Joseph Thekkedath Puthenkudy
ܝܵܘܤܸܦ ܬܸܟܸܕܵܐܬ ܦܘܼܛܲܢܟܘܼܕܝܼ
Call Number : PER-26
A passionate promoter of the Syria heritage in India
©2021 Joseph J. Palackal
ܝܵܘܤܸܦ ܬܸܟܸܕܵܐܬ ܦܘܼܛܲܢܟܘܼܕܝܼ
A passionate promoter of the Syriac heritage in India
Endowed with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a prodigious memory, Joseph Thekkedath Puthenkudy (Rocky) stepped into the Syriac wonderland as a young boy with little awareness of what was in store for him. Joseph's maternal grandmother, a Jacobite, followed the Antiochene liturgy (in West Syriac) of the Malankara Catholic Church. She took her grandson on Sundays to celebrate the liturgy in the Malankara Catholic church in the neighborhood. The haunting Syriac melodies of the Malankara liturgy nestled in the child's brain. The fledgling interest in Syriac chants eventually led to an attraction toward the Syriac language. Joseph's paternal church, the Syro Malabar Church, had already relinquished its Syriac connection in the process of modernization. As a teenager, he used to think that only the Jacobites and the Malankarites were Syriac Christians. Joseph's realization that he, too, was a Syriac Christian changed his self-awareness and the course of his life.
Meanwhile, one day, Joseph happened to find a collection of old Syriac books that the sacristan of his local Syro Malabar parish had thrown away in the garbage box. Joseph asked the vicar, Fr. Joseph Kozhikkadan, permission to take those books home. The vicar readily granted permission, and the interaction between the two led to a life-long friendship and admiration. One church's garbage became a young man's treasure. The Syriac genie burst out of the bottle. Joseph's life would change forever, like in a picturesque novel. Possession of that treasure prompted him to learn to read and write the Syriac language and immerse himself in the study of the Syriac heritage in India. Joseph never turned back. Even when the Syro Malabar Church walked away from its Syriac heritage, Joseph kept walking into it.
DESIRE FOR MINISTERIAL PRIESTHOOD
In retrospect, Joseph's early exposure to Syriac chants and books instilled an attraction toward ministerial priesthood. Although Syriac was not a timely topic of conversation among peers, Joseph could not help talking about it in place and out of place. Soon, ecclesiastical authorities began to take note of Joseph. Even the heads of sui juris Churches began to pay attention to Joseph's knowledge and interest in the Syriac language and Eastern liturgies. George Cardinal Alencherry, Head of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, and Louis Raphael Cardinal Sako, Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, became counselors and benefactors who played a crucial role in pursuing Joseph's dream.
A HISTORICAL JOURNEY TO THE LAND OF ABRAHAM
Joseph decided to embed himself in the Syriac world as part of his priestly formation. Patriarch Sako personally intervened and helped Joseph to get a visa to go to Iraq in 2018. However, the first attempt to enter the country failed due to security situations caused by the political upheaval in the country. After three weeks of painful waiting, Joseph landed in the country. That was a historical event in the line of Anthony Kudakkachira in the 19th century and Fr. Emmanuel Thelly, CMI, in the 20th century. Initially, being a part of the world where Syriac, Surath (vernacular Syriac), and Arabic are functional languages was a challenge, but Joseph faced that challenge joyfully and earnestly. Soon, Joseph was able to join the community prayers using the Syriac Hudra (Office of the Hours).
Ever since Joseph arrived at the seminary, the Patriarch kept a close watch on his progress in the study of Syriac and other subjects. Impressed by Joseph's vast knowledge of the history and liturgy of the Eastern Churches, Patriarch decided to ordain Joseph as a Subdeacon. The ordination took place on 9 September 2019, during a sixty-minute long solemn ceremony at the private chapel of the Patriarch. Bishop Basilios Eldo, the Auxiliary to the Patriarch, Dr. Ekhlass-Mccdassy, secretary to the Patriarch, Sr. Afa, Mother Superior of the local convent of the Chaldean nuns, Fr. Paul Thymottil, CMI and Fr. George Paruthy, CMI along with the priests and members at the Patriarchal Seminary attended the ceremony. Joseph happened to be the first Indian to receive minor Orders from the Patriarch of Babylon.
SYRIAC AND SURATH
Joseph's knowledge of Surath makes him unique. Currently, Joseph may be the only Syro Malabarian who can speak Surath. A dictionary of Surath is one of the several projects that Joseph is currently working on. In Iraq, Joseph used his time to gather as much information on the Syriac tradition in the sister church as possible and collect many primary source materials that may be useful for future researchers on history, language, and liturgy well as music.
JOSEPH AND THE ARAMAIC PROJECT: A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
The Aramaic Project and Joseph is a match made in heaven. The project's website became an apt forum for preserving the writings of Joseph on Syriac-related topics and the source materials that he collected, starting from his teenage years. Joseph's computer skills to type chant texts in East Syriac script became a great help for the ongoing digital Encyclopedia of Syriac Chants. More importantly, Joseph's sojourn in the terrains of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq helped the Aramaic Project to expand its geographical domain from India to the Middle East. Joseph's first video was on the cave associated with St. Thomas the Apostle at Mangesh, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq (Aramaic Project III.1 https://youtu.be/QYZhDYRcuaU). Joseph visited the place along with Rev. Dr. Yoshia Sana, the local Parish priest, who described the significance of the cave. With this video, we inaugurated the Part III of the Aramaic Project. We hope to post more videos and audio recordings from the region from Joseph's collection shortly. But for Joseph, we would not have had access to this part of the world and this phase of the church's history. Furthermore, we would not have known that there is a place in Iraq associated with our father in faith. We posted an interview with Joseph in 2018 (Aramaic Project-104 https://youtu.be/vB6qGIXfpOE). It is worth watching Joseph's Iraq story in conjunction with the CMI mission to Iraq in the twentieth century (. https://youtu.be/MZZx2-0HuZs).
It is not yet time to conclude this story. Joseph has only started his journey. Fortunately, Joseph has an uncanny ability to accommodate to uncertainties and draw strength from the words of Abraham, our father in faith, to Isaac on the way to Mount Moriah:" God …. will provide" (Gn 22:8). The Christian Musicological Society wishes Joseph the very best and looks forward to many years of mutual collaboration
- Joseph Thekkadath Puthenkudy in conversation with Dr. Joseph J. Palackal, CMI. Aramaic Project 104. https://youtu.be/vB6qGIXfpOE. Accessed on 29 July 2020.
- St. Thomas at Mangesh. Aramaic Project-III.1. https://youtu.be/QYZhDYRcuaU. Accessed 29 July 2020
- Fr. Emmanuel Thelly, CMI, in conversation with Dr. Joseph J. Palackal, CMI. https://youtu.be/MZZx2-0HuZs. Accessed 30 July 2020.