LETTER – 1
ORTHODOX THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
FR. T. PAUL VERGHESE
It is time I let you know that I do exist. I left Geneva in August 1967 full eighteen months ago. And I have not written to many of my friends - even to those who have been good enough to write me twice in the interval.
Here at the Seminary, things have been moving fast - at least by Indian standards. We have now a new building thanks to thousands of people who have given so liberally, both here and abroad - 44 single rooms, 6 faculty rooms, a student lounge, an auditorium which can seat 400, a spacious library and reading - room, 4 class rooms, administration offices and the Principal’s quarters - all that packed in to one ‘L’ shaped building. It is just right for our small seminary of 50 students and ten teachers. We wonder how we managed when all we had was an antique 3 - storey building (150 years old) where we used to pack five and six students to a room! We haven’t paid all our bills. We need another $ 20,000 to pay the builder and get our furniture.
Of course there is much more to do here than I have been able to. The Building is only the starting point. Now we need a few good teachers and then perhaps some better quality students to benefit from the building and the faculty. It looks like both faculty and students will begin to get better in another two years time. Then I hope I can go and get started on something else!
What do you think I want to do next? Certainly not be a bishop or a big church administrator. You would hardly believe me if I told you what I think I want to do.
I am not world - weary, but I do want to get away from it all. The world is complex but I think I can manage to live in it without being completely thrown over. But if I want to live in it with perspective I need to withdraw for a while to a disciplined community of solitude, reflection and prayer. I see quite clearly that overcoming self is the greatest victory a man can win. I also see that I myself am not making much progress there; neither do most of the people I see around me in the world. The toughness of a disciplined and strong human will is the ingredient without which there cannot be any real salvation for society or individual, and that will can be shaped best in a modern monastic community.
Well, well, let me not upset you too much. I only wanted to say I am living on, as peculiar and eccentric as ever. I enjoy my work despite many frustrations. I travel often (five times a year outside India seems to be the average) and get intellectually bored even oftener.
Yet life remains worth living. Mainly because He is there like a Rock - dependable, the only really dependable reality in the flow of time. Perhaps also because men are men. The boys and my colleagues keep me engaged and stimulated.
I edit a journal on Higher Education which relieves the monotony of theology. I have a couple of books due to various publishers - that helps to keep up the tension. In a few weeks I should complete the last chapter of ‘‘Man and freedom’’. Two other books are on the Oriental Orthodox Churches. If I were in a monastery I could easily produce two or three books a year without too much strain.
Indian conditions of food and climate detract from my already limited capacity for work. Right now the temperature is 340 centigrade, and we are in Lent, when we take only two light meals a day.
Easter is coming up soon. There is no other way to the Resurrection except through suffering and death. How hard a lesson that is to learn! Hope in the midst of life’s hardness - that is what keeps the horizon illumined and beckons me on. May the Risen Christ meet us all with joy and greet us with peace.
Do write and let me know how you are.
LETTER – 2
METROPOLITAN PAULOS GREGORIOS
Principal, Orthodox Seminary
Post Box No. 98, Kottayam - 1
It is ages since I wrote to my friends. I am glad for this opportunity to renew contact and give some news.
On February 15th 1975 I took my vows as a monk, and was given the monastic habit as Hieromonk Paulos. On the 16th I was consecrated as a Metropolitan Bishop in the Orthodox Syrian Church of the East, by laying on of hands by the Holy Episcopal Synod, presided over by His Holiness Catholicos Baselius Augen I. I had been elected to the episcopate by unanimous vote of our Church Association (about 3000 delegates) in December 1965 and also again in October 1974.
My new name as bishop is Gregorios. Since the Syrian custom is to call all bishops by honorific Mar, I will be known as Bishop Paulos Mar Gregorios. I will not use my old name (Paul Verghese) any longer, except where legally necessary.
There has been no decision as yet about my episcopal assignment. It is hoped that I will be allowed to continue as Principal of the Seminary. My colleague and vice-Principal Fr. M. V. George was also consecrated as Bishop Geevargis Mar Eustathius, and another faculty colleague Revd. Dr. K. C. Thomas as Bishop Thomas Mar Makarios. These two colleagues may sooner or later leave the faculty to assume diocesan responsibilities.
I hope to continue to maintain at least some of my international contacts and activities. My style of life will, however, has to be more ecclesiastical - monastic, and therefore less adapted to ‘conferencing.’
My Church has been going through some very difficult times. The responsibility of a bishop in this Church now is quite heavy and onerous. I do not have the gifts or the discipline necessary for my office. I need your prayers very badly.
We are now in Lent, looking forward to the feast of the Risen Lord. The world also seems to be vaguely waiting for some form of resurrection life, life that is not threatened by death. we are in a time of upheaval, when dominant civilizations suffer the pangs of death and new ones are in pains to be born. No civilization comes to birth without a strong spiritual urge. It is the generation of this spiritual power through a proper community discipline that looks the first priority to me. We must look for that community and that discipline.
I have reduced much of my activities, since they are unconducive to discipline. This year, for example, my tentative programme has the following trips outside India:
February - Singapore, March - Crete, April - Geneva, Sofia & Budapest,
July - U.S.A. and Canada, August - Mexico City, September - Malaysia & Italy, November - December - Kenya, Africa.
How will I ever get the strength to pull myself out of every thing, in order to discipline Myself ?
I need your prayers, your affection your care and your communications.
Yours in Christ’s Service,
LETTER – 3
Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios
Metropolitan of Delhi and the North
St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral
C-3, Safdarjang Dvpt. Area
New Delhi - 110016, India
For Several years now I have not managed to send a Christmas letter to you my friends. Many of you I have not seen or heard from for such a long time. I am always grateful for a friendship that survives such negligence on my part.
I have been a bishop now for five years, but I have neglected my flock, spending my time on a thousand preoccupations elsewhere. This year, i.e., in 1979, I made four visits to the U.S.A.- in January, March, July and October, three to the Caribbean (Jamaica, Cuba), five or six visits to Europe: in February (Holland), March (Finland, USSR), April (UK, Germany), June (USSR), August (Germany, Austria), September (Rome, Geneva), October (Germany) one visit to Africa (May), another to Outer Mongolia (June). This means that during the first ten months of the year there was no month when I was not outside India for part of the time.
I Wonder if this is the right thing to do. Should I sacrifice my ministry in India for the sake of my world ministry? I am not certain about any answer to that question. I gave a lot of my time this year to the World Council of Churches - Central & Executive Committees in Jamaica, Executive in Switzerland, the World Conference on Faith, Science and the Future at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass, U.S.A. (July 11-23). This Last one was some sort of an achievement; hundreds of Scientists and a few theologians speaking to each other for two weeks. We asked questions like: What is science? What does it do to human societies? What is its relation to faith? Can the two cooperate instead of fighting? What kind of ethical issues does science raise? What about energy, particularly nuclear energy? Should science be used for human mutual destruction? and so on. We hope the more than 30 papers presented and the fifteen or so documents produced will soon be available for study and discussion in local groups. I was privileged both to be Chairman of the preparatory committee and to moderate the conference itself. The follow-up work will demand some time from me in 1980 and 81 also.
My visits to Cuba have opened my eyes to the reality of that heroic island nation, the first liberated territory in America, now followed by Nicaragua. The media seem determined to paint the blackest picture of Cuba, but what I saw was different - full of promise and hope, a heroic achievement of a heroic nation. Will I shock you if I state my personal opinion that Fidel Castro’s speech in the U.N. (representing the non-aligned) was more to the point from a Christian perspective than Pope John Paul II’s presentation, both of them in October this year? Castro is really a world leader. I admire him and the Cuban people’s achievements in eradicating illiteracy, in health distribution, in equalization of income, in eliminating unemployment, in resisting the economic blockade and military attacks from the U.S.A., and in building the foundations of a just economy and an international socialist outlook in the people.
My visits to Outer Mongolia (Asian Buddhist Conference for peace) and to the desert monasteries of Egypt convinced me once again that monastic life, when alive, can be a powerful force in transforming a people. It is still my ambition to spend several months in a desert monastery in Egypt training myself to be more effective in the spiritual combat in which I am presently engaged.
Another privilege this year was delivering the Dudley Lecture at Harvard on “A Reverse in the Trend of Secularization - Are we Ready?” My argument was that the secular flare in Protestant theology, with its roots in Gogarten and Bonhoeffer, was largely limited to the Soaring Sixties, when a spate of so-called secular theology books appeared; at the end of the sober Seventies the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction - “the return of the sacred”. But this is small comfort, since the sacred takes bizarre and unhealthy new forms. The Christian church must re-think and recreate its symbolic structure, and its community life. These two are primary - not any theology. Theology must arise out of the community life and its symbol structure. Harvard Theological Review is supposed to publish the lecture next year.
I raised the question in my address to the mammoth U.N. Conference on Science and Technology for Development (Vienna, August) whether the concept of Development should not also include some attention to structures of meaning for human existence.
This business of Science, Technology and the Secular on one hand, and faith, meaning, tranquillity and transcendence on the other, have to be philosophically reconciled. This is my passionate interest now.
I am grateful to all of you who keep writing. Please let me know your thoughts and aspirations. I still learn more from people than from books.
God has been good to me - granting me good health and many opportunities. I still have no proper place in New Delhi in which to live and work but I hope something will soon materialize. I hope to welcome you in my residence in New Delhi by 1981, if all goes well and if my friends and well wishers help me to build a place.
God bless you all with peace and joy.
LETTER – 4
THE DELHI ORTHODOX CENTRE
2, Institutional Area, Tughlaqabad
New Delhi -110 062
We have a sense of guilt and shame about what looks like our neglect of our beloved life members and friends, without whose generous help this centre could not have come in to being. We have had many staff changes recently and we hope to be able to get our main programmes moving in a few months, as more staff and volunteers join the centre.
Revd. Dr. K. M. George, a distinguished theologian - priest of our Church, with a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris has now joined duty as honorary associate director. His main job is as Secretary for National Affairs of the National Council of Churches in India, with office and residence at our Centre. He lives here with his wife and two children. He came only in mid - july and as soon as he settles down, he will lead also the programme of the Centre.
His predecessor Fr. Joseph Vendrappilly who rendered yeoman service for one year at the Centre on a Voluntary basis, has now gone as Vicar of our St. Thomas Church in Dubai.
We expect that a team of four or five volunteers from our Church, each with an M.S.W. or M.Com., Will be Joining the Centre in August - September. They will undertake first a comprehensive social development project in the neighbouring urban slums and possibly a rural development project outside Delhi. Deacon George Paulos, who took his degree of Master of Social Work from the university in Udaipur will lead the team, while continuing post graduate studies in Social Work at Delhi university. we shall write to you further as the plans develop.
Deacon K. G. Alexander takes care of the centre, assisted by Koshy our new cook and Rikheram our houseboy and Watchman.
We have not yet been able to secure a permanent electric connection, and this hampers our work as also the fact that the road from Greater Kailash II remains unopened. But we will soon be in a position to take care of you better on your next visit to the Centre, with the help of our new volunteer workers.
I myself find the demands on my time increasing, while the physical capacity for work goes down as age advances. I still do too much travelling. This year I have been to China, the Philippines, the Soviet Union (twice), Poland, Ethiopia, Austria, Zaire, U.A.E, Hong Kong, Bulgaria etc. I still have three more trips abroad planned for this year and will, God willing, visit Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Iceland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Canada and U.S.A. Pray for me that my time and effort would be for the glory of God and for the good of humanity.
As I write these lines in the first week of August, two images of events whose anniversary falls on August 6th come before my eyes.
The first is Mount Tabor, the high mountain of Christ’s transfiguration. Christ Stands in the middle in divine - human glory with his garments and face shining with the lustre of the uncreated Light, transfigured to reveal the true destiny of the human person. On either side stand two other human beings, Moses and Elijah, equally transfigured and resplendent already in the glory that is human destiny. Then there are the three great Apostles Peter, James and John. They are weary and sleep - laden, unable to keep their eyes open or as yet to share the glory. Yet they see the vision and judge it to be good. They want to remain in the blessedness of the divine presence and suggest to Christ that they pitch three tents and settle down. But the vision fades and soon they are left with Jesus alone, still at prayer. Below the mountain is a more tragic scene, closer to our own reality. A large crowd; theologians and politicians arguing; a man with a son possessed of an unclean spirit; the apostles unable to drive out the evil spirit. Finally Christ comes, rebukes us all for our unbelief, and drives out the evil spirit himself.
In our nation, we seem to be badly possessed by the evil of communal mistrust and hatred; people foaming at the mouth, gritting their teeth, becoming stiff all over (see Mark 9:18), with hatred and the desire to kill. Some of our healers, instead of opening the eyes of the blind, tear out the eyes of those who see, in gross neglect and carelessness, as in Khurja recently. We are a possessed people arguing ever, seldom praying. May Christ himself come and drive these evil spirits out.
The other image is of Hiroshima, August 6th, 1945. Forty - one years ago, our Apocalypse began in that ominous mushroom cloud. The first atomic bomb had been given the frivolous name ‘‘Little Boy” and the B-29 plane Which dropped it on Hiroshima was affectionately called Enola Gay, after the mother of Col. Paul Tibbets who flew it. That demon is not yet exorcised in place of the “Little Boy” of Hiroshima and the “Fat Man” of Nagasaki three days later, (on my 23rd birthday) which together took more than a hundred thousand lives, we have today in our arsenals at least 70,000 nuclear warheads, together a million times as powerful at the bombs of 1945. In addition we have now hundreds of thousands of tons of poison gas, and other deadly chemical weapons are being developed. Who will exorcise this demon of war, and restore humanity to sobriety, compassion and mutual care?
Pray. Pray that evil may not triumph, that peace with justice may prevail. God bless you and keep you. Write to us and share your thoughts with us.
Yours in Christ,
Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios
Feast of the Transfiguration, 1986
LETTER – 5
13th December 1988
Dear Sri. Vijayan,
Thank you for your Letter which the Soviet Land people forwarded to me.
I want to help you as much as I can. I am sending you a cheque for Rs. 250/- for the immediate medical needs of your family. If you need assistance for the treatment of your blindness. I will need a certificate that it is curable and would need a specific course of treatment, and specifying the cost of treatment. If your daughter needs treatment for Tuberculosis I would need to know what treatment and how much it costs.
I have no funds to assist in the construction of a house, but when you begin construction I shall try to help you in a small way.
God bless you and heal you.
Your’s in Christ,
Paulos Mar Gregorios