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A Pioneering Attempt to start Monastic Life

in the Present-day Syro-Malabar Church

 

MTS Daira community with Mar Joseph Powathil

 

Vision

"I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12, 1-2).

This appeal of Mar Paulos Sliha is, in fact, the inspiration and moving force behind the fellowship Mar Toma Sangham. According to Sliha, the followers of Jesus Christ take up the responsibility of cosmic transformation, not by conforming themselves to the patterns of this world, but by transcending them. Although it is a challenge to all Christians, the monastic traditions have taken it seriously. Monasticism is a "Quddasa", a "Sacrament", a "Sign", a "Paradigm", an "anticipation and foretaste of the heavenly kingdom", a "transfiguration".

At the heart of the monastic discipline are the sanctification of time and the renewal of the inner man by unceasing prayer. It is in concentrating upon God, in the person of Jesus Christ, in prayer, and in seeking at the same time to embrace the whole creation in love and intercession, that the monastic community opens the channels for the Ruha d-Qudsa, the Holy Spirit, to transform both the individual and the community from within. It also thus enables them to resist the pressures of the world, which drive them to the pursuit of all sorts of vanities. Through their direct experience of the world, as also by the gift of discernment, the monks can help to go beyond a superficial understanding of the world, and help the Christians to have a contemplative attitude to history and the created order.

 

Founder: Mar Joseph Powathil, Archbishop of Changanassery

 

A monk is a real pilgrim, he is not of this world, but finds himself within it. Monasticism is often equated with asceticism, but it is too much to restrict it so, even though a monk is true ascetic. A monk is a true prophet; he bears witness to the life and teaching of his Master, he even courts martyrdom for that sake. A monk is, in fact, a man of the Gospel, a man who thirsts after salvation in the risen Lord.

The roots of his life are fixed in repentance and faith; his life is a perpetual metanoia (conversion). His prayer is, "Iso-M�siha"  (Jesus Christ) came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of the sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me as the foremost, Iso-M�siha (Jesus Christ) must display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life (1 Tim 1: 15-16). In fact, a monk is a "symbol of salvation" in this world of distractions.

When we consider the long history of the Church both in the West and in the East, we become more and more convinced of the important role of monasticism in the building up of an individual Church. We envisage a community, strictly based on the principles and values of "costly discipleship" (LG 44), which was in vigour in the early Syriac Churches, a community dedicated solely to the study, celebration and proclamation of its original Apostolic, Ecclesial life; in the case of the Syro-Malabar Church, a community which considers the Mar Toma Margam, "the way of Thomas", as its rule of life.

This Community ought to recognize the "identity" of the individual Church to which it belongs, in her liturgy, discipline, spirituality and theology and must be bent on living it and bearing witness to it in all possible ways.  Moreover, it has to help its mother Church to rediscover her identity and thus to build upon that basis with creative intuition.

Hence the tasks ahead of the new monastic community members in the Syro-Malabar Church are many and varied. First of all, they have to lead an authentic liturgical life according to the genius of this individual Church and work as a sign and leaven. Not only that they live the authentic liturgy of this Church, but also that they ought to take measures to provide ample facilities for others to experience the same. Simultaneously they have to engage in serious research study of the sources, which are numerous and bring them all to the reach of the ordinary faithful in this Church. In this research, one ought to lay special emphasis on biblical, liturgical, patristic, historical and disciplinary sources. Moreover, they have to take initiative to organize and develop proper and authentic Syro-Malabar liturgical music, art and architectural style. They may also launch a long-term program of publishing literature on Syro-Malabar theology, liturgy, spirituality, history and so on. Ecumenical, Pastoral, Charitable and Humanitarian works, which flow from their ecclesial zeal, shall also have proper place in their life programme.

 

The Daira Community with its Superior Rev. Sr Roselit SABS

 

Restoration and renewal of the ecclesial patrimony require the study of the genuine and authentic sources of the Church. Nobody loves a thing, which one does not know. Hence, the study of the history of the Churches, especially of Saint Thomas Christians, the details on the liturgical heritage, writings of the Fathers and of the early Church, and so on should be done with special interest. This study will help to rediscover the ecclesial roots and identity.

Monastic life in the Syro-Malabar Church, therefore, is an intimate following of Jesus Christ under the principle of "costly discipleship" by bearing perfect witness to the Liturgical Spirituality of Mar Toma Margam.

 

 

History

Having personally and independently contemplated on the need for such a movement in the Syro-Malabar Church for several years, Mar Joseph Powathil, the then Eparchial Bishop of Kanjirapally, Fr Xavier Koodapuzha, a Professor of Paurastya Vidyapitham, Kottayam, Fr Quriaqos Elijah Vadaketh CMI, then member of the CMI novitiate house at Kapadu and Fr Varghese Pathikulangara CMI, a Professor of Dharmaram College, Bangalore, met together in 1983, discussed and meditated over the viability of such a spiritual movement, and finally decided to commit themselves to make it a reality.

On April 28-30, 1985 , they met together at Nallathanny near Murinjapuzha (Idukki Dist.), in the Eparchy of Kanjirappally, and prayerfully deliberated the details of this movement. In the course of discussion, they decided to start two independent, autonomous Monastic communities of the one Family, Mar Toma Sangham; one for the monks, and the other for the nuns. Towards the end of the consultation, they unanimously decided to start immediately the community for the nuns, as some candidates showed great interest in this new venture, encouraged and helped by some religious sisters belonging to various religious institutes.  They also thought of starting the Daira in the 15 acres of land generously offered for this purpose by the KPMC Trust, Nallathanny. Before they dispersed, the three priest members of the fellowship decided to summit a formal request to Mar Joseph Powathil, Eparchial Bishop of Kanjirapally, in order to get ecclesial sanction for this movement.

 

MTS Daira, Palamattom, Changanassery

After continued discussions and consultations, on May 9-10, 1988, a vocation camp was organized by the four pioneers of the movement in the Spirituality Centre, Vidyanagar, Kottayam and selected a few candidates to the proposed monastic community. A similar camp was organized on June 1, 1988 in St Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Vadavathoor, and selected a few others.

In the meantime the pioneers contacted the Mother Provincial of SABS, St Thomas Province, Changanacherry and requested the service of Rev. Sr Roselit SABS, a veteran novice mistress in that community, for helping out and forming the new candidates at the initial stage. The pioneers are extremely thankful to the Mother Provincial for granting their request and the wholehearted co-operation.

Daira Garden

 

On 1 July 1988 the first batch of candidates started living at Mar Thommagiri, Nallathanny under the guidance of Rev. Sr Roselit SABS. Two of the pioneers, Rev. Fr Xavier Koodapuzha and Fr Quriaqos Elijah Vadaketh CMI were deputed to give them right orientation. Under their guidance the candidates made a recollection for making a definitive decision for monastic life on Dukrana day, July 3, 1988. After the recollection, five girls, Meyyamma Joseph Ninaparampil, Lillykutty Mathew Kavunkal, Lillikutty Chacko Thennammackal, Jaisamma Augusty Nadukudil and Lizykutty Kurian Karakattu, in the pattern of the five wise maiden (Mt 25, 2) in the Gospel, opted for the monastic life. On the 14th of August 1988 there was an informal meeting of the community together with Mar Matthew Vattakuzhy, the then Eparchial Bishop, Mar Joseph Powathil, the founder, the other three pioneers, the parents of the candidates and the well wishers.

MTS Study Centre, Vidyanagar, Kottayam

On further reflection over an improved style of formation for the candidates, directly under the founder Bishop, the pioneers decided to transfer them to the MOC campus, Vidyanagar, Manganam, Kottayam-686 018, within the territory of the Metropolitan Eparchy of Changanacherry. Accordingly, the community moved to MOC campus on February 6, 1989, the first day of the Great Fast, which is in fact, symbolic of this community's life style.

On July 3, 1989 , the Dukrana day, this community was erected a Pious union with the name "Mar Toma Sahodarikal" (MTS) by His Grace Mar Joseph Powathil, during a solemn celebration of the Holy Qurbana.

MTS Study Centre, Vidyanagar, Kottayam

 

On December 18, 1989, the feast of Mar Toma Sliba, the first house of this community, Bet-Toma in the MOC campus, was blessed by His Grace Mar Joseph Powathil and the candidates moved in to the new house. The founders and the community are sincerely thankful to the Archeparchy of Changanaserry and the staff members of MOC for all the helps received and continue to receive.

After mature study and reflection three of the candidates, Lizykutty Karakattu from Mundieruma, Meyyamma Ninaparampil from Vezhapra, and Lillykutty Kavunkal from Chettuthode, decided to begin their canonical novitiate and the pioneers sanctioned their desire, by starting the novitiate on December 2, 1990, the first day of the liturgical year 1990-'91, with the solemn celebration of Ramsa, the Evening Liturgy.

The First Professed Members

November 29, 1992: First Day of the Liturgical Year

 
After two years of intense novitiate, on November 29, 1992, the first day of the liturgical year, the Founder and local Eparchial hierarch Archbishop Mar Joseph Powathil officiated their consecration of vows in a solemn celebration of Holy Qurbana. Since the consecrated life is the continuation of the Sacrament of Baptism, they decided to be known by their baptismal names, Kochuthresia Karakattu, Mariamma Ninaparampil, and Kochuthresia Kavumkal respectively. Their final consecration of vows was on 29 November 1998 on the first day of the liturgical Year.

Professed in 1994

 

In 1993 a plot of 3.5 acres of land was bought in Palamattom, in the territory of Assumption Parish of Kurumpanadom. On 17 February 1995 the existing house in the plot was blessed by Mar Joseph Powathil, the Founder and three members of the community moved to that house. On 8 September 2003, His grace Mar George Kocherry, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ghana, laid the foundation for an Daira building in this plot of land. By divine providence and the strong financial support from the Archdiocese of Changanassery and well-wishers, mainly from Germany, the construction was completed in a short period. On 11 February 2005, His Grace Pedro Lopez Quintana, the Apostolic Nuncio to India blessed the Daira building and the Founder, His Grace Mar Joseph Powathil, Metropolitan Archbishop of Changanassery, consecrated the Daira Chapel and Mar Joseph Perumthottam led the solemn Qurbana, celebration.

MTS Daira, Palamattom, Changanassery

 

 

 

Life-Style

 The present-day Daira life of the community may be summarised as follows:

 

>>> It is an attempt to live the fullness of Syro-Malabar ecclesial and liturgical heritage.

>>> The members try their best to understand in depth the Syro-Malabar liturgical and  ecclesial spirituality and live it wholeheartedly.

>>> They spend sufficient time to meditate on the biblical, liturgical, patristic and ecclesial sources, assimilate and translate them into their daily life.

>>> The Holy Qurbana being a comprehensive celebration of the salvific action         accomplished by our Lord, Iso-M�siha, they make all possible efforts to celebrate it as solemn as possible in order to immerse in and experience it fully in their own life.

MTS Daira Chapel, Palamattom 

>>> The �Divine Praises� or �Liturgy of the Hours� being an extension of the Holy Qurbana to the various hours of the day, fulfilling the command of our Lord to pray always, they gather together to praise, glorify and thank the Lord through this liturgical celebration 7 times a day in tune with the biblical tradition and the liturgical genius of the Syro-Malabar Church.  The present schedule of such �Divine Praises� in the Daira is: Ramsa, the Evening Liturgy at 6.30 pm, Lelya, the Night Liturgy at 9.00 pm, Qala d-Sahra, the Vigil Liturgy at 4.15 am, Sapra, the Morning Liturgy at 5.45 am, Quta�a, the Third Hour Liturgy at 9.00 am, Endana, the Noon Liturgy at 12.00 noon and the Ninth Hour Liturgy at 3.00 pm.

 

Professed in 1998

>>> They try their best to make serious search into the biblical, liturgical, patristic and ecclesial sources and display them before the members of the Church for their consideration, using all available means of communication media.  All of them try to learn at least the basics of Theology and necessary hieratic languages, especially their own liturgical language the Syriac, in order to make serious search into the ecclesial sources.  They have already succeeded to publish the prayer book, Endana, the Noon Liturgy, for the whole liturgical year, translating the available Syriac sources and adding to it, in the style of organic growth, to perfect it and thus become useful for the whole liturgical year.  It is a very welcoming and joyous news that several priests, religious and lay people are using this prayer book for praising the Lord at noon time.  Now they are trying to publish the whole liturgical source of the Dukrana day, the memorial celebration of our Father in faith.

Professed in 2001

 >>> They have adopted the simple life-style of the ordinary folk in India.  They try always to live with the minimum necessities and help their needy brethren in all possible ways.

>>> They do all their domestic works as far as possible by themselves.

>>> They are also especially interested in developing the proper liturgical art and music.

>>> All are cordially invited and welcome to share their life in the Daira, praise, glorify and thank Iso-M�siha, who is personally present with each one, all through the ups and downs of his/her daily life � in person or in spirit.

NB. At present overnight stay facility, that too rather limited, is available only for women, religious sisters and laywomen.  Please take care to reserve it in advance.  Those who desire to dedicate themselves fully to the Lord in the Daira life have, of course, a special preference.

 

Mar Joseph, Perumthottam, Archbishop of Changanassery

March 19, 2007

 

 

 

Contact

 

1. Daira: Bet-Toma, Mar Toma Sahodarikal, Palamattam,

       Kurumpanadam � 686 536, Kottayam, Kerala, India.

       Tel. +91.481.2473860, Email: bet.toma.sst@gmail.com

 

2. Study Centre: Bet-Toma, Vidyanagar, Manganam,

     Kottayam�686 018, Kerala, India.

     Tel. +91.481.2571547

     Email: bet.toma.ktm.sst@gmail.com

 

Publication

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All rights reserved to Fr. Varghese Pathikulangara CMI �2008.