|JULY 2004||THOSE WHO LED US||
Juhanon Marthoma succeeded Abraham Mar Thoma in 1947. He was born on 7th August 1893 and was christened John. His father was C.P.Mathew Munsiff (Judge), a scion of the Cherukara family in Ayiroor, which had a distinguished clerical tradition. Philippose Malpan, a stalwart of the Reformation was a nephew of Metropolitan Mathews Mar Athanasius I, and an adviser and confident of Metropolitans Thomas Mar Athanasios and Titus I. His sons were Mathew Munsiff, Rev. C.P. Philippose(Ayroor Valiachan) . C.P.Koshy, educationalist and church leader C.P.Thomas, Rev. C.P.Abraham (Ayiroor Kochachen), C.P. Joseph, and C.P.Samuel, and they were all leaders in the cultural and civic life of central Kerala.
Further the village of Ayiroor, which was about 10 square miles in extent, was a place where religious and cultural harmony prevailed under the leadership of people like Ayiroor Valiachen and the famous Nair leader Thottavallil Asan. The Nairs and Christians co-operated fully in festivals like Onam where both communities participated joyously in boat races in the Pampa River. John's mother was Annamma, a daughter Kottayam Kollamkeril John Sirasthadar, senior revenue official. John's elder brother was Dr. C.M. Philip who was honored with title Rao Sahib for his services in medicine, and younger brother was Rev. C.M. Thomas. John's father was posted at places like Alleppey and Chertalai and so his early education was in different schools. He did not show any great promise in his studies but he was an active child with full of boyish pranks for which he received due punishment from his judicial father. He had once a lucky escape from being drowned in the Aymanam River now famous through Arundhati Roy's award winning novel, 'God of Small things' - along with his younger sister whom he encouraged to swim with him. John was sent to Marthoma Seminary High School to be a boarder from 1906 to 1912. He enjoyed his stay as a boarder as he had plenty of opportunity to swim in the Aymanam river even in difficult conditions.
C.M. John started his University education at Maharaja's College in Trivandrum, from where he moved on to the Madras Wesley College and subsequently to the Madras Christian College: all prestigious colleges at that time. He secured his B.A. degree in 1919 at the age of 26, which was later than normal as he was only an average student and did not pass in all subjects in the first attempt. But he won a large group of friends in Madras Colleges who distinguished themselves in diplomacy and politics in later years. He was also influenced by the political ferment in India demanding independence for India. He came out of college as a khadi (hand spun hand-woven cloth) wearer, symbolizing the simplicity of his tastes in cloths as well as his solidarity with the political protest against the colonial domination of India.
After graduation he decided to devote his life for the kingdom of God, joined the Union Theological College, Banglore for his B.D. degree, on the completion of which he offered himself for the service of the Church. Mr. K.K.Kuruvilla the educationalist and headmaster of the Mar Thoma Seminary was involved in the expansion of the Seminary at that time. He welcomed the services of C.M.John who had no doubt about his dedication for the service of the Church and so he started his career as a High School teacher. He was popular among his pupils and being active in sports he became the Scoutmaster. His pupils always remembered him in their later lives as a caring teacher, Scoutmaster and Boarding Superintendent, who was a strict disciplinarian as well as a dispenser of compassion. He was always willing to meet his pupils at their own levels with a sense of humor and boyish enthusiasm.
He was ordained a Deacon (Semmassan) in 1927 by Metropolitan Titus II. In the following year Deacon John was a participant in the International Scout Jamboree in England. In those days he was still clad in his favorite Khadi cloths, donning a moustache like his father, a bunch of keys in the shawl on his shoulder and sporting a guileless smile to those who met him. He went to New York in 1928 to pursue his theological studies at Union Seminary from where on obtaining the S.T.M. Degree he went to Wycliffe Hall in Oxford in 1930. In between Deacon John attended the Boys Camp in Canada. He was also link to YMCA movement, especially to the Boy's branch. After his time in Oxford he returned to India via the Holy Land and resumed his work as a teacher in the Marthoma Seminary till 1933 when he was ordained a priest at the Ayiroor Church. He was appointed the vicar of Jerusalem Church, the prestigious Marthoma parish in Kottayam a town where he had spent his boyhood and most of his adult life as a teacher. So he was well acquainted with the spiritual and social life of the parish and surrounding area. He motivated the youth for church and social work, and took part in the youth camps, sports and boat races, which made him a source of inspiration for the youth. He was able to instill in them religious and social ideals. His tireless work affected his health and he had to retreat to sanatorium for rest and treatment.
In 1936 the Marthoma Church celebrated the centenary of the Reformation started by Abraham Malpan and this celebration brought about a new spiritual ferment in the Church. It was strongly felt that the Church should assume the responsibility for evangelizing the sub-continent of India. To enhance the work of the Church it was decided to consecrate two more bishops and the lot fell on Rev. C.M. John and Rev.C.T.Mathew. They were consecrated on 30th December as bishops by Metropiltan Titus II, assisted by Saffragan Metropolitan Abraham and Mar Kurilose, Metropolitan of the Thozhiyur Church and in the presence of the Presiding Bishop of the Lutheran Church., Bishop Sandegren, who preached at the service. Rev. C.M. John was given the Episcopal title of Juhanon Mar Timotheos and Rev. Athanasius. Bishop Juhanon was the older of the two in age so he was given the senior position, as per the tradition of the Church.
Till then the Church was administered as a single unit by the Metropolitan assisted by the Suffragan Metropolitan. At this time, in the interest of efficient administration, the Church was divided into two dioceses with Rt.Rev. Juhanon Mar Timotheos as the Diocesan Bishop of the Southern Diocese (Quilon/Kottarakkara) where he labored for nearly a decade, creating a spiritual revival in the diocese, constructing a new Bishops House at Mailom, near Kottarakkara. He traveled around the diocese in a horse-drawn carriage, which befitted his inborn simple life and habits. One of the authors has recollections of traveling with him in his carriage a few times as a very young boy and meeting him years later as secretary of the Student Christian Movement, when the Metropolitan reminded him of the happy few years spent at Bishop's House at Mailon. It is regrettable that the Church sold this property without any appreciation for its historical importance.
Metropoltan Abraham Mar Thoma, whose health deteriorated gradually as a result of his constant travel and aggravation of his diabetic condition, followed metropolitan Titus II. Abraham Mar Thoma passed away in September 1947. Bishop Juhanon Mar Themotheos was renthroned as Metropolitan Juhanon Mar Thoma at Kozhencherry Church. Thus he became the 18th Mar Thoma. Later events were to prove that the Church then elevated to its headship a Metropolitan who could enhance her global and the ecumenical standing both in India and abroad.
In 1948 Metropolitan Juhanon led the Mar Thoma delegation to the first Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Amsterdam. The writer of this Chapter had the privilege of receiving the Metropolitan at London at London airport as he traveled to Amsterdam via London. This innate simplicity of the Metropolitan is revealed through a small but significant event that the writer recalls. The Metropolitan's accommodation was arranged, befitting his status, in the prestigious Hyde Park Hotel. After the first night's stay Thirumeni said: 'Mathaichen, this hotel is too luxurious and over-comfortable for a sanyasi like me'. Thirumeni was happy to be shifted to the parsonage of the vicar of the Churchof England in St. John's Wood. He was please to celebrate the Holy Qurbana (Communion) although there were only six communicants including the Anglican vicar. That was the first Holy Communion of the Marthoma Church in Europe. The Indian High Commissioner, Mr. V.K. Krishna Menon, who had heard of his presence in the city, was anxious to meet him, which meeting helped him to be brought to the notice of the Indian Government.
His thoughtful statements expressed quietly and his impressive personality was appreciated at the WCC and so in the 1954 Evanston Assembly he was elected as one of the Presidents of the WCC. At the third Assembly of WCC in New Delhi in 1961 he was the Chairman and guided the deliberations with distinction. The President of India, Dr. Radakrishnan, welcomed the WCC delegates. They were met by the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who had by then heard of Thirumeni and his eminence among the Christian Churches in India. His leadership of WCC and related international church bodies gave him a wider and deeper sense of ecumenical grouping and church unity for which he labored all his life.
It is of importance to trace the formation of Diaspora dioceses and other Diaspora communities during Metropolitan's time. Metropolitan Titus II sent Rev. T.N. Koshy in 1936 as a roving vicar to Malaysia and Singapore region. Koshy Achen was there during the Second World War and he was able to give pastoral care to the Mar Thoma community there at that time. In 1947 Church sent Rev, V.E. Thomas to help Koshy Achen. Together they built parishes in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Klang, and many other places in Malaysia. During this time they also established the St. Thomas School in Singapore. Finally a Diaspora Diocese was established, Malaysia-Singapore Siocese, in 1982.
Even though the Metropolitan had conducted a Holy Communion service in London in 1948, as mentioned earlier, it was only several years later, in 1957, that the first Mar Thoma Congregation in London could be formed. A few Kerala Christian families resident in London came together, regardless of denominational differences, all the house of Mr. O.V. Alexander who was the general secretary of the London YMCA, for prayer and fellowship. Rev. V.V Alexander helped the congregation with a monthly service. From this humble beginning in 1957, this congregation grew in size and statue, and was able to celebrate its Silver Jubilee. Currently, this community has two parishes in London with over 400 families spread throughout the United Kingdom.
In recent times, a substantial expatriate Mar Thoma community has grown up in the Gulf regions with very large parishes in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, Doha, Fujairah, Kuwait, Muscat, Sharjah, Sala and other places. This community has contributed enormously to the progress and prosperity of the Christian community in Kerala and supports the charitable mission work of the Church in various parts of India. There is an equally significant Mar Thoma Diaspora community in South Africa and Australia as well.
The first Mathoma Congregation in the United States was formed in Queens in 1972 and since then, and especially after the establishment of the Diocese of North America and Europe, the growth and expansion of this community has been phenomenal. Suffragan Metropolitan Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan Alexander Mar Thoma, Metropolitan Chrysostom Mar Thoma and Bishop Zacharias Mar Theophilus were mainly responsible for the rapid growth of this diocese from 1972 onwards. Bishop Euyakim Mar Coorilos is currently shepherding this diocese.
The Diaspora parishes have grown beyond expectations into two dioceses - one of them under the care of Zacharias Mar Theophilus and the other, under Euyakim Mar Coorilos. In addition, other bishops hav been giving Episcopal patronage to parishes in the Gulf regions and South Africa. It is worthwhile, in this context, to recall the thinking of the Episcopal Synod in 1973. In that year Metropolitan Juhanon Mar Thoma wrote to the Mar Thoma community and lay leaders in the United States about a decision taken by the Synod. The circular is given below:
"We appreciate your loyalty to the mother Church, and the desire to take part in our liturgy which only brings us much satisfaction. We felt that it would be a very undesirable thing to organize ourselves as a parish. To establish ourselves as a separate worshipping community in such centers where there are few parishes with who we are in contact, would be to develop divisive techniques. Where we are, we should identify ourselves with the local congregations, even if there could be difficulties because of racial differences. Yet we do not wish you to be victims of racial discrimination. Our decision, hence, is as follows:
Every year achens will be sent for postgraduate studies to American Theological Seminaries, and their services will be available. The congregation will be responsible for the passage and expenses of achens who are sent for studies. A monthly allowance and T.A of achens must be met by the congregation formed in each town."
This is an interesting document that merits our attention for various reasons. First, it was written by the Metropolitan because of his total involvement with the ecumenical movement, being one, its presidents. Second, the thinking in Tiruvalla really did not reflect the ground realities in the United States, there being no lay representation from the United States in the councils of the Church at that time. Third, it was persistent effort of a pioneering lay leadership that made it possible for the growth and establishment of a vast diocese in North America and Europe. Fourth, in 1973 the Metropolitan could not have foreseen that the Mar Thoma community was going to establish themselves as an immigrant community and take roots in that country. Fifth, this document urges us to consider the lesson we may learn from this experience. God certainly has a providential plan for this dispersion and therefore, it is wrong to think that the Diaspora communities are mere economic migrants. What we have at present is a colonial kind of pastoral care and we need to improve the centre-periphery relationship. What we have as of now is a 'hi-bye' ministry and, in course of time, it should become more of a 'halo-halo' ministry whereby the Diaspora community becomes a local community for all intents and purposes.
Those in these Diaspora congregations who want to cling to Malayalam liturgy is not in tune with a fundamental reformation in principle in the ancient Church in Kerala; namely, making the liturgy and worship intelligible to the people. The needs are different in different contexts. The needs of an expatriate community in the Gulf region are not the same as their counterparts in the United States, Europe, Malaysia and Australia. There is a need for a dialogue and emerging needs cannot be swept under the carpet of orthodoxy. Probably the time has come to start thinking about independent provinces of Marthoma Diaspora communities like the Anglican Communion with a significant Episcopal oversight from the mother Church. This sort of transformation is inevitable and it is only a matter of time before it comes to pass.
From 1947 to 1953 the administration of the Church was reinforced by the appointment of two experienced clergy as Diocesan Secretaries: Rev. K.J. Philip for the Southern Diocese and Rev. C.V. John for the Northern Diocese. They gave very valuable service to the Church through out their tenures. During this period it was felt that the burden on the Metropolitan and Bishop Mathews Mar Athanasius was too great and it was decided to consecrate three more Bishops. Three worthy candidates were elected, Rev. M.G. Chandy (later Alexander Marthoma), Rev. P. Thomas (later Suffragan Metropolitan Thomas Mar Athanasius) and Rev. Philip Oommen (later Metropolitan Chrysostum Marthoma). They were consecrated Rambans in 1953 at Quilon church and later consecrated Bishop at Thiruvalla Church under the Episcopal titles, Rev. M.G. Chandy as Alexander Mar Theophilus, Rev. P. Thomas as Thomas Mar Athanasius, and Rev. Philip Oommen as Philipose Mar Chrysostom.
Metropolitan Juhanon was the exemplar of many noble virtues. Simplicity was part of his nature. As mentioned earlier, he adopted from his University days the simple khadi clothes following the example of Mahatma Gandhi. Although he became the supreme leader of the Mar Thoma Church he stuck to his humble living. His bedroom at the Metropolitan’s house, Poolatheen, at Thiruvalla was very sparsely furnished with the austere provisions of a hard bed and ordinary table. At the same time he maintained a disciplined dailly routine in Tiruvalla, getting up early in the morning to have a bath in cold water, summoning all the inmates of the house by a simple bell devised by him, for family prayers in the chapel at 6.30. The inmates including his driver Daniel considered the family prayer a great blessing which, if possible, they never missed. After family prayers he had his private devotion and reading. Mr. Eapen Palampadam, a prominent Jacobite Christian, wrote a moving article in the Tharaka in the eighties about Thirumeni’s ecumenical vision and also about early morning meditations in which Thirumeni used to engage himself in a telepathic travel from one end of Kerala to other places thinking and praying about people whom he knew and cared for.
After this morning meditation, Thirumeni would have his light breakfast. He was not fastidious about food. After breakfast he would attend to the correspondence and meet with the visitors. He did not stand on formalities and did not insist on prior appointments. He would meet with all who wished to see him. If a visitor came even as he was writing, he would set aside his work and meet the visitor. Even in late afternoons he was willing to see visitors, if they arrived. Thirumeni was an attentive listener, which is the hall mark of a people-oriented leader. He responded promptly to letters. One of the things that kept the Mar Thoma Church going all through its turbulent years was this personal relationship between prelates and the members and all levels, and personal correspondence played a major role in this. His Successor Alexander Mar Thoma also continued this tradition till the end of his life. They were all good at interpersonal relationships.
The Metropolitan ate a simple lunch that included a fruit. After lunch he took some rest but resumed work soon after to be able to post his letters in time for the clearance at 6 P.M. He would hand-write most of the letters. After finishing his daily correspondence he would attend to his garden. Every plant, flower and blade of grass in the garden received his loving attention.
The Metropolitan would resume his reading and writing after the night prayer in the chapel at 8 P.M. and dinner. He would also receive visitors by appointment in the evening to discuss their special problems. The present writer visited him at one such meeting and was surprised at the detailed knowledge Thirumeni had of the family matters of the visitors. It was astonishing and heartening to find that the head of the Church cared to know his Church members so closely and was generous with his fatherly attention and advice. His daily routine never finished before midnight. If and when urged to work less, his reply would invariably be, “It is better to be active till one’s death,” and he remained true to this principle till the end.
He was a father to all around him. Peter, his cook, never traveled with the Metropolitan when he visited parishes as cooks of other bishops used to do. But he faithfully looked after Thirumeni, being profoundly grateful for the fatherly love he received from him. Similarly his driver Daniel was glad to be at his service any time of the day or night because he considered that serving the 'father' was a reward in itself. Kunjumon, another member of his household, used to recount the stories of Thirumeni's affection for those who served him. At the same time they were all subject to the strict paternal discipline as was experienced by the students of the M. T. Seminary where Thirumeni was the boarding superintendent.
Humility was the hallmark of Juhanon Metropolitan’s character. It was experienced by all who came into contact with him. A professor from England who was used to deal with Archbishops in the West had a long conversation with Juhanon Thirumeni once and later remarked, “I want Juhanon Metropolitan to be my Metropolitan because I have not so far met a Prelate who deals with people with so much humility.” Writing in Sabha Tharika, Thirumeni stated that he followed Dean Inge’s dictum: “I must never have a good opinion on myself”. This was the pointer to his great humility.
He showered his love on all including those who opposed him. He was very hurt by the doctrinal disputes in the Church and the formation of the break-away St. Thomas Evangelical Church. But he was never hostile to its leadership or members, which elevated two dissident clergymen- Rev. John Varghese and Rev. K.N. Oommen - as their Bishops. Even while the Daniel court judgement, Thirumeni remained friendly towards Mr. Daniel, often invited him to travel in his car and had heart-to-heart discussion. When Mr. Daniel was bed-ridden in the hospital, Thirumeni visited him, prayed for him and enquired after his welfare.
Similarly, when Thirumeni was taking rest for a few days in Coimbatore, he heard that Bishop John Varghese of the EVANGELICAL Church was ill with cardiac problems at Prakashpuram Ashram. Thirumeni decided to visit him but the Ashram was not approachable by car all the way. So he had to walk a distance and visited the ailing Bishop and prayed for him.The Bishop was in tears by this surprise visit and the affection expressed by Thirumeni. Miss Salomi Philip of the Ashram is reported to have said, “It was a most touching visit which cheered Bishop Varghese immediately.
He was blessed with deep fellow-feeling and compassion. He was particularly concerned about the converts from the Dalits community. He instructed the clergy, especially those who were very loyal to him, to make it a point to celebrate Holy Communion every Sunday where the Dalit Mar Thomites had a place of worship, however humble such a place was. He took care to attend the conference of Dalit Christians at Maramon church and he insisted that their economic backwardness has to be remedied by the Church. He is most remembered in the context of his understanding of the liberal theology for the amelioration of the sufferings of the poor and improvement in their lifestyle irrespective of communal and religious differences. Achutha Menon, an outstanding Communist Chief Minister of Kerala who became a very close friend of the Metropolitan, testified later that the Metropolitan was a great soul whose entire life was devoted to the service of the poor and the downtrodden. It was Metropolitan who introduced the idew of bulding houses for the poor and idea adopted by the government of Kerala many years later. He created three Social funds: the Metropolitan’s Fund for the housing needs of the poor; a marriage aid fund for helping poor parents in arranging the marriages of their children, and finally a relief fund for helping the victims of emergencies and natural disasters.
He was a willing listener to all the problems of the clergy who had to work in difficult conditions, as the Marthoma parishes were not affluent at that time of his reign. He empathized with them in their problems. Once a candidate for ordination visited him at Tiruvalla in December. Thirumeni invited him to stay for the night as he could not get the bus back. The young man went to sleep and he heard a knock on the door and voice “Are you asleep” and the young man answered “No, I was only going to”. “Well, it is a cold night in this exposed room. And so please use this blanket”. There was the supreme head of the Church looking into the details of the welfare of an ordained, like a true shepherd of the flock. Thirumeni had deserving students from poor families stay at his house so that they could attend S.C. Seminary. Some of them have distinguished themselves in public life and in Government service.
There are several anecdotes relating to his compassionate caring for the clergy. Once the Metropolitan visited a parish and asked the vicar there whether everything was ready for holy Communion and had an affirmative reply. But when the Trustee opened the Security box, it was found that communion bread had gone sale. In those days wafers were not in use. The vicar panicked. The Metropolitan understood the problem and asked the trustee if there was a bakery around, but there were none. The trustee rushed to the cafe nearby and fetched some buns to the parsonage. Thirumeni took them and sliced off the exterior of the buns and broke them into small pieces, which served the purpose. He improvised an apt solution and spared the vicar of sure embarrassment.
Here is yet another story that reflects the uniqueness of the Metropolitan's personality. The Metropolitan was a great social reformer like Abraham Marthoma. He was getting tired of the practices of bishop conducting marriage ceremonies to indulge some in their sense of social vanity. One day a senior clergyman arrived at the Bishop's house in Thiruvalla to inform the Metropolitan in advance of his daughter's wedding. This priest had no intention whatsoever of asking Thirumeni to conduct the wedding ceremony, because of the additional expenses this might have entailed. He only wanted to report the matter to the Metropolitan as a matter of courtesy. Thirumeni misunderstood the intention of the priest and got very angry and spoke to him at length about people wasting the time of bishops when an achen could as well do the ceremony concerned. Metropolitan thought quite rightly that as a senior clergy he should have known better and, lead the people in such matters by example. Achen departed with a very heavy heart. But immediately thereafter, Thirumeni felt very sorry for him and he sent his driver to bring him back. Thirumeni apologised to him and said that he would be delighted to conduct his daughter's wedding.
On another occasion, Thirumeni appointed young clergyman to a city parish beset with pastoral problems. The clergyman expressed reluctance to take on his assignment. So Thirumeni told him, "I am not sending you to that parish to move mountains. You do one simple thing. In that parish there are quite a few parishioners interested in praying. You go and pray with them and visit all the parishioners." The clergyman did that, and he had a fruitful ministry in that parish.
When he visited parishes he took time to see the parsonages to understand the problems of the clergy and to talk to the children of the clergy. Once he visited a village parish and called at the parsonage when the young daughter of the vicar rushed to "Methrachen Appachen" (That is, father bishop) and told him that they had a disaster, as all their poultry died of some poison. He shared her sorrow and asked whether all were dead. The little girl, with tears rolling down her cheeks, confirmed that not one of them had survived. A week later the vicar, her father, received a letter from Thirumeni to the effect that six hens have been arranged to b delivered to him. He shared the sorrow of the little one and responded in a practical way to a crisis.
Once Metropolitan had to write a letter to Rev. C.V. John asking him to vacate his residence at the M.T. Seminary immediately in favour of the new principal, Rev. Dr. V.P. Thomas. Achen had been living in this house for many years and his wife was bed-ridden with high fever. Achen was very upset at this, and wrote a letter very respectfully, though somewhat provoked. He sent this letter late evening through a courier to Tiruvalla. After receiving this letter, Metropolitan became very worried about having upset him at a time when his wife was indisposed. Achen had stood by the Metropolitan through thick and thin, and was a staunch supporter especially during the tempestuous times of litigation. Thirumeni got the letter late in the evening and immediately asked his driver to take him to Kottayam. It was about midnight when they reached achen's residence. The driver knocked at the door and achen came out, and was very surprised to see his Metropolitan at his doorstep. Thirumeni immediately apologised for writing to him in that manner and said and said that he just wanted to he just wanted to see Kochamma and pray for her recovery. Thirumeni made a frank admission of his regret at having written that letter at such a time and apologised for the same. After a time of prayer, he told achen that he could vacate the house at his convenience and that he would make interim arrangements for the accommodation of the new incumbent.
Rev. C.A. Kuruvilla has recorded the following incident that testifies to Thirumeni's caring and loving disposition. He was the vicar of Ayroor Salem Church. He was bitten by a rat and was poisoned. He was bed-ridden for some months. Thirumeni granted him leave with pay and advised him to seek proper treatment and the necessary rest. However Rev. Kuruvilla could not recover fully from the illness caused by the poison. One day his son told him, "Daddy, why don't you go to Valia Thirumeni and seek his prayers." He mentioned this to a visitor who arranged a car for Rev. Kuruvilla to go to Metropolitan's house at Tiruvalla. Thirumeni laid his hands on him and said a prayer: "Dear Lord, this servant who had dedicated himself for your sevice was unable to do your work for some months because of his illness. When treatment is unsuccessful and medicines are ineffective we get discouraged. But we believe that you are our help and refuge. Please lay your healing hands on him and give him relief. " Rev. Kuruvilla was miraculously healed after this touching prayer and he was able to celebrate Holy Communion the following Sunday as well as attend to his regular parish work thereafter.
Similarly, the Thirumeni showed loving consideration for evangelists (upadesis) and lay preachers in the Church who had no regular salary or were paid poorly. When they visited him, he invariably shared his meals. He also helped them financially on his visits to their parishes. Once an old Upadesi (evangelist) visited him at Tiruvalla and Thirumeni listened to him on his family matters like a close friend, shared the lunch with him. When this upadeshi was about to leave Thirumeni noticed that his sandals were totally worn out. Thirumeni asked him to wait, went inside and fetched the new pair of sandals, which he had bought for himself and gave it to the Upadesi. This act of affection moved the Upadesi to tears. Another visiting evangelist told Thirumeni that he had some abdominal problem. Thirumeni asked him to go to nearby Pushpagiri Hospital, giving him a letter addressed to the doctor to the effect that the Upadesi be given the required treatment, including surgery if required, and to send the bill to Thirumeni. Subsequently Thirumeni went to the hospital to pray for the patient whose surgery was successful.
Thirumeni treated the poor and the affluent equally. Some poor farmers, who were allotted forest land for clearance and cultivation, put up a rudimentary structure for a church and requested Thirumeni to consecrate the church. He gladly agreed to go and traveled by a jeep for some distance and the rest on foot and consecrated the church for the farmers who were delighted and praised God. However a concern was expressed in the Church Council that the Metropolitan was endangering his indifferent health by such arduous engagements. With a characteristic smile he told the Council, "You are happy for me to attend the parish day in Madras with the great Mayor of Madras, but you are trying to bar me from consecrating the church for the humble and hardworking farmers who are loyal to the Church."
Juhanon Mar Thoma was a great source of inspiration for many. At the Mar Thoma Students' conference in 1949 he gave a talk on "Christian Church and Social Justice". A number of the conference attendees were enthused and entered into various social service activities of the Church like homes for the homeless, elimination of the remaining illiteracy in Kerala, technical training for the literates, which programme continued after his reign and are in force even today. By these means he proved to the young that Christianity is stronger than Marxist ideology which was gaining ground in Kerala at that time. He placed on record in the Church Magazine of July 1957 the information of a Social Service Committee to rid society of social evils like landlessness, broken homes, alcoholism, dowry system and flimsy litigations and religious aberrations like communalism in society and disunity in the Church.
Juhanon Mar Thoma's theology was really broadminded although he had the reputation of being a traditionalist. He respected the views and reasoning of all people. Liturgically he could be at once evangelical and liberal. When he visited evangelically oriented parishes, he was quite happy to celebrate Holy Communion without candles, while he was happy to follow the age-old traditions in other parishes if the congregation so desired. It was not a matter of compromising one's convictions, but of the willingness to respect the religious sentiments and needs of the people. He had theological and intellectual grounds to justify both attitudes as he believed that Mar Thoma Church was a broad-minded Church.
At times, he initiated new procedures like starting a Holy Communion Service by singing the first hymn in Hindi, indicating that the Church should change to the language of the people. At the same time he was very appreciative of Malayalam poets and their lyrics. He introduced the prayer hymns of Chekot Asan and P.O. Samuel and encouraged promising poets like Puthenkavu Mathen Tharakan who was the author of "Vishwadeepam Mahakavyam". (Epic of the light of the world describing the life of Jesus). Thirumeni was enthusiastic in giving equal opportunity and responsibility to women in the Church and thus he was very much ahead of the times.
In 1974 Mar Thoma Theological Seminary was upgraded to a B.D. grade college of the Serampore University, inaugurated by Juhanon Mar Thoma. The other educational institutions of the Church expanded during his reign. In 1974 the Church had a very large number of primary schools, 14 High Schools and a Teacher's Training School. Besides these, there were three Arts and Science Colleges: Mar Thoma College Tiruvalla, Christian College in Chengannur and St.Thomas College in Kozhencherry and Titus II Teachers Training College in Tiruvalla, which were all high-ranking colleges of their kind. There was also the Marthoma Industrial Training Institute at Kozhencherry to provide technical and vocational training for those with High School education but stood no chance of finding employment otherwise. Rev. Dr. Ninan Kallumpram gave leadership in starting this institute. Thirumeni took active interest in establishing these institutions. That this was close to his heart is clearly visible from the large number of Mar Thoma youth both men and women who have found employment in India and abroad, thus forming a very large Mar Thoma Diaspora.
On 1st December 1974 Bishop Mathews Mar Athanasius who had been a tower of strength to the Metropolitan and the Church passed away. The idea of consecrating two more Bishops were already under consideration and in February 1975, Rev. P.T. Joseph and Rev. V.T. Koshy were consecrated Bishops by Juhanon Mar Thoma assisted by three Bishops and the Metropolitan of the Thozhiyur Church. Rev. P.T. Joseph became Joseph Mar Irenaeus, and Rev. V.T. Koshy, Easow Mar Timotheus.
The work of Evangelistic Association progressed steadily during the reign of Juhanon Mar Thoma. More Ashrams took shape and the missionary activities of the Church expanded in Madhya Pradesh, Tibet, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andamans. A large number of congregations were formed in Kerala as a result of the Mission work. The Evangelistic Association continued to organise the Maramon Convention annually. Medical mission hospitals were started in Palghat, Hoskote, Ankola, Vapi, Sihora and also in Marthoma heartlands of Maramon and Kattanam.
Juhanon Mar Thoma pioneered the ecumenical movement in the Church. His work with the World Council of Churches has been described earlier in this chapter. He took the practical step of moving away from the Julian calendar and accepting the Gregorian calendar so that the main festivals of Christmas and Easter are celebrated on the same days as in Western Churches. This was because of his keenness to be in line with the other Churches in India that were linked to the Western Churches.
The most important decision taken by Juhanon Mar Thoma was the discussion on full communion between the Mar Thoma Church and Church of South India (CSI) and Churches of North India (CNI) and the Church of England and the other provinces of the Anglican Communion. In 1952 the Episcopal Synod which consisted of him and Bishop Mathews Mar Athanasius issued a prophetic call to the Churches in India signed by both of them reading:
Vision of these two great leaders was realized to a great extent as the Mar Thoma Church have come into close association and full communion with CSI and CNI, the Church of England and the world-wide provinces of Anglican Communion. The Bishop of London, a leading Bishop of the Church of England celebrated in 2002 Holy Communion according to the Mar Thoma rite at St.James Parish of the Mar Thoma Church in London. This was the fruit of the ecumenical outlook of Juhanon Mar Thoma and his global vision for the Church, as well as his keenness to create a united national Church in India. We have moved a long way since then. Appreciating the presence of Bishop Zacharias Mar Theophilus at the consecration of the Anglican bishop of Reading, Bishop Dominic walker wrote, "When I was consecrated a bishop, the Mar Thoma Synod of Bishops arranged for Bishop Zacharias Mar Theophilus to be one of the consecrators. May be that makes me Mar Thoma - by adoption and grace!" How mysterious are the ways of Lord! Consider this amazing sequence: laying-on-of hands by the Patriarch of Antioch on Metropolitan Mathews Mar Athanasius in 1842, the Episcopal succession between the Throne of St.Peter and Throne of St. Thomas and in 1997 Zacharias Thirumeni becoming a consecrator with nine other Anglican bishops, Archbishop of York and Archbishop of Canterbury, at the consecration of a bishop under the spiritual umbrella of St. Peter and St. Augustine. This is something to rejoice about. The present writers feel grateful for the opportunity to work towards this ecumenical goal through the Society St. Thomas and of St.Augustine. a Society that they founded with the help of Bishop Dominic Walker, to develop a fraternal relationship between the Anglican Church and the Mar Thoma Church. Both Metropolitan Alexander Mar Thoma and Archbishop of Canterbury were patrons of this Society in the eighties when it was formed.
The Metropolitan's pursuit of ecumenism in Kerala made actuve in seeking reconciliation between the two Orthodox factions: the Syrian Orthodox Church in Kerala, originally called Catholicose party, owing allegiance to Catholicos of the East in Kottayam and the Syrian Jacobite Church - the Patriarchal party- that recognizes the Patriarch of Antioch as its supreme head. Even though Thirumeni's mediations were not fruitful, he earned the respect of the two opposing factions. He was friendly with Catholicos Geevarghese II Mar Basalius (Bava) who shared his problems with Juhanon Mar Thoma. A few days before Bava's death Thirumeni visited him and after a hearty talk shared the breakfast with the Bava.
His commitment to social justice arose from his deep Christian faith. He spoke about social and political injustices on appropriate occasions. He did not believe in ignoring issues for the sake of diplomacy or convenience. The boldest step he took in that direction was the letter dated 25th August 1974 he sent to Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, who imposed internal emergency on India, keeping democracy in a state of suspended animation. It was de facto dictatorship. A number of political Leaders from her own and opposition parties were imprisoned and censorship was imposed on the media. Thirumeni's letter stated that he deemed the Emergency rule as a setback to democracy and demanded its speedy withdrawal as well as the release of the politicians arrested in this regard. He wrote that he was writing as a Church leader and a citizen. Possibly it was one of the many things that persuaded Mrs. Gandhi to withdraw the Emergency Rule, release the incarcerated politicians and Trade Unionists and announce the general election in which she was defeated.
On his 84th birthday, on 7 Sept 1976, Thirumeni celebrated Holy Communion at Manganam St.Peters Church, Kottayam, in which area he had started his priestly Service. He didnot participate in the public celebration of his birthday, but rested at the Bishop's house in Zion Hill. He felt unwell on the 8th September and was admitted to the Medical College Hospital. He was suffering from diabetes and cardiac problems. He received continual attention from expert doctors, but they failed to stabilize his condition. He asked for the singing of his favourite hymns like "Jesus Lover of my soul". He passed away peacefully on 27th September 1976. Thus ended the eventful life of the St.Paul of Mar Thoma Church who guided the Church over an eventful period of expansion and consolidation in the history of the Church.
Juhanon Mar Thoma added intellectual dignity to the image of the Indian Christian community. He wanted the Mar Thoma Church to be a bridge Church between the Western and Eastern Churches by practicing Councilor unity. He overcame the narrow boundaries of denominational rivalries and extended his helping hand to the cause of humanity in Kerala and outside. Politicians of all hues sought and valued his sage counsel. When Mr. R. Shankar was Chief Minister of kerala, he visited the United States of America and was speaking at a meeting. A member of the audience asked the Chief Minister, "Do you belong to the Church of Juhanon Mar Thoma?" Mr. Shankar replied, "I am not a Christian, but I am proud to say that I know the saintly Metropolitan. Anyway why did you ask me this question?" The man answered, "I love that man of faith whose ideals and simple lifestyle are very appealing to me." Thus it was evident that Thirumeni's ideals and role-model were understood and respected by people from far and wide. "His very presence radiated an aura of love and peace," said another Chief Minister, Mr. Achutha Menon, who led a Communist government in Kerala.
He taught that prayer was the deepest longing of the human heart, and fervently believed in its effectiveness. He had the gift of spiritual healing and there were many instances in which people - both clergy and laity - were miraculously healed by Thirumeni's prayers.
He was a teacher all his life and he wrote innumerable books and leaflets, distinguished for their depth and simplicity, to teach people about the Bible and the Church's beliefs. His successor Alexander Mar Thoma called him 'a Messenger of the Kingdom of God,' a well-deserved acclamation for an outstanding chief prelate of the Mar Thoma Church.
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