In this episode of “Walking The Way with The Saints”, we focus on St. Elias III (1867-1932 A.D.) the 119th patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church and all the East. the Martyrs. We commemorate him on February 13 according to the Syriac Orthodox Liturgical calendar. Sam Joseph Kaippallil presents us with his research into this great saint’s life and how his love for his children in Malankara led him to ignore his health and the orders of his doctors to travel long distances and try to resolve the conflicts with what is known today as the Indian Orthodox Church leading to his death in Manjinikkara, India.
He was born on October 30, 1867, in Mardin, Turkey, to Abraham Cor-Episcopus and Maryam. He became a Ramban/monk in 1889 and took the name Elias. He spent his early years as a monk at the Dayro of Mor Hananyo also known as Kurkkuma Dayro. He gave refuge to persecuted Christians during Armenian and Assyrian Genocides (the Sayfo).
He was ordained a metropolitan by HH Ignatius Abded Aloho II with the name Mor Ivanios. It is an interesting fact that he was ordained on the same day as Mor Osthatheos Sleeba (A saintly Syriac Father ordained by HH Mor Elias III as Metropolitan of India). Metropolitan Mor Ivanios Elias was later elected as the 119th Patriarch of the Holy Syrian Orthodox Church in 1917 and assumed the name Moran Mor Ignatius Elias III.
The schism in Malankara
During those days in Malankara, Vattasseril Dionysius formed a faction (a group which calls themselves Indian Orthodox today) within the church leading to a schism. Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy of British India, invited the Patriarch to come to Malankara to solve the schism. Given his cardiac problems, the Patriarch’s doctors attempted to dissuade him from the trip in vain. His sister also could not persuade the Patriarch; His Holiness said to her, “Death is inevitable whether here or in India; I would rather sacrifice my life for the sake of our children in Malankara.” We can clearly see his fatherly love towards his spiritual children in Malankara here.
Mor Elias III reached Malankara in 1931 and made numerous attempts in bringing peace over the next many months, including removing the ex-communication on Vattasseril Dionysius. During the process, he also visited numerous churches across Malankara.
However, the peace negotiations did not bear fruit and the saintly father became sad and was planning to go back. At that time, Fr. Kuriakose Elavinamannil from Manjinikkara of St. Stephen’s Church invited him to come to visit Manjinikkara. He accepted the invite and upon arriving at Manjinikkara, the Patriarch said, “This place offers us much comfort; we desire to remain here permanently.” On February 12th 1932, His Holiness requested the priests who came to visit him not to leave for a couple of days. In the evening, the Patriarch recited many prayers of the qandilo (the longer, more elaborate form of Anointing). The next day (February 13th 1932), he gave an emotional sermon after the Holy Qurbono about his peace-making efforts and he entered heavenly rest a few hours later that afternoon.
Tomb and Mor Ignatius Dayro
He was entombed in a plot of land north of the St. Stephen’s church on February 14th. It thus became one of the rare instances in history where a Patriarch was entombed outside the Middle East. Mor Ignatius Dayro church was later built by the Patriarchal delegate Mor Yulios Elias Qoro over the tomb of the late Patriarch.
Pilgrimage on Foot (Kaalnada Theerthayathra)
One of the salient features of the feast of St. Ignatius Elias III every year is the pilgrimage on foot (Kaalnada Theerthayathra in Malayalam). It started with 7 people walking towards Manjinikkara from Maneed St. Kuriakose Church on the 40th day of his demise. This tradition quickly spread across Malankara; and today hundreds of thousands of faithful from various parts of Malankara walk towards his tomb on his feast day in February every year. It has become one of the longest and biggest pilgrimages on foot in the world.
The tomb of St. Ignatius Elias III is the strongest possible symbol of “Antioch-Malankara bond”, the 2000-year-old relationship between the Malankara Church and the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. This is because, even if all Syriac Orthodox faithful are wiped out from Malankara, the presence of the tomb of a Syriac Orthodox Patriarch will serve as a testimony to the relationship that existed between the Christians in Malankara and the Patriarchate of Antioch.
His tomb stands as a towering symbol of the sacrifices made by the Syriac fathers to nurture the church in Malankara. It has become a source of blessing, comfort, and miracles to millions of believers and non-believers across the world. We also remember him in the fifth Thubden in every Holy Qurbono.
What we can learn from his life
- A true leader emulates Christ’s words. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sake of his flock.” (St. John 10:11, Peshitta). St. Ignatius Elias III showed an excellent example of this leadership.
- The message of Peace: Christ had said during the Sermon on the Mount that “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called the children of God.” (St. Matthew 5:9, Peshitta). St. Ignatius followed this to the letter.
- His life revolved around prayer and meditation which we should also emulate
- Helping those in need: He gave refuge to many persecuted Christians during the Sayfo Genocide. We should also similarly try to help those who are in need around the world.
The Chief of Antioch, pray for us….
May the prayers and blessing of late Mor Elias III be with us all and glory be to God forever, Amen!
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