Some years back, in a publication of the Catholic Church, a nun lamented that when ordinary people err, the matter is treated lightly, but when a priest or a nun commits even a small mistake, it is blown out of proportion by the people. I wrote back to her that this was because we ordinary people look up to them to show us how to live to be pleasing in the eyes of God and when our models and idols crumble, it hurts us deeply. However, once we stand on our own without props, priests and models loose their relevance and we learn to live according to the truth in us that stands revealed, often through the rituals and practices of religion, which serves to point us to the way.
The message that His Holiness Baselius Marthoma Paulose II, Catholicose of the Malankara Orthodox Church, gave at the 112th memorial feast of St Gregorios of Parumala was published in ‘Malankara Sabha Deepam’ and here I am reproducing it in English because I think it is very relevant today.
“For the last one week, we have been observing and celebrating the memorial of the Holy Parulama Thirumeni, who has disappeared from our physical vision 112 years ago, but whom we experience in our lives as a great and holy saint. Today, when the Eucharistic sacrifice and processions wind up, this week of celebrations will also come to a close. I think it would be fruitful at this time to consider in brief, the contributions of Parumala Thirumeni.
We the high priests/ bishops are persons who communicate a lot about God. The priesthood is made up of those who teach a lot about God. But Parumala Thirumeni was one who transmitted God to ordinary people, much more than he talked about Him. Teaching and transmitting are two different things. If teaching is an intellectual act, transmitting God is an act of living, or one carried out through the process of one’s life itself. I believe that this is what Parumala Thirumeni did. If Thirumeni had not transmitted God to others, perhaps thousands of people would not have gathered here for the Orma Perunnal (memorial feast).
It is not easy to enumerate the number of people who came here during the last week. When we ask why (they came), it is because Thirumeni did not teach about God but transmitted God. Transmitted God more than taught about God. This is an important truth. How did Thirumeni do it? Through the holiness of Thirumeni’s life. What is a holy life? The difference between man’s holiness in life and God’s Holiness was explained to the gathered people by HG Mar Aprem briefly and excellently yesterday at Sandhya Namaskaram (Evening service).
What is a holy life? The moral and intellectual aspects of holiness can be gasped by us. Generally, when our bodies get dirty we bathe. There are those who scrub with soap and others use gram flour. We bathe to get rid of grime. Yesterday I said (at an address somewhere) that Malayalis are believed to bathe twice a day, but when we get out on the road we doubt that they bathe at all. We have a culture of throwing all garbage and filth out on the road. But we must not forget that the garbage and filth within us far exceed the garbage and filth we throw out on the road. When we say that Parumala Thirumeni lead a holy life, we must also remember what a holy life is. God has installed a system within us for purifying our bodies. The Kidneys are organs that purify our blood and remove the toxins in our bodies. If a person’s kidneys are not functioning properly, he will need dialysis. If the dialysis does not work, he will go up very quickly. What I am saying is this: in order to transmit God, the ability to transmit God can be gained only through spiritual life.
Spiritual life is not easy. It is an ongoing process. It is not possible in one day. It cannot be gained in two. This purification process must go on deep within us till the end of our lives. It is a fact that if this process is blocked at any time, man dies. Therefore, Parumala Thirumeni transmitted God through spiritual living. Therefore Thirumeni became a friend of God. Since Thirumeni became a friend of God, God is giving Thirumeni what he asks for. Given unconditionally. It is because of this understanding that we gather here.
Why does God not listen when we ask? You must have said many things and I too have said a thousand things. Except for small answers occasionally, nothing substantial was received. Since Parishudha Parumala Thirumeni became a friend of God, God is granting his requests.
Moses and Yahova (Yahweh ) argue occasionally. When Moses says, I am fed up with these people. I shall destroy them etc. Yahova calms him down. Sometimes Yahova gets angry and says that He would not let any one in the desert remain alive and Moses tells Yahova that He should not do it because the Gods of the gentiles shall mock Him. If You bring the people along over all this distance into the desert and then kills them, Your reputation would suffer. I am exaggerating this, but I am conveying the spirit of the Bible passage which you get when you read it. This is a conversation between friends. It is this right to converse with God as a friend that Parumala Thirumeni achieved through the holiness of his life.
I will remind you of one thing. The priesthood is the source of holiness for a Church. Ordinary people believe that the priesthood is their model and guide. We all believe that. But when they go in the wrong path, there is immense danger.
Let us think about the last days of our Lord. Why was He crucified? It was a conspiracy between a father –in-law and a son-in-law. Jesus was killed due to the plot hatched by High Priests Annas and Caiaphas. I will assert, where priesthood goes astray, Jesus gets killed. If Annas and Caiaphas had not gone astray, Pilate would not have had any problem administering justice. Pilate is constrained by the scheming of these two high priests, powerless to carry out justice. Even though his beloved wife whispers advice in his ear, he could not be fair-because Annas and Caiaphas and the high priests have already gone astray. Therefore Pilate could not carry out justice. Because Pilate could not carry out justice, the people lost their way. The people who had called Jesus ‘King’ on Sunday called Him ‘thief of thieves’ by Friday. Who was behind this turning of events? Annas and Caiaphas ! If Annas and Caiaphas had not lost their direction, Jesus would not have been crucified. If Jesus Christ had to be crucified, there would have been another way. Another aspect (to consider), people expect this (righteousness) from those who profess to lead the way to a life of holiness. God expects this. When priesthood looses the sense of direction, Jesus is slain. This is certain.
For this (holy life) priesthood must lead the way with virtue and humility in holiness. Priesthood must itself control priesthood. Priesthood is neither to be controlled by the legal system, nor by the people. How should priesthood control itself? There are two or three methods. The first is self examination before and in consultation with God to recognize whether priesthood is going on the wrong path. Here conscience can be made the witness for the prosecution. There we will come to know whether priesthood is going astray. The laws and codes of the Church may be examined if so desired. The written and unwritten laws of the Church. We can understand what we are saying exactly. We can also reflect on what God’s holy word tells us. Under the circumstances, if priesthood must be the guide and it is recognized that it has gone astray, there are only two options. The first is the option chosen by St Peter. Peter’s way was to turn around and come to the Lord and apologize when he realized that he has gone astray. It was not an exhibition of regret, but an apology marked by uncontrollable weeping. The Lord accepted his apology. Judas also apologized (He regretted his deed), but it was not appropriate. In the end Judas went along his own way.
What I am saying is that Parishudha Parumala Thirumeni did not explain God but he was transmitting (pouring out) God. Each of us must try to follow this. That is why Parumala Thirumeni is our guide. He was not just the guide of the Orthodox Church, but was a guide for the multi-religious, multi cultural society. He was a friend of God. Because he was a friend of God he could approach God with freedom and talk to God on any matter. There is a Lord who fulfils his requests. It is because of this that you have come here. Perhaps you desire to talk privately to him. Perhaps it is some benefit that you seek. Do not be afraid. Parumala Thirumeni transmitted God, he did not explain God. As we often think, scholarship cannot help win God, nor can wealth earn God. It is possible only in a limited manner. It is not possible through health or beauty. We can win God only through spiritual life and holy life. It is not possible otherwise. What is said to be possible is only the eligibility or skill to explain God.
Therefore Parumala Thirumeni became the friend of God, So the faithful run to him. The faithful do not know theology. They are not certain how to pray. ‘O Thirumeni help!’ This is the common man’s prayer. A sinner and a Pharisee who had studied the Law, went to pray at the same time. We know what happened. If we read the Bible, we will not pray with perfect grammar and composition. ‘Please don’t abandon me! I am in trouble’. Beating chest in agony. He (the sinner) only said ‘Have mercy on me!’ The other man (Pharisee) said everything.
I remember now, some of you may also remember, one of our late senior bishops said once, ‘Those who are intellectual do not have devotion/ bhakthi and those who have bhakthi/ are devout, are not intellectual. I have neither. Your minds must now be recalling the person who said this.
What I mean is this, as long as we are not prepared to lead holy lives, we cannot become friends of God. Whatever reasons we put forth, life is an effort to conform to God completely. We cannot conform perfectly, but with our minds, our spirits and our thoughts we can live in conformity with God. The world is unclean. But it is in the midst of these unclean surroundings that we must lead holy lives. The Lotus is a beautiful flower but it is rooted in slime and dirt. When the world is filled with contamination, we must be able to illuminate it through our holy lives. It is only then that we can also transmit God. That is what Parumala Thirumeni did.
I do not want to make this long. When the knowledgeable and ignorant, scholar and non scholar, poor and rich come to his presence and with honest sincerity request God in their own individual ways, Parumala Thirumeni will speak to God on their behalf. When he speaks, if it is something that is needed, God will allow it. If it is not needed, even if Parumala Thirumeni requests, it would not be granted. We should not be offended by that. The Lord has foreseen that this is not meant for us and so this response. That is my belief.
We are celebrating the 112th commemoration feast of Parumala Thirumeni. He is the guide of the Malankara Church. He is the father who transmitted God to the Malankara Sabha and the world. He did not hold his health dear. He cherished only God.
I have tried to reflect what my chief problems are. When I reflected, I found that I am infected by four diseases. 1. Spiritual decay, 2. Indiscipline, 3. Desire for power and authority, 4. Conflict/dissension.
These four diseases have affected me. I do not know whether they have affected anybody else. Spiritual decay, indiscipline, lust for power and dissension are grave diseases affecting spiritual life. If we sit humbly at the feet of God, requesting the intercession of Parumala Thirumeni for uprooting these four diseases and then go forth, God will be with us. This is the only way the Malankara Church can go forward. It is a church that is 2000 years old. It has an apostolic tradition. In many places Christian Churches with apostolic tradition have become rusted and decayed. But we in India have not faced this situation. We have nothing to be proud of in this. What I wish to say is that this Malankara Church must go forward as a guiding light to the world retaining its apostolic traditions and nurtured by the love of Parumala Thirumeni. Let me wind up now. May the intercession and protection of the Holy Parumala Thirumeni, Holy Marthoma Sleeha, Holy Saints Peter and Paul be with us ! May God bless you all .”