St. Vattasseril Geevarghese Mar Dionysius – Feb 23 I ‘Malankara Sabha Bhasuran’
Vattasseril Geevarghese Mar Dionysius is popularly known as ‘Malankara Sabha Bhasuran’ (The Great Luminary of Malankara Orthodox Church) which our Church has bestowed on him in recognition of his rich contribution to Malankara Orthodox Church. Vattasseril Thirumeni was a man of prayer, determination and dynamism. He was a saint who never stooped before falsehood. 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 Pauvothingal family Mallappalli, near Kottayam. His father was Vattasseril Joseph Joseph and mother Aleyamma. 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. Unlike many others who chose the ministry of the Church as a profession, he opted it as a vocation. In 1876, Patriarch Peter III ordained him to one of the minor orders in the Church’s ministry 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.
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 Konan.
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 ‘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 kalpana is also given to him. Later on, an order 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 necessary 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. The supporters of Mar Dionysius had requested the Senior Patriarch Mar Abdul Messiah 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 Ivanios 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 Yuachim Mar Ivanios.
Mar Abdul Messiah 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 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 Metropolitans 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. He had won all the lawsuits 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 concentrated 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 February 1934 in triumph and glory, after receiving the benefits of all the sacred rites with full participation.
Another historical achievement Mar Dionysius VI was able to pursue, was the establishment of the Catholicate in Kerala. Mar Abdul Messiah 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. Thirumeni vigorously fought for the establishment of Catholicate at Malankara in 1912 which paved the way for independency and identification of the Malankara Church among the Orthodox Churches in the world. He was the architect of the independent Malankara Church and his bravery for its establishment can never be forgotten by the Church.
Mar Dionysius VI – A man: An aspect by temperament who cared little for external show, Mar Dionysius VI had developed his inner life in a remarkable way by prayer and spiritual discipline. The result was that he had on the hand clarity of mind and nobility of character and on the other devotion to duty and courage of conviction. Thus, he had the inner strength to follow a course in life boldly till the end.
Mar Dionysius VI was drawn into court cases six times during 1913 and 1930. As a metropolitan he underwent intense physical and mental struggle. To brave them all, he was able to do it with grace from above. During the trials he stood, by the principle of honesty and truthfulness. He never deviated from what he knew to be truth. When he won the case, he was not overjoyed, neither was he dejected when he lost a case. In all situations he looked up to God in the depth of his hearts and received strength and courage from the Lord of all things. He was man of prayer, but he was keen that no one knew that great secret of his life. For him, a life of prayer was not for others to see, but a personal religious discipline, concerned to experience between himself and God. Only those who knew him closely knew about this. This secret communion kept through the stress and strain through out his life.
He never harboured ill will against anybody. He never showed partiality towards anyone. He lived on frugal diet, minimal expense and received hospitality to the barest minimum. He faced serious problems during his life and exercised absolute self-control. He faced all the unbearable mental agony and physical strain, without any murmur. During the occasions of his terrible ordeals, he met the situation with terrible courage and remarkable presence of mind. He suffered agony to ensure the church its innate freedom. The Church should feel, ever grateful to him for the sacrifice, which underwent to achieve the goal. His love and loyalty for the church and concern for peace in the Church also needs a remarkable appreciation.
A capable administrator, a man of genuine saintliness, a leader in public life, a man of ecclesiastical learning, Vattasseril Thirumeni had a combination of all these qualities. Mar Dionysius was A man of prayer and of deep intimacy with God. He was very dynamic and with firm determination for a good cause. Geevarghese Mar Dionysius was given with title ‘The Great Luminary of Malankara Orthodox Church’ (Malankara Sabha Bhasuran) as a recognition and appraisal of his tremendous contribution to the Church for its freedom and dignity. Vattasseril Geevarghese Mar Dionysius was canonized as second Saint of Malankara Orthodox Church. Parumala Mar Geevarghese Mar Gregorios was the only declared Saint of Malankara Orthodox Church. The declaration was officially done by H.H. Baselius Marthoma Mathews II, Catholicos and Malankara Metropolitan of Malankara Orthodox Church in presence of 20 Metropolitans, hundreds of clergies and a huge crowd of believers. The ceremonial function was taken place at Old Seminary Kottayam. During the public meeting Arch-Bishop Joseph Powathil of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church delivered the Keynote address.
Vattasserril Mar Dionysius was an exemplary writer of religious books. His book ‘Basic Doctrines of Religion’ stands distinguished all the time. He was also instrumental to bring out the Malayalam version of ‘Qurbana Kramam’ for the Sunday service. Vattasseril Geevarghese Mar Dionysius Thirumeni breathed his last on February 23, 1934 and entombed in the Old Seminary Chapel. Mar Dionysius served the Church as a Metropolitan for period of 25 years. His courage and devotion for the growth of the Church was very remarkable. 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.