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Remembrance of King Abgar of Edessa

March 13, 2012 1 comment

Today the Church remembers King Abgar of Edessa.

Icon of Abgar holding the mandylion, the image of Christ (encaustic, 10th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai)

Edessa (Presently called Urfa/Urahay) is a city in the border of Turkey and Iraq. During the time of Jesus, an Assyrian King named Abgar V ruled Edessa. He was suffering from an incurable disease. Abgar wrote a letter to Jesus, saying that he believed in Jesus as the Son of God, and also he believed in his amazing miracles about which he had only heard about. King Abgar in his letter is asking Jesus to come heal him. Towards the end of his letter, Abgar is says that he has heard that the Jews are persecuting Him, thus, he is suggested Jesus to come and stay in his City.

Jesus replied to his letter as follows: “Happy art thou who hast believed in me, not having seen me, for it is written of me that those who shall see me shall not believe in me, and that those who shall not see me shall believe in me. As to that which thou hast written, that I should come to thee, all that for which I was sent here below is finished, and I ascend again to my Father who sent me, and when I shall have ascended to Him I will send thee one of my disciples, who shall heal all thy sufferings, and shall give health again, and shall convert all who are with thee unto life eternal. And thy city shall be blessed forever, and the enemy shall never overcome it.”

King Abgar illustration in 1898 book «Illustrated Armenia and Armenians>>

After the Ascension of Christ, Addai (also referred to as Thaddai) who was one among the seventy (Luke 10:1) left for Edessa, along with his close friend Mari. Both of them are considered to be disciples of St Thomas. Addai and Mari are considered as the second and third “Catholicose of the East”, respectively following St Thomas, who was the first.  In Edessa they visited King Abgar. Mar Addai placed his hands on Abgar and said. “I place my hand upon thee in the name of Eshoo Msheekha [meaning in Aramaic,Jesus Christ ], and in His name you are healed.” Healing took place immediately. Abgar along with his family and countrymen converted to Christianity and Edessa became the first Christian City.

Church historian Eusebios (4th century) has written about King Abgar. Eusebios say that he has found the letters written by Abgar to Jesus and Jesus’s reply, from the public records of Edessa and translated it from Syriac. The healing of Abgar is also recorded in the Doctrine of Addai.

The service book used by Yeldo Mar Baselius (Kothamangalam Bava) had King Abgar’s name written on it.

In Christ


Categories: ARTICLES

Just a Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness…..

March 13, 2012 Comments off

Today the Church celebrates the Mid Lent. One of the Old Testament reading for today is Numbers 21:4-9

It reads

Moses lifting up the bronze serpent

“4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”


 It is the day of “Sleeba Nattal” (Hoisting of the cross) in remembrance of the above mentioned reading, which is a foretelling of the Crucifixion of Christ. As the Israelites who looked the bronze serpent and were healed, the faithful are healed from their sins on looking the cross which is hoisted in the middle of the Church.

The Sleeba (Cross) is hoisted on top of the Mnortho (The stand on top of which the Cross is instilled). From the mid lent, during which it is hoisted, till before the evening prayer of the Monday of Passion Week the sleeba will be placed in the centre of the church. This symbolizes Christ’s public ministry. After Hosanna Service the sleeba will be placed in the azhikakam (the place where the namaskaramesha is kept). This symbolizes Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Till Good Friday the sleeba will be there. On the Good Friday the sleeba is placed in the chamber behind the altar table. From the day of Easter till Ascension the Sleeba placed on top of the Mnortho, is placed inside the altar. This symbolizes Christ presence in the world after his resurrection till his ascension, but during these days, He was invisible and untouchable (except when He allowed for).

In early Christianity, the Metropolitans used to sit in the middle of the Church and give sermons on the church faith to the new Christians. The cross which is hoisted in the middle of the Church today, also calls the faithful to come to the true faith and teachings of the church and take the remaining of the lent with prayers and repentance.

In Christ


Categories: ARTICLES

“Time Will Not Dim His Glory” – A Tribute to St Dionysius on the days of his feast

February 24, 2012 Comments off

“Time Will Not Dim His Glory”. This is the line inscribed by HH Geevarghese II Catholicose in the tomb of St Dionysius Vattaseril.  These are apt words considering that the Church still benefits from the strong stand taken by Vattaseril Thirumeni on many issues. While everyone gives due credit to Vattaseril Thirumeni for upholding the Independence of the Church till his last breath, we often forget his other contributions to the church.

Guard of honour given to St Dionysius by Christian soldiers in Kunnamkulam

Even before he was elected as Metropolitan by the Malankara Association, he was touted as the successor of Malankara Metropolitan Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysius. Hence he had that status in the church. He was unarguably the greatest Church scholar in his time, if not of all time. His book on Orthodox Christian doctrines, “Madopadeshasarangal “, is as testimony of his great knowledge.  We have to remember that he wrote this when reference books where scarcely, if otherwise not at all, available. Vattasseril Malpan became a recognizable figure in the Church scene when he toppled Kovoor Achen*, a learned scholar, in a debate. If it wasn’t for the litigations in the church his status as a scholar and his scholarly works would have been equivalent to that of Adi Sankara, Chanakya and Swami Vivekananda.

Another of his great quality was that he was a leader with vision about the future. He had this skill of finding out young people from the community and providing them with the right kind of education to make them future leaders of the church. His first such protégé was Fr P T Geevarghese, later Mar Ivanios Vattasseril Thirumeni  turned Fr P T Geevarghese  into “MA Achen”**. Unfortunately for Vattasseril Thirumeni and the Church, Mar Ivanios shunned the Orthodox belief and embraced Romanism.  When Mar Ivanios’s intentions became more and more evident, Vattasseril Thirumeni found another MA holder to fill the vaccum. With this quick thinking and vision of Vattsseril Thirumeni, the son of Thekethalakal Thoma Kathanar became Puthenkavil Kochu Thirumeni (Geevarghese Mar Philexinos). He had a vision for all his protégés . That is why he instructed Mar Ivanios, who at the time was the abbot of Bethany Ashram, not to take Parett Mathews Achen*** into Bethany, even though achen was interested. Vattaseril Thirumeni explanantion for this was that everyone becoming monks will not be good as someone should be there for church administration. He also called on Mukhancheril Fr M P Peter to bishophood, but Achen rejected as his passion was missionary work. Vattasseril Thirumeni later wrote that if Fr M P Peter is willing, ordain him as Metropolitan****. Thoma Mar Dionysius (Pathanapuram Dayara), Kuriakose Mar Gregorios (Pampady Thirumeni) were also brought into the forefront of the Church by Vattaseril Thirumeni.

Illuminator of the Church - St Dionysius Vattasseril

The time period (1908-1934), during which Vattasseril Thirumeni led the Church saw the rise of spiritual organizations and ashrams. The Syrian Students Movement (the present MGOCSM) was formed with his  patronage. Many students who attended the annual conferences of this movement was inspired to actively take part in the Church. This was also a period wherein ashrams in church were established  for its spiritual upliftment . Vattaseril Thirumeni’s role in their establishment cannot be ignored. Tadagam Ashram, Bethany Ashram, Tabore Ashram came up during his tenure as Malankara Metropolitan. He was very concerned about their growth. Once, Mar Ivanios of Bethany and Parett Mathews Achen came to Thirumeni asking for some funds for Bethany. Thirumeni  said “I will not give anything to them (Bethany) . I have given them many times before. Those have gone. If you want I can give you (to Parett Achen).” This shows his disappointment when Bethany led by Ivanios was going in the wrong way.

Parumala Thirumeni and Pampady Thirumeni are known to people for their strong prayer life. But the prayer life of Vattaseril Thirumeni is often not mentioned. The prayer life of Vattasseril Thirumeni is at par with the prayer life of the other two Holy Fathers mentioned before. Kamaludeen, a goon who was hired to kill Thirumeni, on reaching Thirumeni’s room through a ladder found Thirumeni kneeling and praying in the midnight. This same person in his statement to the police after his arrest had said that he had tried to climb upto Thirumeni’s room on many occasions, but failed to do so because he felt some force pushing the ladder down.  Thirumeni hated hypocrisy and falsehood. Once during the Thooyobo of a Holy Qurbana, the celebrant achen was taking a longer time than required for the Thooyobo. Thirumeni who wasn’t the celebrant on that day was standing at the namaskaramesha. The believers where singing “Velivu Niranjoreesho” for the n th time. Finally Thirumeni directed his deacon to take his chair to the Madbaha. On entering the Madbaha, Thirumeni in a stern voice said to the Achen “Nirthado Kapada Bakthi”. Thirumeni rejected all kinds of shownism regarding faith. One other incident that comes to mind is one of his courtroom trials. The opponents in the case had argued that Thirumeni had become old and his hands shiver when he holds the Chalice and Paten (Kasa and Pelassa). Their advocate asked thirumeni that if he is given a plate and bowl could he hold it like a kasa and pelassa and demonstrate, so that the court can see whether his hands shiver or not. Thirumeni strongly said that he is in the court to give his statement and not to demonstrate the Holy Qurbana. It is said to recently see a Metropolitan holding up Kasa and Pelassa, just for a few clicks to try and establish a right he doesn’t have.

During his lifetime he had many opponents because of his strict functioning style and his no-nonsense approach when it comes to church affairs. His rivalry with his co trustees Konattu Mathen Malpan and Akkara C J Kurian has been well documented. But many fail to understand that both Malpan and C J Kurian had reconciled with Thirumeni before their death. Both the co trustees passed away before Thirumeni and Thirumeni had visited them while they were in their death bed. He was ready to forgo his personal pride, for the sake of peace in the church, in his lifetime itself. The journey to Mardin in his old age was for this. That journey would have been a success had Elias Mar Yulius not played the dirty games he did.

In our church history there would be no one who had suffered so much torture and pain like Vattasseril Thirumeni did. It is really sad when the priests (not everyone) of today not give him due importance or make any effort to encourage the congregations to study about him. The learned scholar of our church, Fr V C Samuel was not a great admirer of Vattasseril Thirumeni in the beginning. But Achen, after detailed study about Vattasseril Thirumeni, named his book about Thirumeni as “Truth Triumphs”. The more we study about St Dionysius, the more respect we have for him, the more he grows in stature in our minds.


In Christ

Kiran Raj
Hitec City, Hyderabad

*Kovoor Achen or Ipe Thoma Kathanar, along with Palakunnathu Athanasius led the reformist  movement and later on became the Vicar General of the Reformist Church ( Mar Thoma Church).

** Fr P T Geevarghese was better known as MA Achen, because there weren’t many priests at that time who had an MA.

*** Parett Mathews achen later became Parett Mathews Mar Ivanios of Kottayam Diocese.

**** As per the will of Vattaseril Thirumeni Fr M P Peter later became of Pathrose Mar Osthathios Metropolitan

Author’s note: I have not ventured into writing about St Dionysius’s contributions in upholding the freedom of the Church, because of the fact that it cannot be covered in one single article.

Categories: ARTICLES
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