The Catholicate of Baselius Geevarghese II: Some Aspects | Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios

It was the largest continuous Cotholicate. His Holiness became Catholicos on 13th February 1929, the third Catholicos after the Catholicate was reinstated in India in 1912. The day of his consecration was the feast of Mayeltho according to the old Calendar (Kumbhom 2nd) – the day when the new-born Christ entered the Temple in Jerusalem. The 55 year old Catholicos Baselios Geevarghese entered in February 1929 a life of leadership which lasted for 35 years – till his death at 90 in 1964.
Both as a Remban and as Bishop Geevarghese Mar Gregorios, he was quite ordinary, unimpressive, without the impressive majesty and the transparent holiness which people saw clearly in him in later years. The transformation of his personality was forged in the crucible of suffering, by the power of a steadfast faith in God and a life of unceasing prayer.
On February 13th 1929, Geevarghese Mar Gregorios, Metropolitan of Niranam, Quilon and Thumpaman Dioceses thus became Moran Mar Baselios Geevarghese 2nd, Catholicos of the East on the Apostolic Throne of St. Thomas. The Malankara Metropolitan Vattasseril Geevarghese Mar Dionysius was Chief officiant at his Enthronement.
On February 14th, the next day His Holiness the Catholicos was the Chief officiant at the consecration of two bishops – Kuriakose Mar Gregorios (Pampady Thirumeni) and Yakob Mar Theophilos of Bethany. Bishop Mar Ivanios of Bethany was elevated to be Metropolitan.
The first major crisis began the next year, when in 1930 Mar Ivanios and Mar Theophilos of Bethany joined the Roman Catholic Church and thus established the Malankara Rite in India.
Soon after on November 9, 1930, one more bishop was consecrated in the Orthodox Church Puthenkavil Geevarghese Mar Philoxenos.
On April 20, 1931, the autocephaly or independance of the Malankara Church was reaffirmed with the first consecration of Holy Chrism (Mooran) by H. H. Baselios Geevarghese II.
On May 5, 1932, His Holiness the Catholicos officiated at the consecration of Joseph Mar Severios of Bethany, who also later defected to the Malankara Rite of the Roman Catholic Church.
The defection of these three Orthodox Bishops to the Roman Catholic Church constituted thus a major crisis for Catholicos Baselios in the first years of his Catholicate. It was his steadfast leadership that held the vast majority of the Orthodox people from going into the Roman Catholic Church.
It was only in 1896 that the Roman Catholic Church in Kerala began to have Malayalee bishops. The Syrian Catholic Church was at the beginning of our century engaged in a major struggle to free itself from foreign domination. As the four Catholic dioceses of Ernakulam (Archbishop Kandathil Mar Augustinos) Trichur (Vazhappilly Mar Francis) Changanacherry (Kuryalasseril Mar Thomas) and Kottayam (Choolaparampil Mar Alexander) became established under the Pope., the pressures on the Orthodox to join the Roman Catholic Church intensified – Kariattil Mar Joseph and Paremmakkal Governador Achen were the first to use such pressure, but in 1930, it was Dr. Bengiger, Catholic Bishop of Quilon who led the campaign, with the assistance of Kalassery Mar James. When in 1932 Mar Ivanios was made Archbishop of Trivandrum in the Malankara Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, and Mar Theophilos was made bishop of Thiruvalla, the campaign was intensified – leading to the second defection in 1937 by Mar Joseph Severios of Niranam and Mar Dioscurus of the Cnanaya Diocese.
These defections and this campaign to Romanize the Indian Orthodox Church was a major force to contend with for Catholicos  Baselios, while also fighting the battle on the other front against  Syrian  foreign domination.
The second major crisis that Catholicos Baselios faced was the demise on February 23, 1934 of Malankara Sabhabhasuran Vattasseril Geevarghese Mar Dionysius, his mentor and father in Christ, the wise and mature defender of the Malankara Church against the domination by the Roman Catholics on the one hand the Syrians on the other.
It was indeed a  formidable personal loss to His Holiness. He began praying with redoubled intensity for his church and its future. The mantle of leadership now fell clearly on the Catholicos Baselios.
The historic Malankara Association at M. D. Seminary on December 28, 1934 elected catholicos Baselios unanimously as Malankara Metropolitan in place of the departed Mar Dionysius. Thus for the first time in our history the anomaly of having a Catholicos as spiritual head and a Malankara Metropolitan as Chief Administrator of the Church ended when the two powers contrived in one person. It was continued like that to this day, though according to the Church Constitution, the two powers are in principle separable.
Those loyal to the Syrian Patriarch’s jurisdiction in India (established at the Mulanthuruthy Synod in 1876 by Syrian Patriarch Peter III) met at Karingachira St. George Church Tripunithura and elected Poulose Mar Athanasius as their Malankara Metropolitan.
The two Malankara Metropolitans on both sides were classmates and close friends. Yet they became now contenders in law suits and rivals in authority. This grieved Catholicos Baselios, and he put forth his besy efforts for a reconciliation. If the matter was in the hands of the Indian people, peace would have come to the Church in 1930’s. The Catholicos remembered how in 1923 his Guru Mar Dionysius had gone to Mardin to see the Patriarch of Antioch and settle the dispute.
In 1931, when Patriarch Mar Elias III (entombed at Manjinikkara) came to India, his Guru Mar Dionysius had taken the initiation to visit the patriarch and settle the dispute. If patriarch Elias had lived longer the dispute would probably have been settled amicably.
Patriarch Elias III had been succeeded in Homes by Patriarch Aphrem I, a scholarly prelate, who unfortunately proved to be so racist and anti-Indian.
In 1934, there was more or less complete agreement among the lay leaders of the two contending parties when the Catholicos decided to undertake a fresh trip to the Middle East, accompanied by Ramban C. M. Thomas (later Thoma Mar Dionysius) and Malpan Cheriamadhom Skariah. The Manorama reported on Idavom 20, 1109 that Mar Julius, the Patriarchal delegate in India had gone to the old Seminary and given the Kiss of reconciliation with the Catholicos. On April 13th, 1934, the Church Times (England, Anglican) reported that both sides had agreed that the patriarch’s only powers in India would be consecration of moron and enthronment of Catholicos. The Church Times also reported that both sides had agreed that the Church in India would be autocephalous with its own Catholicos.
It was thus that the Catholicos undertook another trip to the Middle East, arriving there on June 21, 1934. The expectation was that the patriarch and the Catholicos would together approve the terms agreed upon in India by Palampadom Dr. P. T. Thomas, M. A. Chacko and K. C. Mammen Mapillai.
But patriarch Aphrem not only rejected the terms, but also treated the Indians with conderscension and contempt. He is the one who created the epithet Vridhan Punnoose (or old Mar Punnoose) for Bawa Thirumeni. Patriarch offered counter-terms, which were most humiliating. These terms were sent to India for reconsideration by the parties here. They revised the patriarch’s terms and sent it to the patriarch. He was angry and insulted the Indians. At the instigation of the British (Anglican) Bishop in Jerusalem, they made one more attempt, but were rudely rebuffed. It was clear that the patriarch wanted temporal authority and money from India. The Manorama Editorial of Kanni 10, 1110 highlighted this fact.
It was the reception on return to Kerala, that completely, changed the Catholicos’s spirit and mind. Instead of accusing the Catholicos for having failed, in the negotiations, the people gave him an unrecedentedly rousing welcome when he returned by train and arrived at Kottarakara at 4.15 PM on Kanni 24, 1110 (1935). The huge reception and procession with hundreds of cars accompanying from Kottarakara to Kottayam made it clear that the people were completely behind his refusal to accept the humiliation of terms offered by the arrogant patriarch Aphrem.
There is an anecdote that my former colleague Dr. Visser’t Hooft, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches told me personally. The W. C.C. was in process of formation during the period 1938-1948. Dr. Visser’t Hooft wrote to the heads of all churches, inviting them to join the W.C.C., as members. He cited the reply of patriarch Aphrem, which was actually signed by the Patriarch’s Secretary, more or less to the following etfect:
“Dear General Secretary, Secretaries do not write to Patriarchs. Yours truly, Secretary to the Patriarch.” This letter is still in the W.C.C. Archieves. I am told.
Replying to an address of welcome in the mammoth M. D. Seminary meeting on the day after the Catholicos’ return to Kottayam His Holiness made it clear that the patriarch’s terms were to the effect that there could be an Archbishops (Resh-episcopa) in India who would rule under the authority of the Syrian Patriarch, he would have to give a pledge of complete loyalty and obedience to the Patriarch and will go to Home for his consecration as Archbishop every time. He will rule in India under the supervision of the Apostolic Delegate, who will be present in all Synod Meetings. The patriarch can excommunicate the Archbishop for any reason he thinks sufficient. Every Orthodox family in India will pay 2 annas per home per year to the patriarch as Talavari. Simhasana Churches will be governed by the Delegate. Knanaya Diocese will be directly under the Patriarch and not under the Archbishop. But the Knanaya Bishop will be a member of the Synod. Everything done by Patriarch Abdul Messiah was to be repudiated as invalid. The present Malankara Metropolitan will have to have the insufficiencies in his consecration, removed. After that he will be called  Maphrians, not Catholicos of   the East. But he will not be Malankara Metropolitan, but only Maphriana. The new Malankara Metropolitan    would have to be from the North. Mooron can be consecrated by the patriarch. The cost of consecration and transport to India will be borne by the Indian Church.
These were the outrageous and humiliating terms which His Holiness Catholicos Baselios had to resolutely reject.
The two struggles – one against the enormosu pressure from inside and outside to join the Roman Catholic Church, the other to restore and keep the ancient and time honoured autocephaly and independence of this Church from the onslaught of the Greed and desire for power of the Syrian Church this is the crucible of suffering in which His Holiness shaped his life of prayer and discipline and became a Saint.
(Silver Jubilee celebration Souvenir of the demise of HH Geevarghese II, Kottayam, 1989, pp. 10-13 )