MEMORIAL TRIBUTE FOR
H.G. THOMAS MAR MAKARIOS
To explain how I come to make this tribute to a beloved departed bishop of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church , let me give a short introduction. I am Fr John Brian, an American priest of the Mission Society of St Gregorios of India serving Holy Transfiguration Mission in Madison , Wisconsin . I also serve as a hospital chaplain and a chaplain at the local hospice care center. I was ordained to the Orthodox priesthood in 1987 in a now defunct American mission of the Holy Synod of Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, the only church membership I had known. I took a personal and voluntary leave of absence from active priesthood in 1992 which lasted until 1999 when I was fully re-activated to the priesthood. It was then that I was mystically led (I believe) through a series of events that brought me to an American mission of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church founded by His Grace Thomas Mar Makarios. This is how I have come to address you today.
When grieving the loss of loved ones, we are reminded of the unique presence they had been in our lives. Our memories of them are activated as we walk down the hall or sit at a table. There are shared places and we can almost see them in that place and, out of the corner of our eye, there they are. We hear their voice speaking to us, singing, praying. Shared plans and promises left unfulfilled stand before us as unpainted sketches or unfinished symphonies.
There is no replacement for any of us – we are all created unique. And yet we are all intricately and intimately connected. So we miss those that depart ahead of us. We long for them to return or for us to catch up to where they are. There is a pit in our hearts and a lump in our throats. We cry. The sorrow when one dies is natural. Grieving is one of the shared experiences of humankind.
Our Holy Fathers, in meditation and experience, help us in our grief with heavenly wisdom when they draw our attention inversely. Instead of sorrow for those that have departed, it is sorrow for ourselves that remain. Instead of focusing on the loss, they tell us to focus on heaven’s gain; that there will be a reunion with those who are waiting for us in God’s love; that there is another light in the heavens to illumine the darkness of this world.
It is only through God that I am able to do anything of positive impact. I am a servant; as such the Master deserves all the credit. All glory and praise is due to God, the source of all goodness, righteousness and truth. Of myself I am nothing, it is the spirit of God within that sustains me, gives me hope and direction. I also acknowledge that my service would not be available without the kindness, pity and encouragement of His Grace Metropolitan Thomas Mar Makarios who was a reminder of God’s graciousness in the difficult times that we live.
So, I see our beloved Bishop Thomas Mar Makarios here and there; in memory and in unfinished plans; in heaven and buried in a tomb in India . I cried the night of the accident and prayed when he was in the hospital. I longed for another chance to talk with him, hear his advice, receive his blessing, and feel his love. The honor and respect Thirumeni gave to others was precious to behold. I was a humble recipient of that honor and respect – I have referred to it as “taking pity on me and my circumstance” but it was bigger and more encouraging than pity – he made me feel that we were in a partnership, a collective activity that benefited everyone. He was encouraging and empowering in our mission efforts.
Thirumeni was a willing servant of the Holy Spirit, even when it meant going somewhere he had not been before or helping someone he only knew by the Spirit. In this we shared a common bond. His face seemed to glow whenever he announced the good activities of those under his charge and I am sure I am not alone in how good it felt when he made such a compliment. When he made compliments publicly and in private, there was an authenticity. These were made more gracious by his keen understanding of human nature.
Thirumeni was able to reach a great variety of people. He was greatly respected among Keralites. He asked me to meet him once when the national meeting FOKANA was in Chicago . I was the only blonde in the entire hotel. He introduced me with graciousness to one leader and then another. I met Bishop Nicholovos there. Even when everyone else spoke Malayalee, he would interject enough English so that I could understand. It was clear that the respect given me then was only due to His Grace. Perhaps I am being too harsh, but I spent part of my youth in poor Chicago neighborhoods where I did not become accustomed to such graciousness.
Not that I should have been surprised at his ability to see the truth in me, despite cultural and age differences. I knew Thirumeni taught at a Protestant college where European-Americans were the overwhelming majority. At the 2005 family-youth conference, we got a chance to see the tremendous love and respect that the president of Alma college had for Thirumeni and heard how much they helped him during very difficult times.
Mar Makarios was an invited speaker and chair at an international and interfaith conference in Bahrain in 2002. “The Role of Religions for a Peaceful Co-existence in a Modern Society” designed to bolster understanding between Islam and Christianity. He chaired a session entitled “The New Role of Religion in a Multicultural, International Society.” I hope everyone can appreciate the expertise Thirumeni held to be included in this conference. In discussion with me, he was very proud of the acknowledgement and accomplishment on the world stage of inter-religious relations.
Thirumeni was also very proud of consecrating churches. It was one of his greatest joys. I was able to be at the consecration of St Gregorios in Bellwood (as well as its elevation to Cathedral status) and I was at the consecration of St Gregorios in Spokane, Washington – the first church of the Mission Society of St Gregorios of India whose vicar is the first American priest ordained by Thirumeni. All truly historic events.
Our Catholicos, Baselios Marthoma Didymus I, wrote in his memorial kalpana the day after Mar Makarios’ death (February 24, 2008):
“Patience John. Patience. Everything works together for good for those that love the Lord,” Mar Makarios would tell me. The first time was when we met at St Gregorios in October of 1999. And again, in 2000. He accepted our mission congregation and received me into the Mission Society at the Toronto conference in July 2001, mentioning later that he felt he was prompted by an angel to do so. He sent Mar Militios Thirumeni to bless our small picnic that summer as confirmation.
Following the example of St Gregorios of Parumala, Makarios Thirumeni ordained Americans to the priesthood. Ordination is an established ceremony of bringing servants to the priesthood. There was no ceremony for accepting an Orthodox priest who has already been ordained by an Orthodox bishop into the Malankara Church . Thirumeni told me that people wanted one, but that there wasn’t one…yet. I told him, I didn’t need fanfare or ceremony to serve and asked him what he wanted me to do. “Keep doing what you are doing. Keep working on the mission. That is service enough for now.” he would say. When a priest or member from India , the Middle East, Cleveland or Philadelphia would make a request of me, he would ask, “Who asked you to do that? Can you do it? …. Then, you should.”
Pastorally, Thirumeni would tell a favorite story of when he was a priest in Delhi . There was a young man who helped him out quite a bit, but he would only come to church two times a year. One time, Thirumeni asked, “How is it with all the faith and good things that you do that you only come to church two times a year?” The young man replied, “Thirumeni, my father used to go church only once a year, but I am going two times!” He wanted us to know not to judge others by our own standards, but try to see them with the eyes of Christ.
Thirumeni rarely told me not to serve the church in whatever capacity was requested of me. If there was any doubt, he was very clear about what I should or should not do. One time, I was asked by an Orthodox woman to perform a marriage for her to a Muslim gentleman. I initially declined, but after a discussion with the woman, I decided to meet with them. Their love for each other seemed quite genuine. I know enough about Islam to have asked him how much would he do for her (in Islam, a woman can ask anything of a future husband before marriage and he must give it or else there can be no marriage). He said, “Anything.” - As I would expect from an honest Muslim. “Even baptism?” I asked. He looked at her and then looked back at me and said, “Yes.” It was encouraging. Then he said, “But my family must never know.” That is when I said I would need to get advice and approval from my bishop. I called Makarios Thirumeni. He listened with polite encouragement and said, “It seems you covered everything with them, but it needs to be a public acknowledgement of Christ for a Christian marriage. If he agrees, then there is no deception and no problems. If he doesn’t, then there is some deception and the marriage will not succeed.” The Muslim gentleman refused to be public, citing the fear of his execution by his own family. I gave His Grace’s warning. They were married by a judge and I found out later that the marriage did not last just as Thirumeni predicted.
Very shortly after we joined the Mission Society, church issues in India began to require more of His Grace. As a good servant, he served where he was needed most. It seemed to me that he was in Kerala almost as much as he was in North America . Then last couple of years, he spent more time in England as well. In all of it, he was glorious in the struggles, invigorated by the growth of churches and missions, and always found time to speak with the youth. One time, he called my son over. Thirumeni said, “I am gathering the next generation for a cup of tea.” And there they were, more than half a dozen young boys – not one of them over 12 years old - seated at a round table with tea cups and saucers in front them. I had never seen an Orthodox hierarch with such confidence and such love for the future of the church. His vision was for our church to be more spiritually minded, culturally enlightened and inter-personally sensitive. He wanted us to be a leading example to the world of the goodness of Christian heritage, embracing the fullness of the Holy Orthodox Church and reaching out to those who do not know her.
The first American priest ordained by Mar Makarios, Chorespiscos Fr Michael Hatcher of Spokane wrote:
Mar Makarios Thirumeni was like an apostle. He was willing to go to the corners of the world, making missions and churches alive, right up until his final acts in this world. It was as he was leaving the consecration ceremonies for a church in England that he was struck by an automobile in the accident that ultimately took his life from this world. It also seems apostolic for him to survive long enough for the faithful in at least five continents to prayer for his recovery – five continents. From our mission in Madison , Wisconsin , I learned that there were prayers being said in Ethiopia , India , Australia/New Zealand, England and throughout North America . Thirumeni would be quick to point out that the miracle here was not that he survived seven weeks, but that all these people agreed to pray for the same thing.
Thirumeni was like that, seeing miracles in all our lives – willing to follow the Holy Spirit even when it led him away from us to that other side of the veil. He passed through that veil on the anniversary of his ordination to full deacon to share the same memorial date of one of his personal heroes, St. Dionysius our Vatteserril Thirumeni.
I have no doubt he is still working for us, praying for us, blessing us. If we see him sitting there, maybe he is only reminding us of his love – or rather God’s love that he was so willing to share.
Let me close this memorial tribute with Thirumeni’s own words. At the 25th Jubilee Anniversary of his 1979 enthronement as the first Metropolitan of the American Diocese in 2004, he wrote:
Mar Makarios would bless us every year in His Grace’s annual kalpana:
Thirumeni, we miss you. Pray for us. May your memory be eternal!
[Light of Life as a Family pay our tribute to beloved Makarios Thirumeni and dedicate this issue in memory of Thirumeni. Thirumeni, We bow before you and kiss your hands with great love, respect and deep sorrow. LOL]
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