Gregorios: A Challenge to us
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
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
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
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
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.