“We will preserve the freedom of the Malankara Orthodox Church as the pupil of our eyes” he declared this in his first speech after the consecration as the Catholicose and did it till his end. Historians see his period as the ‘Golden age’ of Malankara Orthodox Church. On His Holiness’ 13th death anniversary (Nov.8) Indian Orthodox Herald family bow our heads before this great father of the Church.
The Catholicos was born on March 27, 1907 to parents Fr. Kurien of Vattakunnel, Kottayam and Mariamma of Pulikkapparampil, Olassa. Fr. Kurien was Vicar of St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church at Manarcad. In his early days, the Catholicos was called V.K. Mathew and endearingly as Kuttachen. Mathew had his school education at M.D. Seminary High School, and Collegiate education in C.M.S. College, Kottayam and Maharaja’s College Ernakulam. After obtaining B.A. Degree in Chemistry, Mathews opted for the ministry of God and joined the Bishop’s College, Calcutta for B.D. course. In 1936, Mathew took B.D. and later in 1942 joined the teaching staff of the Theological Seminary, Kottayam.
Called to Priesthood
On October 27, 1946, V.K. Mathew at the age of 40, received ordination of priesthood from Catholicos Mar Geevarghese II, at Old Seminary. The Theological Seminary was his main field of activity, and was appointed as its Acting Principal in 1948 and as its Principal in 1951, which position he retained till 1966.
The Malankara Syrian Christian Association held in 1951 elected Fr. Mathews as Metropolitan-candidate and accordingly o~ May 15, 1953, the Catholicos Mar Geevarghese along with other Metropolitans of the Synod, consecrated him as Metropolitan Mar Athanasius at Mar Elia Chapel, Kottayam. In addition to the post of Principal of the Theological Seminary, the charge of the diocese of Outside Kerala was entrusted to him from 1960 onwards.
From 1960 to 1976 Mar Athanasius shepherded the Outside Kerala Diocese. During this period the Diocese witnessed significant growth in the number of parishes formed inside and outside India, Churches that were built, and in the number of parish priests and educational institutions. The Metropolitan was thus able to give a thrust to Widening the horizon of the diocese. In discharge of his responsibilities, the Metropolitan had undertaken tours to different parts of the diocese several times.
On December 31, 1970 Mar Athanasius was elected as Successor to Mar Ougen as Catholicos and Malankara Metropolitan by the Malankara Association. Consequently, the Metropolitan was called upon to assist the Catholicos in the administration of the Church from 1972 onwards.
Malankara Metropolitan and Catholicose – 1975
On September 24, 1975, Mar Athanasius assumed the charge of Malankara Metropolitan with the approval of the Synod, when Mar Ougen voluntarily relinquished charge of that office.
Mar Athanasius was installed by the Holy Synod as Catholicos Mar Thoma Mathews I on the apostolic throne of St. Thomas 0f the East in a ceremonial function held on Monday, October 27, 1975 at the Old Seminary. He was 68. The Installation service was conducted by the Episcopal Synod. Daniel Mar Philoxinos, the Secretary to the Synod, was the chief celebrant of the service.
Thus Mathews Mar Athanasius, Metropolitan of Outside Kerala Diocese was installed as Catholicos of the East on the Apostolic throne of St. Thomas on October 27, 1975 succeeding Baselios Mar Ougen. The Catholicos is 88th in succession and the fifth after the re-establishment of the Catholicate in India.
Title Mar Thoma
The title affixed to the Catholicos is Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews I. While ‘Baselios’ has been the traditional formal title of all Catholicoses, taken after the great scholar and theologian Mar Baselios of Cappadocia, ‘Mar Thoma’ has been suffixed for the first time when Mar Mathews became the Catholicos. The term ‘Mar Thoma’ has a historical significance. Following the Coonen Kurish oath of 1653, the Malankara Metropolitans took the title ‘Mar Thoma’ signifying and following the St. Thomas tradition of the Church. Nine Malankara Metropolitans, who ruled the Church from 1653 to 1816, bore the title Mar Thoma. This title, however, came to be dropped following the intervention of the Church of Syria from the times of Mar Thoma VI (I 765). Mar Thoma VI accepted the title Mar Dionysius (I) in certain exigent situation of dependence on them. Mar Thoma VII, VIII and IX, however, had not used the title. But later on, traditional Greek names like Dionysius, Athanasius, which were commonly used in the Eastern Church including the Church in Syria came into regular use in the Malankara Church since the time of Metropolitan Pulikottil Mar Joseph Dionysius II (1816). Nevertheless, the Church recaptured the spirit of national independence and affixed the ‘Mar Thoma’ title to the Catholicos for the first time when Mar Mathews was installed as the Primate of the Church
On April 27, 1991 he relinquished the Titles of The Catholicose and Malankara Metropolitan as he was not well. He expired on November 8, 1996 at 7.40 A.M. His Holiness was entombed at Devalokam Chapel.