On Thursday, November 26th was the formal valedictory program of the Bicentenary of the Theological Seminary. We began with memorial prayers in the seminary chapel for the founder, Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysius I, Metropolitan and founder of the Seminary, then processed to the new seminary building for the formal program. We briefly convened with those presiding at the formal event before entering the auditorium. It should be well noted that Kerala’s Chief Secretary, Jiji Thomson, shown with his wife, has been a life-long Orthodox Christian and involved with the church-community surrounding the seminary.
After presentations by all on the dais that included Fr. Konat (far left looking at photo, who teaches at the seminary and is the holder of the Syriac texts we visited earlier in the week). To his right is Fr. Dr. Jacob Kurien, most recent Principal of the Seminary, under whose watch most of the bicentennial celebration were planned. Immediately preceding the Governor’s presentation was Kerala’s Chief Secretary, who gave an impassioned presentation including the need for “self introspection with regard to the mission of the church”, and that people must “spread the gospel across the world”.
All, including the Catholicos, participated in lighting the lamp before the Governor’s presentation. Kerala’s Governor, Justice P Sathasivam, offered the main address of the bicentennial celebration. He was then presented by a gift from the Catholicos and seminary. The seminary choir followed by singing the national anthem. Upon the conclusion of the ceremony, all gathered for a festive luncheon.
After lunch with the dignitaries we returned briefly to the hotel before getting underway to the airport. On the way we stopped at St. Mary’s Orthodox Church, believed to have been founded by the Apostle Thomas. Each of the delegation members were graced with a ceremonial cloth as we entered the church. We visited a reliquary is there also. The icon presented in a photo is an example of Malankara iconography. Metropolitan Nicholovos’ family attended this parish early on in his life, relaying directly the oral tradition of Apostle Thomas founding this church. That oral tradition remains alive in this parish community.
Later on we visited Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Parumala, where the remains of Saint Geevarghese Mar Gregorios or Parumala Thirumeni are entombed. There is a seminary there also. One photo shows Metropolitan Nicholovos and Tikhon at the reliquary, and a second photo shows the reliquary itself. Later prayers were offered inside the church, after which the faithful approached Metropolitan Tikhon to receive an icon of St. Herman that he shared throughout this trip.
Before making the final approach to the airport, we visited Matha Mariam Church of Matha Mariam Ashram, Pawdikonam, Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala. The Metropolitan, Dr. Gabriel Mar Gregorios, is the leader of the External Affairs Department putting our trip together, hosting us. We celebrated a brief service in the chapel before enjoying an evening meal on this small mountain-top, in open air. Gifts were exchanged between Metropolitan Gregorios and Metropolitan Tikhon. Metropolitan Tikhon gave hand crosses to both Fr. Abraham Thomas (left) and Fr. Aswin Fernandis, who were the planners, directors and guides for the whole of this trip. After a brief time of rest, Metropolitan Gregorios accompanied us to the airport at 2am, and facilitated our entrance to the airport to be hassle free as we waited in a lounge with him and our guides.
Two brief comments in closing this reflection. The first heartfelt expression is that we were shown such hospitality during the whole of our trip by the Malankara Church, and what an honor it was to participate in the bicentennial celebration! Thank you to all who obviously put so much time and energy into planning for such a wonderful and meaningful series of events. I return home knowing that I will be reflecting on these events for significant time to come.
The second comment is made amidst the rhetoric that is free flowing here at home in recent months. The state of Kerala has about the population of our country. As was explained during our time together, about half the population is of the Hindu faith. The other half is divided fairly evenly between Muslim and Christian faiths. It was incredible to hear our hosts repeatedly share just how well they all get along with each other, and have for a long time.
Thanks be to God for all things.