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St. George Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church

Cheppaud, Kerala, India

                         

St. Ignatios Elias III

 (Manjinikara Bava)

 

Patriarch Of Antioch, Mor Ignatios Elias III Shakir (1867 - 1932)

 

Mor Ignatios Elias III was the 119th legitimate successor to St. Peter on the Holy Patriarchal See of Antioch. The second son of Chorepiscopus Abraham and Maryam, he was born in Mardin and christened Nasri. He had 4 brothers and 3 sisters. After the death of his mother, Nasri was raised in the care of his elder sister Helena. He worked as a shoemaker in his teens and served in the government briefly for 3 months. At Patriarch Peter IV's direction, Nasri joined the theological school in the name of the forty martyrs. In 1887, he joined Deir al-Za`faran and was ordained deacon in 1887 by Patriarch Peter IV. He became a sharwoyo (novitiate) in 1888 and a monk in 1889 upon which he took the name Elias. Elias was ordained qashisho (priest; lit. presbyter) in 1892 by Patriarch Peter IV. In the waning years of the 19th century, numerous Armenian and Syriac Christians were massacred in Turkey. Qashisho Elias endeared himself to the Armenian Christians providing refuge for about 7000 in the monastery of Mor Quryaqos. He was later appointed the reesh dayroyo of the Mor Quryaqos as well as Deir al-Za`faran. In 1908 Qashisho Elias was consecrated bishop of Amid (Diyarbakr) by Patriarch `Abded Aloho II with the name Mor Iwanius. In 1912, he was transferred to Mosul where he served until his elevation to the patriarchate in 1917. After Patriarch `Abded Aloho passed away on Nov 26, 1915, Mor Iwanius was elected Patriarch and assumed the throne in 1917. The firman (decree) was issued by the Ottoman sultan Muhammad Rashid, who Patriarch Elias III visited in 1919 at Istanbul; the sultan conferred the Ismania medal on the Patriarch during the visit. In 1922, when civil war broke out in Turkey and Gazi Mustafa Keman Pasha assumed leadership of the newly formed democracy, Mor Elias III spent a few months in Jerusalem. He established a printing press there and began publication of journals in Syriac and Arabic

 

Patriarch Mor Elias III in Malankara. Mor Clemis Yuhanon Abbachi is seated to the left of the Patriarch. Seated at the extreme right is Dayroyo Yeshu`, later Archbishop Mor Athanasius Y. Samuel.
Source: Anton Kiraz's Archives

 

Mor Elias III was the last Patriarch to reign at the Kurkmo Dayro (Deir Za`faran) in Mardin, the seat of the Patriarchate for most of the second millenium. Following the massacre of the Syriac Christians in South East Turkey in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire and during World War I, the Patriarch was forced to leave Mardin. In the aftermath of the saypho massacres, Mor Elias III undertook pastoral tours in the Middle East, the first in 1919 and the second in 1925 to Aleppo and Jerusalem. Mor Elias III held a synod Dayro d-Mor Matay in 1930.

 

Lord Irwin, then British Viceroy to India, wrote to the Patriarch on December 1, 1930 requesting his intervention in person or through a delegate in resolving the schism that had erupted in the Malankara Church. His Holiness responded to the Viceroy's letter accepting his invitation with certain conditions on December 15, 1930. Given his cardiac problems, his doctors attempted to dissuade him from the trip in vain. His 75 year old sister also could not persuade the Patriarch; His Holiness said to her, "Death is inevitable whether here or in India; I would rather sacrifice my life for the sake of our children in Malankara." Mor Elias III left Mosul on February 6, 1931 accompanied by Mor Clemis Yuhanon Abbachi, Rabban Quryaqos (later Mor Ostathios Quryaqos), and Rabban Yeshu` Samuel (later Mor Athanasius Samuel of North America), his secretary Zkaryo Shakir (his brother Joseph's son) and translator Elias Ghaduri. They set sail to India on February 28, 1931 from Basra on the ship "Warsova" and disembarked at the Karachi port on March 5, 1931. They were received at Karachi by the Patriarchal Delegate Mor Yulius Elias Qoro, Mor Athanasius Paulos of Alwaye and several clergymen and faithful. On March 6, 1931, the Patriarch and his entourage proceeded to Delhi by train reaching there on the 8th and visited Lord Irwin. On March 14th, the Patriarch arrived at Madras and stayed as a guest of the British Governor Sir George Staly. From there, he arrived at the Thrikkunathu Seminary in Alwaye on March 21st, and offered the divine liturgy there on March 22nd.

 

H.H. Mor Elias III convened conciliatory meetings at Alwaye, Karingachira, Panampady and Kuruppumpady. The Patriarch lead the passion week services at Karingachira. A church delegates meeting was held at Kuruppumpady on July 5, 1931. The denho (Epiphany) services in January 1932 were at the church in Pakkil.

 

On February 11, 1932, at the invitation of Qashisho Kuriakos Elavinamannil, the Patriarch arrived at the Manjinikkara Mor Stephanos church from Kallissery. The inability to bring about reconciliation in the church had weighed down heavily on the Patriarch; moreover, the hardships of the long travel had taken its toll on His Holiness. On arriving at Manjinikkara, the Patriarch said, "This place offers us much comfort; we desire to remain here permanently." On February 12th, His Holiness requested the priests who came to visit him not to leave for a couple of days. In the evening, the Patriarch recited many prayers of the qandilo (unction) and contemplated on the departed. On February 13th, Mor Clemis Yuhanon Abbachi offered the Holy Qurbono; His Holiness gave the sermon during the liturgy. After the noon prayers and lunch, as was his routine, the Patriarch spent time recording events in his journal; he asked for a dictionary to get clarification for the meaning of a word. Following that, he paced about complaining of pain in his head. Soon he fainted and was placed on a cot by the monks where he slipped away into eternal rest at 2:30 pm. Many eye witnesses recount the deep gloom that cast its spell in the area that evening and the wails of the monks who accompanied the Patriarch.

 

 

Different opinions arose regarding the final resting place for the Patriarch—a situation that the church in Malankara never had to confront before. The decision was in favor of interring the mortal remains in a plot of land to the north of the Mor Stephanos church, the title deed of which was transferred to the Patriarchate. On February 14th, the funeral services for His Holiness were held there. The Mor Ignatios Dayro church was built by the Patriarchal delegate Mor Yulius Elias Qoro over the tomb of the late Patriarch.

 

The memory of the holy Patriarch is revered throughout the Syriac Orthodox Church and especially in Malankara where thousands of pilgrims reach the tomb by foot on the annual feast day, February 13, from various parts of the Kerala state. Mor Elias III is the only Patriarch of Antioch whose remains are interred in Malankara and his tomb stands as a towering symbol of the sacrifices made by the Syriac fathers to nurture the church in Malankara.

 

On October 20, 1987, Patriarch Mor Zakka I through encyclical E265/87 permitted the Church in Malankara to remember his name in the fifth diptych.

 

Source: Syriac Orthodox Resource  


I WISH I COULD LIVE HERE PERMANENTLY
An eye witness account of the last days of H.H. Moran Mor Elias III, the Patriarch of Antioch & all the East

by Prof. E.K. Zachariah

 

“I wish I could live here permanently”. These were the words of Moran Mor Ignatius Elias III, Patriarch of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, when he reached St. Stephen’s church Manjanikkara at the last leg of his sojourn in Malankara. Here is a first hand account of the last days of the Patriarch, Moran Mor Elias III. The writer of this article had the privilege of being an eye witness to the grand reception accorded to the Bava Thirumeni and the subsequent happenings at Manjanikkara. I had also the rare privilege of getting blessings directly from him. I remember I knelt before the saint and he prayed for more than half an hour with his hand placed on my head.

 

It was Lord Irvin, the British Viceroy in India who invited the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, H.H. Elias III to India. The viceroy was wonderstruck when he heard that there was an ancient Christian Church in the southern most part of India which was as old as Christianity itself. St. Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ reached India in AD 52. He preached the Holy Gospel in Kerala and converted some Brahmin families to Christianity. He constructed seven and a half Churches in Kerala and ordained priests. Thus a Christian Church came into existence in Kerala from the time of St. Thomas. The Jacobite Syrian Church which was a part of this ancient Church was facing disharmony and disunity from the beginning of the twentieth century, caused by group rivalries and infighting. The viceroy felt pain at this. He wanted this Church to prevail and prosper. So he invited the Head of the Church, the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, H.H. Elias III to come to India to bring peace among the warring groups. Though H.H. was not healthy enough to take a tedious journey and though the doctors advised him not to travel, the Patriarch decided to go to India, because for him peace in the Church was more important. He reached Kerala, visited many churches, had discussions with the Metropolitans of the opposite faction. He had prolonged talks with Vattasseril Mar Dionysius. Though the Patriarch made many concessions, Mar Dionysius was stubborn in his demands and peace efforts failed. The Patriarch was very much disappointed. He was so sad that he decided to return without achieving his goal.

 

It was about this time that Fr. Kuriakose Elavimamannil, Vicar, St. Stephen’s Church Manjanikkara invited the Patriarch to his Church. The immediate response of the Patriarch was a question. “Do you want my skeleton in your church?” This was really a prophesy which came true after he reached the church. Now some thing about this church. This church at Manjanikkara, named after St. Stephen, was founded by Elavainamannil Skaria Malpan, the father of Fr. Kuriakose. He was a Malpan or teacher at the ‘Pazhya’ (Old) Seminary teaching deacons, Syriac and the rites and conduct of Holy Qurbono. Vattsseril Mar Dionysius was his colleague at the Pazhaya Seminary. When Mar Dionysius questioned the authority of the Patriarch and established his own faction, Fr. Skaraia Malpan who was a staunch supporter of the Patriarch left Pazhya Seminary and returned to Omallur. But the condition in churches south of Kottayam was not at all favourable to the Patriarch side. Most of the churches here were with Mar Dionysius. Entry of new priests in the existing churches was not allowed. So Skaria Malpan wanted to have a church of his own for his son Fr. Kuriakose and the believers. He constructed a small church in his own land in Manjanikkara. It was on a lonely hill, no road to reach there, no availability of water. He hoped all facilities would be there soon. There were only 28 poor peasant families as members of the church. It was in the midst of Church’s enemies. Fr. Kuriakose hoped a visit of the Patriarch will be a boost to the Church and be helpful for its continued existence here.

 

H.H. The Patriarch agreed to visit the Church. The Vicar now began to face challenges; no road to the Church, no rooms for the Patriarch, Metropolitans, priest and other invitees to live in. Water was not available on the hill. It was a steep hill, no place for the devotees to stand. He could not collect funds for these from the poor parishioners. Fr. Kuriakose took the challenges boldly. First a new road, 4 km. in length was constructed. People of the locality gave land for the road and church members volunteered the construction work. Hill top around the church was leveled so that thousands of people could stand there, temporary sheds were constructed, many wells were dug and water was made available; everything was ready within a short time.

 

A grand reception was accorded to the Patriarch befitting his dignity and majesty. The journey was tedious, but once he reached the church the cool breeze that blew incessantly on the hill top, the beautiful scenery around, the green valleys and fields, the serene atmosphere, tranquility – all attracted him very much. He was very happy and pleased. He told the Metropolitans who were near him that he liked the place very much and that he wanted to stay here permanently. Hearing this, Fr. Kuriakose, the vicar told him that he and his parishioners were very happy to have him here permanently. But he was sad that the Church was very small and facilities very meager. To this St. Elias replied “This small church will become famous all over Malankara and abroad. You will see it”. His prophesy has come true. The church became famous. The Holy sepulcher, Mar Ignatius Dayro and church, all attract people from all over India. It has become a great pilgrim centre. There were many other occasions when he prophesied that the end of his journey was here in Manjanikkara and that his body will be buried here. Ordinarily when the Patriarch visits a church he will give a piece of the holy relics of saints or holy people to the church to keep it there or ordain the Vicar, a Corepiscopa. At Manjanikkara a Metropolitan who came along with him asked him what present should be given to Fr. Kuriakose, the Vicar. To this St. Elias replied “Next Sunday - Feb 13, after the Holy Qurbono relics of a Church father will be buried in this church and the vicar will be ordained Corepiscopa. To the surprise of all who heard this, the dead body of the saint who prophesied this, was buried in the church at the exact time on the exact date – Feb 13.

 

It was a usual practice for Bava Thirumeni to walk around the church after dinner for some time. The Metropolitans and priests will follow him then. On 12th Friday, after dinner, he walked around the Church as usual. He sang a hymn in Syriac and asked those who followed him to repeat it. This was a song to be sung at the time of burial of the heads of the Church. He also taught them the rites to be followed then. Thus he taught them how to conduct the solemn burial of a Patriarch – the last journey of the head of the Church rehearsed the night before his death. It was a prophesy!

 

To turn the prophesy true the holy body of Moran Mor Elias III, the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East was buried near St. Stephen’s church Manjanikkara on Sunday Feb 13 after the Holy Qurbono. This place was the private property of Fr. Kuriakose Elavinamannil and his brothers. Fr. Kuriakose thus had the unique privilege of burying the holy body of a Patriarch, the head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church in his own land. I believe nobody else in the world had such a blessing. Later Fr. Kuriakose gave 30 cents of land, on which the holy sepulcher stood, to the Holy Patriarchate as a gift. The St. Ignatius church, the Dayro are all here, in this land given free by him.

 

H.H. Moran Mor Elias III was a holy man, a saint in every sense. From the very beginning miracles happen at this sepulcher. It continues. Pilgrims come here from the different parts of Manjanikkara and get blessings. To attend the perunnal on Feb 13, thousands of pilgrims go to the Holy Qabar, walking a great distance. I think Manjanikkara is the only pilgrim centre in the whole world where pilgrims walk some 200 to 300 km to reach the church.

 

The 30th day of demise of Bava Thirumeni (adiyanthiram) was observed on a very grand scale. On that auspicious day there happened a miracle. As thousands of pilgrims were expected to attend the function, a very big feast was being prepared. In the early hours of the day the cooks complained to Fr. Kuriakose that there was shortage of coconut oil to make ‘pappadams’. It was not possible to have afresh supply of oil at that hour. To this the Vicar said, “Don’t worry; this is Bava Thirumeni’s adiyanthiram. He will provide you with necessary things, please carry on the work”. The cooks started the work. To the surprise of all, oil began to boil in the vessel and overflow. The overflowing oil was collected in a vessel. This phenomenon continued for some time and oil was collected in many vessels. The devotees thronged around the vessels and took this wonderful oil home in bottles. The miracles at the sepulcher continue...

 

Source: Silver Jubilee Souvenir (2002) of Dubai, Mar Ignatius Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church

 

 

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