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Dr. Stephanos Mar Theodosius : A Visionary and Pioneer Orthodox Missionary Bishop

1. Introduction

Late lamented His Grace Dr. Stephanos Mar Theodosius was the first Metropolitan of Calcutta Diocese and Founder Director/President of St. Thomas Mission Bhilai. It is a matter of pride and great privilege to be his immediate successor and I humbly bow my head in respect to the sacred memory of this saintly Bishop on the occasion of the fifth Anniversary of his entering the eternal heavenly abode. Though he was not an extraordinary scholar or orator, he was a godly man with deep devotion and commitment. He was positively unique and solitary in every dimension. He dedicated himself for the Christian witness in North India, where he spent his entire life and finally his mortal remains were laid to rest in the very soil were he toiled. This article is a humble effort to reflect upon briefly his works and contributions, in the North Indian context as a visionary Orthodox Bishop, Educationalist and activist and pioneer Orthodox Christian Missionary.

2. As a visionary Orthodox Christian Bishop in North India

He was consecrated as Bishop at Niranam Valiyapally on 16th February 1975 along with four other Bishops of high esteem, and was given charge of the then Madras Diocese. The Diocese of Calcutta was organized in 1979 and Church then appointed him as the first Metropolitan. The new Diocese was an underdeveloped one and included very few churches at that time. Even these were distributed far and wide spreading around ten North Indian states including the North East. To support this economically weak Diocese, the parishes in Muscat and Kuwait were also included under the Diocese.

As a devoted Bishop, his three important endeavors are commendable.

(1) He very well understood that the future of the Church will be dazzling only if the younger generations are taken care of. For the generation born and brought up outside Kerala, Hindi became their ‘thinking language’ and was literally at a loss during the worship which was conducted in Malayalam. Mar Theodosius took steps to translate Holy Qurbana and prayers into Hindi. His Grace took pains to celebrate Holy Qurbana in Hindi and also asked the parishes to have services in Hindi at least once or twice every month.

(2) To train the Priests in a North Indian context and Mission-based orientation, he jumped into a new venture of starting a Theological and Mission Training Institute at Bhilai in Aramana /Mission house/Ashram centre. With the consent of the Holy Episcopal Synod and full co-operation of the Church, this later emerged and developed as ‘St. Thomas Theological Seminary’, a fully fledged theological Seminary and shifted its permanent site into the city of Nagpur. At this juncture it is noteworthy that the contributions of Mar Theodosius Thirumeni is comparable to that of almost the late lamented Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysius, the great Malankara Metropolitan who is well known as the founder and father of organized Theological studies and Seminaries in the Church.

(3) To cater the spiritual need of the Diaspora Syrian Christians distributed in and around the Northern states of India, Thirumeni started prayer fellowships and congregations which all later developed into Parishes. Without remunerations and proper salary quota drawing from these centers, the priests were sent for the spiritual caring of his people. The priests in those days reserve gratitude and remain as models for their selfless service with minimum material remunerations.

3. As a visionary Educationist

Christian mission in India is always remembered for its positive contributions in the field of education. From the latter part of 18th century onwards Malankara church also made some forays in the field of education. Saint Gregorios (Parumala) and later Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysius II and other Church Fathers started schools for the uplift of the people both within and outside the ambit of the Church. English education was also started which marked the beginning of a new social revolution in Kerala. Having this awareness in mind, Mar Theodosius arrived in North India as a young priest. He found that the social milieu here is more or less comparable to that of the 19th century-Kerala. Poverty was rampant in the villages and adding to the worry superstitious practices which sometimes even posed a threat to the life were prevalent. It occurred to him that the remedy mainly lied in educating the people. So he decided to start schools alongside churches.

Another reason for the starting of Schools was his vision for the church. He foresaw the future and understood that if a situation arises in which the membership of the local parish is less, the school may serve as a life support system by providing the essentials to the Priests who also will be in-charges of the Schools. The task was ambitious but the resources were scarce. With an indomitable commitment to the cause of education he decided to go for the arduous mission. To cut the long story short, he was instrumental in starting a string of educational institutions from Madhya Pradesh to Nagaland. It ranged from many balawadis to an Engineering college. More than two dozens of Schools and a P.G. College also came into existence due to his persistent labour.

The educational institutions started by Mar Theodosius was aimed at helping the needy and economically weak in the society. The fact that he could have easily turned those institutions into money spinners which he never did bears witness to his deep social commitment. Not a single paisa was charged as capitation fee or donation even in the professional colleges either from the students or from the candidates who came seeking for job opportunities. ‘Imparting value-based excellent education at affordable cheaper cost’ to the down-trodden weaker sections of the society was his vision and mission.

4. As a pioneer Orthodox Christian Missionary and Social Worker in North India

The greatness of Mar Theodosius as an Orthodox Missionary can be better gauged only if we consider the Mission history of Orthodox church in India. Many point it out that the lack of ‘missionary spirit’ as a shortcoming of the Church. Saint Gregorios of Parumala and Pathrose Mar Osthathios might be treated as exceptions. The church was more than happy to confine to the geographical boundaries of the present day Kerala for almost two thousand years.

Mar Theodosius wanted to change the perception of Malankara Church from a Malayalee Church to an Indian Church. Whenever and wherever he got a chance to air his views he passionately talked about the mandate that the Church has got regarding Mission. He always exhorted the believers not to ‘fail St. Thomas’.

The starting of a Theological Seminary in North India shows his zeal for making the Church Indian. Since the social, religious and cultural conditions of Kerala and North India differed a lot, it would be a tough job for a priest who was brought up and trained in Kerala to cater to the needs of the Church in North India. He argued the ministry will be more fruitful if the training imparted takes place in the same milieu were they are intended to serve. Mar Theodosius’ vision about the new seminary included committed ‘Missionary priests and laymen’. He direly wanted to improve the situation of the millions of the poor people in the villages “who could not discern between their right hand and their left hand”. To uplift them socially and economically he inaugurated a mission model hitherto unknown to the Malankara Church. It was born out of his conviction that it is better to transform a society than spoon feeding a few individuals. This was successfully implemented for the first time in Makodia and was later replicated in various other areas and resulted in the social uplift of many.

5. Conclusion: the follow up works and developments at present

It’s an undeniable fact that the void created by the passing away of Mar Theodosius cannot be bridged but our humble efforts are on to continue the works started by that great soul. Significant attempts are made at streamlining the activities of our diocese.

5.a. Diocesan level

5.a1. Parishes and congregations

As part of the Diocesan activities and mission within our church people and other denominations in North India, we are able to start some new parishes and congregations in the last couple of years.

• Kuwait: By the grace of God a new parish named St. Basil Indian Orthodox Church, was formed in Kuwait and now we have three parishes there.

• Itanagar: We were able to have our own church consecrated in the capital city of Arunachal Pradesh. Now the church functions in a rented hall and there are plans to have our own land and building.

• Jamshedpur: Though Jamshedpur parish was functioning for more than two decades it was handicapped by not having an own centre. The long cherished dream to have own centre of worship was fulfilled with the consecration of the new Church last year.

• Kondagaon: At Kondagaon, a Naxal affectarea of Bastar District services were held earlier in St. Paul Minor Seminary run by Roman Catholic Church. A plot of land was purchased and a small Church and a village Mission Centre was built there with the co-operation of parishioners and the financial aid from the Diocesan centre. It was declared as a Parish and now services are held regularly along with village Mission activities.

• Tezpur: A new congregation was started in the garrison city of Tezpur (Assam) and Holy Qurbana is being conducted once in a month.

• Tinsukia: Another Military town of Tinsukia also witnessed the formation of an Orthodox congregation and is having regular services.

5.a2. At Diocesan Centre

Administrative Block

• At present Diocese & Mission Offices and Ashram is situated in the same building which also accommodates guests. A new administrative block is being built which is nearing its completion and expected to be inaugurated in January 2013 as Catholicate Centenary Memorial Block. It will accommodate the offices of the Diocese, Mission and institutions. In future priests and other guests shall also be accommodated in the Guest rooms of the new block so that the old block shall ensure an exclusive area for the inmates of Ashram.

Hall of Memorabilia

• Adjacent to the tomb of Theodosius Thirumeni a hall of Memorabilia was constructed. This is dedicated to preserve the memory of Thirumeni. Photographs, mementos, personal items used by Thirumeni are kept on display.

Dr. Stephanos Mar Theodosius Memorial Library

• A library containing books of theological interests, Church history, Social and environmental issue, Law etc. was set up for the use of inmates of the Ashram and guests. The library is named as Dr. Stephanos Mar Theodosius Memorial Library and it includes the collections of Mar Theodosius, other inmates, priests and current journals, magazines and books.

Santhome Press & Training Centre

• With the introduction of new technology and improved machines the output capacity of the Santhome press has been drastically increased. Now priests are appointed as Managers which ensures more accountability and efficiency leading to satisfy the printing requirements of Diocese, Mission and various institutions. Further expansion of the Press is planned with the financial assistance from Mar Gregorios Movement, Kuwait Maha Edavaka.

Diocesan Darpan

• A quarterly official news letter named Diocesan Darpan was started on November 2009 onwards to cover the news of the events conducted at the Parishes, Diocese and institutions. It is a matter of pride that the Darpan has been regularly published without fail ever since. It’s is being planned to make the newsletter into a bimonthly publication.

5.a3. Diocesan Land at Bhopal

In 1950s a land plots of around 40 cents, one km away from the present St. Thomas Cathedral, Bhopal was purchased and a worship centre was started in this piece of land. Later, as the worship centre shifted to develop an independent church at Ashoka Garden, Bhopal, this land was given to Diocese. Due certain difficulties the land could not be occupied by Diocese resulting in encroachment and legal dispute. Now it has been settled legally and the land is regained by the Diocese. Sincere thanks are due to Priests and members of Bhopal parishes for their help and co-operation. The Diocese is planning to start a school and centre there immediately.

5.b. Educational Institutions

• Due to the re-organization of the diocese we had to contribute three schools to the newly formed dioceses. But God was gracious enough to enable us to establish three new schools. The new schools were started in a simple fashion at Ranchi, Jamshedpur and Guwahati. It’s heartening to note that these are functioning properly and in the way of progressing.

• All our Schools and both the colleges are functioning smoothly. A new block was added to our CCET and a couple of new courses were introduced in St. Thomas College. We welcome students within and outside our community to study in our institutions, as these institutions are started by Thirumeni not only to uplift the downtrodden and weaker sections of the society but also to meet the requirements of our people. In many educational centers purchasing of new lands and their legalization processes for up gradation of the institutions are going on.

5.c. Mission Field

• To give a new boost to Mission activities steps are being taken to start a separate Social Service Board under St. Thomas Mission. Experts from Social service sector will be included in the advisory board.

• Process of revamping Makodia mission is also on the anvil with the introduction of new projects. The Jeevan Jyoti project at Bhilai was shifted to a new building in the Mission compound. Training in Computer courses are also imparted to the children. Asha Kendra at Patna and Jeevan Jyoti at Bokaro are also functioning well.

• St. Gregorios Mission at Calcutta was a dream project of Mar Theodosius. Hence we have taken a keen interest and special attention on this and now it is being in the way of materialization. With our humble efforts, personal collections and generous financial assistance from Kuwait St. Gregorios Maha Edavaka activities are going on towards land legalization, school up gradation and construction of Mission centre. A team consisting of a priest as Manager and an efficient working committee is taking care of the activities there.

• Other projects to be taken off include counseling centre Bhopal, Balika Bhavan and Convent at Bhilai, and Diocesan Mission and Youth centre at Raipur.

Prayerful co-operation and hard work of all our Believers are earnestly required for the fulfillment and advancement of all endeavours ahead.

Dr. Joseph Mar Dionysius is the Metropolitan of Calcutta Diocese & Director of St .Thomas Mission, Bhilai