22 May 2013
Novices of the Bethany community pray in their chapel near Kottayam, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Yesterday, CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar met with Mother Benjamin, S.I.C., superior of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Sisters of the Imitation of Christ, better known as the Bethany Sisters. In our magazine, we’ve discussed the history and work of these sisters at length:
[T]he Sisters of the Imitation of Christ, commonly called the Bethany Sisters, were founded “to follow Christ in an Indian way.”
Although such a purpose appears progressive, this religious community, which is paired with a community for men, was founded more than 75 years ago by one of the most gifted men of the 20th century church — Mar Ivanios, the first Syro-Malankara Catholic Archbishop of Trivandrum. While less than a century old, Bethany reflects the joys and sorrows borne for nearly 2,000 years by the Indian Church. …
Resistance to the Portuguese, explained Cyril Mar Baselios, O.I.C., the present Syro-Malankara Catholic Archbishop of Trivandrum, culminated in Cochin in 1653 with the historic Coonan Cross Oath.
A kind man whose gentle face hides a formidable intellect, Mar Baselios recounted that all who touched the cross and a long cord attached to it cast their vote to depart from the Latinized church. …
After this great schism of the Indian Church, there were at least four unsuccessful attempts to reestablish full communion between the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of Rome. …
[Newly elevated Bishop Ivanios] challenged the bishops, priests and laity of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church to “bring all the Syrian Christians of Kerala, who formed one church formerly, into true union once again so that the biblical ideal of ‘one fold and one pastor’ may become a reality.”
Several months later, Mar Ivanios received the vows of three women, thus instituting the Bethany Sisters and completing his vision of a monastic community of men and women in the service of renewal. …
On 20 September 1930, Mar Ivanios and Mar Theophilos, Bishop of Tiruvalla — along with two Bethany monks and a layman — were received into the Catholic Church. After a prayerful but painful period of reflection, the entire community of Bethany Sisters affirmed their communion with the Church of Rome. The properties on which Bethany was founded, however, were lost; the newly constituted Syro-Malankara Catholic Church began penniless.
The charism of Bethany, however, and its spirit of renewal carried Mar Ivanios and his small flock through some difficult times.
To learn more, read Following Christ in an Indian Way.
Tags: India Sisters Cultural Identity Indian Christians Syro-Malankara Catholic Church