Glimpses of a Towering Personality
C. G. Pathrose
His Grace Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios rose from humble backgrounds to become an outstanding theologian of international repute even becoming the President of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, and that of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace, New York, among many, many other positions held. Educated in many of the best universities of the world like Yale in USA and Oxford in UK to name just two, he was recognized internationally with awards from USA, USSR, UK and India besides others from all across Europe. Biographical references to him are thus made in various Who’s Who’s of the world. He authored over 29 books on varied subjects, these bearing eloquent testimony to his being an outstanding philosopher, constructive critic, extraordinary social activist and an upholder of peace & justice.
However, besides these written records on and of this great man, many people cherish unforgettable memories of him in their hearts and minds. As the First Metropolitan of the Delhi Diocese of the Indian Orthodox Church, His Grace endeared himself to many people by his nature. As an active member, during his time, of the Cathedral in the capital of the country, I too have such memories of interacting with him. It is to share with you some of the glimpses that I and my family had of the simple man behind the towering personality, that I humbly undertake to write this article.
Germinating Delhi Diocese
On July 11, 1976, when Thirumeni took charge of Delhi Diocese, he had with him only the Catholicose’s Kalpana dated March 27, 1976 appointing him to the post, as also a list of the churches of the Diocese. To start with, he stayed in the small guest room of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Hauz Khas, New Delhi. Those were indeed hard days but Thirumeni took it as a challenge. It was infact his way of life to accept challenges in every walk of life. In those days he could be seen with vegetable bags in a cycle rickshaw or waiting at a bus stand! Further, he used to keep in his room everything required for a quick meal whenever the need arose. In fact, over the years, he gained good expertise in culinary art.
An eye for architectural innovation
Despite his early desires to construct the Aramana (Bishop House) for the Diocese, difficulty in finding a suitable place allowed him to fulfill his dream only by 1984. His close contact with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave him the option of choosing a site in the heart of the city. He, however, finalized a site on its outskirts in Tughlakabad, away from the hustle bustle of the city. Christened the “Delhi Orthodox Centre”, he made it into an attractive edifice in Dholpur stone based on elements of Oriental Christian and Indian Classical architecture. The design was his own brainchild. The Centre was inaugurated by Shri. R Venkatraman, the then Vice President of India, on 25th November, 1984. In the words of Thirumeni himself “A long cherished dream, the opening of the Centre marks the first step in relating, in a practical and positive way, the life and faith of the Orthodox Christian community in the capital and the north of India, to the other religions of the country as well as to the social realities of the people. The Centre is specifically designed to fulfill this aspiration.”
Lover of children
His Grace’s love for children knew no bounds. He used to call children to his side and enjoy their company even when he was engaged in his manifold activities.
Incidences which relate to his attitude to children come to mind. It was sometime in the early seventies, when Thirumeni was Rev. Fr. Paul Varghese and His Grace Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios was Rev. Fr. M.V. George, that they visited our Cathedral, St. Mary’s, at Hauz Khas . When we invited them to our house which was very near the church, they gladly came along with the Vicar Fr. K. A. George. Clad in pure white, when the three young priests entered our humble dwelling, our five year old son Sunil was so overjoyed that he rushed out and brought in four or five of his playmates from the neighbourhood. Fr. Paul Varghese lost no time to start playing with the boys. Soon he pulled out toffees from his pocket and started distributing them. My son got annoyed as perhaps he was not given the toffee first or he did not get the desired number of toffees for himself! In a sudden fit of anger, he kicked the left leg of Fr. Paul Varghese! We were all taken aback. I begged his pardon but Fr. Varghese took it very lightly and continued to play with the boys. A couple of days later, Sunil started getting pain and a swelling on his right leg- the one with which he had kicked Achen. We thought that the Almighty may have punished Sunil for his mischief. It was all very painful for us. We soon contacted Fr. Paul Varghese and he consoled us by saying that Sunil was after all an innocent child. Asserting that the Almighty would not punish him for the act, he said that he would pray for his speedy recovery. True to his assurance, Sunil recovered within two days without any medication!
Playing a word game
I would like to cite another example of the simple and straight forward nature of Thirumeni depicting the softer side of his personality. His Grace used to spend long hours in his library and before the computer, when busy with the production of a new book. Apparently to get a diversion from the jungle of books, he used to call us up and then drive down by himself, to our house in no time. While my wife would be busy preparing a simple meal, His Grace would keep our children and 1 busy by playing Scrabble (word building game). The vocabulary of His Grace was remarkable. We were greatly astonished to see how quickly he built words, often strange ones we never imagined could exist! At the same time, he was good enough to explain the meaning of the new words with his characteristic ‘superior’ smile and a nodding of the head a couple of times. As a result, our daughter Sushma, who was doing her Post-Graduation in English Literature, was highly benefited by Thirumeni’s instructions on improving vocabulary.
Respect for a Ramban
Our second son, Ferdinand, was bom in Philippines where there was no Orthodox Church. At a fix for undertaking his baptism, we were extremely happy when His Grace agreed to conduct it in a Roman Catholic Church when he would come to Manila for a WCC meeting in 1978. But God willed otherwise. As the proposed meeting was cancelled, Thirumeni could not make the trip. We thus could conduct the baptism in Kerala only, the following year, the celebrant being Mylapra Mathews Ramban. Gregorios Thirumeni was only glad that the monk ministered the sacrament. In his conversations, His Grace held the view that the Ramban lived for the Church and humanity at large without seeking any higher ecclesiastical position for himself. A humble and pure at heart monk for 48 years, the Ramban’s prayerful life of solitude and silence attracted Thirumeni very much.
‘Suicide is only a disease’
We particularly remember an incident in the early eighties when a member of our church committed suicide and His Grace promptly visited the house and consoled the family members. According to the conservative practices of our church, suicide was held to be sacrilege and such cases were to be treated with disdain. However Thirumeni held the position that the tendency to commit suicide was a ‘disease’ and should be considered by the church only that. Therefore he ensured that there was no difference in the burial service. The body was thus buried in the common cemetery and not in the ‘Themnmdikuzhi’ where non-communicants were buried.
During his last days, even when he was critically ill with blood cancer, he was very busy reading, writing and working on the computer. When he felt very tired he would lie down for a while and then go back to the computer again. His efforts were to complete his autobiography, which he could not. Despite his physical discomfort and until his passing away due to heart attack on November 24, 1996, he was always at work and prayer for “all humanity and love.”
His departure left a void in the lives of many. Let us keep his memories alive.
(From: Sahayatra, Nov. – Dec, 2004)