It is with great joy that I reminisce over the story of the Mar Gregorios Orthodox Christian Student Movement of India during the decade of the 1970’s. With great humility and gratitude I look back over those years of the MGOCSM where I had the blessed opportunity to serve the united student organization of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church. After church unity, in 1960’s, the Mar Gregorios Student Association of the Pathriarchese side and the Syrian Student Conference of the Orthodox church joined together to form the MGOCSM.
St. Gregorios of Parumala
The inspiration and the influence of the spiritual life and teachings of St. Gregorios of Parumala, the Patron Saint of MGOCSM, live on every day beyond the membership of Malankara Orthodox church. Parumala Thirumeni’s life has been a tremendous dynamic force for thousands of MGOCSM members throughout the century. Thirumeni’s pious and saintly life attracted many to Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. Anywhere, in any city and on any continent I go I come across individuals and groups who have been touched and blessed by the power of Parumala Thirumeni’s prayer and intercession.
MGOCSM in the 1970’s
I am immensely blessed by having the privilege of serving the Mar Gregorios Orthodox Christian Student Movement of India for almost a decade during the 1970’s. The Movement marched forward in those years, following the path of my predecessors, from being an annual Syrian student conference, convened once a year at a school or college in Kerala, to the MGOCSM of India in its fullest.
Regional and Zonal Conferences
During the 1970’s the MGOCSM began organizing conferences in cities of northern and southern India to reach out and to involve the youth and seniors who study and work in various cities outside of Kerala. MGOCSM also started convening conferences in different zones within Kerala during this time for the maximum participation of students who reside and work in closer proximity.
The Student Centers
One of the highlights of this decade was the establishment of Student Centers in Kottayam and Trivandrum. It was a daunting task, opening hostel facilities for college students at that time when colleges were closing their hostel facilities because of student upheavals. With boldness and faith, MGOCSM opened student centers and extended admission even to non church members and to employed people who needed accommodation in a safe place. The impact and the influence upon those who stayed in our centers has been amazing and long lasting.
The Kottayam Student Center
It was an honor and a blessing for me to work alongside with then MGOCSM president LL Mar Theophilus Thirumeni in developing plans and designs for the lay out and the architecture of the centers. Thirumeni’s friendship with the Westfalen Church in Germany brought seed money for the Kottayam Student Center as for many other church projects. We borrowed a large sum of money from the Central Bank of India with the expectation that the rent income from the roadside shops would pay it off. We received ample donations from well wishers and price discounts from utility companies for the furnishings. Our creative approaches and strategies were effective for evacuating the old tenants from the previous MD Hostel facilities to build the new center.
The Trivandrum Student Center
TVM center has an amazing story to tell about how the dream got realized there in my tenure. Mr. T.N. Kuriakose, the former accountant General of Kerala, helped me a lot in securing the property from the daughter-in-law of late Judge Simon. The land lay adjacent to the Trivandrum University Campus and across from the AKG Center (former gas house junction). Professor Joseph P. Varghese worked as my right hand organizing the fund raising project. We raised the entire amount of money needed for the purchase of the property from numerous members of our Church in every part of India and abroad. I was amazed at the gracious and generous response of our people when I visited them at their homes or workplaces asking for their support. Immediately after acquiring the property we remodeled and renovated the old house where Judge Simon’s family lived to accommodate 25 students. My friend late Bobby Kattanam was my sojourner in this project. God helped us to inaugurate the new Student Center in Trivandrum in two years since we bought the property and the opening of the Kottayam Student Center.
Book Shop and Publishing House
Another important initiative of the Movement during the 1970’s was the start up of the MGOCSM Book Shop and Publishing House. It started from nothingness (ex-nihilo) without any financial capital from the Movement. We felt it was a needed project for our church at a time when there was no official church publishing house or bookshop. We published the Evangelion Book and the Holy Week Book of Songs and Prayers while I was with the Movement. I need to mention the special involvement of Fr. M.C Cherian(Mar Zachariah Theophilus), late C.P.Chandy sir and LL Yoohanon Mar Severios whose dedication and skills hugely helped the publication of books at the MGOCSM publishing house. . Our bookshop became a very helpful place for our church members to buy and order items needed for worship services.
Mar Gregorios Chapel Arpookara
It was a long cherished desire of medical students and doctors and the residents at Arpookara to have a church at Arpookara for their spiritual needs. Theophilus Thirumeni and I approached Kottapparampil Pappoottan, Aymanam to donate the land across from the Medical college Hospital. It was a wonderful experience for me working with both Pappoottan who was a strong Patriarchese leader and Mar Ivanos Thirumeni of Kottayam Diocese. For everybody’s dismay they both opened their hearts to support this project whole heartedly. I had the opportunity to work with Late P.C.Yohannan Remban and my beloved Fr. T. J Joshua to raise funds to complete the dream of having a church near the Kottayam Medical college.
The leadership of the MGOCSM was very diligent not to get distracted from the mission and programs of the movement throughout the period of these developments and expansion. Our commitment was the building up of the spirituality of our young people and nurturing their loyalty to the mother church. The MGOCSM organized various seminars and meetings for equipping members with leadership skills to use within the church community and in community as a whole. The Movement expanded by organizing units and spiritual programs in colleges and other education centers. Some of those units were in non Christian and Government Institutions.
New MGOCSM Wings
During the 1970’s, MGOCSM began expanding activities to the areas beyond the already existed Medical and Technical Auxiliaries. For utilizing the diverse talents of members the MGOCSM established the Missionary Wing (Parish mission), the Literary Wing, the High School Student’s Wing, and the Sangeetha Vedhi.
Leadership development has been, as always, a core commitment of MGOCSM , especially during the 1970’s. MGOCSM opened up opportunities for young people to work within the establishment and in our student centers. Many members pursued seminary studies and many others got involved lead in church projects locally and nationally. In the horizon of today’s church there are many soaring stars with whom I had the privilege to work during this decade. They served the Movement sincerely and worked hard and found their notch for climbing the ladder. In reality, Mar Gregorios Orthodox Christian Student Movement has served the Malankara Orthodox church and the greater community as a spawning ground for raising leaders.
A Life Time Impact
It is emotionally overwhelming for me when I receive telephone calls, e-mails or personal notes from friends and participants of MGOCSM programs even after three decades of my time with the organization. There are no sufficient words in me to express my gratitude to those wonderful people whom I worked with during the time of my servant hood ministry in MGOCSM.
I am deeply grateful to all the great souls – His Holiness Thomas Mar Didimos, the present Catholicose, who ordained me to the priesthood at the Shrine of St. Gregorios of Parumala; the late lamented Mar Philipose Theophilus who called me to the MGOCSM General Secretary ship; His Holiness Augen Catholicose who gave me the appointment Kalpana; and His Holiness Mathews 1st Catholicose who nurtured me deepening my faith. I am delighted to see many, whom I had the opportunity to work with during the 1970’s, who are elected and elevated to the leadership of the church , especially the Catholicose designate Poulose Mar Milithus, Mar Gheevarghese Mar Coorilose, Mar Zachariah Mar Theophilus, beside several leading priests like Fr. John Thomas and many lay leaders.
For me, I continue holding on to the faith and practices of Malankara Orthodox Church, in which I am raised and trained, no matter wherever I study and work. The experience and the inspiration I received through working in MGOCSM lead me on to continuously witness the faith of our church among American Christians as well I did in Germany and in England. I have kept my faith dearly and am running my course diligently to fulfill my call “go, and make disciples of All nations” (Mathew 28:19) by being an unofficial and informal ambassador of Malankara Orthodox Church of India in America, the most diverse country in the world.
May the MGOCSM continue to be a lamp for the feet and a light on the path of our youth, students and leaders as it has been for me throughout my life.
The author of this article Rev.Fr.P.C.Cherian, a great visionary of the Church who pioneered MGOCSM from nothingness to what we see today, was the General Secretary from 1971 to 1981. Now he lives in Minnesota, USA as the Director of Agora Ministries.