His Grace Abraham Mor Clemis (Chief Metropolitan of the east)


His Grace Abraham Mar Clemis, the head of the Knanaya Church and the senior-most Metropolitan in India has become the longest-serving bishop in the history of the Malankara Syrian Church after the historical `Koonankurisu Satyam' in 1653. Mor Clemis Abraham completed 18,744 days (51 years and four months) as Metropolitan after being ordained on April 15, 1951, by Patriarch of Antioch, Ignathios Mar Aprem I, in Syria.

 V.I. Oonnittan or Oonnikunju was born in the Vayala family at Vaikom,a suburb of Ranni, on April 22 1918 as the son of Mr. Idiculla Kochidiculla Vayala and Pennamma Kalarickal as the sixth of their nine children He had his primary education at the Govt. Lower primary School at Vaikom and secondary education in M.S. Middle School. In 1936, he graduated from St.Mary's English high school in Alwaye. while he was in the High School he stayed at the Thrikkunnathu Seminary in Alwaye under the guardianship of the late Paulose Mar Athanasios Metropolitan. In 1937, he joined C. M. S. College Kottayam where he passed his Intermediate Exam. Then he joined St. Xavier's College in Palayamkotta and passed the B. A. Exam in 1941. He pursued his Master's degree in Political Science at Annamalai University and graduated from there with honors.A graduate in Theology and Political Sciences, Mor Clemis studied at Seminaries in Manjinikkara, Alwaye, Mosul, Homs, and Union Theological Seminary in New York. Consecrated Knanaya Diocesan Bishop in 1951, Mor Clemis served that office for 52 years. He was indeed a good shepherd and he tended his flock with diligence and faithfulness.

During his initial years as Bishop, Mor Clemis provided inspiration, and vision to a diocese that had been without a Bishop for the previous 20 years. With prayer, leadership and good counsel, Mor Clemis worked with the community leaders to organize itself. New churches, convents, and retreat centers were established. Young men and women were actively recruited to membership in the clergy. The Church constitution was amended and updated for effective administration of parishes and other institutions. Educational institutions and an orphanage were established. Encouraged and initiated many charitable works such as giving away 1000 plus homes for the financially challenged and establishing a widow fund for the financially deprived women.

Being blessed with great administrative capability and political acumen, Mor Clemis also immersed himself with spiritual and temporal matters of the larger Christian community in India and abroad. In recognition of his services and leadership, Mor Clemis was given important responsibilities and honors Mor Clemis established himself as the veritable leader of not only the Knanaya Community but also of the Malankara Church. As a result he was elected as the Malankara Metropolitan in 1957.

In 1982, recognizing his leadership and wisdom, His Holiness the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, decorated Mor Clemis with the highest honor a bishop can receive, the title of 'Kubernithi Hakimo' which means ‘Wise Captain.’. Again in1989 His Holiness bestowed on Mor Clemis the position of 'the Chief Metropolitan of the East' recognizing his continued contributions to the whole Indian Christian Community. It is a position similar to that of the Catholicose. Mor Clemis made ecclesiastical visits to Ethiopia, Russia, the Middle East and many European countries. In 1956 the late Emperor Haile Selasse of Ethiopia was the guest of honor of Mor Clemis. at Mar Ephraim Seminary, the headqurters of the Knanaya Diocese in Chingavanam.

Clemis Thirumeni was a key player in the Kerala politics. His political influence was so powerful that even Mrs. Indira Gandhi went to his seminary in Chingavanam in 1970 to ask for his support as well as his advice. In 1997 none other than the then Vice-President of India Mr. K.R. Narayanan inaugurated the bishop’s Jubilee celebrations. The Community celebrated the Episcopal Jubilee of Mor Clemis on a grand scale in 2000 and His Holiness the Patriarch blessed the occasion with his presence.

Mor Clemis was warmly welcomed by the present Pope John Paul on two occasions in the company of His Holiness the Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Zacha Iwas I. Mor Clemis was also a guest at the palace of the late President of Syria, Hafez Al Asaad He was a member of the World Council of Churches and attended several of its meetings. Mor Clemis was a sage and a saint. He was a sage because he gave wise counsel not only to the religious community but also to many politicians in Kerala who sought his counsel. He was a peace maker as well as a king maker. He mediated and settled many disputes between the two factions of the Jacobite churches as well as helped ease tensions between Hindus and Christians at several occasions. This he achieved by his strong belief in religious tolerance and Christian principles. Those political leaders who heeded his advice did well in their political career.

Mor Clemis passed away at the Lissie Hospital in Ernakulam on September 29, 2002 at 11:30 pm. At the time of his departure, Mor Clemis was the senior most Metropolitan of the Syriac Orthodox Church all over the world and the longest serving bishop in the history of the Malankara Church. His mortal remains were interred in the Mor Aphrem church at the St. John's Dayro, Chingavanam on October 1, 2002 after funeral rites officiated by HB Catholicos Mor Baselius Thomas I, Mor Yulius Yeshu` sisek of Europe, and other Metropolitans of Malankara.

Mor Clemis could also be called a saint because he showed qualities of a saint such as concern for the betterment and wellbeing of the poor,fought against social injustice and political oppression. He practiced chastity and poverty. He usually ate only vegetarian food and that too very moderately, just enough to survive and not to indulge. He slept on a single bed with no mattress, but only a mat and a single sheet to cover his body. He had big calluses on knuckles and on his knees due to prostration during his prayers at several times during the day and at night. For an outsider his regal appearance and commanding presence gave the impression that was contrary to his inner nature of an ascetic. According to the Orthodox Christian faith a saint is also one whose soul is gone to heaven.