Mathews Mar Athanasius (1818–1877) was the Metropolitan of the Malankara Syrian Church from 1852 until his death in 1877. As a reformer, he spent most of his time as the Metropolitan attempting to heal differences between the various factions within the church.
Major General William Cullen
Major General William Cullen (17 May 1785 – 1 October 1862) was a British Army Officer with the Madras Artillery Regiment, and from 1840 to 1860, he served as the British Resident in the Kingdom of Travancore and Cochin. During his stay in India, he took a scholarly interest in the region and contributed to journals on geology, plants and the culture of the region. He was instrumental in establishing the Napier Museum in Trivandrum.
Cullen interacted mainly with the Maharajas of Travancore Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma and Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma and took considerable interest in scholarly and cultural pursuits. He also took a keen interest in the Christians of Kerala.
Metropolitan Mar Athanasius officially recognized by the government
Mar Athanasius was approved by an order by the governments of Travancore and Cochin as Malankara Metropolitan on 30 August 1852.
As head of the church he worked hard for the education of the clergy and for raising the moral standards of the people and the reformation process. From the beginning there was opposition against him from those who feared that he would be in favour of the reformation.
The opposition became gradually strong and succeeded in enlisting the support of the Patriarch on its side. The opponents of Mathews Mar Athanasius had sent complaints about him to the Patriarch, who without a judicial enquiry appointed Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysius to supercede Mathews Mar Athanasius as Metropolitan. As a result of this struggle for power the church tended to be divided into two sections, one favouring reform and the other opposing it.
The gifting of the horse to the Metropolitan by the Resident
It is said that the Resident William Cullen greatly admired the Metropolitan and gifted him a rare Panch Kalyani horse (Kathiawari breed). The female copper brown horse was bought at an auction held in Bombay and brought to Kerala.
The Kathiawari breed horse was known throughout India as the purest and oldest of all horse breeds. Its origins are in the Middle East and the land of Saurashtra region in Gujarat, India, where the Kathi’s tribesmen and Rajput clan’s rulers used it as a warhorse. Princes were the breeders of the Kathiyawari horse. It was well known from the earliest times and prized for it’s beauty and high status as a war horse, and like most desert breeds could and can survive heat, poor feed and low water intake.(www.horseshowcentral.com) It is still used by the army and mounted police.
In this breed, horses with four white stockings and a white face is known as ‘Panch Kalyani’ which means ‘Five Good Markings’ from God. It was popularly known among the princely states as the ‘Horse of the Lord Krishna’. The ears are also know to point into each other.
Metropolitan Mathews was known to call the horse with the pet name”Shomi”. He loved the horse and the favourite dish given to the horse by the Metropolitan was “Vatta Aopam” (Rice pudding), a delicacy in Kerala.
Shomi had won first place in the horse race held in Bombay at the Royal Western India Turf Club before being bought by Major General Cullen to Kerala.It was known for it’s lightning speed and people exclaimed it could jump like a whirl wind.
In those early days, there were no proper tarred roads nor vehicles. Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan used to travel and visit churches on horseback. Owning a horse was a sign of power and usually only ridden by royalty. People used to travel across Travancore via boat or bullock carts .
An Age of Enemies
It was dangerous times and the Metropolitan had many enemies. He used to travel with a team of bodyguards. A man called Muthukkaramban was the chief of his security. He was very tall, dark in colour and was said to have been an expert in all sorts of martial arts..
Puthuppally St.George Church and the death of the Horse
This incident happened in 1853. The Metropolitan was visiting the Puthuppally St.George Church. Few members of the Parish was against him because of his inclination towards the Reformation movement started by Abraham Malpan. One fine morning , during his visit to the Putthuppaly church, he found his horse dead in the horse shed. It is believed that the horse was poisoned by the enemies of the bishop.
“Shomi” his Pancha Kalyani horse was the favourite horse of the Metropolitan and he could not bear its loss.
He did not curse his enemies nor take revenge, or used the weapon of vengeance on anyone.They never apologized for their actions either. With the death of Pancha Kalyani, his favorite horse, his external ministry of reaching out people was affected. But no one could suppress his zeal and vigorous spirit for the work of the reformation.
In 1856, inspired by the Anglican missionaries who cooperated with him in the Old Syrian Seminary at Kottayam, the Metropolitan printed and distributed prayer books in Malayalam, leaving out prayer to Mother Mary.
Holy Communion services were conducted in Malayalam the language of the people of Malabar. He preached at worship services from his days in Antioch and continued this new practice after coming to Kerala. He encouraged his clergy to read the Bible and interpret it to the common people of parishes. He also allowed Tamil missionaries to preach at various churches.
He was against honouring icons and statues, so he removed the statue of Mother Mary from Manarcaud Church (near Kottayam), and from Puthupally church, near Kottayam.
Mar Athanasius Metropolitan established a printing press at Kottayam for the use of the Church. There, the liturgy was printed and published, omitting the prayers to Mother Mary and other saints. This infuriated a few priests, who opposed the Metropolitan and published another book with all these prayers included.
Thomas Mar Athanasius, son of Abraham Malpan was consecrated by Mathews Mar Athanasius as his successor in 1869. Mathews Mar Athanasius is generally considered one of the ablest Metropolitans of the Syrian Church. At this difficult time the support of leaders from the clergy and the laity who had been inspired by the spirit of the reform movement was a source of great strength to the position taken up by their bishops.
The first Maramon Convention was held from 9th March (Friday) to 18th March (Sunday) in 1895 at the Parapuzha Manalpuram of the River Pamba (the location was situated between the famous Aranmula Temple and the Maramon Church) about one kilometer away from the present venue. It was a ten day event.
The pandal (tent) could accommodate about 7000 people. Mr. David and Mr. Wordsworth, both missionaries from Ceylon (today known as Sri Lanka) were the main speakers of the convention. Mar Thoma Metropolitan Titus I gave the leadership for the convention meetings. Deacon Kakkasseri Varghese of Kunnamkulam (7 July 1867 – 4 June 1897) translated the messages from English to Malayalam for the audiences to understand.
Dr. Eli Stanley Jones was born in Baltimore, Maryland, USA on 3rd January 1884. He was a faculty member at Asbury College, Kentucky, USA when he was called to missionary service in India in 1907 under the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
He was one of the main speakers of the Maramon Convention from 1921-1970. His messages combined evangelistic challenges with social concerns. The Maramon Convention is one of the largest Christian convention in Asia, and is held at Maramon, Pathanamthitta, Kerala, India annually in February. The venue is on the vast sand-bed of the Pampa River next to the Kozhencherry Bridge. It is organised by Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association, the missionary wing of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church. The 124th Maramon Convention is happening in 2019.
“For more than half a century Dr E. Stanley Jones proclaimed the Gospel of Christ and applied it to people’s personal, social, national, and international problems. He moved among statesmen and among leaders without portfolios as counselor, friend and worker for peace and goodwill.
Dr Jones became a friend of Mahatma Gandhi and wrote an appreciative biography of Gandhi. In 1950, Dr. Jones provided funds for India’s first Christian psychiatric center, and clinic currently known as Nur Manzil Psychiatric Center and Medical Unit at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India.
In 1946, with the help of friends in USA, he donated the first loud speaker setup to the Maramon Convention. He is also the founder of the Sat Tal Christian Ashram movement, Nainital, Uttarakhand, India. He died on January 25, 1973 in his beloved India.
In the 1920s, India began to develop greater appreciation for its own history and culture and greater pride in its own unique contributions to world civilization. Stanley Jones was one of the very first to realize the possibilities that this change in India’s intellectual and spiritual culture created for Christianity and especially for Western Christian missionaries. But he could not fully understand the astounding scope and depth of the possibilities without experiencing the history and culture of his adopted country for himself. So, what better way to immerse himself in the ethos of India than to visit Indian ashrams?
This is exactly what he did. In 1923, he spent two months at Santiniketan, the ashram of the world-famous poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Three years later in 1926 he visited Gandhi’s ashram at Sabarmati.
It is no exaggeration to say that Jones’ visits to these ashrams changed the course of his life. In fact, in 1930, he established his own ashram as a spiritual retreat for Christians modeled on his experience with Ashrams in India. But this was only the first of hundreds of Christian ashrams that would eventually be established throughout the world. These ashrams are truly the work of the Holy Spirit as they continue to inspire, refresh, and renew thousands of Christians in many nations today.
~ From “Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Mission: The Life and Work of E. Stanley Jones” by Stephen A. Graham
Right from its initial years, many women speakers have made a great impact on the Maramon Convention. Mrs. F.S. Nicholson and Miss. S.C. McKibbin conducted special meetings and Bible classes for women during the convention in 1905. They are remembered for their devoted service to the women of Travancore particularly in the education field. They established the prestigious Nicholson Syrian Girls Higher Secondary School and Training Home in 1910 at Kattode, Tiruvalla, Kerala.
Other eminent speakers included Miss Amy Carmichael, founder of the Dohnavur Mission, Tamil Nadu, Miss Kellaway of Vanitha Mandiram, and Miss Grower to name a few missionaries who encouraged women towards the Lord’s work through Bible classes during the early days of the Convention.
The use of tobacco and paan was a way of life in Kerala during the first half of the 20th Century. It was an essential item at social events such as marriages and other family gatherings. Tobacco and paan was easily available through shops all over Kerala. It was a common sight to have people attend the Maramon Convention meetings with beedi and murukkan in their pockets.
Through his messages, Dr. Stanley Jones urged people to refrain from the use of tobacco products. During one meeting, he asked the convention participants to bury their tobacco (which they were carrying) in the sand on the pandal floor. In another meeting, he collected all the tobacco products from the people and burnt it near the pandal in front of everyone.
It is only after much persuasion that the people stop using it and today it is not permitted at the Maramon Convention pandal.
1 December, 1973: Mathews Mar Athanasius Episcopa passes away (b.7 Jun 1900). Dr. Mathews Mar Athanasius Episcopa was a member of the Kurudamannil family of Ayroor.
After obtaining the B.A., L.T Degrees he became the Headmaster of Keezhillam School. He took the initiative for the establishment of the Ashram High School at Perumbavoor.
He became a priest in 1929 and Bishop in 1937. He gave able leadership to various organizations of our Church. He was called home on 1 Dec, 1973.
On 25 June, 1975 – exactly 40 years ago, Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi unilaterally had a state of emergency declared across the country. Officially issued by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed under Article 352(1) of the Constitution for “internal disturbance”, the Emergency was in effect from 25 June 1975 until its withdrawal on 21 March 1977 (21 months). `
So what did the Emergency imply? Essentially, at the stroke of the President’s pen India ceased being a democracy and was converted into a virtual autocracy. Civil liberties were suspended, media was censored, state and parliamentary elections were postponed, and anyone who wrote or spoke against the Government was put behind bars. In the 21 months of the Emergency, 100,000 people were arrested and detained without trial. ~ www.thelogicalindian.com
Under the Emergency rule, it was not easy to raise voices of critical opposition, in making even a mild-toned protest, one did so at considerable risk. Many kept silent because of the fear which spread among the people. Despite these pressures, some of the Christian groups made courageous attempts to express critical voices. It is significant to recognise that those who made the critical protests were not the representatives of the large institutional churches; rather, they were members of relatively small groups or of a minority group within the institutional church.
Metropolitan Juhanon Mar Thoma was the only Church leader who wrote a letter to her disapproving it. The Metropolitan’s letter stated that he deemed the Emergency rule as a setback to democracy and demanded its speedy withdrawal as well as the release of the politicians arrested in this regard.
His earlier statement was drafted in Malayalam in the fall of 1975. Even though it was not an entirely critical protest, but raised in a modest way a critical question, it was refused publication in Kerala. Metropolitan has written a brief yet pointed letter to Prime Minister Gandhi stating clearly his concern for the political situation.
“A vast number of people, and that growing numbers, feel the price we have to pay is costly. With people like Morarji and others in jail, and a press which has lost its freedom to write news and views, we feel a kind of depression. On behalf of thousands, I request withdrawal of Emergency by gradual stages. Immediate and altogether withdrawal is likely to have very bad repercussions. If the political detenus are released and’ freedom for press is given, it will be a great relief.
“I have one more request: not to have elections and constitutional changes during the time of Emergency. Hoping to be excused for this letter written from a sincere and painful heart.” ~www.daga.org.hk
He wrote that he was writing as a Church leader and a citizen. Mrs Indira Gandhi gave orders to arrest Metropolitan Juhanon Mar Thoma. Mr. C. Achuthamenon was the Chief Minister at that time and with his interference the arrest was avoided. It was the Mar Thoma Church’s fight for independence and national integrity that echoed through Metropolitan Juhanon Mar Thoma, a fearless commitment to the concerns of the people that is hard to find among religious leaders now. On September 9, shortly after he wrote this letter, he fell ill and died on September 27, 1976.
The first edition of the Indian Express after the imposition of emergency consisted of a blank page instead of editorial. The Financial Express had Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, “Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high”.
Where The Mind Is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake
15 May, 1857: Birth of Rev. Thomas Koshy (Aatmopakari Achen), author of Hymn “Ennullil ennum vasichchiduvan”. Born as a member of the Mukkadavu family of Kallada, he became a priest in 1896. He was a gifted artist, hymn writer and publisher. He was a speaker of the Maramon Convention for many years.
Hymn Nos. 10(9), 37(35), 190(179), 216(201), 20(205), 221(206), 246(224), 297(283), 316(311), 344, and 352 in the Hymn Book Kristheeya Kerthanagal are written by him.
Read more in our Short Biographies: Rev. Thomas Koshy (Aatmopakari Achen) (Free PDF)
Though the first convention began in 1895, the sermons were delivered to the tens of thousands of church members who attended in a very unique manner. Until 1936, messages of the main speaker were repeated in relay by designated people standing in between the participants of the convention. It was a time consuming process for the message from the front to pass through thousands of participants to reach the back of the audience. In 1936, a loud speaker and mike (microphone) set was brought to Maramon from USA by the famous missionary Rev. Dr. E. Stanley Jones. It was donated by one of the Christian Churches in USA. He was a well wisher of the Mar Thoma Church and encouraged the missionary zeal of the Church.
Read more and see more rare photos at 1921 -1970: World renowned missionary Dr. E. Stanley Jones at Maramon Convention ( See Rare Photos) Hear a sermon by Dr. E. Stanley Jones – Click Here (The sermon is 26 min. — or download the mp3 (11.8 MB).) The sermon title is, “The Gift of the Holy Spirit: The Birthright of All Christians.” The sermon was preached at a U.S. Ashram in August 1960. (This sermon is included in the 2008 book, Living Upon the Way: Selected Sermons of E. Stanley Jones on Self-Surrender and Conversion.) This audio clip is from www.methodistthinker.com