Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah, Bishop in South India and Evangelist, 1945

Bishop V. Samuel Azariah

The first Indian bishop of the Anglican Church in India, Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah was born in 1874 in a small village in one of the most economically deprived areas of South India (now in the state of Andrha Pradesh), the son of Thomas Vedanayagam, an Anglican priest, and Ellen, a woman with a deep love and understanding of the holy Scriptures. Samuel became a YMCA evangelist at nineteen and secretary of the organization throughout South India only a few years later. He saw that, for the Church in India to grow and to bring ordinary Indians to Jesus Christ, it had to have indigenous leadership. He helped create the Tinnevelly-based Indian Missionary Society in 1903, and was a co-founder of the National Missionary Society of India, an all-India, Indian-led agency founded in December 1905. At the age of thirty-five he was ordained to the presbyterate, and three years later (December, 1912) he was consecrated as the first bishop of the new Diocese of Dornakal, with eleven bishops of the Anglican Church in India participating in the liturgy at St Paul’s Cathedral in Calcutta. Bishop Azariah was the first Indian to be consecrated a bishop in the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

As bishop, his work moved from primary evangelism to forwarding his desire for more Indian clergy and the need to raise their educational standards. By 1924, the ordained leadership of the Diocese of Dornakal included eight English-born priests and fifty-three Indian clergy. Bishop Azariah was also an avid ecumenist and one of the first to see the importance, indeed the necessity, of a united Church to mission and evangelism (a passion that would be taken up by others in India, like the missionary Lesslie Newbigin). Azariah died on January 1, 1945, two years before the inauguration of the united Church of South India.

In The History of Nandyal Diocese in Andhra Pradesh, Constance Millington writes,

Azariah had two great priorities in his work: evangelism and the desire for Christian unity.

He understood evangelism to be the acid test of Christianity. When asked what he would preach about in a village that had never heard of Christ, Azariah answered without hesitation: ‘The resurrection.’ From a convert he demanded full acceptance of Christianity which would include baptism and which could therefore include separation from family and caste. He claimed that Christianity took its origin in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outburst of supernatural power that this society manifested in the world.

Azariah recognised that because four-fifths of Indian people live in villages, for the Church to be an indigenous one it must be a rural Church. He was constantly in the villages, inspiring and guiding the teachers, clergy and congregations. He blamed the missionaries for not training people in evangelism, and thought their teaching had been mission centred instead of Church centred, and he pleaded with missionaries to build up the Indian Church. Much of the Christian outreach in his area was among the outcast people. Gradually as Christianity spread amongst the villages, the social situation began to change, the Christian outcasts gaining a new self-respect as they realised their worth in the eyes of God.

Azariah considered that one of the factors that hampered evangelism, and possibly the deepening of the spiritual life of the convert, was the western appearance of the Church in both its buildings and its services. As early as 1912 he has visions of a cathedral for the diocese to be built in the eastern style, where all Christians could feel spiritually at hom regardless of their religious background and race. Building was delayed because of the Great War in Europe, but finally his dream was realised when the cathedral of The Most Glorious Epiphany was consecrated on January 6, 1936. The building is a beautiful structure embodying ideas from Christian, Hindu and Moslem architecture. Its dignity and spaciousness create a very different effect from that of the nineteenth and twentieth century Gothic churches and furnishings scattered elsewhere in India. (N.B. For a description of the Cathedral Church of the Epiphany in Dornakal, see here. Also scroll up to the preceding page at this site for a description of Bishop Azariah’s indigenization of the liturgy.)

If evangelisation of India was Azariah’s first priority, the second was that of Church unity. He was the two as inter-related. He believed that a united Church was in accordance with the will of God, ‘that we may all be one’, and he also believed that a United Church would be more effective for evangelism. Addressing the Lambeth Conference in 1930 he pleaded:

“In India we wonder if you have sufficiently contemplated the grievous sin of perpetuating your divisions and denominational bitterness in these your daughter churches. We want you to take us seriously when we say that the problem of union is one of life and death. Do not, we plead with you, do no give us your aid to keep us separate, but lead us to union so that you and we may go forward together and fulfil the prayer, ‘That we may all be one.'”

    Prepared from material in Celebrating the Saints (compiled by Robert Atwell), A History of the Church of England in India (The Right Revd Eyre Chatterton), and others.

The Collect

O God, our heavenly Father, who raised up your faithful servant Samuel Azariah to be a bishop and pastor in your Church and to feed your flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Bishop Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah is commemorated in the sanctoral calendar of the Church of England on January 2.

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30 thoughts on “Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah, Bishop in South India and Evangelist, 1945

  1. To whom it may concern:

    I am a PhD student at Boston University, focusing on the history of Christian missions. I am in the process of helping my advisor put together a website dedicated to missiological texts. Right now I am putting together a page for V.S. Azariah. I am unable to find a picture of him anywhere but on your website. Would you give me permission to copy that picture from your site (http://imsdelhibranch.googlepages.com/bishopasaria.jpg/bishopasaria-full.jpg) and put in on our site? If you would like to have a look at our site to see what we’re doing, please do! It is located at: http://digilib.bu.edu/mission/

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Sincerely,
    Anneke
    anneke@bu.edu

  2. Nice anneka! I have photo of Bishop Azariah. Iam from the native place of Bishop Azariah. i have sent mail to you.

    Also i am thankful to this site who posted about Bishop Azariah!

    Regards,
    G.Stanley John

  3. Bishop Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah ,
    Bharat Rartna and to be beautified as the saint hood from india as a outstanding personality in evangelism and ecumenism .
    In 1929 under the leadership of late Bishop The Rt.Rev.Vedanayakam Azariah,established Dornakal Diocesan School for girls towards empowerment of the girls,untill that time most of the girls were sent to either to madras or to hyderabad for high school studies. its late Bishop Azariah whao initiated to start a high school at vijayawada.the school was named as “Bishop Azariah high school for girls”after the demise of the great Bishop Azariah.now under the leadership The Rt.Rev.Dr.Govada Dyvasirvadam the school is upgraded upto Degree college with hostel facilities now still catering the educational needs of the millions of indians who were below the poverty line.the school celebrated its platinum Jubilee in the presence of the governor of Andhrapradesh.the krishna-Godavari diocese is privileged to have a feather of such a school in its crown. the
    entire credit goes to the legend Bishop Vedanayakam Azariah. may the lord rise up such godly men in the days to come.my tribute to the departed soul,may his name be called until the lords come.

  4. Your brief sketch about the life and work of Bishop Azariah is very much useful and enlightening but for a minor error which I hope you would correct after verifying the facts. You have given that the Birth Place of Bishop Azariah is now in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This is incorrect. The Birth Place is Vellalan Vilai village which is very much in Tamil Nadu state in India. It now is in the Thoothukudi Nazareth Diocese which was formerly a part of the Tinneveli Diocese. In the village there is now a Higher Secondary School ,named after him. Also a Teacher Training College has been established in a nearby village Called Meignanapuram in Bishop Azariah’s name.

  5. Your brief sketch about the life and the work of Bishop Azariah is very much useful and enlightening but for a minor error which I hope you would correct after verifying the facts. You have given that the Birth Place of Bishop Azariah is now in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This is incorrect. The Birth Place is Vellalan Vilai village which is very much in Tamil Nadu state in India. It now is in the Thoothukudi Nazareth Diocese which was formerly a part of the Tinneveli Diocese. In the village there is now a Higher Secondary School ,named after him. Also a Teacher Training College has been established in a nearby village Called Meignanapuram in Bishop Azariah’s name.

  6. […] “In India we wonder if you have sufficiently contemplated the grievous sin of perpetuating your divisions and denominational bitterness in these your daughter churches. We want you to take us seriously when we say that the problem of union is one of life and death. Do not, we plead with you, do no give us your aid to keep us separate, but lead us to union so that you and we may go forward together and fulfil the prayer, ‘That we may all be one.’” Prepared from material in Celebrating the Saints (compiled by Robert Atwell), A History of the Church of England in India (The Right Revd Eyre Chatterton), and others by Todd Granger at https://confessingreader.wordpress.com/2008/01/03/vedanayagam-samuel-azariah-bishop-in-south-india-an… […]

  7. hai i am very proud to see this site. i am a pastor after 100 years in the birth place bishop v.s.azaria. i am going to make a research of his work and his birth place

  8. I apreciate that what you have mentioned about Bishop VS Azariah,But some confusion in his native place whether he borned in tinnevelli or Andhra Pradesh.Please give clarify.

    With regards
    Ravi,Bishop,s college.

    1. Hi bishop azariah was born in my native village in thoothukudi district name vellalan vilai…… I m porud to be in that village see vellalanvilai in net u ll get the details… thank you…

  9. It is very apriciable to mentioned the wide information about Bishop VS Azariah,but there is no clear information of his birth place whether it is in A.p. or Tamilnadu.
    With kind Regards
    Ravi,Bishop,s college.

    1. Hi Mr.RaviBabu,
      Azariah’s birth place is Vellalanvilai, A beautiful village in Tamil Nadu.I hail from his place.

  10. Bishop Azariah is very good church planter. Father of church of south India churches.Appreciated his ministry. Great Leader, Missionary.
    Praise God.

  11. I am writing up my family history which includes Bishop Eyre Chatterton. I would love to obtain a photo of him for my records. Does anyone who is associated with this correspondence know where I may obtain such a photo. It does not have to be of a high resolution. If anyone who has such a photo or knows where I might be able to locate one I would be extremely grateful if it could be scanned and e-mailed to me.

    Thank you very much

  12. dear brother in christ thanks for your help…. i want more information for khammam church of south india history…..

  13. Hi bishop azariah was born in my native village in
    thoothukudi district name vellalan vilai …… I m porud to
    be in that village see vellalanvilai in net u ll get the
    details … thank you
    Regards
    Hubert Jerome

  14. I know the village of vellalanvilai that is the birth place of bp.V.S. Azariah,now the place is converted in to good building and its seen as small measium.He is the founder of INDIAN MISSIONARY SOCIETY,TIRUNELVELI. Now 2o states they are working and near the country called Nepal. Almost 750 full time workers are involving in the gaspel ministry.

  15. Hi Anneke Stasson, I am writing this long after you posted your request for a photograph of Rev. VS Azariah! I hope you have received you Doctorate by now! I am pleased to inform that some years ago his grandson David Azariah had presented a book on the Rev. written by Susan Billington Harper “V. S. Azariah, the first Indian Bishop” Published by William B. Eerdmanns Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge U.K (Curzon Press Ltd. Richmond, Surrey,U.K.). Try to catch hold of a copy if you can as it tells the story of his life & times. Wish you good luck!

  16. I am from Dornakal. I am a missions teacher. Now a days we are celebrating Bishop Azariah’s 100th Consecration Anniversaries in all our Dornakal Diocesan Churches. We feel It’s a God given privilege for us to stay at Dornakal. Finally we are going to celebrate the Anniversary on 29, Dec.,2012 at Dornakal for the whole Diocese. Pray for the Dornakal. Present Bishop is Bp.V.Prasadarao. Praise God for his leadership.

  17. It really makes me shiver when reading the different comments on my Grear Grand father and Iam really delighted and thank God for creating in this family which has uplifted me in His Mission work. Today here am I doing the same cause as did my Great Grand father to unite the churches specially the left out Anglican churches who are separated in the leadership.Need your PRAYERS as Iam toiling with the same spirit of the Great Grand fathers dream and visions to be accomplished.

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