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Catholicos Baselios Didymus I – A truly Grand Pontiff

His Grace Thomas Mar Thimothios Thirumeni was the Metropolitan of the Malabar Diocese in 1970. I assumed charge as the Resident Editor of Malayala Manorama, Calicut, on January 7, 1970, and the same evening I went to Chathamangalam, the headquarters of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Diocese of Malabar, to call on Thirumeni. Chathamangalam is about 18 kilometres from Calicut. Old Malabar extended from Palakkad to Kasargod.

At that time Thirumeni was in his late 40s. I had earlier visited all the newspaper offices in Calicut and by evening, I went with the then News Editor of Calicut, Thomas Jacob. Thomas Jacob is now the Editorial Director of Malayala Manorama.

I was a little surprised to note that the head of the entire Malabar Diocese lived in a small run-down house with unpolished windows and doors. The signpost of the Diocese was half tilted and the paint was peeling off. There was limited furniture in what was supposed to be “the headquarters”. Those days, the Patriarch faction and the Orthodox faction were united. Thirumeni was the Metropolitan of the united faction of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Malabar.

Despite his humble nature, I was awestruck by his commanding voice and personality. I took a quick look around and realised that he was living the life of a hermit. At that point of time, the Syrian Church did not have its own building even in Calicut city. A shed of the Manamel Family doubled up as the abode of the Syrian Church in the city.

Thirumeni had the grace and aura of an enlightened monk. At the first meeting itself, I developed a spiritual bonding with Thirumeni. He offered me and Thomas Jacob tea without milk and told us that he does not drink tea or coffee. Thirumeni observes fasting most of the time, a habit he acquired from the days he started his spiritual journey from Pathanapuram Dayara.

Just when we were about to leave, he told us that he had no telephone connection. Thirumeni said he would be grateful if I could help him get a land-line telephone connection from the Posts & Telegraph Department. There were no mobile phones those days. Apparently, Thirumeni had applied for a telephone one-and-a-half years back. I promised him to go to the P & T office in Calicut the next day itself and follow up the matter.

The Chief of the P & T Department, Calicut Circle, asked me in whose name the application was made. I said it was in the name of His Grace Thomas Mar Thimothios, Metropolitan, Malabar Diocese, Syrian Orthodox Church, Chathamangalam. The director said there was no application in the name of His Grace Thomas Mar Thimothios and gave the register to me. I went through the list and found a name which read: Miss Grace Thomas Mar Thimothios, in an application submitted a year-and-a-half ago and that too in general category. Both the director and I had a hearty laugh. The next day, Thirumeni got a land-line telephone connection at the Chathamangalam Aramana. He responded with a smile when I narrated the Miss Grace story.

Thirumeni had a second-hand, petrol guzzling Vanguard Car, which was too expensive to maintain. The Manamel Family chipped in to help convert it into a diesel car. Despite that, Thirumeni rarely used the car. He spent most of his time in prayers at the small Chapel attached to his Aramana.

Despite being the Head of the Syrian Church in Malabar, he shunned regal costumes and used simple Hawai rubber slippers. Years later, I had to prompt him to opt for a better pair of footwear.

During my ten-year stint in Calicut, I used to visit the Aramana twice a month. Thirumeni prayed in silence with me every time I visited.

Every 3 months, when he returned from his Pathanapuram trip, Thirumeni brought two bottles of ‘real golden syrup’ (made out of palm essence) and presented it to either my wife, Prema, or to my son, Jayant. He was very fond of little Jayant, who used to mischievously pull Thirumeni’s beard sitting on his lap and also playfully distract him while he was praying during his visits to our Calicut home regularly. Once, Thirumeni stopped his prayer and smiled at Jayant. That prodding did the trick. Not a scolding, but the gentle smile was a clear signal to pray and not to run around.

Thirumeni’s greatest contribution to Calicut was the Calicut Cathedral of our Church. He got a nice plot of land at Bilathikulam from a relative of Prem Nazir (film actor) at a concessional rate. The Cathedral was built at a cost of Rs70,000 in 1971. The architect was late Kanianthara Joseph Alexander, the then Town Planner of Calicut, who offered his services without remuneration.

During his morning strolls, the Founder Chief Editor of Mathrubhumi, K.P. Kesava Menon, who lived in Bilathikulam, would walk up to our Cathedral building site daily and enquire about the progress of construction of the Church building.

Menon, who had by then lost his vision, used to tell the contractor that he could visualise a grand church taking shape there with his mind’s eye.

Thirumeni roped in the then Catholicos of the Malankara Syrian Church, His Holiness Ougen Bava, to inaugurate the Cathedral.

I remember Kesava Menon, who was also present to grace the occasion, showering praises on His Grace Thomas Mar Thimothios.

The rift between the Patriarch group and the Orthodox faction had come to the fore, but the Patriarch group did not pose any trouble out of sheer respect for Thirumeni. The Patriarch group quietly moved away and built their own church near Malaparamba. The eventual split deeply pained Thirumeni, but his loyalty to the Orthodox faction remained steadfast.

A powerful and enterprising priest in Malabar those days was Mathai Nooranal Achen of Sulthan Bathery. The Bathery Church was built due to the untiring efforts of Nooranal Achen, who was also the secretary of the St. Mary’s College, Sulthan Bathery. A section of the Patriarch Group in Sulthan Bathery sought equal rights to conduct service at Nooranal Achen’s Church, where he conducted Holy Mass every Sunday without fail for two decades. This provoked Nooranal Achen, who even threatened self-immolation to dissuade the Patriarch group. Thirumeni convened many meetings in Calicut to find a way to help Nooranal Achen.

The then ministers (late) Baby John and K.M. Mani came out with a compromise formula which envisaged allowing the Patriarch faction to conduct at least two services a month. This was vociferously opposed by Nooranal Achen.

Thirumeni decided to go a satyagraha in front of the Sulthan Bathery Church in support of Nooranal Achen, a decision which shocked me. I tried to dissuade the soft-spoken Thirumeni from this, but he stuck to his decision.

The Patriarch faction later relented and built another Church in Bathery, ending the impasse.

Thirumeni had no interest in politics, but he shared a great rapport with former minister E.Chandrasekharan Nair of the CPI, mainly due to Nair’s exemplary character.

There is another interesting episode related to Thirumeni, which I am able to recollect. Kollamparambil Kurian Mathew (Mohan) invited Thirumeni to Kottayam Cheriapally to conduct his wedding with Usha, my wife Prema’s sister. The service was to start at 3 p.m but Thirumeni had not arrived by then.

Mohan’s family tried in vain to contact Devalokam Aramana to find out his whereabouts. Eruthikkal Kochachen, who was the Vice-Principal of C.M.S. College and also the Vicar of Cheriapally, promptly started the service at 3 p.m to avoid any confusion. Around 3.30 p.m., Thirumeni arrived in his Vanguard Diesel Car, put on his robes and took over the Service from Eruthikkal Kochachen. Later, Thirumeni apologised to Mohan’s family. He said after the long drive from Calicut, he had overslept at Devalokam. He never shied away from owning up a mistake, another mark of his greatness.

After I shifted to Malayala Manorama, Kottayam, in March 1980, we did not meet that frequently.

In 1995, he came all the way from Calicut to be present for the 25th wedding anniversary of Prema and me. This was touching.

During Thirumeni’s consecration as the Catholicos His Holiness Baselios Mar Thoma Didymus I at Parumala Church, when he saw me, he took a step down from the Sanctum and granted me a look which had all the warmth in the world in it.

His prayers were always with us in difficult times, helping us to choose the right path.

Everybody referred to him as Valia Bava (Grand Pontiff). Thirumeni was truly a Valia Bava, and our family friend. He understood my reluctance to be part of any Church Committee and graced me to uphold the ethical values cherished by a journalist.

The article is written by Mammen Mathew, the Chief Editor Malayala Manorama – originally published in Malayala Manorama English Edition on May 29, 2014

Church News News

Valiya Bava Baselios Marthoma Didimos-I Laid to Rest

PATHANAPURAM: Catholicos Emeritus of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (MOSC) Catholicos Baselios Marthoma Didimos I was laid to rest at the Mount Tabor Dayara in Pathanapuram on Wednesday in the presence of a large gathering who came to pay their last respects.

The mortal remains of Didimos, affectionately called ‘Valia Bava’, were kept in the chapel from 7 am and was laid to rest in a specially constructed crypt, between the tombs of Thoma Mar Divannasios and Madras Archbishop Zakaria Mar Divannasios by 3.30 pm.

Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II led the prayers. All the Metropolitans of the Church and heads of other churches who had a great rapport with the late Bava, participated in the funeral. The mortal remains of the departed spiritual leader were brought to Mount Tabor Dayara by Tuesday late night, in a procession after Mar George Cardinal Alencher ry, Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese, led the third phase of the last services at the Catholicate Palace. The procession reached Mount Tabor after passing through Puthuppally, Thengana, Thiruvalla and Mavelikkara.

At St Mary’s Cathedral, Puthiyakavu in Mavelikara, which was late Didimos’ church, a special service was performed. The mortal remains were later taken to Pathanapuram via MC Road. The Catholicos, who was leading a retired life at the Catholicate Palace in Devalokam, Kottayam, breathed his last at a private hospital in Parumala on Monday owing to age-related illness.

All educational institutions under the MOSC management remained closed on Wednesday as a mark of respect to the Catholicos.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Ministers Ramesh Chennithala, Adoor Prakash, K Babu, MPs P J Kurien, Kodikkunnil Suresh, N K Premachandran, K N Balagopal, Jose K Mani, Anto Antony, Chief Whip P C George, MLAs K B Ganesh Kumar, Aisha Potty, P C Vishnunath, CPM leader M A Baby, CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and KPCC president V M Sudheeran attended the funeral.

Source: Express News Service

Editorial Features

A New bright star in the Eastern Horizon: Patriarch Ignatius Ephraim II

It was in 2004. In the month of March I was invited to deliver a speech at the World Peace Conference in Turkey organized by the Inter-cultural Dialog Platform for the Advancement of World Peace with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Religion. As soon as I accepted the invitation the news spread among my students through my Turkish students whom I had consulted about my trip, rumors also began to circulate that I was leaving for Turkey for proselytizing. In view of some past hostile incidents confronted by foreigners, particularly Americans, in Turkey, I called Istanbul and cancelled my trip. However, upon consulting two other professors who had also been invited to present their scholarly papers, I was encouraged to attend and present my speech. I notified Turkey that I was sticking with the original plan of attending the Conference and making the speech on “Patristic Contributions to the Quest for Peace”.

However I was still apprehensive about my safety in Turkey. I immediately called the Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church for Eastern United States of America, Dr. Kyrillos Karim Ephraim, with whom I had established a very cordial relationship as a hierarch who possesses outgoing manners and unusually welcoming attitude with a broad and attractive smile. On a few occasions I had been with Archbishop Mor Kyrilos when he visited his parishes in the Chicago area, and enjoyed his very courteous hospitality and sincere graciousness. From our conversation I realized that he was reading the monographs and articles I had been writing and publishing. It was this pre-established confidence that led me to contact Mor Kyrillos to check if our Syrian Church in Turkey might be of some help to guarantee my safety.

Archbishop Mor Kyrillos was very delighted that I was going to make a speech at the World Peace Conference in Turkey, and he offered his help. He asked me if my telephone was equipped with the Conference Call system, which I did not have. The Archbishop immediately turned on his Conference Call device and connected me with Metropolitan Philexinos of Constantinople. Archbishop Mor Kyrillos introduced me to Metropolitan Philexinos of Constantinople, and asked me to give him my itinerary. Metropolitan Philexinos offered his assistance while I was in Turkey. When I reached Istanbul at midnight on May 11, 2004 a chorepiscopus representing Mor Philexinos was there at the airport with two other persons representing the Conference authorities to receive me. I was in Constantinople and Mardin and Midiat until May 18, 2004, and enjoyed the hospitality and motherly love our Syrian Church at many cities and returned home safely. The affection and welcome that I tasted from our Syrian Orthodox brethren on the streets of Midiat during a long rally organized by the Turkish authorities is memorable.

I now recall this episode with deep gratitude to Mor Kyrillos, who was instrumental to make me feel safe in Turkey. He did not have to extend such generosity to a Chor-Episcopos of the Malankara Syrian Church which has some issues of administration with the Syrian Church in the Middle East. Although the Syrian Church in Malankara and the Syrian Church in the Middle East are one Church in faith and priesthood, there exist some administrative concerns that tarnish their wholeness; this has been producing some serious scandals before the eyes of heterodox Christians and pagans. I projected this episode to highlight the greatness of a prelate who was chosen by the Holy Spirit to be at the helm of the most ancient Church of Christ on earth, the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, which alone presents the uninterrupted continuity of the faith, liturgy and priesthood of the ancient Aramaic Church of Jerusalem.

A Pure Aramaic from Turabdin, the Cradle of Aramaic Civilization

Turabdin is at the northern tip of ancient Mesopotamia, where the ancient Aramaic civilization started and flourished; it is from here that this civilization spread all over the ancient empires of Babylon, Chaldea, and Assyria at different periods of time before Christ. The people of this region are generally called “Pure Syrians (Syriacs) or Aramaics”. At present this region is within the Province of Mardin. I had the blessing of visiting this area during my visit of Turkey. It is with great pride that I reminisce the fascinating dance of the Syriac girls on the grounds inside the airport of Mardin that gave a warm and exciting welcome when the scholarly group of speakers and delegates of the Peace Conference landed at 9.00 AM. We were all without sufficient sleep in the previous night and deeply tired; however I still remember the arousal we all gathered from the heavenly and majestic choreography presented before us by those terrestrial angels.

The new Patriarch’s family is originally from this area.

During the early part of the 19th century Turkish Christians became the victims of one of the heinous brutalities in the history of the world. It is reported that millions of Armenian and Syrian Christians were butchered during this period; among them the Armenians outnumber the Syrians. There was a steady exodus of these ethnic groups to the countries south of this region to escape persecution. That is why we see a great number of Syriac and Armenian presence in many parts of the Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, where they were welcomed by their own ethnic groups; and the Muslim regimes were also more accommodating.

It was during this period that the family of the new Patriarch moved from Ehwo, a small town in the Turabdin region within the Province of Mardin, and settled in Quamishli, which is in northeastern Syria. Turabdin literally means “the mountainous region of the servants of God” (mountains of the servants of God). In fact, the history of the Church testifies the fact that there had been a lot of servants of God from this mountainous region. Now we have one more illustrious servant of God originally hailing from this “mountainous region”, who is not only a servant, but a “servant of the servants of God” by his call to adorn the Petrine Throne of Antioch, one of the primordial Sees of ancient Christendom. Holy Father Moran Mor Ignatius Ephraim II: your genealogy from the cradle of the Aramaic civilization singles you out to be at the helm of our great Syrian Church. Axios, Axios, Axios!!!

The new Patriarch was born as Sa’id Karim on May 3, 1965 at Quamishli, as the youngest child of Issa and Khanema Karim. His father had passed away when he was very young, and he was raised by the rest of the family and the mother. He had his primary education at a local school in Quamishli.

Call to Religious Life and to the Service of the Church and Higher Education

From a very young age Sa’id Karim was imbued with a great passion for the service of God. Hence he chose a religious secondary school to complete his High School education. In order to achieve this goal, he moved to Atchaneh in Lebanon to purse his secondary education at St. Ephraim Theological Seminary, where he completed his High School education with a focus on religious studies in 1982. Immediately after graduating from this seminary-high school, at the very onset of his youth, he was exposed to the administrative process of the Church by becoming secretary to Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, Syria. He was with Mor Gregorios for two years equipping himself with initial skills in the management of affairs of the Church by assisting the Metropolitan he was serving.

In 1984 he started his post-secondary studies at the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt, and graduated in 1988 with a Bachelor’s degree in Divinity. During the seminary studies he was tonsured as monk in 1985 and received the monastic name of Ephraim (Aprem) in honor of the great Syriac Doctor of the Church, St. Ephraim the Syrian, who remained a simple ascetic deacon all his life. In the same year he was ordained to the diaconate in Cairo, and subsequently received his priesthood in his hometown (Quamishli).

Upon graduation from the Seminary Hieromonk Ephraim moved back to the Patriarchal headquarters of his Church and became one of the personal secretaries of His Holiness Patriarch Zakka I, while keeping a faculty position at St. Ephraim’s Theological Seminary near Damascus, Syria. While at the Patriarchal residence, the Holy Father identified the scholarly aptitude and thirst for higher learning in this young monk and sent him for graduate studies in theology at St. Patrick’s College at Maynooth, Ireland in 1989. After two years of studies, Hieromonk Ephraim received the degree of Licentiate in Theology, which would qualify him to be teacher in theology at the seminary and postsecondary levels.

As a monk, who possessed tremendous craving for higher learning and theological erudition, Hieromonk Ephraim did not stop his education just with a Licentiate. A young man deeply passionate in Syriac Patristics, he wanted to deepen and widen his knowledge base as a scholar. He conducted investigative studies on the Syriac roots of the theology of the Holy Cross, which no other Church in Christendom had developed like the Syriac Church. In fact, it is only in the Syriac Church that the veneration of the Holy Cross has become a predominant part of the worship both in regular liturgy and in the canonical hours of the Church. The climax of most of the feasts of the Church is with the exaltation and veneration of the Holy Cross, and with the blessing of all four quarters of the cosmos with the Holy Cross. For Hieromonk Ephraim, the Holy Cross was a mystery in itself which only the Syriac Church could expound so vividly, elegantly and elaborately, and his scholastic curiosity thrilled. For three more years he continued at St. Patrick’s College to purse his doctoral studies. His researches on the topic brought him to a dissertation on the “Symbolism of the Holy Cross in Early Syriac Christianity”, and St. Patrick’s College conferred on him the earned degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1994.

During his graduate studies in Ireland he was a diligent pastor of the Diaspora Syriac Orthodox faithful in the United Kingdom, which provided him direct experience dealing with the rank and file of Church. The pastoral skills acquired in his tenure as priest in U.K definitely helped him later as a bishop of the Church.

Call to the Rank of the Successors of the Apostles

His Holiness Patriarch Zakka easily detected the apostolic zeal and episcopal potentialities in Hieromonk Ephraim to fill the vacuum created by the demise of the late Archbishop Mor Athanasios Yeshue Samuel of America. Hieromonk Ephraim was chosen to succeed Mor Athanasios. On January 26, 1996 Hieromonk Ephraim was ordained a bishop with the episcopal name Kyrillos by Patriarch Zakka with rank of a Metropolitan at St. Mary’s Syrian Orthodox Church in Quamishli, Syria. By this time the Archdiocese of America had been already divided to create three separate eparchial jurisdictions, one for Canada, and the other two were for Eastern United States and Western United States. Metropolitan Mor Kyrillos was appointed to the See of Eastern United States of America. On March 3, 1996 Metropolitan Mor Kyrillos was enthroned to be the new Metropolitan Archbishop of his new See at St. Mark’s Orthodox Cathedral, Teaneck, NJ. Thus the new Archdiocese of Eastern United States was blessed with a new archpastor, well-qualified as a priest and erudite. It was the beginning of a new era for the Syriac communities in the Eastern United States. I have directly observed the magnificent growth of this Church which I gathered as a result of my close relationship with the Syriac communities.

A Tireless Worker in the Vineyard of Christ

Under the spiritual leadership of Archbishop Kyrillos Ephraim Karim the growth of the archdiocese was phenomenal. Compared to other ethnic Orthodox communities, the Syriac community has a smaller number in the United States; however he managed to develop more than ten parishes and granted them canonical status and appointed their pastors to take care of their spiritual needs. He set up a Sunday School Committee comprising principals and teachers of local Sunday Schools to unify the curriculum and to oversee it and monitor the progress of local Sunday schools across the archdiocese. He became a champion and supporter of the American Foundation of Syriac Studies to promote Syriac theology, Culture, History and Literature. Being a scholar in Syriac who is well-versed in classical Syriac which carries all writings and literature in that language (kthobonoyo) and the colloquial Syriac which has been spoken for centuries and still being spoken in various Aramaic communities in Turkey and the Middle East (Thuroyo), Mor Kyrillos eventually became a patron for Syriac Studies.

One of the well-noticed accomplishments of the Archbishop was the establishment of Syrian Orthodox Archdiocesan Youth Organization (SOAYO) to cater to the social and spiritual needs of the young people under his jurisdiction. SOAYO does coordinate the activities of local Youth Organizations within the archdiocese. Under this organization many other programs work to support the youth, for example, Academic Scholarship Program, Youth Retreats, Monthly Youth Liturgy, Archdiocesan Choral Society to promote Syriac Hymnology, Syriac Orthodox Scouts of America, Premarital Counseling Program, etc. Archbishop Kyrillos was not just an initiator of these programs from behind; he personally took active participation in these programs not only at the Archdiocesan level, but also at the parish level whenever possible to encourage the youth.

He was not only concerned about growing generation; he was indeed interested in the seniors of his Church. He organized Annual Elderly Liturgy Services which also have a social component. In these annual programs the seniors can bring up their concerns related to retirement, healthcare, housing and other relevant issues. These events also highlighted notable achievements and contributions of the elderly, and special recognitions are awarded to worthy seniors.

Following the same path of his predecessor, Mor Athanasios of blessed memory, he took special interest in continuing the translation and publication of certain liturgical books, which were not previously published. They include “The Book of the Order of Burial of Clergy”, and “The Book of Scripture Readings of Sundays and Feast Days”.

The Syriac Church is definitely blessed to have such a talented and God-inspired hierarch to take the responsibilities of its Patriarch. We believe it is God’s choice; actually this was not an election by the fathers of the Holy Synod; it was a selection by God.

Challenges Ahead

No leader is measured on the basis of his past achievements, not even on one’s acquired erudition; they are only his qualifications to become a leader. Every leader has to go through the test of time, the time ahead with multiple challenges which are often very difficult to deal with and very complex deterring him from making viable and long-lasting solutions. The greatness of a leader is established on his merit in setting policies and strategies to counter challenging situations and holding on the principles of propriety. If we observe the curriculum vitae of Patriarch Ephraim II, we are assured that he is quite equipped with the knowledge base and will power for meeting the challenges and complex surroundings of his patriarchate; which is indeed a blessing not only for all Syrians both in the Middle East and India, and elsewhere the Syrians have migrated to.

The Syrian Unrest:

We do not ignore the tolerant and benevolent attitude of some Muslim rulers towards Christians during Caliphates in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. However some of them did not give freedom to Christians to freely practice their religion or equal citizenship rights. A good number of Christians left the Middle East during those days and settled in other parts of the world (this writer is a descendant of such an expatriate Syrian group). According to Time Magazine, a similar situation has been occurring these days in the Middle East (TIME; April 21, 2014). We have seen that after the Iraq war, which gave power to the present regime, Iraqi Christians have been leaving their motherland in great numbers; and it is said there are only 300,000 Christian left in Iraq now.

The same situation is happening to Christians in Syria in pockets where anti-regime militants have tightened their grips. In the northern town of Raqqa, for example, 20 Christian families have been asked to pay a tax equivalent to $650.00 as a cost of protection. Christians in general face similar situation in many parts of the Middle East (Time). According to media reports the Middle East currently has only 3 % Christians left. The condition is getting worse everyday. During the regime of Saddam Hussein the protection of Christians was basically guaranteed; but Christians do not feel secure anymore. The Azad regime in Syria is protecting minorities; no one knows how long Azad will last. Christians are panic-stricken; and when a chance is open they want to get out their own country for freedom and protection.

The Syrian Orthodox Christians are scattered all over the Middle East; realizing that they are not safe anymore many of them may leave when there is an opportunity. Their number is steadily decreasing. How would the new Patriarch deal with this hostile situation? Patriarch Ephraim does have good rapport with many leaders in that region. He is skillful to go through all possible diplomatic avenues for the protection of his faithful and to develop an atmosphere for peaceful coexistence with the majority population in the Middle East. If results are not produced, the theories of coexistence would be mere academic jargon. At that point Patriarch Ephraim would go on his knees and intercede for his people so that the Almighty God may rescue them and make him stronger to defend his people. The world wants a strong Christian presence in the Middle East at least by maintaining the status quo, because they are children of that land. May the new Patriarch be a Moses to his people in the Middle East, not for expatriation, but for leading them to freedom in their own fatherland! We pray for him to have strength and divine guidance.

The Malankara Question:

The new Patriarch will be confronted with the question about Syrian Church of Malankara, India. No one presenting an answer that the Church of Malankara is with the Patriarch can be justified in view of the history of the Syrian Church of Malankara and the current ecclesiological practices in Christendom. Thus Malankara is a very serious issue before the new Patriarch of Antioch. The fact that less than one third of the Church is directly under the Patriarch and that more than two third, although do recognize the Patriarchate of Antioch, seek a different path in recognizing the role of the Antiochian Patriarchate, gives ecclesiologists enough doctrinal points to argue for the will of the majority in light of the two criteria mentioned above, i.e. history of the Syrian Church in Malankara and current orthodox ecclesiological practices.

This writer does not believe in two Syrian Churches. There is only one Church, one set of doctrines of faith, and one priesthood. As we all know the Syrians in the Middle East are at a vanishing point, although they remain as immigrant communities elsewhere in many parts of the world; still their total number is behind the Syrians in India. The Patriarchate will be strengthened manifold times if the entire Syrian Church in India totally remain with Patriarchate of Antioch with its Catholicate of the East. The ideal is the corroboration of both national churches with mutual collaboration. The Catholicate and the Patriarchate should be in a position of respecting each other; both Sees have almost the same historical and canonical legitimacy.

An impartial observer can easily realize that the 1995 Indian Supreme Court verdict was the best document for forging a viable and long-lasting unity between the two groups, one recognizing the Patriarch alone as the head of the Church and the other recognizing the Catholicos as the head of the Church of the East, and recognizing the Patriarch according to the provisions of the Constitution of Orthodox Syrian Church of the East. It was a right opportunity. But who short-circuited the union between them? Only some prelates who claimed to be subservient to the Patriarchate for their own ulterior motive of clinging to power they already had already possessed. In the event of a union they had to give up their power positions for the legitimate position of the Catholicos of the East recognized by the Supreme Court of India. The majority of the bishops in Synod obedient to the Antiochian Patriarchate wanted an immediate union with the Catholicate of East, but a few did not go for it to save their positions (some of them told this truth personally to this writer). But if the Catholicate of the East and Patriarchate of Antioch were united, keeping their national identities and autonomous and autocephalous individualities, our Church would have been the shining mystical body. One Church and two jurisdictions each having its own autonomy and autocephaly with primus inter pares status for the See of Antioch is the only solution for long-lasting peace between these churches. Keeping a smaller group under the Patriarchate and leaving the other larger group as a separate body is not canonically tenable (although there may exist such arrangements in other churches, again with selfish and imperial interests). The majority of Indian Syrians want their Church undivided, but in cordial relationship with the Patriarchate of Antioch.

We believe, the Holy Father Mor Ignatius Ephraim II, who is well-educated in oriental ecclesiology, will take the initiative to recognize the current ecclesiological practices in Orthodoxy.

The history of the Church in Malankara asserts that a formal relationship between Antioch and Malankara began to develop only by the 17th or 18th century. Historically the Church is India was attached to the Catholicate of the East headquartered in Seleucia-Ctesiphon. After the Catholicate fell into Nestorianism, the Orthodox succession of the same Catholicate was erected as a Mafrianate by Antioch, meaning, a dependent See under the Antiochian See. The Orthodox Catholicate lost its independent status as a See due to two main reasons: The majority of Syrians identified with the Nestorian Catholicate, which itself enjoyed the status of a Patriarchate (the titles Patriarch and Catholicos were interchangeable names then, such is the case with the Catholicoi of Armenia, Georgia, and Cilicia). Thus the number of the Orthodox Syrians in the East was reduced to a weak minority. Secondly, Muslim invasions considerably weakened both groups of Syrians, particularly the Orthodox Church which had suffered terribly due to Nestorian influence in those regions.

One basic truth that should be recognized is the apostolicity of the Indian Church, i.e. the Church of India (Malankara) was founded by the Apostle St. Thomas. In other words, the Church of Malankara is not the result of the evangelizing activities of any other Church which could claim parental rights over Malankara. This justifies its claim for self-determination.

Now let us come to current practices in Orthodoxy. The Church of Ethiopia was under the Coptic Church since Church history started in that region, and she had a filial relationship with Alexandria. It is modern history that when the Ethiopians demanded autocephaly and autonomy with their own Patriarchate, Alexandria had to give up all claims over Ethiopia, and subsequently gave all moral support for Ethiopia’s freedom. In the very recent past, the Eritreans had a similar claim, and succeeded, although with resistance from Ethiopia; but other Churches have already recognized their Patriarchate.

Coming to the Armenians, there are two jurisdictions, one in Armenia and other in the Middle East; for some time the Armenian Catholicate considered the Catholicate of Cilicia a schismatic group. But now look what happened! They are one Church now, but with two jurisdictions and two Catholicoi.

The Church of Malankara is the most literate among all Oriental Orthodox churches, and the largest within the Syrian communion, and possesses the most educated clergy among all Orthodox churches, runs the highest number of university colleges and secondary schools; and two accredited major seminaries, one with doctoral degree offering accreditation, and a School of Sacred Music. Its spiritual activities, such as Sunday School, Youth League, and Women’s apostolate vividly display the spiritual maturity of a fully developed Church.

With such a growth and maturity, does not the Church of Malankara deserve autonomy and autocephaly? Does she still have to be a dependency?

The new Holy Father Moran Mor Ephraim II, being a visionary, should extend his magnanimity to embrace this Church of Malankara in order to avoid a division in the Syrian Church in India.

His Holiness Moran Mor Ephraim personally knows me, and how I value and venerate the Patriarchate of Antioch. My ancestry is originally from the Middle East, a few centuries ago shooting from a Pure Syrian stock. Hence my Syrian heritage is of paramount significance to me; hence my unwavering support and adulation for the Antiochian Patriarchate. Personally speaking, I want the Syrian Church to restore its past glory prior to the period of Muslim expansion. I have highlighted in my past writing the need of supporting the Dayarul Safran ( Monastery of Kurkuma) and the Monastery of Mor Gabriel near Mardin, the spiritual centers where Syriac spirituality and liturgy developed and were perfected. When I defend the autonomy and autocephaly of Malankara it is not to implicate any reduction of honor for Antioch; on the other hand it is to give witness to Christ as one team composed of two national jurisdictions with dignity and equality for each, never implying any form of subjugation of one by the other. I believe the historical significance of the Antiochian Patriarchate would be further enhanced with this kind of relationship. The Roman doctrine of universal jurisdiction by any See over other Sees has never been, nor is, a dogma within Orthodoxy. All the Byzantine Orthodox churches are autocephalous with their own Patriarchates, but a position of preeminence always goes for the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

I urge our new Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Ephraim II to invite the Catholicos of the East for a friendly meeting, and later move towards creative dialogs for complete union. There is a dictum in English, “Charity begins at home”. Most Holy Father, we are all ONE family, ONE home; we are all waiting for the light of love (charity) in our home lighted by Your Holiness. I understand that Malankara always wanted and does want a healthy sisterly relationship with Antioch.

Most Holy Father, this is the most important challenge of your Patriarchal ministry: to bring the Patriarchate of Antioch and the Catholicate of the East together as ONE team keeping both jurisdictions independent without one encroaching the other in autonomy of administration and autocephaly.

On the 29th of May 2014 the newly elected Patriarch of the Antiochian See will be consecrated and enthroned the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East with the name Patriarch Ignatios Aprem II. We send our warmest greetings and prayers on this occasion not only to His Holiness, but also the faithful under his Patriarchal ministry.

We pray for Your Holiness’ ministry from the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch, and for your health and longevity to serve the Lord and His people with apostolic zeal. May we also be blessed! May your prayers be a fortress for us! Amin.


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Thousands Pay Last Respects to Baselios Marthoma Didimos I

KOTTAYAM: Thousands of people from various walks of life on Tuesday paid their last respects to His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Didimos I, the Catholicos Emeritus of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (MOSC), who passed away here on Monday.

The faithful will bid adieu to the former supreme head of the MOSC when his mortal remains will be interred in a specially erected crypt at the Mount Tabor Dayara, Pathanapuram, on Wednesday.

Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan Baselius Mar Thoma Paulose II will lead the prayers.

All the Metropolitans of the Church and heads of other churches are expected to participate in the funeral, which is scheduled for 11 am.

The mortal remains of the Catholicos Emeritus were brought to the Orthodox Theological Seminary (Old Seminary) in Kottayam, where he commenced his spiritual journey, in the wee hours of Tuesday. The remains were kept there till 10 am. The second phase of his last rites was conducted here before sending his remains to the Catholicate Palace at Devalokam near here. Catholicos Baselius Mar Thoma Paulose II received the remains of the Catholicos Emeritus, whom he considered as his spiritual guru, at the Catholicate Palace.

His remains were kept near the tomb of his predecessors for people to pay their tributes and the third and fourth phase of the rites were completed there.

Mar George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese, led the third phase of the last services. The remains of Didimos were brought to Mount Tabor Dayara, Pathanapuram accompanied by a mournful procession, that covered Puthuppalli, Nalunnakkal and Niranam. The procession reached Mount Tabor by late night on Tuesday.

The Catholicos, who was leading a retired life at the Catholicate Palace at Devalokam, breathed his last at a private hospital at Parumala, following age-related illness.

Source: Express News Service

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Baselios Marthoma Didimos – I is No More

KOTTAYAM : Baselios Marthoma Didimos I, the Catholicos emeritus of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (MOSC), passed away due to age-related illness at the St Gregorios Medical Mission Hospital, Parumala, on Monday late evening. He was 94. According to hospital sources, he breathed his last at 7.30 pm.

His mortal remains, to be brought to the headquarters of the MOSC at Devalokam at late night, will be kept at the Devalokam Palace on Tuesday for the people to pay their last respects.

Baselios Marthoma Didimos, who stepped down as the supreme head of the MOSC in 2010, due to ill health, was undergoing treatment for a while. His health condition reportedly deteriorated on Thursday evening.

Didimos was consecrated as Bishop on August 24, 1966, and had been serving as the Metropolitan of the Malabar Diocese of the Church. He was enthroned Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan (Malankara Orthodox Church) on October 31, 2005.

He is the seventh Catholicos since the Catholicate of the East was relocated to India. He is also the 19th Malankara Metropolitan of the Church.

Didimos was born on October 29, 1921 to Ittyavira Thomas of Mulamootil House at Nedumbram near Thiruvalla, and Sosamma of Chiramel House in Mavelikara.

He joined the Tabor Dayara at Pathanapuram in 1939, and completed his high school education.

Didimos passed Intermediate from CMS College, Kottayam, in 1945, B.A from National College, Tiruchirapalli in 1951, B.T from Maston Training College, Madras in 1954, and M.A from Christ Church College, Kanpur in 1961.

He completed his training in priesthood under the guidance of Thoma Mar Dionysius and His Holiness Baselios Oughen, Catholicos of the East. He received the order of Korooyo from His Holiness Geevarghese II Catholicos of the East on March 11, 1942, full deaconship on May 22, 1947 and priesthood on January 25, 1950 and His Holiness Baselios Oughen made him Ramban in May 1965 .

The Malankara Syrian Christian Association, which met on December 28, 1965, at M D Seminary, Kottayam, elected him as Metropolitan. On August 24, 1966, at Kolencherry His Holiness Baselios Oughen Bava consecrated him as Metropolitan Thomas Mar Timotheos.

He became the Metropolitan of Malabar on November 11, 1966. He continued to serve as the General Superior of Mount Tabor Dayara and Convent in Pathanapuram.

On September 10, 1992, the Malankara Association, which met at Parumala, elected him as successor- designate to the Malankara Metropolitan and Catholicos of the East.

Death Condoled

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy expressed condolence over the demise of Baselios Marthoma Didimos I. In his condolence message, the Chief Minister said Bava’s contributions to the Orthodox Church and society were precious and will be cherished. Excise Minister K Babu also condoled the death of Didimos.

Source: Express News Service

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HH Baselios Marthoma Didymus I Passes on to the Ranks of His Predecessor Catholicoi…

KOTTAYAM: HH Baselios Marthoma Didymus I, affectionately known as Valiya Bava Thirumeni, passed on to the next episode of his sojourn towards the Kingdom of Heaven. The demise was at 7:35 PM today at St. Gregorios Hospital, Parumala.

HH Valiya Bava was leading peaceful retired life at the Catholicate Palace, Devalokam, Kottayam, after abdicating his insignia as Catholicose and Malankara Metropolitan on October 30, 2010. HH Baselios Marthoma Paulose I, the reigning Catholicose was present with Valiya Bava, when the Angel of the Lord arrived with the divine command to take with him the High Priest of God to the ‘Abode of Lights’, set apart for the saintly faithful of Christ. His Holiness was 94 years old.

HH Valiya Bava had been admitted at the Intensive Care Center of St. Gregorios Hospital, Parumala, for the last couple of days. It was the will of God that the sage, who served Him as High Priest for the last 48 years, be called unto eternal peace from the very blessed place, where the tomb of St. Gregorios, the declared saint of Malankara, is situated. An urgent Holy Episcopal Synod had been convened at Parumala Seminary to decide upon further actions to be taken. The funeral will be at the Mount Tabore Dayara Chapel, Pathanapuram, where HH Valiya Bava Thirumeni had been a monk for the last 76 years.

Funeral services will begin at 11:00 AM on Wednesday, May 28th at the specially prepared tomb at Mount Tabore Monastery Chapel, Pathanpuram.

The mortal remaining of HH Valiya Bava Thirumeni is at present at the Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kottayam and will be moved to the Catholicate Palace, Devalokam, Kottayam, the seat of the Malankara Metropolitan and Catholicose of the East. Scores of faithful as well as political, cultural and community leaders will pay their homage tomorrow to the departed successor of St. Thomas, the Apostle of India.

It was on October 31, 2005 that HH Baselios Marthoma Didymus I assumed the throne of St. Thomas as the Catholicose of the East and Malankara Metropolitan. HH Valiya Bava completed 5 full years as Catholicose and Malankara Metroplolitan and consecrated 14 bishops during his reign, an all-time record by any Catholicoi in Malankara. HH Valiya Bava was the 7th Catholicose of the East and 20th Malankara Metropolitan. Metropolitan H.G. Thomas Mar Thimotheos was elected to succeed HH Baselios Marthoma Mathews II at the Malankara Association convened at Parumala in 1992. It is highly graceful that he will succeed his predecessor HH Mathews II into the afterlife as well at Parumala.

HH Valiya Bava Baselios Marthoma Didymus I was born on October 29, 1921 as the fourth son of Mr. Ittiyavira Thomas, Mulamoottil, Nedumpram, Thiruvalla and Mrs. Sosamma Thomas, Chiramel, Mavelikkara. His name as layperson was Mr. C.T. Thomas.

Mr. C.T. Thomas joined the Mount Tabore Monastery, Pathanapuram in 1939 as disciple of the great visionary, LL HG Thomma Mar Dionysius, who was also his Diocesan Metropolitan (Niranam Diocese). He joined the St. Stephen’s High School, Pathanapuram to continue with his education, where he was destined later to become the Head Master. He continued his higher education towards Masters at the Christ Church College, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, in English literature. Eventually he was to become Head of the Department of English at the St. Stephen’s College Pathanapuram and later the Vice-Principal as well.

Meanwhile Mr. C.T. Thomas had grown to be a pious monk priest, who was one of the unanimous choices to be consecrated as bishop. Catholiocose HH Baselios Augen I elevated Rev. Fr. Thomas Remban to the bishopric with the name HG Thomas Mar Thimotheos on August 24, 1966 and Metropolitan Thimotheos was assigned with the Diocese of Malabar. The renowned young Metropolitan was very happy to accept the most backward diocese of Malankara Church in the 1960s and he guided the Malabar Diocese to its current state and glory.

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Outside Kerala Leadership Training Program begins on May 25 at Kottayam

KOTTAYAM: ” CAMP FOR ORTHODOX LEADERSHIP TRAINING’, the annual program for outside Kerala youth, will be held at Sophia Centre Kottayam from May 25 to 31, 2014.

Those Youth of outside Kerala Parishes, interested to fill up the application form and return it before the registration ends on May 13, informed Fr Philip Kuruvilla, the General Coordinator of the program.

Over the last 25 years, this camp was producing spiritual and lay leaders for the outside Kerala churches.

Fr Philip Kuruvilla, the General Coordinator can be reached over the phone numbers Office: +91-712-2531312 or Cell: +91-9823152313


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Letter of congratulation to Patriarch Elect Mar Aphrem Karim Coorilos


From Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien, Senior Director of the Office of Strategic Planning, United States Department of State, United States Government, Washington D.C., United States of America

Your Beatitude the Patriarch of Antioch and All East Mar Ignatius Aphrem II Karim, I extend my warm congratulations and wish you every strength and joy in the fulfillment of the great task which lies before you as you guide the Syrian Orthodox Church along the path of spiritual growth and unity. In prayer, I ask the Lord to grant Your Beatitude an abundance of wisdom to discern His will, to persevere in loving service of the people entrusted to your patriarchal ministry, and to sustain them in faithfulness to the gospel and the great traditions of Orthodoxy.

As Christ prepared for His Gethsemane experience, He prayed for unity which is recorded in the Gospel of St. John 17: 11: “ … keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Through the centuries we have, indeed, been kept in the power and love of Christ, and in the proper moment in history the Holy Spirit moved upon us and we began the long journey towards the visible unity that Christ desires.

During your years as the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States, you have distinguished yourself as an ecumenist focused on Christian unity. You have served on both the Executive and Central Committees of the World Council of Churches, attending the 1991 WCC General Assembly in Canberra, the 1998 WCC General Assembly in Harare, and the 2006 Assembly in Porto Alegre. Moreover, you have been an active member of the Executive and Governing Boards of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and serves as a Vice Chairman of the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in America, where I had the distinct honor of working with you on couple of occasion. Interestingly, in recent years, you have been instrumental in the establishment of a new ecumenical body, Christian Churches Together in the United States of America, of which the Syrian Orthodox Church is a founding member. In all your ecumenical vision and activities, you have most capably represented the Holy Church and have won the admiration and respect of your colleagues and confreres, clearly revealed in choosing you as the Supreme Head of the Church. I am certain that Your Beatitude’s leadership vision has been inspired by the fundamental reality that the Son and incarnate Logos of God is “ … where two or three are gathered in his name” (St. Mathew 18: 20) and that the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, “ … will guide us into the whole truth” (St. John 16: 13).

The journey for Church Unity has not always been easy or without pain and challenges, for as we know “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way” (St. Matthew 7:14). The essential theology and principal themes – the mystery of the Holy Church and the sacredness of the Liturgy – are difficult to apply in earnest practice, and constitute a life-long and church-wide labor to assimilate. The door, then, must remain open for deeper reception and willing engagement for our Unity for building a stronger unified Church for His Glory.

As we move forward, we the unconditional supporters for Unity offer thanks and glory to the living God Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that Your Beatitude have recognized the importance of reflection and sincere dialogue between our churches. I join in the hope that the barrier dividing our two churches will be removed, and that – at last – there may be but the one dwelling, firmly established on Christ Jesus, the cornerstone, who will make both one. With Christ as our cornerstone and the traditions we share, we shall be able or, rather, enabled by the gift and grace of God – to reach a better appreciation and fuller expression of the Body of Christ. With our continued efforts in accordance with the spirit of the tradition of the early Church, we will experience the visible Unity that lies just beyond us today. The Church always excels in its uniquely prophetic and pastoral dimension, embraces its characteristic meekness and spirituality, and serves with humble sensitivity the “least of these My brethren” (St. Mathew 25:40).

Let us begin with prayers for peace and healing for our Christian brothers and sisters living in the Middle East. I had a blessed opportunity to visit our suffering Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. In the current turmoil of violence, separation, and brokenness that is globaly escalating between peoples and nations, may the love and desire for harmony we profess here, and the understanding we seek through dialogue and mutual respect between our two Churches, serve as a model for our world. May all humanity reach out to ‘the other’ and work together to overcome the suffering of people everywhere, particularly in the face of famine, natural disasters, disease, and war that ultimately touches all of our lives.

May God grant Your Beatitude good health and abundant of spiritual gifts so that you, strengthened by His power, may in peace, unity, and love nourish the Church.

Asking Your Beatitude’s blessing,
I am, Yours respectfully in Christ,

Fr. Alexander
Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien, MA, MSc, MBA, M.Div., CFA, MAI, CBV, FRICS
Senior Priest of the Indian Orthodox Church
Director of the Office of Strategic Planning
United States Department of State
United States Government
Washington D.C.
United States of America

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Orthodox Clergy Global Conference in June at Parumala

KOTTAYAM: The Triennial Global Conference of The St Thomas Orthodox clergy fellowship will be held at Parumala Seminary from June 3 to 5, 2014 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday).

The conference will be inaugurated by HH Moran Mar Baselios Marthoma Paulose II Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan.

The theme of the Conference will be ” Priesthood and way of life”. Classes will be lead by eminent personalities. There will be discussions followed by its findings, resolutions and declarations.

Main sessions of classes, discussions and retreats will lead by Dr. Yuhanon Mar Chrysostemos, Dr. Zachariah Mar Aprem, Dr. Mathews Mar Themotheos, Yuhanon Mar Polycarpos, Dr. Yuhanon Mar Thevodoros, Joseph Mar Dionysius, Dr. Yuhanon Mar Dioscoros Binyamin (Novelist), Fr Dr Jacob Kurien, Fr Dr K M George, Fr Dr Bijesh Philip, Fr John Thomas Karingattil, Fr T J Joshua, Fr Dr O Thomas, Fr Dr Johns Abraham Konattu, Fr Dr Reji Mathews, Dr M Kurien Thomas,.

Around one thousand priests from different parts of the world and metropolitans will be attending the conference.

HH Catholicos of the East, Thomas Mar Athanasius (Metropolitan President) and Yuhanon Mar Chrysostemos (Metropolitan Niranam diocese) Fr. Augen Ramban Manager (Parumala Seminary), will be the leaders of the conference, informed Fr Saji Amayil (General Secretary, Fr. Zachariah Ninan Joint secretary and Fr Cherian T Samuel PRO

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