Our Life At Princeton

Lance Woodruff

 Remembering Connections through War and Peace

Then there was Paul Verghese, PTS Class of 1954, known more formally as Paulos Mar Gregorios. He was principal of the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kottyam, Kerala, India; the metropolitan of Delhi of the Indian Orthodox Church; and president of the World Council of Churches (WCC). I met him at the Thai Red Cross Center in 1968 during an East Asian Christian Conference assembly near Bangkok (where later that year Thomas Merton died in an accident) and really got to know him at the WCC “Salvation Today?” conference in 1972.

Verghese began his journey to Princeton Seminary as a bank clerk in India who helped some foreigners push-start their stalled car. His gesture earned him an invitation to study in the U.S. and eventually led to his role as secretary and tutor to the family of the late emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. Because of his striking appearance, sometimes soft, sometimes fiery (in my mind’s eye a Jeremiah, a Rasputin, or Santa Claus!), he attracted me as a photo subject. He was a theologian, a scientist, an author, and, not unimportantly, a stern critic of America’s intervention in Vietnam. He was also an articulate religious ambassador to Moscow and other places where Americans had a limited welcome.

But he got on well with Americans. Frank Hull, a friend and American clergyman in Thailand, studied under Mar Gregorios in Ghana, Senegal, and Amsterdam in a Presbyterian seminar on ecumenical mission. “Everyone was American except Paul,” Hull recalled. “His quiet Indian Orthodox ways and dress made him unique and fascinating to us young Americans.”

Mar Gregorios died in 1996, but his legacy continues. In 1997 the Dalai Lama received the Paulos Mar Gregorios Award for his work in interfaith dialogue. Instituted to honor Mar Gregorios by the Sophia Society, which he founded, the award honors individuals who contribute to peace, justice, and wisdom, ideals for which Mar Gregorios lived and worked.

An article appeared in Inspire (a magazine for alumni/ae and friends of Princeton Theological Seminary) in Summer/Fall 2001 Volume 6 Number 1

(Lance Woodruff Lives in Thailand, where he is a journalist and development communicator focusing on universities, seminaries, and educational opportunities for refugees and displaced persons, particularly in Burma, the Indochina countries, the Middle East, and Africa. He is an Episcopalian layman and worships at three churches: the Presbyterian-related Church of Christ in Thailand’s international Church in Bangkok (where he preached on July 8); Christ Church, Bangkok, an Anglican parish; and Calvary Baptist Church, an American Baptist-oriented Burmese congregation. His wife, Corina, is from Burma)