A PILGRIMAGE TO LIGHT: Book Review by George Joseph Enchakkattil


It was in the year 1997 Mr Joice Thottakkadu came up with a volume of the biography of L/L HG Dr Paulose Mor Gregoriose and quite sensibly, the release was on the very first memorial day of L/L His Grace. Now we have before us, the second edition thereof, with more details and inputs. However, once you finish reading this easily readable work, you realize that this, more than a biography, is indeed a dissection of the life of L/L HG Dr Paulose Mor Gregoriose. You find yourself immersed in the life of His Grace as if you are searching and gathering valuable pearls and diamonds from the depth of a vast ocean.  How deep this ocean is! One has to read and feel.

The volume, running to more than 1,000 pages including many rare photographs, has its forward by Fr Dr K M George and introductions by Fr Dr Jacob Kurian, Fr Dr John Thomas Karingattil and Guru Nithya Chaithanya Yathi; we also have a preface by the author. Fr Dr K M George rightly points out that this volume, though classifies into biographies, is in reality a beautiful window into the living experiences of L/L HG Dr Paulose Mor Gregoriose. Fr Dr Jacob Kurian introduces L/L HG as a great physician who kneaded the essence of Eastern Spirituality into a paste and applied it in the eyes of his disciples thereby opening their eyes otherwise blind to it.

The main content of the book spreads over eight exhaustive chapters and six notes as appendix. The first chapter titled COMMENCEMENT OF THE PILGRIMAGE covers the formative years of His Grace until he was 23 years in age. There may not be any high level thoughts in this chapter, but a sharp reader can experience passing through an opening to high echelons of philosophy, theology, Christology , ecumenism, politics, humanity, liturgy, worship and love.  Here, we also read about human sufferings and tribulations flowing into one’s life like an unexpected stream, often unwelcome, but unavoidable. However, the will to overpower such experiences is very much there within our inner self; but we have to realize it. Submission of our life to the Almighty is the only way to realize this will. We also have here ways and means to understand our call or mission; also how an ordinary youth P T Varghese perceived it.

Next chapter, INTO THE DARK CONTINENT, introduces the person Paul T Varghese or in other words, the gentle gentleman Paul T Varghese; we come to know who he is, what he is and what he can. The opportunity that came his way quite accidentally for a teaching assignment in Ethiopia marked the turning point.  His one to one dialogue with Jesus Christ, suffering all by himself from a traumatic experience of chickenpox, leads him to a true transformation.  He experienced that one would be rewarded if you suffer doing good to others. The root of the evil is in the mind of the individual, and unless it is changed, any other change is futile. “Neros have come and Neros have gone, but Christ and His Bride stand for ever”.  These were days when he was steadfast associating himself with the teaching profession and knowingly or unknowingly, formulating the PERSON in him. He used to be in more or less a regular touch with his friends in India and made it a point to share with them his Christ experience. His open-minded studies made him convinced of the fallacy of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  God’s wisdom is the cause of creation, but clergy mostly failed in sustaining the sanctity of humanity.  In short, we see here Paul T Varghese blossoming into a man of knowledge and wisdom. After three to four years of teaching in Ethiopia, he returned to India, but leaving his mark in the Dark Continent, that later turned out to unpredictable achievements.  His teaching assignment turned to be a model for a healthy teacher – student relationship.

His coming back to India and merging in a vocation found most appropriate appears elaborately illustrated in RETURNING TO NATIVE LAND.  He left Ethiopia in 1950, but did not travel direct to India, which happened another four years later. This interim period turned out to be the most fruitful days as he realized his dream of graduating; this was from a university in United States. When he landed back in India, he was rich in knowledge; now, he was a Post Graduate in Theology. With this background, he spent his next few years serving the people right from the grassroots. Thus, he had fruitful acquaintance with Pathrose Ramban (L/L Pathrose Mor Osthathiose who initiated Sleeba Dasa Samooham), Mr M Thomman and Mrs. Saramma Thomman, Dr A M Chacko, HH Moron Mor Baselios Gheevarghese II Catholicose and such stalwarts of our Church and community. He had a good time with The Fellowship House, Aluva and helped them in raising money for developmental activities. His Bible classes at Fellowship House used to be enlightening to many. He had association with the Peace League also who were working towards establishing peace in the Church. He also served as part time lecturer with our Old Theological Seminary, Kottayam.  However, destiny was such that Emperor Hailey Selassie wanted him at Ethiopia and after seeking the will of God through prayers in a small fellowship, he proceeded.

We have a back up of the history of early 20th century Ethiopia in the chapter ALONG WITH THE LION OF YEHUDA. Paul Varghese worked sincerely and with commitment in the inner circles of the administrative set up of the Emperor but he was not very happy there and looked forward to joining clergy order. Those were days the atmosphere within the Church was quite disturbed. Personal interests and agenda of some in leadership made matters worse. Paul Varghese maintained a very cordial relationship with HH Bava Thirumeni. Working for the Emperor of Ethiopia, he was burning inside as he felt his mission was different. He longed to serve the Church proactively. Ultimately, he managed to say goodbye to Ethiopia not before leaving a stainless mark. He wished to pursue a doctorate for which he interacted with a few known universities. His second stint in Ethiopia made one witness the explosion of the personality in Paul Varghese in its wholeness.

At the age of 37, he left Ethiopia for good and immediately HH Moron Mor Baselios Gheevarghese II ordained him as Deacon; two years later, he was Fr Paul Varghese. Shortly thereafter, Fr Paul Varghese commenced associating himself with World Council of Churches lasting almost a quarter century. Thus, he made his entry to ECUMENICAL FIELD. When we think about his entry into the Ecumenical Field, one should feel excited at his blunt statement about the fallacy of WCC straight on the face of Vissert Hooft, the then General Secretary of the Council when they met at Oxford just a year before his ordination to priesthood. His forthright observations about Protestants during that time are worth noting not only then, but also even now and for the future: “Protestants have no idea about worship; they are content with singing hymns and listening to sermons. They are not able to perceive Orthodox thoughts. Their concepts about Church and liturgy were different. However, over a period of time, they learnt about Church as well as liturgy”. Very often, he presented papers at WCC, which caught preferred attention of delegates. During his years of association with WCC, Fr Paul Varghese had the occasion to visit many countries and he could formulate his own views on other nations without blindly following the European conceptualizations. He had a peculiar affinity towards the socialistic pattern of governance put in place by USSR and a few other nations. Though he was a paid employee at WCC, he never had any hesitation to stick to his ideals often creating confusions or headaches to higher ups. He understood that Russian Orthodox Church enjoyed more freedom in USSR compared to other Christian denominations, Jews and Buddhists. One can say Fr Paul Varghese, indeed, redefined the priorities of WCC.

It was during his association with WCC, he came up with his assertions as to why he was an Oriental Orthodox Christian. His perceptions about Oriental Orthodoxy have to be true for anyone who is an Oriental Orthodox. However, he is disappointed with the struggles within Orthodox Churches for power.  His contributions at the second Vatican Council were valuable. During this period, he worked hard for improvising the pattern of education, for bringing out a reconciliation platform for Chalcedon and non-Chalcedon Churches, for initiating better rapport between different Oriental Orthodox Churches liturgically and socially and many more such avenues particularly to take care of the poor and marginalized men and women. Thus, he declared silently what is his mission and what should be the mission of each one of us. We have in this chapter his concepts about the proper orientation of Old Theological Seminary at Kottayam particularly in the light of deterioration of its spiritual base. Therefore, as soon as he took over the reins of the Seminary, he realigned the syllabus and curriculum in such a way that Oriental Orthodox faith and dogmas are prominent by underplaying its Protestant characteristics, which were there because of its affiliation to Seramboor University. Further, he initiated Divyabodhanam program to educate laity in spirituality and Orthodoxy, Shruthy School of Music to improvise liturgical music and Sophia Center as a platform for studies of varied subjects. All these were indicative of a person who struggled to liberate of his community to absolute truth. More than all what have been briefed hereinabove, this chapter is highly educative as we learn simple, but comprehensive explanations to terms like Sophia, the essence of Holy Qurbana, the person St Mary, the Feast of Easter, the meaning behind Resurrection and such many more topics.  We also have certain interesting information that the concerned academic bigwigs with Seramboor University found his Doctoral Thesis unworthy and unacceptable; Fr Dr V C Samuel had to intervene with the system to make them realize their emptiness of thoughts. We also have useful inputs as how he came up with a system to have dialogues with other religions to understand concepts mutually.  There are much more in this chapter, which makes a reader perceive the greatness of L/L HG Dr Paulose Mar Gregoriose and the extent of his scholarship. He was ordained as metropolitan on February 16, 1975.

L/L HG Dr Paulose Mar Gregoriose was a MAN CAUGHT FIRE IN SOUL.  Though suffering from a stroke on his left side, as also under an attack of leukemia His Grace was not to spend his days in seclusion. Relying on  those faculties of his person live and active, His Grace fought for the marginalized, fought against the highhandedness of Western Philosophy and fought for improvisations in the field of higher education. During the days of Emergency in India, he analyzed the good and bad within this. He concentrated his efforts to enlighten the world to keep harmony with innovations in Science and Technology, but to challenge spending money in research projects that lead to destructions to normal living patterns. Protestant leaders within WCC were raising their objections to his thought processes, as they could not tolerate them on many counts. He had no reservations in attacking them on their policies with which he could not tune up for the reason of convictions. He had developed his own independent views and stands on nuclear energy and its utilization, ecumenical vision and its practicalities, peace and justice and their futility because of the poor distanced by the rich as a matter of policy community wise and nation wise and failure in implementation of political ideologies to suit the betterment of the have-nots.  He had taken a keen interest in Perestroika and Glasnost and had become friendly with Russian leader Michael Gorbachev, yet criticizing him wherever his policies affected the poor badly. He was not at all scared to address top leaders of nations and openly exposing their wrong stands that would have hampered the common people; his scathing speech with the Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawk on the dais was one classic example of his forthrightness and lack of fear. His stint with WCC served in another dimension too that many self-centered Protestants came to understand what Orthodoxy was. A comment by Fr Dr T J Joshua appearing on page 669 of this volume perhaps sums up all these personality traits inherent in him.

The chapter, TOWARDS LIGHT, reveals his close associations with Fr Dr KM George, Fr Dr TJ Joshua, FR CC Cherian, Fr K T Philip, Fr Dr Mathew Vaidyan, Fr Joseph Cheeran and many more like that.  He had the best of relationships with C Achutha Menon, KM Mathew, MN Govindan Nair and such political and social figures of contemporary days. Perhaps, his post stroke days were spiritually enchanting in as much as that he had come up with lot of enlightening thoughts. He could ascertain convincingly to those who listened to him that those who pass away from this world have continuous affinity for the good. This has some similarities to the exhortations of Immanuel Swedenborg, but His Grace’s thoughts were certainly independent in him. His views on post death scenario appear in very simple language in pages 775 and 776.   He held on to the thought that Church and its members looked forward to Bishops who were good enough to provide them spiritual nourishment. He was quite convinced that Holy Spirit worked or interfered among creations not bothering whether they were Christians or not, but many Christians thought otherwise, claiming Holy Spirit as their private possession.

The last of the eight chapters, NEW HUMANITY, throws light on His Grace’s own concept on humanity. He believed that the diversity religions in India were a true pointer to develop a healthy religious culture thereby exposing the hollowness of Western Theological concepts. He was keen to admonish all sorts of exploitations on creations. Pages 849 onwards provide very interesting explanations to common complexities associated with ‘time and space’, icons and iconography. This chapter winds up with a reasonably long treatise on how His Grace formatted his person.

The first annexure is a sort of witnessing what his true mission was; when he comments on his mission, there is an obvious pointer that the same could be ours as well. Apart from this, further annexures are a very useful bibliography, a very valuable index of His Grace’s contributions to ‘Star of the East’, narrations of His Grace’s 60th and 70th birthday celebrations and the chronological order of PMG events.

May be, some readers may find this review a bit lengthy, which I do admit and confess. However, a not too small treatise is found necessary to highlight the coverage in a right perspective that a reader who may not get time to read this volume fully gets to know the inside story that he is benefitted to some extent at least and may get prompted to read it fully, albeit gradually. As one who has read this completely, I have no hesitation to recommend this to anyone who not only looks forward to perceive L/L HG Dr Paulose Mor Gregoriose, but who is interested in assimilating the essence of Orthodoxy. Moreover, one learns what is true humanity, what does one perceive by social justice and peace, what does it mean by equality, what does it mean by exploitation and above all, how to love co creations. The advantage of being forthright in one’s stand appears highlighted. In short, anyone who is still wavering about his mission in life gets the right answer from His Grace. You even get an answer to your worries as how to confront tribulations in life.

As I have indicated at the very beginning, more that a biography, this volume is a true dissection of the person His Grace Dr Paulose Mar Gregoriose. I do congratulate Joice Thottakkadu for this wonderfully useful work.  Yet, with the permission of Joice Thottakkadu, I would like to add a couple of points for the benefit of readers. As one completes reading the very first chapter, there are inferences that all was not well within the family. His mother was mentally unstable and his father, understandably upset over this. Naturally, the family atmosphere was not very joyful. However, there is no mention of the passing away of his parents. In fact, his father passed away on November 22, 1959 when Paul Varghese was serving in Ethiopia.  Probably, he could not come to attend the funeral. This was a time when the Church disputes were over and peace prevailed.  Later, just four weeks after he was ordained as an Episcopa, his mother passed away. That was on March 12, 1975. The peace and tranquility in Church were just history then; more than that, the atmosphere was highly volatile. The funeral was at Nadama parish church of Kochi Diocese and there was no way this newly ordained Bishop could enter the premises. So His Grace was compelled to stay away from the funeral with a heavy heart. However, there are unconfirmed reports that His Grace could offer incense prayers at her tomb at some odd hour of a day thanks to the benevolence of a priest belonging to that faction.

Our studies on L/L HG Dr Paulose Mor Gregoriose never end here. They continue unending.

പൗലോസ് മാര്‍ ഗ്രീഗോറിയോസിനെ അടുത്തറിയാന്‍ ഒരു അന്വേഷണം / പോള്‍ മണലില്‍

‘പ്രകാശത്തിലേയ്ക്ക് ഒരു തീര്‍ത്ഥയാത്ര’യുടെ പുതിയ പതിപ്പ് പ്രസിദ്ധീകരിച്ചു