Red Bishop of India

J. Russell Chandran

Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios (74), of the Orthodox Church passed away at New Delhi on the morning of Sunday, November 24, 1996, after a brief illness. In his death both Church and India have lost an eminent theologian, scholar, church leader, ecumenist and statesman.

My acquaintance with him goes back to the days when he was a young theological student in USA at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He was then known as Deaon Paul Verghese. Even then, he was known for a brilliant mind. Later years were to show its scope and versatility in the mastery he attained not only in theology and philosophy but also in social sciences, political thought and even modern science and technology.

His academic pursuits took no respite. In course of time he earned three doctorates - from Oxford in Philosophy, in Theology from Budapest, on the Cappadocian Fathers of the Orthodox tradition from the Senate of Serampore. He spent some time also at the Institutes of Leningrad Prague.

Mar Gregorios held important posts both in the national and international fora. He was patron of the Council of World Religions, New York and also the President of the famous Inter - religious Federation for World Peace. He held numerous posts, as the President of the Inter - religious Federation was crucial as he lambasted the Western hegemony over the developing world. He tirelessly organised the various religious communities in the battle for a world free of deadly weapons. This struggle brought him nearer to the socialist ideology with which he shared a special affinity till his last breath. He boldly stated that Christian morals and the socialist ideology stood very close to each other and a unified assault against injustice was quite justified. His pro - Red approaches provoked the Western establishment to brand his as the "Red Bishop of India'.

Mar Gregorios won many an award and recognition for his wisdom and work. These included the Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1988, the Kerala Sahitya Academy Award in 1993, the Otto Nuschke Prize for Peace 1988, the Hall of Fame Award for extraordinary service to peace and human unity, just to name a few.

For some years he was in Ethiopia serving first at the Educational Department and later as Advisor to Emperor Haile Selasi. He also wrote the Grammar book of the Ethiopian language. From there he went to Geneva to serve as one of the Secretaries of the World Council of Churches for inter - church Aid. Later he became one of the Associate General Secretaries of the WCC.

After returning to India, he taught at the Orthodox theological Seminary at Kottayam and became its Principal. This position he continued to hold even after his consecration as a bishop and elevation as Metropolitan. He was the Metropolitan of the Orthodox church Delhi Diocese, with Head Quarters at New Delhi.

As Principal of the Orthodox Theological Seminary, he was a member of the Senate of Serampore College and played an important role in the guiding of theological education in India.

Over the years, we had the privilege of being together on various occasions at ecumenical gatherings of the World Council of Churches, Christian Peace Conference, World Conference of Religions for Peace etc. I had the privilege of being his guide when he did the doctoral programme under the Senate of Serampore College. He did outstanding research on the Cappadocian Fathers. Even though the influence of theological education in a Protestant theological seminary was evident in some of his early writings, he made a conscious effort to affirm his commitment to be a theologian of the Orthodox Church. He was critical of the influence of Augustine in western theology and stressed the importance on the Cappadocian Fathers, as well as others of the Orthodox tradition, for the interpretation of the Gospel of Christ.

He was one of the Honorary Presidents of the World Council of Churches for one term. He was held in very high regard by the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox churches, particularly by the Patriarch and metropolitans of the Russian Orthodox Church.

He played and active role in the Christian Peace Conference and served on its Working Committee for many years and also in its presidium. It was on his initiative that the dialogue between the Orthodox Churches and Lutheran Churches in India took place. He was also instrumental in the Syrian Orthodox Church becoming a member of the National Council of Churches in India.

He wrote many books and contributed scholarly articles on a variety of subjects, including not only religion, theology and spirituality but also science and technology and politics.

He will always be remembered for his contribution to the ecumenical movement and to Christian theology and theological education. The title of the festschrift published in his honour in 1985, namely freedom, Love and Community, describes his basic concerns in his writings as well as in his ecumenical ministry. He was concerned with peace and justice in national as well as international relations, and also with ecumenical oneness among the churches. We praise and thank God for his life and witness.

(People’s Reporter, Dec. 1-15, 1996)