Posted by John Samuel Vekal

The first Orthodox Christian school of theology in Asia, the Orthodox Seminary, was founded in 1815 at Kottayam, in the state of Kerala (ancient Malabar) by Ramban Ittoop, a priest-monk of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. The learned monk from Kunnamkulam was carrying out with singular courage a major decision of the church made at Kandanadu in 1809 to start two schools of theology (Padithaveedu), one in the North and the other in the South of Kerala.(Photo Gallery)

Colonel John Manroe, the then British Resident in the Kingdom of Travancore offered his unreserved support for the initiative. Gowri Parvathi Bai, the queen of Travancore granted 16 acres of tax-free land, Rs.20,000 and the necessary timber for the construction of the Seminary. The work started in 1813 and the building was completed and classes begun in March 1815.

The beginning of the Seminary synchronized with the coming of the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S) Missionaries to Kerala. For some years the relationship between the missionaries and the Church was one of cordial co-operation. The missionaries were allowed to teach English and biblical languages in the Seminary. The early missionaries who worked here – Norton, Baker, Bailey, and Fenn rendered remarkable service.

Instruction in the Seminary was primarily meant for the future priests of the Church. But lay people also were admitted as students because the Seminary was the first seat of English general education in the State of Travancore, and perhaps one of the earliest in the whole of India.

After a time the relationship of the Church with the later missionaries became strained as they interfered in the doctrinal matters of the Church leading eventually to disputes and litigation. When the missionaries left the Seminary and moved to the hill, which now comprises the C.M.S College, Kottayam, the Seminary was closed for a short time. Since then it had a chequered history. It became the residence and headquarters of the Malankara Metropolitan (Catholicos), the chief Prelate of the Malankara Church. The academic importance of the Seminary suffered when it became the centre of church administration. It had to bear silent witness to the many disputes and dissensions in the Church. Nevertheless, it continued the programme of training ordinands. EminentMalpans (recognized teachers of theology and liturgy) rendered service to the institution. Some of the distinguished teachers include Mar Gregorios of Parumala, Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril, Konat Mathan Corepiscopa, Fr. Skaria Cheriamadam, Fr. Skaria Elavinamannil, Fr. Alexander Mattakkal, Augen Mar Thimothios (later Catholics Augen 1), Mathews Mar Athanasios (later Catholicos Mathews 1), Philipose Mar Theophilus and Paulos Mar Gregorios.

In 1942 the Seminary entered its modern period. A systematised course of studies was introduced. A new generation of qualified professors of theology and biblical studies took responsibility for running the Seminary. Classes and students’ residence were moved to the new buildings in the campus of the M.D. Seminary at Kottayam. When the Catholicos moved his residence from the Old Seminary to the present Devalokam, theological education was once again brought back to the “Old Syrian College”. Since that date (1961) there is all round progress and development for the institution. In 1964 the Seminary became affiliated to the Serampore University for its B.D. degree course. 1965, the 150th year of its founding, was celebrated on a grand scale in the presence of ecclesiastical dignitaries and church leaders from abroad.
The foundation stone of the new building was laid by His Holiness Vasken I, Supreme Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Etchmiadzin on 23rd December 1963 during his historic visit to the Indian Orthodox Church. The generous contribution from the member churches of the World Council of Churches together with a matching contribution from the Malankara Orthodox Church members, made it possible to complete the building in a short period. His Beatitude Justinian, the Patriarch of Romania, declared open the new building on 7th January 1969, during his visit to the Malankara Orthodox Church. Other eminent visitors to the Seminary include Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Patriarch Pimen of Moscow and All Russia, Patriarch Ilia of Georgia and the Ecumeruical Patriarch Bartholomew 1.

In 1971, the then Principal Fr. Paul Verghese (later Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios) in his annual report expressed a rather modest desire: “Both for inviting students from abroad and for the Master’s degree programme, we need to enlarge and strengthen our present faculty with at least three teachers with doctoral degrees. In fact, this is necessary if we are to continue as a B.D. College” (Prospectus 1971-72).

We are grateful to God that teachers on our faculty with earned doctoral degrees currently number 14. The building up of a strong Orthodox Faculty, foremost in India in the family of Serampore University, owes a lot to the vision of Mar Gregorios and his predecessors. The Orthodox Seminary, in a unique ecumenical collaboration with the Marthoma Seminary and the C.S.I seminary, Trivandrum, runs the prestigious Master’s and Doctoral programs, under the banner of the Federated Faculty for Research in Religion and Culture (FFRRC).

Nagpur Seminary Chappel
With the starting of a new Seminary in North India (St.Thomas Orthodox Seminary, Nagpur), the visionary decision of the Church made at Kandanadu almost 200 years ago “to start two Seminaries” was fully realized. Obviously the ancient Church of Malankara has grown to be a nationwide Indian Church. This Seminary will specially be oriented to the pastoral care of the parishes in North India as well as to the mission front of the Church.

Service at chappel
The mother seminary at Kottayam continues to provide all possible help to the new seminary in terms of faculty and resources. Students from Nagpur spend a semester at the Kottayam seminary. We envisage a regular exchange of students and faculty between the two seminaries in the near future