In Memoriam: His Grace Mathews Mar Barnabas
8 December 2012 • In Memoriam • Virginia Nieuwsma
His Grace Mathews Mar Barnabas, the former metropolitan of the Northeast American Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, fell asleep in the Lord at four in the afternoon on Saturday, December 8, 2012 (EST) in the Pushpagiri Hospital in Kerala, India. Since 1993, Metropolitan Mar Barnabas has been the spiritual guide and shepherd for over 10,000 Indian Orthodox Christians in the United States, including many students.
"His Grace was very influential in the growth of the Malankara Orthodox Church in America, and in the lives of many Malankara Orthodox seminarians and alumni of St. Vladimir's Seminary," noted Mariam Ceena Varghese, SVOTS lecturer in Malayalam.
On January 18, 2008, His Grace visited the seminary campus as a participant in the SVOTS "Hierarch in Residence" program: each semester, one bishop is invited to the seminary to spend a day with the students and faculty, enabling him to interact with the students and pass on the lessons he has learned as a hierarch.
"Only in God, do we find unconditional love, in its fullness and reality," His Grace told the students in his address. "God wants every one of us to grow to perfection in unconditional love, as we men and women are created in the image and likeness of God."
"Many of us remember with great fondness the lecture that Metropolitan Barnabas gave to the community," recalled The Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, chancellor/CEO. "Titled 'Unconditional Love,' this was clearly his pastoral model, and part of the legacy that he leaves to all of us."
His Grace Mathews Mar Barnabas was born as a twin on August 9, 1924, and acquired the childhood nickname "Mathukutty." While still a young boy, Mathukutty decided become a monk; under the guidance of his grandfather and uncle, who were both priests, he began to visit monasteries during school vacations. Additionally, His Grace's mother, a pious woman who loved the poor, made a deep impression on her son.
While His Grace first studied science, earning an undergraduate degree in biology at Madras Christian College and a Master of Science in botany at Osmania University, he later studied theology with the guidance of his uncle, The Rev. Fr. K. P. Paulose. In 1949 he joined the Orthodox Theological Seminary as a special student, studying Syriac for two years, and eventually earned his B. D. degree from the Serampore University in Calcutta.
His Holiness Catholicos Baselios Geevarghese II ordained him as a deacon in 1943 at his home parish, St. Thomas Cheriapally, Thuruthipaly, Vengola. In 1951 Metropolitan Augen Mar Thimotheos (His Holiness Catholicos Baselios Augen I), ordained His Grace to the holy priesthood. Twenty-seven years later, on May 15, 1978, H.H. (His Holiness) Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews I consecrated him as bishop at Pazhanji Church, with the ecclesiastical title Mathews Mar Barnabas, appointing him as an assistant bishop of the Ankamali and Kottayam Dioceses. In 1982 he was appointed as the metropolitan of the newly formed Idikki Diocese.
In 1992, His Grace Mathews Mar Barnabas was appointed to be the Metropolitan of the American Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. His Grace served in this capacity for about 18 years, then continued as the Metropolitan of the Northeast Diocese of America when the growing diocese was divided into the Northeast and Southwest American dioceses for the convenience of administration in 2009. His Grace continued to serve until his retirement on January 18, 2011, and in May of the same year, he returned to India to spent the rest of his earthly life in his home country.
His Grace loved to teach. As a deacon, he was a teacher at Kurppumpady M.G. M. High School in 1947, and at the MD Seminary High School, Kottayam, until his ordination to the priesthood. He also lectured in the Orthodox Theological Seminary at Kottayam for five years. During this period (1967-1972) he was the resident faculty member at the seminary and full-time warden. He also cherished the years when he served as a chaplain in the Kolenchery Medical Mission Hospital from 1972-1978.
"Dearly beloved," wrote Metropolitan His Grace Zachariah Mar Nicholovos, "we mourn a great loss for the Church....May his example of love, prayer, and charity forever be practiced in our Christian lives." (Read the official diocese announcement of His Grace's repose.)