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An eye witness account of the last days of Patriarch St. Elias III

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  • Thomas Daniel
    “I WISH I COULD LIVE HERE PERMANENTLY” - An eye witness account of the last days of H.H. Moran Mor Elias III Patriarch of Antioch & all the East. By Prof.
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 11, 2005
      �I WISH I COULD LIVE HERE PERMANENTLY� - An eye witness account of the last
      days of H.H. Moran Mor Elias III 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 Mae 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

      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
      Corepiscopo. 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, ie Feb 13 after the Holy Qurbono relics of a Church father will be
      buried in this church and the Vicar will be ordained Corepiscopo ? To the
      surprise of all who heard this, the dead body of the saint who prophesied
      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�

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