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 cake), 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.
It was during the 1947 Maramon Convention that Joseph heard a definite call from God to go to Karnataka and so he dedicated his life and waited for the right time. While he was working in the Anchal office at Maramon he met A.C. Zachariah, who was teacher in Kuriannoor and Kottayam.
Zachariah told him of his plans for the future, about how he was in search for a coworker to start work in Hoskote. Joseph responded immediately, without any hesitation or bargain with God. Zachariah praised God that he had found the right co-worker to go with him to Hoskote. Obedience to God’s call meant resigning the promising and stable careers in Pune and Maramon.
Obedience to God’s call meant sacrificing the comfort of a home, leaving parents, loved ones, relatives, job and father’s house. Joseph was prepared for 40 years. And he was ready to be sown in Gods field. And so they resigned from their secure Government jobs, bid farewell to their dear ones, especially their parents and turned their backs to everything they considered near and dear.
Joseph, his wife and their one year and three month old daughter; and Zachariah Sir, his wife and their three daughters were the pioneering team of Hoskote Mission. The two families left Kerala on 26 June, 1947. They were sent with prayer and blessings by Abraham Mar Thoma Thirumeni. The families reached Hoskote on 27th June, 1947.
The Hoskote Mission Medical Center was established in 1947 in Hoskote, Bangalore Rural District, Karnataka.
Read more about this incredible story (Free PDF)
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.
Lent starts on Sunday 10th February 2016 and ends with Easter Sunday on 27th March 2016. We are expected to set apart a time for serious reflection, self-examination and renewed commitment with fasting and prayer during the Lent season. Our Church observes 50 days as the Lent period including the 40 days in which our Lord fasted and 10 days commemorating His passion and crucifixion.
Fourteen meals for One rupee. During the early years of the Convention, restaurants and hotels were not in existence. Kappi Kadas (coffee/tea shops) and Chottu Kadas (rice shops) were the only available eateries at the Manalpuram (river bed) venue of the convention.
One of the famous chottu kada’s was managed by Kunjan Varkey Chetten from Edathua. He would serve 14 full meals for just one rupee and 228 full glasses of black coffee (Chakkara Kappi) also for Rs.1 in the early 1920’s.
Having lunch at Maramon Convention. (Photo courtesy Facebook Group)
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.
At present, Maramon Convention messages (full text) are printed and sold on the next day morning from counters for the convention attendees. This enables people to take home the sermons of the previous day and read them again and share the sermons with people who were not able to attend the convention. These printed sermons are also shared in cottage prayer fellowships, parish prayer groups and for personal prayer and meditation.
However, few people know that this practice started in 1905. There were no microphones and speakers. The convention messages were repeated in relay by three persons – at times four or more – standing in different places of the pandal to make it audible to the thousands of people who attended. This relay process took a long time and was tedious for the audiences. The printing of messages in 1905 became a real blessing for all and continues to be so today. Today, God has blessed the Church members with technology which enables them to watch the Convention live through web streaming and receive updates on emails and websites.
Given below is the report about this, from the Thomas Walker’s biography.
“1905 Wednesday, February 22. I awoke feeling very weary, for the heat was extraordinarily oppressive, and seemed to take all the life out of one. The Syrian brethren made one very good arrangement this year.
Each day’s addresses wore printed by night at their printing press at Tiruwella, eight miles away, and were on sale the next day in a booth near the pandal. Thus
the printed pages supplemented the speaker’s voice, and carried the message far and wide.”
~ Rev. Thomas Walker was one of the main speakers at the Maramon Convention from 1898 to 1912. He was a Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionary from Tirunelveli. He emphasized the importance on studying the Word of God (Bible) and to promote the missionary work of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church.