In the 17th century, a member of the Panamkuzhy family came and settled in Kozhencherry on the banks of river Pampa. Later they moved to Maramon, and lived at Chackkalyil, on the other side of the river. The second son in that family, Mathen moved to a nearby house at Palakunnathu. He had six sons and a daughter. The daughter was married to Pavoothikunnel family and the first four sons moved to Themoottil, Neduvelil, Periyilel and Punamadom. The fifth son was a hermit priest (sanyasi achen). As was the custom, the youngest son Mathew lived at Palakunnathu family house (this house still exists). Being members of the ancient Malankara Church, many leaders were born in this family. Leader of the reformation in Malankara Church, Abraham Malpan, Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XIII); Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XIV); Titus I Mar Thoma Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XV); Titus II Mar Thoma Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XVI); were from this family. The present head of the Mar Thoma Church, Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan (Mar Thoma XXI), is also from this family.
Mathen (മാത്തൻ), the eldest son of Palakunnathu Mathew and Maraimma, was born on 25 April 1818. After 90 days he was baptised at the Maramon palli (church).
Early education was at Maramon and his teacher was Poet laureate, Chekottassan. At the age of eleven, he joined the Syrian Seminary at Kottayam. When he was thirteen he was ordained as a deacon by Mar Thoma XII. (Cheppattu Mar Dionysius). After completing education in Kerala, Deacon Mathen joined Rev. John Anderson's School (now known as Madras Christian College), at Chennai. His friend Deacon George Mathen also joined him. By 1839 they completed their education in Madras and returned home.
At that time condition of Malankara Syrian Church was in disarray and at times deplorable.
Before leaving Madras the two friends Deacon Mathen and Deacon George Mathen often hang out together and talked about their future plan. Both of them being deacons and by scholarly insight felt the condition of the Malankara Church as deplorable. Saying, "It is impossible to restore the Malankara Church," Deacon George decided to join the Anglican C.M.S. Church. But for Deacon Mathen it was about being faithful to his family's cause and that of Abraham Malpan. It is that said that in pride of youth he often talked, "As long as I am alive, I shall work only in my mother Church (Malankara Syrian Church) and will live to pull out the weeds in my Church and bring it back to its original glory of pure undiluted faith."
By this time, Deacon Mathen's uncle (father's brother) Abraham Malpan had already begun reformation in the church and made the following changes:On Sunday 27 August 1837, Kurbana (Holy Communion) was conducted in Malayalam, the language of the people.
Every year on 5 October, there was a church festival at Maramon, connected with a saint (Eldho Mor Baselios) of the church. A wooden image of Muthappen was taken around in procession and people used to offer prayers and offerings to it. In 1837, Abraham Malpan took the image and threw it into a well saying, "Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?" (Isaiah 8:19). Thus the prayers to the saints and prayers for the dead were removed from the reformed liturgy.
Changes were made in the various prayers in the prayer books incorporating various reformation theologies and insights received through the study of the Holy Bible.
The use of the revised liturgy and the changes Abraham Malpan brought about in practices offended Cheppad Philipose Mar Dionysius, who threatened him with excommunication. But Abraham Malpan informed him that if excommunicated, he would not come begging to revoke it. Marthoma XII, did not terminate or laicize him, allowed to keep the vicar position and suspended malpan from religious duties; also refused priesthood to the deacons trained under malpan, due to diversified teachings.
It was at this time Deacon Mathen returned from Madras. He realised the problems that faced him, his friends, his uncle Abraham Malpan and the clergy's who wanted a reformation in the Church. Deacon Mathen stood with his decision, "I shall live to pull out the weeds in my Church and bring it back to its original glory of pure undiluted faith."
The synod convened by the Mar Dionysius at Mavelikkara on 16 January 1836 at Mavelikkara, accepted the supremacy of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. They also stated that only bishops permitted by the Patriarch, had the authority over the Church. This made Deacon Mathen to believe and strategize to go see Patriarch for Bishopric, without permissions. Abraham Malpan was willing to sacrifice anything for a new order in Church, So he prepared letters, motivated & supported to this decision. Because of the difficulties of traveling from Kerala to Antioch, no one from Malankara Church had ever attempted to go to Antioch before. Deacon Mathen was the first one to attempt this tedious journey.
Deacon Mathen was ordained by Moran Mor Elias Patriarch under the Episcopal title, Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan, at Mardin on 17 February 1842. He was appointed as the Metropolitan there and was given charge of a diocese. After about a year, Mar Athanasius left for India.
Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan returned to Kerala on 17 May 1843 and was received by a number of parish priests and laymen. While he was at Cochin, his teacher Konattu Varghese Malpan arrived there with his followers. He advised the Metropolitan that people of Malankara Church would accept him as their Metropolitan, but if he began reformation, people would not. He realised that he could not make reforms easily.
Soon after his return to Kerala, he paid a visit to the then ruling Maharaja (king) of Travancore, Swathi Thirunal. Both of them were fluent in Malayalam, English and Arabic. So their conversations were extended to happenings in western Asia through these languages.
The Malankara Church was following the teachings of Jesus as told to them by St. Thomas & St. Bartholomew and had copies of the original Peshittha Bible, i.e. NEATSB. But things changed with the arrival of Vasco Da Gama on Sunday 20 May 1498. The teachings of the Roman Catholic Church were inculcated into the original teachings – Prayers to and for the dead, Veneration of icons, Celibacy of priests, and so on. Many other practices of the Malankara Church become deplorable. So he and his friends stood at the helm of reformation movement that was already there in the church pioneered by Abraham Malpan, a practice of bringing the church to its radix form as Bible Principles.
His whole time he spent in bringing his Church to the Bible and to its "original purity" as evoked by Abraham Malpan.
In 1856 inspired by the Anglican missionaries cooperated in the Old Syrian Seminary at Kottayam, he printed and distributed prayer books in Malayalam, leaving out prayer to Saint Mary.
Holy Communion services were conducted in Malayalam the language of the people of Malabar. While with the Patriarch at Antioch, he was asked to preach at worship services. He continued this new practice after coming to Kerala. He encouraged clergy to read the Bible and interpret it to the common people of parishes.
Allowed Tamil missionaries to preach at various churches.
He was against honouring icons and statues, so he removed the statue of Saint Mary from Manarcaud Church (near Kottayam), and at Puthupally church, near Kottayam.
Mar Athanasius was a social reformer also. He did a lot of things to help to improve the conditions of the society. Some of the schools were run by the Malankara Church. Mar Athanasius advised the government to give some of grant to the schools as an encouragement. Government approved this proposal and gave grants to more than sixty schools. Without the difference in caste, creed or color people approached Mar Athanasius with their grievances for help from him. Christians were forced to work on Sundays and do menial work in Hindu temples at other times. Punishments were severe, if they disobeyed. Mar Athanasius put an end to all these. His friendship with the Maharajas, government and its officials were of great help in this area.
Mar Athanasius went to the Patriarch of Antioch without the permission, of Mar Thoma XII. He was educated in a school run by British missionaries. His uncle Abraham Malpan was the leader of the reformation. Because of all these, though he returned as a Metropolitan there were objections from among the Malankara Church. They later wrote to Antioch their objections and as a result Patrarch sent Euyakim Mar Coorilos Metropolitan to Kerala and from then on Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch introduced "registered deed of submission" for being consecrated as a metropolitan bishop.
In 1852, Mar Thoma XII, Cheppattu Philipose Mar Dionysius' deteriorating health led to abdication. During the days of Mar Thoma VII (1808–09) a sum of 3000 star pagoda (Poovarahan) was given by Col.Macaulay as an investment in perpetuity with East India Company for the church activities; Value of one star pagoda coin is equivalent to 3.50 INR in the current currency system. For giving the interest for this amount known as Vattipanam then, the government had to find out who the head was.
Mar Athanasius was approved by the governments of Travancore and Cochin as Malankara Metropolitan on 30 August 1852. after Cheppattu Philipose Mar Dionysius abdicated due to ill health. Because of this he was able to collect the interest of Vattipanam for the past 45 years, from the government. This did not please some of the members of the Church.
In 1856, Mar Athanasius ordained Ouseph Mar Coorilose as Metropolitan of Malabar Independent Syrian Church.
Mar Athanasius used to visit parishes stayed there for a few days and meet the people of the parish. During that period, he appointed officers to conduct the financial matters efficiently. Some members did not like this.
Mar Athanasius established a printing press at Kottayam for the use of the Church. There, the liturgy was printed and published, omitting the prayers to Saint Mary and other saints. This infuriated a few priests. Those who opposed the Metropolitan, published another book with all these prayers included.
During his time Reformation of the Church became strong. Ouseph Kathanar from Kunnamkulam, who objected to Reformation went to Antioch and was consecrated as Joseph Mar Dionysius on 3 April 1865. After his return, those who opposed Mathews Mar Athanasius invited the Patriarch of Antioch. The large majority of the people were conservative and the reformist party was a very small minority. Thus a large majority joined the Patriarch of Antioch.
Ignatius Pathrose III, Patriarch of Antioch arrived in June 1875 at Kunnamkulam. On his way he visited Istanbul, London and Madras.
Mar Athanasius ordainedMaramon Palakunnathu Thomas Kassessa under the name Thomas Mar Athanasius as his successor on 1 June 1868.
Aarthatt Alathoor Ouseph Kathanar under the name Ouseph Mar Coorilos of Malabar Independent Syrian Church in 1856.
Kochaypera of Mulanthuruthy Chathuruthy family was ordained as Koraya (sub-deacon) on 14 September 1858, at Karingachira (was reordained in 1864). Later he became Gheevarghese Mar Gregorios of Parumala, he died on 2 November 1902 and was laid to rest at Parumala Church. Later he was a canonised saint of the Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church and is also known in common tongue as Parumala Thirumeni.
Cheppad Philipose Mar Dionysius was seriously ill and was living at Cheppad. He had no one to care for him. Mar Athanasius went to Cheppad made arrangement to care for him and visited the parishes nearby till he died on 9 October 1855. The funeral service was conducted by Mar Athanasius.
Mar Coorilos became sick and was at Mulanthuruthy church. He visited him and comforted him. Mar Coorilos died on 2 September 1874.
Metropolitan died on 16 July 1877, after being bitten by a rat on 16 July 1877, and was laid to rest at Maramon Palli (church).
Soon after the demise of Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan the Malankara Church was involved in a case for the properties of the Church in Kerala between the two factions of the church, and the Royal court verdicted on 12 July 1889, in favor of the traditionalist faction .