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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.

In 1926, on behalf of the Synod of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, Mar Ivanios contacted the Holy See regarding the reestablishment of full communion between the two churches, provided that the Holy See would recognize the validity of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox priesthood and episcopacy, the right to preserve the existing diocesan structures and the right to use the Western Syriac liturgy.

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. Today, the flourishing Syro-Malankara Catholic Church numbers more than 300,000 people; while Bethany continues to enliven the hearts of thousands, attracting a number of young men and women to its ranks.

Joseph Kurumilla, a 20-year-old seminarian, decided at the tender age of 15 to leave his middle-class family for the simple life of a Bethany monk. He entered the ashram at 17, and has embarked on a path of religious and intellectual pursuit that will lead 15 years later to his ordination as a priest.

The Bethany Sisters’ motherhouse in Kottayam is a spiritual powerhouse where temporarily professed sisters spend a few years in prayer, study and work before taking their final vows. Pure and virtuous, the sisters are nevertheless wholeheartedly human and very Indian. They are fully aware of the outside world and eager to go and serve the poor and sick.

“Bethany is the church within the church,” Sister Philomena explained. “Its role within the Syro-Malankara Church is like that of the heart in the body. Its charism is the spiritual renovation of the Syro-Malankara Church, particularly through its apostolic activities. One of our main apostolates is education.”

Today the Bethany community operates some 100 lower and upper primary schools, 65 nursery schools, 28 secondary schools, 3 university colleges, a teacher-training college and several other vocational training centers. Mar Ivanios University in Trivandrum is one of the premiere institutions of higher learning in Kerala, educating more than 3,000 students per year.

Ecumenical activities, family visits, catechism, preaching, mission work, care for the sick (the Bethany community runs several hospitals, leprosy eradication projects and preventive health care programs) and care for the handicapped, the elderly and orphaned children are all important apostolates.

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Tags: India Sisters Priests Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Vocations (religious)