GURU GREGORIOS (1922-1996)
Fr. Dr. K. M. George
‘The Aleph?’ I echoed.
‘Yes, the place where all the places
of the world meet without mingling
beheld from every possible angle at once............’
I tried to make sense of it.
‘But isn’t the cellar very dark?’
‘Truth never penetrates an unwilling mind.
If all the places of the earth are in the Aleph,
then all sources of illumination, all lamps,
all veins of light are there.
‘I shall go and look at once.’
J. L. Borges, ElAleph (1)
Guru Gregorios had a vision of ‘the place where all the places of the world meet.’
His luminous mind, ever wakeful, took wings and glided into the puzzle zone of that place. It was no place (U-topia) for many an onlooker. Yet it was place par excellence - flesh, blood, earth, freedom, daring, spirit, synergy, cognition, struggles, silence, turbulence, innocence, smile, compassion, community.......
His mortal frame was too weak to transmit to us the splendour of the galaxies that exploded out of that place ‘beheld from every possible angle at once.’ Those who delighted in the fortresses of the normal, the known, the neat were unable (or perhaps unwilling) to penetrate the dark cellar, source of all illumination.
For Guru Gregorios the locus of the vision is the Kingdom of God. Presence of God is the presence of the good. Where the good is there is the kingdom of God. Listen to the rhapsody of his philokalia, love of the good/beautiful:
“I bow before the good wherever it shows - in people of different faiths and religions, in people who claim to believe in no God, in birds and animals, in trees and flowers, in mountains and rivers, in air and sky, in sun and moon, in sculpture and paintings, in music and art, in the smile of the infant and in the wisdom of the sage, in the blush of dawn and in the gorgeous sunset.” (2)
The basis of Gregorian theological reflection is the Christian affirmation of the union of God and Humanity in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. Christ is the prototype of the mediator human being (anthropos methorios). The notion of humanity as mediator, known to Greek philosophers, comes in its Christian version from his venerable teacher Gregory of Nyssa, the 4th century philosopher and theologian of profound insights.
A human person can be a mediator (frontier) at different levels - between the sensible world and the intelligible world between matter and spirit, between body and soul, between the rational and the non-rational. For Gregory the frontier existence of humanity is pre - eminently between good and evil, and hence between being and non-being, between life and death. The idea is integrally connected to human freedom.
For our teacher Gregorios, this border zone quality of homo sapiens - is crucial. Humanity appears at its best while in its mediational role. He himself always stood at the border - between this world and the myriads of worlds within and beyond the space - time continuum, between the secular sciences and the sacred discipline, between acquired knowledge and taught ignorance (docta ignorantia), between mastery and mystery, between the revelatory enlightenment of the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6) and the apophatic silence of thick darkness of the ineffable mystery of God (Ex. 24:15-18). (3)
Many Christians have construed the faith - affirmation about the meeting of God and humanity in Christ in to a parochial and exclusivist doctrine that strikes at the root of all communication with the world. But for Guru Gregorios this frontier character of the incarnate Christ was the spring board for all human dialogue and spiritual communion with the whole world. Christ the frontier being made his 20th century disciple’s being also “open to all humanity in truth and love.” This is what his own Eastern Christian tradition taught him. With unusual daring and humility he made his amazing pilgrimage to the sanctum sanctorum of natural and social sciences, of political - economic processes, of spiritual - intellectual methodologies and above all to ways of healing and restoring the whole.
His cosmic vision unfolds from his faith in the perfect union of divinity and humanity in Christ, “without confusion and without separation.” On the basis of this authentic meeting of the Creator and the Created, Mar Gregorios incessantly sought to make borders transparent and transform them to be places of communion rather than lines of demarcation and discrimination. He stood up in prophetic anger against demonic borders and “pernicious dichotomies” that human arrogance erected between the white and non - white races, between the power brokers and the poor of the world, between Patriarchal males and abused women, between the custodians of mainstream culture and the Aboriginal - Indigenous - Adivasi - Dalit victims of our world order.
His fight with an arrogantly smug Christianity, especially with its western brand, and with its agents and allies elsewhere was fierce. His mediatorial self-understanding took him as a messenger of peace to many places where conflict and violence reigned. He flew over many a border of nations and cultures and became the herald of a new order, committed to the cause of humanity.
He repeated the mantra: “Christ is my all. Without him I am nothing at all. I share that life with all those in Christ’s body. ...... And Christ’s love is for all humankind, not just for Christians. It is for the whole humanity that he has died. ......” (4)
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (St. Paul, Letter to the Galatians (5:1).
Freedom is the pivotal category in Gregorian theology. “Freedom is also a central value for any new civilization.” (5)
True freedom is the creativity to desire and will the good, to know the good and do the good. It is vested in jointly in the person and in the community simultaneously.
The restlessness that one noticed in the person and work of Bishop Gregorios arose from his constant search for true freedom. He was never enslaved by any particular thought form or paradigm of reality. But with sensitivity and respect he was ever on the look-out for newly emerging theories of reality and projections of the future of our world. The freedom and creativity of the New Humanity in Christ beckoned him; he ventured in obedience.
It was from the primal experience of human freedom that he came to the reality of human sin. He took to task the great Augustine, father and fountainhead of the western tradition, for doing it in the reverse order and corrupting western intellectual-spiritual perception of reality. True to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Father Gregorios maintained that sin as evil is alien to true humanity and that evil has no substance or eternity. It is the absence of the good. It will be ultimately eliminated from God’s creation as humanity relearns to use its original freedom in the way of the good.
Mar Gregorios took history seriously. Yet, he believed that what is now perceived, even in its best, is distorted history. Space and time are tainted by the misuse of human freedom. So they are some times constraints on creativity. He felt their oppression in his own person.
Bishop Gregorios could easily and most elegantly adapt himself to the Powershift Era, the ever moving world of “Knowledge, wealth, violence at the edge of the 21st century”, as Alvin Toffler puts it. (6)
This world citizen could make a smooth shift to become a “netizen” in the Internet and the highways of information technology. He was comfortable with the proletariat as well as with the new “cognitariat.” He had an equal passion for our present economic order and the new order of ‘softnomics’ created by all kinds of software.
He found no conflict in the shifting of worlds. For him the source was one-the Holy Spirit of God “It is the source of all knowledge and wisdom, all skill and power. Why should we place the human activity of science and technology as having a source outside the Holy Spirit? Of course science and technology can become demonic as faith can become demonic.”
“In physics or politics, economics or in biology, in the world or in the church, all genuine and true illuminations and clarification come from the spirit. The ruler and the law-giver, the Bishop and the scientist, the computer technologist and the spiritual counselor, all get the right skill and knowledge from God the Holy Spirit. Art and Science, philosophy and faith - all are from the operation of the spirit.” (7)
Yet seeker Gregorios wanted to break out of the chain of space and time, detaching himself and dispossessing the world. He however, was simultaneously called back to it, to affirm life and its beauty, to struggle for it, to be resolutely in the forefront of human warfare against the powers that be. This was his theology; this was his commitment. The love of God for humanity manifested in Christ spurred him on.
Sage Gregorios, perceived by many middle class western educated men as a haughty intellectual, was profoundly humble and tender hearted. Children who can see “the essential that is invisible” understood him. He admitted the limitations and fear of religious communities including his own for an intense dialogue with “the definitely superior quality of secular thought.” He pleads with all religious communities “to take that risk if they care more for the created order than for the survival of their own communities.” He makes the plea to the “secular” side also, because he is convinced that the redemption and renewal of science/technology, political economy and philosophical reflection need not and may I say it, cannot take place without the participation of the religious communities.” (8)
Hence the final call to both sides:
“Let us commit ourselves on behalf of humanity to turn the course of its development from evil to good, from destruction to reconstruction, from ugliness to beauty, from false-hood to truth, and from bondage to freedom, from gloom to hope, from boredom to joy. Let us do it together.”
Blessed Memory to You, Father and Teacher.
1. J. L. Borges, El Aleph, quoted in F. Fernandes - Armesto, Millennium: A History of the Last Thousand Years, Bantam Press, 1995.
2. Paulos Gregorios, Last Will and Testament.
3. Reference to Moses the Liberator and law-giver of Israel. In his spiritually immature years he saw God as light. At the peak of his spiritual maturity, on the summit of Mount Sinai, he “saw” God as thick darkness. This is a favorite theme in Eastern Orthodox spiritual tradition. It relativises all earthly vision and knowledge.
4. Last will and Testament.
5. Paulos Mar Gregorios, A Light Too Bright: The Enlightenment Today, SUNY Press, 1992, p. 234.
6. Alvin Toffler, Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth and violence at the Edge of the 21st Century, Bantam Books, 1991.
7. Paulos Mar Gregorios, Science for Sane Societies (Revised Edition) NewYork, Paragon House, 1987, p. 97.
8. Idid, p. 236.
(Paper Presented at India International Centre, New Delhi, 23 January 1997)