His Holiness Moran Mar Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews I (27 March, 1907 - 8 November, 1996) was the Supreme head of Indian Orthodox Church, which is also known as Malankara Orthodox Church. He was the 88th successor to the Holy Apostolic Throne of St. Thomas and Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan.

The Catholicos was the youngest son of Vattakunnel Kurien Kathanar and Pulickaparampil Mariamma in Kottayam. His father Vattakunnel Kurien Kathanar 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.

Metropolitan 1953-75

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

Man of Vision

His Holiness had a vision for the Malankara Orthodox Church. He wished the Malankara Church to be Known as Indian Orthodox Church and he spent all his energy to preserve the Independence of the Malankara Church. . During his time the Orthodox Theological Seminary at Kottayam was affiliated to The Serampur University, Calcutta and the Seminary was upgraded as a degree college. He wanted the Theological College to be made an Independent University for Theology.

His many-sided personality, his sensitive understanding, his gaiety, his human affection, his communication skills, commitment and vision for the Malankara Orthodox Church, above all his deep rooted faith in God and ability to provide leadership even at the point of crisis were remarkable. It is a heartening sign of the time that there was a heightened interest in the able leadership of His Holiness. His Holiness led an illustrious life. His prodigious scholarship, intellectual acumen, moral courage and honesty were well known. His concern for others, especially, those who worked with him was well known.

His Holiness was an authority on Church Constitution and history. He was closely associated with the Church cases when he was a laymen and he used to seek advises in such matters from experts in the field during the time, especially, his elder brother Advocate K. Cherian Vattakunnel.

His contribution

His contribution to the congregation through translation of the Order of Holy Qurbana - Sunday service and the text of Good Friday Service

He translated and published the texts of Sunday service and Good Friday service to Malayam with the help of Mr. C.P. Chandy the famous Church Poet. He then published the ‘Holy Qurbana Kramam’ (Order of Holy Qurbana) with relevant songs for each Sunday. These Prayer books are so popular that these are used by each member of the church now. He also translated H. Qurbana Kramam to English and also celebrated the Qurbana in English so that those who did not know Malayalam could participate in the H. Qurbana actively. He then made arrangements to translate the H. Qurbana Kramam to Hindi and Tamil which is now used.

His other contributions to the liturgy of the Orthodox Church

For the conservation of rare books and records he started the Malankara Orthodox Archives. School of Liturgical Music was also started at the Seminary by his deep initiative to preserve the same. He was a good exponent in “Eccara” the canonical songs. He was very concerned to preserve the order (‘Niram’) of the songs.

For the Theological education of the Elderly he started a course by the name “Divya Bodhanam” which has become very popular now.

Sensitivity and Sympathy

His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Mathews I Catholicose’s quality of sensitivity to his flock’s feelings enabled him to display empathy. Another way which demonstrates love and concern was in his availability. Bava Thirumeni as a God given transformed leader recognized the aspirations of his people, with a long term perspective, doing the right thing at the proper time with divine courage, appreciating our strengths and weaknesses, facing the threats and utilizing the divine plan for our Malankara Orthodox Church. With the full understanding that expectations and reality were far apart, he set his heart to transform expectations into the reality.

The present system of holding the Holy Episcopal Synod, the supreme decision making body in matters of faith, discipline, order, policy making and planning at least twice in a year at fixed periods and with proper agendas became effective and exercise of authority.

He had consecrated “Mooron” twice, very rare function, on April 1,1977 at Old seminary Chappel, Kottayam and in March 25, 1988 at Devalokam Catholicate Chappel.

He had consecrated 10 Bishops (Metropolitans), five at Pazhanji Church on May 15, 1978 and at Puthiacav St Mary’s Church, Mavelikara on May 15, 1985. His Holiness was awarded The Title “The Order of St. Valdimer” by the Patriarch of Russia and as Fellow by the Leningrad Theological Seminary. The Order of St. George was awarded to him by the Georgian Catholicose. Serampur University conferred on his Doctorate Degree (Honoris Cosa)

End -1996

On April 27, 1991 he relinquished the Titles of The Catholicose and Malankara Metropolitan of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, as he was not well. He expired on November 8, 1996 at 7.40 A.M. His Holiness was entombed at Devalokam Chapel.

Preceded by
H.H. Moran Mar Baselios Augen I
Catholicos of the East & Malankara Metropolitan
Succeeded by
H.H. Moran Mar Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews II

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