MALANKARA ORTHODOX SYRIAN CHURCH
St. Stephen's Orthodox Cathedral, Kudassanad
OTTALIL
KOCHUKUNJU JOY, M.A.
 
1 INTRODUCTION
2 KUDASSANAD ST. STEPHEN'S ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL
3 PATRON SAINT
4 EVOLUTION OF THE CHURCH
5 SPIRITUAL (FORE)FATHERS
6 VICARS
7 CONGREGATION
8 GABRIEL MAR GREGORIOS
9 DIVINE ACTIVITIES
10 PARISH FESTIVAL
 
  1. INTRODUCTION
 

The Christian Community of Kerala traces its origin back to the arrival of Apostle St. Thomas, who according to common tradition landed first at the Muziri Port (known as Crangannore, now Kodungalloor) in A.D. 52. It was here, not long after, that the Jews arrived after the destruction of the second temple and the final desolation of Jerusalem (A.D. 69) and founded a colony.

St. Thomas visited different parts of Kerala and baptised the natives, including many from the upper caste Namboodiri Brahmins into the new religion. Seven churches, namely (1) Malayankara (now Kodungalloor) (2) Palur (Chavakkad in Thrissur) (3) Paravur (Kottukavu near Cochin) (4) Kokkamangalam (between Alappuzha and Kottayam) (5) Niranam (near Tiruvalla) (6) Chayal (Nilackal near Sabarimala) and (7) Quilon (now Kollam) as well as an “Arappalli” (Chapel) at Thiruvankottu were established. The Apostle faced martyrdom at Mylapore in Madras around A.D. 72 (he was speared to death).

 
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  2. KUDASSANAD ST. STEPHEN'S ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL
 

Kudassanad is a Christian dominated township blessed with great natural beauty. The early Christians of this area are believed to have come from the regions of Nilackal. Archaeological evidence proves that up to 14th century Nilackal was a thriving Christian settlement. The Christian communities enjoyed here a wholesome and vibrant life, interacting with the neighbouring kingdoms. However, gradually they had to flee to other areas, such as Aruvithura, Chengannur, Kallooppara, Kanjirappally, Kodassanad (Kudassanad), Mallappally, Poonjar, Ranni, Thumpamon and Vaypur due to certain natural calamity or as a result of the depredations of folks from the neighbouring areas. The newcomers found the place congenial for cultivation and conducting trade. The Kings of Pandalam dynasty, the erstwhile rulers, gave them land and enabled them to practice their religion.

Situated on the top of Vyppin Kunnu (Mount Vyppin), blessed with natural beauty, the Cathedral gives the feeling of the house of worship on Mount Mardin.

Note: Mardin and the Monastery of Deyr-az-Zaferan (Saffron Monastery)

Mardin is a city in a rocky region in the south-eastern Anatolia (Turkey). It was once the home of the Syrian Orthodox Church. The founder of the church, Jacobus Baredeus, was a 6th century bishop in Edessa who rejected the belief of the two natures of Christ, emphasizing instead the oneness of the humanity and divinity. The monastery of Deyr-as-Zaferan founded in 762 was the seat of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch for almost 800 years from 1160 until 1922. One room contains the sedan chairs used by the patriarchs, another is their mausoleum, and in the chapel the Patriarchs throne is carved with the names of all the patriarchs since 792. The history of worship at the site goes back even further, as an underground vault is said to have been used for ritual sacrifices by sun worshippers 4,000 years ago.

Starting from the early ages, Mardin has been home to the Syriac Christians, who broke away from the Byzantine Orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The services held at the churches and monasteries are still performed in their original Semitic language derived from the ancient Aramaic (the language of Jesus). The monasteries and churches are kept alive and looked after by the Syriac population in the area which has now dwindled to about 2,000 from 40,000 in the 1960s.
Mardin is an important regional trading center on the east-west trade routes of southern Anatolia. It is connected by Istanbul-Baghdad railway and is linked by roads with Gaziantep (west), Aleppo (in Syria), Nusaybin (southeast), and Diyarbakir. Located high up on the mountain bordering the Mesopotamian plain in the north, the lights of Syrian villages and towns can easily be seen at night.

As an essential part of our Church ceremony, the sound of the bell marks the beginning and the end of the Liturgy and provides a framework of heavenly sounds for the Church service. The sound of the bell is one of the most powerful roots of our orthodox culture. One ought to experience them, their boundless, mysterious, powerful tolling. Bells became the voice to which the faithful responded. One is consumed by God's love and is drawn to the very heart of his Saviour. Joy and peace are overwhelming and his spirits are lifted as one gets into the church.

"The Sound makes you forget all your earthly thoughts and elevates you to the heavenly heights. It fills your heart with a warm, joyous feeling; you seem to be in Heaven, and far-off Paradise resounds in your heart, filling your soul with joy and hope" (N. Olovianishnikov, "The History of Bells and the Art of Bell Casting").

The Church is a center of Christianity and shelter to the faithful as well as ornamentation to Kudassanad. Centuries back our forefathers worshipped at the churches situated far away in Kadambanad and later at the St. Mary’s Church in Thumpamon established around A.D. 900. As these two churches were situated very far away a church was improvised in Kudassanad for convenience of worship. Initially a location at Mulappumpallil was found to be best-suited for the Church. But owing to some local opposition, the plan had to be shelved: This led the Church to be constructed at its present site on St. Stephen's Mount. All records of the early church are lost, following which the exact date and year of the first church cannot be estimated correctly.

The true fountainhead of India’s ancient civilisation could be traced to the elevation of mind and broadening of vision attained in such ambience, where man communes with nature in all its pristine beauty. This is the feeling one gets in the church yard on top of St. Stephen’s Mount: The human approach to blend a vision for returning to nature, love nature and keep all its God given bounties intact.

Relax on one of the many Apostles’ staircases. It's a wondrous place to watch the sun rise or view a perfect sunset. On return after such a visit, one gets the feeling of William Wordsworth, after his famous visit to Glencoyne Park on 15 April 1802, which inspired him to write his most famous poem “Daffodils”, which concludes thus:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

As the poem is essentially a comment on the pleasure Wordsworth gained from solitary contemplation, his use of the word “Lonely” would not have the same meaning as ours. His true attitude to being alone is in the “Bliss of solitude”.

We must woo Nature in solitude and silence to gain entry into her secrets. It's good to be happy again - taking time to relax - not thinking about much. Just sitting in nature, one can enjoy the peace and silence.

You have enough time to spend an entire evening sitting in nature thinking of the forefathers who rest at the calmness and serenity of the cemetery just beside – musing over their concern for you when you were still a child, their love, their reprimands grown out of concern for your welfare, and many more unending sweet memories. The sun lights up the evening sky into shades of purple with its rays. The coconut trees and rice fields just under your eyes sway gracefully with the wind. The rustling of the leaves could be heard from a distance. The sparkling waters of the small stream just flowing below the valley seem to stretch endlessly into the horizon. Above, the floating clouds shed many fluffy shapes against the sky.

 
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  3. PATRON SAINT
 

Our forefathers appropriately named the Church after St. Stephen (Sthephanos), the first disciple of Jesus to receive the martyr's crown. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian Church. The Apostles ordained seven deacons to look after the care of the widows and the poor. St. Stephen is the most famous of them (refer Acts 6:3, “… Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and Wisdom. We will turn this responsibility (of looking after the widows in the daily distribution of food, etc.) over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

God worked many miracles through St. Stephen and he spoke with such wisdom and grace that many of his hearers became followers of Jesus. Furious at this, the enemies of the Church plotted to kill him, accusing him of profanity. St. Stephen faced the enemies heroically. The Holy Bible records: “His face shone like the face of an angel”. They dragged him outside the city of Jerusalem and stoned him to death. The Saint prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:58-60). After such an amazing expression of love, the Holy Martyr went to his heavenly reward. The Feast Day of St. Stephen is celebrated on Makaram 7-8 (M.E.)

 
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  4. EVOLUTION OF THE CHURCH
 
In the first phase a thatched house was erected with bamboos and wooden blocks. In the second phase a sturdier construction was raised with bricks and mortar and in the third phase a larger brick edifice with tiled roof and extensions on both sides as well as a portico in front was put up, of which the foundation stone was laid by H.G. Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysius V on 20th January 1873; it was a small church in size. As this Church also became too small for the extended worshippers a fourth phase for the modernization of the church began as H.G. Daniel Mar Philoxenos, Metropolitan of the Thumpamon Diocese, laid the foundation stone on 22nd January 1972, which was consecrated by H.H. Moran Mar Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews I on 23 January 1984, during which the Catholicos christened the mount on which the church is situated as St. Stephen’s Mount. Elevated to be a Cathedral on 22nd April 1984 by H.G. Daniel Mar Philoxenos, the St. Stephen’s Cathedral is one of the most famous historically vibrant churches in central Travancore.
 
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  5. SPIRITUAL (FORE)FATHERS
 
Konatt Geevarghese Mar Julios
(Julius)*
Geevarughese Mar Gregorios
(St. Gregorios of Parumala)
Pulikkottil
Joseph Mar Dionysius V
1876-1884 1884-1902
1902-1909
Vattasseril
Geevarghese Mar Dionysius VI
1909-1913
Yuyakim Mar Ivanios
1913-1925
Kallasseril Mar Gregorios
(Later Catholicos
H.H. Baselios Geevarghese II)
    1925-1930
Geevarghese Mar Philoxenos of Puthencavu Oughen Mar Timotheos (later Catholicos H.H. Baselios Oughen I) Daniel Mar Philoxenos
1930-1951 1951-1953 1953-1990
   
 

Following the reorganisation of the Dioceses, the Church was moved from Thumpamon Diocese to Chengannur Diocese under its first Metropolitan H.G. Thomas Mar Athanasios.

* Konatt Geevarghese Mar Julios (Julius) was the first Metropolitan of Thumpamon diocese (1876-1883). However, His Grace was not able to conduct diocesan administration due to poor health. Mar Julios passed away on 21st March 1884; his mortal remains are interred in the family Chapel at Pampakuda.

 
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  6. VICARS
 
       
Thekkedathu Yohannan
  Karingattil Mathunni Scaria   Thiruvinal Geevarghese   Keeppallil Easo Pathrose  
Thumpamon   Thumpamon   Thumpamon   Kudassanad  
               
       
Mulappumpallil Jacob
  Pulikkottil M. Mathews   Kulathakkal T. George   Vayalappallil C. Jacob  
Kudassanad   Pazhanji   Kozhencherry   Kangazha  
    25.09.1944 – 28.05.1946   29.05.1946 – 01.06.1949   02.06.1949 – 28.10.1951  
       
Thamaravelil M. Thomas   Tharayil G. Geevarughese   Muzhuvanpallil P.E. Jacob   Kadamplavil P.E. Thomas  
Karichal   Padanilam   Nariyapuram   Thumpamon  
02.10.1951 – 30.07.1954   31.07.1954 – 04.09.1960   05.09.1960 –   - 07.01.1967  
       
Sankarathil Mathews
(Corepiscopa)

  Kallinal Thomas
(Corepiscopa), A. Vicar
  Paul Madath   Puthenveettil C.J. George  
Pandalam   Kulanada   Kattoor   Prakkanam  
            - 14.08.1975  
       
Tharayil G. Geevarughese
(2nd time)
  Kunnumpurath M. Thomas   Charuvil V. Samuel
(Asst. Vicar)
  Yesudas Pappan
(Corepiscopa)
 
Padanilam   Kakkanad   Kudassanad   Attuva  
15.08.1975 – 01.03.1983   02.03.1983 – 15.06.1985          
       
Kollasseril O. Philipp   Pullamplamvil Bersaino
(Corepiscopa)
  Puthenveettil C.J. George
(2nd time)
  C.K. Geevarghese
(Dayara)
 
Kulanada   Chengannur   Prakkanam   Chayalode  
22.06.1985 – 31.05.1987   01.06.1987 – 31.12.1987   01.01.1988 – 11.06.1988   12.06.1988 – 30.04.1989  
       
Thengumtharayil G. John   Pulimoottil Mathew Varghese   Thomas Kokkaparampil   Murikkeethu Kurian Joseph  
Pathanamthitta   Thonnakkad   Chengannur   Kurichimuttom  
01.05.1989 – 31.05.1994   01.06.1994 – 08.05.1998   09.05.1998 – 20.05.2001   21.05.2001 – 14.05.2004  
       
Planthoppil John Daniel   John Paul Pulprakuzhiyil   P.K. Koshy   Ipe P Sam  
(Corepiscopa)   Mundakayam   Piralasserry   Vallamkulam East  
Kulanada   15.05.2007 – 15.05.2010   15.05.2010 - 15.05.2013   15.05.2013  
15.05.2004 - 15.05.2007              
 
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  7. CONGREGATION
 

Members of the parish have a record of defending the faith tooth and nail; thus, standing united they shielded the “reformation movement” led by Palakkunnathu Abraham Malpan and Mathews Mar Athanasius in 1843. The Vicar of (Kodassanad) Kudassanad Church led a delegation to the Mulanthuruthy Synod held on 28, 29 and 30 June 1876 (15, 16, and 17 of Midhunam 1051 M.E.) (Mulanthuruthy Synod Page 122, Z.M. Parettu). As per decision taken in that Synod the Malankara Church was divided into seven dioceses. One of these, the Thumpamon Diocese, had 21 churches, of which one was the Kudassanad Church (Sabha Vignana Kosam, Page 318).

In the 1923s as the Latin Rite and later as Geevarghese Mar Ivanios started the Syro Malankara Rite of the Catholic Church in Kudassanad some people from the parish joined those Rites. The Palli-Pothuyogam (plenary session of the Parish), under the chair of its Vicar, Rev. Fr. Keeppallil Easo Pathrose, excommunicated them, simultaneously passing a Resolution not to have any social communion with them (Minutes of the Meeting 110 Kanni 28).

Parumala Thirumeni visited the Church in 1889 and moved the cemetery from the northern part to the southern part of the church and blessed it. H.G. Geevarghese Mar Philoxenos of Puthencavu consecrated the present three storey cross shrine at Thettikkuzhy Junction, in place of an ancient stone cross, on 11th December 1949.

The Cross is the mighty and profound symbol of Christianity, a symbol whose meaning is inexhaustible. The eight-pointed Cross is the symbol of Orthodoxy. Gazing upon the Cross with his mind and heart, the Christian goes deeper into that symbol and grows spiritually. Just as a plant needs fertile soil, moisture, and sunlight in order to grow, so a Christian needs the Cross of Christ in his spiritual and physical life, for the Cross of Christ provides him with nourishment, drink, warmth, and light.

During the time of Rev. Fr. P.G. Thomas, to help climb the mount, construction work to erect seventy-two staircases in commemoration of the 72 messengers sent out by our Saviour (St. Luke Chapter 10), was started (1 March 1964). It was during the tenure of the twice-served Rev. Fr. Tharayil G. Geevarughese that the development work in the Parish started earnestly in the 1980s by establishing a Malayalam medium school, which was inaugurated by the Metropolitan of Thumpamon Diocese, H.G. Daniel Mar Philoxenos. His Grace, considering the ancestry, tradition and spirituality of the Church, elevated it as a Cathedral on April 22nd, 1984. The Holy Relics of St. Gregorios of Parumala, brought to the Cathedral on 22nd January 1984 by H.H. Baselios Mar Thomas Mathews I, is worshipped by both Christian and non-Christians from all walks of life. The parish has 28 Family Prayer Groups, 10 Martha Mariam Samajams, three Youth Movements, two Evangelical Groups, two Sunday Schools, Orthodox Vacation Bible School (OVBS), two Balika-Bala Samajams, Mar Gregorios Orthodox Youth Association (MGOYA working in cooperation with Mar Gregorios Orthodox Christian Students Movement of the Malankara Orthodox Church, Seniors’ Groups, and Daiva Vili Sanghams. In addition the parish operates one (English medium) school, one hospital as well as other charity endowment funds.

Construction works are carried out under the able patronage of the Development Committee. A computerized Administrative Block was added to the Church complex, inauguration of which was carried out by H.G. Dr. Gabriel Mar Gregorios Metropolitan on March 6th, 2005.

The Church choir adds piety and solemnity to the liturgy.

 
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  8. GABRIEL MAR GREGORIOS
 

The parish is justly proud and pleased to have one of its own, Rev. Fr. Dr. K. J. Gabriel, consecrated as Metropolitan, His Grace Dr. Gabriel Mar Gregorios, by the Catholicos of the Apostolic Throne of St. Thomas and Malankara Metropolitan, H.H. Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews II, at the Parumala St. Peter and St. Paul Seminary Church on 5th March 2005. We are therefore deeply humbled and rejoice, for this act of consecration gladdens all of us with bright joy.

Fr. Dr .K. J. Gabriel was born as third son of Chacko John (Kanjikkal, Thumpamon) and Aleyamma (Mulamoottil, Kudassanad) on 26 February 1949. Early education was at St. Stephen's High School, in Pathanapuram. After graduation from Baselios College, Kottayam, he completed the studies in Theology at the M.D. Seminary in Kottayam and Serampore University. Catholic University of Paris ("L'Institut Catholique de Paris" - ICP) awarded him M.Th. in New Testament. Research work on the epistles of St. Paul was done at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and post-doctoral Research at Cambridge University.

Ordained as Deacon on November 4, 1969 and as Priest on February 8, 1974, Fr. Gabriel was Vicar of various parishes at Churches in Bombay, Delhi, Kottayam, and Trivandrum Dioceses for over thirty years. He was Registrar and Director of F.F.R.R.D. and competently represented the Church at ecumenical organizations such as Orthodox-Marthoma Dialogue Forum, Orthodox-Lutheran Dialogue Forum, Bible Society Kerala Auxiliary Committee, and Theological Literature Forum. He is a Fellow of George Bell Ecumenical Institute, England and Professor of New Testament at the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kottayam since 1982. In addition he is an Administrative Committee Member of Serampore University. His Grace has authored many Theological Books like, "Towards a New Humanity", "Towards the Grace of God", "Cross and Grace", etc.

Since 24th June 2005, His Grace is the Metropolitan of the Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) Diocese.

Besides proficiency in English and Malayalam (mother tongue), His Grace has fair knowledge in Aramaic, French, German, Greek, Hebrew and Syriac.


 

FFRRC is a joint endeavour of the Orthodox Theological Seminary (Kottayam), Mar Thoma Theological Seminary (Kottayam), and Kerala United Theological Seminary (Trivandrum), formed with the objective to promote advanced theological studies in Religion and Culture.

 
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  9. DIVINE ACTIVITIES
 

Convention started in 1924 at St. Stephen’s Mount has been moved to Mar Baselios Nagar at Thettikuzhy Junction since 1991 and is held there every year during the period of long Lent. The Feast of St. Stephen is celebrated on 7-8 Makaram (Malayalam Era) each year. Independent parishes were started in Olickal (St. Mar Gregorios, 1 April 1992), Poozhickad (St. George, 1 April 1992) and Kadamankulam (St. Mary’s, 22 July 1992) for the convenience of parishioners scattered far from the mother church. There are now over 630 families in the register of the Kudassanad parish, spread across Kudassanad, Kurampala, Nooranad, Pazhakulam and Poozhickad within a radius of 5 km.

The Cathedral has one chapel named after St. Thomas in Nooranad and 15 “Shrines of Cross”: Three (St. George, St. Gregorios and St. Mary) at the Cathedral complex, St. Stephen’s at Kudassanad-Thettikuzhy Junction, Nooranad 10th Mile, Padinjaremukkathu Junction, Poozhickad-Chiramudi, Thandanivila, Thavalamkulam, Thuruthel Junction, respectively, Mar Baselios Hospital Junction, St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s at Arimangalathu, St. Gregorios at Chirayil Junction, St. George at Mettil Junction and St. Thomas at Ulavukkad-Mattappally Junction).

 
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  10. PARISH FESTIVAL
 

The Parish Festival is conducted on Makaram 7-8 (around January), which is preceded by one week of celebrations. Thousands of people, crossing over all religious denominations, participate in the procession and festivities to honour the Patron Saint of the Church, St. Stephen, and the first Martyr of the early church.

From the early days of the history of the church, the final Rasa (procession) is started from Pappadikoikkal Junction located next to Mulappumpallil, where the original church was planned. There is a tale behind this: Following the local opposition to erect a Church at the original site, a great epidemic spread, which people believed to be a divine bane. The first Rasa was thus begun as a sacrifice and propitiation. This rite of starting the Rasa from Pappadikoikkal Junction, passing through Ottalil corner and Valiyaveettil Dahana Chapel over St. Stephen’s Shrine at Thettikuzhy Junction to the Cathedral, is still faithfully followed even after more than a century and half

 
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  Acknowledgement
 

I gratefully acknowledge the assistance provided by Kavumpurath George Varghese for the strain taken to make available much of the photographs.

 

© Kochukunju Joy 2003 (Updated 2013) All Rights Reserved