The Metropolitan of the Malankara Marthoma Syrian Church left for his heavenly abode in Thiruvalla, Kerala, early this morning. He was 89. Instated in 2007, he succeeded Philipose Mar Chrysostom- the designate suffragan, as Metropolitan in 1999. He was undergoing pancreatic cancer treatment for some time at a private hospital in Kerala.
I met with H.G. Metropolitan in Lubbock, Texas in 2014(above photo). As a museum planner and designer, I had expressed my keen interest in establishing a living museum on the history and heritage of Syrian Christians in Kerala and their contributions around the world. His eyes lit up as he asked a barrage of questions on the scope, projected costs, time frame for completion and the challenges I foresaw in its execution. A widely traveled patriarch, he had visited museums in the Vatican, Israel, the United States, Egypt and elsewhere on the history of religions, faith, the bible, icons and was well aware of the potential of historic sites and shrines. While he lamented that India/ Kerala is yet to embark on such an initiative, he was pleased to learn that I had met with the then Chief Minister of Kerala Mr. Oommen Chandy, to share my vision for a museum- that would be both educational and inspirational from a theosophical, historic an heritage perspective. As I presented him with a book authored by my father Dr. Jacob George on 2000 Years of Christianity in India, he got more interested as he leafed through its pages and blessed me.
I mourn his loss and his irreplaceable passing, with my fellow congregation from around the world.
Ordained as a Deacon and then a priest in 1957, Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma held degrees in Theology and Divinity from seminaries in the UK and US earning his episcopal title Joseph Mar Irenaeus in 1975. He received three doctorates and wrote extensively on issues and challenges facing the church and the congregation. He was particularly concerned with women’s emancipation and rights. Condolences and prayers have been flooding in from congregations and diocese from around the world, heads of state including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
His Grace, Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma, devoted much of his life to uplift the needy, transgender, the marginalized, the homeless and disabled. He led the march in New Delhi to bring to the fore, the plight of the Dalit Christians facing severe societal discrimination. He worked tirelessly to provide housing for flood, tsunami and earthquake victims in India, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Cambodia, and inspired all whom he touched with is humility, wit, quiet resolve, compassion and theological grasp for the greater good of the society.
There is a 2000 year Christian tradition in India that began with the arrival of St. Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Christ, who founded seven churches in Kerala, ultimately meeting his tragic demise in 72CE at St. Thomas Mount in Chennai. India today has over 24 million Christians, with about 3.08 million malayalam speaking Syrian Christians spread around the world. May his Soul rest in Peace Eternal.
[George Jacob is the President & CEO of Bay Ecotarium- the largest watershed conservation non-profit in the San Francisco Bay Area that operates six institutions, including the Smithsonian Affiliated Aquarium of the Bay & the Sea Lion Center.]