Through the centuries, the Syriac Church Fathers have expounded the faith of the Church in their homilies and writings. Syriac literature is very rich with their contributions. But very little has been done to translate and interpret their writings into modern languages for the use of the faithful. The vast majority of these Syriac texts still exist in the manuscript form, although a few of them have appeared in print. The late Archbishop of blessed memory H.E. Mor Julius Çiçek of Holland reprinted some works of the famous Syriac Father Maphryono Mor Gregorios Bar Ebroyo. But in the Indian branch of the Syrian Church very little has been ever written or even translated.
The beginning of the 19th Century was a period of resurgence and renaissance in the Malankara Syrian Church. The litigations and rift prompted by the reformist group, inspired by the Protestants, challenged the orthodoxy of the Church through their speeches and pamphlets. A very strong initiative was taken by the then leaders of our Church to defend the faith, history and doctrines of the Church. Mr. E.M. Philip Edavazhikal, Kottayam, the secretary of the Church at the time, was the leader and pioneer in countering the influence of the reformists. His great contribution to the field of Church History in the form of the book `The Indian Church of St. Thomas' remains an authoritative work. Another noteworthy publication of that time is the book titled `Poorvika Pithakkanmarum Pothusunnahadosukalum' written in Malayalam by Rev. Deacon Puthussery Joseph Semmasan (Father of the late H.B. Baselius Poulose II, Catholicos of the East). Another book published during that period is the contribution of Rev. Deacon P.T. Geevarghese, who later became the first Archbishop, Mar Ivanios of the Malankara Catholic Church, titled `Were the Syrian Christians Nestorians?'. Similarly, numerous articles published in the journals and periodicals of the Church also served to defend and define the faith of the Church. The most important among the catechetical contributions of those periods came from none other than the then Malankara Malpan Very Rev. Geevarghese Vattasseril.
Vattasseril Geevarghese Malpan and Konattu Mathen Malpan were the two luminaries of the above period. They were teachers at the Old Seminary, Kottayam. Konattu Malpan concentrated on the publication of Syriac books, magazines and liturgical texts for the Church at the Mor Julius Press, dedicated in his uncle's name. He took up the translation of the Syriac New Testament which was published by his son Abraham Malpan. He also took the initiative to compile and translate the one volume `Prayer Book' still used by the faithful. This was published with the blessings of the then Patriarch of Antioch & all the East H.H. Ignatius Abded Aloho II. Vattasseril Geevarghese Malpan taught seminarians at Parumala and Kottayam while Konattu Mathen Malpan taught at Kottayam and at Pampakuda. If these two luminaries were united in mind and action, the fate of the Malankara Church would have been much different. Vattasseril Malpan wrote the book in Malayalam, titled `Mathopadesa Sarangal' for the study of the basic articles of faith of the Church. He covers many major themes related to the faith, doctrine, sacraments, canon of the Bible, synods, schisms, etc. He prepared these themes in a refined and condensed form so that the learners can memorize and have them engraved in their mind. Biblical illustrations add to the authenticity of the formulations. He compiled this, based on the works of the scholars of the Church like Mor Gregorios Bar Ebroyo. So this work is firmly based and rooted in the patristic heritage of the Church. The first edition of this book was published in 1900 with the imprimatur of the late lamented Mor Dionysius Joseph Pulikkottil II of blessed memory. The book was reprinted several times and the latest unadulterated edition was published in 1964. Since then we have witnessed editions of this book with alterations prompted by ulterior motives. The changes are deplorable since the author himself never tried to change any of the formulations in his original work, even though his attitude to Church administration and allegiance to the hierarchy had changed in due course of time.
Malpan Geevarghese Vattasseril and Rabban Poulose Kochuparampil were elected to the episcopate by the Malankara Church and they were sent to the Patriarch of Antioch, for their consecration. At that time there was a rift at the Patriarchate. The Patriarch Abdul Messiah was deposed in 1903 and a new Patriarch H.H. Ignatius Abded Aloho II (Abdulla) was enthroned in 1906 by the Holy Synod. The removal and installation were duly accepted and publicized officially in the Malankara Church. In 1908 the bishop designates from Malankara were sent to the canonical Patriarch H.H. Ignatius Abded Aloho, who was then at Jerusalem, for consecration. They were consecrated as Metropolitans and came back to India. An unhappy conflict erupted in Malankara after the arrival of the Patriarch H.H. Ignatius Abded Aloho in India in 1910 when Vattasseril Mor Dionysius took a stand of dissidence against the Patriarch, and his supporters propagated allegations that His Holiness was trying to capture the wealth of the Malankara Church. The co-trustees and all other Metropolitans sought to execute a bond of allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch by the Metropolitans and the parishes in Malankara, so as to safeguard against any dissidence in the future. Unfortunately, Mor Dionysius took a stand against the co-trustees and the brother Metropolitans and even challenged the Patriarch. His Holiness was forced to excommunicate this dissident bishop in 1911. This dissidence and the resulting excommunication was the starting point of the ongoing feud and factionalism in the Malankara Church.
The strife and struggles continued in the Church; but in 1931Mor Dionysius met His Holiness Ignatius Elias III during H.H.'s visit to India and H.H lifted the excommunication through the encyclical No. 161. Mor Dionysius entered into eternal rest in 1934. The holy Church lost a great soul who had high intellectual potential and ability to interpret the doctrines and scriptures but unfortunately squandered much of his later years in strife. The unforgettable literary contribution of this great soul is the book `Mathopadesa Sarangal'.
Here we have taken on the task of reprinting it so that the coming generations have access to a translation of the unaltered version of the original contribution of the then Malankara Malpan of the undivided Church.
The translation into English and the brief commentary added to each theme are the work of Prof. O.M. Mathew Oruvattithara, the retired Professor of Baselius College, Kottayam. He is an erudite scholar and studious researcher. He got enrolled for the Masters in Theology after his retirement from academic life. He successfully completed the Masters at the `Mar Thoma Vidya Niketan,' affiliated with the Gregorian University in Rome and is now teaching Orthodox theology, by writing books, articles and teaching classes. His laudable contributions in the form of the translation and commentary of this book will always be remembered. We express our most sincere thanks and gratitude to Prof. O.M. Mathew. The English speaking members of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Malankara will remain deeply indebted to him.
We dedicate this book to the glory of God and for the edification of the Church at large.
We express our sincere thanks to each and everyone who supported us to publish this book.
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