Fr. Dr. V. C. Samuel – Nov 18 I Scholar of the Millennium, Perfect Guru, Christian Philosopher, Ecumenical Leader, Distinguished Church Historian Writer, Orator, Theologian. I (1912-1998)

Published by Jacob P Varghese on

Late Rev. Fr Vilakuvelil Cherian Samuel was born on April 6, 1912 as the fifth child of the nine children of E. I. Cherian and Annamma of Edayil Family, Omalloor, an Orthodox Syrian Christian family. His father was a school teacher and educationist, who held education in high esteem, who had established 15 primary schools, at a time when there was little facility for modern education. He was a member of the Legislative Assembly too. Fr V C Samuel completed his primary education in his father’s school at Pathanamthitta, then at Government English Middle School, Pathanamthitta and had his high school education at St. Thomas English High School Kozhencherry. In addition to his general education, Samuel learned the Syriac language.

Even though he was a brilliant student, he could not continue his higher education for a while because of the prevailing social circumstances. He could go for higher education only after thirteen years of completing his school education. He began his higher studies in 1944 and continued it till 1957. He completed his BA in philosophy from UC College Aluva, MA in Philosophy from Madras Christian College, BD from UTC Bangalore, STM from New York Union Seminary and finally Ph. D from the famous Yale University. He completed all his degrees securing high ranks in each. Samuel’s growth in religious scholarship was due to in part to the atmosphere of religious devotion and Christian commitment of his family.

His vision and perspective of life, took shape in Manjanikkara Dayara. After the mortal remains of Patriarch Elias III were interred in the Dayara, a representative of the Patriarch always resided there. Ramban Abdul Ahad (Later Patriarch Yakub III) who thus resided there had close association with H. G. Mar Yulios and this enabled Samuel to acquire deep knowledge in Syriac and Hebrew. Along with this he acquired mastery in English language through his wide reading. This was the beginning of his language studies. He was a Polyglot, mastering Syriac, Greek, Hebrew, and Sanskrit and later languages like Greek, Latin, German, Kannada and Tamil.

He began his service to the Church as a Sunday School inspector (1931–1932). He was ordained deacon and priest in 1935. Fr. Samuel continued his ministry in the Indian Orthodox Church for almost six decades. He was the vicar and Malpan, St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox Church Chengalam, Kottayam (1940–1944), Alwaye 1944–1948. Member, Governing Board of the Christu Shishya Ashram, Thadakom, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu (1944–1998). He served the parishes in Thambaram and Madras (1948–1950).  When he worked in Serampore, Bangalore and Ethiopia, he took the initiative to establish Churches and centres of worship in those places. Most of his work in this direction was done at Bangalore. He gave leadership to St. George (Trinity) Church (1950–1953), St. Gregorios Church Hondur, of which he was a member till his passing away, St. Mary’s Church Jalahalli (1957–1959). He was the founding priest and vicar of St Thomas Church Bangalore East (1976–1982), He was the founder of St. Stephen’s Church Vijayanagar (1980–1998) ever since their establishment.

His career as a teacher (Malpan), of Syriac language at Manjanikkara Dayara (1933–1944) soon found new platforms in great centres of learning. He taught at Serampore (1960 – 1963), Holy Trinity Theological College in Adis Ababa (Ethiopia) (1963–1966, 1968–1976), United Theological College Bangalore (1966–1968,1978–1980). Ecumenical Institute, White field (1977–1978) and finally for a decade (1981–1991) at Orthodox Theological Seminary Kottayam and Federated Faculty (FFRRC), Federated Faculty for Research in Religion and Culture (1982 – 1991). Students from various Churches could experience his scholarship, humility and love. He also served as a professor, guide and examiner in several Seminaries and Theological Colleges in India, and abroad. The Church planned to consecrate him as a Bishop of the Church in the early 1950s. He declined this honour in favour of pursuing ecumenism through academia. In 1968, the Catholicos Baselius Ougen I, the Head of the Malankara Orthodox Church appointed him as the Ambassador to Ethiopia and other African Countries.

Even though he was born and brought up in a Syrian family with professed lenience to Antiochian faith, he had from childhood, an earnest desire to understand truth objectively. He was interested in enquiring whether there was any truth in branding Oriental Orthodox Churches as Monophysites. He enquired into the background of the Council of Chalcedon which caused the first split in the Christian Church and the truth behind One Nature, Two Nature theories. His findings regarding the issue became beneficial to the Church subsequently. He proved in a scholarly fashion that the controversies regarding One Nature and Two Nature originated because of the Socio-political conditions in those days and because both factions did not understand each other. His doctoral thesis published as ‘Council of Chalcedon – Re-examined’ was an eye opener for the entire Christian Church. Thus, he was a Truth-Seeking Researcher.

Fr. V. C. Samuel had great vision and interest regarding an Indian Church free from the hegemony of Western Churches (including the Syrian Church of Antioch). His studies in this direction were carried out at CISRS (Christian Institute for Studies in Religious Sciences). Bangalore established by Dr. P. D. Devanandan. He also got the fellowship of Rockfeller Foundation for carrying out Post-Doctoral Studies. He made in depth studies of Vedanta of Indian Philosophy, Vivekananda, Sri. Ramakrishna, Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Movement. He argued that Indian Churches should have a National Character and wrote several books and articles on the topic. His self-critical book on Malankara Orthodox Church titled ‘is this and Indian Church?’ is the most important book authored by him. The challenges raised by this book, written several decades ago, still remain unrealized.

In Ecumenical Movements he earnestly tried to bridge the differences of faith between Churches. Most of his higher studies were in this direction. He presented treatises on Ecumenism at four assemblies of World Council of Churches. These assemblies are Ivan stone (USA) 1954, New Delhi 1961, Upsala (Sweden) 1968 and Nairobi (Kenya) 1976. Faith and Order He served for 23 long years (1961-1984) in Faith and Order, the theological fellowship of various Churches which includes the Roman Catholic Church. He was participated in seven meetings of the Commission, 1963 – Montreal, Canada, 1964 – Arhus, Denmark, 1967 – Bristol, UK, 1971 – Louvain, Belgium, 1974 – Accra, Ghana, 1978 – Bangalore, India and, 1982 – Lima, Peru. He presented knowledgeable papers at all the seven assemblies of this fellowship which took place during this period. Fr. Samuel assisted to organise the Conference of the Oriental Orthodox Churches with the initiative of both the Emperor Haile Selassie I and the then acting Patriarch of Ethiopia, Abune Theophilus. The conference brought together the five Oriental Orthodox Churches, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopian and Indian, which were isolated after the fifth century. He gave active leadership to the dialogues between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches and also to ‘Pro Oriento’, the fellowship between Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. While giving leadership to international fellowships, he did not discard the ecumenical movements in India. He gave active leadership to Kerala Council of Churches (KCC) as well as National Council of Churches (NCC).

His speeches and orations were scholarly ones. He has written several books and articles. His book on Vattasseril Metropolitan titled ‘Truth Triumphs’ was a book with a difference. His autobiography titled ‘On the stage of Own Experiences’ is a sketch of a truthful life. He was a true philanthropist. His love had no boundaries of religion, caste, denomination or nationality. His book ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’ is a peerless work in Christology and is published by CLS, Thiruvalla. He has also authored books included in the curriculum of ‘Divyabodhanam!’ (Lay Spiritual Education) of Malankara Church. The papers were published under the auspices of the World Council of Churches: Apostolicity and Catholicity, The Early Councils, The Council of Chalcedon, Authority of the Bible, Uniatism and its Problem, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry Text; or Lima Document He was one of the major architects of the Lima Document of the Faith and Order Commission of WCC.

Dr. V. C. Samuel of blessed memory, was a humble, simple, truthful, and highly spiritual versatile genius. Professor Samuel Chandanappally published “Malankara Sabha Pithakkanmar” (Fathers of the Malankara Church), In 1991. The book listed Samuel as the greatest Doctor of the Indian Church. He contributed much for the translation, simplification and indigenisation of our liturgical texts. He translated many of the Promeons and Sedras, which are being used now. He spent his last days in Bangalore. He was a prolific writer, thinker, philosopher, ecumenist and preacher of religious and cultural harmony. His academic excellence, scholastic skill, simple life style and unblemished character will inspire many generations to come. He left for the heavenly abode on 18 November 1998 at the age of 86. Funeral service was conducted on 20th Friday at St. Gregorios Cathedral where he had served. 


P.C.Chacko Tharakan · November 17, 2022 at 5:10 pm

From 198 to 1998 I was associated with the great Achen such a simple gentle man once he had some mis understanding with me after a short gap he came to understand the truth .such a big man apolagised for the misunderstanding . He was such a great human being.

    Fr.Thomas Varghese · November 17, 2023 at 11:57 am

    A world renowned great personality, but simple and approachable person. I still remember my three -day stay along with Achen at Kolenchery. Those conversations are unforgettable.

Susan Jacob · November 17, 2023 at 11:00 am

Fr. Dr. V C. Samuel was a dearly beloved friend and a relative. His achievements and scholarly works have been awesome and deserve all praise. Interesting to note that he has been a well accepted theologian in the ecumenical circles, especially in WCC. A multilinguist and a prolific writer, Fr. Dr. V C Samuel is famous for his treatise on Chalcedon revisited. Proud of this great personality belonging to the MOSC. Thank you for the article that gives us a comprehensive picture of his stature and his charisma as a simple and humble servant of God.

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