership of Mar Alvares Julius. The challenges they addressed then should enthrall the readers. Our present Brahmavar Diocese is a continuation of this Mission and there are some peculiar characteristics here. There are no fixed monthly subscriptions for parish members. (How many of the readers know that we have one parish in Kottayam Central Diocese without fixed monthly subscriptions? It is the Ebenezer Orthodox Church, Manganam that has completed 100 years last year; this church used to be the Head Quarters of Malankara Orthodox Church for a period close to a decade prior to Devalokam was established. Readers can refer the quarterly ‘Georgian Mirror’ April – June 2015 issue for detailed information of this historical truth). While celebrating feasts of saints, Brahmavar Diocese always observes the memory of L/L Mar Alvares Julius and Fr Nuronah also. Honnavar mission is another one where too there were involvements of many priests from Kerala. These Missions expanded and made inroads to the interiors of Tamil Nadu. The authors and their supporting team had taken lots of pain in visiting sites to explore the remnants and work out authentic papers proving the wonderful mission works carried out then. The Savanthavadi Mission itself commands respect as a model we have to emulate. Mar Alvares Julius was very particular that the Independent Catholic Mission expanded globally and its work in England amidst opposition from Romans and Anglicans was praiseworthy. L/L Alexios Mar Theodosius worked on these lines admirably in India and abroad. Order of Crown of Thorns may be a community not familiar to many of us; the authors make it a point to explain characteristics thereof in fair detail. This order has been an integral part of our heritage in as much as some of our fathers including St Gregoriose of Parumala, Mar Alvares Julius, Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysius II Metropolitan, Kadavil Palouse Mar Athanasius of Kottayam and Patriarch Mar Ignatius Peter IV were all members. For a certain period, Archbishop Rene’ Vilatte Mar Timotheus was the Grand Master of the Order. This Order followed regulations in line with the early Church during the time of Apostles. All the three perspectives of the Order find a place in the discussions.
Part IV is an exhaustive narration of the modalities employed by the team or rather fellowship in going on with the research and their experiences in the process that provide the reader information, which are exciting. The successful rediscovery of a community that has St Gregoriose of Parumala as their patron saint, but located on the outskirts of Dindigul, is no mean achievement. The support they had from HG Dr Yuhanon Mar Diascoros and leaders of Chennai Diocese including clergy are gratifying. These descriptions make the reader perceive that there was an era in our Malankara Orthodox Church when our services confined not only to people of Kerala origin, but also to followers of other linguistic traditions. Such achievements we had in preaching the Good News must, largely, be credited to Mar Alvares Julius. Chapter XXV has an elaborate discussion on this Dindigul family and their associates, which are even this date, dynamic in the enlightenment of St Gregoriose. Rediscovery of St James Independent Catholic Church at Sempatti is another brilliant achievement. HG Dr Yuhanon Mar Diascoros had found time to pay visits to families here who are aware of their history and their association with Malankara Orthodox Church. The authors have reproduced records of L/L HG Thomas Mar Dionysius having paid visits to this community. We must feel proud that on July 29, 2014, we could celebrate Holy Qurbana in Orthodox Liturgy Order at Dindigul Mission field after a gap of 59 years. Similarly, a Tablitho could be located at the Holy Epiphany Church, Pallithamam. The notes we find on this Tablitho are quite informative.
Our Lady of Good Death Cathedral used to be the Head Quarters of Independent Catholic Mission Church in Colombo. This also used to be the Cathedral of L/L Mar Alvares Julius. The history of this Cathedral is quite informative, but Malankara Orthodox Church had no clue for many decades about its location or whereabouts. The fellowship of OCP through their systematic and strategic hard work rediscovered the same, which is no mean achievement because the same has been under the control of Roman Catholic Church for long and they were very calculative not to disclose it to us.
The final part of this volume is eight numbers of Epilogues. Conventionally, an epilogue is a short piece added at the end of something, but here we have not one but eight of them, not short pieces, but rather lengthy and worthy enough to count as articles or chapters by themselves. Notwithstanding this lacuna, one has to admit that these eight pieces carry many sensible and informative inputs to readers. They cover an overall perspective of Western Rite in the Orthodox Church rather widely but specifying the characteristics precisely.
The vision St Gregoriose of Parumala shared with Patriarch Ignatius Peter of Antioch (also called Peter, the Humble) and Metropolitan Joseph Mar Dionysius II Pulikkottil on the global growth and expansion of Malankara Orthodox Church and Syrian Orthodox Church is revealed systematically. All these three sages maintained frequent contacts with their counterparts of likeminded prelates with this goal in mind. Indeed, their efforts did have positive results then.
Perhaps, much more exciting would be the perceptions of Tamil based Bishop K C Pillai (Lesser known as Bishop James Charles Ryan) about faith and Holy Bible. He, during the process of enlightenment, realized that Holy Bible is essentially Eastern and that Western missionaries had not understood the essence of Bible in its true perspective.
The Mission undertaken by Arch Bishop Rene’ Vilatte Mar Timotheus, notwithstanding being misunderstood by some, was highly praiseworthy. He was ordained Bishop in Malankara Orthodox Liturgical Order and he valued Orthodox faith, which stood documented in his many letters.
There is an exciting treatment in the epilogues about the zeal possessed by Mar Alvares Julius and a nun Gerontissa Gavrielia of Eastern Orthodox tradition; however, we Indians gave prominence to the charity works of Mother Teresa and ignored the equally valuable services of Sr. Gavrielia for reasons known to nobody, though both were contemporaries.
The depth of the individuality of Brahmavar Orthodox community is transparent through the epilogues. While going through our various services and zeal, one disturbing thought comes up with one who completes reading this volume: should Malankara Orthodox Church and Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch or their Malankara counterpart stand separate?
As a reader finishes the volume, a few thoughts come up in his mind of which a prominent on would be his newly acquired insight that Roman Catholic Church is just Roman Church and is not Catholic. While we read the Nicene Creed, there is a sentence: …And in One, Holy, Catholic, (Orthodox) and Apostolic Church…The Creed defines we are ‘Catholic’ Church. How is that we surrendered this qualifying title to Romans? ‘Catholic’ literarily means, ‘universal’ and nothing else.
While concluding this piece, I must appreciate the hard work and commitment behind this exercise; these papers would surely clear many of the myths we have been holding for long. Whatever developments are there, one thing has to be accepted. There is only one truth. Pure water is colorless, odorless and tasteless; it remains so. If anyone changes that, he is contaminating it. This fellowship of OCP has taken pains to do exhaustive research and their inferences we have before us in perfect documentation with many charts, records and photographs. We, as Orthodox Christians are duty bound to encourage their labor for the sake of Orthodoxy.
Finally, notwithstanding the merits of this exercise carried out by OCP, issues to move forward should not lag behind. We, Malankara Orthodox Church have tall claims that we were under the spiritual supremacy of Archdeacons, but many of their tombs are at Kuravilangad under the control of Roman Church. Surely, we have no chance to retrieve them; however, our people should know that they are there and must carry out periodic visits like pilgrimages and study tours. Again, many of us are unaware of the history of two of our churches one at Pallikkara under Jacobite faction and another at Arthatt under Malankara Orthodox Church. These were two churches within Malankara, which withstood the atrocious invasion of Goa Archbishop Alexius de Menezesin 17th century and the believers boldly challenged his cronies to walk over their dead bodies to enter the church. Team of Alexius de Menezes had no way out, but to retreat. These two churches are the only ones those were not under Alexius even for a single day. OCP has to take up these historical truths as challenges to educate our present generation with adequate documentation.
It would be inappropriate if a very crucial point does not find a mention here; being a volume of learning material for those who are keen to study, appending a subject wise ‘index’ is inevitable. Let me wish OCP all success in their upcoming endeavors.
Review by Fr. Dr. Jacob Kurien - Director of the Orthodox Syrian Sunday School Association of the East.
Dr. Ajesh T. Philip and George Alexander have made a historic attempt to fill a crucial gap in the history of not only Indian Christianity but also global Christianity. The “crucial” gap in history relates to the developments in Christianity due to the prophetic resistances to the powerful and organized attempts of “Papal Religion” which called itself “Catholicism”. This gap was trickily covered by the Roman Catholic historians (except a few) and made to be ignored for a longtime. Now, Dr. Ajesh T. Philip and George Alexander have filled a major portion of this gap with real, thrilling stories of individuals and communities who preserved their faith and upheld their convictions regarding ‘orthodoxy’ by fighting many evils of Roman Catholicism. The most important finding of their painstaking research is that the ancient syriac orthodoxy of the 19th century Malankara Church was the energy centre for many such struggles all over the world. Hitherto unheard and untold contributions of Archbishop Alvares Julios, Dr. P. M. Lisboa Pinto, Archbishop Rene Vilatti Mar Thimotheos, and Padre R. Z Nurona etc are brought to light along with interesting narratives of local communities who suffered and sacrificed a lot for their faith and freedom. I salute their efforts and thank them for unveiling the annals of history related to the glittering witness of the Malankara Church during a period of internal strife and litigations. Personally, I have a small disappointment regarding the historical method being followed by the researchers. When they have confined themselves to the western rites of Syriac -Malankara Orthodox Churches, they seem to have ignored the possible connection to and continuation of the pre-Portuguese Nazrani freedom struggle in the western coast (Konkan Coast) in the 19th century (Cf “The Pre-Portuguese Konkan Nazranis or the early Apostolic Communities of the Western Coast of India” by Fr. Dr. Jacob Kurian, The Journal of Malankara Orthodox Theological Studies, Vol.1, No.1, Aug. 2013)
Comments by Cincy Mariamma Thomas - Faculty of Religion at St. Thomas Orthodox Theological Seminary, Nagpur, India.
"Western Rites of Syriac – Malankara Orthodox Churches – The Mission untold, is an excellent, conscientious historical masterpiece. The book reflects the hard-work, dedication and veracity of the authors. This challenging book, unfolds the unexplored Western Rite Orthodox Communities of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. I congratulate the authors for this sublime micro-history."
John Tsambazis - Award Winning Executive Producer at Clapstick Pictures
The Western Rite is a rich book and depicts a historical account in impeccable and descriptive detail. Very well written and researched by the Editor of the Orthodox Cognate Page, George Alexander, and Dr. Ajesh T. Philip.
Authority and fateful methods were the causes for divisions which sprung out from the church in East and West. What amazes me no one questions these wrongs of the fathers. I am convinced by reading this book that minority groups were developed from the forces of betrayal and trust in the church's hierarchy.
A sense of undemocratic forum between the bishops who met. What is frightening, they are a bunch of Deuce bugs "know-alls" and dishonest!!
The religious scene, always complex, has become a pastiche of contradictions.
There might be very insightful monks and priests, but if they stay in this old-fashioned form, they can’t have a voice in society." but the sad reality is that they control and influence large proportion of communities in socially disadvantaged areas. It is in these areas the clergy have found their power and somehow become heroes and legends, just like the story about Dr. Lisboa Pinto . He was a supporter of unique belief systems not in confluence with Rome and the mainstream church and opened up his own church branch a bit like the reformists of the past and like Martin Luther King of the Lutheran protestant fame. He was the leading layman in the Padroado Defense Association and as the ‘special envoy of Christendom in the Orient’ traveled both to Rome and to Lisbon on their behalf in an effort to restore the traditional system of nomination. However, there was not a favorable response from the Vatican. Despite this endeavor, recently The Olive branch has been offered to those in exile to redeem and return. But the gap widens even to this today!
I don't believe for a second that Jesus has intended for his church to be divided by the arbitrary lines drawn on maps by temporal powers to express their authority. In the Bible St. Paul says that in Jesus there is neither Greek nor Jew, in other words, we haven't divided by things like our ethnicity our nationality or our gender in Jesus, we are all one the church is universal, the Catholic Apostolic Church.
Authority seems to be at the center of the division of East and West. Rome has offered a chance to correct and reunite with those groups in exile. Unfortunately, pride and belief systems interrupt a permanent bonding. It is really about respect for the individuals' culture and their sovereignty.
It is like walking through a labyrinth and one can only discover a myriad of reasons why these divisions have occurred. One good place to start off is by reading this insightful book Western Rites which intends on being more of an accurate record of truth and history about our crazy ancestors who didn't have anything better to do than beat each other up!.