Thursday, February 16, 2012

Geevarghese Mar Osthathios

Metropolitan Geevarghese Mar Osthathios has perhaps been the most influential thinker and spokesperson of Indian Orthodox Christianity for more than a decade. Fr. M.V. George (the previous name while a priest) was one of my childhood heroes. I waited impatiently to complete High School to go to Mavelikara Gospel Hall for the summer camp conducted by him. Those two weeks I spent there were among the most memorable times of my life. I attended the summer camps two more years. The Gospel Hall later became the Mission Training Centre of the church.
  I used to look for his articles in the periodicals, and buy his books as soon as they came out. Njangal Viswasikkunnu (We believe) was one of his books I had a chance to read over and over again. It is a detailed study of the Nicene Creed. It was the first among a series of theological books published by CLS (later CSS). Another well-known book in those days  was Raksha Kristuvil mathramo? (Is Christ the only way of salvation?). Deivam undennu theliyikkamo (Can you prove that God exists?) is one of his earliest books I read several times. I also had the opportunity to read his most celebrated book, Theology of a Classless Society, published in Britain. It was after a break of about twenty years that I had an opportunity to listen to him again when he was in Houston, Texas in 2002.
The general topic of his speech was communal (vargiya) god vs. celestial (swargiya) God. He is very good at playing with words that sound similar. Although his listeners might forget everything else he says, those words would remain in their memory. Here the play is between the Malayalam words, vargiya and swargiya. The similarity is more in sound than in sense. If sense is considered, the opposite of swargiya should be bhaumika (earthly) or laukika (worldly), and the opposite of vargiya should be sarvalaukika (universal) or manavika (humanistic). The real contrast he meant was vargiya vs. sarvalaukika, ie communal god vs. universal God. What follows is a brief summary of his talk.
The Trinitarian God of Christianity as revealed in Jesus Christ is a social God of love, and is totally unlike Jehovah, a monad. Such monads are communal gods. They belong to a particular community only. No wonder Jehovah makes the Israelites fight against the Canaanites and even makes them kill them mercilessly. On the other hand, the trinity is the ultimate unity in love. The love of this God is unconditional. He gives rain to both righteous and sinners.
John, the apostle, rightly said, "God is love". Those who believe in this God can easily be identified-- not by words, but by deeds of love. He who claims to believe in this God and hates his brother is a liar. A-humanism (nirmanushyathwam), which is ill-treating human beings, is a worse evil than Atheism (nireeswarathwam), which is the belief that God doesn't exist.
Well, if God loves all alike, then what is the church for? God loves all people in the world -- both the people within the church and the people outside the church. The church is a group of people who have taken a responsibility on themselves-- to be a visible representative of God in the world. Jesus is the savior of all humankind -- of those within the church, and those outside the church.  The mission of the church is to "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit". Our mission is to make all the nations of the world the disciples of Jesus Christ.
We see how Jesus sent his disciples with a mission in Mathew's Gospel chapter 10. He said, "I send you as my father sent me." He also told them, "I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves." Ours is a world of wolves. The number of people killed in the last one century is more than all the people killed in the 19 preceding centuries. We have to go to such a world with a mission of love. When I visited Collosseum in Rome I could see the dry bones of the martyrs kept in catacombs. They were willing to die for Jesus. In Russia, I could see three kinds of churches: closed ones, broken down ones, and the ones converted to museums.
Today in this third millennium, Christ is calling us to sacrifice ourselves. We have a choice: we can be wolves torturing and killing the sheep. Or, we can be sheep, willing to die. Will we join the group of wolves or the group of sheep? Wolves are never satisfied. They keep on consuming more and more without having any care for others. On the other hand, the sheep, with a vow of poverty, are happy and thankful with what they have. I would call this kind of poverty which they willingly accept "evangelical poverty". This is opposed to the structural poverty we see around us. There are millions of people around the world without enough food or clothing. This poverty is not their choice, but it is forced upon them. Structural poverty is evil, whereas evangelical poverty is good.


C. Alex Alexander M.D. said...

I was most impressed to see the near-universal appreciation, admiration and love shown towards this true servant of Christ by all factions of political parties, various Christian denominations etc in Kerala, along with the throngs of laity who participated in his funeral services.

I am currently visiting India. It was indeed heart-warming for me to see in the press and TV, wide coverage of the good works of this noble soul who embodied for me a true Christian. For me too, he was my spiritual guide, though I had known him only through his writings.

Mar Osthathios was indeed a true Christian.

C. Alex Alexander

P.N. Benjamin said...

Deeds and words of righteousness are what make a good and godly man. And these were the stuff of Osthathios Thirumeni's life. It was a humble walk with God in the difficult journey on the path of interfaith dialogue along with his fellow-pilgrims - seldom visible to people, even to himself.

Yes, his was a life not lived to be visible, approved and applauded. It is not a subject to our pietistic judgement but thrives upon its simplicity and straightforwardness, even dispensing with the culturally prescribed norms of social behaviour. Its deceptive lack of visibility makes for depth and a hidden richness.

I met him in person some ten years ago in Bangalore along with my daughter Nina who interviewed Thirumeni for Deccan Herald. He had then told her that he was a Hindu by culture, Christian by faith and Indian by citizenship.�

I once officially invited him to deliver the Rev. Dr. Stanley Samartha memorial lecture organized by the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD). Unfortunately he had to decline politely on health grounds.