Mar Gregorios: A Challenge to us

Geevarghese Mar Coorilos

A summary of the speech made by HG Geevarghese Mar Coorilos inaugurating the Anniversary celebration of Gregorian Study Circle in Houston on 12th December, 2001

I feel at home today while being with you all here in this “Kerala House” because I am also from Kerala. And these pictures of the great national leaders and freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi fill my heart with warm feelings. And, of course, the spiritual presence of Paulos Mar Gregorios here is very uplifting to me. 

I feel honored to be a part of this celebration, because I had the special privilege of being a disciple to Mar Gregorios. I joined the seminary when I was 17, and Mar Gregorios became its principal the same year as Fr. Paul Varghese. He spent most of his time there except when he had other important commitments. And he helped the seminary grow as we see it today. I must confess that he has influenced me more than anyone else. There is an orphanage founded by him at a place called Talacode, Mulanthuruthy in India, and I am responsible for that as its president.

I feel overjoyed to see that there is a group of people here interested to know more about him, and to study his thought and work. I should say that the report of the activities of Gregorian Study Circle, which I just heard, makes me feel proud. 

It is a privilege for me to talk about the charisma of Mar Gregorios, for I believe that his dynamism is still challenging us. Mar Gregorios was one of the greatest personalities I have known. It might be worthwhile to look at his personality from different sides. This is not going to be a very formal speech, but will be a set of unarranged thoughts. It is hard for me to limit myself to half an hour once I start talking about him.

Mar Gregorios was a very powerful person, in the sense that he had the privilege, strength, and knowledge to confront the world leaders. As a philosopher, he could smash down some of the hard challenges he faced. In spite of all his power, there were occasions when Mar Gregorios confessed himself to be a humble, simple child in the presence of God, in the presence of saintly people who were close to God, and in the presence of dynamic people who effectively contributed to the well being of mankind. The dynamic people I talk about include people like Mahatma Gandhi, who were willing to identify the presence of a supreme being as a supreme power that governs the universe though they didn’t equate Jesus Christ with the supreme being.

By being a child in the presence of God, he was always willing to and was longing to receive God’s wisdom. He had the open mindedness of a student; willing to receive any new piece of information. Whenever, a new piece of information comes his way, he captured it, analyzed it, and evaluated it to see its merits and defects, to see how it can be beneficial or harmful to the humankind, and to see how it can be used for the glory of God. 

He was always willing to run to God’s presence, and open up himself. He had nothing to hide from God. That freedom with God was his strength, and that seems to be secret of his success. This person, who tried his best to come as close to God as he could, will remain a challenge for anybody. 

This child-like openness attracted him to children. A child would always capture his total attention, and he would become an even younger child in order to come down to the level of that child. I remember that while in seminary he wouldn’t let anyone disturb him in the morning hours because he would be engaging himself in a very creative activity of some kind. If someone accidentally knocked at his door, Mar Gregorios could become very furious, and could make a hell there. However, if that person happened to have a child with him, the situation would be totally different. He literally followed what Jesus Christ said about children, and thoroughly enjoyed their presence. 

I remember another incident in Vancouver, where WCC was having its global assembly with delegates from every member church. Mar Gregorios was one of the top leaders there. During a break time, Mar Gregorios was found chatting with a handicapped woman in a wheelchair. After chatting for a few minutes, he embraced her to express his joy of having her presence there, and to identify her presence as a contribution to that event in Vancouver. Such a gesture from someone like him meant so much to the delegates gathered there from around the globe.

He had a unique skill not only in receiving and digesting information, but also in disseminating it. He was an excellent teacher. This skill was very much evident when he would stand in the pulpit and expose the word of God. He had a special charisma to go to the depth of the word of God, and to enjoy its beauty. 

When Mar Gregorios climbed up the steps of his vocation to the leadership of WCC, and then to the leadership of global inter-religious events, he was becoming a very controversial person in his own church as well as in the Christian world. His thought and deeds didn’t conform to the traditionally acceptable formulas. People even feared that he was abandoning Christianity for some other religion. But if you get a chance to read his unfinished autobiography, you will see how comprehensive, and how all-encompassing his outlook was. There existed no paradoxes or controversies in his thought. 

The positions he held in the church, in the WCC, and elsewhere were not colorful, as we would expect. They were seats of thorns for him. However he faced all those challenges with extreme determination. He overcame even the challenge of his own physical illness while he inaugurated the Centenary celebrations of the Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago.

Who was the most influential person for Mar Gregorios? Or, to rephrase it, did he have a role model who helped him to shape up his life? Yes, there was a person like that. He was none other than Gregory of Nyssa, the fourth century Christian philosopher. Mar Gregorios made this fourth century father his subject of doctoral studies. He went into the depth of his thought, enjoyed it, and translated it for us, the people of the twentieth century. His focus on the thought of Gregory of Nyssa transformed him so that the whole world was benefited of his contribution at various levels. When he was elevated to bishophood, Mar Gregorios chose his name from his Guru and role model, Gregory of Nyssa.

I am glad that there is a forum to study the thought and work of Mar Gregorios. It helps us to look back at the great life he led, and pay attention to the message this great man of God gave us. Such a forum that continues the legacy of Mar Gregorios has great relevance in our world.