A Human Wonder

Prof. Ninan Abraham

Metropolitan Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios was a phenomenon- nay, a human wonder. He was active in many fields, and in each of them his contributions were great enough for one to be considered highly distinguished. Mar Gregorios' capacity for high level intellectual work was prodigious, and it was no exaggeration when someone observed that in sixty years he was able to do what it would have taken most others three hundred years to do. The boy of fifteen who had to discontinue studies after high school, and become a post office clerk for want of finances for higher education, was the person found fit to be chosen to preside over the great ecumenical consultation on Christian Higher Education in India, which resulted in the formation of the All India Association for Christian Higher Education. He discharged his duties as president so well and with such distinction that both during and after the event it was felt that Fr. Paul Varghese, as he was then, elevated the level of the consultation by his contribution to it.

As regards Mar Gregorios's studies it was a demonstration of the dictum that where there is a will there is a way and where the will is coupled with very superior ability there is no stopping it. After working as a local journalist and a postal assistant for ten years, and for some time as a school teacher in Ethiopia, he pursued studies in United States and United Kingdom and obtained the degrees of Master of Divinity (Princeton), Master of Systematic Theology (Yale), Doctor of Philosophy (Oxford) and Doctor of Theology (Serampore).

The entire spectrum of human activity was of interest and concern to him and his writings covered the areas of science, religion, theology, philosophy, education, culture, environment and so on, as will be seen from the titles of his books: namely "The Gospel of the Kingdom", "The Faith or our Fahers", "The Freedom of Man", "Freedom and Authority", "Science for Sane Societies", "Cosmic Man", "Enlightenment - East and West" etc.

His standing as a thinker on issues of vital importance to mankind was testified to by the fact that he was chosen to be the Chairman of the world Conference on Faith, Science and the Future held at MIT in 1979, and as the General President of the Indian Philosophical Congress.

Part of the explanation of the versatile achievements of Mar Gregorios was his amazing capacity for observing and remembering things. This enabled him to acquire proficiency in numerous languages. In addition to English and Malayalam, in both of which he was a masterly speaker, he could handle Hindi, Tamil, Russian, French, German and the Ethiopian language, as well as the Biblical languages of Syriac, Hebrew and Greek. He had the capacity to pick up in a short time the elements of the language of any area or region in which found himself. And as a preacher and public speaker he was able to adjust himself to the level required by any audience, whether it was a school assembly or a gathering of the leading scientists, philosophers and educators of the world.

Mar Gregorios was a critic of the assumptions of the culture and civilization of the Western world including Western education. And he delved deep down into the roots of Indian Culture and sought to combine Eastern Christian and Indian Culture in order to develop a new understanding of man.

As a Church worker and ecumenical leader Mar Gregorios had a very distinguished and very influential career. Starting as an Associate Secretary of the Student Christian Movement of India, he served the General Secretary of the Orthodox Christian Student Movement of India, and while in Ethiopia, founded an Ethiopian Orthodox Students' Association. By the time of the third assembly of the World Council of Churches held at Delhi in 1961, his standing as a theologian and an interpreter of the Bible was so great that he was chosen to be the Bible Study leader of the Assembly. In the World council of Churches itself he held many very responsible positions. He was Associate Secretary and Director of the Division of Ecumenical Action (1962 to 1967), Member of the Central Committee from 1968 to 1991, and President from 1983 to 1991. He also headed many important delegations of W.C.C.: a delegation to UNESCO in 1966, a delegation to the heads of African States in 1968 and two delegations to the UN General Assembly special session on Disarmament in 1983 and 88.

Mar Gregorios was not just a leader and an organiser of like minded persons interested in peace or social justice or world affairs. As his understanding of the forces moving the international economic and political order was very profound, and as he had very clear ideas regarding the directions in which things should move, he had considerations to urge and arguments to advance which carried weight with the leaders of peoples and the heads of governments. Those whowere close to him tell us that he was often able to influence the course of international and national events.

The connection of Mar Gregorios with AIACHE did not cease with the initial consultation and the founding of the Association. He continued for long as a member of the Editorial Board of "New Frontiers in Education" and had participated in later triennial conferences. May God give us more men of Mar Gregorios's calibre.

(Courtsey: AIACHE News Letter, Vol. XXXI, No. 1, February 1997)