Mar Abo: Healer and Peace Maker
The ancient St. Mary’s Orthodox Church of Thevalakara is blessed by having the earthly remains and the spiritual presence of Mar Abo, the reputed popular saint from the Middle East. Many people over the centuries have witnessed to the healing and various other blessing they received through the intercessory prayers of this saintly bishop.
Historically speaking we have no great details about the background of Mar Abo. He is certainly one of those ascetic figures who traveled to India from West Asia in the distant past for reasons of pilgrimage and pastoral care for the Christian people in India.
There were several reasons for their travel:
During the early centuries of Christianity, it was known in Christian circles in West Asia and the Roman empire that St. Thomas the Apostle was martyred in India and that he had established a Church there. Therefore, many pilgrims wanted to come to India to the tomb of the Apostle Thomas. Some of the saintly bishops, priests and merchants who came from places like Persia, Palestine, Egypt and Armenia came partly as pilgrims.
Another reason for their travel was the ancient apostolic Church in India. During the great missionary expansion of the Persian Church from Mesopotamia (present region of Iraq) to many Asian countries including India and China from about the 7th to the 14th centuries or so, there was active spiritual and cultural partnership between the Indian Church and the Persian Church. Indian Christians were always very hospitable and received with great love the visitors from the Persian empire.
Still another reason for the visit of Christians from the persian empire was the sporadic persecution of Christians by the imperial rulers. On such occasions Christians could emigrate to India in big groups, as happened in the 4th century, or as individuals joining the traders to Malabar port cities like Kodungalloor or Kollam. Indian Christians enjoyed freedom and favours from their local rulers. This was attractive to foreign visitors living under persecution in their own countries.
Mar Abo is a fine example of spiritual persons who came to our church in India without any desire for material gains or for wielding authority over the churches here. He was in the order of those good shepherds who renounced worldly desires and undertook perilous journeys for the sake of the people of God. Our people loved them and were always very grateful for their teachings and the example of their lives. These saintly visitors too respected our people and never abused our hospitality to gain power or money.
The present trouble in Malankara between the Indian Church and the Syrian Church started precisely on this point. Since the latter half of the 17th century we have received Syrian bishops with great warmth, respect and love, as we had received saintly bishops like Mar Abo in previous centuries. It went well for some time.
But from the 19th century onwards, some of the greedy and power loving Patriarchs and bishops from the Antiochian Syrian church began to abuse the hospitality and devotion of our people. They began to make preposterous claims on this ancient church of St. Thomas. They meddled with our freedom and autonomy which we had always enjoyed as the Apostolic church of India. They began to act like the Portuguese Roman Catholic colonisers wielding authority over us and dividing our one church in the process. Unfortunately a group from our own church began to support the wrong and unchristian patrirarchal claims over our mother church in India. Hence our scandalous quarrels and litigation. Otherwise we could have maintained a very fruitful and mutually respecting relationship between our ancient, apostolic mother church in India and the ancient church of Antioch.
As we lovingly remember a saint like Mar Abo and request his precious intercessory prayers to Christ our Lord, we should pray for the healing of our church. Mar Abo is a great healer as he has received special grace for healing from Christ his master. We should continually strive for peace and reconciliation in our mother church, We should never pay heed to those who, however learned and influential, foment division in the one Church of Christ.
May the prayers of Saint Mar Abo bring healing and peace in our individual lives as well as in the life of our church and country.
Fr. Dr. K. M. George
Principal, Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kottayam
04 February 2006