Elias III was the 118th legitimate successor to St. Peter
on the Holy Patriarchal See of Antioch. The second son of Chorepiscopus Abraham and Maryam, he was born in Mardin
and named in baptism Nasri. He had 4
brothers and 3 sisters. After the death of his mother,
Nasri was raised in the care of his elder sister Helena.
He worked as a goldsmith in his teens and served in the
government briefly for 3 months. At Patriarch Peter IV's
direction, Nasri joined the theological school in the name
of the forty martyrs. In 1887, he joined Deir al-Za`faran
and was ordained deacon in 1887 by
Patriarch Peter IV. He became a sharwoyo
(novitiate) in 1888 and a monk in 1889 upon which he took
the name Elias. Elias was ordained qashisho
(priest; lit. presbyter) in 1892 by Patriarch Peter IV. In
the waning years of the 19th century, numerous Armenian
and Syriac Christians were massacred in Turkey. Qashisho
Elias endeared himself to the Armenian Christians
providing refuge for about 7000 in the monastery of Mor
Kyriakos. He was later appointed the reesh dayroyo
of the Mor Quryaqos as well as Deir al-Za`faran. In 1908
Qashisho Elias was consecrated bishop of Amid (Diyarbakr)
Patriarch `Abded Aloho II with the name Mor Iwanius.
In 1912, he was transferred to Mosul where he served until
his elevation to the patriarchate in 1917. After Patriarch
`Abde d-Aloho passed away on Nov 26, 1915, Mor Iwanius was
elected Patriarch and assumed the throne in 1917. The
firman (decree) was issued by the Ottoman sultan
Muhammad Rashid, who Patriarch Elias III visited in 1919
at Istanbul; the sultan conferred the Usmania medal on the
Patriarch during the visit. In 1922, when civil war broke
out in Turkey and Gazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha assumed
leadership of the newly formed democracy, Mor Elias III
spent a few months in Jerusalem. He established a printing
press there and began publication of journals in Syriac
Patriarch Mor Elias III at
Bethlehem in 1924.
Source: Anton Kiraz's Archive.
III was the last Patriarch to reign at the
Kurkmo Dayro (Deir Za`faran) in Mardin, the seat of
the Patriarchate for most of the second millenium.
Following the massacre of the Syriac Christians in South
East Turkey in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire and
during World War I, the Patriarch was forced to leave
Mardin. In the aftermath of the saypho massacres,
Mor Elias III undertook pastoral tours in the Middle East,
the first in 1919 and the second in 1925 to Aleppo and
Jerusalem. Mor Elias III held a synod
Dayro d-Mor Matay in 1930.
Irwin, then British Viceroy to India, wrote to the
Patriarch on December 1, 1930 requesting his intervention
in person or through a delegate in resolving the schism
that had erupted in the Malankara Church. His Holiness
responded to the Viceroy's letter accepting his invitation
with certain conditions on December 15, 1930. Given his
cardiac problems, his doctors attempted to dissuade him
from the trip in vain. His 75 year old sister also could
not persuade the Patriarch; His Holiness said to her,
"Death is inevitable whether here or in India; I would
rather sacrifice my life for the sake of our children in
Malankara." Mor Elias III left Mosul on February 6, 1931
accompanied by Mor Clemis Yuhanon
Abbachi, Rabban Quryaqos (later Mor Ostathios Quryaqos),
and Rabban Yeshu` Samuel (later
Mor Athanasius Samuel of North America), his secretary
Zkaryo Shakir (his brother Joseph's son) and translator
Elias Ghaduri. They set sail to India on February 28, 1931
from Basra on the ship "Warsova" and disembarked at the
Karachi port on March 5, 1931. They were received at
Karachi by the Patriarchal Delegate
Mor Yulius Elias Qoro,
Mor Athanasius Paulos of Alwaye and several clergymen
and faithful. On March 6, 1931, the Patriarch and his
entourage proceeded to Delhi by train reaching there on
the 8th and visited Lord Irwin. On March 14th, the
Patriarch arrived at Madras and stayed as a guest of the
British Governor Sir George Staly. From there, he arrived
at the Thrikkunathu Seminary in Alwaye on March 21st, and
offered the divine liturgy there on March 22nd.
Elias III convened conciliatory meetings at Alwaye,
Karingachira, Panampady and Kuruppumpady. The Patriarch
lead the passion week services at
Karingachira. A church delegates meeting was held at
Kuruppumpady on July 5, 1931. The denho
(Epiphany) services in January 1932 were at the church in
February 11, 1932, at the invitation of Qashisho Kuriakos
Elavinamannil, the Patriarch arrived at the Manjinikkara
Mor Stephanos church from Kallissery. The inability to
bring about reconciliation in the church had weighed down
heavily on the Patriarch; moreover, the hardships of the
long travel had taken its toll on His Holiness. On
arriving at Manjinikkara, the Patriarch said, "This place
offers us much comfort; we desire to remain here
permanently." On February 12th, His Holiness requested the
priests who came to visit him not to leave for a couple of
days. In the evening, the Patriarch recited many prayers
of the qandilo (unction) and contemplated on the
departed. On February 13th, Mor Clemis Yuhanon
Abbachi offered the Holy Qurbono; His Holiness
gave the sermon during the liturgy. After the noon prayers
and lunch, as was his routine, the Patriarch spent time
recording events in his journal; he asked for a dictionary
to get clarification for the meaning of a word. Following
that, he paced about complaining of pain in his head. Soon
he fainted and was placed on a cot by the monks where he
slipped away into eternal rest at 2:30 pm. Many eye
witnesses recount the deep gloom that cast its spell in
the area that evening and the wails of the monks who
accompanied the Patriarch.
opinions arose regarding the final resting place for the
Patriarch—a situation that the church in Malankara never
had to confront before. The decision was in favor of
interring the mortal remains in a plot of land to the
north of the Mor Stephanos church, the title deed of which
was transferred to the Patriarchate. On February 14th, the
funeral services for His Holiness were held there. The
Mor Ignatios Dayro church was built by the Patriarchal
delegate Mor Yulius Elias Qoro over the tomb of the late
memory of the holy Patriarch is revered throughout the
Syriac Orthodox Church and especially in Malankara where
thousands of pilgrims reach the tomb by foot on the annual
feast day, February 13, from various parts of the Kerala
state. Mor Elias III is the only Patriarch of Antioch
whose remains are interred in Malankara and his tomb
stands as a towering symbol of the sacrifices made by the
Syriac fathers to nurture the church in Malankara.
October 20, 1987, Patriarch Mor Zakka I through encyclical E265/87
permitted the Church in Malankara to remember his name in
the fifth diptych.
Tomb of Patriarch Elias III
Source: Photos taken in December 2000.
Kiraz, G.A. (ed.), The
Encyclopedic Dictionary of Syriac Heritage.
- Souvenir of
St. George's Church, Karingachira, 1980.
- Christine Chaillot,
The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the
East, (Geneva: Inter-Orthodox Dialogue, 1998),
- Paulos, Rabban Aphrem,
The Fathers from al-Sham (trans. to Malayalam
by Fr. T.J. Abraham, Sheemakkaraya Pithakkanmar)
(Manjinikkara: Mor Ignatios Dayro, 1964).
- John, V.C. H.H.
Moran Mor Ignatius Elias III (Malayalam) (Chingavanam:
S.J. Book Depot, 1982).
- Kulathramannil, Fr.
Joseph, Suriyani sabha jyothissukal (Malayalam)
(Udayagiri: Seminary Publications, 1996).
- Kaniamparambil, V.
Rev. Curian, Five Saints (Malayalam) (Thiruvalla:
- Rajan, Fr. K.M., "St.
Patriarch Ignatius Elias III" (Malayalam), The
Journal of the Kottayam Diocese 8:11 (February