The Sabha Tharaka, the most loved magazine of the Mar Thoma Church celebrated its 111th birthday in January 2003. The Sabha Tharaka has been the official publication of the Mar Thoma Church since January 1893. Now let us look not only just at how old the Sabha Tharaka is, but also how it originated.
The Church Missionary Society built a seminary at Kottayam in 1813 for the education of the clergy. It is now known as the Old Seminary. Abraham Malpan of Palakunnathu was appointed by CMS missionaries to teach Syriac in the Old Seminary. There a group of clergy and laity had the opportunity to associate with the CMS missionaries who translated the Bible into Malayalam. As they studied the scriptures, they obtained insights about what the church should be, and realized the unscriptural practices in the Syrian Church of Malabar.
Abraham Malpan and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan dedicated themselves to the cause of reform in the Syrian Church of Malankara. In those days, public worship was conducted in the Syriac language. People understood very little of the meaning of the worship liturgy in Syriac. Abraham Malpan translated the Syriac liturgy, which had been used for centuries, into Malayalam to bring about meaningful participation of the laity and gave emphasis to the personal study of the Word of God. He decided to remove from the liturgy all unscriptural customs and practices which had crept into the church over the centuries. He eliminated the prayers for the dead and invocation of saints from the liturgy. He celebrated Holy Qurbana using the revised Malayalam liturgy. Then the Metropolitan, Cheppathu Mar Dionysius regarded Abraham Malpan's actions as a challenge against the church leadership. So he excommunicated Abraham Malpan and declared that the deacons taught by Abraham Malpan would not be raised to priesthood. Abraham Malpan and ten other eminent priests formed a nucleus for reformation in the church. That reformed group is now known as the Mar Thoma Church.
Abraham Malpan and his associates decided to restore the Syrian Church of Malabar with reformation. He realized that unless he had the support of a bishop who was sympathetic towards his reform there was little prospect of the movement gaining ground. So he sent deacon Mathew of Palakunnathu to the Patriarch of Antioch in Syria. The Patriarch being impressed with the character and ability of the deacon consecrated him as Bishop with the title Mathews Mar Athanasius. In 1843 Mathews Mar Athanasius arrived in Cochin with credentials of authority over the Syrian Church of Malabar received from the Patriarch. Cheppathu Mar Dionysius was there already as Metropolitan and the reform party was a minority. Mathews Mar Athanasius went to Trivandrum, to get government approval and proclamation in his favor as Metropolitan of Malankara, but Cheppathu Mar Dionysius opposed this move. The struggle between these two Metropolitans went on for about ten years.
In 1852, the royal court in Trivandrum proclaimed Mathews Mar Athanasius as the Malankara Metropolitan. He had the possession of the Old Seminary as he had been declared as the Malankara Metropolitan. In 1868, Mathews Mar Athanasius consecrated Abraham Malpan's second son as Thomas Mar Athanasius. Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan passed away in 1877. Thomas Mar Athanasius then became the Malankara Metropolitan and he had the possession of the Old Seminary and church properties. Chepat Mar Dionysius and the Patriarch of Antioch filed litigation in the Alleppey Zilla Court against Thomas Mar Athanasius for the possession of the Old Seminary, and church properties, and for the right over the Vattipanam, a Trust Fund. This litigation dragged on for Ten years and finally the case was decided in the royal court of appeal in Trivandrum in 1889. The majority decision was against Thomas Mar Athanisus Metropolitan. With this royal court judgment of 1889 the Malabar Church of Saint Thomas was divided into two sections, namely the Jacobite Church and the Mar Thoma Church.
The year 1890 was a very crucial time in the history of the Mar Thoma Church. Our church at that time was passing through a crisis on the account of litigation. Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan had to leave the Old Seminary where he lived. He had no place to live other than his own parish at Maramon. The Mar Thoma Church lost almost everything that it had in 1889 by court verdict. Therefore, our forefathers had to put up small sheds in different places to hold worship services. Even though the Mar Thoma Church lost their churches and possessions, they turned to God and decided to go forward in faith trusting in the power of God. This led to spiritual revival and great joy in spite of the difficulties.
During this difficult time our forefathers felt the need to have a magazine to reach our members directly in their homes. This magazine was founded on a great vision to unite its members together, and to inform them the need for reformation and uphold its faith and practices. Thus, the Malankara Sabha Tharaka was born in January 1893. The first issue of the Sabha Tharaka under the able leadership of Kotturathu Joseph Kassisa, was printed and published at the C.M.S. Press, Kottayam. Since its birth in January 1893, many families in our church have cherished reading the Sabha Tharaka. Ever since, the Sabha Tharaka has been a vibrant and important part of the Mar Thoma Church. The Sabha Tharaka has played a vital role in the life of the church to preserve our religious heritage, traditions and faith to pass on to the next generations. The Sabha Tharaka helped the members of our church to obtain a deeper understanding of the church and its mission and our onward march for building up of the church and its members to strengthen our faith and church life.
Today Sabha Tharaka stands as an evidence of our faith and vision. Some of the prominent leaders of the Sabha Tharaka in the past were Mr. K. N. Daniel, Mr. J. Varghese, Mr. K. K Kuruvilla, Rev. V. P. Mammen, Mr. P. O. Philip, Prof. C. P. Mathew, Mr. M. M. Thomas, Rev. Dr. C. E. Abraham, Rev. P. J. Thomas, Rev. A. A. Pylee, Rev. Dr. K. V. Mathew, Rev. George Alexander, Rev. Dr. M. J. Joseph, Dr. K. V. Varghese, Prof. K. A. Mathew and Rev. K. M. Mammen.
Now the president of the Sabha Tharaka is The Rt. Rev. Geevarghese Mar Athanasius Episcopa. Rev. Dr. Mathew Daniel is the chief editor and Rev. C. V. Symon is the manager. Mr. T. A. Mathew of Houston, Mr. John Thomas of New York and Mr. C. V. Samuel of Detroit are the Sabha Tharaka Promoters for the Diocese of North America and Europe.
Every issue of the Sabha Tharaka contains the Metropolitan's letter, Bible study, in-depth articles of faith and current issues, devotional talks, report from parishes and various church related organizations and much more. 12 spectacular issues of Sabha Tharaka per year for Life/20 years cost only Rs.750.00 and airmail postage per year is Rs.250.00. To make it convenient for overseas subscribers, $45.00 (US) Dollars will pay for life subscription and 5 years' airmail postage.
The Managing Committee of the Sabha Tharaka now desires to reach out to each Mar Thoma family, with a copy of The Sabha Tharaka in their homes. For all your Sabha Tharaka needs, such as new subscription, renew your subscription with postage and change of address, please contact any one of the promoters or visit our website @ www.sabhatharaka.com
C. V. Samuel, Detroit, Michigan