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Mar Osthathios: The One and Only

It was not without tears that His Grace Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios will be remembered. I am sure that volumes will be written about His Grace because His Grace’s life and work were gracefully voluminous. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church’s history of humanitarian projects will be the biography of Mar Osthathios. No doubt the modern history of our Church will be dominated by this unique personality.

I was in the 8th grade when I came in contact with Rev. Fr. M. V. George and Rev. Fr. T.J. Joshua who were the greatest gospel convention speakers of that time. I happened to have listened to them in my childhood days that connected me with them a little deeper than expected. It was amazing to me now when I look back that I had exchange of letters with them in English. His Grace wrote only in post cards. His letters were short, illegible (very difficult to read) and one has to guess what was written but in those letters one could see a great person and his unfailing love.

It was with the help of Mar Osthathios that I got into the Seminary that initiated my educational career which otherwise would have ended in the paddy field of Wayanad. Born and brought up in a farmer’s family I did not have a dream to see anything beyond the mountain ranges of Wayanad or the gates of a gateless high school. But Mar Osthathios was helpful in breaking that stigma. When I received the telegram to attend the interview at the Seminary in 1967, I went straightaway to the Seminary as though I got admission! When I reached there I had one or two persons who knew me, M.V. George Achen and T. J. Joshua Achen. The Principal His Grace Philipose Mar Theophilus was out of town or so and M. V. George Achen being the Vice Principal told me that an interview telegram does not mean that I am admitted but Achen gave me hope that I will get the admission. It was a miracle and I believe that the miracle was done by His Grace.

In the Seminary, His Grace was a mentor to me because I was one of the youngest of the students (19 years old) and very naïve and ignorant of the outside world. His Grace was my Father Confessor who was a guiding force in my personality development. His Grace’s spiritual guidance was special. Each sermon was a special treat for me. I heard a lot from others about His Grace while in the Seminary. People used to call him “thookkukatta Semmassen” because he eloquently spoke from Prophet Amos on social justice for all quoting Amos 7:8 “Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline (thookkukatta in Malayalam). Then said the LORD, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them anymore.” The plumbline is the device used to find level on a surface. I remember the days His Grace came with dim voice as His Grace has been speaking continuously for famous conventions. His Grace made time for various physical activities including, morning walk, garden work and Table Tennis. My first lessons on Table Tennis were from His Grace. Nobody could defeat His Grace and His Grace enjoyed defeating all his opponents at the Table Tennis games. In two years I mastered the game and His Grace could not defeat me anymore. That made us closer.

Already I was in the kurishummoodu prayer group led by His Grace. This was secret prayer groups that M. V. George Achen led. Nobody questioned him or opposed him and so we got a secret spiritual enrichment. The present Bombay Diocesan Bishop His Grace Geevarghese Mar Coorilose, Rev. Fr. George Panackamattam and Rev. Fr. K. T. Mathukkuty were in that group. We would go to the two tomb crosses on the western and eastern ends of the Seminary property in the evenings. Mostly those areas were filled with bushes and therefore nobody will see us. I learned my first lessons how to say an extempore prayer in that fellowship. His Grace asked all of us to pray. Those days I had no idea how to frame a personal prayer.

In the classroom, highly bombastic language was used in teaching theology. Paul Tillich and Bultman were so tough to read and understand and equally difficult was His Grace’s class on them. We copied some words and names from here and there along with a galore of Bible verses. It was tough to write down the Bible verses because His Grace had such a fluent knowledge of the key Bible verses. It always amazed us. His Grace’s knowledge and instant answers to ANY question was a yardstick for many of us. His Grace solved all our problems no matter it was educational, spiritual, financial, social, personal or theological.
After my parents, if I owe much to a person, that is His Grace Mar Osthathios. His Grace timely help was the ONLY reason that I could get a scholarship for my study for Masters in Theology at the United Theological College, Bangalore.

In 1972 I needed a strong letter of recommendation to get admission at UTC. Unfortunately the recommendation I got from an important person was useless because the recommendation said, “if you give admission and scholarship to Rev. Dn. M. K. Kuriakose, he will appreciate it”. Normally one would say, I will appreciate it” UTC Principal Rev. Dr. E. C. John was very kind to let me know that I will not get admission on the basis of this “hopeless letter” and I immediately wrote a very strong hurting letter to Mar Osthathios reflecting my frustration. In no time His Grace wrote a strong letter of recommendation for admission and scholarship and that made the difference for the rest of my life. Now looking back to history I see how such Fathers become unique personalities in our life.

I would not have heard the concept of giving “tithe” if I was not that close to His Grace. “The Tither’s Guild” that His Grace started was introduced to all of us. But it took long time for me to digest it until one of my close friends, a Lutheran classmate the late lamented Rev. Dr. Immanuel David, inspired me when I learned that the Protestant community has to give tithe on a regular basis. The seed that was sown by His Grace sprouted in me and I have been sharing that with our people.

On February 2, 1968 the Orthodox Theological Seminary Chapel rang the emergency bell at an odd time in the morning and all of us were called to gather immediately. We heard some bishop passed away. Rev. Fr. M. V. George the Vice Principal addressed the gathering in a somber mood and said, “today a strong voice that spoke for the poor and the needy is silenced, the one who joined Mahatma Gandhi for the Vaikkam Sathyagraham for equality to worship God, the deacon who held the Indian national flag in front of the procession, converted tens of thousands of families to Orthodox faith, one of the most educated man of the time, and the one who lived like an ordinary servant, died like a common man in a private hospital, none other than His Grace Pathrose Mar Osthathios the Metropolitan of Malabar Diocese”. The somber voice of Rev. Fr. M. V. George reverberated in our ears like thunder. We were struggling to hold our tears when the short speech ended. Later the same name Mar Osthathios was given to Rev. Fr. M. V. George when he was elevated to bishopric.

We, his disciples, have no negative comments about His Grace because His Grace was exemplary in all walks of life. All the institutions His Grace started and catered to all were run with such a transparency that no one had any question. Indeed the help of Rev. Fr. Philip Rambachan the most trusted and revered servant of the Malankara Orthodox Church was with His Grace like a shadow. His Grace is the epitome of sincerity, hard work and truthfulness.

A revolutionary deacon, ideal priest, exemplary bishop, a great teacher, competent counselor, genuine thinker, realistic philosopher, prolific writer, eloquent golden-mouthed speaker, spiritual leader, genuine and guileless friend, loving spiritual father, great social reformer, and ultimately a simple and common human being with no imposture. Death is natural but great people make that life supernatural. Life on earth has to come to an end but great people will continue to live in the hearts of people forever.

We will hear a million personal stories and witnesses like mine from many people across the world, culture, religion and denominations in which the stalwart Mar Osthathios will remain bold for centuries. The clergy including bishops who went through His Grace’s mind will attest that Mar Osthathios is One and the Only One for the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.

Herald Spl Supplement [1]