|Our Late Bishops ....|
The contention of Mar Dionysius who represented the unreformed Jacobite Church was that the consecration of Thomas Mar Athanasius was invalid as it had been done without the permission of the Jacobite patriarch, held to be the supreme head of the Syrian Church in Malabar. The plea of Thomas Mar Athanasius was that the Syrian Church in Malabar was an independent church though having friendly relation with the Jacobite Patriarch and that therefore, there was nothing wrong in his having been consecrated by his predecessor without any reference to the Patriarch. The majority judgement held that the Syrian Church in Malabar was under the jurisdiction of the Jacobite Patriarch. Thus the cause of the independence of the Syrian Church sustained a blow for the moment. This was a temporary setback as later history showed, for the independence of the Syrian Church has now come to be accepted as a valid principle by the Orthodox Church (The earlier unreformed later took up the name Orthodox) as well. The result of the judgement in the ‘Seminary Suit’, as it is sometimes known, was that the Church was divided into two sections one, calling the Jacobite Church and the other the Mar Thoma Church. The Mar Thomites having lost their claim to property had to start from scratch, building churches and organizing themselves as an independent body. This was no easy task. The earnestness and spiritual fervor of the leaders, lay and clerical, stood them in good stead. Their evangelistic zeal found expression at this time in the formation of the Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association in 1888. Though the episcopate of Thomas Mar Athanasius was a period of trial and suffering for the church it was also one of great spiritual promise for the future. The Mar Thoma Church considers itself as one carrying on the original traditions of the Malabar Church, reformed in accordance with the teaching of the New Testament.
One of the greatest aims was to find proper individuals for both the ordained ministry of the Church and for lay activities. It was through his influence that many educated people came forward to join the ministry of the church, when they could find lucrative employment elsewhere. After finding out suitable young men, he arranged for their higher education and theological studies. He organized special summer schools for ordinary people engaged in secular jobs for Bible study and training. The Vanithamandiram, for training women workers also was developed with his active encouragement. The call that he gave to young men and women to go and live in the villages of India in different language areas resulted in establishment of Ashrams in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and in places till the borders of Tibet. His help was sought by Christian friends all over India to lead evangelistic conventions. Such assignments took him from Kanyakumari in the south to Kashmir in the north. He was a friend of missionaries in India and all of them looked up to him for inspiration and guidance. The Tiruppathur Ashram and the Kodaikanal Asharm established by members of other Churches, regarded him as their friend, guide and philosopher. He was president of the Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association and the National Missioanry Society. Even though he was suffering from acute diabetes for many years, he went on working with the motto: “it is far better to burn out than to rust out”. The Abraham Mar Thoma Bible institute established for the training of voluntary evangelists in the Church was named after him. Though he was Metropolitan only for four years, his long ministry as Bishop strengthened the Church in all its missionary enterprises. He was called to eternal home in 1947.
His concern for the poor and the needy in the society found expression in action. He started the project to provide land for the landless and house for the houseless, even before Vinoba Bhave undertook it on national scale. He appealed to the people and many came forward in response to the call. When a new house (Bishop’s residence) was constructed for him and also to provide accommodation for guests, he wanted to build a house for a poor man preferably any one from other faiths before he started living in the new house. This was done and the key of the house was handed over to a Hindu friend simultaneously with the dedication of the house for the Metropolitan. The project of the Church for providing at least 100 houses per year to the poor irrespective of their religion and caste was started on that occasion. It has been achieving more than its aim in the past 18 years. The Government of Kerala followed this example and started a scheme to build one lakh houses with Government resources. Thus Juhanon Mar Thoma was pioneer in this social programme. Individual Parishes and members of the Church also have followed this good example and many thousands of houses have been constructed for the poor. Considering the housing situation of Kerala, this is just a beginning and there are many more lakhs of people in need of shelters. The Metropolitan appealed also for funds to help people in distress owing to accidents and natural calamities. This fund was called the Relief Fund, which is to be raised by practicing abstinence by skipping a meal a day to feel the suffering of others. Many responded to this appeal following his personal example, and have contributed to the fund, which has helped thousands. Another appeal was to contribute money to help in the marriage of poor girls. This contribution is usually given by people on the wedding of their children as an offering to God for providing for their needs. He also requested people to curtail their personal expenses as much as possible and to lead a simple lifestyle, contributing liberally towards the upliftment of the poor. He himself led a very simple life almost ascetic in nature, and was an idealist of high thinking and simple living. It can be truly beheld that he raised the prophetic voice in his generation. He provided the Church with an emblem with the motto: “Lighted to Lighten”. This has been appreciated by many as showing both our privilege as lighted and our responsibility to lighten.
The spirit of adventure and trust in God made him a master builder of the Church. Wherever he saw the need, he ventured into action even when no resources were in sight. Undeveloped areas in Malabar became his concern as the Diocesan Bishop. He went to un-accessed areas and helped small congregation of people who had migrated from Central Travancore, seeking opportunity to make a living. They were helped to settle down and developed as on small communities in a spirit of co-operation. Nilambur and Chungathara and other places up to Gudalloor were all reached by him and the small congregations were encouraged and supported in various ways. Later when he was in charge of the diocese in Central Travancore, he concentrated his efforts in developing the congregations among the new settlers in Chittar, Seethathode, Angamoozhy and other palaces which were very difficult to reach in those days. He opened dispensaries and clinics and schools while also caring for their spiritual needs. The Olivet Aramana at Chengannur, the Retreat Centre at Maramon and the Kalalayam at Ayroor came into being as a result of his enterprising spirit. It was owing to his farsight that the Charal Mount which has since become a favourite camp sight was bought and made available for the church. When the Evangelistic work of the Church expanded he was the first Missionary Bishop of the Church, travelling all over India, visiting the scattered congregations and encouraging the Ashrams. He was present in many international Evangelistic conferences in Tokyo and other places. He was the first Bishop of the Mar Thoma Church to visit our congregations in Malaysia and Singapore. Even though suffering from diabetes for many years, nothing could stop him from all out endeavour in the cause of the spread of the Gospel. He followed closely on the line of Abraham Mar Thoma and surpassed him in developmental activities of the Church. After a short period, he succumbed to his illness and was called to his heavenly reward in 1973 at the age of 73.
He has been President of various organizations of the Church, such as the Evangelistic Assocaiation, Sunday School Samajam, Sevika Sangham and Yuvajana Sakhyam on different occasions. He guided the evangelistic activities of the whole church for many years. As a builder, he opened up many centers for the development of the church, raising funds by personal appeals. Thus were established the Diocesan Headquarters at Adoor, Maganam and Kunnamkulam. The Church Center at Chungathara, the Convention Speakers Sites in the Retreat Centre at Maramon, and the St. Augustine Study Centre, Manganam, Kottayam with the view that the clergy and Laity should take time off to stay at the center and read the latest books on theology and related subjects. By his personal efforts, he built a library of over 6000 valuable books. The Mar Thoma College for Women at Perumbavoor was established under his inspiring leadership and patronage. He gave leadership to the Parishes in the Ranny area to establish a center for the church. He was Cahirman of different colleges of the Church and of the Vaidika Seminary for many years and gave valuable contributions to their development. The last months of his life were spent in organizing and developing the Parishes in North America. His sudden demise on November 27, 1984 was a severe shock to the whole Church and to the ecumenical world. His loss was irreparable. He was awarded a Doctorate by the Serampore University considering his meritorious services to the Church in India, and towards ecumenical cause. At the time of his consecration as Bishop a controversy was started by Mr. K N Daniel who questioned his loyalty to reformation principles. After closely observing his life and work for some years, Mr. Daniel himself admitted that his fears were unjustified and he had full confidence in Mar Athanasius’s personal commitment to Jesus Christ, his evangelical zeal and loyalty to the Church.
Born in 1913 he was the son of Rev. M C George, Kuriannor, a devout Minister of the Church, who passed away in 1923. After his graduation and teacher’s training, he taught in the C M S High School, Kottayam for 12 years. He resigned his teaching job and studied Theology at the United Theological College in Bangalore. There after he secured S T M Degree from the Union Theological Seminary, New York and Ph.D on Bhagavad Gita from Kennedy School of Mission of the Hartford Seminary Foundation. He had the opportunity to travel extensively in the European countries and after returning from the States, he was in charge of the Managnam Parish for a year. Thereafter he worked as the first Principal of Mar Thoma College, Tiruvalla. In 1953 he was consecrated as Bishop as Alexander Mar Theophilus, together with Thomas Mar Athanasius and Philipose Mar Chrysostom. A participant of the Assemblies of World Council of Churches representing the Mar Thoma Church at Evanston in 1954, Nairobi in 1975, and Vancouver in 1983, he worked as Missionary Bishop for many years, which involved extensive travel in India and abroad. He was president of the Bible Society of India for nearly 10 years and was also one of the Vice-Presidents of the United Bible Societies. He has also attended the Central Committee of the W.C.C on different occasions. He attended the Lambeth Conference in 1980 and the Anglican Consultative Council held at Nigeria in 1984. In 1973 he was designated Suffragan Metropolitan and as Metropolitan in the year 1976 after the demise of Juhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan. Together with the responsibility as Metropolitan he was in charge of the Niranam-Maramon Diocese with 82 Parishes. He used to spend several weeks in a year with the youth giving leadership in camps and conferences and challenging them to personal commitment towards Jesus Christ. He took special interest in the developmental activities and the social concerns of the church, its educational institutions, its missionary and evangelistic outreach, its witness and ecumenical concerns. In 1999 Alexander Marthoma was designated Alexander Marthoma Valia Metropolitan, as the first Marthoma Metropolitan to be made Valia Metropolitan. He passed away in 2000.
Dr. Zacharias Mar Theophilus Suffragan Metropolitan belongs to the Mattackal Venparampil family of the Niranama Jerusalem Mar Thoma Parish. Born on 29th August 1938 as the son of Sri V.K. Oommen and Smt. Mariamma Oommen having a brother and three sisters. Thirumeni was a personality searching for new path for spiritual activities by a perfect combination of knowledge and experience amidst contrasts and diversities. Appealing personality, warmth of friendly relations and an affinity for new ideas in theological thinking make Thirumeni different from others and at the sametime make him very dear to all without any difference in age.
Completing school education from Niranam St. Mary’s High School Oommen Koruth got BSc., B.Ed degrees studying in NSS College, Changanacherry, UC College, Alwaye and Titus II Teachers Training College Thiruvalla. Starting his career as a teacher Oommen Koruth worked in Settlement School, Alwaye in 1959 and in Ashramam High School, Perumbavoor in 1961. Accepting the divine call for full time ministry he joined the Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur and got B.D. Degree. He was ordained Semmas in May 1966 and Kasessa in July. Joining as teacher in Ashramam High School there after he served the nearby parishes as well. In 1969 he took charge of St. Thomas School, Mysore. Procuring land for the school a new building was constructed and the school was shifted there from the rented building and the school worked well there. He served as vicar of Mysore parish also. He worked as teacher and boarding superintendent in St. Thomas Residential School, Thriuvananthapuram serving nearby parishes as well.
Rev. Oommen Koruth joined Princeton Theological Seminary for higher studies. He got THM degree from Princeton and Doctorate from Boston University. He was able to lead in the formation of NewYork, Boston and Philadelphia parishes. On his return to India after higher studies he served in the Bombay Santacruz and Kozhencherry Parishes.
The Sabha Prathinidhi Mandalam at its meeting in Thiruvalla on 8th February 1980 selected Rev. Oommen Koruth as an Episcopa. He was consecrated as Ramban on 26thApril 1980 at St. Thomas Church, Kozhencherry and as Zacharias Mar Theophilus Epsicopa on 1st May at the Madbaha in the SCS Compound Thiruvalla. He was given charge of Adoor – Mavelikkara Diocese. He was President of Mar Thoma Yuvajana Sakhyam also during this period. In addition he took charge of Kottayam – Ranni Diocese from 1984 and Kunnamkulam – Malabar Diocese from 1987.
He served as head of North America – Europe Diocese spreading all over North America, Canada UK and Germany from 1993 to 2001 staying in New York. Under his leadership this Diocese achieved tremendous development. In 1997 the Mar Thoma Church became a member of National Council of Churches of Christ in USA. Mar Thoma congregations were formed in Germany and Switzerland. Arrangements were made for shepherding the Diaspora community in Africa, Australia and New Zealand. He worked as head of Chennai-Bangalore Diocese from 2001 to 2005. He gave monumental leadership during this period for mission activities in Karnataka, Andhra and Tamil Nadu states. During this period he was President of Mar Thoma Suvisesha Sevika Sanghom. In 2005 he took charge of Chengannur – Mavelikkara Diocese. In order to broaden the activities of Narasapuram, the mission field of the Diocese land was bought and school and clinic were started. Karuthal – Cancer care and Counselling Centre was started. He served as president of Mar Thoma Voluntary Evangelists Association. As President of the Committee to build homes for the homeless as the Navathy Project of Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Metropolitan he gave leadership to build 2059 houses.
Thirumeni’s contributions in the ecumenical field are remarkable. Along with giving readership in WCC, CCA he served as President of World Vision India, Bangalore ECC, National Missionary Society, Bible Society (Kerala Auxiliary) and as secretary of Nilackal Ecumenical Trust. He worked as member of Christian Council of Asia from 1982 to 1986. He represented the Church in the General Assembly of the work Mission and Evangelism Conference held in 1989 at Santigo. He was elected to the WCC Central Committee and Executive Committee held in 1991 at Canberra. He attended as the representative of the Church in the 1998 Lambeth Conference. He led the delegation of the Church in the General Assembly of WCC held at Harare in 1998. He was elected a second time as member of WCC Central Committee and Executive Committee. He was Ecumenical Advisor of the Church’s Delegation in the WCC General Assembly of 2006 held in Porto Alerge Brazil. Attending various Ecumenical religious study conferences in many parts of the world he has delivered lectures and presented papers.
Asha Nikethan (Mochana), Kottayam, Women’s Hostel, Pathanamthitta, Asha Bhavan Pidavoor, Sinai Centre New York, Santhigiri Ashram, Alwaye are examples of Thirumeni’s vision of future.
After the way back to Kerala after the Christmas Services in Muscat, Tirumeni suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in the flight and was admitted to a hospital in Kerala. Tirumeni was taken into eternal rest on December 27th, 2015 and the funeral service was held at December 29, 2015 at Tiruvalla.
Along with guiding the Dioceses, Thirumeni challenged the society to a new understanding by sharing visionary and theological insights with the help of outstanding oratory. He shines as Theologian, Ecumenical leader along with propagating and implementing new vision. Through out his life, he find answers to the complicated problems faced by the modern world with the help of divine guidance along with finding a new meaning for vision and theology with the help of extra ordinary insight.
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