Dr Martin Tamcke, Friend of Oriental Christianity, Honoured by Federal Republic of Germany


Fr. Dr. K.M. George

 Prof. Dr. Dr. Martin Tamcke, Director and professor at the  Department of Ecumenical and Inter-Cultural Theology  and Oriental Church- and Mission History at Goettingen University, Germany, has received  the prestigious Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany conferred by the Federal President. This is an occasion for great rejoicing in all ecumenical circles particularly in the Oriental Churches in the Middle East, in India, and elsewhere. Dr. Tamcke is an acclaimed friend and committed promoter of the tradition of Oriental  Christianity, particularly the Churches of Syriac liturgical and patristic heritage. A reputed academic in the German university of Goettingen, professor Tamcke has generously extended his academic and pastoral care for a large number of young scholars and theologians from the Oriental churches. He has become a close friend of many church leaders and professors in churches and academic institutions .

His academic engagement began with his study of St. Ephrem in the 1980’s when he was guided by great professors like Dr. Hage and Prof. Strothmann. In 1975 he met in Jerusalem a Syrian monk from Tur Abdin, the once stronghold of Syriac Orthodox tradition. With this  meeting began his long and very fruitful  involvement in the cultural history, liturgical wealth, and the existential predicament of  the Christian minorities in the Islamic countries of the Middle East. In addition to his heavy academic and pastoral work in Germany, Dr. Tamcke travelled widely to the Middle East, to India, and to other Asian countries upholding the cause of Oriental Christianity. With his deep knowledge and commitment to Oriental traditions he served on official German government delegations to visit  countries of the Middle East  for the cause of peace, reconciliation and help for the people who suffer due to political upheavals. As the recent crisis in Iraq, Syria, Egypt   and other places generated the  flood of millions of refugees in Germany and western Europe, professor Tamcke boldly stands for all efforts to offer hospitality and refuge to the displaced people.

Initiating academic programmes on Inter-cultural Theology, as well as on Euro-culture in the university setting, Dr. Tamcke facilitated very creative encounters among research scholars and other students coming from different countries in the world. His firm emphasis on interreligious co-existence, intercultural hermeneutics, and East-West relations has been well-substantiated by his numerous publications of books, journal articles, seminar presentations, and visiting lectures in and outside Germany. He established exchange programmes with several Orthodox and Protestant faculties  in various countries. One of his research scholars, Mr Lukas Pieper already spent a few months in India researching in the writings of Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios in association with the Dr Paulos Mar Gregorios Chair at the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala. Another young scholar Mr Ilija  Jovic is currently in Kottayam  as part of his research.

Dr Tamcke is  a unique German professor who is able to live in and bring together different world cultures at the same time while maintaining his academic and Christian integrity with deep compassion and openness. So for all his students and friends across the world, Prof. Tamcke personifies a new human culture characterized by deep friendship, hospitality, and intellectual-spiritual sharing.

As a long-time friend and admirer of Martin, I have  pleasure to witness to his radiant personality and Christian commitment. Almost  a quarter century ago, he was invited to lead a seminar at the    Bossey Ecumenical Institute,  Geneva where I was then teaching. Ever since, we had numerous occasions to meet in India and elsewhere in various events of academic and  theological nature. Above all his love for India and its ancient heritage of St. Thomas Christians made him visit and travel widely in India. Two years ago, he came to our town of Kottayam, Kerala as a resource person at the Syriac Congress organised by the St. Ephrem Ecumenical Institute. When we met there, he told me that he had some of his research students with him, and that they would visit me in my house. I simply assumed that it would be a social visit, so I prepared some coffee and snacks, and hoped that we would have some small talk and exchange of pleasantries over coffee. One afternoon Martin came with twelve of his research scholars. As soon as we were seated, he started a discussion beginning with the intercultural and interreligious questions in India. Soon I discovered that the students had come well-prepared on a number of theological and ecumenical questions.   When almost one and a half hours of intense discussion elapsed, I realized to my surprise that it was a proper academic seminar session, very well planned and  orchestrated by Prof Tamcke.

I quoted this incident later in some of our academic circles saying that it was a good model of the creative Guru-Sishya (teacher-disciple) relationship . Here is a professor who has seriously planned to make use of the time of his students in the most productive and intellectually stimulant  way in the pretext of a social visit.

After a year, I received an invitation from Goettingen through his research student Mr Stanislau Paulu to give some lectures there and lead a seminar of  doctoral candidates in the Ecumenical Research Forum of European students in Hamburgh. When I arrived there, Martin gave an enormous lot of time for me, showed me around the university and the town with great hospitality and love. When we were in the lecture hall, I was excited to see a large number of students and some of my senior friends and former colleagues in the World Council of Churches like Bishop Dr Rolf Koppe and  Dr Beate Stierle. Seeing students from other faculties and apparently non-Christian religions I was a bit embarrassed and told Martin that I had prepared my lecture for theological students. But  he encouraged me to speak to all without any restriction. So I did. However there were  very  enthusiastic responses from students in the form of questions and remarks.

With his luxuriant white beard and shining compassionate  eyes, the German professor has an Oriental patriarchal aura that naturally came to him over the many   decades of dedicated  study, research, writing, travel  and  committed involvement  in the great spiritual culture of the Orient. He is also deeply concerned about the painful experience that we all share as we witness the  wiping out of this ancient culture from its homelands. Martin’s friends, students, and all who are acquainted with him across the world  felicitate him most heartily on the  honour conferred on him by his own fatherland. We wish him many more years of creative engagements in the world of letters as well as in the life of the churches and cultures  in the Orient.