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Saint Dionysius of Vattasseril

As long as sky and earth do exist, it will be impossible for the children of Malankara Orthodox Chuch to ever forget the sacred name of St. Dionysius, the Malankara Metropolitan. Saint Vattasseril Thirumeni was born on 31st October 1858 at Vattasseril family, Mallapally, near Kottayam, and died on 23rd February 1934 to be buried at Old Seminary Kottayam. On the eve, when we commemorate his 76th death anniversary and are getting ready to celebrate the Centenary (100th year) of establishment of the Catholicate at Malankara, it will be truly befitting to remember the saint as the main architect for laying foundations of the Catholicate in India. I was not lucky enough to see Thirumeni for I was born 18 years after his death and only a very few, who are alive today were fortunate to see this great son of Malankara.

St. Gregorios of Parumala was the first declared saint of Malankara Sabha, who was clever and brave in his secular life too. However, his deciple Vattasseril St. Dionysius had to be cleverer and braver in his secular dealings. When I say cleverer and braver, I do not mean that his cleverness and brevity had anyway shaded his saintliness. St. Vatteasseril Thirumeni was as white as snow in his spiritual life too. Let me elucidate my point a bit further.

When Patriarch Abdulla of Antioch came forward demanding temporal powers over Malankara Sabha, St. Vattasseril Thirumeni was brave enough to say a big ‘NO’ to him, for which, he was illegally excommunicated from being the Malankara Metropolitan. The reason shown for theexcommunication was that his hands were shivery, when he celebrate the Holy Qurbana. The saint replied to this aggressive and nasty act like he would wear the excommunication bull from Patriarch Abdulla as a golden chain around his neck unto his death. However, the true reason behind the excommunication was that the Patriarch demanded a sum up to the height of Rs. 3000, which came as offerings for that year at Parumala Seminary Church and Vattasseril Thirumeni has turned down the demand. This has aggravated the Patriarch and he went on to opt for the extreme step to excommunicate Vattasseril Thirumeni. From this incidence there originated the Malayalam saying “Abdulla Manassil Kandu, Mallapally Marathil Kandu”. The meaning of which is crystal clear and Vattasssril Thirumeni, the wise invited the canonized Patriarch Abded Masiha of Antioch to Malankara, resulting in the establishment of an independent Catholicate at Malankara in the year 1912, which was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court of India in the year 1958.

The price that St. Dionysius paid for the establishment of an independent Catholicate at Malankara was immense and the sufferings that he went through in his life therefore were beyond mention. His life itself was in danger and he was under constant murder threats. He was put under trial at the Royal Court of Travancore and the Advocate of the then Patriarchal faction asked him to enact the Holy Qurbana (celebration of Chalice and Plate) in the court room before the Judge, in order to prove that his hands were shivery, when he celebrate the Holy Qurbana and thus to win over the case. To this, the clever Thirumeni replied that he was present in the Court to answer questions of the Hon. Judge and not to act or enact. He ultimately won his case and the Court declared the excommunication order of Abdulla Patriarch as null and void. Another factor which has pained him too much was the departure of Mar Ivaniose of Bethany from the Church and the formation of another faction named ‘Malankara Rite’.

Having failed the case, the then Patriarchal faction made many attempts on the life of St. Vattasseril Thirumeni. His body guard named ‘Aana Pappy’ was stabbed to death in front of Thirumeni by hired goondas. Old Seminary Manager Achen was beaten up and beyond that Thirumeni was showered upon with all kinds of nasty and abusive words, so as to bring his morale down. On another occasion, when the hired goondas of Patriarchal faction climbed the ladder and entered into Thirumeni’s room in order to kill him at midnight. The assassins were caught aback, seeing the great saint praying on his knees in tears. Thus God saved his life many a times and gave him opportunity to see the enthronement of three Catholicoi at Malankara. He lived, fought and died for the freedom of Malankara Church founded by St. Thomas and we are indeed indebted to him a lot.

As we are going ahead to celebrate the Centenary of establishment of the independent Catholicate at Malankara, we should not forget one thing that the opponents of Vattasseril Thirumeni, who were once averse to the concept “Catholicose” are fondling it now and their followers are out to create more than one power centers at Malankara in the same name of “Catholicose”, in order to capture power from back doors. It is our sacred duty to defeat all such evil forces and that is what St. Dionysius of Vattasseril expect us to do today. May God almighty help us to achieve this and may his soul rest in peace!

The author, Oommen G. Panicker is the Men’s Forum Secretary of St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Church, Philadelphia