The term “Catholicos” is derived from the Greek word katholikos which means “the Universal or General”. The title seems to have arisen sometime after the establishment of the five patriarchs (of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem). The Catholicos of the East is the title of the autonomous Primate of the East whose succession is to the See of St. Thomas the Apostle, and who has a spiritual primacy of honor over all churches of the East. He is the supreme head of the Indian Orthodox Church and he is called the Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan. Two titles for a single individual are given with separate responsibilities. The Catholicos of the East consecrates Bishops for the Orthodox Church of the East, presides over the Episcopal Synod, declares its decisions and implements them, conducts administration as the President of the Holy Synod and consecrates the Holy Mooron (Oil) and consecrating bishops. The Malankara Metropolitan is the head of the Malankara Church, the President of the Malankara Syrian Christian Association and the Managing Committee. The prime jurisdiction regarding the temporal ecclesiastical and spiritual administration of the Malankara Church is vested in the Malankara Metropolitan subject to the provisions of the Church constitution.
The Catholicate of the East was re-located from Persia, and established in India by H.H. Abdul Messiah, the Patriarch of Antioch in 1912, when H.H. Baselious Paulose I was ordained as the first Catholicos of the Indian Orthodox Church, at the St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church, Niranam (Niranam Valiyapally). The present Catholicos is His Holiness Baselios Mar Thoma Paulos II Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan.
His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Paulose II
His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Paulose II was enthroned as the Catholicos of the East & Malankara Metropolitan (the Supreme Head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India) on Monday, 1st November 2010. His Holiness is the 91st Primate on the Apostolic Throne of St. Thomas. Born on 30th August 1946 in a village called Mangad near Kunnamkulam, Trissur District, Kerala as the son of the late K. I. Iype of the famous Kollanur family and the late Kunjeetty of the Pulikootil family, the boy K. I. Paul had his early education in local schools. After graduating from the St. Thomas College, Trichur, Paul joined the Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kottayam from where he obtained G.S.T diploma and B.D. degree of the Serampore University. After taking the holy orders, he joined the C.M.S College, Kottayam and took his M.A in Sociology.
From his childhood Paul showed a keen interest in spiritual matters. His parish church, St. Mary’s Orthodox Church was the nerve centre of his spiritual growth. At the age of 13, he was selected by his parish priest to be a part of the Feet Washing service celebrated by Metropolitan Paulose Mar Severios. This marked a turning point in the life of the young Paul when the metropolitan invited him to the priesthood. The influence of his parents, especially that of his mother who hailed from the famous Pulikkottil family, played a great role in moulding his early life. Even from his childhood, he use to learn Syriac chants and prayers and was very keen in attending the church services.
The late Yuhanon Mar Severios, Metropolitan of Kochi Diocese ordained him as a sub-deacon at Parumala Seminary on 8th April 1972, as a deacon at Sion Seminary, Koratty on 31st May 1973 and was ordained as a priest by him at Sion Seminary, Koratty on 2nd June 1973. Fr K I Paul celebrated his fist Holy Qurbana at the Mar Gregorios Orthodox Chapel, Mangad.
Fr Paul served as a model shepherd of St. Mary’s Orthodox Church, Ernakulam, the Moolepat Orthodox Church Pazhanji, St. Mary Magdalene Convent Aduppootty, Kummanmkulam and the Medical College Chapel, Kottayam. The Malankara Syrian Christian Association, held at MGM Thiruvalla, on December 28th 1982 elected Fr Paul as a metropolitan. The late Mathews Mar Coorilos (later H.H. Baselius Mar Thoma Mathews II) professed him as Ramban on 14 May 1983 at the Parumala Seminary. On 15th May 1985 H.H. Baselius Marthoma Mathews I consecrated Paul Ramban as Episcopos with the name Paulose Mar Milithios.
Subsequently, His Grace was elevated as the first metropolitan of the newly-formed Kunnamkulam Diocese on 1st August 1985. Besides shepherding the Kunnamkulam Diocese His Grace served as the President of the Orthodox Syrian Sunday School Association of the East (OSSAE), MBCH Mannapra Vadavucode, Pulikottil Mar Dionysius Bhavan, Kottapady. His Grace was the Vice-President of the Mar Gregorios Orthodox Christian Student Movement of India, MMM Hospital, Kunnamkulam and Manager of M. D. College, Pazhanji. His Grace has also served as the President of the Orthodox Youth Movement.
The Malankara Syrian Christian Association held at Parumala on 12th October 2006 unanimously elected Metropolitan Paulose Mar Milithios as the Catholicos-Designate and the successor of the Malankara Metropolitan. On 1st November 2010, following the abdication of his predecessor, His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Didymus I, Metropolitan Paulose Mar Milithios was enthroned as the Catholicos of the East & Malankara Metropolitan with the new name His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Paulose II. Incidentally, Kunnamkulam, which is a stronghold of the Orthodox Community in Kerala, has given birth to three Malankara Metropolitans, including the reigning Catholicos. His Holiness’ illustrious predecessors Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysius II and Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysius V were towering personalities who contributed much to making the Malankara Orthodox Church what it is today.
It was His Holiness’ keen interest that the Church should have effective and meaningful ecumenical relations. It is with this emphasis that His Holiness has already finished journeying to all the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Once in this short span of time as Catholicos, he has already had meetings with all the present heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. The fraternal relations with the sister Churches too have been given prime importance. The meeting with the present Pope of the Catholic Church has enhanced the bilateral relations between the two Churches. His Holiness’ unassuming character and his philanthropic interests, have given new dimensions to the life of the Church. He has authored a few devotional and contemplative books in Malayalam.
Thought for the Month
Shepherds of Significance
The Gospel of St Luke portrays a group of shepherds, who were probably the first people to learn about the birth of a Savior and who visited the new born Baby at the manger and proclaimed the divine birth in public. St. Luke “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:1-4) and reported in Chapter 2: 8-20 about the specially chosen shepherds who received the great message of universal importance,
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told”.
I really wonder why the angels appeared to a group of unnamed shepherds at night outside a small village called Bethlehem to proclaim a message of universal importance.
Shepherds were poor people who watched over their flock, a job which lacked any sense of respect or dignity from the society. It was perceived to be the last resort for a jobless man. However, shepherds were tough, tough in every sense of the word. They had to stay up all night and all day in order to deal with troublesome animals, fight wolves, lions, and bears to protect his flock. Moreover, shepherds were intimidating. Bishop Craig Satterlee writes, “Society stereotyped shepherds as liars, degenerates, and thieves. The testimony of shepherds was not admissible in court, and many towns had ordinances barring shepherds from their city limits. The religious establishment took a particularly dim view of shepherds since the regular exercise of shepherds’ duties kept them from observing the Sabbath and rendered them ritually unclean. The Pharisees classed shepherds with tax collectors and prostitutes, persons who were “sinners” by virtue of their vocation.” Hence, they belonged to the lower ranks of the society.
But the question remains: Why shepherds?
One could argue that the conception and birth of Jesus Christ was the greatest event in history. God had become a human being, was born in Bethlehem, and was named Jesus. Yet, this good news was proclaimed by angels to these shepherds. If protocol demands, the news of this importance should have been told to the highest authorities in the region, not the world. It should have been announced by the angels to Caesar Augustus in Rome? or to the Roman Governor Quirinius or King Herod? Why didn’t they appear to the Jewish high priest at the Temple? Again the question remains, why shepherds?
The Mishnah, a collection of documents recording oral traditions governing the lives of Jewish people during the period of the Pharisees, considers the possibility that these were not shepherds of ordinary sheep. Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889) provides a fascinating answer to our question in his book’ The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Writing about these shepherds, Edersheim referenced the Jewish Mishnah. One regulation in the Mishnah “expressly forbids the keeping of flocks throughout the land of Israel, except in the wildernesses – and the only flocks otherwise kept, would be those for the Temple-services” .Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and their surrounding fields were not in the wilderness where ordinary flocks of sheep were kept. Therefore, according to the Jewish regulations, the flocks under the care of the shepherds near Bethlehem must have been “for the Temple-services.” These shepherds watched over sheep destined as sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Here lay the significance of the Shepherds of Bethlehem. If the flocks of sheeps are kept for the temple services; the shepherds watching over it are also specially chosen for the purpose and not like the nomadic ordinary shepherds of Bethlehem. Edershime wrote, “…everything points to these shepherds watching over sheep used for sacrifice. What would they have thought when they heard: ‘Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’ ” (2:11). The message of the angels signified, among other things, that the time of animal sacrifices would soon end. The offering of Jesus Christ, the Savior would soon take place. It is no wonder that these shepherds “glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen”. This clearly resonates with the celebratory spirit of Christmas, a traditional time for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Let’s remember why he came – not only to live but also to die – the perfect sacrifice for sin, once and for all.
Like the Shepherds of significance, we all are specially chosen for God’s purposes and are dignified enough to hear the good news from God and to proclaim to the world. As the chosen shepherds heard the good news and travelled far to see the incarnated God, let us also set for a search in our life to see the divine Child. Let us hurry and join the shepherds saying:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men and women, on whom his favor rests”.
Rev. Fr. Saji Yohannan