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.
Date 8th February 1900 Time 3.30 am on 8 February morning
An earthquake tremor shook the village of Puthen Cavu near Chengannur and surrounding areas in the early hours of 8th February 1900. Not many details is known about the incident, however, it is well documented by Rev. Thomas Walker in his book and passed on as oral legend by many elders. Thomas Walker was a principal speaker at the Maramon Convention from 1899 to 1912.
In the early days of the Maramon Convention, due to the limited means of travel, guest speakers used to arrive days or weeks in advance. In this time they would attend fellowship meetings and deliver messages to nearby congregations.
Rev. Thomas Walker wrote in his diary on 7th and 8th Feb, 1900, about an incident where he had preached and asked people to repent, that night the earth shook and people thought it was he who was responsible for the tremors. Many went on their knees and repented:
February 7. Last night we had a very solemn meeting, and I gave an opportunity to any seeking souls. Thank God, there were some; but oh, how many are indifferent, crowding to hear, but not willing to give up sin. The moment I had finished praying, some of the converted men struck up prayer of their own accord, red-hot if you like: they pleaded for the unconverted.
Then came my trials. I asked those who had held up their Hands to stay behind, and a number did so. But the other people would stand all round. They are not accustomed to quiet after-meetings, and simply refused to go away, even when asked five or six times. The Achans have no command over the people. At last I had fairly to drive them out before I could deal with those poor souls.
In the C.M.S. churches here they have full control of their congregations; but in the Syrian churches, none. And they have made up their mind that they can have none. You cannot get a single Syrian congregation to go off quietly after a service, for the sake of either Christ or souls. It makes it very difficult to get at anyone who is impressed. We were at least twenty minutes getting the people (or most of them) away last night. It seems to me that it is a case of either taking after-meetings in the mass (which is most unsatisfactory), or not taking them at all. Well, one has just to go forward trust the Lord. He knows the circumstances, and can help. And, praise Him, He knows every heart which is hungering for Him.
February 8. We had a solemn service last night, and sent them home with earnest warnings; but except for a quiet time on our knees, did not attempt an after-meeting. Well, in the very early hours of this morning I was suddenly roused from sleep to find the whole ground quivering with an earthquake. You have probably had the same shock. It seemed to last several minutes at least. I felt perfectly quiet under it, and then subsided towards slumber again. Not so the people. There were shouts and cries and prayers all over the place. There seemed to be a tremendous commotion. After a time they came thumping and knocking at my doors and windows, so I had to light a lamp and get up.
My room soon filled with men, some converted and some unconverted. They quite connect the earthquake with the solemn warnings I have been giving here. I told them last night in the pandal that I could do no more, and must just leave them to God. I asked them to go home and say truthfully in His presence, I am saved, or I am not saved. Then followed this earthquake shock, and they immediately connected the two together. It seems in a real sense God’s confirmation of His word by signs following. Call it a coincidence if you please, with Divine before the coincidence. & quot; “Well, I spoke to them, and two young men professed to repent on the spot, while I warned again several others. I then turned into bed and went to sleep again.
One of the Christians said, This morning’s meeting must be for the unconverted. It is against our practice, as the morning meetings are intended to help Christians; but I felt it was God’s will that I should go and preach on earthquakes. So I got some notes together, and a large crowd assembled. The Rev. T. K. Joseph turned up to help me. We had a very solemn time, and I told them that God was giving them another chance and a special warning.
Afterwards I called on any who wanted to turn to Him to stand up, and several men did so, and several women. I then got them to the front of the table where I stood, and we had an after-meeting before the whole pandal, in public. I felt that, after the earthquake, anxious souls ought not to shirk publicity. We were at it till nearly twelve o clock,…”
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.