Such a Man Did Live - BOOK REVIEW

Such a Man Did Live: Celebrating the Life of Suffragon Metropolitan Zacharias Mar Theophilos

There are some initiatives that would stand out in history not only because of its monumental value but also because of the appropriateness of its timing. “Such a Man Did Live” is one such kairotic gift to all of us and as the title of book suggests it indeed is one expression of the celebration of the life and ministry of Suffragan Metropolitan Zacharias Mar Theophilos. It is on the one hand a reflection of hundred people of repute, who journeyed alongside Thirumeni. Like anyone else in the world they were also grieved by his loss since they walked closely with him or at least watched him closely as he went about ministering to the people of God. On the other hand it is a beautiful caricaturing of Thirumeni using a wide variety of verbal images that comes from the hearts of people who intimately interacted with him. There is no disputing the fact that Thirumeni was much more a towering personality than the book could capture, but at the same time one must admit that the larger than life impact of Thirumeni is very fairly captured in the kaleidoscope the book tries to offer to the reader.

The 400 page volume published by the Notion Press stands out primarily for the galaxy of contributors. These wide ranging personalities include Bishop Zacharias’ classmates, colleagues, co-workers and co-travellers in life’s pilgrimage. The fact that twenty five Bishops of global stature has written in itself tells of the influence Thirumeni was. The General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia and former General Secretaries of the World Council of Churches along with several other ecumenical personalities of repute have penned their impressions.

The editors Rev. Vinod Victor, Mr. Jacob Chandy Varghese and Mr. Oommen Koruth have all had a very personal and passionate relationship with Bishop Zacaharias and that is evident in the care with which they have weaved together the tapestry of the book. The Publishers have done a good work in giving a professional touch to the book though one could have desired that the photographs were more obvious and patterns more uniform.

Perhaps a humble attempt to pick a few quotes from the book would throw some light into the width of the spectrum the book is trying to cater to

The Valiya Metropolitan Philipose Mar Chrysostom while giving us an inclination to the pedigree of Bishop Zacharias recalls, ‘ I remember Israel Vydian, his parental uncle, who was well known and well respected. I know that Zacharias Thirumeni’s family was a blessed family. Only from such blessed families we receive blessed spiritual leaders like him. We need to be thankful to God almighty for giving us a spiritual leader like him’.

The words of Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan reveal the intimate relationship they had working together as Bishops, “ My memories also go back to the days of his initiatives for the establishment of Santhigiri Ashram. I supported Thirumeni especially when some people raised concerns about the establishment of Santhigiri. He was a visionary and his social concerns and ecumenical outlook prompted him to venture the establishment of Santhigiri. His concern for the healing ministry was also incredible. He established funds for the poor cancer patient’s treatment and also initiated the palliative care services. His contributions to those areas will ever be remembered by the Church”.

The Major Arch Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, George Cardinal Alencherry, being an ecumenical fellow traveller reflects,

‘… The very name Theophilus signified a friend of God. His close attachment to our Lord Jesus Christ, was reflected in his concern for the poor and the sick. He worked tirelessly even to the last moment of his life to keep alive the values of the Gospel among the people he live and worked for. Through his close contacts with the leaders of other churches and religions, he knew where and how to discern the areas of unity and co-operation’.

The former General Secretary of World Council of Churches Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser in his article points of the “ecumenical value” of Thirumeni, “As a delegate of his church to the 7th Assembly of the WCC at Canberra in 1991 he was elected as a member of the Central Committee. Subsequently the Central Committee elected him as member of its Executive Committee. He continued to serve in these two capacities even after the 8th Assembly at Harare in 1998 until the 9th Assembly at Porto Alegre in 2006… Raiser further states “ Under his guidance a sub committee was able to prepare and present to the Central Committee the revised version of the draft texts enabling the Central Committee in 1997 to take its important decision on the policy statement “ Towards a Common understanding and Vision of the WCC “. He was thus directly involved in giving shape to the new understanding of the role of the WCC in the context of the wider ecumenical movement at the beginning of the 21st century.”

Bishop Theophilus was successful in understanding the heart throb of the pastors because he himself was a successful pastor. Mary Nebu Mathew from Mumbai recalls, ‘ The advent of Rev. Oommen Koruth to the St. Thomas Mar Thoma Church, Santa Cruz, in 1975 was a fillip to the youth of the parish, especially to the teens and youth who were brought up in Bombay… Rev. OK’s Bible study classes were unique in many ways… He encouraged us to think for ourselves, giving scope for our thoughts and ideas, at the same time enlightening us with Biblical interpretations at a deeper level.’

Smt. T. Sumithra a class mate of Thirumeni the wife of Mr. Govindankutty Menon re calls how they happened to meet Zacharias Thirumeni immediately after his consecration at Trivandurm one Sunday, ‘… After the Sunday service, Thirumeni spent quite some time with us that evening exchanging details about our lives during the period we lost contact. Before leaving, he led in prayer, invoking the Lord’s blessing for each one of us… Thirumeni must have been extremely busy with a lot of important engagements. Yet he found so much time to spend with us. We were simply overwhelmed.’

His College mate Thampan Thomas recalls, how Oommen Koruth joined them during the student’s strike in 1958 at Union Christian College, Aluwa, ‘ … By noon more than 300 students were in police custody. When we announced that as the last batch we too were courting arrest, the student Oommen Koruth too joined us for picketing and we were taken to police station…’

Rev. Jaisen A. Thomas recalls, ‘ Thirumeni was a mentor and a true friend whose love and nurture helped me towards ministry….About eighteen years ago, while I was still in college, my family had gone through a great tragedy. My younger sister, Jaisle, had been kidnapped (she is still missing) and as a family we were struggling, especially during those initial days. During those difficult times, Zacharias Thirumeni came to stay at our house in Richmond, Virginia for four days and comforted us with his loving presence and sincere prayers. At that

point, Thirumeni was not just a Bishop visiting us but, a true friend who shared in our pain and reminded us and encouraging us in faith and hope. As my mom often said, “Zacharias Thirumeni was a saint and even though he had many difficult times he always had a heart for others’… It was this heart that is shared by several authors in the book and this is what made him instrumental in the formation of several Mar thoma churches in diaspora contexts.

K. Raju who served Thirumeni as his personal driver for 33 years gives us a glimpse of Thirumeni’s daily routine, ‘Thirumeni’s days starts early in the morning. After his private prayer he gets himself ready to be in the chapel at 7.30 am with the entire staff, so also at 7.30 pm. After breakfast he turns busy with visitors or visits, functions, meeting etc., He spends time after dinner for study, reply to daily mails and phone calls till he retires at 12 midnight.’

There are gems culled from the life of Thirumeni in each of the hundred articles but that is best left for the reader to cherish grabbing a copy of the book.

The Editorial board and the advisory team must be complemented for the meticulous work behind mustering such a variety of articles. Yes one could surely point out several key omissions. People who worked closely with Thirumeni and would have been able to give deeper insights about his personality. But not everything can be included in one book. The Glimpses of Thought though given without the context of each gives us several personal traits of the great man. The analysis of his songs, the sharing of his selected sermons and the attempt to read his theology and mission in the back drop of modern scholarship are worth the attempt.

It is only appropriate that Santhigiri one of the most conspicuous living memorials of Thirumeni’s vision and passion has taken up the onus to publish this book and to distribute it and as the Preface hopes, this book would help several people to be inspired to live a life which such a man lived.

Written By: 
Rev. Sunny George

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