Archbishop Aboon Geevarghese Mar Ivanios (born 21 September 1882 as Geevarghese Panickeruveetil) was the first Metropolitan Archbishop of Trivandrum and the founder of the Reunion Movement in the Malankara Apostolic Church.He is the founder of Bethany Ashram order of monks and Bethany madom Order Of Nuns. He was the first M.A. degree holder in the Malankara Church. He also served as the Principal of the Kottayam M.D seminary High School and as a professor at the Serampore College
Geevarghese Panicker was born in Mavelikkara, Kerala, India, on 21 September 1882 to Thomas Panicker and Annamma Panicker, a descendant of the aristocratic tharavad of Panickervettil in Mavelikara within the erst-while Indian princely state of Travancore currently in the Alappuzha district of Kerala.
The Panickervettil family were honoured with the title of ‘Mylitta Panicker’ bestowed upon by the Maharaja of Travancore Marthanda Varma, Travancore Royal Family. Panicker’s family lineage also include him being grandson of the aristocratic Saint Thomas Christian family Polachirackal with their tharavad in Mavelikkara. The Polachirackal House held the highest-ranking hereditary title for a Christian family in Travancore being of nobility titled as Tharakan and were of the highest ranking Christian peer to the Maharaja of Travancore. The Polachirackal House through the Saint Thomas Christian Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is acknowledged by Pope Pius XI and continues to do so by the Holy See of the Vatican City as one of the oldest Saint Thomas Christian families. The House had evolved from accumulating one of the largest wealth through merchant trading from their oligopoly in black pepper commodity trading as part of the spice trade controlled by the Dutch East India during the age of discovery between the 16th and 18th centuries. The House’s excessive wealth allowed them to become the court financiers to Marthanda Varma and financed the Kingdom of Venad during the Travancore–Dutch War in the 18th century against the Dutch East India Company. This culminated in funding the Battle of Colachel in 1741 leading to Marthanda Varma defeating of the Dutch East India Company which was the first loss of its kind by a European naval super-power in the Indian sub-continent. The House were signatories to the Treaty of Mavelikkara in 1753 contributing to the establishment of the Kingdom of Travancore, diminishing the role of the Dutch East India Company in the Indian subcontinent and leading to the rise of the Maharaja of Travancore Marthanda Varma and the Travancore Royal Family. Panicker had his early education in Protestant and government schools. From 1897 he attended M. D. Seminary High School, Kottayam. In 1899 he completed his matriculation education before which he received minor orders (of clerical life) on 20 September 1898.
He was ordained deacon by Pulikkottil Mar Dionysius then the Metropolitan of Malankara Syrian Jacobite Church on 9 January 1900, he then continued his studies at CMS College, Kottayam and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Indian History from Madras Christian College. In 1907 he took a Master’s Degree (MA) with distinction from the same college. On his return from Madras he was appointed principal of his Alma Mater, M.D.Seminary High School. During this time he led various schemes for the renewal of the Malankara Church. He organized basic church communities, commenced Bible conventions, because of this he was popularly entitled “Koodasa Semmasan” (Deacon of Sacraments)
He was ordained to the priesthood as P.T. Geevarghese on 15 September 1908 by Vattasseril Mar Dionysius then the Metropolitan of Malankara Church. Geevarghese was popularly known as M A Achan, as he was the first priest with an MA degree in Malankara.At the same time he took the initiative to empower the Malankara Syrian Jacobite Church with hierarchical autonomy. He became instrumental to erect Catholicate for the Malankara Church on 5 September 1912.After the establishment of Catholicate in 1912 Malankara Syrian Jacobite Church divided into two,one under the leadership of Metropolitan Vatteseril Mar Dionysius(bishop’s party) and one under Anthiochan Jacobite Patriarch(Bava Party).Later the bishop’s party named as Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and Fr.P.T Geevarghese was belonging to this party.
In 1912 Vattasseril Mar Dionysius received an invitation to attend a conference at Calcutta. Mar Dionysius selected Fr. Geevarghese to accompany him to Calcutta to attend the conference. At the conference they met Dr. Howels the principal of Serampore College who requested the Metropolitan to avail the service of Geevarghese as the professor of the College. The Metropolitan permitted Geevarghese to take up the task. He made use of this opportunity to educate the Malankara Youth. About 20 young people from Kerala reached Calcutta for higher education.
At Serampore Geevarghese got more time for prayer and contemplation. He came across the writings of St. Basil on monasticism. Basilian monastic vision had a great influence on him. Besides the visits to the Sabarmati Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi and Santiniketan of Rabindranath Tagore gave him a new vision of Indian Sanyasa (monasticism). These experiences made him to reflect upon starting an order of missionaries to carry out the task of evangelization in India.Slowly the residence of Geevarghese and his followers at Serampore became an Ashram (Monastery), and they began to live a sort of religious life according to the monastic rules of St. Basil, adapting them to Indian culture. As he accepted this as his way of life, he resigned from the Serampore College.
On his return from Calcutta, Geevarghese looked for a location to establish an ashram. One of his friends E. John Vakeel donated 100 acres (400,000 m2) of land at Mundanmala, Ranni-Perunadu, Kerala at the meeting place of the rivers Pampa and Kakkatt. The place was thickly filled with thorny bushes and herbs. Geevarghese and his followers built a small thatched hut made out of the branches of trees and bamboo. This turned to be the first Ashram in Malankara on 15 August 1919. He prayerfully searched for a name for the Ashram and opened the Bible and he got the word “Bethany”. He meditated upon it and came to the conclusion that it is an apt name for a religious order which upholds both contemplation and action.Eventually the Bethany Ashram became a place of pilgrimage and spiritual experience. Spiritual retreats and discourses were given by Geevarghese especially in the Passion Week. Geevarghese envisioned the Ashram also being a shelter for the poor and the marginalised. Along with the Ashram he started a house for the orphans.
While at Serampore Geevarghese was thinking of the empowerment of the Syrian Christian women through education. To realize this ideal he took initiative to give education and training to the selected group of young girls with the help of the Epiphany Sisters of England working at Serampore. He founded the Bethany Madom (convent) for the women religious in 1925.
It was decided by the Malankara Synod to ordain P.T. Geevarghese as the Bishop of Bethany. He was ordained a bishop of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church by Catholicos Beselios Geevarghese I on 1 May 1925. He received the name Geevarghese Mar Ivanios. After the consecration there was a meeting to congratulate Ivanios. In this meeting Mar Ivanios expressed our forefathers desire, to solve the disputes among the malankara church,it might come one flock under one shepherd.In 1926 a synod(bishop’s party) was held in parumala under the leadership Baselios Geevarghese Catholicos for the reunion with the Holy,One,Universal Catholic Church Of the Holy see in Rome.The synod decided Bishop of Bethany Mar Ivanios for the reunion process. In the meantime the civil court’s decision on the litigation for a large sum of money (Vattippanam) was declared in favour of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church(bishop’s party)except Bishop’s of Bethany Mar Ivanios and Mar Theophilos other bishops had stepped out from reunion with the Holy See.As per the Worldly pleasures they did so.
In 1932 Ivanios made a pilgrimage to Rome for the reunion as per the letters from rome and met Pope Pius XI. Ivanios received the pallium. He also participated in the thirty second Eucharistic Congress held at Dublin, Ireland. There he met G.K. Chesterton, who said of Ivanios “The dignified Indian gentleman, who represented this faroff triumph in the Orient, had changed his neighbours by bringing them to the Roman Communion.”
On his return from Rome, Ivanios made efforts to build up the Re-Union establishment of puthenkoor (New faction) of Malankara Saint Thomas Christian Community. Pope Pius XI Re-established the Malankara hierarchy through, Syro-Malankara Catholic on 11 June 1932 through the apostolic constitution Cristo pastorum principi
Ivanios sent missionaries to different parts of the land. Besides the newly joined Bishops and Priests from different Malankara denominations, he received missionaries from the Syro Malabar Church. Joseph Kuzhinjalil, the founder of the congregation of the Daughters of Mary, was a missionary appointed by Ivanios to work in the southern parts of the land. Under Ivanios’s leadership about 75 priests were joined from different denominations of the Malankara Church. About 150 parishes including mission stations were established.
Ivanios established about 50 schools, and one ‘A’ grade college, named Mar Ivanios College. He visited U.S. President Harry S Truman, G.K. Chesterton, King George V of the United Kingdom, and George Bernard Shaw.
The Silver Jubilee of the Episcopal Ordination of Ivanios was celebrated in 1951, and Pope Pius XII wrote to him remembering the reconciliation
Mar Ivanios died on 15 July 1953, and was buried at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Pattom, Trivandrum.
Mar Ivanios was declared Servant of God (Daivadasan) on 14 July 2007, the day prior to the 54th anniversary of his death. The proclamation was read by his 3rd successor Moran Mor Baselios Cardinal Cleemis Catholicos at St. Mary’s Malankara Syrian Catholic Cathedral in Trivandrum, India. Catholicos is the first head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church to be designated as a Cardinal in the Universal Catholic Church.
The mortal remains of Ivanios were exhumed by a 21-member team comprising doctors and theologians at the St Mary’s Cathedral, Pattom on 23 June 2014, fulfilling one of the procedures needed for his canonisation. The examination process, which began in the morning, was conducted in compliance with the procedures laid down by the Vatican. The rites began with prayers by Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis Catholicos, Metropolitan Archbishop Thomas Mar Koorilos and the priests of the Syro-Malankara Church. M. Soosai Pakiam, the Latin Archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram was present at the opening and closing ceremonies of the ritual. The remains were exhumed and examined in secrecy as prescribed by the laws of the clergy. The remains were later placed in a casket inside the cathedral for the public to offer prayers. By evening, the remains were placed back in the grave. Chief minister Oommen Chandy, speaker G Karthikeyan, deputy speaker N Shakthan, ministers K C Joseph, P J Joseph, V S Sivakumar and Anoop Jacob and MLAs visited the cathedral