Sanjay Raphael Varghese

My earliest memories of Gregorios Tirumeni, is that of a very Holy Tirumeni seen from the awe - filled eyes of a12 year old in the small town of Khetri in Rajasthan, where I was born and brought up. My father had often told me that this Tirumeni was an extraordinary person with great wisdom, which I didn’t understand then, but today I can recall very clearly, how great I felt standing next to him and getting photographed with him, back in 1975.

After I joined the Taj Group of Hotels as a Management Trainee in 1988, I was in
Delhi and had a lot of spare time, some of which I spent as a volunteer at Nirmal Hridaya. one of the Missionaries of Charity home for the destitute and dying, where I also met Mother Teresa once. It was during those times when I had a very strong urge to serve the church, so I gathered enough courage to go and meet Gregorios Tirumeni and express my desire to become a priest.

He had the reputation of having a temper, always on a very short fuse. But when I actually met him at the Orthodox Centre, I found him quite the opposite - very approachable and willing to hear me fully. I still remember my first meeting with him when we spent almost two hours talking, where most of my energy was spent on trying to impress him. I realised that I was not talking merely to a religious leader, but a well - informed, contemporary, intelligent human being totally devoid of any pretensions and a man with a fantastic sense of humour. He asked me to keep visiting him at the Orthodox Centre whenever I had time. That became the starting point of a cherished association for me and from then on, very often I did not go back home but stayed over night at the Centre.

In 1989, Tirumeni was one of the organizers of the International Philosophy Conference in Delhi, and he asked me to be with him throughout for ten days to assist him. In those ten days, I worked very closely with him and probably he too tested me and found me acceptable enough to entrust some of his affairs to my care. I witnessed then that even a Tirumeni can drive a car wearing his Kuppayam, at a respectable speed of 70 Kms / hour at 11.00 PM in the night and enjoy Mughlai food (no meat only fish). It was a pleasant surprise to me, a hotelier, to know that Tirumeni even knew what kind of beverage or juice or aerated drink would go with which kind of food. On enquiring, he told me that he had picked up that knowledge when he was in Geneva at the WCC, this suggest the fact that he was open to knowledge of any field.

He then gave me the responsibility to sort his mail, set up a CD player for him, which I did; he asked me whether I could work on the computer and at that time I was not very computer literate (one of my biggest regrets, as I could have done so much for him if I knew computers then). He also told me that he had charted out a plan for me to go to the Seminary and for Higher Studies abroad, but I was not ready till then due to the fact that my sister was still unmarried and my mother being a widow, though a very strong lady, couldn’t have managed my absence from the family.


Tirumeni was fine with that and we continued our regular meetings at the Centre. It was during one of his trips to Europe that the devastating news hit us that he had suffered a stroke and was bed ridden in Germany. Finally after about two months we heard that he was coming back; but this time on a wheel chair and as a walking crutch dependant. When I saw him for the first time on the wheel chair I was amazed with his tenacity to be in control; even though his left hand and leg would not respond to his wishes, yet amazingly he appeared to be an epitome of perfect serenity. When I walked up to him right in the Immigration Area, I could see that he was visibly surprised but very relieved to see me there, and I for the first time saw that Tirumeni’s too have emotions and they too are normal human beings like all of us. The moment of truth came when Tirumeni tried to get into the car from the wheel chair, which he could not do on his own, somebody had to pick up his left leg and put it into the car.

That was the first time I felt a fair degree of anger and frustration at the fact that from that time onwards, he would have to depend on some body for something as simple as getting into a car. I whole - heartedly took up that responsibility whenever I was with him and very soon, I had mastered the art of lifting his paralyzed leg to the best of his requirements.

One of the most agonizing experiences, which Tirumeni had to go through, was when he had to be operated upon for his prostrate problem. The result of the surgery was not positive, as anticipated by the doctors and Tirumeni had to battle incontinence for about six months. I witnessed his agony caused due to the inflammation in the groin and the inability to even move his legs. I went and spoke to the nurse in - charge to put an appropriate external catheter with a urine bag to prevent the urine from falling onto his skin.

Immediately after the surgery Tirumeni was invited by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi for one of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation Meetings and once again I was amazed with his determination; he dared to go for such a high profile meeting with catheter and urine bag attached to his body. Unfortunately in the middle of the meeting the catheter came off and Tirumeni had to come back with his Kuppayam all wet. What
I saw in him then, was not shame but frustration of a very agile and alert brain with an inextinguishable flame of desire to do more, but trapped in a body which had its limitations. Unfortunately, in those days the Adult diapers were not available in India. Recently when I saw these being sold at the neighbourhood medical store, I was reminded of this very incident.

Conference on World Religions - Rishikesh

During the course of the limited time spent by me with Tirumeni, he asked me if I could attend the International Conference on World Religions at Rishikesh. Although he had asked some other Doctoral students from Delhi University - Dr. Joyce Prakasam, Dr. Manju Gerard - my sister, Dr. Abhik, Dr. Nutan, only I had the privilege to be his personal assistant all throughout. There I witnessed in him, a paralyzed man working against conference deadlines on a laptop computer with one hand late into the night, and again getting up very early to prepare for the day ahead. I had the responsibility to dress him up and do all those little things for him, which otherwise any other person would normally take for granted. I also used to change the filled urine bags, wash them and replace them with fresh ones.

In the Conference, Tirumeni expressed his agony as to how we, the followers of Lord Jesus Christ, have lost the great commission to be the "Salt of the Earth." I realised how humble a man Tirumeni was in the true sense and after listening to him, most of the people had tears in their eyes. I also saw Tirumeni being welcomed by the Hindu Priests at Haridwar on the banks of river Ganga with ‘Aarti’ and ‘Tilak’ on his forehead. During the evening ceremonies, I witnessed an Orthodox Bishop saying ‘OM’ and pouring out the water from river Ganga, in an act of veneration as per the Hindu traditions. For me and one other young orthodox priest, it was an act of total desecration of the Orthodox Faith. I was upset and curious to know why Tirumeni did that, I drew enough courage to ask him some days later about this subject, and he smiled disarmingly and said, "You shouldn’t have waited so long to ask me about what I did that night; all I did was respect the Tradition of the Hindu Brothers and acknowledge God Almighty’s creation of the life - giving rivers on the earth."

He went on to explain that one doesn’t have to disrespect somebody else’s way of life to proclaim the way in which you are convinced of salvation, especially in the Christian context. Again all who knew and interacted with Tirumeni very closely knew about his relationship with Baba Virsa Singh, a very pious and saintly person from the Sikh background illiterate but of a deep spiritual insight who claimed to have seen Jesus Christ.

Post Stroke

After spending considerable time with Tirumeni, I was able to anticipate his needs and be proactive to his satisfaction. So much so that once when he fell ill and was in Kerala at the Seminary, he asked for me to be present there with him for some days. I immediately left for Kerala and spent about ten days of some great time with him, cooked for him and served him to his satisfaction, also witnessed some great interaction and learning with him at the Seminary. During his post - stroke life, Tirumeni tried many measures to restore strength to his left leg and hand, one such endeavour was a treatment under a Unani Vaid in a Unani hospital in North Delhi.

I still remember that Passion Week when I pursued him to come to Mayur Vihar Church on Good Friday to which he agreed. He participated in the Good Friday Service and spoke to the congregation, and when the time for the Kissing of the Cross came, he called me and asked me as a matter of fact whether I was carrying any money, luckily I had some money and gave him some, I think a fifty rupee note. It’s not that I didn’t feel privileged that Tirumeni was taking money from me - I did, but the fact that he found me approachable enough made me think of the ability of this great man to relate with anybody.

The last time I spent time together with him out of Delhi, was when he was getting himself treated for the stroke at Mumbai, at the residence of the then Governor, His Excellency Dr. P. C. Alexander. He suddenly fell very ill and had to be admitted to Bombay Hospital. Phillip Achen called me from there and told me that Tirumeni wanted me in Mumbai to be with him in the hospital, and that evening as desired by him, I was at his bedside in the hospital. Two days later all of us flew back to Delhi when Tirumeni recovered.

Last Purchase

One of the last tasks I did for Tirumeni was to do some shopping for him. I bought him some real good curtain tassels and a white lamp shade so that he could read before he used to go to sleep. I also organized his bedroom and dressing room, an opportunity of my lifetime when I got to see all the medallions, personal possessions, awards and rare photographs and objects collected by him on his various travels. I framed a photo for him, which he received from one of his friends from his Cambridge Days Alumni gathering. This is still kept in one of the display cabinets at the Orthodox Centre.

Little did I know that he went to one of the saree shops in Delhi on a wheel chair to buy wedding gift for my sister, off course Kochu Tirumeni and Sam Achen then made sure that the saree was sent to Kerala where the wedding took place.

He used to get very exhausted those days, but I never ever imagined that he would leave all of us that soon and that too at a time when I would be out of Delhi. The thing I used to enjoy the most was the privilege to have dinner with Tirumeni in his bedroom and talk about various things and listen to the words of wisdom. In that same room I twice celebrated the onset of the New Year, with Tirumeni praying in a very touching and personal manner at midnight. It used to be a very routine exercise for me to sit till very late in the night and massage his feet with pain relieving balm as, after the stroke the feet used to twitch and he used to get cramps, which were very painful. Eventually as he would be ready to sleep, he used to ask me to put his favourite music, the ‘Gregorian Chants’, and then finally to switch off the main light and say - "Good Night", I would then gently cover him with the blanket, kiss his hand and leave the room.

Towards his last days, he one day asked me to reconsider about going to the Seminary and becoming a priest; he said you will find a nice girl and get married, and start a family. It was during that time he gave me a gift of silver cuff links, which today I wear and feel proud of.

He was, truly, an extraordinary man; not just as a spiritual leader but a socialist visionary in the true sense of the word; for me, personally, he was nothing less than a friend, a philosopher, a guide, almost like a father (as evident in the letter he wrote to me), knowing him changed my life inside out.

(Prayatna - MGOCSM Delhi Diocese News Letter, Sep. 2003)