A narrative of the glorious 200 year history of OTS Kottayam
The Orthodox Theological Seminary Kottayam, popularly known as Old Seminary (Pazhaya Seminary) which completes 200 years of witness to true orthodoxy holds a unique place in the cultural history of the Kerala in South India. The history of the Seminary is part of the saga of the heroic struggles of the ancient Orthodox Christian community to preserve its identity, strengthen its spirituality and promote its ideals.
It is unique for more than one reason. The Seminary was:
- The first locale to start English education in Kerala.
- The first to have Englishmen as teachers.
- The first in Kerala to have printing press.
- The first venue to the translation of Bible into unified and standardized Malayalam vernacular.
- The first venue of the composition of Malayalam-English, English-Malayalam dictionaries.
It has been the living witness and forum of action for many great events in the history of the Malankara church. As the headquarters of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Malabar since the 19th century and as the seat of its chief metropolitan called Malankara Metropolitan and later on Catholicos, the Seminary has become a focal point in the chronicle of the ancient Orthodox Church in India.
The Seminary owes its origin to the far sightedness of Pulikkottil Ittoop Ramban (Joseph Ramban), a learned monk from Kunnamkulam who carried out with singular courage a major decision of the Church made at Kandanadu in 1809 to institute a school of theology (Padithaveedu) in the South of Kerala. The foundation stone was laid on February 18, 1813 and the construction completed by 1815. The Seminary pays due homage and is ever grateful to Gowri Parvathy Bhai, the Queen of Travancore and Col. John Munroe, the then British Resident for their unreserved support toward the initiative. The queen granted the tax free 16 acre property, Rs 20000, and the necessary timber for construction. The structure of the Old Seminary Building is called "Naalukettu"translated into English as 'central-quadrangle'.
The beginning of the Seminary synchronized with the coming of the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S) Missionaries to Kerala. The initial years witnessed cordial cooperation between the missionaries and the Church. 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. Initially called Cottayam College, the Seminary was not exclusively meant for priest training. It was a seat of English general education in the State of Travancore. In course of time it even came to be known as Syrian College. The students were taught Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Syriac and Sanskrit over and above Malayalam along with Theological subjects.
The Cottayam College remained closed for a short span of time in the mid 1800s owing to disputes and litigation between the Church and the CMS missionaries. However, in 1887 functions rejuvenated under the blessed guidance of Mar Gregorios of Parumala and later Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril, Konat Mathen Malpan, Cheriyamadathil Scariah Malpan, Fr. Skaria Elavinamannil, Fr. Alexander Mattakkal, etc… As per the decision of the Malankara Association in 1931, the training program of the Seminary was shifted to a new campus in Kottayam town in the name MD Seminary, named after Mar Dionysius. From 1933, the Seminary course came to be organized as a four year program under the leadership of Cheriyamadathil Scariah Malpan and Fr. K. David. In 1937, the course was once again shifted to the current campus, thus giving way for the name Old Seminary (Pazhaya Seminary).
The Modern Era
1965 marks the modern era of the Seminary when it was affiliated to the Serampore University as a BD College. The Federated Faculty for Research in Religion and Culture (FFRRC) started in 1980 was a milestone in the academic process enabling the Seminary to offer masters and doctoral programs. FFRRC is a joint venture of the Orthodox Theological Seminary, Marthoma Theological Seminary and Kerala United Theological Seminary, Trivandrum.
Apart from the higher theological education programs, the Seminary offers theological and non theological oriented spiritual education through its certificate and diploma courses. In 1984, the lay training program, Divyabodhanam commenced. The year 1988 witnessed the beginning of the Sruthi School of Liturgical Music. The Seminary faculty undertook a new venture of producing devotional commentaries on all New Testament books in Malayalam under the name Thiruvachanabhashyam in 1989. The Prathyasha Counselling Centre (1996) and Saroopya School of Sacred Arts (2006) were the other ventures initiated over the years. The Seminary has also brought out an encyclopedia of the Malankara Orthodox Church.
It was the good fortune of the Seminary to have received the care and blessings of eminent and venerable scholars such as Very Rev. K. David Corepiscopa, Cheriyamadathil Scariah Malpan, HH Baselius Augen I, HH Marthoma Mathews I, HG Philipose Mar Theophilus, HG Paulose Mar Gregorios, Fr. Dr. K M George and Fr. Dr. Jacob Kurian as its principals from 1942 onwards. The Seminary today continues its mission under the guidance of Fr. Dr. O. Thomas as Principal.
The modern period of the Seminary was marked by the leadership of an eminent group of internationally acclaimed professors like HG Yuhanon Mar Severius, HG Geevarghese Mar Osthathios, HG Philipose Mar Eusebius, HG Mathews Mar Barnabus, Fr. K. M. Alexander, Fr. N. K. Koruth Malpan, Fr. Dr. V. C. Samuel, Fr. Dr. T. J. Joshua and several others. At present the seminary has over 28 faculty members as permanent and visiting lecturers.
Visits of Dignitaries
The Seminary has been graced over the years by Episcopal visits of ecclesiastical heads of various churches like Armenian Catholicoses HH Vasken I and HH Kariken, Romanian Patriarch Justinian, Patriarch Pimen of Moscow and All Russia, Metropolitan Nikitas of Hong Kong, Archbishop Runcie of Canterbury and Ethiopian Patriarch Aboona Paulose, Patriarch Ilia of Georgia and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, former WCC General Secretries as well as other international delegates have also visited the Seminary on various occasions.
With the founding of a new Seminary in North India in 1995 later shifted to Nagpur and known as The St. Thomas Orthodox Theological 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 assumed its role as a global Church. This Seminary focuses on the pastoral requirements of parishes in North India as well as to the mission front of the Church. The mother seminary at Kottayam continues to provide all possible help to STOTS Nagpur in terms of faculty and resources. Students from Nagpur spend a semester at the Kottayam Seminary as part of their training.