On the Life and Legacy of Mar Ivanios
Mar Ivanios Day, July 16, 2006
“It is more important for you to surrender yourself to God than serve Him:” 1 this realization was responsible for changing not only the life of Mar Ivanios, but also the whole course of Malankara history. It is this realization that led to the formation of the Order of the Imitation of Christ. It is this realization that brought peace to Geevarghese Panicker Achen at a time of great unrest in the
Today we are here to remember the architect of the Reunion Movement, the Newman of the East, the Bishop who endured much suffering and persecution for his people, the Shepherd who risked his own life to lead his flock to green pastures and still waters. We are here to remember His Grace Mar Ivanios, the First Metropolitan Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. Mar Ivanios was a man of great faith and great learning. His entire life was dedicated to seeking God in all that he did. He put his complete trust in the Lord. When there was no hope to be found, he found hope in Christ Jesus; although he was surrounded by fighting and chaos, he found peace in Christ Jesus. He reached out to those who were neglected; he loved those who were unloved; he welcomed those who were cast out by others. He was and remains a saintly role model and the source of inspiration for many. Most importantly, he was a true servant of Christ Jesus.
Today, in addition to speaking about the life of Mar Ivanios, I would like to discuss the legacy of Mar Ivanios. In doing so, I hope also to discuss the character and spirituality of Mar Ivanios, as they had a profound impact on his legacy. Moreover, I hope to provide some insight into why the reunion of Mar Ivanios succeeded when previous attempts had failed.
No one can deny the many contributions made by Mar Ivanios. He stressed the importance of education and the role it plays in the spiritual uplift of the community. His prophetic vision of a Church characterized by unity, renewal, and ecumenism predated the historic Second Vatican Council. His untiring efforts to improve the conditions of the poor strengthened his faith and also provided a valuable example for his successors. However, there remains an even greater contribution: the legacy of Mar Ivanios is the union of the historic Roman Catholic Church which has an undeniable link to Christ with the richness and beauty of our Indian heritage and the Antiochean liturgy. The legacy of Mar Ivanios, therefore, is the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
Early Life and
The reunion of Mar Ivanios was a lifelong process that culminated in the actual
During and after his time at
His seven years2, from 1912 – 1919, as professor at Serampore are among the most important years in the life of Mar Ivanios. He had brought with him a small group of Semmashens, and later a small group of ladies, to continue their education at Serampore. Under his close watch, these two communities would eventually become the Order of the Imitation of Christ and the Sisters of the Imitation of Christ, respectively. It was at Serampore that he realized that it is more important for one to surrender himself to God than serve Him. This realization stirred Geevarghese Achen to grow closer to Christ Jesus. After researching the monastic orders of the West and the Indian ascetic orders, Geevarghese Achen decided to start an Indian monastic order which would live a strict monastic life while incorporating aspects of the Indian heritage. The result was
For Geevarghese Achen, spirituality had always been connected with learning and intellectualism. Thus, he devoted himself to study and meditation. The result was two-fold. First, Geevarghese Achen was no longer interested in material possessions; he yearned only for spiritual gain. Second, like John Henry Cardinal Newman in
Geevarghese Achen preparing himself through study and meditation. On May 1, 1925, Geevarghese Achen was ordained Bishop of Bethany; he took the name Ivanios after the Apostle John, the patron saint of
However, only Mar Theophilos, his fellow
“I am fully confident that in each of my steps I am being guided by the good Lord. I desire earnestly to raise the community in which I was born and brought up, to God, in order to reform it and lead it to prosperity … I believe firmly that the reunion of the Christian communities must be based on the foundation of historical Christianity … such a reunion is not possible without the Roman Catholic Church.” 3
On September 20, 1930, Mar Ivanios and Mar Theophilos, together with Fr. John OIC, Bro. Alexander OIC, and Mr. Chacko Kilileth, made their profession of faith before Archbishop Benzinger of Kollam. On September 20, 1930, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church had an Archbishop, a Bishop, a Priest, a Deacon, and a Layperson. The next day, Mar Ivanios celebrated his first Qurbana as a Syro-Malankara Catholic in Malayalam. Later that day, he welcomed to the Catholic faith his parents, the Rembans Pulikkottil and Cheppatt, all of the Bethany Sisters, and a portion of the Bethany Achens. Like the First Christians, the Syro-Malankara Catholics grew in number each day. Also, like the first Christians, the reunited Catholics underwent much persecution, especially Mar Ivanios who suffered much for the young Church. The Malankara Catholics, following the example of their shepherd, put their complete trust in the Lord and were able to persevere and grow. The reunion of Mar Ivanios was successful because it was undertaken for purely spiritual reasons; it was the result of much preparation on the part of Mar Ivanios.
Mar Ivanios did not rest after the
We as Catholics living after the Second Vatican Council often take for granted our liturgy and our rich heritage. We must not forget or diminish the dedication and sacrifice of Mar Ivanios in preserving the Malankara liturgy of the Antiochean tradition and bringing it into the Catholic communion. That we, the Malankara Catholics in diaspora, come together each week to celebrate the Holy Qurbana in our native tongue is a true testament to the genius and vision of Mar Ivanios. The recognition of His Holiness John Paul II of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church as “one of the fastest growing Catholic communities”4 and elevation of the Malankara Church to a Major Archiepiscopal Church and the establishment of the Catholicate is the full realization of the dream of Mar Ivanios.
We are Syro-Malankara Catholics because of the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice of Mar Ivanios. We are inheritors of his legacy. The “one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church” taught at the Second Vatican Council that “all members of the Eastern rite should know and be convinced that they can and should always preserve their legitimate liturgical rite and their established way of life;”5 therefore, we as inheritors of this great legacy should know that it is our mission to live, learn, and practice the traditions and heritage that were so painstakingly preserved for us by Mar Ivanios.
I thank Almighty God for giving me this opportunity to speak today about the great life and legacy of our beloved Mar Ivanios.
Notes and Bibliography
1 Abraham, Peter C. In His Master’s Footsteps, Life Story of Archbishop Mar Ivanios. (Kottayam:
2 The tenure of Mar Ivanios at
3 Chediath, Rev. Fr. Geevarghese. The Malankara Catholic Church. (Kottayam: Bethany Sisters Publications, 2003), 101.
4 Ad Limina Visit, 2003, Visita "Ad Limina Apostolorum" Dei Presuli Di RitoSiro-Malankarese Dell’India. John Paul II, May 13, 2003. 1. <http://22.214.171.124/news_services/bulletin/news/13310.php?index=13310&po_date=13.05.2003&lang=ge>
5 Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite, Orientalium Ecclesiarium.