Mar Gregorios: My Life-Long Hero


John Kunnathu

It was from my older brother that I first heard about Fr. Paul Varghese. It was in sixties, and I was in middle school then. He happened to see him in an Orthodox Student Movement conference, and later at home he spoke highly of Fr. Varghese. We used to subscribe to the Orthodox Youth magazine at our home, and I began eagerly looking for anything written by Fr. Paul Varghese. He usually appeared in a column answering the questions people send to the magazine. I had to wait until late seventies to read his first book, the Malayalam translation of Joy of Freedom. I read it with great enthusiasm and wrote a summary of it in the Orthodox Youth magazine under the title ‘Our worship”.

I was fortunate to meet Gregorios Thirumeni three times.

The first was in 1974, I think. I heard his sermon in a nearby church during the Passion Week. I heard from a friend that he was going to be there, and I went there just to see him and hear his speech. I still remember him talking about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He presented it as an example of humility that all people need to follow. I noticed that he had the magic of keeping the attention of the entire audience from the beginning till the end. Not a single sound could be heard from the audience of around 400 people.

The second was in 1979, I think. In an MGOCSM conference in Hyderabad His Grace was the main speaker. I was at
Coimbatore at that time, and I went with a group of youngsters to Hyderabad to attend the MGOCSM conference. I didn’t know Gregorios thirumeni was the main speaker there, and so it was a pleasant surprise to see him there. He talked about the Kingdom of God. The clarity of his thought made a deep impact on me. It was so much different from any other speeches or classes I had attended. Before using any unfamiliar/unusual word, he clarified what he meant by that term. He presented his thoughts from simple to complex and from familiar to unfamiliar in traceable and orderly way so that someone like me could enjoy listening to him. While we were going to visit a museum in Hyderabad, I had the opportunity to have a one-to-one talk with His Grace. I remember two questions I asked and the responses I received. What I am writing here is just what I remember, not the full answers given by him.

1. Q: What do you think of Universalism, which is the argument that all will be saved.
A: I do not believe in it.
2. Q: How does your view differ basically from that of Dr. M. M. Thomas?
A: He supports the present Janatha government of India.

The third was in 1984, in Kottayam, when Manorama organized the 60th birthday of His Grace. As soon as I read the news of the event in the morning news paper, I hurried to catch the train to Kottayam from Kollam, my place. It was a grand occasion, where I could meet several faces I greatly admired. There was a daylong symposium on world peace. Prof. K. M. Tharakan was the master of ceremony. The speakers included Dr. M. M. Thomas, H. G. Paulos Mar Paulos, Nityachaitanya Yati, Dr. K. M. George. Dr. Ninan Koshy and other eminent scholars. In the evening there was a public meeting, which was inaugurated by C.M.Stephen, a Cabinet Minister of India, and chaired by C.Achuthamenon, the former chief minister of Kerala. I obtained a copy of “Cosmic Man”, the doctoral dissertation of His Grace, from there.

The same year I left India to go to Ethiopia as a school teacher, and among the few things I took with me was “Cosmic man”. I had a lot of free time in Ethiopia, and I had the opportunity to read this book over and over again. I heard the stories of Gregorios thirumeni from several people there. I happened to meet Ms. Kunjannama, whom thirumeni mentions in his autobiography, in Addis Ababa. One day, while talking to me casually, an assistant principal in my school (Ethiopian) said to me, “John, do you know, there is a great scholar in India called Mar Gregorios!” He didn’t know I belonged to the Orthodox Church in India, and that Mar Gregorios was a hero to me.

One day in 1989, I think, when I was in Ethiopia, I was surprised to see his Grace on the Ethiopian TV. He was in Moscow speaking in the Global Forum, and on the stage were the Soviet Union President Gorbechew and other prominent figures.

Later in 1992 I came to the United States as a student. I often think that my path has been similar to that of Gregorios thirumeni in that respect. From Kerala he went to Ethiopia as a school teacher, and from there he went to USA as a student. But there were important differences too. Gregorios thirumeni could master Amharic, the language of Ethiopia, in a year, but I could barely understand and utter simple sentences and identify the letters of the alphabet even after eight years of stay.

On Nov 24th, 1996, I was attending a prayer meeting of our church in Houston in a house of one of our parish members. HG Mathews Mar Barnabas was leading us in the concluding prayer. The phone rang. The message was delivered to His Grace. Mar Barnabas stopped the prayer to announce: “His Grace Paulos Mar Gregorios, the Metropolitan of Delhi Diocese has passed away”. I couldn’t control myself. I forgot where I was, and began to weep. He meant so much to me. He is the one person who has
influenced me more than anyone else.

That night I sat down and expressed my feelings in a few lines in Malayalam, and I recited it in our church after a week. It said:

I am submitting this poem to the memory of Paulos Mar Gregorios, who remained a heroic son to the Orthodox Church of
India for several decades, and of whom the church has been very proud of.

After fighting for you all day long, here lies your dear son, sleeping, with his head on your lap, O mother, the Church.

Rising from the land of Malayalam, your son enlightened the entire world.

He proclaimed the good news of Jesus, unblemished, to give salvation to the whole world.

He traveled all over the world to give you fame.

God, thy dear servant Mar Gregorios has shown us the depth, height, width, and length of thy love to us fully and clearly.

God, we thank thee for giving us this great soul as our shepherd to show us the right path.

In a few years, I happened to meet a handful of people in Houston interested in Gregorios thirumeni. Together we decided to celebrate a memorial of thirumeni in November 1990. For this purpose we set up an organization called Gregorian study circle, and had the celebration. Soon we started an online group, and people began joining it from all over the world. A few friends opened local chapters of Gregorian Study Circle in Chicago and Madison. In 1991 November, there was a memorial celebration in Chicago and and another one in Madison in addition to Houston. In 1992, a grand inter-religious seminar was held in Chicago for the memorial.

At present Gregorian Study Circle has about 200 members from around the world. The members include HG. Job Mar Philoxenos, the successor of Mar Gregorios in Delhi Diocese, Rev. Dr. K.M. George, the successor of Mar Gregorios at the orthodox Theological Seminary, thirumeni’s brother in Canada, close friends like Dr. Roy Cherian and Dr. Joseph Thomas, and Joice Thottackad, the biographer of thirumeni. Gregorian study circle has a website ( in addition to the yahoogroup. I feel happy such a worldwide network of the friends of Gregorios thirumeni could be formed.

Recently I made a powerpont presentation of the life, thought, and work of Mar Gregorios. I intend to show this around whenever I get an opportunity. I showed it to the sunday school children in our church, and the they were excited to see that there lived such a great man in our community.

In conclusion, I must admit that I have had several heroes since my childhood, but none has stayed a hero to me for such a long time as Mar Gregorios.