Sunday, November 20, 2016

Paulos Mar Gregorios As A True Follower Of Christ

A summary of the Paulos Mar Gregorios memorial talk given at Aluva Fellowship House on Nov 12, 2016.

A sensitive young boy born and raised in the first half of the twentieth century in British India in a traditional Christian family eagerly hungers and thirsts for meaning in life. He notices that his religious tradition, which lacks vitality, pays more attention to preserving its traditions rather than serving the humanity. However, he notices some vitality in the western Christianity, especially in its missions abroad. Making use of the opportunity of higher education in the West, soon he discovers that the vitality in the West lacks depth. He digs deep in the Christian tradition for a source of inspiration and meaning, and he finds it in the Eastern Christian fathers of the fourth century. Through Gregory of Nyssa, an eastern father, he attains a very powerful and meaningful vision of Christianity. He found that the vision and mission of Jesus Christ can be a powerful inspiration and driving force for modern humanity. He declared that the mission of today's Christian church needs to be the same as the mission of Jesus Christ. He enthusiastically adapted the vision of Jesus Christ, and applied it in his own mission. He could say along with St. Paul: Imitate me as I imitate Christ![ I Corinthians 11:1]

This man is none other than Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios (1922—1996) of blessed memory. Born as the son of a school teacher in a village in South India, he grew up to become one of the most influential world leaders of the past century. He provided meaningful leadership to the World Council of Churches to effectively contribute to the solutions of global issues. His command of multiple languages and his mastery of various branches of knowledge helped him provide crucial help where it was needed. His advice was eagerly sought out by the world rulers. He was very well accepted and honored behind the Iron curtain in the Soviet Union. He was equally honored and well-accepted in the United States where he was a visiting professor in various universities. He was also well-known and was heard in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Australia.

Mar Gregorios realized that ours is a dying civilization, and a new civilization has to eventually replace it. Every religion and ideology on the face of the earth presents itself as the ideal candidate for the new civilization, but Mar Gregorios wouldn't recommend any of them as the ideal candidate to create a new civilization. He presents the vision of Jesus Christ as seen through the lens of Gregory of Nyssa as a strong foundation upon which a new civilization can be built. 

Mar Gregorios had a realistic view of today’s Christianity. "Official Christianity sounds ludicrously unintelligent and seems utterly unappealing to the moral conscience of mankind, even to many who have not yet given up their Christian faith."[ Freedom and Authority P. 1.] This is a very revealing statement about traditional Christianity, which merely preserves its tradition and hands it over from generation to generation. The new churches, mostly evangelical,  have revolted against the lack of vitality in the traditional Christianity, but they have failed in providing an effective replacement. Without deep roots, the new churches hold a very superficial vision of life. Other than saving people for the other world, they do not provide a basis or inspiration for a meaningful life in this world. The traditional Christianity is lifeless, and the evangelical Christianity is powerless. As a result, humanity, like sheep without shepherd, is looking for guidance elsewhere, and Christians are either quitting their religion, or staying within it as nominal Christians. 

 Mar Gregorios claims that the Christian church cannot have any other mission but the mission of Jesus Christ. It needs to be a visible embodiment of Jesus Christ. The role of the church is to make Jesus Christ present and visible in the world. This assertion of Mar Gregorios leads us to two questions: What was the vision and mission of Jesus Christ as Mar Gregorios understood it? Up to what extent could he, a church leader, claim that his own vision and mission were the same as that of Jesus Christ?
Addressing the staff of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Mar Gregorios asserted that he knew of only one person in India who was fit to be called a Christian, and ironically this “Christian” was a non-Christian[ The Meaning and Nature of Diakonia 1988. P. 26 ]. He was referring to Mahatma Gandhi. Mar Gregorios defined the term Christian as someone who truly follows the footsteps of Christ and lives like Christ. Although Gandhi was a non-Christian, he followed the footsteps of Christ and lived a Christ-like life, which qualifies him to be called a Christian. Mar Gregorios did not consider himself qualified to be called a Christian, but today when we examine his life, we realize that he was also a Christian. He truly followed the footsteps of Christ and lived a Christ-like life. Hopefully the Christian world will find in Mar Gregorios a role model to follow, and it will be encouraged to consider his vision  as an alternative to the present, decadent understanding of Christianity. 

If Jesus lived among us today, he might compare our civilization to a building built on sand. He would point out why it does not have the strength to withstand a global catastrophe. Instead of warning against the views of scribes and Pharisees, he would warn against the views of secularists and fundamentalists. He would also point out how a new civilization can be built up with a strong foundation of rock.
If Jesus Proclaimed the Kingdom of God, Mar Gregorios proclaimed a new civilization well-grounded on God. Jesus’ kingdom of God belonged to those who were born again; Mar Gregorios’ new civilization belonged to the new humanity. Jesus explained clearly how the existing kingdom was standing on a foundation of sand; Mar Gregorios explained clearly the weakness of the foundation of the present western civilization. Jesus explained the characteristics of the foundation of rock on which the kingdom of God was built; Mar Gregorios explained the characteristics of the strong foundation of the new civilization.

    Traveling around his world (Palestine), and teaching people about the Kingdom of God was the primary task of Jesus; traveling around his world (the globe) and teaching about the new civilization was the primary task of Mar Gregorios.

Just as Jesus was known as a friend of the sinners and tax-collectors, Mar Gregorios was known as a friend of the communists and other so-called Godless people. Jesus had to face trials and temptations from evil forces, and finally they managed to crucify him; Mar Gregorios, being a peace activist who always stood with the oppressed, risked martyrdom. His close friends lived in such fear. People often encouraged and even forced Jesus to become their king; Mar Gregorios was encouraged and even forced by Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, to marry his niece, and become a member of his royal family.
Based on such close comparison between Jesus and Mar Gregorios, one may even be tempted to claim that Mar Gregorios was a second coming of Jesus. However, one thing can be certainly said: If Jesus had lived in our world, he would have said and done almost the same kind of things Mar Gregorios said and did.     

The Christian church is supposed to be a visible representation of the invisible Christ. The church has to do in a certain context exactly what Christ would do in that context. Knowing this well enough, Paulos Mar Gregorios, could practice it in his own life. He spoke like Christ and lived like Christ in his context. The similarity even tempts one to claim that Mar Gregorios was a second coming of Christ. Actually this claim should be made about every Christian, about every local church, and about the Christian church as a whole.

1 comment:

Baboi George said...

\\o//Malayalees Community (U.K.)-We were fortunate to have associated with the legend of Paulose Mar Gregorios in 80s!As our Diocesan Bishop and and mentor I was truly directed by HG and instrumental to form a Constitution to register the Church as Charity! Our family was blessed with holding our son Tony baptised and a smiling Thirumeni is widely publicised.....[Thank you,LORD]