Let us pray, peace be with us:

"The Cross that has been the cause of our good and by which our mortal humanity was set free,
O Lord, be for us a strong fortress. And by this Cross, we shall overcome the wicked one and All his devices."

(Syro-Malabar Qurbana)

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 THE NAZRANI
“The Truth will make you free”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------   Vol. 18, No. 6                       New Delhi                       September, 2008           --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

ASCETICISM AND MONASTICISM AMONG THE THOMAS CHRISTIANS

                             Bishop Mar Abraham D. Mattam

 

The Congregation of St. Thomas, the Apostle at Edappally in 17th Century:

The Thomas Christians always held in high esteem the monastic way of life which was a strong witness to the message of the Gospel and an inspiration for the faithful.  There are evidences that indicate the existence of monasteries in Malabar before the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries in fifteenth century.  But somehow they seem to have disappeared.  After the lapse of a long time, there was discussion going on among the priests and faithful about reviving the monastic way of life in the Church.  It was in this background that Archdeacon George and Archbishop Stephen Brito, SJ met together at Edappally in January 1626 to discuss about founding a new religious community of native priests.  Stephen Brito SJ was ordained at Goa on September 29, 1624 as the Archbishop of Kodungallur.  Archdeacon George and Dom Brito were working together during the time of Archbishop Francis Ros and they were in good terms.  Both were of the opinion that it was necessary to found a new religious Congregation or Order, especially to provide satisfactory priestly services to the faithful.  They took the decision to institute a new religious community of priests without any delay and the decision was made known to the priests.

Within a short time, four or five diocesan priests came forward and started a community life near Edappally Church.  The community was formally recognized by the Archbishop as the Congregation of Mar Thoma Sleeha, on February 5, 1626.  The monastery was known in Portuguese language “Recolhimento” (House of Prayer), and the members known as “recoletos” (recollects), those who lived a life of prayer or contemplation (Cf. E.R. Hambye S.J., “Congregation of St Thomas the Apostle”, The Malabar Church, ed. Jacob Vellian, Orientale Christiana Analecta, 186, Rome 1970 pp. 133-36); J. Kollamparambil, The St Thomas Christians’ Revolution in 1981, Kottayam, pp.44-45).

With the help of some Jesuit priests a set of rules were drawn up based on the rules of the Oblates of St. Ambrose founded by Charles Boromeo (1538-1584) in 16th century.  Some regulations were taken from other sources.  The Statute consisted of 30 rules which proposed a rigorous religious life.

Rule 7 stipulates that the members abstain from meat, fish, egg and all alcoholic drinks permanently.

Rule 12 which speaks about the official habit of the Congregation is interesting. Within the monastery a white garment to be worn; while going outside, above this one, another garment  is to be put on.  Both these garments should bear, at the breast, a little to the left, a circular red sign with a cross in the middle; the cross should be of the same design as the one found to be propagated by Mar Thoma Sleeha in the East.

Two or three more priests joined the community in 1626-27.  The Archbishop permitted the Congregation to open another house at Angamally and allotted, for their support a portion of the income of the old Cathedral.  (Cf. Kollaparambil, op. cit. cites T K Joseph’s article in “Some paper Manuscripts in Vatteluthu, Travancore State University publications, Trivandrum, 1946.

From the beginning there was difference of opinion about the nature and purpose of the new Congregation.   The Archbishop wanted a Congregation under his complete control, to train Cassanars to become good vicars.  But the Archdeacon had a different view.  He wanted a religious Order of true monks with the approval of the Pope.  But the Jesuits found it as a threat to their position and wanted to suppress the Congregation.  They were afraid that if an independent Order of natives grows in strength they would be ousted in course of time.

On December 1, 1624, Archdeacon George sent a letter to the Holy Father requesting him permission to found a religious Order following the rule of St. Basil.  His plan was to start monasteries in the Oriental tradition.  The petition also specified that the candidates after the novitiate be permitted to make profession and solemn vows before the Archbishop of Angamaly or a prelate of any religious Order (Cf. Archdeacon’s letter, Archives of Propaganda de Fide, Congregazioni Generali, 129, ff 22-23).  The Pope passed the letter to the Propaganda congregation with the observation that Greek Basilians or monks of St Bernard’s Order could be sent  for the purpose. But it was not put into effect due to opposition from the Portuguese authorities and others (for further details see, Kollaparambil, op. cit. pp. 46-47).

When the Archbishop knew about the petition to bring in the Basilians he was quite displeased.  He did not want a congregation or Order which is not of diocesan status. The relations between the Archdeacon and the Archbishop became strained.

There was another event that further embittered the relations between  Dom Brito and the Archdeacon.  Fr. Donati a Dominican of Italian origin arrived in Malabar and opened a House and a seminary at Kaduthuruthy.  He was sent by the Propaganda Congregation to the missions in Far East.  He was well-versed in Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac and his services were appreciated by the local Christians and the Archdeacon.  Though the Archdeacon distanced from the activities of the Dominicans privately he wrote Lisbon and Rome supporting them.  Moreover, he sent his grievances to the authorities in Lisbon  and Rome through them.  The Jesuits objected to the presence of the Domincans arguing that they had the exclusive right to work in the Archdiocese.

Meanwhile, on January 1, 1628, Archdeacon George requested the Pope to approve the Recollects as a Religious Congregation.  Acting on this request the Apostolic Collector in Lisbon collected information and reported that all the religious except the Jesuits were in favour of granting the Archdeacon’s request. The Portuguese had earlier objected to the idea of sending Basilians to help  St Thomas Christians to found monasteries. The Cardinals of the Propaganda discussed the matter; they recalled the objections of the Portuguese on an earlier occasion when the Archdeacon sought the help of Basilians to found monasteries for the Thomas Christians.  So they decided not to allow the creation of a new Congregation (Cf Archives of Propaganda Fide, SOCG 98, f. 163; f82).

In 1632 or 1633 one more diocesan priest was admitted in the community  of recollects without the prior permission of the Archbishop.  Dom Brito was agitated over this and excommunicated the priest.  This was too much for the Archdeacon to bear.  He suspected that the Archbishop was trying to suppress the Congregation.  The Recollects and the Archdeacon defied the order of excommunication.  He won the support of the King of Cochin in this matter.  The Jesuits feared that the revolt might spread to other places and the Archbishop was ready to come to an agreement.  Accordingly the Recollects were permitted to admit ten more members.

The Thomas Christians were on the whole discontented about the aggressive policies of Dom Brito.  He disregarded the role and authority of the Archdeacon.  He did not learn Syriac and was not able to celebrate the liturgy in this language.  Besides he tried to meddle with the traditional liturgy of the Church and wanted to remove from it whatever was not in accordance with the Latin liturgy.  Archbishop Brito tried on several occasions to suppress the Recollects.

Among the Thomas Christians there was for long grievances and resentment against the policies of the Jesuits and the foreign missionaries that led to the Coonan Cross declaration against the Jesuits.  The turbulent situation in the Church had its repercussions in the recollects’ community.  There atmosphere was not conducive to lead a peaceful religious life.  Some of the priests who had joined left the Community.  Just before or after the Coonan Cross event the newly formed Congregation of St Thomas at Edappally faced a premature death, an unfortunate chapter in the history of the Malabar Church (See Hambye, op. cit. p. 127; Kollaparambil, op. cit.pp.48-54; Xavier Koodapuzha, Bharata Sabha Charitram,  Kottayam, 1998, pp. 350-357).

                                                                                              

NATIVITY OF MARTHA MARIAM

 

Martha Mariam was born at a time when people had reached such a degree of moral decay that it seemed altogether impossible to restore them. People often said that God must come into the world to restore faith and not permit the ruin of mankind.


The Son of God chose to take on human nature for the salvation of mankind, and chose as His Mother the All-Pure Martha Mariam, who alone was worthy to give birth to the Source of purity and holiness.


The Nativity of Martha Mariam is celebrated by the Church as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, Martha Mariam was born on this radiant day, having been chosen before the ages by Divine Providence to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. She is revealed as the Mother of the Savior of the World, Our Lord Iso’ Msiha.


Martha Mariam was born in the small city of Galilee, Nazareth. Her parents were Righteous Joachim of the tribe of the Prophet-King David, and Anna from the tribe of the First Priest Aaron. The couple was without child, since St Anna was barren.


Having reached old age, Joachim and Anna did not lose hope in God's mercy. They had strong faith that for God everything is possible, and that He would be able to overcome the barrenness of Anna even in her old age, as He had once overcame the barrenness of Sarah, spouse of the Patriarch Abraham. Sts Joachim and Anna vowed to dedicate the child which the Lord might give them, to the service of God in the Temple.

Childlessness was considered among the Hebrew nation as a Divine punishment for sin, and therefore the righteous Sts Joachim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feast days at the Temple in Jerusalem the elderly Joachim brought his sacrifice to offer to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, considering him to be unworthy since he was childless.

 

Joachim in deep grief went into the wilderness, and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for a child. St Anna wept bitterly when she learned what had happened at the Jerusalem Temple. Never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed to ask God's mercy on her family.


The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious couple had attained to extreme old age and prepared themselves by virtuous life for a sublime calling: to be the parents of Martha Mariam, the future Mother of our Lord, Iso’ Misiha.


The Archangel Gabriel brought Joachim and Anna the joyous message that their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a most blessed daughter Mariam, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World.


The Nativity of Martha Mariam marks the change of the times when the great and comforting promises of God for the salvation of the human race from slavery to the devil are about to be fulfilled. This event has brought to earth the grace of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Truth, piety, virtue and everlasting life.