Sunday, February 26, 2012
A century of faith and practice: Very. Rev. Dr. Curien Kaniyamparambil Corepiscopa.
The Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church is buzzing with energy and enthusiasm. This recent burst of energy is not from its youngsters and young leaders but from its oldest priest, affectionately known as Kaniyamparambil achen. The church is celebrating the 100th birthday of this illustrious priest who has moulded the lives of hundreds of priests and bishops and given pastoral care and support to thousands of people in the church. His accomplishments are many like the number of books and articles he has written. The honours that he has received and his accomplishments are indeed many and known. But what can indeed be done again and again is to write about him from the personal experience that one has garnered. This will never end because Kaniyamparambil achen is so many things to so many different people.
1. An academician par excellence- Kaniyamparambil achen has been a vociferous reader and writer all his life. His urge to write is second to none and the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church simply does not have anyone who has written as much as him. This is a quality which is difficult to beat. His generation of people was a generation which had an oral tradition and reading and writing was not part and parcel of this tradition. Corepiscopa achen turned this around single handedly by starting to read and write from a very young age. The younger generation should appreciate his translation of the morning prayers before qurbana as a work that only someone like him could do. His simplicity comes through in language even as he manages to maintain the depth of meaning. It is a writing and poetic style which is very difficult to imitate. His academic interest took him to the direction of doing something for his own church and thereby his research in Syriac, church history, faith and traditions have all been for the coming generations of the church. His Malayalam translation of the Syriac Peshita bible shows this commitment to the church in unimaginable ways. The honorary doctorate that he received is not a simple decoration but evidence of the scholarship that this church father possesses. Indeed this is difficult to comprehend for a generation which does not know what true scholarship means! The half century of books that he has already published is evidence of his will to write for the church. Even today he continues writing like an old man in a hurry! It is of special interest that many young priests have made use of him to write their theses and assignments. I am specially honoured that the college I am teaching in now has one of his books in its library.
2. A perfecter of the art of simplicity and prayer- Many of achen's congregation members and spiritual children (including myself) will remember that whenever we have prepared to say good bye to him, he has stood up to pray for us and led us to a higher spiritual realm. His written works always start with “Daivathinu sthuthi” (Praise/thanks be to God). His favourite verse is “The Lord is in need of this donkey.” Kaniyamparambil achen believes that simplicity takes one closer to God. He wishes to be of help to God whenever and wherever. Those who have had the pleasure of his pastoral ministry know that achen's simplicity and approachability brought great dividends to his flock. He prayed and interceded every single day and his faith is the faith of a true Christian. His faith taught us that we should believe without seeing and that faith is not just some inexplicable experience but is simple and everyday as well. Achen’s faith in and intercession to St. Mary is second to none. He can be credited with the Wednesday Qurbana and intercession to St. Mary in many parts of Central Kerala. The Holy mother has indeed interceded for long life for this beloved son of hers.
3. A delightful preacher- Achen taught many of us the importance of preaching. We grew up hearing his sermons and knowing how to develop our thoughts from the bible verses. He was a popular preacher and took it upon himself to teach his congregation what he knew, in the hope that all who listened would not go astray. Many young priests learned to preach from him and the importance of preaching during a qurbana and how one should develop one’s sermon are invaluable lessons that one learnt from him.
4. A supporter of his friends and well wishers- It is always good to come back to someone whom you know will support you. All through his years of pastoral ministry, his congregation grew up in the assurance that he would be there when they came back home. This constant presence still continues and offers hope to hundreds of people for whom seeing him itself offers a rare calm and gives much hope to their lives. Apart from this, one can always count on achen to support you through whatever ups and downs you go through in life.
5. A role model of a true priest- Kaniyamparambil achen offers a true and firm model of what and who a priest should be. As priests, we grow up with the faith, traditions and practises of the church. Along with this, seminary education teaches us what we should and should not do. But if one wants to see first hand on how to be an ideal priest it will help to learn from achen. His prayer life, commitment towards sacraments, behaviour to people and deep spiritual love teaches us a lot on who a priest should be.
6. A priest accepted by all- Achen has been accepted by all in the church. One can say that it is a rare exception that a priest could be accepted by all people in the church. So much that there could be no doubt as to who the priest trustee of the church could be. One need not search further to know the greatness of this very mature priest. If one were to conduct a transparent poll in the church today I am pretty much sure that people across regions would vote for Kaniyamparambil achen as the most loved, respected and accepted priest in the whole of the church.
7. An upholder of sense, calm and peace in the church- Achen is from Kanjiramattom but lived the majority of his life in Thiruvalla. There is a substantial difference between the culture of the North and South regions of Kerala and this is reflected in the church as well. Kaniyamparambil achen managed to transcend this and one cannot help but saying that he could do this because of his commendable nature of constructing a sense of belonging to the place he was attached to. Achen should be honoured separately for his ability to transcend human made boundaries and build a strong network between the North and the South. The true teacher Gamaliel, as he was called by the Catholicose Mor Baselios Paulose II of blessed memory, truly taught us that we can be a one, strong and united church and that separate regions don’t matter. Achen’s presence made the welcoming of pilgrims from the North during the Manjinikara festival even more pleasant and easy because here was a priest who could go beyond small things and lead us to bigger and better things.
8. A strict follower of authority- One could learn from achen that the church follows authority and respects the hierarchy in the church. It was evident that even when a particular order from above may not have made perfect sense, he obeyed the position and authority associated with the order. This may have been taken advantage of during the early days of the schism in the church but nevertheless he does show us a different view point of the oft quoted ‘first obey then question.’
9. An accommodator of others- The brilliance of Kaniyamparambil achen is accepted by all today. We have indeed seen many instances of others seeking the shadow of achen’s presence to come into the lime light on their own. Many have thus used achen’s prowess and acceptance as a way of coming up. Achen has never prevented this even though I am sure he was aware of this all the time. His genuine character has always given this space for others to grow in his lingering and cooling shade. To be a scholar oneself is one thing but to be able to allow others to grow in that scholarly shade is unique to achen’s bountiful character.
10. There will be only one Kaniyamparambil achen- Achen cannot be replaced or outdone. I remember people telling me during my ordination that I should try to be another Kaniyamparambil achen! For me this is something that is simply not possible and something which should not be tried. There cannot be another priest who will come up to the stature of this noble priest. There are and will be great priests and bishops in the coming years but no one will do what Kaniyamparambil achen did. In his hundredth year we must realise that he is our most unique, talented and gifted priest of this century that we have passed. This honour belongs to him and him only. We will do well to stand aside and feel happy in the accomplishments and greatness of this very revered priest. The church has done well to honour him with a specific order of Arch Corepiscopos. It is unique and I hope it stays so for years to come. Till then shall we all pray for the mighty pen of our honourable Arch Corepiscopa Kaniyamparambil achen to continue writing.