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Mor Dionysius V Joseph Pulikkottil (1833-1909)
(Late Malankara Metropolitan)

Source: Book published in connection with the Golden Jubilee of ordination of Mor Dionysius in 1901 (obtained from website maintained by John Philip Kottaparambil)

Early Years and Ordination

Mor Dionysius V was born on November 12, 1833, in the Pulikottil family of Kunnamkulam near Trichur, Kerala. His father was Tharu Kurien, the nephew of 'Mor Dionysius II' (the founder of the Old Seminary at Kottayam) and mother, Thadamma of Paigamukku 'Kuthuru' family. The boy was named Joseph after his venerable grand uncle Mor Dionysius Joseph II. Joseph started his education at the age of five. In 1843, under the tutelage of his uncle, Fr. Joseph, he began his education in theology and Syriac. Young Joseph was an eager student and eventually even acquired knowledge of Hindi, unusual for someone in Malankara in those days.

On 10th October 1846, at the age of 13, young Joseph was ordained as korooyo, by Cheppatu Mor Dionysius IV at Marthoman Cheriapally, Kothamangalam. After his ordination, Dn. Joseph returned to his native place, Kunnamkulam and continued his theological studies. In 1849, the Patriarchal delegate, Mor Athanasius Stephanos, ordained him to the order of shamsono (full deacon) at the Kunnamkulam Arthat Church. Dn. Joseph mastered the Syriac language from this Metropolitan. After the return of Mor Athanasius Stephanos, Dn. Joseph joined Mor Kooriloose Yuyakim, the Reesh Episcopa of Malankara (appointed by Patriarch Ya`qub II in 1846), by whom he was ordained priest on August 23, 1853 at the Chalassery Church. The interference of British missionaries into the affairs of the church and their efforts to bring about a Western Protestant character to the Church in the name of reform had erupted into a crisis. Bishops sent by the Patriarch to serve the Malankara Church faced many hardships from he authorities. In this light, Patriarch Ya`qub II decided to consecrate a metropolitan of Malankara origin. The clergy in Malankara nominated Fr. Joseph Pulikkottil and he was informed of the decision by a senior priest Edavazhikkal Valiyachen at Kottayam in 1861. His consent was obtained after much hesitation and the Patriarch was informed. The approval from the Patriarch arrived in 1863.

Journey to Tur `Abdin for Consecration

On 14th March 1864, Fr. Joseph left for the Patriarchate at Mardin, after a grand farewell at his home town, Kunnamkulam. Later he visited the Kolenchery Church, where Mor Kooriloos Yuyakim, the representative of the Patriarchate of Antioch was staying. He boarded a ship from Cochin on May 30, 1864 accompanied by Mattummel Fr. Geevargheese and Kuthuru Tharappan of Kunnamkulam. The travel in those days to Mardin was very arduous and their journey took them through various ancient Syriac Christian areas in Basra, Baghdad, Mosul, etc. They reached Mardin four months later on 30th August where they were given a hearty reception by the Church dignitaries and local people. A few days later, both Fr. Joseph and Mattummel Fr. Geevargheese were infected with a serious illness. On 26th September, Fr. Geevargheese, who was only 30, died; he was buried at the dayro. Fr. Joseph Pulikottil, however, was miraculously cured and remained at the Patriarchate for another eight months visiting many Syriac Churches, including Dayro d-Mor Gabriel at Midyat. On 11th 'Medam' (Malayalam calendar), he left for the Mother of God Church at Amid (Diyarbakir) and was proclaimed Metropolitan-designate by Patriarch Ya`qub II at the church during the divine liturgy on Sunday, the 19th. On the 25th, the Patriarch admitted him to the order of Rabban (monk) and on Sunday, 26th of Medam, 1865, the Patriarch consecrated him Metropolitan Mor Dionysius at the ancient Mother of God church. Three bishops including Mor Dionysius of Mardin diocese and an Armenian bishop participated in the consecration ceremony. A week after his consecration as Metropolitan, Mor Dionysius returned to Malankara. On his way to Bombay, he stayed at the Dayro d-Mor Matay at Mosul. The Statikon he received from the Patriarch on his ordination as Metropolitan was endorsed by the British Consul residing at Mosul.

Consecration as Malankara Metropolitan

On his return to Malankara, the newly ordained Metropolitan together with Reesh Episcopa Mor Koorilos Yuyakim, worked tirelessly to re-establish the faith of the Syriac Church particularly in South Travancore areas, where the missionaries were particularly active. In February 1871, after Patriarch Ya`qub II passed away, Mor Dionysius was invited to participate in the Holy Synod to elect the next Patriarch; however, due to the circumstances in Malankara, he was unable to attend. The Patriarchal delegate, Mor Koorilose Yuyakim died on 2nd September 1874 and was entombed at the Mulunthuruthy Marthoman Church leaving the stewardship of the Malankara Church entirely in the hands of Mor Dionysius. Mor Dionysius, appraised the Patriarch Peter IV of the dire situation in Malankara and requested his presence in Malankara. The aged Patriarch, who was then 74, started the difficult mission to save the Malankara Church from the protestant missionaries. His Holiness started his long journey to Malankara in 1874 proceeding first to Great Britain to hold discussions with the directors of the East India Company, regarding the unfair attitude of the British authorities. Queen Victoria gave audience to the Patriarch. On reaching Malankara, the Patriarch held thorough discussions and visited many Churches to resolve the crisis in the local Church. After continued interaction with the local leaders for more than a year, the Patriarch called for a meeting at the Mulanthuruthy Church in 1876 and decided to form an 'Suriyani Christiani Association' to manage the temporal matters of the local Church. In this historical meeting at Mulanthuruthy, Mor Dionysius Joseph was chosen the Malankara Metropolitan and head of the local synod. Thereafter, he was known as Mor Dionysius V.

The Visionary Leader

With Mor Gregorius Geevarghese Chathuruthy of Parumala and Mor Athanasius Paulos Kadavil of Aluva, who were also ordained by Patriarch Peter in December 1876 as his closest aides, Mor Dionysius engaged himself in the task of rejuvenating the church. He brought about much needed structure to the administration of the Church and started theological seminaries. In 1870, he started a Syriac printing press, Sainthomas, at Cochin, for publishing Syriac prayer books. At around the same time he started a Church magazine 'Kerala Pathaka' in Malayalam, which was later merged with another news magazine, 'Paschimathara'. Unfortunately this Church magazine was discontinued due to financial problems. But again in January 1892, another monthly, 'Edavaka Patrika' started publication from Kottayam Marthoma Press.

During his tenure as Malankara Metropolitan, a large gathering of Roman Catholics from Goa, joined the Suryani Church. Fr. Alvarez, a member of this group, was later consecrated as Metropolitan Mor Yulios by Mor Dionysius in 1889 and appointed bishop of Mangalore & Bombay dioceses. Due to the influence of Metropolitan Mor Yulius, another group of Roman Catholics from Ceylon and America too joined the Suryani Church. Fr. Rene Villate was ordained as Metropolitan Mor Timotheos in 1892 and was appointed as Metropolitan for newly formed American dioceses. Mor Dionysius V, Mor Athanasius Kadavil, and Mor Gregorius of Parumala were the intermediaries for the discussions between these converts and the Patriarch of Antioch.

Proponent of Theological and Secular Education

The 'Old Seminary' at Kottayam, started by his predecessor, Mor Dionysius II in 1818, had come under the influence of the British supported reformist bishop, Palakunnath Mathews Mar Athanasius. This made it necessary to start another theological institution to give proper education for the clergy. Southern parts of Malankara being under greater influence of the Protestants, Mor Dionysius was very particular to start a Seminary there and after many consultations he decided to buy some land at Parumala. The land owner, Mathen of Arikupurathu family, donated the land for the cause registering the title in the name of the Patriarch of Antioch. The Parumala Seminary started functioning in AD 1872 and Ramban Geevargheese (later Mor Gregorius of Parumala) was appointed the first malphono.

Besides Parumala Seminary, seventeen other churches were built around Malankara under the initiative of Mor Dionysius, in the first ten years of his episcopate. These include churches at Karuvatta, Katturu, Ayriroor, Puthenkavu, Onakkur, Chelattu, Kanayattunirappu, Mazhuvanoor, Nellikkal, Marattil, Kundra, Kodachanadu, Vengoor, Manjapra, Allapra, Thiruvankulam and Chalassery. The churches in the southern Malankara were built in face of an adverse decision of the Travancore government which forced the ancient Suryani community to leave their churches. With arrival of the Patriarch in 1875, Mor Dionysius was able to regain almost all the prominent churches. The old Seminary at Kottayam was also recovered from the reformists through a royal court decision in 1889, a pleasant victory for the Suryani community, and for Mor Dionysius in particular.

The MD Seminary English medium High School at Kottayam was started in January 1893 by Mor Dionysius V on land donated by one of his British friends, 'Dora Saipu'. Until then the Suryani community had the opportunity for English education only in the schools run by the Goverment and western missionaries. As a result of their influence, the students who graduated from these schools gradually drifted from their Church. In this context, Mor Dionysius decided to start English medium schools by the Suryani Church. In 1899, he started a school at Kunnamkulam naming it Ignatios in honor of the Patriarch of Antioch, who he always held in very high regard.

Final Years

In 1901, the golden jubilee celebration of Pulikottil Mor Dionysius' ordination as a priest was held at Kottayam. In recognition of his tireless efforts for the Malankara Church, a "Mangala Patram" (felicitation) was read at the function.

The passing away of Mor Gregorious of Parumala, who he hoped would be his successor as Malankara Metropolitan, on November 2, 1902, and five years later of Mor Athanasius Paulos Kadavil on the same day left Mor Dionysius in great sorrow. On the 30th day memorial after the death of Mor Gregorious of Parumala, a Synod presided by Mor Dionysius selected Kochuparambil Ramban Paulos of Mulunthuruthy and Vattasseril Fr. Geevargheese as Metropolitan designates. Both were ordained by Patriarch `Abded Aloho II at the Dayro d-Mor Marqos in Jerusalem on 31st May 1908, respectively as Mor Kooriloos Paulos (later Malankara Metropolitan, 1911-17) and Mor Dionysius Geevargheese (later Malankara Metropolitan in 1909).

After serving the Church through turbulent days for more than half a century, Mor Dionysius V died at the age of 76 on July 11, 1909 and was entombed at the Old Seminary Church, Kottayam. His visionary stewardship of the Church in Malankara through its trials and tribulations, his unswerving loyalty and respect to the Patriarch of Antioch, his tireless efforts in establishing institutions of theological and secular learning, and above all his devout life as a servant of God will always be cherished by the church in Malankara .


Website maintained by John Philip Kottaparambil. Edited and republished with permission.

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Last Update: December 22, 2001