Mor Sabor-Mor Aphroth Church
Source: Akaparambu Church Souvenir, 1997
Akaparambu Mor Sabor Mor Aphroth Church is one of the ancient churches of the Ankamaly diocese of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church. The church is located in Meykavu village in Alwaye Taluk situated on the northern boundary of Ernakulam District in Kerala, adjacent to the new international airport at Nedumbassery. In the title deed of the church and in ancient revenue and tax records the church is referred to as the Akaparambu Valiyapally.
Mor Sabor and Mor Aphroth are believed to be two saintly men who came to Malankara to preach the Gospel. They came along with a group of Syrian Christian immigrants lead by a merchant named Sapor Esho. They are said to have disembarked at Quilon (Kollam) in c. 822. They were preachers of the Gospel and it is believed that both were bishops. They established churches in Quilon, Kayankulam, Udayamperoor and Akaparambu. The church at Akaparambu is believed to have been established in A.D. 825. It is said that they were granted the land to build a church after a successful theological debate with the local religious leaders. The church was named after the martyr saints of the early church, Mor Sabor and Mor Aphroth, after whom the two were named. The church they established in Kayankulam was also named after these two saints. Both churches were popularly known as the 'Church of the Qadishangal' (Qadishangal being a corruption of the Syriac word for the Holy Ones, Qadishé).
Mor Sabor is believed to have been based at Quilon and Mor Aphroth at Udayamperoor. Some accounts suggest that Mor Aphroth was based at Kodungalloor. Mor Aphroth is believed to have been instrumental in the conversion of the royal family of Udayamperoor to Christianity. It is believed that the Villarvattom royal family—perhaps the only Christian royal family in Kerala was an offshoot of this conversion.
The records of the Thareesa church at Quilon indicate that the church was established by Sapor Esho. Historians suggest that the records refer to Sapor Esho, the merchant leader of the immigrant group, or Mor Sabor or perhaps both.
In A.D. 1593, the Portugese Archbishop Menezes of Goa called a synod at Udayamperoor (Diamper) with the intention of forcing the Syrian Christians of Malankara under the Roman yoke. In his zeal to eliminate any trace of the Syrian traditions among the Malankara Christians, the Archbishop summoned the liturgical books and other records and burned them. An ancient Syriac Bible preserved at a church in Malankara fortunately survived and is preserved today in the British Museum. Some accounts of its history suggest that this Bible was brought to Malankara by Mor Sabor and Mor Aphroth. The Udayamperoor Synod in the mistaken belief that Mor Sabor and Mor Aphroth were Nestorians removed their names from the list of the holy ones and changed the churches named after them to the 'Church of All Saints.' (19th canon of the Synod). Although the Akaparambu church was represented at the Udayamperoor Synod, the church did not acknowledge the decisions of the Synod and retained its name.
The foundation of the Akaparambu church is believed to have been laid in AD 825 on the 19th of Midhunam (according to the Malayalam Calendar). In the early days, this was also celebrated as the feast day of the church. However, due to the South-West monsoons at that time of the year, the feast day was moved to the 19th of vrischikam (December 2). It is said that the names of all months in the calendar were written and placed on the steps of the church and the lot fell to the month of vrischikam. The feast of Mor Sabor and Mor Aphroth are also celebrated on the same day. A peculiar characteristic of the feast is that it is strictly vegetarian. The foundation day is also celebrated on Midhunam 19th (July 2nd). Holy Mass is offered on three altars on that day.
After the Akaparambu church was established, another church was established at Ankamaly. The Syrian Christian community flourished in the Ankamaly area in the years that followed. After the Roman Catholic schism, the churches were given to the majority community in each church. The Akaparambu church remained a Syrian Orthodox church. The Roman Catholics constructed another church to the north of the church compound. Today both communities live in harmony.
For years, the churches at Ankamaly and Akaparambu were considered as one parish and administered by one general body and trustees. There is evidence for this in records from a general body meeting on 16-8-1069 (Malayalam Calendar). At the time, the church had landed property that yielded 1000 para of rice. In addition, it had coconut groves in Udayamperoor. The deed for the property at Udayamperoor was in the name of the Archdeacon of the Malankara church. With about 82 acres of land, the church was one of the most financially sound churches in Malankara. Following land reforms in the fiftees, the church had to relinquish the land to its caretakers. Today, the church receives a pittance--an annuity of Rs 2460 from the government for the land it once owned. Until 1967, the main income for the church was the harvested paddy crop (nellu). The parish priests were given a portion of the rice--a practice that was called 'giving udama nellu,' (owner's rice) as recorded in the minutes of general body meetings of those days. This practice was discontinued in 1967.
In the days when the churches at Akaparambu and Ankamaly were considered one parish, baptisms and weddings were held at Akaparambu church and burials at Ankamaly. Apparently, the unsubstantiated belief that a temple existed earlier at the site of the Akaparambu church was the reason for hesitation in constructing a cemetery at the site. As the two churches grew in number, the two became independent parishes. On January 6, 1955, baptisms began to be conducted at Ankamaly and on January 1, 1956, a cemetery was consecrated at Akaparambu church.
Akaparambu church, which in its long history has always remained loyal to the Patriarchs of Antioch, has produced several prominent bishops of the Malankara church. The former bishops of Ankamaly diocese, Ambattu Mor Koorilose (whose remains are interred at the Ankamaly church), Kadavil Mor Athanasius, Kuttikattil Painadathu Mor Athanasius Paulose, and Vayaliparambil Mor Gregorius Gheevarghese (all of whom are laid to rest at Thrikkunathu Seminary, Alwaye) were members of this parish. All of these bishops were ordained by Patriarchs of Antioch. All Patriarchs of Antioch who have visited Malankara have visited this church. To this day, the Holy Myron consecrated by H.H. Patriarch Mor Ignatius Peter IV at Mulanthuruthy is used in the church. The Holy Father also gave a silver cross to the church as an offering. Every year on October 8, Holy Qurbono is offered in memory of the Holy Father and the silver cross venerated at the entrance of the church. At the Mulanthuruthy synod of 1875 presided by Patriarch Peter IV, the first signatory to the decisions of the synod was the representative from Akaparambu church.
It is a matter of great pride for this parish that the great metropolitan of Malankara, Mor Athanasius Paulose was consecrated metropolitan by Patriarch Mor Ignatius 'Abded Aloho on June 9, 1910 at this church. Known as the 'Defender of the Faith,' Mor Athanasius was one of the greatest that this parish has ever produced. One of the photographs below depicts the cot finished in sandal wood used by Mor Athanasius whenever he visited the parish.
Vayaliparambil Mor Gregorius who succeeded Mor Athanasius as metropolitan of Ankamaly was also a member and a vicar of this parish. It was during his time that the Ankamaly and Akaparambu parishes were separated. Facing considerable opposition, he was instrumental in the construction of the cemetery at Akaparambu. His Grace consecrated the cemetery along with the Patriarch's delegate to Malankara, Mor Yulius Elias Qoro and Mor Philexinos Paulose (later Catholicos). Mor Gregorius also officiated at the first burial in the cemetery on January 29, 1956. Patriarch H.H. Mor Ignatius Zakka I visited this church in 1982 and again in 2000.
The church building as we see today is the result of an expansion following the attack of Tipu Sultan. The verandahs on the south and north sides of the church were constructed in 1990 and 1992. The adjacent church hall was remodelled in 1955.
In addition to the sandal wood cot used by late Mor Athanasius, the church also has a menavu (the mode of transport of aristocrats in the past) used from the time of the Archdeacons. The church also has an aluvilakku (a traditional lamp) which was made in A.D. 878 (an inscription on the lamp says that the lamp was made in Kolla Varsham 53). The lamp can hold 72 wicks in memory of the 72 disciples. The baptismal font of the church has been carved out of a single stone.
The main altar of the church is in the name of Mor Sabor and Mor Aproth, the patron saints of the church. The altar on the north side is named after St. Thomas and that on the south side after St. John the Baptist. The walls of the main sanctuary have ancient miniature paintings finished with natural dyes and depict the Garden of Eden, the passion of our Lord, ascension of our Lord, dormition of Virgin Mary, consecration of bishops and burial of priests. The main altar has paintings of Holy Virgin Mary, Mor Sabor and Mor Aphroth. The paintings on the eastern wall are the most ancient. Many paintings have unfortunately eroded over time. Since the preservation of these paintings are beyond the capability of the church, the government of Kerala was approached; unfortunately, no measure has been taken to preserve these historical treasures.
In 1911, the church dedicated a portion of its land for the construction of a school for the education of the people in the area. The school building was constructed and all equipment including a bell were donated by the church and its administration handed over to the Travancore government. This school is today the Government Lower Primary Boys School. The church pays the property tax for the school building to this day. The late poet G. Sankara Kurup who was awarded the highest literary award in India--the Jnanpeed was a product of this school.
The Akaparambu church is believed to have been under Nestorian influence for a period of time. The location of the evangelion table on the north side of the altar until 1970 is believed to be a result of this influence. Further, until recently, priests of this church wore a vestment called 'soor place' (perhaps a corruption of surplice) also believed to be of Nestorian origins at funerals.
All parish churches that we find today to the north of the Periyar river are offshoots of the Akaparambu and Ankamaly churches. The church has chapels at Tiruvilaka (St. George's established by Ambattu Mor Koorilose), Nayathod (St. John's established by Mor Athanasius Paulose at his birth place), and at Neduvannoor (St. George's). The Simhasana church at Thuruthicheri is also located within the boundaries of Akaparambu parish. The construction of the Nedumbassery International Airport has resulted in the rehabilitation of several parishioners and the strength of the parish has recently declined as a result.
The main feast of the church is held every year on December 2nd. After the Sootoro prayers of the day, priests wearing the 'soor place' offer incense in memory of Mor Sabor and Mor Aphroth. This is followed by a procession with lit candles. The main offering at this feast is the thamukku (a traditional offering in ancient Malankara Syrian Churches made of palenthodan bananas mixed with jaggery and avlose podi (a powdered form of rice). The offering called panchasarayumanda at this church for the festival of the Holy Cross on September 14th is also famous.
Article by J. Jacob, Paravatti, in the Souvenir published by the Akaparambu Church in 1997. The author has relied considerably on oral traditions received from former vicars of the church and parishioners.
Art on the walls of the main sanctuary
Granite Cross · Sandal Wood Cot · Nilavilakku (Lamp)
|Copyright © Syriac Orthodox Resources. All Rights Reserved.|
|Last Update: March 6, 1998|