Friday, May 9, 2014

Our Nagpur Seminary Visit

My wife, Lissy, and I had a chance to visit the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Nagpur   last month. We also visited Prerana, the school for the mentally challenged children run by the seminary. We stayed there for a month participating in the regular activities of the seminary. It felt like a pilgrimage for both of us. Looking back at the time we spent there, the one thing that has made a lasting impression on our minds is the commitment of the staff, the students, and of all the people who work there. They all live there with minimal conveniences, setting aside the comforts of living with their dear ones.
Fr. Bijesh Philip, the principal, leads and guides the team with a clear sense of the purpose of the seminary. During our stay there, he had to make a trip to Kottayam to present the annual report of the seminary in the synod. Only a week earlier he was in Kottayam to attend the meeting of the Sunday school rank holders. He also had to make another trip to a church somewhere in Mumbai, where he serves as vicar. He also finds time to receive and host guests in the seminary. Once he accompanied us and Fr. K.M. George to visit Wardha, the home of Gandhi, about 80 km from the seminary. In spite of the abundance of the administrative tasks, Fr. Philip finds time to write research papers on Patristics. During this hectic life, he also takes care of Abhishek, his mentally challenged older son, who stays with him, and also he stays in constant contact with his wife and younger son, who live in Kottayam. Lissy and I also gratefully remember that he accompanied us along with Abhishek to the railway station in Nagpur to see us off.
Fr. P.C. Thomas is the warden of the seminary, and his presence is the one thing that the seminary primarily depends on. We saw how he cared for the students, worked with them, and played with them. Fr. Shaji P. John serves as the vice principal. His wife also works in the seminary as a Sunday school curriculum coordinator. His son, who is in High school, is a regular visitor in the seminary chapel, and he intends to join the seminary when he completes his college education. Fr. Reji Geevarghese, Fr. John Mathew, and his wife, Mercy Kochamma, teach in the seminary. Fr. K. Yohannaan teaches in the seminary, and also manages Prerana. Fr. Basil Thomas is in charge of developing the online studies wing of the seminary.
During our stay there, Seminary hosted two groups of young people who came from Delhi as well as from Bombay to visit the seminary and the Prerana school. They stayed overnight, ate at the mess hall, played volleyball with the seminary students, and prayed in the chapel. Fr. Cherian Joseph is the coordinator of such activities.
During this one month, there were several visiting professors. The most notable of them was Fr. K.M. George. It was his first visit after the seminary moved to Nagpur. He stayed there for about ten days and took some classes on ecology for the final year students. He also gave some devotional talks in the chapel on the importance of observing lent. Also he  delivered a satsang address on Surrealism in Art and Theology. I have had the privilege to attend his classes. Fr. KMG wrote a few poems during his stay in the seminary reflecting upon his experiences in the seminary, which can be read here. One of them is about Abhishek, the son of Fr. Bijesh Philip.
HG Yuhanon Mor Meletius stayed and took classes for about a week. He also gave some devotional addresses in the chapel. I noticed that he made a conscious effort to make the worship service meaningful. During the Qurbana, he delivered a sermon right after the Evangelion. The only other person I have seen doing this was HG Geevarghese Mar Osthathios. Meletius thirumeni also served Qurbana in its right time, not before or after, but exactly when he turned to the west with the Casa and Pilassa. He also sought the assistance of a priest to pass out the Qurbana, so that he could save some time.     
Severios thirumeni of kandanad and Demetrios thirumeni of Delhi also were there for a few days to take classes. Fr. Saji Amayil was also there to take classes.
I was given the opportunity to teach some spoken English to the first year students. My wife also helped me in this. I also served as a resource person in a class of the final year students taken by Fr. Bijesh Philip on disability. I was also given the opportunity to give a Satsang talk on the use of metaphors in the Bible and liturgy. Also I had the opportunity to give a slide show presentation on the life and work of Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios. 
Altogether there are about 75 students in the seminary. They are mostly from the dioceses outside Kerala, and they are trained primarily for those dioceses. Ranging from 22 to 55 years of age, they are subjected to rigorous training, which one may relate to military training. They are expected to wake up at 4:30 in the morning, and are allowed to go to bed after 10:00 at night. During the wake hours they attend the chapel worship four or five times for a total of three to four hours, and attend classes three to four hours. Cell phones are allowed only for a few hours in a week. During the lent days they do not eat until after the noon prayer. They are assigned various responsibilities in turn. They also have to spend an hour to do manual work or to play games daily. They learn to recite liturgy and preach sermons in three languages: English, Hindi, and Malayalam, in addition to the classical languages they learn: Syriac and Greek.
We met several committed people other than the staff and students, who help the seminary in various ways. Sam is the personal secretary to the principal. Sajan is the accountant. Thomas is the main cook.  
The Seminary has a farm in which Orange and wheat are the primary crops. During our stay there,
there was a heavy rain accompanied by a shower of hailstones, which badly damaged the crops.
In conclusion, the Orthodox Seminary of Nagpur is a pride of the church. It trains the shepherds of the church who can effectively lead the church in this 21st century. It depends very much upon the generous contribution of individuals and parishes.


Baboi George said...

I had a similar experience by staying with H.G.Geevarghese Mar Coorilos in Mumbai for a few days. The world of spiritual life priority is for others welfare and helping their perspective in facing the future...I had a chance of seeing Thirumeni's Roha project also, alien for westerners like me !Incidently, my wife is also Lizy-May God Bless

John Kunnathu said...

Dear Baboi George, Thank you very much. We met Coorilos thirmeni as well, and he took us to Roha too. I would appreciate if you can drop me an email at