Mor Gregoriose of Parumala(1)
by Kuriakose Corepiscopa Moolayil
The Syrian Orthodox Church(2) in India witnessed the life and contribution of a very saintly person who had a very varied approach than his contemporaries in the mission, evangelistic and education vision of the church. His life and contribution(3) is more known as a saint of the Church of the latter part of the Nineteenth century, whereas his mission concept and praxis is less known and projected. My thesis is an attempt to limelight some of the salient features of his works in the church and society at large. He was a reformist inside the church, an evangelist inside and outside the church, initiator of baptism and receiving of backward communities, a philanthropist by mission and the one who led the outreaching of the church to foreign countries.
Life and Contributions
Mor Gregoriose was born in Mulanthuruthy near Kochi on June 15,1848(4) . He lost both his parents at a very early age and was brought up by his uncle priest. He opted for a life as a monk and while in the monastery he mastered Syriac language, Bible, liturgy and patristics, etc. In 1876 Patriarch Peter IV, the head of the Syrian Christians visited Kerala Church and Mor Gregoriose was chosen as the secretary and translator. He rose to the role of the chief organizer of the great synod of Mulanthuruthy(5) and the consecration of Holy Chrism(6), a first time event in India. He was consecrated as the Metropolitan(7) on December 10,1876 and was entrusted to the Diocese of Niranam(8). This is the traditional parish believed to be established by St.Thomas, the apostle after his arrival in the year A.D.52. His consecration as a Metropolitan was at the age of 28 when the Syrian tradition is that of selection to the Metropolitanate was from among very experienced and aged Monks. This sheds light to his dedication, piety and overall acceptance among the people at large. He died at an age of 53 in 1901 and has left an everlasting imprint in the history of the Syrian Church. Now he is accepted as a saint of the Syrian Orthodox Church in India(9).
The Historical Background
Nineteenth century witnessed the connection of the Syrian Christians with the Anglican Missionaries from England. The first missionary to visit the Syrian Church was Dr. Claudius Buchanan from Calcutta. It was in the year 1803. He has written a book on his missions in Asia with the title ‘Christian Researches in Asia’(10). This visit was followed by many visits of the missionaries from the Church Missionary Society. Buchanan initiated many projects with the co operation of Mor Dionasius Metropolitan of the Syrian Church. He headed and funded the printing of the Holy bible in Syriac in England and sent 300 copies to the Syrian Church in Kerala(11). Till that time hand written copies of the Bible text was used in the Church in Kerala. Along with the printing of the Syriac Bible he also promoted a translation of the Gospel texts into the local language of the people(12). In this venture the printing of the Malayalam Gospels were printed in 1811 and was made available to the church in Kerala. The missionaries came with the motto 'mission of help' to serve the Syrian Church but unfortunately the later missionaries were more interested in anglicizing the Syrian Church in Kerala. So the missionaries were expelled from the Syrian Seminary and a great rift was created in the Church(13). A few of the Syrians joined the missionaries and an Anglican Church was formed in Kerala. Another group in the Syrian Church wanted to keep the liturgy, traditions and practices of the Syrian Church and yet they wanted to ‘reform’ the Syrian Church to the ideals preached by the missionaries. Five priests of the Syrian Church headed by the Abraham Malpan (the word in Syriac for Teacher) was in the leadership. They managed to send Malpan’s nephew Rev. Dn. Mathew to the Patriarch and got him ordained as the Metropolitan of the Syrian Church. He came and got all support of the British resident and a Royal proclamation from the King of Travancore was issued in his favor(14). The ‘reformist’ group got moral support of the new Metropolitan and the traditionalists resorted to sent another candidate to the Patriarch of Antioch and got him consecrated as Metropolitan(15). This resulted a major crisis in the Church and litigation and rifts were the net result(16). It was in this historical settings that the Patriarch came to Kerala and Mor Gregoriose was appointed as Metropolitan to one of the newly created six dioceses in the church in Kerala.
The coming of the missionaries and their work in the church and the society had great impact in the lives of the people and it influenced a great deal in the visions and the missions of the church. The zeal of the missionaries in taking the gospel to the unreached and the untouchables, care for the downtrodden and the marginalized, equality of all people, starting of schools, imparting theological education to the priests, learning of western languages in addition to Syriac and Malayalam, missionary outlook even to other countries were some of the areas that prompted Mor Gregoriose.
Role of Mor Gregoriose in the New Horizon
Mor Gregoriose was the pioneer in preaching the gospel to the backward communities and the so called untouchables of that time. He baptized those who were willing to join the church and formed mission centers for them. Many ‘Syrian’ Christians were reluctant to receive them in them into the mainstream. So he had to construct special churches for these converts at some places with the admonition that in due course they will be in the mainstream. But many places they were admitted into the mainstream churches itself. His work was not concentrated in his diocese alone but all over the church. He also emphasized the sermons and preachings in all churches in the mother tongue and promoted reading of the bible at homes. In the line of the missionaries pioneering the theological education for the clergy he also started the seminary system of clergy formation. Formerly the students were taught in the ‘gurukul’ system of the Malpanate. The first Syrian Seminary was started in the year 1815 with the help of the missionaries. But during the time of Mor Gregoriose the Syrian seminary was in the control of the ‘reformist’ group. So he started the seminary for the mainstream church. Similarly he was instrumental in starting several elementary schools and high schools where he promoted education of girls as well as the backward communities. This helped a lot to improve the condition of women of the church as well as marginalized backward communities. The open call to receive the backward into the churches as well as to the schools opened the door to the vision of equality. In the schools English education was also promoted. This gave vent to the vast area of modern learning and literature. His missionary challenge prompted him to go to Ceylon and to consecrate Mor Themotheose Rine Vilate as archbishop of Ceylon and Americas. This bishop Rine Vilate established net work of Orthodox Catholic Churches in America. Only a few survived(17) the test of time due to the lack of support from the mother church and leadership that followed him.
Mor Gregoriose of Parumala was a great spiritual leader of the Syrian Church who had missionary visions that surpassed the visions of his contemporary Syrian Christians. He was the youngest among his peer bishops but was accepted as the most venerable by all the hierarchy and the people of his times. He is even acknowledged as the social worker by the education department of the Travanvcore Department. One of his speeches about the need of education institutions was included as a lesson in the school text book. He had written a travelogue on his visit to the holy places, which is considered as the first travelogue in Malayalam literature.
2. The Syrian Orthodox church is one of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. It is the Church under the Patriarchate of Antioch one of the four Patriarchal sees.
3. http://www.saintgregorios.org/PARUMALA/the_administrator.htm , http://parumalachurch.com
4. Kurian Kaniamparamil,Very Rev.Dr., Parumala Thirumeni (Malayalam), Published by the author, Tiruvella (1991)
5. The Synod of Mulanthuruthy was summoned by H.H.Patriarch Peter IV and took major decisions to systematize and democratize the administrative structure of the Syrian Church in India. All the parish churches participated by sending official delegates representing clergy and the faithful.
6. Holy Oil known in Syriac as Holy Mooron, used in baptism to anoint with Holy Spirit, is consecrated only by the Patriarch, supreme head of the Church.
7. Archbishop in the Eastern tradition
8. An early Syrian Christian settlement near the sea coast of central Kerala.
9. His name is remembered in the diptych in the holy Eucharist Service of the Syrian Orthodox Church along with the holy fathers of the church through encyclical No. E265/1987 of H.H.Ignatius Zakka 1 Iwas Refer http://sor.cua.edu/Personage/PZakka1/19871020MalankaraTubden.htm
10. Buchanan Claudius,Christian Researches in Asia, T. Cadel and W. Davies, London 1814 (Ref. Moolayil Kuriakose, (Ed.) Four Historic Documents, Mor Adai Study center, Changanaserry (2002)
11. Buchanan Bible is the manuscript copy of the Syriac bible,presented to him by the Syrian Metropolitan, which was transcribed during the Patriarchate of Michael Rabo +A.D.1199 which was kept in Kerala by the Syrian Church , a rare copy that escaped the wrath and fire of Archbishop Menezis after the Synod of Diamper. A.D. 1599. This manuscript copy is kept in the British Museum.
12. This task of translation was done by Philipose Remban (Monk) from Kayamkulam in central Kerala. This writer has seen a copy of this 1811 edition of the bible text at the Venkadath family collection and at the archives of M.S.O.T.Seminary Collections.
13. Philip E.M., The Indian Church of St. Thomas, Mor Adai Study Center, Changanaserry (2002)
14.This Proclamation made it mandatory that all Syrian Christians are under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan.
15. Mor Dionasius Joseph 11, (1865- 1909) known also known as Mor Dionasius V.
16. This litigation ended in 1889 by the verdict of the Royal Court of Travancore and Cochin giving all church properties to the Metropolitan of the Syrian church and the ‘reformist’ group separated to form the ‘Malankara Mar Thoma Church’.
17. St. Helena’s Mission Parish and retreat Camp, Leona Valley, CA 93551 www.sthelena’sretreat.org