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Mar Chrysostom: A Bishop with a Golden Tongue

Manoj Varghese Manoj Varghese
10 May 2021

One of the longest serving Bishops for 68 years, Rev Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom of Mar Thoma Syrian Church bid farewell to the world at the age of 104 (April 27, 1918 – May 5, 2021). Known for his wit and humour, the Bishop was conferred with India's third highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan in 2018. One of the longest biopic films of 48 hours, recipient of Guinness Award, by director Blessy on his life is also credited to Mar Chrysostom.

The bishops of the Mar Thoma Church do not usually retire, but at 90, he voluntarily stepped down from administration, letting others take over and preferred to groom the leadership from outside. He formulated and implemented projects to improve the social, economic and cultural condition of the backward class people with the help of parishes. 

As the Episcopa of South Travancore, he encouraged the local parish to set up over 40 Mission centres for the uplift of the marginalized through handicrafts, printing press, Balwadis and other livelihood means. It was his idea to build over 200 houses for the poor people through Kerala Housing Scheme, wherein the parish was motivated to financially support the poor inhabitants. 

The basic quality of Mar Chrysostom Metropolitan was his pleasant attitude. His main medium of communication was through humorous words and action. Many books and documentaries have been published containing his humorous speeches and talks. Some of them are “Mar Chrysostom makes us laugh and we think”, “Listen O Heavens – hear O Earth”, “100 platforms with Mar Chrysostom”, “He summons us”, “Chrysostom Metropolitan, the Prophet of Divine Universe”, “The Christian Mission in Market Community”, “Mission in the Market Place”, “Sketches and Speeches”, “Mar Chrysostom – an Assessment – Documentary”, and “Laughter and thought –Documentary”.

According to Rev Sunny George, his Personal Secretary for over a decade and close associate, the Bishop encouraged Ecumenical and Inter-religious monthly meetings. One Mr Robinson from other faith, who lost his father at a young age, was encouraged to study and undergo training in Japan for teaching the deaf and dumb. He is now serving the Kerala Government at a high rank. Spiritually, he had a personal bondage with the Lord and that reflected in his dealings with the congregation. Leading a disciplined life, he used to wake up at 4.30 am, make his own coffee and would spend time in devotion from 5-6 am, read the newspapers till 6.30 and then would attend the Chapel service till 7.30 am before meeting the visitors.  

Once, when Mar Chrysostom dared to garland the statue of Lord Krishna, the critics frowned at him quoting the first among the Ten Commandments.  “Thou shall not worship any God other than me”. Mar Chrysostom’s reply to those critics was that the said commandment is intended for those who believe in other Gods, and as he believes only in one God which is revealed by Jesus Christ this commandment is not applicable to him. He also said that he had garlanded the statues or portraits of Lord Rama, Sree Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi and other great men. He did not garland them worshipping them as gods, but he has only expressed his reverence to those great personages. 

His niece, Dr Sara Bhattacharji, a doctor at CMC, Vellore says, “For us children, he was a fun uncle who was always ready for a laugh or a game of 'bluff' or any other mischief. The fact that he was a much-revered bishop did not put us off from climbing all over him and treating him with scant respect! As we grew older, however, we began to see other facets of his life and over the years he has been for us in the family a wise counsellor, a friend, a guide and much more.”

“He had the ability to accept people as they are. I once asked him, why he had gone to meet a very corrupt politician because it looked as if he was endorsing him, and he told me: ‘I may not agree with what he does or is, but he too is God's child'. He loved people and was always ready to meet anyone who came to his door. He was a gracious host and loved to entertain. 

“He could speak equally to kings and slaves, rich and poor; all were his brothers and sisters. His stamina was phenomenal. I spent a day with him on his 95th birthday and was completely exhausted by the afternoon, but he kept going from one meeting to another, speaking relevantly at each and travelling long distances in his car to get from one to another! He made it a point to be present at any function organised by ordinary people even if it meant long travel because he had another engagement in a church or a wedding of a prominent person,” she added. 

As per the book, “Lifeworld of Mar Chrysostom and Mar Thoma Heritage”, his genealogy traces back to the Sankarapuri family, one of the four traditional Brahmin families that embraced Christianity with the arrival of Apostle Thomas, one of Jesus Christ’s 12 disciples, in Kerala. The three other families which were drawn to St Thomas and embraced Christianity along with the Sankarapuri family were Pakalomattam, Kalli and Kalliangkavil. Bishop Chrysostom belongs to the Adangapurathu family in Kalloopara, from the Sankarapuri lineage. He was born as the son of Rev K E Oommen Kassessa, Vicar General of the Mar Thoma Church, and Sosamma of Nadukkeveetil family, Karthikappally. After school education in Maramon, Kozhencherry and Eraviperoor, he obtained BA Degree from Union Christian (UC) College, Alwaye.

His commitment to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ made young Philip Oommen involve in missionary work in Ankola, Karnataka. He ventured to accept this as a challenge when Missionary work in Karnataka was in a crisis. After working there from 1940 to 1942 he started Theological studies in United Theological College, Bangalore. He was ordained as Deacon on 1st January 1944 and as Kasessa on 3rd June.

Rev Philip Oommen along with Rev Dr M G Chandy and Rev P Thomas got ordained as Ramban on 20th May, 1953 and as Episcopa on 23rd May with the name Philipose Mar Chrysostom Episcopa. He joined St Augustine’s College, Canterbury, England to pursue further theological studies. He was exalted to the positions of Suffragan Metropolitan in May 1978, Officiating Metropolitan on 15th March 1999 and Metropolitan on 23rd October 1999. Considering the contributions of Thirumeni to Theology, the Serampore University honoured him by awarding a Doctorate Degree.

Prof Rev Dr Chilkuri Vasantha Rao, Principal of United Theological College, Bangalore says, ‘A beautiful, full life, well lived.  Thankful to God for giving us and our world a true gem of our times. His words brought much cheer and equally made us think and revisit our established notions. But he preached better with his life.’

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