Our beloved Very Reverend K. Mathai Cor-Episcopa departed us for heavenly abode in the evening of Thursday 12th October 2023. Mathai Achen who was earnestly active during his entire life span, rendered his priestly spiritual service till the previous day of his demise. Achen was 81 years old.
Dearly loved Cor-Episcopa Mathai Achen was a pertinent example and epitome for humility and simplicity of a Christian priest. The lowly spirit of humility of Achen was the reflex of seeing himself standing not before mass of people but before God. That is why the Scriptures inseparably bind humility and the fear of God together. “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor” ( Prov. 15:33 ). Mathai Achen desired to exemplify his self as an Acharyan than as a priest or vicar. Achen preserved this insight not only during his conscious state but also during his dreams as referred in his own sermons.
Very Reverend Kaleeckal Mathai Cor-Episcopa was a very esteemed and distinguished name among the Orthodox priests of undivided American diocese. History of our Parish, St. Gregorios Church, Philadelphia and priestly history of Mathai Achen are closely interlinked. Out of his 48 years of priestly service, Achen had served our Parish for majority of the period. He was the founder vicar of our church and was the only vicar from its inception to the year 2011, until he went on a break to serve native state of Kerala. Further he returned after a short while and served as Senior shepherd of the Parish which he had nurtured during the majority of his life.
Mathai Achen was born on July 3, 1942 as second son to Ninan Daniel and Rachel Daniel of Kollanteth family in Prakanam, Pathanamthitta District, Kerala. In Childhood he was fondly called as Kochu Mathai. From his childhood Kochu Mathai fervently desired to lead a ministerial life in service of Lord. Very Rev. Mathews Ramban of Attachakkal was a great influence for young Mathai for his desire for the ecclesiastical ministry.
As a first step to accomplish his desire to become a priest, young Mathai joined the ‘Servants of Cross’, in the year 1961, as a Missionary worker [Sleeba-Dasan]. H.G. Pathros Mar Osthathios Metropolitan who had been an Apostle of Dalits in Malankara was the pioneer organizer of the Servants of Cross. While serving for the Servants of Cross, Sleeba-Dasan Mathai joined Bishop Moor College, Mavelikara for his higher education. Further, he continued his college education at Catholicate College Pathanamthitta and graduated as Bachelor of Arts [B.A.] majoring Economics from Kerala University. His theological studies were done in Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kottayam where from he earned GST diploma and a Bachelor of Divinity [B.D.] from the affiliated Serampore University.
His Holiness Basalios Mar Thoma Mathews I had ordained Sleeba-Dasan Mathai as a Sub-Deacon and later he got ordained as a Full-Deacon by H.G. Daniel Mar Philaxenos Metropolitan. On April 28, 1975, Dn. Mathai was ordained as a priest by H.H. Basalios Mar Thoma Mathews I. In the same year of 1975, Fr. Mathai and family migrated to USA. Fr. Mathai served first in St. Thomas Orthodox Church, Yonkers in New York before he moved to Philadelphia. H.G. Thomas Mar Makarios Metropolitan had appointed Fr. Mathai as the Vicar of St. Thomas Orthodox Church, which is later, renamed as St. Gregorios Church in 1986. Further Rev. Fr. K. Mathai is part and parcel of our Parish.
Subsequent to doing worship services in various rented places for many years, since 1995. after the St. Gregorios Parish purchased its own church building, Mathai Achen conducted priestly service at this Church located at Torresdale Ave., Philadelphia for thirteen years. This was the first Church owned by the St. Gregorios Parish.
His Grace Mathews Mar Barnabas Metropolitan of Blessed Memory, then diocesan Metropolitan of American Diocese, had elevated Rev. Fr. K. Mathai to the title of Cor-Episcopa on June 22, 1996. Cor Episcopa is the highest position for a married priest in Indian Orthodox Church.
V. Rev. Mathai Cor-Episcopa Achen had completed 25 years in the Christian ministry as a priest in the year 2000. His beloved parish members celebrated his Silver Jubilee of the Priestly Ordination grand and splendidly. At this instance a Souvenir titled Smaranika was published as token of their allegiance to their spiritual leader.
With thirty years service of Mathai Achen the St. Gregorios Parish had grown multifold and Families had increased substantially. So Achen earnestly desired for a bigger Church building. By the grace of God, eventually his prayers were answered and the long cherished dream had come true. The Bensalem propety was purchased in 2005. An architectural work out was conceived for the construction of a beautiful Church building.
A ceremonial ground breaking ceremony on the property was conducted by Mathai Achen by turning the first sod in the presence of parish members in May, 2007. This is a traditional ceremony in Kerala culture.
Subsequently the Corner Stone of the building was blessed by Barnabas Thirumeni and laid by Mathai Achen with solemn devout which symbolizes the marked significance in the construction of the building.
It was the great dream of Mathai Achen and the members of St. Gregorios Church in Philadelphia to build a beautiful church blended with oriental orthodox tradition. The dream had come true after 32 years of waiting. The new Church building was consecrated by H. H. Basaleos Marthoma Paulose II, the then Catholicose of Malankara Orthodox Church in May 2009. Mathai Achen exemplified this event as “Nothing is impossible with God” [St. Luke 1:37]
H. G. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios Metropolitan handed over the Sacred Relics of St. Gregorios of Parumala to Mathai Achen at Parumala Seminary Kerala, India. Achen received the relics with due piety and utmost humility and transported same to USA as a great treasure.
A team delegate of Members of the St. Gregorios Church received the Relics with prayers and devotion at the International Airport at New York. After prayer service the relics were installed by Mathai Achen, down below the right Thronose dedicated to St. Gregorios of Parumala, the patron saint of the Church.
St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church, Philadelphia, celebrated the 40th sacerdotal ordination anniversary of their founder Vicar and spiritual leader, Very Rev. K. Mathai Cor-Episcopa on 25th December, the Christmas day of 2015 with befitting solemnity. The ceremonial congregational meeting was convened in the Parish worship hall after the Nativity Service. The auspicious celebration was presided over by H.G. Zacharias Mar Nicholovos, Diocesan Metropolitan of North East American Diocese. In recognition of his esteemed services a Plaque and a Shawl was presented to Mathai Achen by Nicholovos Thirumeni as a token of affection of the parishioners towards beloved Mathai Achen. Mathai Achen spoke in reply humiliating himself before God, saying that whatever achieved by him in his life is not by his merits but only by the grace of God.
Achen is married to Mariamma and is blessed with son Justin and twin daughters Sheeba and Sheena. Achen had worked as a Pennsylvania State Auditor and retired from service in 2007.
Mathai Achen also served as the secretary of Clergy Association, Chairman of the Ecumenical Fellowship of Indian Churches in Philadelphia, Chairman of MOCF etc. Fervency of Mathai Achen in strict observance of sacraments and his concern for charity mission work were exemplary. Cor-Episcopa Achen was a truly faithful witness upholding the spiritual tenets of the training he received in Servants of Cross, along with it, his strong faith, devotion and deep humility coupled together caused to instill in our Parish, a high standard of spiritual fellowship in the Gospel.
Mathai Achen was deeply associated with publication of the Christian Magazine Light of Life from its inception. He had published great number articles in the Magazine in English and Malayalam for many years. We bow our heads before his memory. We LOL as a family and me specifically as a close and deep friend of Achen for many years express our deep sorrow and record our sincere condolence.
An autobiographical work of Very Rev. K Mathai Cor-Episcopa. with title "A JOURNEY BACK TO THE BEGINNINGS" is under last stage of preparation with status as sent to the press for printing. Unfortunately Mathai Achen could not see a printed copy of the this book during his life span. A long time friend, associate, collaborator of Mathai Achen and an esteemed Senior Sunday School leader administrator of American diocese in general and St. Gregorios Church Philadelphia in specific, from an early stage, Mr. Korah T. Mani is the editor and publishing director of the book on behalf of Mathai Achen. We make use of this opportunity to congratulate and appreciate the great service of Korah Mani Sir for this cause. The book will be published shortly.
Dr. Rajan Mathew
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