Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan of Malankara Church, was a strong Churchman, loyal to the best traditions of his Church. He wanted only to effect such reforms in the Church as were consistent with the apostolic and truly evangelical traditions of the Church. This he tried to do by translating and revising the liturgy and by doing away with the unscriptural practices which had crept into the Church and by restoring the Church to what he considered to be its pristine position before the Synod of Diamper. He therefore strove hard for the abolition of auricular confession, prayers for the dead, invocation of saints, and unhealthy veneration of sacraments. He reintroduced the practice of giving Holy Communion to the people in both kinds. Further he emphasised the reading and study of the Bible, family-worship and evangelistic work. He also insisted on a high moral standard of conduct for laity and clergy alike. All this created a ferment in the Church and its effects are still discernible in the Syrian Church as a whole".
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Malankara now known as Kerala, is the south western state of India. Here, the Malankara Church, one of the oldest Christian Churches in history was founded by Thomas the Apostle of Jesus Christ. It is believed that it was founded at the same time as that of the Church of Corinth, by Saint Paul Abraham Malpan was a strong Churchman, loyal to the best traditions of his Church. He wanted only to effect such reforms in the Church as were consistent with the apostolic and truly evangelical traditions of the Church. This he tried to do by translating and revising the liturgy and by doing away with the unscriptual practices which had crept into the Church and by restoring the Church to what he considered to be its prime position before the Synod of Diamper. He therefore strove hard for the abolition of auricular confession (confessing the sin to a priest), prayers for the dead, invocation of saints, and unhealthy veneration (giving deep reverence or respect) of sacraments. He reintroduced the practice of giving Holy Communion to the people in both kinds. Further he emphasised the reading and study of the Bible, family-worship and evangelistic work. He also insisted on a high moral standard of conduct for laity and clergy alike. All this created a ferment in the Church and its effects are still discernible in the Syrian Church as a whole.
In the seventeenth century, a member of the Panamkuzhy family (a branch of the Pakalomattam family), came and settled in Kozhencherry on the banks of river Pampa. Later they moved to Maramon, and lived at Chackkalyil, on the other side of the river . The second son in that family, Mathen moved to the nearby Palakunnathu house. He had six sons and a daughter. The daughter was married to Pavoothikunnel family and the first four sons moved to Themoottil, Neduvelil, Periyilel and Punamadom. The fifth son was a hermit priest (sanyasi achen). As was the custom, the youngest son Mathew lived at Palakunnathu family house. (This house still exists). His second son Abraham Malpan later moved to Palakunnathu Kuzhiathu house.
A number of Marthoma Church leaders were born in this family. Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XIII); Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XIV); Titus I Mar Thoma Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XV); Titus II Mar Thoma Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XVI); were from this family. The present head of the Marthoma Church, Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XXI), is also from this family.
Abraham Malpan was born on 30 May 1796 as the second son of Palakunnathu Mathew and Mariamma of [Pakalomattathil-Mullasseril] (പകലൊമട്ടത്തില് in Malayalam) / Pakalomattom (പകലൊമററം) Family, [[Mullasseril]] house, Chengannur, Pandanadu, Kerala. He lost his parents before he was three years old and was brought up by his uncle Mathen Thomma Malpan, a Sanyasi (സന്നയസി)/Celibate/hermit priest. Before his birth, his father had passed away.1 Before turning three years of age, his mother passed away. His father's elder brother, Palakunnuthu Thomas Malpan, had then assumed guardianship of the young Abraham and his brother, and raised them. Because the practice of the church at that time was to ordain children as deacons, only after completing his primary education was Abraham ordained as deacon. He was then sent to study Syriac and the worship orders under Malpan Korah Kathanar, eventually becoming an expert in the Syriac language. After being ordained as a priest in 1815 by Mar Thoma VIII, he soon became a professor of Syriac, a Malpan, at the Seminary in Kottayam. The priests of that time practised celibacy. This was a practice that was kept after the brief time under the Roman Catholic Church. However, after the Protestant British arrived, who were Anglicans, they encouraged the church to end the mandate of celibacy. The then metropolitan, Punnuthra Mar Dionysius, agreed and the practice ended. Abraham Malpan was one of the first of the priests to get married. This does not indicate how much the Malpan wished to get married, however. The British Resident, Col. Munro, offered cash rewards to the first priests who got married. So either the Malpan really wanted to get married, he needed the money, or a combination of the two.
As a Clergy
According to Church practices and Biblical Instructions, theological students were made deacons at the age of 20 and priests at the age of 30. But during the time just before the reformation small children of 7 years were ordained as deacons by the Bishops after taking big bribes from the parents. And people who did not have any theological education were made priests at the age of 16 or 17.
Palakunnathu family had a priestly tradition and Thomma Malpan was a devout Syrian Christian priest. He was anxious to direct Abraham to the ministry to continue the family tradition and Abraham was happy and well inclined to follow his uncle's advice. So after his Malayalam Education, he was sent to study Syriac, the language of the liturgy, under Padinjarekutu Korah Malpan, Puthupally. It was a residential discipleship like the ancient Indian Gurukula education. Abraham obtained good fluency in Syriac and the Bible and acquired a sound knowledge of Christian theology as he had the innate ability to delve deep to ascertain spiritual truths. He was ordained as a Semmasson (deacon) in 1811, and received the priestly ordination as a Kassessa (priest) in 1815 from Mar Thoma VIII. He was appointed as the Vicar of Maramon parish.
During the time of Marthoma VI, Rev.Dr. Claudius Buchanan, an Anglican missionary visited Malankara. He met Marthoma in 1806. With his help, the Bible was translated from the original Aramaic language and was distributed to the parishes. Soon after his meeting, representatives of the parishes met at Arthat church and declared (Arthat Padiola) that the people should not follow the teachings by Rome, Antioch or other foreign Churches. This meeting can be considered to be the beginning of Sucheekarana Prasthanam ('Purification Movement – Reformation) in Malankara Church.
His uncle, Thomma Malpan was of opinion that many of the beliefs that infiltrated into Malankara Church were against the teaching of the Bible. While he was the guardian of Abraham Malpan in his younger days, they talked about restoring the Church to its pristine position before the Synod of Diamper. Teaching at the Kottayam Seminary, gave him enough time to read and study the Bible in his mother tongue (Malayalam). That made Abraham Malpan think of reforming the Church.
Mar Thoma XI, (Punnathra Mar Dionysius) convened a meeting of representatives of the Malankara Church at Mavelikkara, on 3 December 1818. In that meeting a committee was appointed to recommend reforms in the Church. Abraham Malpan, Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan, Eruthikkal Markose Kathanar, Adangapurathu Joseph Kathanar were members of this committee. This was the first step in carrying out the Sucheekaranam (Purification – Reformation) in Malankara Church. For Abraham Malpan it was a great step forward. His friends and members of his home parish (Maramon) gave him full support for reformation. But after the demise of Mar Thoma XI, things changed. Cheppad Mar Dionysius became Marthoma XII.
Due to doubts about the validity of the consecration of Mar Thoma VIII, Abraham Malpan had some doubts about his own ordination. So when a Jacobite bishop from Syria came, he and two others had themselves reordained by him. Dionysius lodged a complaint against them to the government of Travancore and they were fined 336 fanam (Rs. 84) for flouting the authority of the Indian bishop.
In 1835, Bishop of Calcutta Rt.Rev. Daniel Wilson visited Kerala. He made certain recommendations to Mar Thoma XII, (Cheppattu Mar Dionysius) for the continuation of relationship between the Syrian Church and the Missionaries. Mar Thoma did not like this interference of the Anglican Missionaries in the Church affairs. So Mar Thoma convened a meeting of Church representatives at Mavelikkara on 16 January 1836, in which the Synod declared that, "We, the Jacobite Syrians are under the rule of the Patriarch of Antioch .. .. .."
On 6 September 1836, the battle cry for reformation was sounded. Strategy was formed by a group of 12 dissident senior clergy under the leadership of Abraham Malpan(died on 9 Sep 1845). They issued an unofficial letter describing the wrong teachings and a statement listing twenty-four evil practices of the Church which crept in by its association with other churches and religions from an order to investigate the reforms that could be made by then metropolitan.
- Translated and revised the liturgy thus removing the unscriptural practices.
- Abolished prayers for the dead, invocation of saints, and unhealthy veneration of sacraments.
- Abolished auricular confession.
- Reintroduced the practice of giving Holy Communion to the people in both kinds.
- Emphasized the reading and study of the Bible, family-worship and evangelistic work.
- Removed pictures and drawings and statues from the churches and places of worship.
- Insisted on a high moral standard of conduct for laity and clergy alike.
On Sunday 27 August 1837 Abraham Malpan conducted the Holy Communion service in Malayalam at his home parish in Maramon. Clergy, who supported him also did the same thing in various other parishes on the same day.
Every year in the first week of October, there was a church festival at Maramon, connected with saintly Maphriyono-Catholicos Mor Baselious Yeldho. A wooden image of the saint named 'Muthappen,' was taken around in procession and people used to offer prayers and offerings to it. In 1837, Abraham Malpan took the image and threw it into a well saying, "Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?" (Isaiah 8:19). So when the festival came there was no image to be taken out for procession.
Abraham Malpan and Cheppad Philipose Mar Dionysius, were great friends. But when Abraham Malpan used the revised liturgy and brought about changes in practices, that offended Marthoma XII who threatened him with excommunication. But Abraham Malpan informed him that if excommunicated, he would not ask to revoke it. Marthoma XII, thus came to refuse priesthood to the deacons trained under him as a casuistic measure. Abrahma Malpan was not disheartened. He continued with the reforms. He returned to Maramon. Many of his students joined him to continue their studies. All those who believed that the church need to revitalise also joined him. Members of parishes in Kozhencherry, Ayroor, Kumbanad,Koorthamala, Eraviperoor, Thumpamon, Elanthoor, Kundara, Kottarakara, Mavelikara, Mallapally, and many other places made trips to Maramon to attend the service in Malayalam and listen to his sermons. Doors were also opened for reformation in other places by clergy who supported him.
At this stage he had three choices in front of him. Repent and go back to the old beliefs; join the Anglican Church with western beliefs; or go forward with the reformation to restore the Church to its true form before the Synod of Diamper. He decided to choose the third one.
Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan
Mathews was the son of the elder brother of Abraham Malpan. After completing his studies at Kottayam, he joined the college established by Rev. John Anderson (now Madras Christian College) in Chennai. After completing his studies, he shared with his friend George Mathen (later Rev.), his ambition. "If I live, it would be only for my Mother Church; I will throw away the weeds and restore the Church to its original purity." From the spiritual nurturing and guidance of Abraham Malpan, and with the help of his teachers in Chennai, he was able to make his travel arrangements to go to Antioch for Bishopship. He was ordained as a Metropolitan (bishop) in February 1842 at Antioch, and held the duties of Bishop of a region for a few months and returned home in March 1843.
Abraham Malpan was a diabetic patient. Those days there were no proper treatment for diabetes. At the age of 50 he became very sick. He died at 3.00 pm on Sunday, 9 September 1845. Malpan was fully conscious till the last breath. He was buried on the next day in the Maramon Mar Thoma Church. The funeral service was conducted by his nephew Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan.
Abraham Malpan is a man of mystery. Due to a lack of resources and conflicting sources, we are left mainly with what history the historians, with their own biases, would want to say about him. He is either a schismatic or a reformer; a conservative or a radical reformist. Essentially, what Abraham Malpan has become is a symbol of what we wish to see as our reformer. Mathai John is conservative who wishes the Mar Thoma Church would be less Protestant and more eastern.45 Philip Tovey, an Anglican priest, will obviously have his own bias in his telling of Abraham Malpan. K.N. Daniel, one of the leading members of the reformist party in the 1929 Articles of Reform, has a much more progressive and evangelical Abraham Malpan in mind. Due to Abraham Malpan's untimely death and his lack of writings, we will never truly know what the Malpan desired. But what we do know is that he was a zealous, passionate and selfless man. He lived for the reformation of the Syrian Church. He loved it by disliking it, and trying to correct it. To what degree did he want to reform it, we will never know. Yet, the Malpan's beliefs of what should be reformed need not be normative for the church. But it is his unquenchable desire to reform and be biblically sound that we can agree upon, and also look to for inspiration in the present day Mar Thoma church.
- Mar Thoma Sabha Directory (1999), Page 24.
- Cherian Cherian. (1958). Maramon Pakalomattom Chackalyil Kudumba Charitram. (Family History of Maramon Pakalomattom Chackalyil). N.M.Mathew, (2003). History of Palakunnathu Family.
- Buchanan, Rev. Claudius. Memoir of the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India, Page 76.
- Arthat padiola
- N.M.Mathew, (2007), History of the Malankara Marthoma Church, Vol II (Malayalam) page 88.
- Mavelikara Padiola
- Zac Varghese & Mathew A.Kallumpram. (2003). Glimpses of Mar Thoma Church History. Page28-33.
- Mar Thoma Sabha Directory. (1999). Page 82-89.
- Mar Thoma Sabha Directory. (1999). Page 82-89.
- Zac Varghese & Mathew A.Kallumpram. (2003). Glimpses of Mar Thoma Church History. Page28-33.
- N.M.Mathew. Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charitram (Malayalam) Vol II (2007). Page 20-25 and Volume III (2008) Pages 286–294.
- Marthoma Parish Sharjah, Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan Biography
- Ref: George Kassessa, Rev.M.C. Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan. (Biography in Malaylam) Page 42.
- Chacko, T.C., (2000). Concise History of Malankara Marthoma Church. E.J. Institute
- Agur, C.M. (1903). Church History of Travancore. Asian Education Services.
- George Kassessa, Rev.M.C. (1919). Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan. (Biography in Malaylam), CLS, Tiruvalla.
- Juhanon Marthoma Metropolitan, The Most Rev. Dr. (1993). Christianity in India and a Brief History of the Marthoma Syrian Church. Pub: K.M. Cherian.
- Mathew, N.M. (2003) History of Palakunnathu Family.
- Zac Varghese Dr. & Mathew A. Kallumpram. (2003). Glimpses of Mar Thoma Church History. London, England.ISBN 8190085441
- T.C. Chacko, (2000) Concise history of Malankara Marthoma Suyani Sabha, E.J. Institute, Tiruvalla.
- K.N. Daniel,(1952). Udayamperoor Sunnahadosinte Canonukal (Canons of the Synod of Diamper), C.L.S., Tiruvalla.
- Eapen, Prof. K.V. (2001) History of Malankara Marthoma Suryani Sabha.
- Mathew, N.M. (2006) History of Malankara Marthoma Church. Volume I (2006), Volume II (2007), Volume III (2008), E.J. Institute, Tiruvalla.
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