HH. Baselios Marthoma Mathews IHis Holiness Baselios Marthoma Mathews I was the 88th successor to the Throne of St. Thomas, the Apostle of India and the 5th Catholicose after re-establishment of the Catholicate in Malankara, India. Mar Baselios has been the traditional formal title of all Catholicose taken after the Great Theologian Mar Baselios of Cappadocia. The title “Mar Thoma” has been suffixed for the first time when H. H. Mathews I was installed as Catholicose. The title “Mar Thoma” has historical significance. Following the “Coonan Kurish Sathyam” of 1653 the Malankara Metropolitan was installed as “Mar Thoma” signifying the St. Thomas Tradition of Malankara Church. This title however was dropped at the intervention of the Church of Syria from the time of Marthoma VI (1765) who was forced to accept the title Mar Dionysius instead of “Mar Thoma.”
His Holiness was born on March 27, 1907. His parents were Fr. Cherian Kurian Vattakunnel, Kottayam and Mariam Pulikaparampil, Olesa, Kottayam. Fr. Kurian was the Vicar of St. Mary’s Syrian Church Manarcadu, Kottayam; St. Thomas Church, Vadakenmanoor, Kottayam and Nilakal Church Puthupally, Kottayam. He was named V. K. Mathew and had his education at M.D. Seminary High School, Kottayam, C.M.S. College, Kottayam and graduated from University College (erstwhile Maharaja’s College) Thiruvananthapuram.
Dn. K.T. Varghese (Geevarghese Mar Philoxenos of Puthencavu) and Vattasseril Geevarghese Mar Dionysius (St. Dionysius) persuaded him to go for Theological studies at Calcutta. He then joined the Bishop’s College, Calcutta and obtained B.D. degree in 1936. After his return, he studied Syriac under Cheriamadathil Malpan. He started teaching at the Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kottayam from 1942. He was appointed Principal in 1951 and retained the position till 1966.
He was ordained Sub Deacon on August 18th 1945 at Old seminary Chapel and the next day i.e., on 19th August 1945 he was ordained as Deacon by Geevarghese II Catholicose of the East. He was ordained as Priest on October 27th 1946 at Mar Elia Chapel Kottayam by H.H. Baselios Geevarghese II.
The Malankara Syrian Christian Association, that held its meeting in 1951, elected Fr. V. K. Mathews as Metropolitan and H.H. Geevarghese II Catholicose consecrated Fr. Mathews along with five others as Episcopa Mar Athanasius at Mar Elia Chapel Kottayam on May 15, 1953.
In 1960, he was entrusted the charge of Diocese outside Kerala which he shepherded till 1976. On December 31st 1970 Mar Athanasius was elected as Malankara Metropolitan and Catholicose by the Malankara Syrian Christian Association. On October 27, 1975 he was consecrated as Catholicose of The East by the Malankara Orthodox Church Synod.
His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Mathews I quality of sensitivity to his flock’s feelings enabled him to display empathy. Another way which demonstrated His love and concern was in his availability. Bava Thirumeni as a God given transformed leader recognized the aspirations of his people, with a long term perspective, doing the right thing at the proper time with divine courage, appreciating our strengths and weaknesses, facing the threats and utilizing the divine plan for our Malankara Orthodox Church. With the full understanding that expectations and reality were far apart, he set his heart to transform expectations into the reality.
The present system of holding the Holy Episcopal Synod, the supreme decision making body in matters of faith, discipline, order, policy making and planning at least twice in a year at fixed periods and with proper agendas became effective and exercise of authority.
He had consecrated “Mooron” twice, a very rare function, on April 1st1977 at Old seminary Chapel, Kottayam and on March 25th 1988 at Devalokam Catholicate Chapel.
He had consecrated 10 Bishops (Metropolitans), five at Pazhanji Church on May 15th 1978 and at Puthiyakavu St Mary’s Church, Mavelikara on May 15, 1985. His Holiness was awarded The Title “The Order of St. Vladimir” by the Patriarch of Russia and as Fellow by the Leningrad Theological Seminary. The Order of St. George was awarded to him by the Georgian Catholicose. Serampore University conferred on his Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa)
On April 27,1991 he relinquished the Titles of The Catholicose and Malankara Metropolitan since he was not well. He expired on November 8, 1996 at 7.40 A.M. and was entered into the Tomb at Devalokam Chapel the next day. His top concern was the church and he used his talents, energy and time for the good of the church. His Holiness while taking charge as Catholicose declared that he will preserve the Independence of the Malankara Orthodox Church as the iris of his eyes which he did till his end.
Man of Vision
His Holiness had a vision for the Malankara Orthodox Church. He wished the Malankara Church to be known as Indian Orthodox Church and he spent all his energy to preserve the Independence of the Malankara Church. . During his time the Orthodox Theological Seminary at Kottayam was affiliated to The Serampur University, Calcutta and the Seminary was upgraded as a degree college. He wanted the Theological College to be made an Independent University for Theology.
His many-sided personality, his sensitive understanding, his gaiety, his human affection, his communication skills, commitment and vision for the Malankara Orthodox Church, above all his deep rooted faith in God and ability to provide leadership even at the point of crisis were remarkable. It is a heartening sign of the time that there was a heightened interest in the able leadership of His Holiness.
His Holiness led an illustrious life. His prodigious scholarship, intellectual acumen, moral courage and honesty were well known. His concern for others, especially, those who worked with him was well known.
His Holiness was an authority on Church Constitution and history. He was closely associated with the Church cases when he was a laymen and he used to seek advises in such matters from experts in the field during the time, especially, his elder brother Advocate K. Cherian Vattakunnel.
His contributed to the congregation through translation of the Order of Holy Qurbana -
Sunday service and the text of Good Friday Service. He translated and published the texts of Sunday service and Good Friday service to Malayalam with the help of Mr. C.P. Chandy the famous Church Poet. He then published the ‘Holy Qurbana Kramam’ (Order of Holy Qurbana) with relevant songs for each Sunday. These Prayer books are so popular that these are used by each member of the church now. He also translated H. Qurbana Kramam to English and also celebrated the Qurbana in English so that those who did not know Malayalam could participate in the H. Qurbana actively. He then made arrangements to translate the H. Qurbana Kramam to Hindi and Tamil which is now used.
For the conservation of rare books and records he started the Malankara Orthodox Archives. School of Liturgical Music was also started at the Seminary by his deep initiative to preserve the same. He was a good exponent in “Eccara” the canonical songs. He was very concerned to preserve the order (‘Niram’) of the songs.
For the Theological education of the Elderly he started a course by the name “Divya Bodhanam” which has become very popular now.