I have no qualification to untie his shoe lace!

Dr. Cherian Eapen

As far as the knowledge and experience are concerned, I have no qualification to untie his shoe lace! But I had the blessings to closely associate with Gregorios Thirumeni, since1967. In 90s I used to visit him every month and in the evenings had kanji and payar or dinner outside, when I go to some places via Delhi. Later I had to stay with him and then functioned as the organizing secretary and financier to the Rishikesh Religious Concord in 1993. During that process, I saw him talking to the highest Spiritual leaders of almost all religion, especially Hindu Spiritual Leaders with authority, not only on public meetings but also on private talks with them. I never saw him searching for any sacred aspects of their religions that they have cherished and could not be shared with. All of them including the chief of Vanaprasth Ashram respectfully listened to him admiring his knowledge and agreeing to his suggestions, and came to one platform to discuss with other religious leaders in his presence.

His written speech at a Marxist forum in 1988, made the hard core Marxists think widely on where they were standing! He said that their dogmas and old teachings cannot be sold in this modern world and will not have much value very soon! This lead to an open discussion between him and E.M. Sankaran Namoothiripad on Spirituality and Marxism. Now a stage has come where Christians are exposed to the world like Marxists. The fundamentals of Church beliefs are being questioned. Gregorios Thirumeni's absence is felt now.

There was an open discussion between E.M.S and Dr. K.N. Raj, the first Chairman of the Centre for Development Studies, on this theme in the journal Mainstream sometime in 1975. It continued for several weeks. That was on dialectical materialism. Raj said, Marx didn't say that religion is needed or not, but he said only that religion is an opium of man. EMS could counter all the arguments of Raj on that subject and established that all religions are opium of man and he kept a view that Marx was against all religion. Later when Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios made an attack on Marxian Philosophy, EMS had to say: "To the Indian context, Marxism is Daridra Narayana Seva!" This was a drastic deviation from all his previous arguments, and even it is a deviated Marxian Philosophy. Later, in one of the Gregorios Memorial speeches, EMS also added that his proletarian organization and the early Christian Church have a lot of common things. The dialog started on Gregorios Thirumeni's paper: whether Secularism is needed in India or not. It was presented at a Marxist lead Trade Union conference in Calicut. This paper was then published in their Party daily Deshabhimani, and immediately came the answer from EMS. Then the dialog went on. The arguments of these two giants went into unassuming heights. For example, Gregorios Thirumeni argued that if you don't see something, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Then EMS answered, I am not going to make God out of those unseen things. But the basic question both were discussing was almost on the same thing: what is unma (truth)! This was then published by Chintha publishers. Sophia Centre, Kottayam also published it as a booklet. The booklet is in Malayalam. (The English version is not available. You can get a copy from Fr. K. M. George.)

I met Gregorios Thirumeni after his said resignation. He was in deep sorrow and agony.  He told me, "There are very few people in my church that I can convince of my arguments!" He was frustrated and wanted to withdraw to a remote camp like the Motropolitan Theophan the Recluse. He purchased some land on the outskirts of Delhi and started to slowly building an Ashram, to move to that place for the rest of his life. But when he realized that he was going to be alone there, cut off from the public, without medical help, he kept the building process in abeyance. I think, nobody had supported that idea. Our church doesn't have Monasticism as an agenda, and no one (including him) has much training in that direction.

I regret that I didn't understand him at that time properly and helped him accordingly to fulfill that desire. Like, from the works of Metropolitan Theophan the Recluse, Christian churches and the world would then have been much richer with his theological and other scientific works and writings. (Bishop Theophan resigned from the Metropolitan-ship of the vast Vladimir region and the Rector-ship of the prestigious St. Peter's Burg Seminary, and spent 27 years in a cell and produced valuable 1000 Theological works). But, Gregorios Thirumeni's Christian habit was focused more in social activities rather than in monastic isolation. He was more interested in practicing Socialist humanism, which he thought was the ideology that could bring us nearer to a just society. Perhaps that may be the reason why he found more humanity in the people like C. Achutha Menon and EMS Namboothirippad.

But Gregorios Thirumeni is the product of the Indian Orthodox church, and he was representing the present Church on various forums. On many occasions he received me in Pazhaya Seminary when I returned from my retreats at Kurisumala Ashram under the guidance of Rev. Francis Acharya. He arranged my stay at the Seminary and enthusiastically asked questions about my meditations and night vigil experiences etc. that I took in from the Ashram. I could only answer: "Peace"! One night, I listened to few of his problems till 3.00am, including those concerning church issues. I told him at one stage: "Thirumeni, I think, I cannot help you". He had a good laugh and said, "you have already helped me with your patient listening." Why he wanted to share all those important matters to this theologically illiterate man, who was sitting in front of him as a student, that too with the freedom that he had granted to me? Even now, I don't know it fully. During another private dinner at Delhi, I inquired: If Jesus Christ is the founder of the Church, why can't you leave the problems to Jesus Christ? He said: "I feel isolated and nobody in the church understands that". (Why did he want to walk in front of Jesus Christ? This remark was occasionally used by Mother Teresa, to stop her fire brand, enthusiastic volunteers, from jumping into certain impractical events.)

In 1993, we conducted the World Religious concord at Rishikesh. He wrote me later that it was a super success event! During one of the early morning private sessions that we two had throughout our stay in the Vanaprasth Ashram, I told him to thank his church members and volunteers for supporting the event. He magnanimously acknowledged in public the leading role his church members who were a little bit unhappy on what was happening, and thought that they were not properly recognized. They even thought the agenda was a Hindu Agenda.

He always wanted to keep the identity of the Orthodox Church. In many circles, he was called a red bishop, a politician. At the same time no one should forget the role of his church by acknowledging him and making him a Priest, appointing him in the WCC, entrusting him the Principal-ship of the Orthodox Seminary and then finally anointing him as a Bishop etc. He was given the six foot land, together with the tombs of other senior Bishops, at the Seminary chapel itself, honoring his last will. Almost all his works are being published. A prestigious, multi-storied library in his name is going to be inaugurated on Nov. 24 at the Orthodox Seminary. There is an Award in his name, given to outstanding personalities, in Delhi. The first award was given to his friend, Dalai Lama. All these activities are supported by his church and his disciples. But with all respect to him, I doubt very much, whether he could have prevented the current split in his church!

Once I thought if this great self-made-person was born in Europe or America or in a Catholic Church, what would have been his position in the world! Of course, it is a matter of debate. I had the proud privilege for watching him in Moscow, sitting on the moderator's chair of a top secret discussion held between the Nuclear Scientists of both USA and Soviet Union sometime in 1985. It was one of the glorious contributions towards world peace, using his position in the WCC.  

Swamy Vivekanandan was allowed to make a 5 minute speech at the world Religious conference in Chicago in 1893, which he made a historical one by the extended time. The same conference after a century was inaugurated by Gregorios Thirumeni. There are several other such unassuming roles he played in several world events.

So, he was a great lamp, lit by Jesus Christ! But that bright lamp didn't always have a proper stand. But a day would come when true Theologians in all religions would find his greatness. Like that of the 4th century Gregory of Nyssa, it need not happen in this century. This evaluation will continue, somehow somewhere, on his role in the Church, the body of Christ, its life, mission and charity. There will be so many vicks lit for him, not necessarily by his church members!

Let me give an example. Last month, during my short trip to India, when I met Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer at his residence in Ernakulam, he was remembering Gregorios Thirumeni. He reflected: "There is an absence of genuine persons in every sphere of our life. What a loss to Christianity and to the country and to the world itself!" When I took Thirumeni for the first time to Justice Iyer's official residence in Delhi, while he was the Judge in the Supreme Court, sometime in 1976, the judge didn't give any importance to Thirumeni. He didn't even take his feet from the tea-poy and was looking at me and started talking. When I introduced him and when the discussions started, Justice Iyer asked about a book on his favorite theme, life after life. Thirumeni patiently explained the content of the book and its theme and then asked a question, whether he heard of a book Life before life! This discussion went on for hours and finally Thirumeni became his teacher. While in the car on the drive back home, Thirumeni expressed his opinion about the meeting: "I thought he was a tiger, but he seemed to be like a child!"

Gregorios Thirumeni was admired by many only from a distance, especially from his church. He was a fire to many who went near to him. Many people, even Priests and Bishops asked me how I could keep a friendship with him. The answer was: I got acquainted with him not through his church!

I would have heard the following quote of Vaclav Havel, from Gregorios Thirumeni first, if he was alive: "The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human modesty, and in human responsibility. Without a global revolution in the sphere of human copiousness, nothing will change for the better"

About the present crisis in the Church,  I have shuttled between Damascus and Kottayam several times to explore the possibilities for a peace formula. I found it is impossible at the present set up. One has to accept the reality! There is no administrative unity possible between the two Orthodox Church factions. The latest trend in the world is that the Christian churches are withering away! Our Orthodox Church has been divided almost like the division of the Communist party in India, forty years back. Still, many people are there in both the sides, who cannot understand why they should stand as separate political parties and fight for the cause of poor and needy together, if their goals are genuine. When the leadership and the members became corrupt, the division was inevitable. The ideology was left behind. They didn't speak of any Spiritual reasons for the division, as their ideology was based on dialectical materialism. But how can the two factions of the Christian Church founded by Jesus Christ and supposed to be governed by the Holy Spirit, fight in the street? Either they are not feeling as the part of the body of Christ or there is no Holy Spirit in the Church!

Apostle St. Paul says in his letter to Corinthians: "..there must be divisions among you so that the ones who are in the right may be clearly seen." While we are all waiting to see the right ones, Apostle appeals to all of us: "By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you, my brothers, to agree in what you say, so that there will be no divisions among you. Be completely united, with only one thought and one purpose."

St. Ephraim the Syrian, representing the pure Christianity, made his prayer almost 1700 years ago:

"O Lord and Master of my life! Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness, of discouragement, of lust of power, and of vain speaking! But bestow upon me, Your servant, the spirit of chastity, of meekness, of patience
and of love! Yes, O Lord and King, grant that I may perceive my own transgressions, and judge not my brother! "

Let not our faith divided! Let not our hope faded! Let not our love diminished!

We need healthy discussion. No doubt. Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios told me once "It is easy for me to cooperate with different religious leadership for inter-religious dialogues than dealing with different sections of Christian Churches and believers." He told me ever since the church was formed, there were difference of opinions. We can see that even St. Paul criticizes St. Peter in our Bible. Does it mean that St. Paul didn't respect St. Peter?  No! If we learn the history of the formation of the Christian Creed (Symbol of our Faith), you can see how much differences of opinion the Christians had. Now we have almost 1/3rd population of Christians. Out of this, Rev. Billy Graham claims that he had converted 160 Million people to Christianity. It is a great number for an individual. No doubt, he has got a special place in the Christian church history. But when you calculate the total number of Christians lived after the formation of the mother church in Israel, and when you calculate the percentage of that with the existing 2000 Million Christians in the world, you can see that there were greater people than Rev. Billy Graham who worked silently and formed Churches in different parts of the world and prescribed an Order to maintain the faith, facing all bitter and deadly tests.

What we need is healthy criticisms with full respect and understanding of the other person or the Church he represents and mostly with Christian love. Here is where Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios's greatest contribution lies. Nobody in the world had ever done such an attempt to bring all the Christians together than him. He was disappointed on many occasions, but he was praying and every day working in that direction. Many occasions, his intellectual deliberations were not accepted even by his own Church. He taught the politicians that they should learn from the Enlightenment liberalism, Imperialist pragmatism, and Socialist humanism, while avoiding the down-side of these philosophies. Well, it is only with collaboration and interaction with other Churches alone one can attempt to make differences bring down, in his own heart. The basic law should be love of Jesus!

Well, one should not underestimate the influence of the geographical contemplative traditions. Pope Paul VI said: "The Non-Christian religions carry within them the echo of thousands of years of searching for God.
They have taught generations of people how to pray. They are all impregnated by innumerable Seeds of the World and can constitute a true preparation for the Gospel...In the mind of Lord the Church is Universal by vocation and mission; but when she puts down her roots in a variety of cultural, social and human terrains, she takes on different external expressions in each part of the world..." We have lot of things to learn
from here.

So, till the end of our life we have to search for the truth. That is how the Creator molded us in this world! We need the Protestants fervor, Catholic monastic discipline and Orthodox celebrations in our personal
Christian faith. Yet it is not complete. Centuries before Christ, the Spirit made a certain section of people to pray: "From untruth lead me to the truth. From darkness lead me to light. From death lad me to immortality". We need to form such groups who can write such prayers. May the good God bless all of you and continue a healthy discussions, because I am also learning from all of you! Each one of you have unique talents and it is important to our Lord!