His Grace, The Most Reverend Philipose Mar Chrysostom, the late patriarch of Christianity was also one of the last surviving citadels of humanity. He was a lone ranger in an institution that had long been mired with allegations for serving the “Mammon” more than God, through its materialistic pursuits, commercialization of faith and shady controversies. His humor was legendary, but it was only a tool to express his innate love for all created beings. Listening to his sermons, interviews and reams of conversations were tantamount to a delectable treat of experiencing the caustic wit of PG Wodehouse, combined with the piercing satire of Voltaire. Often, his sermons exemplified a Voltaire quote, “God is a comedian playing to an audience, too afraid to laugh”, alluding to conduct their lives by not worrying about mundane things in life, but to cast their burdens unto God.
The Metropolitan Emeritus of the Marthoma Church was a paragon of wisdom, whose commentaries on social issues had the Midas touch of universal reach and acceptance. In a symposium on education, he once famously drew attention to its core values and scope by comparing education to a jackfruit seed. He exhorted that a successful education system is realized when its key stakeholders, the students, are able to visualize the bigger picture, a fully-grown tree - with an intricate network of branches, where birds nestle, the lush canopy providing shade and enriching the created beings by the visual treat of abundant fruits hanging- all by just looking at a withered jackfruit seed. Data and information without wisdom, according to his teachings are a lost cause.
The analogy of the seed is that of a microcosm of society at large where all are interconnected and interdependent as the invisible roots and visible fruits and everything in between. The many who understood his subtle teachings, their lives were changed. His reflective words invoked contemplation and purged the audience, intellectually and emotionally in the spirit of Aristotelian catharsis. He was a modern-day William Blake who challenged societies to “see the world in a grain of sand” transcending the prism of divisions and diversities, religion, caste, creed and sect and look beyond any filters that are employed for labeling and locating Homo Sapiens. He relentlessly advocated communal harmony as the bedrock of a civilized society, where all faiths and belief systems are recognized and thereby coexist in peace.
His humor was “The Sword of Damocles” that hung-over hypocrisy and conceit in society where even the ordained clergy - entrusted with spreading the gospel of love and universal brotherhood - have faltered at the steps of power, pelf, fame and success. His exalted thoughts were a lifeline for many, rescuing them from the abyss of petty sectarian affiliations, liberating from the shackles of pride and prejudice torturing them in their self-made mental prisons in the transient drama of life. If mankind fails to see “eternity in an hour”, they are just dreamers and deceivers of their irreversible fate. Mar Chrysostom’s longevity was perhaps a testament to his knowledge of this sublime truth and imbibing it in full. He, therefore utilized time and every opportunity to serve all sections of the society with equality, dignity and justice, well into his retirement years.
He was a tireless crusader against social evils and condemned the alarming rise of drug addiction and alcoholism among youth. During a Maramon Convention (one of the oldest Christian spiritual congregation in Asia), he challenged stereotypes and true to the Socratic aphorism of “physician heal thyself”, exhorted Christians to eschew sanctimonious statements; to lead by example by first abstaining from consuming alcohol before all episcopal denominations campaigned for its state-wide ban. He never was a sympathizer of Communism, but loved communists and was himself one through practicing what he preached on socialism and egalitarianism. He was an intrepid fighter for equality of opportunity who treated everyone with respect and dignity, irrespective of his/her social class and affinities. He could love all unconditionally, true to one of the iconic quotes of Marcus Aurelius in his magnum opus, Meditations, “Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” He did embrace humanity in all forms, types and flavors with all his heart, most fervently and with a sense of exceeding alacrity.
The witty priest was loved by all and his popularity transcended party lines. When the incumbent NDA administration rejected 31 of 34 nominations by the LDF government for three civilian honors, both parties unanimously agreed on Mar Chrysostom. He was conferred Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award on March, 2018. He briefly adorned the mantle of an environmental activist when he opposed the authorities planning an airport by reclaiming huge hectares of paddy fields. He championed the cause of tribal re-settlements and was deeply anguished by illegal encroachments and forceful evictions of their lands and habitats. His charming demeanor and charisma radiated to all who met him, from the common man to celebrity movie stars, political leaders, scribes, academics and social activists.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. The legacy of great men continues to light our paths and influence our worldview, long after they had gone. The cherubic-faced centenarian priest has left a good collection of pearls on the highway of life to mesmerize, reproach, inspire and motivate us, and most of those are clarion calls to become human in an unforgiving world. He revived the art of satire, for reformation and refinement of individuals and societies, and often employed it with panache, as a potent weapon of constructive social criticism. He was a living witness to the gospel and added a touch of humor to imprint the Good News in human hearts. Undoubtedly, Mar Chrysostom was the most recognizable face of Christianity in recent history. Also, one of the most humane.