CREDENTIALS APOLOGY FOR A PERSONAL CONFESSION
This is my story. I wish I could tell it as it really happened to me, in me, and around me. That would take a better memory than I have. It calls for much, more: for example, a nobler soul unafraid of exposing itself; a more secure personality structure, which can look at itself with more honesty; freedom from the need to brag and boast; better capacity to give credit where it is due and to acknowledge one’s myriad debts to others; in speaking of achievements and failures, less selectivity in favor of the former; perhaps more willingness to perceive one’s own ordinariness.
Even if my memory were prodigiously accurate, I Know I would simply not be capable of separating interpretation from fact when it comes to telling my own story. Besides, I simply lack the guts to reveal the whole story even as I remember it. There is so much in my story of which I am, or at least ought to be, profoundly ashamed. Some things in my life I so loathe the memory of, that I would lack even the strength to dig them out of the sub-conscious and unconscious chambers of the memory and face them myself. Revealing other things about myself may do damage to others.
It seems inevitable therefore that whatsoever I write, the subconscious desire to create an impression would distort my testimony. I like applause, and like most others, experience pain at rebuke. I have not attained to that level of spiritual development where praise and blame would equally bounce off my skin like water off a duck’s back. An adverse judgment by others still depresses me. A good review in turn pleases me no end.
In principle I know that this is not as it should be. My self-esteem should not, in theory, be dependent on other people’s judgment of me. I should value myself and love myself for the simple reason that, despite all my failures, faults and foibles, God loves me. I know that in theory. But to practice that equanimity fully I must grow deeper roots in to that love of God. The greater my sense of security in being enfolded in God’s caring and dependable love, the higher would be my capacity to be unaffected by accolade or allegation, reproof of approbation. That sense of security measures up in me at present as fair, but by no means as full or near perfect.
What then is the purpose of this strange “spiritual autobiography” of mine? Why should anyone read it? Why should I write it?
First, one should mention a somewhat selfish reason. I Want to see for myself what I have learned from life, even if I am as yet unable to practice most of what I approve. It is almost seventyone years since I came to this life as a new-born baby. There should be some things I have learned through these years of a rather full life, insights which may even benefit others if I share them. Those who know me through my public image may be disappointed in some cases with what they read here. That is perhaps as it should be. False images do not deserve to be perpetuated. But I want to see for myself what I can say about what I have learned from life. saying it would in itself be an act of learning for me. On the other hand, what I have lived through constitute part of my credentials for saying what I am saying here. Elsewhere I try to give an account in bare outline of my not too pedestrian life.
Second, I want to give thanks to God for what He has done for me and for others. I want to laud and praise Him in the congregation of humanity. Very few human beings may actually hear my hymn of praise and thanksgiving. I want to acknowledge freely that whatever there has been of good in me and in my words and acts, has come entirely from Him, for He is the source of all good, and I recognize Him as such.
I suspect that some of my readers may not like such theistic language. To some any God-language, besides being philosophically questionable, sounds too pious or/and pretentious, and therefore unauthentic.
I would generally agree with them on both counts. I do not know of any logically consistent or conceptually faultless philosophical theism in the history of human religion and philosophy. I am one who suffers unbearably from the philosophical naivete of most of my Christian theological colleagues. I know especially that within the world of modern critical rationality, God-language is philosophically problematic.
I am also aware of the fact that never before in human history did God-talk sounds so inauthentic and ring so false. We have had, in our funny modern secular civilisation where God is fundamentally and methodologically eliminated from all that we regard as important - from our science-technology, from our literature, from our art and music, from our civic polity, from our social sciences, from our educational system and from our healing arts/sciences - precisely in that secular culture, we have had, an incredible surfeit of God-talk, as if we were frantically trying to convince ourselves that we had not so eliminated God from our life.
I could probably say much the same things without mentioning God. But an inner compulsion pushes me to violate the taboo against mentioning God in academic or respectable discourse. I do not want to take God’s name in vain, nor do I wish to misuse it for gaining political mileage. But I do not want to be intimidated either, by that arrogant secular culture which seeks to impose on me the dogma that the human being is either self-existent or the result of an accident in natural evolution, and therefore owes nothing whatsoever to God. That dogma certainly has no evidence to support it. The evidence I have seen convinces me that LaPlace was talking like a very presumptuous adolescent when he claimed that science had no need of a God-hypothesis. I do not want to impose my God-concept on others, but then neither can I desist from praising the Source, Ground and Guide of all existence, just because science has been able to provide no incontrovertible evidence for God’s Is-ness.
My third reason is also quite compelling, at least for myself. I have three or four books in my head, I think. But I do not think I have enough time left in my advanced life to complete those in any satisfactory way. I want to use this work also as an occasion for me to review some of the ideas and ideologies that I have come across in my long life in four continents and amidst many cultures. Several people have actually asked me to write the story of my life. So, with the readers’ leave, I will use my life-story as a framework for touching upon the many ideas that crowd my limited mind in the late evening of my life.
If I am not boring my reader, permit me to give the shell of my life in a few paragraphs. The over-all framework of my life will perhaps help the reader to put individual episodes in perspective. My life has been quite global, inter-continental as well as cross-cultural.
II. A BRIEF SKETCH OF MY LIFE
I have lived in Africa (mostly in Ethiopia, two stints in 1947-50 and 1956-59, but have also visited a dozen other countries in that continent) for some six years or more. I spent some seven years in the American continent (two fairly long stints in 1950-54 and 1959-60 and scores of extended visits to the USA; also visited Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Cuba, Jamaica and other Latin American and Carribean countries). I have also lived in Europe (mostly in Switzerland in 1962-67, England in 1960-61 and Germany in 1972, but also visiting several times nearly all the other countries of Eastern and Western Europe) for another seven or eight years. I visited the Soviet Union at least 45 times between 1962 and 1992.
The rest of my life I have spent in Asia, the first twentyfive exclusively in India. I have visited China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, the Soviet Far East, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Burma, Sri Lanka and so on, some of them several times; also visited most countries in West Asia. I have not missed Australia and New Zealand either. All that gives me some knowledge of humanity and its many-hued culture.
I have read a lot and listened to a lot more. Languages help both to read and to listen to a wider variety of people. I cannot say that I have mastered any language. I seem to have a fair degree of control in using English (not my mother-tongue, but the language in which I happen to be most fluent). I must disclaim any capacity for genuine literary writing, though I admire and often envy such capacity in others. This despite the fact that I have written and published some 15 books in English.
I can still use Malayalam, my mother-tongue (a South Indian language of the so-called Dravidian family, a derivative of Tamil, spoken in Kerala) with some facility, though it has now become rusty with disuse. I can still do literary or journalistic writing as well as give public addresses in that language, as I often have to.
I was once (fortythree years ago) rather proficient in Amharic, the official Ethiopian language then, since I had to teach it (after learning it for about 18 months) at the 12th Grade level to Amharic speaking Ethiopian students. I have not had occasion to use it very much these past thirty-four years or so since I left the Ethiopian Civil Service in 1959. It is also quite rusty. Once I wrote a grammar of Amharic for my own teaching purposes.
That adds up to one Euro-American language, one Asian language, and one African language. Some help in understanding diverse cultures.
Of course I have dabbled in a dozen or more other languages, but I cannot say that I know those languages. French I can read and understand, but can hardly write in it, and can speak with difficulty only. The same is true of German also, though my vocabulary is more limited than in French. I have a smattering of two other Indian languages - Hindi and Tamil. I have some reading knowledge of Biblical or Koine Greek, and have struggled also with Classical Greek, Patristic Greek, and even modern (Demotiki) Greek. I have some rudimentary knowledge of Sanskrit, the classical Indian language, as also of Latin, Europe’s classical language. Spanish, Italian and Portuguese I can read with difficulty. Other languages like Russian and Arabic and Ge’ez (the classical language of Ethiopia) I have wrestled with, but the results have been conspicuously poor, in fact nonevident.
I have acquired a limited reading knowledge of a few other Semitic languages, like Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac. These have also given some insights into aspects of Semitic culture. Perhaps I may mention one other language I learned in six weeks at Oklahoma University in the summer of 1950, and forgot in just as many weeks - Kayawa, the unwritten language of a small Native American tribe in Oklahoma. I still remember the kind lady from that tribe who was “informant’’ for my self-study of the language - Mrs. Helen Spottedhorse.
Well, that is all. I do not know how many languages all that totes up to. I wish I had the ability of my friend and benefactor, Dr. Eugene Nida of the American Bible Society who once told me he had analyzed the structure of a 120 or more languages!
I must confess that even my limited knowledge of languages (less than 1% of the more than 2000 tongues of the world) has been a considerable help in breaking through to other cultures and to mentalities of peoples. I have noted that in my sojourns abroad, the intensity of my immersion in other cultures has been proportional to the distance I have managed to maintain from the Indian community in that area. This has sometimes meant being looked upon as a snob by one’s own fellow countrymen in such areas, for one gets to spend so little time with them in their many frivolous and amusing pursuits and in their fairly uninhibited and free exchange of gossip and slander.
Yes, I seem to have seen and heard much. Another advantage I had was perhaps the many different jobs I have held, only partly by personal choice. Let me recall here some of the main ones.
I finished my secondary education, all of it at the Government Boy’s High School in my hometown, Tripunithura, near Cochin in Central Kerala, in March 1937, when I was not yet 15 years old. I think I was born on the 9th of August 1922. I am not quite sure. The records say the 25th of Karkatakam in 1097 Malayalam Era, if I remember right. I must check that up some time. The secondary school final examination was in March 1937, I remember. I came out with some distinction in the state-wide (it was the State of Cochin, ruled by a maharaja in those days) secondary school examination - first class, 6th rank in the state, first in the school, if my memory does not deceive me. That was not so bad, considering the circumstances in which I had to write that examination. On that later.
I even managed to secure a state merit scholarship (Rs. 4.50 a month for four years), sufficient for paying my College tuition fees at the Madras University. But then the nearest affiliated College was 6 miles away, the Maharajah’s College, Ernakulam. I would need another Rs. 5.00 (little more than one U S dollar in those days) per month for bus fare and lunch. My father, who as a primary school teacher, earned Rs. 28.00 per month, on which he had to bring up a family of a wife and five sons, simply told me that he could not afford that amount.
So I had to start working before I was quite fifteen, not so much to earn a living as just to keep out of trouble by keeping myself occupied. None of my uncles or other relatives would help me with that five rupees a month, which I needed to go for a college education. I worked for thirteen long years before I earned enough to go to college at the age of 28, and that too in the USA.
I worked as a teen-ager journalist, covering important events for our Roman Catholic daily Malabar Mail, and as a freelance writer in English for the weekly and monthly press in India, already at the age of 16. I also got elected as Secretary of the local Public Library and Reading Room in my hometown, Tripunithura. Then I got a job as a clerk in a transportation and shipping firm in Cochin. After a couple of years at that I entered a competitive examination and joined the clerical cadre of the Indian Posts and Telegraphs department. I served in several little towns in the Princely states of Cochin and Travancore as telegraphist and as Postmaster. Finally I was elected as Associate Secretary for Travancore-Cochin of the All India Posts and Telegraphs Union, and even helped organize a major nation-wide strike against the British Raj, in those pre-independence days of India.
From 1947 to 1950 I served as a teacher in the Government schools in Ethiopia, teaching all the way from primary to secondary and also at College level. The story of how I got to Ethiopia in the first place will have to be told later. Less than three years in Ethiopia taught me a great deal and the years were event-filled, turbulent and productive. I had more than a fair share of opposition and adulation. That too is a long story, and will have to wait.
In 1950 I left Ethiopia, for I needed to get some more formal education before getting too old. I was already 28 and had not been to College. On my way to joining Goshen College in the USA, I visited the Middle East and Europe as a tourist. So many new doors were thus opened to new cultures. For four years in America (1950-54) I worked hard as a student and secured both my BA degree from Goshen College, and also earned a Bachelor of Divinity (later changed to Master of Divinity) degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. America was a distinct cultural experience, very enriching. One of my richest experiences as an Eastern Orthodox layman was serving as Assistant Pastor in two Black Baptist churches in Elkhart, Indiana and Princeton, New Jersey during that first four-year sojourn.
I came back to India in 1954, and started working as a teacher of the Christian religion for university students and for educated lay people, at the Fellowship House connected with Union Christian College, Alwaye, in Central Kerala. I was also Honorary Associate Secretary of the Student Christian Movement of India, working mostly with Orthodox and Protestant University students and teachers all over India. At the same time I was elected General Secretary of the Orthodox Student Conference, and in that Capacity organized the Orthodox Christian Student Movement of India. These were invaluable experiences in shaping my thought and spirituality.
In 1956 I had to go to Ethiopia again, this time as Personal Assistant, Liaison Officer with India, and Special Advisor to Emperor Haile Sellassie of Ethiopia. In that position I received many insider’s insights into how a government structure works, though the Ethiopian system was not the most developed. The details of that story will have to wait, since this is only a skeleton sketch of my life.
In 1959 I resigned my Ethiopian job with great difficulty (story later) and went to Yale University in America for further theological and philosophical study. I found the facilities for theological study at Yale Divinity School not quite up to the mark, because of colossal and I fear, somewhat cultivated, ignorance of vast areas of Christian history and thought and spirituality. On the other hand I found the Yale Graduate School excellent in modern western philosophy, especially in understanding German philosophers like Kant and Husserl. During this year I served also as a consultant to the Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA, which gave me some great insights into the inside workings of a large American Protestant denomination.
I decided to leave Yale and go to Oxford, anticipating better knowledge of Eastern Theology and Patristics there. I got admitted to a D. Phil (Doctor of Philosophy) program at Oxford, with membership in Keble College, but living at the House of St. Gregory and St. Macrina at 1 Canterbury Road in Oxford. In general Oxford disappointed me - too staid, too dogmatic, too insular, too pompously unauthentic for my taste. But I had great teachers there like Michael Polanyi, who initiated me into some of the problems of human knowing and intellectual certainty. My philosophical pilgrimage, which began with an introductory course at Goshen, and had substantially developed at Princeton and Yale, reached a new level of maturity at Oxford. My mind developed by reacting critically to teachers like Gilbert Ryle and Ian Ramsey, Henry Chadwick and R. C. Zahner.
While at Oxford I was invited to Geneva by Dr. Visser’t Hooft, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. He asked me to join the WCC staff at Geneva. I had to say to him that I found the WCC too uncongenial, as being too western and too Protestant. He said that that was the very reason they wanted me - to reverse the trend and balance the one-sidedness. I turned the offer down, politely disclaiming my ability to do what was required, and insisting on my need to complete the studies at Oxford.
The Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches was being held at New Delhi in 1961. I was invited to be one of the three main Bible Study leaders, along with Dr. Martin Niemoeller of Germany and Prof. Paul Minear of Yale. My own Orthodox Church in India, which was a founder - member of the WCC also asked me to be one of its delegates at the Assembly. I accepted both invitations, and the Assembly turned out to be a great occasion for my entry into the Ecumenical Movement, from which I had generally kept a respectful distance as a fairly friendly critic of the WCC.
The nearly one thousand participants of the Assembly were divided into three sections, and it was my privilege to lead five daily Bible studies for one of the sections. Obviously the first Bible study was such a great success, that the next day several prominent people began leaving their sections and coming to my Bible studies. One such was Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, who eventually became a life-long friend and admirer.
Several Orthodox Churches were founder - members of the WCC as it was formed in 1948 in Amsterdam, at the first Assembly. That included the Orthodox churches of India and Egypt, Ethiopia and Greece. But the vast majority of the Orthodox churches, being under Communist rule, had not been permitted by their government or by the WCC authorities to join as members. In 1961, at the New Delhi Assembly, almost all of them came in: the large Russian Orthodox Church, the sizeable Romanian, the Georgian, the Armenian, the Bulgarian, the Serbian and others made a grand influx, and the WCC was now one-third Orthodox and two-third Protestant. But the staff in Geneva was almost exclusively Protestant, except for the layman Professor Nikos Nissiotis from the Church of Greece. The Orthodox were short of competent persons with proficiency in western languages to serve on the staff.
So, when the young Indian Priest Fr. Paul Verghese, as I was then known, from Oxford, made a great impression on the Assembly, the Orthodox delegates were exceptionally elated and proud. I was 39 and had just been ordained a priest a few months before the Assembly. The Orthodox delegates present in New Delhi decided to make the trip south to Kerala (a good 3000 kilometers) to request the head of my church to persuade me to go to Geneva and become the spokesman on the staff for all the Orthodox churches.
So in 1962 began a new chapter in my life, providing me with a vast global arena of service and experience, for which I am perpetually grateful. From 1962 to 1967 I served as Associate General Secretary and Director of the Division of Ecumenical Action. I was able to visit most of the Protestant and Orthodox churches of the World, to serve as an Observer at the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church and to get an inside knowledge of the Christian churches of the world. Living in the scenic city of Geneva in an apartment of my own was also a new experience, cooking my own meals and doing my own chores like laundry and shopping. I will speak about my WCC experience later.
In 1967, declining a firm written invitation and considerable pressure to renew my contract for another five years, I left Geneva to serve my own Church in India, as Principal of the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kottayam, Kerala, where all the priests of my Church are trained. I have continued in that position right up to now. Two things I cherished in that experience: the opportunity to teach more or less full time, and the possibility of shaping of the life and thought of young candidates for the priesthood. I have also been able, by the Grace of God, to build up the Seminary, with the help of my students and colleagues, to its present level of a high quality academic institution.
I had discontinued my doctoral research program at Oxford, in order to go to Geneva. Now it was time to take it up again, on my own at Kottayam. The demands on my time both from the Seminary and from my own Church as a whole, left me little time for independent study. Besides I kept up a hectic world-wide schedule in international conferences and seminars, in a continuing ministry of coordinating the work of the Oriental Orthodox churches of Egypt, Syria, Armenia, India and Ethiopia, and in a plethora of services to the Churches in Communist countries. I was very much in demand as a speaker also in the Western churches, as well as in Africa and Asia.
In fact my international work became even more extensive than when I was on the staff of the WCC in Geneva. Already in 1968 my Church had nominated me to serve as its man on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. I has also been appointed as Secretary of my Church for Inter-Church Relations, a rather demanding assignment. I served also as a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC from 1968 to 1975, meeting and working with many outstanding theological minds. Another highly educative experience was serving for 12 years as a founding member of the Joint Working Group between the Vatican and the WCC (1963 to 1975). I was also privileged to serve, along with the late Prof. Nissiotis of the Greek Orthodox Church, as Joint Convenor of the history-making informal conversations between theologians of the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox churches which had broken communion with each other more than 13 centuries ago. Given these responsibilities, sustained scholarly research was practically impossible.
In 1972 I took 6 months’ leave from the Seminary and went to Muenster, in Westphalia, West Germany for writing my doctoral dissertation on “God - World - Man Relationship in St. Gregory of Nyssa.” Muenster had a special University Institute for the study of the writings of St. Gregory of Nyssa. I stayed in the Roman Catholic Priesterseminar, a house for post-seminary studies for Roman Catholic priests. The institute kindly gave me the best they could offer in terms of facilities. I finished my writing in time, and also got to know the German culture slightly better. My dissertation was later submitted to Serampore University, and after some abbreviation was accepted. I received the Doctor of Theology degree in 1975.
In 1975 I was consecrated as Bishop, and was given the responsibility for the newly created Delhi diocese, as a part -time job in addition to all my other duties in the Church. There was neither office nor residence for the Bishop in 1975. My diocese included besides the whole of Northwest India, also the Gulf States and Europe. Delhi was 3000 miles from Kottayam, and I had to commute. By the Grace of God it was possible not only to build an architecturally attractive diocesan centre, but also to build up some 20 new churches in the diocese. Needless to say, all that took effort and time.
In 1975 I was elected to the Executive Committee of the WCC. This meant going abroad at least three times a year for WCC meetings alone. In 1983 at Vancouver, Canada, I was elected a President of the World Council of Churches, a position I held till 1991. I had also rather early been elected as a Vice - President of the Christian Peace Conference with its headquarters in Prague, Czechoslovakia, which also meant frequent international meetings and travel.
At home meanwhile, besides being a speaker much in demand, I served as a member of the Senate of Kerala University (1972 - 76) and of the Senate of Serampore University (1970 - 74, and again 1984 - 93). I was elected Vice - President of the Kerala Philosophical Congress in 1968. In 1975, we were able to host the annual session of the Indian Philosophical Congress and to chair the Reception Committee. My association since 1974 with Indian philosophers in the Indian Philosophical Congress and in the Indian Council of Philosophical Research has been a major factor in the growth of my understanding and awareness of the great and rich Indian philosophical heritage. Later on, I was elected as General President of the Indian Philosophical Congress, founded by Rabindranath Tagore and S. Radhakrishnan some 80 years ago. It seems I was the first and only Indian Christian to adorn that post. The honor was hardly deserved, but some of my friends in the Indian Philosophical establishment thought that the General Presidency should not be given only to members of the majority community.
LECTURERSHIPS AND PUBLICATIONS
On the American continent too I had several pleasant and profitable associations. In 1968 the Lutherans invited me to deliver the Hein Memorial Lectures in three of their seminaries. That was when I began substantially extended writing, going beyond articles and papers. These lectures were subsequently incorporated in my The Freedom of Man published by the Westminster Press, Philadelphia in 1972, and later in my Freedom and Authority, published by the Christian Literature Society, Madras in 1974.
My first major published book dealt with some of the specifics of Eastern Christian worship. Association Press in New York and Lutterworth Press in London jointly published. Joy of Freedom, Eastern Worship and Modern Man, in 1967. The book sold out fairly quickly, and a cheap Indian edition was published by the Christian Literature Society in Madras in 1987. That Society had already published some collections of my Bible Studies and meditations: The Gospel of The Kingdom in 1968, and Be Still and know in 1974.
Dr. K. M. Tharakan, a well known literary critic and writer in Kerala, translated my Joy of Freedom into Malayalam as Swathantryadeepthi. He also wrote a laudatory biography entitled Paulos Mar Gregorios: Man and thinker. My friends and well wishers have brought out two Festschift volumes in my honor: one in 1982 for my sixtieth Birthday (Freedom, Love, Community) and another for my seventieth birthday in 1992 (Towards a New Humanity).
I wrote brief accounts of the life and teachings of some of the prominent Eastern Christian Fathers, mainly for the use of the Orthodox college students. That was published in Kottayam in 1969 as The Faith of Our Fathers. In 1975, in preparation for the Alwaye session of the Indian Philosophical Congress, I published a brief introduction to modern European philosophy: The Quest for Certainty. Two philosophical lectures I gave at Sri Venkateswara University in Tirupati were published by that University in 1978 as Truth Without Tradition?
In 1978, as I was chairing the Preparatory Committee for the WCC’s famous World Conference on Faith, Science and the Future, I was infuriated by a book by one of my Committee members giving the Christian theological basis for an approach to the Environment problem. It was much too Calvinistic and hardly Christian from my perspective. The best I could do to respond was to sit in the Gregorian Library in Rome for three weeks and produce The Human Presence, giving an Eastern Orthodox Christian approach to the same problem. The book was published in Geneva by the WCC in 1978, and as it quickly sold out, it was reprinted in 1979. CLS, Madras brought out a cheap edition of this book in 1980, and an American Edition was published by Amity House, New York in 1987. It has been one of my more successful books in terms of sales and reviews. The chapter on “Mastery and Mystery” has been widely quoted.
That World Conference on Faith, Science and the Future, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1979, with some 500 physical scientists and the same number of social scientists and theologians attending, constituted, along with the five-year preparatory process under my chairmanship which preceded it, a major turning point in my own thought-life. I had occasion to work with many world thinkers on the issues relating to modern science as our chief way of knowing, and to modern technology as our principal tool for transforming society and environment. Regarding the conference itself which lasted for several days and which I had the unique privilege to chair I shall have something to say later.
In preparation for it I edited and wrote in part a book called Science and Our Future, (CLS Madras, 1978), with contributions from Indian scientists and thinkers. I myself wrote the part formulating the main issues confronting us. After the conference I put down in writing my own thoughts on it, which was published as Science for Sane Societies by CLS Madras in 1980, and republished by Paragon House, New York in 1987 and 1994.
I had been asked to put together two books on the Oriental Orthodox Churches for German readers. They were in part written by me and in part by others from the respective churches. We wrote in English, and after my editing, the material was translated into German. Koptisches Christentum, dealing with the Egyptian and the Ethiopian churches, appeared in 1973 (Stuttgart) as part of the Kirchen Der Welt Series. The second book which dealt with the various groups among the Thomas Christians of Kerala, and to which Roman Catholic, Marthoma, and other scholars had contributed, appeared in the same series next year under the title: Die Syrischen Kirchen in Indien (Stuttgart, 1974).
We had started a small Kerala Study Group in which many Kerala intellectuals of leftist and rightist convictions were members, including Padmashri K. M. Cherian, Chief Editor of Malayala Manorama (India’s largest selling newspaper now), and Sri. C. Achutha Menon (former Chief Minister of Kerala). We used to meet to discuss national and international issues. I had to put together another little book for our study, dealing mostly with the role of Transnational Corporations in India and worldwide. I myself wrote the main part, but added some pieces from others, and we published it under my editorship as Burning Issues, (Kottayam 1997). The little book was a great success. Even Marxists used it for their study programs on TNCs.
One of the most astounding aspects, for me at least, of my WCC experience was organizing the four unofficial conversations (Aarhus, 1964, Bristol, 1967, Geneva 1970, and Addis Ababa 1971) between theologians of the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox churches, jointly convened by Prof. Nissiotis and myself. Astounding because, after almost 1500 years of separation from and polemic against each other, we found ourselves holding the same faith, and jointly acknowledging that the Christological issue (whether the incarnate Christ’s divine and human natures had actually become one, or should still be counted as two) which was supposed to have divided us in the fifth and sixth centuries was basically terminological and not substantial. The reports of these conversations, edited by Nissiotis and myself and others, appeared in the Greek Orthodox Theological Review published by the Hellenic College in Brookline, Massachusetts. The WCC asked us to edit a summary of these reports, and this was published in 1981 by the WCC Geneva under the title: Does Chalcedon Divide or Unite?
My doctoral dissertation submitted to Serampore University was published in 1980 by Sophia Publications, New Delhi, under the title Cosmic Man. It dealt with the relation between God, Humanity and World in the 4th century Eastern Christian Father St. Gregory of Nyssa. It was later republished under the same title in 1988 by Paragon, New York. It is a work that I had expected to be well received, but that has not been the case. I hope it will be studied more seriously by people in the future, for it deals with one of the fundamental problems of Christian Theism. People who believe in God often simply take it for granted that God, Humanity and World are three entities, while Gregory of Nyssa had already seen the philosophical problem of seeing the Creator and the Creation as two entities distinct from each other. The Hindu Advaita Vedantin’s point was recognized as basically sound and legitimate, though formulated and explained differently, by this ancient Asian writer from Cappadocia in Asia Minor (present day Turkey). Gregory of Nyssa lived and wrote three or four centuries before Sankara in India.
St. Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, is believed to have come to India in 52 A D and established the Christian Church. According to tradition he was martyred in a place (now called San Thome) near Madras, speared to death by Hindus. The date of his martyrdom was reckoned as 82 AD. In 1982, the Indian Orthodox Church, which with other Thomas Christians in India, that claims St. Thomas as its founder, celebrated the nineteenth centenary of that martyrdom in a big way. Many guests had come from far off places, including Gyani Zail Singh, the President of India and Patriarch IIya of Georgia. I was practically in charge of the celebrations, assisted by a large team of people. We wanted a small book on the history of our Church to be given to the guests. There was none available, and in about a week I had to write one myself. This was published as The Indian Orthodox Church: An Overview.
By the 1980’s I was getting quite restless about the wildly erratic theological formulations propagated by the World Council of Churches. I was elected a President in 1983, and I insisted that I should give a series of lectures to the staff in Geneva about these errors. Influential members of the staff, of course, resisted the proposal with all their strength. Finally the General Secretary, Dr. Emilio Castro of Uruguay, accepted the idea of my giving some lectures at the Headquarters in Geneva, where some 80 executives from all countries and some 200 supportive staff worked. The WCC is the largest non-governmental organization in Geneva, much bigger than the Red Cross, for example. I began preparing my lectures, when suddenly I was told that the lectures would have to be on the theme chosen by one of the three Units of the WCC, the theme being Diakonia or Service. I recognized this as sabotage by the staff, but I decided to play their game and accepted. The five or six meditations were then put together and published by the WCC as The Meaning of Diakonia (Geneva, 1988). The book got some good reviews, but made no impression on the staff. They still go on propagating the old errors, and nowadays even some worse ones. Most of the senior staff began looking upon me as an enemy and still seem to do so.
My more readable theological works, from my own point of view, are The Joy of Freedom and The Human Presence. In terms of substance, Cosmic Man - The Divine Presence is perhaps the richest. The Mar Gregorios Foundation (formed by my friends in Kerala in honor of my seventieth birthday in 1992) has recently published a collection of my earlier writings under the title A Human God. It deals with some of the issues in our understanding of Christ, and carries on a polemic with some fundamental western positions. That Foundation has in its possession hundreds of my articles and papers, some of them hitherto unpublished. They have also published a collection of my Malayalam papers, entitled Darsanathinate Pookal. Translated, that title would read Blossoms of Philosophy. They have intentions, they say, of publishing several volumes of my collected papers in the future. But I have become tired of theological writing, especially polemical writing. If God grants me life and health, I still hope to write one other theological book which would summarize my faith -- understanding unpolemically.
More recently I have done some significant non-theological writing. The Indian Institute of Advanced Study located in the former Vice regal Lodge (later Rashtrapati Nivas) in Shimla in the Himalayas gave me a study fellowship which enabled me to write my Enlightenment: East and West, published by that Institute and favorably reviewed in India. The State University of New York Press wanted to publish it jointly with the Institute, but the latter was not willing for some reason. It would be paranoid on my part to suspect jealousy on the part of the Institute authorities.
In any case, the Shimla book had been written with an Indian readership in mind, pointing out that the great Founding Father of our nation, Jawaharlal Nehru, was primarily a child of the European Enlightenment, and not a promoter of the Indian heritage. For SUNY Press I decided to write another book on the same theme, this time with the western readership in mind. That came out in 1992 under the title A Light Too Bright: The Enlightenment Today. Reviews so far have been favorable, though not raving.
Besides all these, I have written, as already stated, hundreds of periodical articles and contributions to symposia and encyclopedias. I gave the Dudley Lecture at Harvard University in 1979, questioning the then prevailing thesis that secularization was an irreversible process. I saw then that religion had to come back into public life in some new form, and would do so fairly soon. That was an unfashionable view for the establishment, and Harvard Theological Review, which had agreed in advance to publish my lecture, regretted their inability to abide by the agreement.
I have often taken such unpopular anti-establishment positions, but my worst offence was suggesting, in some theological writings and lectures, that the prevailing Christian idea of the centrality of mission was a creation of western imperialism rather than the teaching of the Christian Church through the centuries. Even the people of my own church, who have been deeply brainwashed by western propaganda, regard such views as simply part of my personal idiosyncrasy. I have also suggested that the way some western Christians speak about the Lordship of Christ over the Church and the World, as well as their obtuseness to other religions and cultures, came more from an unjustified confidence in the superiority of western culture than from the Christian faith itself.
In fairness to my American Christian friends, I must say that despite such unpopular views they have asked me to talk and teach. I served as Mary Louise IIiff Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the IIiff School of Theology at Denver, Colorado for the summer session of 1978. I was Distinguished Visiting Professor at the College of Wooster, Ohio for a term in 1981. I was a Visiting Fellow at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1986 and in 1988.
HONOURS, PRIZES AND AWARDS
Prizes and honours, I should know, are no reliable gauge for a person’s true worth. Yet since we are dealing with credentials for saying what follows, I may be permitted to give a quick list of some I have received. Here are the main ones in three clusters: Indian, East European, and Western.
The Soviet Land Nehru Award, which was bestowed on me in 1988, carried some prestige in India. It was instituted by a distinguished group of Indians and Soviet citizens. It seeks to recognize extraordinary service to the cause of peace and justice. Mother Teresa of Calcutta received it a year after I did.
The Bhai Param Vir Singh International Award, which I received in 1990, was set up by the National Institute of Panjabi Studies and is controlled by the Sikh community in India. I presume it was a recognition of what little I had contributed to the promotion of inter-religious harmony in India as well as abroad.
I was the first, I believe, to receive the Acharya Award (1992), set up in Kerala, to honor great Indian teachers of humanity.
My name has appeared in India Who’s Who, Kerala Who’s Who, and other Indian biographical reference works.
During the thirty years or so when I struggled to serve the Christian people in the so-called Socialist countries of Eastern Europe and to promote dialogue between Communists and non-Communists in the world, I received many honors, which some may now regard as dishonors. But I cherish them.
I was the first outsider to receive an honorary doctorate in Theology from the Leningrad Theological Academy of the Russian Orthodox Church; Others like Cardinal Willebrands of the Vatican received it later. I was also nominated as an honorary lecturer in Theology at that Academy.
The Lutheran Theological Academy in Budapest, Hungary gave me another Doctor of Theology, honoris causa. A third honorary doctorate in theology was given to me by the Ian Hus Faculty in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The Orthodox Theological Faculty in Czechoslovakia invited me to receive an honorary doctorate, but I was unable to receive it in person.
Two prestigious further honors were bestowed on me by the Russian Orthodox Church: the Order of St. Vladimir, and later the most prestigious Order of St. Sergius, First Rank. The Polish Orthodox Church decorated me with the Order of St. Mary Magdalene, the First Witness (to the resurrection of Christ). The Old Catholic Church in Poland awarded me the Order of Bishop Fransiszek Hodur, First Class.
In the then East Germany, I was awarded in 1988 the Otto Nuschke Prize for Peace. I believe again that I was the first outsider to merit this honor established in the name of the Founder of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). I remember an amusing story in connection with this award. I had prepared, in German, a manuscript for the lecture associated with the award, to be delivered to the Executive Committee of the CDU. I had raised some fundamental questions about the reforms and revisions then being introduced by Michael Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. I thought the German Communists would be happy to hear my criticism. I had to give the text in advance, to be vetted by the President of the CDU, who was a friend of 25 years standing and also No. 2 in the DDR government. The day before the lecture, he sent an assistant to my hotel to tell me that I would have to skip all references to Gorbachev. I reluctantly agreed to cut four pages out of my text. The next morning, one hour before actually delivering the lecture, I was told that the whole text of the lecture would have to be abandoned, and that I should speak extemporaneously about peace in general. And that is what I had to do! If I can find the English version of my original text among my papers some day, I would like to publish it.
America and the West
The Americans have been quite generous to me. Especially the American Biographical Association, which publishes several global Biographical reference works, has done me many an honor. They have included me in the National Register of Prominent Americans and International Notables, and also in Who’s Who in America. My name finds a place in several editions of the Dictionary of International Biography, of the International Who’s Who, and of the World Who’s Who. It appears also in Who’s Who in Religion, in the International Who’s Who of Intellectuals, International Authors and Writers Who’s Who, and also in the Dictionary of International Community Service.
Perhaps a higher level of honor is meant by the inclusion of my name in The International Book of Honour, as also in International Dictionary of Distinguished Scholarship.
One is surprised to find one’s name in Men of Achievement, in Men and Women of Distinction, and in Five Thousand Personalities of the World, as also in Five Hundred Leaders of Influence. Some of these honors also include awards like “The Distinguished Leadership: Award for Extraordinary Service to Peace and Human Unity”, and “The International Biographical Roll of Honor for Distinguished Service to World Unity and Understanding among Religions”, as well as “The Hall of Fame Award”. In 1990 I was presented with the American Biographical Society’s prestigious “Man of the Year Award” and in 1991 with the “Golden Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement”.
Two of my American alma mater from which I took my first two degrees honored me: Goshen College with their “Culture for Service Award” and Princeton Theological Seminary with their prestigious “Distinguished Alumnus Award”. The American Psychiatric Association gave me their “Oskar Pfister Award” in their national meeting in Washington DC in 1992, attended by some 20,000 psychiatrists. I also delivered the Oskar Pfister Lecture on Religion and Psychiatry.
My name appears also in Who’s Who in Switzerland and in Who’s Who in the Far East, both published in the west.
Well, you did not ask for my credentials, but I have thrown a whole heap of them at you. Pardon me for this impudence. Let me now desist for a while from beating my own drum, and speak about more serious matters which shaped my person and thought.