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
The Silver Lining in the Cloud
“Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”
-Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to a Skylark
As we anxiously labour under the cloud of COVID-19, we wonder when this virus will be eradicated, and what precisely is God’s intend in all this. And with the infection showing no signs of abatement, the situation becomes a fertile ground for all kinds of doomsday predictions. Amidst all this, when we raise our eyes to God for answers, we are reminded that there are no accidents with God; in fact, for those who trust and have faith in Him, all things work for good. As St. Paul writes,” We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Therefore, we have faith that God’s purpose which we cannot understand is working even in the midst of this viral infection to bring about a transformed heaven and a transformed earth. So, we ask ourselves the question: can any good come out of all this? For those with an abiding trust in God’s love, the response will surely be a categorical “Yes”! And so, while the cloud still hovers over us, we look for the proverbial silver lining that points to God continuing to work in these troubled times. Let us look at some of them.
- A Closer Walk with God: At no other point in the liturgical calendar of the Church is there the awareness of God’s proximity than during the Lent. The fast, the selected readings from the Holy Scriptures, the special services and meditations, all create in us an experience that we are walking closer with God. In fact, for some members the Lent is like a spiritual dry cell, for they appear to store up a divine energy, for we never see them in the Church for the rest of the year! The viral infection has only intensified this experience, for we are at one stroke impressed with our mortality and sense that God alone can remove this sickness, a theme that is reiterated in the hymns and prayers of this period. Burdened as we are with a deep sense of helplessness, we have now turned to God with the conviction that He alone can save us from this situation. It is true that we have been deprived of our freedom to worship God in our churches. But that too deeply impresses upon us what we took for granted, that the joy of our Christian fellowship that follows our corporate worship on Sundays is also a gift from God. All this has only made profound our prayers as we raise up our feeble hands to God for salvation, not only from this virus, but also from the disease of sin. Yes, our prayers become more poignant because we now pray with a conviction that God alone can save us from our dreadful situation. Now in the confines of our homes and out of sight of others, we now raise our spiritual worship (Rom 12:1) to God, in a way finding truth in the promise of Christ that when we pray in secret, our heavenly Father will see us in secret and reward our prayers (St Mt 6:6). In a way, the loss of public worship in our churches has been ameliorated by a deep personal proximity to God, an experience we would not have attained without the presence of this virus. Truly, our sense that our entire being is being permeated by the love and presence of God is a blessed outcome of our predicament.
- Retrieving the Tradition of Family Prayers: But that is not all! What about a tradition that all but disappeared from our homes, what with its fast-changing social mores. For once the veracity of the old adage, that a family that prays together, stays together is driven home with a strong conviction. The deprivation of church services now serves to bring the family together around the feet of God and there as a family we begin to renew a closeness that was rarely seen before. The family is truly the undergirding unit of the parish, the place where God is first experienced, where prayer life is taught and a new generation finds its roots in God and the Church. Devoid of this foundational spiritual bedrock, our young men and women become easy prey to new-found spiritual groups who teach instant spirituality. Now that tradition that had been consigned to oblivion has once more become a feature our family life as they gather together to pray, or even just to view the services on the YouTube. Somewhere in that process I am sure the family will find the chance to pray together. Perhaps, this enforced quarantine will have the salutary consequence of retrieving the tradition of family prayers so that it will become a perduring feature of our families.
An observation that will be made is that most of these services are in Malayalam and so remain unintelligible to many of our young men and women. Allow me to share my experience. I too grew up with little knowledge of my mother tongue. But that was not an impediment for my participation in the family prayers in my grandparents’ home. Even though I couldn’t understand them, the deep sense of being in prayer was always present. And I learned most of these prayers by heart as a result of these daily prayers. Today, they have become meaningful, as they are a rich source of my own prayer life. That, too, I pray will result from this coerced family prayer meetings. And it is when families experience difficulties that they draw closer together, a bond that will preserve their unity and cohesiveness well into the future.
- Regaining the Joy of Family Communications: Surely, there will come a time during this period when we tire of staring at the TV or being engaged with our handsets. And so, we will be forced to engage in talk with family members. Family members talking to each other is another casualty of our communication technological explosion. The paradox is that even as we spend more time in talking to friends and being engaged on social media sites, we rarely talk to family members, even at home. Now out of necessity we indulge in talking to one another. As the days pass, our conversation progresses from small talk to sharing our life stories, so that the bonds that keep a family together are strengthened. Fathers are able to spend quality time with their children and it is my hope that husbands and wives will also talk to each other. In fact, I hope that family members will put aside their handsets so that they can all come together to spend time in talking and sharing their life experiences.
One certain outcome of this lockdown is that families are compelled to have meals together. This used to be a welcome part of growing up in a family. But with the fractured life we lead, families are not always able to come together for meals. Now for a change all come together to share meals as a family. And the experience of sharing a meal as a family now become once more a happy occasion for all to talk and laugh over a good and delicious meal. Our nostalgic recollections should include such reminiscences of the family in later times, so that they can bring a wistful smile of delight to our faces.
- Managing with What We Have: The virtual curfew imposed all over the country has disrupted supply channels so that we have had to curtail our consumption to what is necessary or essential. Because we cannot avail of all what we wish for we are learning to manage with what is essential. What is prepared at home is carefully done so that we have cut down the waste. I recall my childhood days when every part of a pumpkin was served as some dish or other, without diminishing its taste. And there was little to waste, considering the food chain that was a regular feature of our homes in Kerala. Here in the NCR a whole new generation has grown up experiencing a life-style that minimises sacrifice and sharing. Most families enjoy a comfortable financial situation here in the NCR (this can be contested, but I offer this as a relative statement) which allows for a wider range of spending by the upcoming generation. In our changed circumstances there are the demands now for a changed pattern of living which places limits on what is spent, the food eaten and so forth. If nothing else, this upcoming generation will learn that controlling consumption is a virtue that needs to be cultivated. It is also a valuable experience for parents to impose some control, all aimed at enabling the family to become a happy, enriching and valuable learning experience for all.
- Sharing What We Have: The fasts of the Lenten season are not meant to be a goal in Itself, but an exercise in sharing what we have. Thus, the money saved by abstaining from food is to be collected and donated for the relief of those who are financially disadvantaged. Thereby, we learn the art of sacrificing and sharing what we have with others. This is an important lesson of the Lenten season. The onus is on the believer to find out those in need and to share a part of what God has given us with others. We live in a context where our unlimited consumption creates no compunctions in us. At least for a time, the sense that we have extravagantly utilised our assets should compel us to evaluate our life-style and see where we can sacrifice and share our assets with others. We should recall the observation of St. Paul, “In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus , for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to giver than to receive’ (Acts 20.35).”
If at the end of all this lockdown we could all so benefit from our difficulties, would that not be a welcome experience? Then, we could surely share the sentiments of Shelley which appears at the beginning of this article. Let us pray that this period will be a time of healing and learning to see the silver lining in the cloud of COVID-19.
Met. Dr. Youhanon Mar Demetrios