Monday, July 25, 2016

A Graceful Sunset

Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom, at 98, is the oldest living Bishop in the world. He looks back on his life

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolotan comes into his office at Maramon (102 kms from Kochi), on a July morning, it is difficult to believe that he has completed 98 years of age on April 27. His face is unlined, the smile pleasant, and the eyes are twinkling.

Suddenly, I notice the voting mark on his left forefinger, thanks to the state elections held in May. “I have voted in several State and Lok Sabha elections,” says Mar Chrysostom.

But he remembers that the candidates whom he voted for during the first three Assembly elections lost. “When the fourth election came up, the Communists told me, ‘As a Christian you will never vote for us atheists',” says Mar Chrysostom. “So, can you stay away from the voting?'”

But Mar Chrysostom reminded them of the defeats of the earlier candidates, all of them Congressmen. So the Communists said, “Okay, then, can you vote for the Congress again?”

Mar Chrysostom did so. “Unfortunately for the Communists, the Congressman won,” says the Bishop, with a smile.

The oldest living Bishop in the world is famed among Malayalis for his witty sermons and speeches. And he has a specific reason for opting to use humour. “There is no need to be more serious than necessary,” says Mar Chrysostom. “I realised that when I used humour, people regarded me as a friend and felt free to come and talk to me.”

One who did so is superstar Mammooty. At a June 21 public function, held at Kochi, to felicitate the bishop on his advanced age, Mammooty said, “I regard the Bishop as a close friend, who gives me advice on how to lead a meaningful life.”

Meanwhile, underneath the laid-back style, Mar Chrysostom is deeply dedicated to his vocation. And the seeds were planted early in him.

His father, the Very Rev. K. E. Oommen was a priest and became the Vicar General (the highest position among priests). "Right from childhood, because of my parents’ influence, I was committed to the church and God," says Mar Chrysostom. 

After his theological studies, Mar Chrysostom became a priest in 1944 and a bishop on May 23, 1953. On October 23, 1999, he was appointed as the supreme head of the Mar Thoma Church. But, in 2007, Mar Chrysostom relinquished his post. Today he is the Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan, and continues to travel extensively and give speeches.

Sometimes, he delves into his childhood memories. Once, when he was seven years old, he had gone with his mother to have a bath in the Maramon river. But his mother slipped and fell on the slushy bank. “My mother was very bulky,” says Mar Chrysostom. “So it looked very funny. I started laughing loudly.”

Neighbour Mathew, who was returning from the market, heard the laughter and stopped. “That was when he saw my mother,” says Mar Chrysostom. “So he helped her get up. Later, my mother got upset that he had seen that she had fallen. But I told her, 'Who else could have picked you up? Thank God I laughed. Otherwise, Mathew chettan [elder brother] would not have come'.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)  

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