Feast of St. Geevarghese Mar Dionysius Vattasseril - February 23rd
He bravely fought for the establishment of Catholicate to be the symbol of self-identity and independence of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. The unique and historic contribution of Mar Dionysius is the establishment of Catholicate in Malankara in 1912 at Kottayam. He can be called as the architect of the Indian Orthodox Church and thus endeared himself as one of the greatest fathers of the Indian Orthodox Church.
Geevarghese of Vattasseril was born on 31st October, 1858 in Mallappalli, near Kottayam. At that time Malankara Syrian Church was in a state of internal conflict. Two parties in it were fighting each other to gain control of the Church and its assets. Mathews Mar Athanasius was the Metropolitan of the Church then. He had his own supporters in addition to the support he enjoyed from the government.
Geevarghese had his early education in Malayalam under a local village teacher. After his elementary studies, he continued his learning in the C.M.S. High School, Kottayam, when Patriarch Peter III visited South India. He paid special attention to study English language and thereby he got attracted to religious subjects in English Books. In 1876 he was ordained to one of the minor orders in the Church's ministry by Patriarch Peter III himself. He then took up a study of the Syriac language and syriac fathers. Geevarghese read these works under the guidance of Metropolitan Mar Gregorios of Parumala and Mar Ivanios Murimattom of Kandanad, who was later made the first Catholicos of the Indian Orthodox Church. His two literary works, a Syriac Text Book for Beginners and "Mathopadesa Sarangal" (Basic Doctrines of Religion) show the influence of his early training in this direction.
In 1879 Geevarghese was ordained as a deacon, and in the following year, when he was hardly 21 years old, he was made a priest. As a deacon, he served Mar Gregorios as his secretary and accompanied him while he visited Churches. This experience brought him in contact with people and clergy in different parts of the Church. As priest, Fr. V. J. Geevarghese was involved in a number of activities, both in church and in society. In church, he maintained close connection with Mar Dionysius V, the then Malankara Metropolitan, Mar Gregorios of Parumala and Mar Ivanios Murimattom. This association helped him soon to be intimately related to three important institutions in the Church the Old Seminary, the Parumala Seminary and the M.D. Seminary. In 1881 Fr. V. J. Geevarghese was appointed to teach at Parumala. Besides, he served as its Manager as well for a period of about thirty years. When Mar Dionysius V took the control of Old Seminary in 1885, the teaching program came to be reinaugurated at the Seminary under the Malpans V. J. Geevarghese and Mathen of Konat.
In 1903, on the first death anniversary of Mar Gregorios, Fr. Geevarghese was ordained as a Monk. It was while serving as Principal of M.D. Seminary that Fr. Geevarghese played a key role in the social life of the community, namely starting of the M.G.M High School, Thiruvalla in memory of the Mar Gregorios of Parumala, establishment of a number of Primary Schools founding of the Malankara Syrian Mahajan Sabha etc. During the Malankara Association Meeting held in March, 1908, Vattasseril Geevarghese Ramban has been chosen as Metropolitan and sent him to the Patriarch in Antioch for consecration. Thus he was consecrated as the Metropolitan by name Geevarghese Mar Dionysius VI on 31st May 1908. But he was not given the "staticon (kalpana)", the authorization letter assigning him to a particular church or a diocese specifying the field of his service. It is customary that every bishop when ordained, a staticon is also given to him. Later on, a staticon was issued without mentioning any, right of succession to Mar Dionysius V. The Patriarch Mar Abdulla expressed that office of the Metropolitan of Malankara was not necessay for the Indian Church. Accordingly the Patriarch has sent a Syrian Bishop by name Sleeba Mar Osthathios to India to succeed Mar Dionysius V, who was expecting Geevarghese Mar Dionysius VI to succeed him.
When Mar Dionysius V passed away on 11th July 1909, Patriarch Abdulla was requested to confirm the appointment of Geevarghese Mar Dionysius as his successor, which he had agreed. He was given a rousing welcome and felicitation by the Malankara Association and all Churches. During his meeting with leaders of Malankara Association, Patriarch made a suggestion in a very diplomatic way that they should write a statement acknowledging the authority of the Patriarch over everything in the Church, which few have opposed. Even then Patriarch gained strength by various methods. Patriarch Abdulla asserted that he had the authority whether the Indian Church admitted it or not. He was claiming both spiritual and temporal authority in the Church of Malabar as a divine right while the Royal Court decision admitted only the spiritual authority, which Mar Dionysius VI and those who stood with him were willing to admit but opposed to his claim of temporal authority. In fact this was the only difference between the two sides.
Spiritual authority here referred to matters related to interpretation of faith, maintenance of the sacramental life, and the observance of ecclesiastical discipline. Authority of temporal matters consisted of the carrying out of the Church's internal administration, management of its finances, Schools, Parishes and other institutions. Court decisions from the 19th Century (1889) had denied to the Patriarch authority in the temporal sphere. All the Bishops consecrated by Ihe Patriarch during the period following 1875, except Mar Dionysius VI, had admitted this illegitimate claim and given the Patriarchs concerned the registered deeds demanded by them. Thus in reality all of them have betrayed the cause of preserving the integrity of the Indian Church.But the only exception was Mar Dionysius VI. The Malankara Association also turned down the demand on the Patriarch. In the face of this serious humiliation, Patriarch Abdulla adopted the method of threats saying that if the Metroplitan did not abide by his demand, he would see evil days and the Church of Malabar would not see peace and unity any longer.
Finally Patriarch Abdulla with the advice of his supporters took the decision of sending a letter of excommunication to Metropolitan Mar Dionysius, received by him on 27th June 1911. Mar Dionysus convened the Managing Committee of the Church at the M.D. seminary Chapel. This meeting expressed its solidarity with the Metropolitan, ignoring his excommunication, and resolved to call the Malankara Association to workout the steps to be adopted in handling the situation. Meanwhile, in response to communication from Kerala, the Senior Patriarch Mar Abdul Messiah, the canonical Patriarch informed on 17th August 1911 that the excommunication of Mar Dionysius by Abdulla was null and void, and the Church of Malabar should only ignore it. The supporters of Mar Dionysius have requested the Senior Patriarch Mar Abdul Messaiah to visit India to repair the damage done by Patriarch Abdulla. Accordingly, on 13th June 1912 he arrived in Kerala. He raised Punnoose Ramban to the Episcopal rank as Metropolitan Geevarghese Mar Gregorios (later installed as third Catholicos in 1929), in cooperation with Mar Dionysius and Mar Evanios Murimattom. The Patriarch has also cooperated with Mar Dionysius and Mar Gregorios in the installation of Mar Ivanios as Catholicos, at Niranam. He has further consecrated two other Bishops, Geevarghese Mar Philoxenos, who became the second Catholicos in 1925, and Euachim Mar Ivanios.
Mar Abdul Messaiah returned to Antioch and passed away on 30th August 1915, before which he issued two Kalpanas dated 17th September 1912 and 24th February 1913 stating that the Catholicos has been installed, and that the Bishops of Malankara Syrian Church have the right to raise a successor to the Catholicos. It is given the authority to fulfill, in consultation with the Malankara Association, all the services needed for the edification of the Church, by the Holy Spirit. He shall thus ordain Melropolitans and Bishops, consecrate the Holy Mooron, and perform the other functions necessary for the Church. The matter had gone through the court and finally Mar Dionysius' right to be the Malankara Metropolitan and hold the Seminary and other assets of the Church in his possession was established in the Court.
Thus Mar Dionysius VI attained the zenith of his glory as the victor in all court cases. Ha had won all the law suits in which he was involved and he was legally recognized as the Metropolitan of Malankara. He had organized matters connected with the Church in such a way that the people who followed him were assured of their spiritual and ecclesiastical needs satisfactorily met. With all these obstacles Mar Dionysius had prepared the ground for establishing a seminary for the training of the candidates for the Church's ministry and concentratred on the formation of a constitution for the Church. During last days of his life, Mar Dionysius VI involved himself in the drawing up of the Constitution for the guidance of the Church and he made a draft for the same, though he could not see its adoption.
About a year before his death, Mar Dionysius VI got ready his 'Will', handing over all the properties of the Church administered by him to the episcopal Synod of the Church, after his time. The Patriarchal side raised objection to its adoption in Court, soon after his death. But it had no effect, as the court dismissed the case. The 'Will' was then registered and formally executed. He bade farewell to his earthly life on 23rd Febraury 1934 in triumph and glory, after receiving the benefits of all the sacred rites with full participation.
An illustrious leader, Mar Dionysius served the Malankara Syrian Church as its Metropolitan for a period of twenty five years. His unwavering faith, sincere devotion and dauntless courage are laudable and commendable.
During his priestly days when he was teaching in the Seminary, he wrote the Book Mathopadesa Sarangal (Basic Doctrines of Religion) which reflects the faith of man, such as teaching of the Church concerning God, the Sacraments, Prayer, Fasting, Man and his Salvation and similar subjects. He has also brought out the Malayalam version of Qurbana Kramam (Order of Service for Qurbana), now in use on Sundays in our Church.
Another historical achievement Mar Dionysius VI was able to pursue, was the establishment of the Catholicate in Kerala. Mar Abdul Messaiah Patriarch was willing to cooperate with Mar Dionysius VI and his episcopal colleagues in instituting the office of the Catholicate at Kottayam. Murimattathil His Grace Paulose Mar Ivanios was raised as the first Catholicos of the East in 1912 and he has been named as His Holiness Baselios Mar Paulose I. By the reestablishment of the Catholicate in Kerala, the Malankara Orthodox Church became autocephalous.
The first Catholicos of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, occupied the throne as stated above was His Holiness Baselios Mar Paulose I, installed at the Niranam Church in 1912. The Catholicate and the Patriarchate are indeed equal in rank. The Catholicos has the right at supervision over his church, in the same way as the Patriarch has it over that of his.
As our Church pays its profound respects to the sacred memory of Mar Dionysius VI, it should dedicate itself to follow his example and build on what he had begun. May the remembrance of his saintly life be a blessing to the Church as a whole and to its members individually.
Ref: 'Truth Triumph', by Rev. Dr. V.C. Samuel.