Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan (1818-1877), was the head of Malankara Church which had its adherents in Travancore. Cochin and Malabar, states of India. (now known as Kerala the south western state of India). This Church was founded by Thomas the Apostle of Jesus Christ who arrived in the first century, (believed to be in 52 CE). The first Christians included Jews and the Wise Men from the East who saw Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem. They and their descendants were called Nazranis, meaning “followers of Jesus of Nazareth.”
Definitions:- (for the following words used In this article).
‘’Mar Thoma’’ and ‘’Metropolitan’’ - titles of the Head of Malankara Church. Usually they are addressed as ‘’Thirumeni’’. Head of Malankara Church, bishops of that Church and heads of Hindu temples (Namboothiri) are addressed as Thirumeni, a title given to them by the kings around 1225.
‘’Kathanar’’, ‘’Kassessa’’ - clergy, (Reverend) A Kassessa is addressed as ‘’Achen’’ (A venerable person).
‘’Malpan’’ – A priest who is a scholar in Syriac language.
‘’Palli’’ – A church building.
‘’Sabha’’ – A gathering of believers in Jesus of Nazareth. (Church)
Pakalomattom Palakunnathu Family
In the seventeenth century, a member of the Panamkuzhy family came and settled in Kozhencherry
on the banks of river Pampa. Later they moved to Maramon
, and lived at Chackkalyil, on the other side of the river. The second son in that family, Mathen moved to a nearby house at Palakunnathu. He had six sons and a daughter. The daughter was married to Pavoothikunnel family and the first four sons moved to Themoottil, Neduvelil, Periyilel and Punamadom. The fifth son was a hermit priest (sanyasi achen). As was the custom, the youngest son Mathew lived at Palakunnathu family house, (This house still exists).
Being members of the ancient Malankara Church, many leaders were born in this family. Leader of the reformation in Malankara Church, Abraham Malpan
, Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XIII); Thomas Mar Athanasius
Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XIV); Titus I Mar Thoma
Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XV); Titus II Mar Thoma
Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XVI); were from this family. The present head of the Mar Thoma Church, Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma
Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XXI), is also from this family.
Mathen, the eldest son of Palakunnathu Mathew and Maraimma, was born on April 25,1818. After 90 days he was baptized at the Maramon
Early education was at Maramon
and his teacher was Poet laureate, Chekottassan. At the age of eleven, he joined the Syrian Seminary at Kottayam
. When he was thirteen he was ordained as a deacon by Mar Thoma XII. (Cheppattu Mar Dionysius). After completing the highest education available in Kerala
, Deacon Mathen joined Rev. John Anderson’s School (now known as Madras Christian College
), at Chennai
. His friend Deacon George Mathen also joined him. By 1939 they completed their education in Madras
and returned home.
At that time condition of Malankara Church was deplorable.
Before leaving Madras the two friends Deacon Mathen and Deacon George Mathen sat together and talked about their future plan. Both of them felt the deplorable condition of the Malankara Church. Saying that, “It is impossible to restore the Malankara Church,” Deacon George decided to join the Anglican C.M.S. Church. But for Deacon Mathen it was unthinkable. He said, “As long as I am alive I shall work only for my mother Church, the Malankara Syrian Church; and I shall live to pull out the weeds in my Church and bring it back to its original glory and pure undiluted faith.”
Beginning of reformation
By this time, Deacon Mathen’s uncle (father’s brother) Abraham Malpan
has already began reformation in the church and made the following changes:
- On Sunday August 27, 1837, Kurbana (Holy Communion) was conducted in Malayalam, the language of the people.
- Every year on October 5, there was a church festival at Maramon, connected with a certain saint of the church. A wooden image of the saint named ‘Muthappen,’ was taken around in procession and people used to offer prayers and offerings to it. In 1837, Abraham Malpan took the image and threw it into a well saying, “Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19). Thus the prayers to the saints and prayers for the dead were removed from the liturgy.
- Changes were made in the various prayers in the prayer books incorporating the divine light received through the study of the Bible.
The use of the revised liturgy and the changes Abraham Malpan brought about in practices offended Cheppad Philipose Mar Dionysius (Mar Thoma XII), who threatened him with excommunication. But Abraham Malpan informed him that if excommunicated, he would not come begging to revoke it. Marthoma XII, did not excommunicate him, but refused priesthood to the deacons trained under him.
Decision to go to Antioch.
It was at this time Deacon Mathen returned from Madras
. He realized the problems that faced him, his friends, his uncle Abraham Malpan
and the clergy who wanted a reformation in the Church. Deacon Mathen remembered his decision, “I shall live to pull out the weeds in my Church and bring it back to its original glory and pure undiluted faith.”
The synod convened by the Mar Dionysius at Mavelikkara on January 16, 1836 at Mavelikkara, accepted the supremacy of the Church of Antioch.]].. They also decided that only bishops permitted by the Patriarch, had the authority over the Church. This made Deacon Mathen to decide to go to see the Patriarch. Abraham Malpan was willing to sacrifice anything for the Church. So he agreed to this decision. Because of the difficulties of traveling from Kerala to Antioch, no one from Malankara Church had ever attempted to go to Antioch. Deacon Mathen was the first one to attempt this tedious journey.
Deacon Mathen was ordained by Moran Mar Elias Patriarch under the Episcopal title, Mathews Mar Athanasius
Metropolitan, at Mardin
on February 17, 1842. He was appointed as the Metropolitan there and was given charge of a diocease. After about a year, Mar Athanasius left for India
Back in Kerala.
Mathews Mar Athanasius
Metropolitan returned to Kerala
on May 17, 1843 and was received by a number of parish priests and laymen. While he was at Cochin
, his teacher Konattu Varghese Malpan arrived there with his followers. He advised the Metropolitan that people of Malankara Church would accept him as their Metropolitan, but if he began reformation, people would not. He realised that he could not make reforms easily.
Meeting with Swathi Thirunal Maharaja.
Soon after his return to Kerala
, he paid a visit to the then ruling Maharaja (king) of Travancore
, Swathi Thirunal
. Both of them were fluent in Malayalam
, English and Arabic. So their conversations were in these languages. Maharaja felt proud of having such a person as his subject.
Church was following the teachings of Jesus as told to them by Thomas and had copies of the original Peshittha Bible
. But things changed with the arrival of Vasco Da Gama
on Sunday May 20, 1498. The teachings of the Roman Catholic Church were inculcated into the original teachings - prayer to and for the dead, veneration of icons, celibacy of priests, and so on. Many other practices of the Malankara Church were deplorable. So he and his friends pioneered a reformation in the church by which Church decided to follow the Bible.
His whole time he spent in bringing his Church to the Bible and to its "original purity.
In 1856, he printed and distributed prayer books in Malayalam, leaving out prayer to Saint Mary.
Holy Communion services were conducted in Malayalam the language of the people of Malabar.
While with the Patriarch at Antioch, he was asked to preach at worship services. He continued this even after coming to Kerala. He encouraged clergy to read the Bible and interpret it to the common people of parishes.
Allowed Tamil missionaries to preach at various churches.
He was against honoring icons and statues, so he removed the statue of Saint Mary from Manarcaud Church (near Kottayam), and at Puthupally church, near Kottayam.
Mar Athanasius was a social reformer also. He did a lot of things to help to improve the conditions of the society.
Some of the schools were run my the Malankara Church. Mar Athanasius advised the government to give some of grant to the schools as an encouragement. Government approved this proposal and gave grants to more than sixty schools.
Without cast. creed or color people approached Mar Athanasius with their grievances, and received help from him.
Christians were forced to work on Sundays and do menial work in Hindu temples at other times. Punishments were severe, if they disobeyed. Mar Athanasius put an end to all these. His friendship with the Maharajas, government and its officials were of great help in this area.
Mar Athanasius went to Antioch
without the permission, of Mar Thoma XII. He was educated in a school run by British missionaries. His uncle Abraham Malpan
was the leader of the reformation. Because of all these, though he returned as a Metropolitan there were objections from among the Malankara Church. They wrote to Antioch
their objections and as a result Patrarch sent Euyakim Mar Coorilos Metropolitan to Kerala
In 1852, Mar Thoma XII, Cheppattu Philipose Mar Dionysius abdicated in favour of Euyakim Mar Coorilos Metropolitan. During the days of Mar Thoma VII (1808-1809) a sum of 3000 star pagoda (in 2002 one star pagoda coin had a market value of £475) was given as loan in perpetuity to the British. This is known as Vattipanam. For giving the interest for this amount, the government had to find out who the head was.
Mar Athanasius was approved by the governments of Kerala and Cochin as Malankara Metropolitan on August 30, 1852. after Cheppattu Philipose Mar Dionysius abdicated due to ill health. Because of this he was able to collect the interest of Vattipanam for the past 45 years, from the government. This did not please some of the members of the Church.
Consecration at Thozhyoor.
In 1856, Mar Athanasius ordained Ouseph Mar Coorilose as Metropolitan of Malabar Independent Syrian Church
. This created some enmity.
Mar Athanasius used to visit parishes stayed there for a few days and meet the people of the parish. During that period, he appointed officers to conduct the financial matters efficiantly. Some members did not like this.
Mar Athanasius established a printing press at Kottayam
for the use of the Church. There, the liturgy
was printed and published, omitting the prayers to Saint Mary
and other saints. This infuriated a few priests. Those who opposed the Metropolitan, published another book with all these prayers included.
Arrival of Patriarch.
During his time Reformation of the Church became strong. Ouseph Kathanar from Kunnamkulam, who objected to Reformation went to Antioch
and was consecrated as Joseph Mar Dionysius on April 3, 1865. After his return, those who opposed Mathews Mar Athanasius
invited the Patriarch of Antioch
. The large majority of the people were conservative and the reform party was a very small minority. Thus a large majority joined the Patriarch of Antioch
During his time Reformation of the Church became strong. Ouseph Kathanar from Kunnamkulam, who objected to Reformation went to Antioch and was consecrated as Joseph Mar Dionysius on April 3, 1865. After his return, those who opposed Mathews Mar Athanasius invited the Patriarch of Antioch. Ignasious Pathrose III, Patriarch of Antioch arrived in June 1875 at Kunnamkulam. On his way he visited Istanbul, London and Madras.
By this time, those who opposed Mathews Mar Athanasius had a rumour flying among them that Mar Athanasius will be excommunicated, without realizing that this was not possible.
Patriarch was not able to excommunicate, and his effort to take away the title “Malankara Metropolitan,” was not successful. Patriarch convened a synod on June 28-30 at Mulathuruthy. He divided the Church into seven dioceses and ordained six more bishops. The large majority of the people were conservative and they joined the Patriarch of Antioch. Metran Kakshi (reform party) was a very small minority.
Mathews Mar Athanasius remained as the head of the Malankara Church.
Mar Athanasius ordained
- Maramon Palakunnathu Thomas Kassessa under the name Thomas Mar Athanasius as his successor on June 1, 1868.
- Aarthatt Alathoor Ouseph Kathanar under the name Ouseph Mar Coorilos of Malabar Independent Syrian Church in 1856.
- Kochaypera of Mulanthuruthy Chathuruthy family was ordained as Koraya (sub-deacon) on September 14, 1858 at Karingachira (was reordained in 1864). Later he became Mar Geevarghese Gregorios, he died on November 2, 1902 and was laid to rest at Parumala Church. Later he was a canonized saint of the Orthodox Church and is known as Parumala Thirumeni.
Relation with other Metropolitans.
- Cheppad Mar Dionysius was seriously ill and was living at Cheppad. He had no one to care for him. Mar Athanasius went to Cheppad made arrangement to care for him and visited the parishes nearby till he died on October 9, 1855. The funeral service was conducted by Mar Athanasius.
- Mar Coorilos became sick and was at Mulanthuruthy church. He visited him and comforted him. Mar Coorilos died on September 2, 1874.
End of an era.
Metropolitan was diabetic. While visiting Quilon Suryani palli in the Southern Diocese, he was bitten on his leg by a rat at night and became septic. He returned to Maramon
. The illness took a turn for the worse. Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan passed away on July 16, 1877 and was laid to rest at Maramon
Palli (church).Funeral service was conducted by Thomas Mar Athanasius
Metropolitan and Ouseph Mar Koorilose of Malabar
Independent Syrian Church.
It is the practice that after the demise of a Metropolitan, the sceptre is to be returned to the head of the Church that consecrated him. As per the wishes of Mathews Mar Athanasius the sceptre of a Metropolitan was returned to the Patriarch of Antioch. After a few years, the Patriarch presented it to the Mar Thoma Church.
Soon after the demise of Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan the Malankara Church was involved in a case for the properties of the Church in Kerala, and the court decided on July 12, 1889, that it belonged to the Patriarch in Antioch. Thus the remianing members of the Malankara Church became the Mar Thoma Church and those who sided with the Patriarch of Antioch became the Jacobite Church.
- Juhanon Marthoma Metropolitan, The Most Rev. Dr. (1952). Christianity in India and a Brief History of the Marthoma Syrian Church.. Pub: K.M. Cherian.
- Mathew N.M. (2003). St. Thomas Christians of Malabar Through Ages’’, C.S.S. Tiruvalla. ISBN 81-4821-008-8 and CN 80303
- Zac Varghese Dr. & Mathew A. Kallumpram. (2003). ‘’Glimpses of Mar Thoma Church History’’. London, England. ISBN 81/900854/4/1
- Chacko, T.C. (1936) Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charithra Samgraham’’. (Concise History of Marthoma Church), Pub: E.J. Institute, Kompady, Tiruvalla.
- Eapen, Prof. Dr. K.V. (2001). ‘’Malankara Marthoma Suryani Sabha Charitram’’. (History of Malankara Marthoma Syrian Church). Pub: Kallettu, Muttambalam, Kottayam.
- Ittoop Writer, (1906). ‘’Malayalathulla Suryani Chistianikauleday Charitram’’. (History of Syrain Christians in the land of Malayalam)
- Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan. (1857). ‘’Mar Thoma Sleehayude Idavakayakunna Malankara Suryani Sabhaudai Canon’’. (Canon of the Malankara Syrian Church of Saint Thomas). Printed at Kottayam Syrian Seminary.
- Mathew, N.M. ‘’Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charitram’’, (History of the Marthoma Church), Volume 1.(2006), Volume II (2007). Volume III (2008) Pub. E.J.Institute, Tiruvalla
- Varkey, M.P. (1901) Malankara Idavakayude Mar Dionysius Metropolitan. (Biography of Mar Dionysius Metropolitan)
- Varughese, Rev. K.C., (1972).’’Malabar Swathanthra Suryani Sabhyude Charitram’’ (History of the Malankar Independednt Suryani Church)