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THOSE WHO LED US

H.G. PATHROS MAR OSTHATHIOS METROPOLITAN
By EDITOR DR. RAJAN MATHEW, PHILADELPHIA

THOSE WHO LED US
H.G. PATHROS MAR OSTHATHIOS METROPOLITAN

H. G. Pathros Mar Osthathios Metropolitan was a true champion of the poor, herald of Gospel and glitter of Malankara. He enriched his life committing himself to self negation and compassion to poor and dalits. Pathros Mar Osthathios was the first missionary Bishop of Malankara. By mission and charitable activities of Mar Osthathios Metropolitan among low caste and downtrodden people, he is exemplified as Malankara Gandhi, because of the similarities of the characteristics of his mission with ideologies of Mahatma Gandhi.

As per the Last Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ, the cardinal mission of the Church is that of evangelism. In light of its biblical usage, the Apostles, Missionaries and Church Fathers are the ones who are to witness to Jesus across cultures. Achievements of the life of H.G. Pathros Mar Osthathios stand unique in the Church and secular history. St. Geevarghese Mar Gregorios of Parumala commenced the missionary activities in the Church as a kind of Gospel work. The missionary activities of Patros Mar Osthathios were truly in line and continuation of the vision and endeavors of Parumala Thirumeni.

Pathros Mar Osthathios was born on June 26, 1886 to Mookancheril Cherian Purava and Kooliyattil Kunjumariamma as their ninth and last child. He was affectionately called by all as 'Kochupilla' which means little child. He was from the lineage of a noble heritage. Mookancheril Family was an illustrious, much revered traditional family in north Kerala of sound economic status. Parents of Thirumeni were righteous and pious ones with mere basic education. The family's religious background was sacred with regular daily prayers, fasting, Sunday worship, alms giving etc. Being the youngest child of the family, Pathros (English name Peter) enjoyed love, affection, care and all kinds of help from his parents and elder siblings.

As per the tradition of that time, Kochupilla started his education with Chandy Asan and further with Kanjirathungal Paily Asan (teacher) who was also known as 'Kushlanasan'. After learning Malayalam alphabet and the rudiments arithmetic, he was enrolled in Thrippunithura Anglo Vernacular School. During early days he was very hesitant to go to school and his father used to slog him. Eventually he decided to be earnest in his studies. He won the prize of Books of Shakespeare for passing out the fourth standard from A.V. School with a creditable first rank. Thus he became the apple of the eye of the family and village people.

Elder brother of Peter, M. P. Varkey was a Senior Excise Inspector of Old Cochin State, and he desired to see Kochupilla as a Senior Official in Government Service. Sister of Thirumeni who was two years older, was Sister Saina of Bethany Convent. His paternal uncle Late Rev. Geevarghese Ramban was one among the prominent clergies ordained by Patriarch Peter. He desired to see his affectionate Kochupilla as his follower from Mookancheril family. The influence of this devout celibate Ramban must have been strong in Kochupilla. In the heart of heart, Peter also longed for, to be a humble servant of Lord.

The student movement of our Church, Syrian Students Association, especially its annual conferences with sermons of illustrated scholars, had a profound influence on Kochupilla of Mookancheril to shape himself as a missionary bishop of Malankara, in the future. In his letters, he admits that they left an indelible impression on his mind. A number of students were enrolled in the Association. He gave leadership and encouragement to the member students of the Association. At the age of 22, in 1908, while he was studying for F.A. in Ernakulum College, he attended the first initial conference of the Syrian Students Association at Thirumoolapuram Balikamadam. From that opening conference to the 58th conference in 1966, His Grace Peter was the only one who had attended all the conferences of the Students Movement. He was also the General Secretary of the Association for many years. In those early days M.P. Peter was one of the leading lights of the Conferences.

[The Syrian Students Association was the student wing of Malankara Orthodox Church that time. Currently it is replaced with Mar Gregorios Orthodox Christian Student Movement (MGOCSM). It is motivated for the spiritual nurturing of the students in Schools, College and professional teaching institutions both in Kerala and outside Kerala.]

Some of the students of the Association expressed a response that contemporary faith and tradition of the Church was not conducive for missionary work and they favored for the reformatory ideologies. However the true Orthodox faith sermons of the Clergies from Oxford Mission High Church convincingly put to rest the strange view point of reformation seeded in the young mind and views of the students were thoroughly transformed. Some of the students expressed their inclination to become priests and do missionary work for the Holy Church.

While Peter was studying for F. A. in Ernakulum, he was staying in a lodge along with his faithful servant Chandy. In 1908, he attended the very first conference of the Syrian Students Movement held at Balikamadam, Thiruvalla. Sermons of many eminent scholars like Father Holmes, in the annual Conferences of the Association had influenced him and he assigned himself the onerous task serving the downtrodden and made up his mind to take up the vocation of priesthood. Predisposed Peter gave up his job without informing anybody and left the lodge where he was living. His aide Chandy who was living with him in the lodge went and informed this to Peterís relatives. Knowing Peterís intentions, the household people informed his brother M. P. Varkey who was very influential in the Govt. M P Varkey sent a telegram to Vattasseril Thirumeni requesting him not to ordain Peter. But all this was too late. Eventually, by this time, Peter was ordained as a deacon by Murimattathil Mar Ivanios, [later the First Catholicos], in the presence of Fr. P. T. Geevarghese [Later Mar Ivanios] at Parumala Seminary against the wish of his brother M.P. Varkey and other family members and he had kept the news away from his family. The above telegram reached only after the ordination was completed.

After his ordination as deacon, he spent three years to study for BD at Serampore University. Even while studying in the school, during his mid-summer vacations, Peter used to visit the huts of the low caste and downtrodden families in his village and enlightened them of cleanliness, bad effects of alcoholism, need of education of their children etc. During this time, Diwan Bahadur Sir Thiruvalayangudi Vijayaraghavacharya of Cochin kingdom, promoted the movement for equal rights for the lower caste. The Diwan appointed Dn. M. P. Peter as special officer for reformation and elevation of the lower castes in the cadre of Diwanís Secretary of the movement for equal rights for the lower caste. At this time even Gandhiji had not begun his movement for Harijans. Dn. Peter participated in Vaikom Satyagraha in Travancore against untouchability in Hindu society.

[The caste system in Kerala was dissimilar to that found in the rest of India. In Kerala the Nambudiri Brahmins formed the priestly class. The Brahmins treated almost all of those who acceded to their priestly status as Shudra or untouchables.]

For many years the worships in the Orthodox Church were in Syriac which could not be fully comprehended by ordinary laity. So Dn. M. P. Peter perceived the need to translate worship books into Malayalam. Dn. Joseph Pulikkottil extended his support for this venture. Both Deacons spent their vacations in Kunnamkulam Pazhaya Palli and commenced the work. M. T. Itteyra Malpan of Kothamagalm, a scholarly priest in syriac and Kulaganttil Joseph Kathanar guided them in this endeavor. The team took service of Mahakavi Vallathol for the composition of the lyrics. Probably the association of Vallathol in this Christian literal work might have prompted him to write his poetic creation 'Magdalena Mariam'. The drafts of the translation were submitted to Fr. P. T. Geevarghese and then to Vattasseril Mar Dionysius. Though many bishops initially opposed this attempt doubting that this may overthrow the holy nature of the Liturgy, eventually a Taksa was published with the translated Malayalam version.

On September 14, 1924 Dn. Peter established the Servants of Cross Society. Dn. M. P. Peter was ordained as a Priest by Yuyakim Mar Ivanios in 1926. While Fr. M. P. Peter was serving the poor through the Servants of the Cross, he was once summoned to Pazhaya Seminary by Vattasseril Thirumeni, in Kottayam. Thirumeni opened his mind and expressed his desire that Achen would be elevated as a Ramban next week and ordain as a bishop after the ordination of New Catholicos. Fr. M. P. Peter rejected this offer, in spite that Vattasseril Thirumeni was persevering in his decisions. Later Fr. Peter told his companions that an Episcopal position would be hindrance for his work and if necessary he can take it up only after him turning 60.

However, later in 1947 Third Catholicose Baselios Geevarghese II Bava ordained Fr. M. P. Peter as Ramban and on May 15, 1953 as Episcopa, with the ecclesiastical name Mar Osthathios. The mission activities of the church initiated by Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysius, was later continued by Parumala Mar Gregorios. These activities were taken over by Pathros Mar Osthathios with a great vigor. His Grace was appointed for the underdeveloped Malabar diocese. His Grace organized the diocesan activities living in Carmel Dayara, Kandanad. Mar Osthathios was the founding Metropolitan of the Malabar Diocese which mainly constituted of poor immigrant community from other parts of the state. There was no travelling convenience and he walked all around and served the people. The thatched churches were made with bamboos and conducted Holy Liturgy. His Grace led a very simple life. Even the car which was gifted to His Grace was sold by him to raise funds for mission activities.

The Servants of the Cross Society [Sleeba Dasa Samooham]:
The Servants of the Cross is the earliest missionary organization of the Malankara Orthodox Church. It came into being on September 14, 1924. This celebrated missionary society was founded by Metropolitan Mookancheril Pathros Mar Osthathios with a motivation of improving the religious and social welfare of the depressed classes. His Grace himself drafted the constitution for the organization. The Central Office of the Society is located at Carmel Dayara, Kandanad, Kerala, India. The Society had enrolled in its cadre, number of dedicated, selfless and devoted young men. These selfless men known as the Servants of the Cross reside mostly in parish-church premises and move out for their missionary work.

The missionary activities of the society included regular corner meeting, house visits, study classes for the Harijans etc. The Metropolitan in his early years of life as a deacon and priest, travelled the length and breadth in Kerala, preached to and worked among the socially backward classes. The success of the Society is mainly due to its rules of conduct and discipline for the workers. Through their dynamic evangelization, they could win thousands of souls to the redeeming grace of Lord Jesus Christ. His Grace had to face stiff resistance from the strong laity members within the Church and emerged with idea of building separate churches for the dalit converted Christians. His Grace had vehemently opposed to this idea and slowly convinced them.

His Grace departed for heavenly abode on February 2nd 1968 and was laid to rest in Carmel Dayara at Mulanthuruthy. February second is celebrated as the memorial day of this great missionary and social reformist in Kerala.


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